Tuesday, October 3, 2017

A Classroom of One

When you have a student teacher you have two classrooms. The classroom you now share, full of children waiting to learn. And the classroom of one, you and your student teacher, also waiting to learn.

The most powerful thing I've done as a teacher is to be a mentor teacher to a student teacher. To bring a future educator into my class and do everything in my power to guide them through those rough seas of early teaching. Every time I've done it I've reflected more fully and more deeply than I do when I'm alone in my room. I'm forced to. It's part of the contract I sign with my student teachers. I will prepare you as best I can to be a teacher all by yourself, and to do that I will expose every form and function of my practice to you in the hopes together we can best understand how to do this thing.

I think I'm a pretty good teacher. I'm not the best, and I've got plenty of weaknesses in my practice. I do everything in my power to be sure that my students get the best possible education, just like anyone reading this does. And just like most of us, I worry about what happens to my students when they leave my room. I wonder how I could leave a bigger imprint in education. Not for myself, not how can I be more EduFamous. But how can I make my ripples bigger?

I believe we need to go to the source. Books and blogs and chats for current teachers are great. People can grow and change. But I want to get to teachers before that. Enter student teachers.

Student teachers are the most malleable of educators. They have no practice, and if they have an educational philosophy it's ripe for refining. I'm not saying they don't know what they want or what kind of teacher they want to be. I am saying that knowing those things and putting them into practice are two different things. By taking on student teachers I, we, can nurture those instincts, hone and sharpen them, and hopefully help them become the teacher they want to be.

I'm not trying to turn my student teachers into me. I am trying to get them past the awkward early years of teaching where you're finding yourself and finding your voice while they're still with a mentor teacher, rather than all alone facing a roomful of kids. To experiment and risk with a net below them. I tell my student teachers, "Try things. Break the class a little. It's ok. We can put it back together." If this becomes habit, then when they are left to their own devices they won't need to learn it. It'll be there.

I wonder if all mentor teachers feel the same. I always hesitate to question how someone else teaches. But I do know from many conversations with student teachers and current teachers that the student teaching experience was not always the most helpful or safe. That many mentor teachers do not feel the way I do about handing their class over to an untested college student. And that is too bad, because it weakens the student teacher, which weakens us as a whole.

A Classroom of One is written for student teachers who are ready to but nervous about taking the leap into teaching. It's also written for mentor teachers and potential mentor teachers who are often not given much guidance from the universities their student teachers are coming from. The purpose of the book is to help both groups grow together, and become stronger.

When we strengthen student teachers and allow them to strengthen ourselves, we better serve our students, current and future.

I am lucky enough to have gotten ten short stories of student teaching from current educators, which are included in A Classroom of One. These contributors are Knikole Taylor, Sarah Windisch, William Chamberlain, Patrick Harris, Josh Stumpenhorst, Megan Schmidt, Rusul Alrubail, Scott Bedley, Shana White, and Jose Vilson. Their input broadened the messages and viewpoints of the book in the best possible ways, and I can't thank them enough.

While the explicitly intended audience for A Classroom of One is mentor and student teachers, I believe there are universal lessons within that would benefit any teacher at any point in their career. And if it inspires you to reach out to your administrator or local university about taking on a student teacher, mores the better for all of us.

If you like this post and the other posts on this blog you should know I’ve written three books about teaching- He’s the Weird TeacherTHE Teaching Text (You’re Welcome), and the just released A Classroom Of One. I’ve also written one novel- The Unforgiving Road. You should check them out, I’m even better in long form. I’m also on the tweets @TheWeirdTeacher

1 comment:

  1. Seriously?

    I just posted a four-paragraph reply to this, then my cat jumped up and messed with my keyboard.

    Okay, so YEAH, teacher personas. I'm still working on mine, and I see so many teachers who seem to be doing the opposite of each other, but getting equally good results.

    My son's fourth grade teacher did everything that my textbooks are telling me not to do. Kids really didn't see her smile until December. She was a calm, quiet alpha, and her kids respected her. Test scores rose significantly for almost each and every one of her students. She did not play games. She was the boss. By the end of the year, her kids adored her. What I like about this approach is that she was very frank and direct with her students, even if they didn't like it at first.

    My son's current, sixth-grade teacher is also very calm, but she's very mild. She always knows the perfect thing to say to misbehaving students. Even if they don't turn around immediately, she doesn't escalate the situation. The other day she gave a child ten minutes to cool-off, and when it was over, she asked him in a placid tone if he was ready to join her group. She corrects students, but always in a gentle, peaceful way. I like this approach, too, because it's so reasonable, self-controlled and mature.

    I guess the common thread here is dignity and consistency.