Friday, February 8, 2013

How to Mentor a Student Teacher

For the record, yes, I got my snow day! Woo hoo! Probably won't happen again this year but I thoroughly enjoyed it the time off! :)

This winter, I have been mentoring my first student teacher. It's been both awesome and tough. Awesome because my student teacher is really awesome. She's very driven, interested in our students' progress and a caring person. I've been very lucky to have her with us. It's also tough because if I see her struggle, sometimes I really have to refrain from stepping in. That is hard. I'm the kind of person who doesn't put up with disrespect. In fact, my colleagues tell their kids if they are bad they have to come and see me (while it's kind of funny, it also makes me look like a big jerk which isn't true). 

Anyway, this week she's been really rocking and rolling with math. She's doing a lot of hands-on activities which is great. I'm trying to teach her how to make sure she has enough for the students who finish early to do because that's when she's losing them. I was SO mad for her on Wednesday afternoon because the class was just awful. They were using pattern blocks while working with fractions which is great except that when she would try to help or reinforce for one student, many of the others would just act totally disrespectful and rude (banging blocks, etc). Keep in mind that we have 4th/5th graders, not 1st graders. I'd beg to differ that the 1st graders wouldn't ever act like that.

I was furious and she was so upset that she was almost crying. Our desks were at that time still by the ELMO so I was there working and observing and she was standing by the ELMO trying to get them to listen. I finally whispered to her that she COULD just stop and make them put their heads down. I think she was afraid to do that because she didn't want to treat them like little kids. I pointed out that if they are going to act like they are 5, it is okay to treat them like they are 5. She followed through and made them do it and then we had them write letters home to their parents to explain what they had done at school that day and it had to be signed. They were much better for her on Thursday after seeing HER put her foot down rather than just me.

Thursday the student teacher next door asked me if she could borrow one of our WalkKits (from The Walking Classroom) to supplement the lesson she was doing for social studies. The university has them video-tape a lesson and then critique it and watch it with their university supervisor. She wanted to use the Slave Rebellion podcast for that. Yesterday afternoon she came over to our room to return the WalkKit nearly in tears. I asked her if the WalkKit hadn't worked (she had planned to hook it up to the ELMO cabinet so it would play through the overhead speaker). She said it had but the lesson was terrible because two of their students began to cuss at each other during the lesson and just generally ruin the lesson for her. She didn't want to use that video after all because it was so bad and was worried we would have a snow day. I told her that if I was her CT, I would tell her to use that lesson anyway because that's the reality of the kids in that classroom. I felt horrible for her, poor girl. I brought her into our shared bump out and gave her some chocolate I had back there. At first she was like "no no, it's okay!" and I said, "Darlin, I can't eat it anyway and you deserve it after this". She smiled and took it.

My student teacher and I have kept a reflection journal since she started with me. We don't write in it every day but at least twice per week. She had a lesson last week where she just wasn't sure what to do and she asked me to step in. I did but I wrote in the log for her that she had to think about what she would do in that situation if I hadn't been there. I am, of course, and I won't just let her falter but those are things you have to anticipate for when you are truly on your own. When she had responded back she said she got nervous and was afraid to just stop the lesson. Her reflections remind me so much of when I was in that same position. I had written her another response the other day and she replied and gave it back to me yesterday and said that she was so glad I was truly her advocate, colleague and ally because she knows if she messes up, I'm not going to condemn her, but rather push her to improve and be better.

I think that's what it takes to be a mentor for a student teacher. I constantly tell my ST that I'm not perfect either. Sometimes I still have a lesson that totally tanks and I'm not new anymore. It's how we learn and grow. I have witnessed many, many colleagues over the years "mentor" someone and learned exactly what not to do. I also had two of my three CTs who were not that great at mentoring someone. I also learned from them exactly what I would never do when it was my turn to mentor someone. I've kept my promise to my ST: I have never said anything about her to someone else that I wouldn't say to her directly. I've been there and it is wrong. Last year one of my colleagues did it all of the time with her ST and I thought that was just awful. You can't improve if your CT doesn't push you to grow, change and make as much growth as you can while you're with them.

I've learned so much having my ST with me thus far. She has given ME great ideas and we've actually implemented some of them in order to help keep the kids accountable for what they need to do. This is how it is supposed to be: I am mentoring her but she's also giving me new, fresh ideas to use in the future. She has also freed up so much time for learning in our class because she teaches my 5th graders reading and I teach the 4th graders reading. We have more time to devote to the reading block and the kids are benefiting! 

I have 9 more weeks that she will be with our class. I already dread the day that she leaves. She is truly a remarkable person and it has been fun to already watch her growth in the last month. I will continue to push her, challenge her and help her shine. She would be so suited to work in my district in the future. I just have to help her find that strict side of herself so that her management will be solid before she has a classroom of her own.


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