I often wish I could have a do-over with my first class. I’m afraid they didn’t learn much from me. My mentor teacher was somewhat disengaged, and the student teaching experience was of such unremarkable value that I barely remember it. Next week, I’m hosting a student teacher. Even though I have taught for 15 years, I still always think, “why me?” when this comes up. I don’t see myself as any kind of expert in this. But I do see this as a significant opportunity to have a strong, lasting impact on a future teacher and thus hundreds of students. I will also get to learn some things from my student teacher (I always do!). Collaborating with enthusiastic and excited soon-to-be teachers is always a great joy! So for that, it is a privilege for me to do this.
With this comes great responsibility. I’ve been thinking a lot about what things I want to leave her with -what type of impact I will strive to have- because whether good or bad, at the end of this experience, I will have had one.
One of the best mentoring experiences I’ve witnessed was portrayed in the movie Karate Kid. Now, I am nowhere near the mentor Mr. Myagi was. The best I can hope for is to try and have a positive impact and share some things I’ve learned that have helped me be an effective teacher (most days). So what can mentor teachers, and student teachers, learn from Mr. Myagi and Daniel-san? Here are five things that I think are important, and what I’m going to try and incorporate as we go through this experience together.
Mr. Miyagi: “No such thing as bad student, only bad teacher. Teacher say, student do.”
Be prepared every day. Come to class with a knock-out lesson. Plan experiences that keep students engaged, leverage their curiosity, and allow them opportunity to actively engage in their own learning. One thing I’ve learned is that when the lesson doesn’t include plenty of opportunity for active learning, students will disengage. At that point, classroom management issues will appear. By contrast, planning lessons (experiences) that captivate, challenge, and motivate will keep most – if not all-students on task.
Mr. Miyagi: “Daniel san, karate here (he points to his forehead). Karate here (he points to his heart). Karate not here (he points to his gut). You understand?”
Know your students. Build relationships with them in such a way that you know what they like, how they learn, and what motivates them. Teach from your heart. If you are passionate about the topic, show that! It will rub off on them. Love your kids and love what you do every day, even on the bad days (which will happen). Always remember that you are not teaching a content–you are teaching kids. Your love for students and teaching will carry you through even the worst days–those days when your stomach is tied up in knots due to failed attempts, piled up paperwork, and worry over tests and such. Keep the focus on your kids and your passion as much as possible.
Daniel: “Hey, what kind of belt do you have?”
Mr. Miyagi: “Canvas, you like? J.C. Penney, $3.98!”
What makes you, YOU? A good piece of advise is to take risks, grab ahold of initiatives and trends that come along, and always be willing to learn from others. Observe what works for veteran teachers. But at the end of the day, you must develop your own style and what works for you. There are fundamental things that make you who you are, and those will work to your advantage in the classroom. Own your strengths-know when to adopt something and when to discard it. Just because it looks good on the teacher next door, doesn’t always mean it’s going to look good on you! Take the good things and tailor them so that they build upon your strengths.
Mr. Miyagi: “Win, lose, no matter. You make good fight and respect. Then nobody bother.”
Daniel: “Ya, they’ll bury me where I fall.’
Mr. Miyagi: “Either way, problem solved.”
Standardized tests cause every teacher a little stress. There exists a common divide as to whether to teach content or teach to the test. My philosophy is this: If we teach the standards in such a way that we help develop critical thinking and reasoning, and build in successes so that they believe in themselves, students will do fine with whatever opponent they face. I keep the focus on the day to day learning. I know what content is covered and I know how it is typically presented on the test. I try to mirror that with such things as “question stems” and level of rigor. But at the end of the day, my belief is that as long as my students are prepared through daily trainings, the final match will take care of itself.
Daniel: “Wouldn’t a flyswatter be easier?”
Mr. Miyagi: “Man who catch fly with chopstick, accomplish anything.”
There are many times when we as teachers think, wouldn’t it be easier to just _____ (fill in with whatever). Easy is easy, but shortcuts are rarely effective long term. I’ll use math as an example. Yes, it’s much easier to teach a formula for solving a problem. Students can memorize the formula, practice it enough to become proficient at it. But will they understand the “why” behind what they are doing? Will they have built conceptual knowledge? Doubtful. This may be fine short term-to get them through the unit, the test, the grade. But down the road, problems will emerge because they failed to learn and understand what is happening behind and within those mathematical processes. This goes back to the earlier idea of not teaching content, but teaching kids. Easy isn’t always the best choice. Be wary of shortcuts.
As I get ready to host a student teacher, I want to make sure that I focus on not only the specific tasks, but also pay attention to her as a person. I hope to fuel her love of teaching so that when she enters years 1-5, she doesn’t become on of the all-too-common victims of teacher burnout. I’m not the expert by any means, but I do want to have a positive impact and help her cultivate her own unique gifts and talents. So I will also focus on this:
Mr. Miyagi: “Just remember; license never replace eye, ear, and brain.”
I’m looking forward to not only teaching, but learning from her. So here’s to not getting too caught up in the brittle and cold analysis of our craft, and focusing instead on individual reward for both of us.
I am honored to serve in this capacity! I will return to update as we go through the journey together. How many of you have had the privilege of hosting a student teacher? What insights can you share about the experiences you’ve had?