Monday, January 16, 2017

Student Teaching Survival Guide

It's been exactly one month since I completed my last semester of student teaching.  This past semester was hands down the most tiring and rewarding one of my college career. It was filled with change and a gradual change from being a college student to almost adulting. I moved back home with my parents, in May, to save money since I knew I wouldn't be able to work enough hours to pay rent. Living at home definitely had its pros and cons. I was lucky enough to have the support of my parents after long days. However, I wasn't able to socialize quite as much, which was definitely a positive for my overall health and wealth. The weeks leading up to this past semester, I was filled with curiosity as to what student teaching would be like.  Sure I heard stories from friends who graduated the semester before, but I still wasn't 100% sure what I would be getting myself into. Because of this I thought I would put together a little survival guide for those of you who are embarking on your semester of student teaching.  This week you'll find the real truth about student teaching, how to maintain a sense of professionalism, the perfect teaching outfits, and my top tips to have a successful semester.
The view from my desk.

Time Management
Enjoy the last little bit of free time you have because once student teaching starts your free time decreases down to hardly nothing. Between creating lesson plans, attending seminar, keeping up with your assignments, getting involved in the school community, and maintaining your sanity your free time diminishes quickly. Once the semester starts, time management is crucial. Take twenty minutes each Sunday night to plan out your week (workouts, lesson planning, grading papers, doing one fun thing, sleeping, attending meetings for clubs you're still involved with, work, and completing your assignments). You won't follow this time table exactly, but it will make you feel like you have more of a grip on things during the week when you have hectic days. This sounds silly, but if you can designate a time to stop working each night to go to bed it will help you.  I tried to stop doing work by 9:30/10 each night, so that I could  be asleep by 10:30/11.  If you don't do this, then your work time will cut into the time you should be sleeping. And trust me when I say you're sleep is important.

Speaking of work time, take advantage of your free time during the school day to prepare for the following day.  This will decrease the amount of work you have to do outside of school.  You're going to have to do some work outside of school, so find a time and place that you work best.  I found that staying after school during the week to finalize lesson plans, PowerPoint's, make copies and grading worked best. This helped me feel prepared heading into the next day.  On the weekends, I designated Sunday mornings at my desk or a local coffee shop to get school work done. This prevented school from taking over my entire weekend.

Ask Questions
Unless you're extremely extroverted, you might be hesitant to ask a lot of questions.  However, you will need to push yourself to get outside of your comfort zone and learn as much as you possibly can. Asking questions is going to help you advocate for yourself, make you feel more comfortable when you're uncertain, and help you learn more about the profession.  In the beginning you'll want to ask a lot of questions in order to understand how the school and classroom operates.  Ask questions to learn how to determine if a student should get an A vs an A- if they are on the line, classroom procedures, management, behavior procedures, how to deal with certain situations, how you can improve, why certain steps are taken in a specific lesson, to learn about students' backgrounds, etc.  These questions are going to make you more knowledgeable in the long run. A good idea is to write down your questions when you think of them, and then ask your cooperating teacher at an appropriate time.  The most important question you should ask should be "is there anything I can do to help" or "is there anything I can do tonight to help prepare for tomorrow".  These two questions show that you are interested and want to take on more classroom responsibility.

Student teaching is basically a semester long interview. Take advantage of your time, and work to collaborate with the faculty in your building. You will be able to learn from these professionals and allow them to get to know you too.  If you observe other classrooms, be sure to write thank you notes to show your appreciation.  Become involved in the school if there are any opportunities to do so.  Attend parent meetings, back to school night, school concerts, etc. These show the parents that you are serious about teaching and that you care about their children.  Towards the end of the semester, try to meet with the principal to ask questions you may have.

As an education major, you should definitely be familiar with this term. It's pretty much shoved down our throats from the very first education class to the very last day of student teaching.  So this is your friendly reminder from me to also carry yourself professionally throughout student teaching. There's a number of aspects that go into this loaded word.

First, always dress professionally. I touch on this a bit below and I will in a later post, but basically make sure your attire is appropriate to your building.  This doesn't mean you have to wear business casual everyday.. take advantage of jeans Fridays, spirit days, and holidays.

Second, don't bring too much of your personal life into the school.  The students and teachers don't need to know every single thing about you and what you do on the weekends.  With the students, it's important to share some information (where you go to school, hobbies, pets, favorite colors, etc.) but know where to draw the line. The same thing applies with the staff you are interacting with. You will know how much information is too much after spending a few weeks with these people.  This will vary depending on your cooperating teacher.

Third, be kind and courteous.  Use your manners, write thank you cards, and volunteer to help those around you- it will help you get noticed too.

Fourth, be on time early. If you are on time, then you are actually late. Do your best to always show up early. I always tried to get there ten minutes earlier than I was told.  This was helpful on days when inclement weather interfered with my morning commute..even when I was "late" for me,I was actually on time.

Fifth, don't be the first one to leave school each day. If you're constantly the first one to leave, then it looks like you don't want to be there. You should be staying until your cooperating teacher leaves or tells you that you can leave. This past semester I was one of the first ones in the building, and on some days my cooperating teacher and I were one of the last ones to leave.  Putting in the hours at school made a big difference because I had less work to bring home.

I don't think I really need to say this, but make sure you attend every day. There really isn't a reason you should be missing many days during your student teaching semester.  Your university's requirements might be different, but where I attended we were able to miss up to five days for family reasons, illness, and job interviews/fairs.  I think I missed a total of one day due to a stomach bug. Your time there will go fast, and you now have teachers and students counting on you so show up regularly.

During this semester, you will most likely be required to attend weekly seminars. On top of teaching, you will be required to complete a certain number of specific assignments and case studies.  Chances are these will have due dates closer to the end of the semester. Take advantage of your free time, at the beginning of the semester.  Get these assignments completed before you take over teaching full time. Waiting to complete them last minute will just stress you out.  A lot of the assignments involve collecting data or doing research, so they aren't things you can just complete in one night.  Set a goal for when you want to complete everything and work to achieve it.  I had my assignments finished before my last month, and it was such a relief to only focus on teaching for that last month.

Create a support system
Student teaching can be lonely at times. Unlike attending classes daily, you won't be able to lean on your classmates to help you plan your lessons and get through stressful days.  However, you will have peers who are experiencing similar situations in different contexts.  It's helpful to have at least one person you can lean on when you are having a tough time.  Someone else who is student teaching the same time as you is helpful because you will be able to bounce ideas off each other, share confusions about assignments, and go through the experience together.  It's even more helpful if this person is someone student teaching in your building.  I was lucky enough to not only have a peer in my building, but she was also student teaching on the same team as me.  We were able to collaborate a lot, share insights on students, and guide each other through the whole semester.
Shout out to Kim for surviving a whole year with me! 
Eat breakfast
This sounds silly, but eating breakfast is really important. Once you get to school, your day can take a million and one turns from what you thought it would be like.  Depending on what happens or how much work you have, your lunch time might get cut short.  It's important to eat breakfast because it jump starts your day and gives you energy to get you through to when you will be able to eat lunch or a snack.  My go to breakfasts during this semester were oatmeal and these breakfast cups. You can also check out my work week breakfasts here.

Meal prepping is your friend
Speaking of food. You'll want to take care of yourself throughout the semester, and that means eating right.  After a long day of teaching, chances are the last thing you will feel like doing is making dinner.  It's easy to pick up the phone and order take out, but your bank account will hate you for it after awhile.  I was lucky enough to live at home, so my mom and I took turns cooking dinner. However, we would try to plan ahead with some meal prepping.  Meal prepping on the weekends means that during the week you will just have to turn on the oven or microwave to make dinner. It saves so much time during the week! I also suggest meal prepping your lunches too.  This saves time in the mornings.  Checkout some ideas for meal prepping here.

Choose your outfits wisely
If the semester hasn't started yet and you haven't started your professional wardrobe, do so A-SAP.  There's really no excuse for not having, at least, a small professional wardrobe.  You definitely needed a few outfits to get you through your early field classes.  Chances are an organization you were involved with required business casual attire at some point.  When getting dressed for school, you will want to dress comfortably but professionally. Remember you will be working with children/adolescents.  You shouldn't wear anything too short, tight, distracting, or uncomfortable.  Ladies, heels are cute but they are not the most practical teaching shoes.  You want to seem approachable to your students, and you also want to make it the entire day wearing the same pair of shoes.  My advice would be to wear an outfit that makes you feel confident, but also shows you are professional.  More tips to come on this later in the week.

Stay healthy
You want to make sure you take care of yourself. With all of the stress, hectic days, and work it can be hard to remember to stay healthy.  There's lots of ways to stay healthy: go to the gym once a week, take a multi- vitamin daily, drink lots of water, wash your hands before eating and as soon as you get home from school, fuel your body with good foods, and get your rest.  It's important to have good mental and physical health this semester.  Listen to your body and take care of it. If you feel like you're getting sick, then try to get a bit more sleep, drink some tea, and take Airborne.
It's okay to spend a whole Saturday in bed!

Over prepare
When it comes to your lessons, try to be overly prepared.  The more scenarios you anticipate happening the more you can prep for them.  The last thing you would want to happen is for a student to ask a question and you can't answer it or aren't prepared for students who finish early. Doing research can also help you with this preparation.
Always make your copies the day before because you never know what will happen in the mornings. You might have to talk to another teacher, the copier could jam, etc. Always have activities planned for students who finish their work early. These anchor activities will help with your classroom management.
When you know you're getting observed by an administrator or your supervisor, definitely go above and beyond to prepare.  This means having a back up plan if technology doesn't work, having a behavior strategy for that student who dictates how the rest of the class behaves, etc.  The more prepared you are, the smoother your lessons will hopefully go.

Make time for fun
You should make time in your schedule to do at least one fun thing each week.  It's important to find balance during this semester.  It shouldn't be all work and no play nor should it be all play and little work. This fun could be grabbing dinner with friends, exploring a new city, taking a weekend to binge watch movies, getting your nails done, going to a new fitness class, or visit your family.  Regardless, you need to have some fun. It will help keep you mentally healthy and avoid burnout.

Remember that this semester is a time to learn and grow as a young professional. Take advantage of every opportunity you can. You are going to make mistakes, but that is okay as long as you can learn from them.  Do your best to reflect as much as you can because we all know that reflection helps us improve.  As you go through student teaching, do your best to have fun and learn as much as you can.

Also check out my post on supplies for student teaching



  1. Congrats on surviving!
    Definitely making time for fun is so important- no matter what your career path is!

    Work can be overwhelming sometime, and can take a toll on your mental health.

    xx, Jamie

  2. I'm not a student teacher, but I have several friends that are, and I know what a challenge it can be. I'm sure these tips will help many!

  3. Congrats on getting through student teaching! I can imagine it's a very taxing time! These are fabulous tips for anyone in that position!
    -Anna |

  4. congrats on getting through teaching school, You have some really great tips in this post!

  5. Congrats on finishing up student teaching! A lot of my friends ended up being teachers so this was such a great guide for that :)

  6. Such great tips! Congrats on finishing student teaching!

    Rachel | The Confused Millennial

  7. Such a great guide for first time student teachers! I'll definitely have to share this with friends who are going into teaching!

  8. Some of these are super applicable for a lot of people, especially choosing outfits wisely, staying healthy, and being professional.

  9. Great job on making it through! These are great tips and many of them can be applied to every career path.

  10. So exciting that you finally got to dive into your future career! I'm so happy for you! All of your hard work is paying off. <3

    xoxo A

  11. Self care is so important, especially if you are in a position constantly pouring yourself out for others. I have a lot of ed major friends that I'll pass this along to. Congrats girly!! xoxo

  12. I have so much respect for what you do! I would seriously loose my patience all the time haha.

    Alix |

  13. So many of my friends from college are student teachers so I am going to share this with them! They would definitely find it helpful:)

    xoxo, Hannah