Friday, July 13, 2012

Student Teaching: The Students -- The Specifics

There were missteps a plenty my first time student-teaching. With a little more introspection and perspective, I would have not bothered with a second try at student-teaching.

In those days, though, I was so insistent on taking someone else's lead with so many things. I was convinced, too, that trying really hard, putting a lot of effort into something guarantees success. Then again, if you have to try to make something worth it, then the thing is not worth trying.

Such is public education, in my view, an attitude which I did not realize fully until much later.

Some highlights of my first student-teaching assignment:

I once took a student's note right out of his hand --- way too brusque, and unnecessary.

I really set that student off. He took the note off of the teacher's desk. When I told him not to, he started yelling at me really loudly, enough that he escorted the student to the dean's office for him to cool off.

It was off to a bumpy start, after all -- I was so trained on taking charge. I was going to make sure that nothing got by me. I would not let one thing slip. I was very much in charge, I told myself, and nothing was going to stop me.

Then again, if the mentor teacher had had any sense to begin with, he would never have allowed me to teach the class for the first day!

Another mentor of mine, Mr. B. from middle school, told me later in the year that a good mentor teacher would never let a student teacher take over during the first two weeks of starting the program.

I still cannot believe that I put all the troubles, all the strain on myself. I was working too hard to begin with, and had very little to work with. The actually believe that student-teachers will just step in and make the most of the situation. Building the plane and flying it, predicting what I will need before I can even thing of asking for anything: it was a trying mess for me from day one.

I had that second period class. But before I was actually called to teach anything, I was supposed to lead the class through SSR.

I hated SSR -- Sustained Silent Reading -- the time when students are so supposed to be quiet.

Students took the opportunity to talk over me, to talk to each other, refusing to read, refusing to do just about anything. When I used the time to pass around materials for the students to catch up on, they would give me a hard time about it. Students have this frustrating tendency to demand that teachers play by the same rules as they do -- yet that is not how the real world works. Students have to be weaned away from the nasty cult of equality. Teacher is in charge, not the student. Teacher gets to make decisions that the students have to live with.

Unfortunately, schools are drifting more toward the model where the students are in charge, where they can threaten to complain to their parents, who in turn can badger the teacher or the administrator to their heart's content.

The whole affair was a terrible business,  one in which I do not think even Jaime Escalante could have prospered. I had always looked to Mr. "Stand and Deliver" as the gleaming example of all that a teacher could be. But in my student-teaching assignment, I was not allowed to talk back, I was not allowed to detain students, I was not allowed to kick rebellious students out and tell them to take wood-shop or some other class instead.

It was ridiculous. From day one, it was a fight just to get through the day. Students were not used to rigorous coursework. In many cases, it seemed as if I was expected to make the most of  really bad situation. I did not have much to work with, and I was in competition with a teacher who was very popular, in large part because he did not expect much from them.

Most mentor teachers, most administrators do not seem to understand that students do not think that they have to listen to a student teacher. We are called upon to teach the same lesson, but we have less of the gravitas that full-time teachers carry with them. To this day, I am astounded that leaders in teacher credentialing have not accepted this painful and unrepentant reality -- the students do not think that they have to respect a visiting teacher, substitute or otherwise.

When the mentor teacher would leave for the day, the students would whine -- "No, don't go, please come back," even while I was talking. I finally got so fed up with, I told them they could leave, and I was not going to stop them. I hammered the point, refusing to be intimidated or discouraged because the students did not want me to be there. Then the same loud-mouth declared, "All right, all right." I was not going to be insulted so easily.

The mentor teacher grew very impatient with me, in part because my mistrust was so great. The students like him so much, it seemed, in large part because he let them get away with so much while getting so little from them.

Once, I was sitting at his desk, frustrated all over again. I got really testy with him, though, because he could clamor together their attention with no problem, sinking my lesson plan for the day just like that. "They won't listen to me when you come in and talk. . ."

"I'm the teacher of record!" He snapped back at me. He was very troubled by the undelightful mess I was making of everything. He later told me, "You have no idea how many parents I have calling about what is going on!" Last, he shared with me, "It is getting harder and harder for me to make this work. . ."

The more he got frustrated, the more I tried to screw up my strength to do better.

The more that I tried to be a good teacher, the worse it got. So much is expected of a teacher, especially a student-teacher, a young person who is just setting out in life, trying to establish a career, one who does not want to rock the boat, yet at the same time has to command the requisite respect of the full-time mentor, yet the students do not think that they have to listen to you.

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