I really cannot believe how fast my first semester of student teaching flew by. It was absolutely incredible, and I miss my eighth graders so much already. Since I unfortunately don’t have time to do a full post on each of my many, many learning experiences, I’m going to use this post to cover some of the highlights of my first semester as a student teacher in Milwaukee.

*As soon as I was designated as the adult in control of the classroom, before my students even really knew me, I was suddenly, instantly trusted, looked to for leadership, and asked for advice, permission, or explanation. That was amazing to me—I never really got that until it happened. Once I was “teacher,” I was given this remarkable gift of trust. It reminded me how these kids were letting me lead them because that was what I was there to do. So I worked as hard as possible to earn that gift that they gave me by default.

*I had two classes, and the different personalities and chemistries of each definitely created challenges. My second hour class of nearly 40 kids practically cartwheeled into the room, bursting with energy and noise. Singing, laughing, hitting each other, and bombarding me with questions, this group was incredibly wild, but also enthusiastic and really bright. It was my daily goal to harness and focus their energy. My third hour class (about 25 kids), on the other hand, was very withdrawn and apathetic at first. As the semester went on, I worked to draw these students out of their shells, to engage them with me, the curriculum, and each other. By the end of my stay, they were a truly interdependent group. I was so proud of them!

*Finding my classroom management style was the biggest revelation for me. I tried out a bunch of different tactics, but I soon figured out that there’s only one surefire fact about classroom management: there is no magical solution. However, my current thinking is that the best strategy is to work to create a true classroom community, where each member has a role and an understanding of his or her responsibilities to the class community, and all are respected, welcomed, and listened to. It works well for me to build positive interactions between students and teacher, so that when (not if) problems arise, there is a sense of “we’re all in this together” that keeps everyone working as a group to get through the rocky spots. I hate “lording over” students—it doesn’t work, they just spit at you behind your back. I want my authority as a teacher to spring from a place of respect, not fear of threats. I definitely mean business in my classroom, but I also leave room for students to work together to solve their own problems. That’s what they’ll have to do in the real world anyway!

*Students need to work together to learn. They are social animals, and they need to learn skills of cooperation, compromise, tolerance, tact, and communal problem-solving just as much as they need to know the meaning behind symbols and how to write a good conclusion. Whenever possible, I incorporated that into my instruction. Clearly, students need to achieve individually, but human beings also need to interact to learn. Especially at the introduction of a concept, my students’ best resources were often one another.

*Eighth graders can handle college level work. I have no doubt about this. As long as they have support, and as long as the students trust their teacher, they can achieve at way higher levels than the state expects them to. Over the course of my semester with my eighth graders, I had them writing metaphor-filled poetry, practicing sophisticated grammatical constructions (like compound contrasting sentences joined with semi-colons), discussing the effectiveness of various literary techniques in S.E. Hinton’s The Outsiders, relying on logical argument backed up by research for their persuasive essays, and interpreting paradoxes in Shakespeare’s Macbeth. I expected my eighth graders to do each of those things, never doubting that they couldn’t. And I was so right. Obviously, I often got complaints about things being too hard or too complicated, but in the end, once they got beyond their own inhibitions, they could really handle it. I can now say from experience that high expectations work. There is no reason to dumb anything down. All students are potential scholars. And I expect mine to become them.

*A supportive community of peers is absolutely invaluable. I cannot express enough how vital my fellow teacher candidates, professors, and co-operating teacher have been throughout everything. The wisdom of experience as well as the understanding of shared learning creates so many human resources that I’d be a fool not to take advantage of. It is so nice just to sit with another educator and toss around different scenarios, ideas, and solutions. One of my favorite collaboration opportunities this semester was a seminar that I attended with my co-operating teacher and another student teacher. We participated in activities that taught us some ways to incorporate movement into teaching—it was so much fun, but it was also a wonderful time for the three of us to talk about what was going on in our classroom. What was good? What made it that way? What wasn’t working so well? How could we improve it? The constant reflection, revision, and creative nature of teaching is so fulfilling when it’s a collaborative effort.

*Every day is different, and you can never be too prepared. Anything and everything will happen. The powers that be warned me of these things, but I didn’t quite believe them. Now I do.

*Confidence. Plainly put, I wasn’t sure I could do this. I wasn’t sure I could be a teacher at all, much less in an urban district notorious for its safety concerns, low parent involvement, and achievement gap woes. Once I got there, though, I realized that the hype never measures up to the reality, that my students were amazing people, and that I was a perfect fit for this job. This realization brought so much joy to me. After such a long time of being uneasy about my career path, I finally feel secure. I love teaching. It’s such hard work, but it’s the right work for me.

*Basic overview of what I taught this semester [over 15 weeks, with an observation period]:
-poetry (devices, terms, literary interpretation, composition, revision, reasons to write poetry)
The Outsiders (characterization, vocabulary, theme, connections to current society, making inferences, point of view, author’s purpose)
-Proctored for WKCE testing
-Persuasive writing (grammar in context, basic essay structure, acknowledging/refuting the opposition, distinguishing between fact and opinion, writing a solid argument hinging on logic, using reliable internet sources to conduct research and incorporating direct quotations into writing)
-Creative writing (Conflict, setting, characterization, classic plot elements, show vs. tell)
-Shakespeare’s Macbeth (Who was William Shakespeare?, translating Shakespeare’s English, basics of reading dramatic works, summarization, paradox, making predictions)

It was an insane 15 weeks! Here’s to a great semester. I’ve learned so much already, and I’m ready for more.