March 5, 2020

Parenting and mentoring a student teacher has a lot in common. It’s a lot more work than you would expect. And sometimes it is REALLY, REALLY hard.

I am mentoring my second student teacher this semester. She is a delightful 22 year old who clearly loves kids and finds such joy in the little things. I did not bring her much joy today though. I am trying so hard to step back and let her learn through experience. Today it made her cry.

She has been teaching science on her own for the past two weeks and doing a really good job. She has well planned lessons, great rapport with the kids, and other than a few expected blips, all has gone well. Today was chaos. It was a perfect storm of some wired 5th graders, one kiddo who was particularly ramped up, the last day of rotations so kids were at varying degrees of work completion, and who knows what was in the air. It is so hard for me not to step in. I know that I can tone them down, get them refocused, and settle the class. But in my heart, I knew that my student teacher needed to feel the chaos. And that felt really awkward. I kept asking myself over and over if I was doing the right thing in stepping back. I don’t like watching someone struggle.

And it finally occurred to me that the real reason I needed to let her struggle was for her to understand and know that she will survive. We all botch a lesson, have a bad day, or lose control of a class and just want to cry. But we all survive. It’s not the end of the world. Just like I teach my students, it is in the struggle that we learn the most. I hope that is the case because it was so hard to watch today. Please tell me that she will be a better prepared teacher in the end.

12 thoughts on “March 5, 2020

  1. This is an incredible lesson for you to allow your student teacher to learn. I did not have this experience at any point in my student teaching experience and I was grossly underprepared for classroom management as a result. It shudders to make me think about some of those early days where I was experiencing this without even the option to turn the reigns back over to a mentor teacher. It may be hard to watch her struggle at times, but better to debrief and support afterwards, than step in and provide an artificial security blanket that won’t be available in the future. It may make all the difference for her!

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  2. Of course this is the right choice; productive struggle and inquiry at its best. You capture the inner turmoil perfectly as I can almost see you stepping forward and stepping back in the conflict of whether or not to step in. I wonder a little about how her reaction played out. Was it private or with you and what did you say?

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    1. We had a short cry in the hallway and then she totally pulled it together again. We debrief every day. It always starts with a hug and goes from there. She is getting better at being okay with not being okay yet.

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  3. alainafeliks

    I so agree with you–it is important to let your student teacher struggle. Ultimately, stepping in undermines her and might erode her confidence. Letting her struggle shows you know she can handle it. When I had a student teacher, though, I often had to just step out of the room to prevent myself from butting in.

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  4. THANK YOU! As hard as it was to let her work through that challenge, it was a true gift to stand back and let her experience it the real -life struggle of teachers. knowing if there was an emergency you’d be there. Too often I work with new teachers who have never had that experience and don’t realize they’ll be ok-that it happens to all of us. Productive struggle is the best way to problem solve, grow and gain confidence.

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  5. Oh my goodness–this ending: “And it finally occurred to me that the real reason I needed to let her struggle was for her to understand and know that she will survive. We all botch a lesson, have a bad day, or lose control of a class and just want to cry. But we all survive.” It’s so true. I hope you share this post with her. I think this is right, that it is the most important thing you can teach a student teacher. If they’re open to reflecting and growing, they’ll end up okay–as long as they hang it there. –As someone who had a bad day today, this was a really nice reminder that–as you said–it’s not the end of the world.

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