Student Teaching: The Influence of Your Pre-Student Teaching Experience

by Sarah Hess

In my education program you have three levels of field experience before your student teaching.  Each level is called a “block” and ideally the teacher you work with in block three is your mentor teacher for student teaching.

Last semester my mentor teacher and I had very different teaching styles and personalities. In short, we didn’t get along and had very different expectations for each other. We both did what we could to make the best of the situation, but the relationship ended on the rocky side.

This mismatched mentor/mentee relationship has left me a bit scarred. I’ve met my new mentor teacher (who I think is awesome) but I’m still worried things will turn south. Thinking about the start of my student teaching leaves my breath caught in my chest and my stomach uneasy.  I see many of my cohort members posting about the lesson plans they have done and all I can think is that I’m so very far behind.

This whole experience almost feels like a bad break-up and a broken heart. I’m hesitant to throw myself into this again when there is a chance that my work and thoughts may be rejected. Unfortunately, unlike in dating, I can’t just remove myself from the field or take time to build my confidence. My program will continue and student teaching will happen regardless of whether or not I feel I’m ready.  My promise to you, the reader, is to walk into that classroom with my head held high and my lessons inspired.


Bottom line is, we are lost

Editor’s Note: The author of this piece chose to remain anonymous to avoid any potential professional backlash.

I love my job. I spend my days learning from individuals who lead vastly different lives than my own – they share their stories and reflections on past traumas, intercultural experience, relationships – and I get to guide their reflection on those experiences. I can think of nothing I’d rather do. I am a teacher.

And so is my husband. We are in our late twenties. Collectively my husband and I hold around $38,000 in student debt. We have a $210,000 mortgage. We hope to have children. But honestly, we’re not sure if we can have children and pay our debts if we both continue teaching. And frankly, children aside, we’re not sure we can keep our sanity, health and well-being if we keep teaching.

I am adjunct faculty at community colleges. I teach an overload of courses, which requires two hours of daily commuting. I work 12-14 hour days, requiring that I eat two meals outside of my home. Car maintenance and gas costs are my own, as they don’t quite meet the threshold necessary for tax deduction. I buy my own supplies so that they can travel with me between campuses. I carry a backpack that weighs an average of 30 pounds full of books, student work and class supplies. I maintain four different work email accounts and learning management systems. I use my own computer and Internet for the majority of my work as it allows me greater mobility. I am unpaid for all the work I perform outside of the classroom (so if I am in the classroom 20 hours a week, that means I perform at least another 40 hours of work outside the classroom that is unpaid). I often use my sick leave to catch up on grading papers. I work out of cubicles, where I vacuum my own floor, empty my own trash and pray that the mice visit somewhere else. I pay for my own health benefits, which are subsidized slightly by the state, although, there is a bill currently in the state legislature, which may remove this subsidy. I am unpaid for breaks between quarters, which amounts to nine weeks a year without pay. During those breaks I am prepping my future classes or participating in unpaid professional development tasks. The union encourages me to apply for unemployment during these nine weeks; in fact, the unemployment office holds trainings for adjunct faculty where we learn what language to use so that we are best situated for approval. A full time instructor with equivalent skills in my state will work out of one college, receive full benefits, teach a standard load and make between $10,000 to $20,000 a year more than I do. This is the situation of almost 73% of the instructional workforce[1] within the United States.

Well, you might say, get a full time position! That’s a great idea – but, unfortunately they are few and far between. I applied for two full time positions this past year. They each received over 500 applicants. 500! Well, ok then – be more competitive, get a Ph.D.! Here is the thing; a Ph.D. is not going to help me. There are fewer and fewer full time positions, even at four-year institutions. And frankly, I don’t want to be a Ph.D. – I want to be a teacher. And I am good at being a teacher. I am accessible to students, engaging – and effective. A Ph.D. will not improve my financial situation that much if I continue doing what I am doing, and it will not necessarily provide me with new opportunities. Oh and it takes at least five years.

So here are my options; keep doing what I love and find really rewarding and acquiesce myself to the fact that I am taken advantage of and underappreciated OR get a job doing corporate training/ instruction where I might not like what I do as well, I might miss the illuminations of the classroom, I might miss the regular engagement with diverse groups of people – but at least I’ll be compensated for my loss.

I am grateful that I am paid to do work that I love – but I fear that in this world, and this age, I may not be able to continue. This is the most depressing part. I have a career doing what I love, and what I love isn’t in any way frivolous. I love guiding community college students through the difficult waters of self-presentation, public speaking and culture. I love helping them develop tools for success in future careers and relationships. I love seeing them build confidence in themselves as learners and citizens. But what I love is so undervalued by society – I might be better off doing something less rewarding just so I can continue to pay my bills.

This system means we ALL lose. The teachers who love what they do and are good at it are forced to move on or stay and use teaching methods that are lazy so they can avoid becoming bitter and disengaged (trust me – these folks exist, I share cubes with them). Which means the students lose, and when the students lose, future employers lose, and when employers lose, society loses. So, bottom line is, we are lost.

See you at the unemployment office. I’ll lend you a hand with your language. I know all about it and I used to be a teacher.

Teaching is in My Blood

by Kirsten Ertman

I am an elementary teacher that has taught at various public and private schools for the last 5 years. I too grew up playing school and pretending to be the authoritative, caring role in a classroom of stuffed animals, dolls, and occasional siblings and friends. Growing up in a family of educators, teaching is in my blood. There is something special about being able to impact the life of a child, and to play a small role in molding them into a person that can maybe one day make a difference in the world. Although this thought drives my day-to-day life as an educator, it can sometimes become hindered by the everyday struggles and pressures that we are faced with.

As a current teacher in the private school setting, I am blessed with the opportunity to bring religion into our daily schedule. The downside to this is that because we are a private school, we do not receive government funding; therefore our families are forced to pay tuition…something that many families in the public school setting can save for when their children go off to college. Although we don’t receive help from the government, we are still required to meet state standards (requirements for what teachers need to cover at each grade level throughout the year) as well as standards implemented with the Common Core Curriculum. The Common Core is a nationwide initiative to help prepare students for higher-level learning, so that our children will be prepped for the skills necessary when they are out in the “real world”. Although this initiative has some excellent motives, it provides a tremendous amount of added preparation and pressure for educators, parents, and even students. Our states and districts all over the country are working to align the state standards with the new Common Core standards. What does this mean right now? This new initiative is going to take some time and a lot of adjusting on all ends. Children coming into school without any type of pre-school education or preparation in the home, may experience frustration and difficulty if they are not meeting these standards. What Kindergartners are expected to learn and know now, are things that I learned how to do almost 20 years ago in 2nd grade! For many schools, exploratory play and discovery in Kindergarten is being substituted with assessment, drilling, and extensive practice. We are seeing an issue with huge developmental and skill related gaps with children. This is just one issue that causes a great amount of frustration on schools and their families.

Today, with all these new initiatives and standard-related requirements, we are finding students coming into the school setting with more and more special needs and behavioral issues. When I was in school, very few students were “labeled” with a specific skill or developmental disabilities. It is hard to say whether the cause of these disabilities is genetic, environmental, or caused by something else unknown. Regardless of the cause, it can be another challenge for teachers. Although I am the type of teacher that welcomes these types of challenges, and understands that it is the differences that makes my students special, it is extremely difficult to do my part if there is lack of support on the home-front. Additionally, it is extremely crucial for guardians to help support the school and disciplinary policies that are implemented by the educators. I have had many encounters with families that although have good intentions, do not feel that they need to adhere to the requirements, or that they deserve special treatment. With attitudes such as these, I am seeing that students are coming into the classroom feeling as though they are always entitled to something. I fear that we are in a society now where children are controlling the home life and then bringing that control into the classroom setting. This is not how I was raised and it is extremely frustrating to see. What should we do about it? Continue to teach our children respect for all things and for all people. Continue to teach virtues of compassion, forgiveness, trust, manners, responsibility, love, etc… We continue to model these ways and expect them in return.

Teachers are often devalued and under appreciated by the world in which we live. If it weren’t for a second income coming from my husband, I would not be able to live in today’s society. With that being said, it is extremely frustrating that nothing has been done to compensate teachers properly. While many people work jobs that require hours of 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.; any teacher knows that is not ever a typical day in our field. I am not compensated for the 2 hours before and 3-5 hour after school preparations. Very often am I not compensated for my own money spent on purchases for supplies and equipment necessary to fulfill my job. At a private school, I do not receive retirement; which means I have to budget and work to set extra money aside each month in preparations for my career’s end. The controversial topic of having summers off is completely ridiculous. Although I’m not in my classroom every day during the summer, I am still constantly planning and preparing for the next school year. Myself and many others that go into this profession knowing what we are getting ourselves into before entering, but I feel as though changes need to be made in our country. We need to place more value on education and the work that teachers do. Where would our future doctors, lawyers, and government leaders be without the education received…especially the building blocks and skills instilled in them at the elementary level.

I’m proud to be a teacher, there are and extreme amount of ups and downs, but I go to work each day not for myself, but for 20 some children who rely on me to help prepare them for the future.