As a future elementary teacher, I have spent about 90 hours in different classrooms observing and learning from veteran teachers, facilitating small-group instruction, as well as planning and teaching my own lessons. These experiences have allowed me to apply what I have learned in classes to real world scenarios, while also preparing me for life after graduation.
Teaching encompasses a variety of roles that go beyond classroom instruction, and the weight of importance for each role used to leave me feeling slightly intimidated and ill-prepared for my future career. However, with each hour spent in the classroom, the intimidation slowly melted away. With the help of my cooperating teachers, I was also able to receive constructive feedback while building my confidence.
For my Spring 2022 practicum, I was placed in a fifth grade classroom. I was worried at first due to the majority of my experience being in lower elementary, but I quickly grew to love it. Because the students were older, I was able to let more of my personality come out and create stronger bonds. This class, in particular, was struggling with many behavior issues and I was amazed by the way my cooperating teacher managed them. She never raised her voice, remained consistent in her expectations of the class, and talked me through each decision she made as insight into her thought process. It not only expanded my knowledge, but also gave me the opportunity to ask questions and offer suggestions.
As time went on, my cooperating teacher slowly increased my responsibilities in the classroom. One of them included the faciliation of targeted, small-group instruction for students who were falling behind in class. After leading multiple sessions, I established a relationship with the students that benefitted the overall effectiveness of each lesson. For example, it became much easier to keep the students on track once they began to trust me, because they knew that I genuinely wanted to see them succeed. These mini lessons came to be some of my favorite memories from the experience.
In addition to the highlights of this experience, I also encountered many challenges that showed me areas of growth. First, I learned where there were gaps in my content knowledge. Some of the lessons I was supporting my teacher on became lessons for me as well, opportunities to refresh my memory on topics I had not seen since being in elementary school. When I admitted this to my teacher, she laughed and gave me tips for how she stays up to date on content, while also reassuring me that it was okay to admit when you don’t know the answer. It reminded me that teaching is a profession where learning is continuous for both the teacher and the students. Second, I learned that I was afraid of coming off to the students as “mean” or “aggresive,” so I was hesitant to reinforce rules and expectations. Though, after watching my cooperating teacher, I noticed that the students actually responded better to a more assertive tone and consistent reminders of expectations because it established structure to the classroom. Similar to the effect of a parent, students would work harder to show the teacher they were doing a good job and to maintain a classroom environment that was unified and collaborative. This allowed me to find my voice and feel more comfortable about my ability to manage my own classroom one day.