STUDENT TEACHING: What YOU can take away from MY experience!
Ever since I was 15 and decided I wanted to be a teacher, I’ve been telling myself one thing: “I can’t student teach because being observed is freaky! I’ll find the loophole.” I’m here to tell you that there is no loophole. I looked for it. But I’m also here to say that I’m glad I never found it. My time in these classrooms was absolutely invaluable. Not only did this experience confirm that I do want to be a classroom teacher but it also changed my perspective on the kind of teacher I’d like to become! Here’s what I mean:
I have always wanted to teach Theatre in a high school because I loved my own high school Theatre teacher so much that I basically wanted to be her. I also thought I would not be able to handle a classroom of little kids. I wanted to work with older kids who had to take Theatre just to fulfill some kind of elective credit so that I could convert them and turn them into Von Trapps. I would change the world and make class-cutting Theatre-haters into pre-professional Theatre-lovers.
ACT ONE: ELEMENTARY SCHOOL
My first placement was at P.S. 2 with Karen Sklaire, a graduate of our program!
I started student teaching on September 10th and the first class I ever observed was the CTT class. It was their first day at Drama and I was seeing their reactions to all of the stimuli in the room-- there were stars hanging from the ceiling that they wanted to grab, costumes they wanted to wear, puppets they wanted to touch, etc. Karen’s room is like the dream Theatre classroom, but the kids were so excited that it made me question my classroom management skills big time. Could I handle this? Somehow Karen was able to rein them in (including the second grader who patted me on the butt, winked at me and told me I was “so cute”…hilarious…), but I knew it would take a lot of practice before I would be able to control this class like she had been able to that day. Her transitions in her lessons were seamless, her voice was loud and the kids listened to her. She really was able to take a chaotic situation and turn it around.
Then, throughout the rest of the day, the majority of the kids didn’t speak English! P.S. 2 is located in Chinatown and many of the kids were brand new to the school and just starting to learn or returning and were out of practice since they were coming back from summer vacation. Because the majority of the kids on Karen’s roster were either dealing with cognitive/behavioral or linguistic obstacles, the most important thing I learned at this placement was how valuable a sense of routine can be to your students. Karen used the same warm-ups and the same songs every day for every class and eventually the kids could lead them themselves (in English!). The kids looked forward to these exercises because they were familiar, and they felt like they were becoming experts at predicting what came next so it made them feel good to be consistently successful!
For my first observation, I used Karen’s City Mouse & Country Mouse unit as a jumping board into a lesson on Sound-Scaping and Setting. For my second observation, I got to do a full musical of the Ugly Duckling (lines, songs and choreography) with the Kindergarteners. It was one of the best times I’ve ever had as a teacher. We ran the whole thing while I accompanied them on the piano, and they were super excited about showing the finished product to their general classroom teacher who coincidentally knew the songs and sang along with them!
The last day at the school was the Christmas party and Karen had the kids make a huge card for me with all of their signatures and little messages. It’s made out to “Mr. Rosa” because every morning this would happen:
Karen: “Good morning, class! Say hello to Miss DeRosa!”
Kids: “Mister Rosa? That is boy!”
Kids: “Mister Rosa? That is boy!”
I have the card framed in my apartment. I really do miss the kids.
My second placement is LaGuardia High School where I’ll be finishing my student teaching in a few weeks! I was more than excited to have this special opportunity. Obviously, this high school Theatre culture is very different from what you’d find at most other high schools. Every single one of these kids is interested in pursuing Theatre as a career. There is no one to convert! This is a fast paced school with a lot going on. I often sit in awe of my CT wondering how she can keep all the balls in the air because she sure as hell is juggling a ton of them. She is constantly thinking about performances, monologues and scenes that are right for every single kid, submitting kids for professional projects, making limited space work for every group that needs a room to work in, visits from Al Roker, Michael J. Fox, 30 girls from an Australian Christian girls school, and a partridge in a pear tree. Her office is like a zoo but it is so admirable that she can keep up with every single item on her mental to-do list and make everything happen.
Now, on the flipside, something funny and unexpected that I’ve learned very quickly at this school is that these kids are actually appalled and offended if I bring in a game that they already know from another class or student teacher. Routine is not an option here at all. If they know it, they’re not doing it again! Needless to say, I am now a game encyclopedia when I had not been one before because I have to come up with something new for them every day. It’s a fun challenge but I have to admit I get nervous to announce what the game plan is for the day because I never know what I’ll get: 32 kids screaming “Nooooo! We did that one last October!!!!” or 32 kids who are totally on board. I take it as a huge compliment when they ask to repeat one of my lessons, though, because that means they really enjoyed it the first time. They’re a tough crowd!
· If your lesson is solid, you will forget about the person observing you. I spent a decade in fear and then when the day finally came I forgot it was even happening. Now I have my final observation this week at the high school and I’m actually looking forward to it. Go figure.
· If the teachers at the school are called “Ms.” or “Mr.” I highly, highly recommend asking if you can be called “Ms.” or “Mr.” as well. Elementary kids tend to think of you as the fun babysitter if they can call you by your first name and high schoolers think of you as their friend and start to offer you fist bumps.
· Don’t fist bump. Ever.
· Even if the dress code allows sweat pants because it’s Theatre, still dress nicely. I sometimes felt a little overdressed but it separated me from the kids. (Even still, one kid asked me what grade I was in and a boy accidentally asked me to the prom….)
· If things start getting a little out of control with classroom management, it does not mean you should consider a career change. Your cooperating teacher might have to fly in and save you a couple of times. It’s normal.
· Don’t be afraid of going into a high school if you normally work with little kids and vice versa. The knowledge you have of working with the one age group will cross over with some modifications. (The high schoolers don’t know it but their favorite game is one that the 5th graders loved, too! Shh!)
· Don’t take it personally if your cooperating teacher doesn’t use all of your ideas. You don’t stink at writing lessons; your CT might just want to stick to her own curriculum. And if that happens very, very frequently:
· Sometimes you might have to advocate for yourself a little bit when it comes to getting some more time in front of the class and/or writing what feels comfortable for you in your lesson plans for when you’re being observed. It is, after all, your learning time, too. Again, that seems to be normal.
· When you are in a position to go around and ask if the kids need help with whatever they’re working on, it can be awkward for them to say yes for whatever reason. They may just not feel like they know you enough yet. So they will say, “I’m good,” and then you walk away and feel useless. But chances are if you ask to see what they’ve got so far, it’ll give you an opportunity to make some suggestions. Then they’ll trust you and they’ll come to you on their own next time they need help.
· Push your hidden skills so that your cooperating teacher sees how valuable you can be to her classroom while you’re visiting. Taking it upon myself to play the piano for Karen’s warm-up song one day got her excited to do a Musical …and then The Ugly Duckling became my project! One day at LaGuardia, the accompanist just didn’t show up to class. I stepped in and played for the class, and from there I was asked to do side coaching every day for the Spring Sing! What’s your unusual skill that you can bring to the table? Puppetry? Stage Makeup? Bring it in and SHOW your CT. Somehow I found that showing rather than telling elicited more of a response, and therefore more opportunities to work with the classes.
· You ARE competent enough to student teach. You might be having panic attacks like I was about not being ready, but this program has prepared you.
I discovered I like working with all age groups but especially the little ones! I’ve found that I really love working with the kids who want to be there. I don’t need to get all Sister Sarah Brown on the kids who think Theatre is lame. And on top of all that, the CTT class that seemed totally unmanageable for me on my first day ended up being my favorite class of the year! So yes, I’m glad there was no loophole because I would not have met the 120 kids I met at LaGuardia and the 200 kids at P.S. 2, or the two cooperating teachers who taught me all of their tricks and supported me through this learning experience. After this year I feel ready and eager to have a classroom of my own… and maybe someday I’ll even have a student teacher! The tables will turn! Fwa ha ha!!