Tuesday, December 17, 2013

The 10 things I learned from my college teacher prep program : A Reflection

As of Friday, December 13th, I am now no longer a student teacher. After dozens of semesters, thousands of dollars, and countless stressed out sleepless nights, I can apply for certification and become a professional educator. My last day was wonderful, I'll make a post about it in the next few days, but I wanted to write a little something in the meantime.

The seminar that is tied to student teaching requires a reflection on our time at the college and our journey through teacher certification. At first I was really excited to write about my experience, but then I was given a rubric with various points I had to touch on in order to receive a good grade on the paper. So, in the end, it wasn't a true reflection of my time there and what I learned.

Instead, I decided to share what I learned with the rest of you. Maybe they will help some of you have more realistic expectations than I did, or maybe it can give you a little laugh, but here it is...

The 10 things I learned from my college teacher prep program :

All teacher prep programs are a bit different, so what I say may not specifically apply to you and your journey, but hopefully you can relate...

  1. Learn to love acronyms. The teaching profession LOVES buzzwords and acronyms. Be prepared to have literally hundreds of education related alphabet soup thrown your way, and it's your job to make sense of it all. NCLB, ED, ESL, KWL, IDEA, HIB...the list goes on and on. You are expected to know all of these acronyms and what they stand for because, not only will these be a part of your papers, your tests, and all your lesson plans, but you'll have to be able to define them in future job interviews. Since a lot of these educational acronyms (like ED, Emotionally Disturbed) have real world counter parts (ED, Erectile Disfunction) google will be little to no help in figuring out what people are actually talking about. Why doesn't someone just write a book defining all of them? Oh, because they can't! These things change so often that the song I posted above already has a dozen obsolete ones and it was written in April of 2013! (Not even a full 8 months ago!) Personally I don't think these acronyms are half as important as my program made them out to be. In my classroom experience I have noticed that each school and district use their own terms, and a lot of teachers just say the whole thing. (Just like A Tribe Called Quest or A Pimp Named Slickback.) This way no one is confused about what you are talking about and no one is wasting any time.

    NOTE: Here is a nifty little site that might be helpful: http://www.allacronyms.com

  2. Be prepared to drown in paperwork. I hope you like the DMV/MVC (oh look, more acronyms), because there will be several moments where you are running around having things filled out to meet insane office hours and deadlines. This isn't something that is exclusive to potential teachers, but college in general is full of different colored forms that all need to be filled out and taken to the right places. You will end up running from building to building, stalking public officials and professors, memorizing office hours, and on top of it all you even have to  get some of this stuff notarized. Ever see that bureaucrat themed episode in Futurama? Well you are about to become Hermes.

  3. Your teaching textbooks are now worthless. Congratulations, you are now the proud owner of some lovely book-shaped paperweights. In college I promise you that all of your classes are going to require some kind of textbook written by a wonderful professor or educator. Double check with your professors to see if you REALLY need the recommended books or not, sometimes they are never even used in class, and if you absolutely have to buy the textbook NEVER BUY IT FROM THE SCHOOL STORE. EVER. Look for your books online and you'll get a much better deal. Sometimes you can even find a download link for textbooks for free!  The teaching profession is constantly evolving, what you learned last year, or even last week, is already obsolete. I usually list my textbooks for sale during the last month of classes. Why? Well I kept my first ever teaching textbook I purchased, it was kind of a nostalgia thing, and not only is this textbook that cost me $80 bucks only worth .50 cents now, but it is entirely obsolete! You know how many times I used this text as a reference? NEVER. In this day and age professional teachers are more likely to use online resources than old teaching texts anyway, so do yourself a favor and sell those teaching texts ASAP. (Oh look, more acronyms.)

  4. You are not only a teacher, but you are also an entertainer! Don't worry, you don't have to don a clown-suit and perform magic tricks, but you do have to keep the attention of two dozen people who really do not want to be there. Have stage fright? Well, as sad as it sounds, teaching may not be for you. Students, no matter how young, can tell when someone is afraid or phoning it in. As an educator you need to show students that you are strong, capable, and enthusiastic about your content area. If you aren't ready to roll with the punches, prepare to be eaten alive. 

  5. You do not have to reinvent the wheel! I am not sure how other colleges handle lesson plans, but mine wanted all of us to go above and beyond. Every lesson has to include cross curriculum standards, include writing, have something collected and graded, use some kind of  technology, and more. At first, it seems really overwhelming. How can you work all this into your lessons? Especially mine that involve making art? In reality, this is a bunch of hoopla that covers things that truly effective teachers do on a daily basis. It's actually quite easy. I did a lesson in drawing trees, so how did I include all those fancy buzzword-techniques in my lesson? I included vocabulary to hit an English cross curriculum point (Intersected branches, barren trees...etc). For technology I used my smartboard to show students lots of different trees and various trees painted in different styles by artists, and then I left the instructions and photos of today's assignment up on the smartboard for the rest of the lesson. I had students draw a practice tree, which I collected, before starting the actual tree drawing assignment, and to top it all off I taught them a little art history about famous painter (and happy tree enthusiast) Bob Ross. It wasn't hard at all! Don't get overwhelmed with all these fancy terms and buzzwords, odds are these are just fancy terms that go along with things you are already doing!

  6. You thought group projects were a thing of the past, well guess again! Welcome to the rest of your career, AKA group project hell. Collaborating with other teachers is a must, especially with the new evaluation system that has been implemented, and you are not only working with people in your specific content area. Sometimes this collaboration will work out great and everything will be sunshine and rainbows, other times you will be right back where you were in high school. You end up doing all the work and sharing the credit with someone who did nothing but write their name on a paper. There isn't too much advice I can give you here, but be prepared to send out emails and get no responses. Usually showing up to their room in person is enough to whip these people back into shape.

  7. Professional teachers never follow instructions and pick up all kinds of bad habits. This is a little something I learned from my really awesome, and brutally honest, seminar professor. Teachers are the worst when it comes to following any directions ever. Ever been to a staff meeting? I have. More than half of the teachers are ignoring everything discussed, playing with their phones, and waiting for the work day to be over. If their students acted that way they would be appalled. Also they are always waiting until the last minute to respond or submit any budget or paperwork. Don't believe me? Try sending emails out to several of your fellow teachers and wait for responses. (Tip: Don't hold your breath.) Maybe I am cynical, and maybe I haven't been in the most passionate school districts, but be aware of your own actions. How are you perceived by your peers, your students, and your administrators? Try your best to keep up with everything and pay attention at your staff meetings, or at the very least look like it.

  8. When you get lemons, make lemonade. As cheesy as it sounds, it's up to you to make the best of whatever situation you find yourself in. Your teacher prep program has very little to do with any of your practicum or student teaching placements. They may help you get a district, but they have no control over the teacher, and these co-ops are not picked due to their amazing teaching skills. Basically you get what you get and you don't get upset. (This is something I used to say to my preschoolers when I worked daycare.) Part of this experience can be learning what not to do, and seeing the kind of teacher you never want to be, and although it makes everything a lot more difficult, it's up to you to make the best of it. Being able to step up to the plate when things are at their worst and turn things around is the sign of a true teacher. Talk to other teachers in the school and spread your in-class observation and teaching time with other instructors that can act as mentors. Not only does it help you get more experience, but it helps you build relationships. (Plus you can get more recommendation letters this way.)

  9. Check yourself before you wreck yourself.  Be aware of what you are doing, wearing and how you present yourself. As a public school teacher you are a government employee and you need to conduct yourself as such. For example, if your smartboard and computer are linked, don't check your personal emails! Or pretty much do any personal work ever. Also do NOT do a google search with safe search off and accidentally flash the entire classroom hardcore porn. (P.S. ALWAYS TURN ON SAFE SEARCH ON. THIS SEEMS FUNNY BUT IT TOTALLY HAPPENED.) Keep your personal stuff out of the classroom, turn safe search on, and keep your personal views on politics and religion to yourself. As far as dressing goes, always overdress and dress somewhat conservatively. I'm not telling you to go pick up a habit and join a convent, but you have to be aware of certain fashion-related mishaps that can happen.  Here is a short list of things I have seen in a school: low cut shirts that expose a bra or boobs when a teacher lean over to help students at desks, skin tight leggings as pants, PJ pants or sweat pants on non-dress down days, flip-flops...you name it. Dress professionally and dress down when appropriate. You shouldn't look like one of your students. (That makes me sound old and crotchety, but you can look attractive while still being professional.)

  10. Nothing prepares you for reality. I am going to be serious for a moment. All teacher prep programs are a bit different, at my college you can't work in a classroom with real students until the year and a half before you graduate. Prior to that you take semesters filled with methods and issues courses. These classes rely on textbooks and articles, and comprehending them is supposed to prepare you for any situation. It can't. Nothing truly prepares you for the heartbreaking reality you can face in a real classroom. For example, I took several courses on at-risk kids and different difficult situations children face in low income neighborhoods. After a few years of writing papers on the subject, reading scenarios, and studying various solutions, I thought I was prepared. I began my first ever practicum teaching position at a first year charter school, in a rough neighborhood, filled with at-risk kids. The school only contained preschool to fourth grade, but these children came from all over the city and they touched on all the at-risk topics I studied. Reading about things in a book is one thing, but seeing it in real life is another. I knew these kids. I loved these kids. I saw them struggling and it broke my heart. Some had horrible home lives, some dealt with crippling disabilities that had never been classified, and some had absolutely no one at home who looked out for them. I implemented all the fancy techniques and strategies I read about, and it did nothing. Thankfully my amazing co-op specialized in education for at-risk students, and she taught me a few things that made a small difference in the students education and their lives. I still think about those kids and wonder where they are and how they are doing. 
When you finally get to be a teacher you have the opportunity to do something great, to make a difference in the lives of others. Although your journey through all the debt and paperwork may absolutely suck, the final results are worth the struggle.

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