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Tips for Student Teachers

Meghan McNamara-Cabral | June 2010

    After 20 years of life as a student, I realized a difficult part of graduating from college with an education degree is the transition from that of learner to that of leader – leading students by example.
    Those new to teaching quickly see that students absorb and emulate everything a teacher says and does, which makes setting an example for young people an important part of your job, whether you are just a few years older than your students or twice their age. Remembering this will help you in many aspects of your professional life. During your first days on the job you will hear different kinds of suggestions from your colleagues in the teachers’ lounge. This is where you will hear complaints and witness negative attitudes. It is also the place where teachers encourage each other and discuss small problems that may lead to policy changes throughout a school district.

Abiding by School Policies

    I firmly believe that teachers have to stand up and fight the small battles the crop up in their classroom. These small battles often involve such straightforward school policies as banning gum chewing in class. If your school has this policy, it applies to everyone, students and teachers alike.
    I won the gum battle by making a game out of the policy, keeping a waste­basket near the door. Students learned to enter the rehearsal hall and immediately empty their gum. Of course, I too follow this policy because students will follow my example.

The Distraction of Cell Phones
    Cell phones initiate another type of battle in schools because most students  would like to be connected to electronic devices 24 hours a day. Cell phones are a distraction and should never be allowed in classrooms. Stu­dents in­evitably use poor judgment and send or receive text messages, even when an instructor is in the middle of a lecture.
    A school’s policies about using cell phones may be clearly stated, but confusion arises if a teac­h­er uses a cell phone to send text messages during class. This is simply wrong. If a school policy states that no cell phones are allowed in classrooms, then faculty members have to be responsible for their actions and not bring them to class.

Rules For Students Only?
    This may make you laugh, but I know of college graduates who accept teaching positions believing they are exempt from a school’s rules; they think school policies apply only to students. This is nonsense. If a student asks why you are doing something when he can’t, never tell him “because I am the teacher” or “because I said so.” It is never acceptable to break school policies.
    Rules about dress code also apply to both students and teachers. One ad­ministrator has been known to comment that “we have a dress code for students that teachers should follow” when faculty dress too casually. Lead by example.

Students as Friends
    Some teachers make a big mistake by trying to become a buddy to their students instead of acting like a professional who might one day become a coach or mentor to them. When I was in high school, I had enough friends without wanting to be friendly with my teachers. Most students think this way.
    A feeling of equality between students and teachers who respect a school’s policies promotes a healthy environment that is void of distractions and problems. It is so much easier to get rid of gum, leave cell phones in lockers, and dress correctly, than to waste precious classroom time discussing the values of these policies. Don’t even give students a chance to pick a small battle. It’s better to set and example and avoid conflicts before they start.

Your Public Image
    Another difficulty in making the transition from student to teacher has do to with the internet, sending and receiving e-mails, and websites like Facebook and Myspace. With the internet at everyone’s fingertips, it is more important than ever to keep a professional distance between you and your students.
    Facebook is helpful for college students who want to network for parties and contact friends; however, once you are a professional, the way you use Facebook should change to that of keeping in touch with old friends and colleagues. It can even be used as a sounding board for new ideas or for getting resources from college classmates of the past.
    There is little room for privacy with Facebook. If friends of friends see your pictures, for example, it would be just as easy for a student to see your pictures. You have to make good decisions about which pictures and statements to include on a Facebook page. While it is logical to use photos of yourself and family, students shouldn’t see pictures of you in a bar, possibly in a compromised state. If they did, you would have a difficult time controlling your classroom the next day.

Remain Professional

    If you are the good friend of a person whose younger sibling suddenly be­comes one of your students, it is best to re­tain a professional relationship with the sibling, whether in school or out in public. It is better that students not see personal photographs on Face­book, so then it be­comes a matter of asking friends not to show these to siblings. To be sure each friend knows this, talk with them about the value you place on maintaining a professional relationship with your students.
    Teach­ers and students should never become buddies. Once you start teaching, it is time to give a second thought to the types of pictures you post and the ones to delete from Facebook.

Google Your Name
    Once an item is posted on the internet, it never leaves; it will always be somewhere in cyber space. I recommend that even before new teachers get a job, they go to Google and type in their name. Many new and tenured teachers have an I-don’t-want-to-know attitude, but you should know what is on the internet about you, because your students will google your name, probably more often then you think.
    Do this once every few months, just to check it out. Students are smart; if there is an inappropriate picture somewhere, they will find it. Untenured and new teachers have been be fired for having pictures of a questionable nature on the internet. Even if those pictures were taken and posted long before they started teaching.
    The transition from college student to teacher is difficult to make. It is even harder if you teach in the school district you grew up in. It can be done,  but you need to be responsible for your actions. I suggest you find a good mentor or friend who can keep an eye out for you during your first teaching job.
    As a new teacher choose your actions carefully and wisely. Remem­ber to have fun and to always lead by example – a professional example.