Classroom management tips for student teachers
Are you looking for tips on managing kids’ behavior as a student teacher? You might be wondering what it’s like to be a student teacher, or how you’re supposed to dealing with management issues during student teaching since it’s not technically “your” classroom. On this page, you can read about what I learned about classroom management from my experiences as a student teacher and from having my own classroom. You’ll also read about establishing authority in the classroom as a student teacher and figuring out your own unique teaching style.
My student teaching experience: the good, the bad, and the ugly
During my first student teaching placement, my school was in a high-poverty neighborhood. The teacher was not only exceptional but also extremely calm and even-tempered. The kids were used to responding to quiet requests from her and followed the classroom routines as second nature, so when I showed up in January, the hard part was already done for me. I learned so much from that wonderful kindergarten teacher, and she shaped my teaching practices in tremendous ways. It was a fantastic experience that made me so excited to get my own classroom.
My other student teaching experience was in a very affluent school. It was a third grade placement and I thought it would be a piece of cake compared to corralling needy kindergartners in my previous school. I was so wrong! The mentor teacher was a second career teacher with only a few years experience, and her personality was so mild-mannered that the kids ran completely over top of her. It was so bad that I asked my college supervisor for a new student teaching placement. She agreed that the placement was not ideal and offered to let me finish my student teaching at a different school. However, I had a change of heart and opted to stay and take on the challenge. I immediately took the initiative to implement a simple behavioral system with group points. My mentor teacher was fine with that and was thrilled with the behavioral improvements in the kids. Things got better, but I still cried almost everyday on the way home. It was such a shame because the students were actually very sweet: they just needed some boundaries which the teacher wasn’t able to provide and I was too intimidated to try since it wasn’t my own classroom.
Lessons learned from student teaching
I don’t share this with you to scare you, but just to let you know that even a bad student teaching situation won’t last forever, and if anything, you’ll learn what NOT to do! You can survive whatever you’re handed during those few weeks of student teaching which seem to last forever but are actually just a drop in the bucket compared to the long teaching career you have ahead of you.
Brainstorm solutions to the problems you encounter even if you can’t implement them so you have a full arsenal of strategies when you get your first classroom. Talk with other student teachers about how they’re dealing with similar situations, and see what’s working in other classrooms. Some of my best learning came late at night in the dorms, chatting with other STs about what had happened during the day.
Looking back, I actually wouldn’t change my student teaching placements for the world. The first experience taught me what a real classroom community could look like and gave me something to aspire to. The second experience fueled my passion for classroom management, inspired me to research everything I could about it, and made me far more equipped to handle the crazy situations that arose when I had my own classroom. Just like the rest of your college experience, some aspects of student teaching will be very helpful and enjoyable, and others…won’t.
The challenges of managing student behavior when the classroom isn’t yours
I can say that I was MUCH quieter and more reserved during my student teaching. A lot of that was my age–I was 20 then, and I’ve done a lot of growing up and have become more confident in myself as people usually do with age. I also got more ‘withitness’ as I’ve been in the classroom. There just is no substitute for experience! I am sure that you’ll look back a few years from now and marvel and how much you’ve grown as a teacher.
Some of what I learned was trial by fire, too. When you’re a student teacher, I think you have to accept that you will not be able to practice classroom management as much as you probably need to. It’s very normal for you to be more subdued when you’re a lab student or student teacher because you feel like you’re in someone else’s territory.
Of course, that’s why most new teachers go into shock when they get their first classroom and suddenly have to handle so many things by themselves all at once! But don’t worry about that. I think you’ll find that a natural tough instinct will start to kick in once you have your own classroom. Don’t base your confidence in classroom management on your student teaching because it’s really not a direct comparison. Many student teachers spend most of their time trying to please the cooperating teacher and/or college supervisor and don’t have the opportunity to really think about how they would prefer to run the classroom if it were theirs.
Addressing student misbehavior as a student teacher
It can be tricky trying to implement someone else’s behavior management plan, especially when you’re still in the early stages of a student teaching placement. Instead of relying on rules and consequences to manage student behavior, I’d recommend focusing on the energy you project. Wear professional clothing that feels like “you” (even if it takes a while to figure out how that works!), carry yourself with confidence, and speak with authority. Make eye contact with the kids and try to give off a vibe that says “I am comfortable here, and I like being here” even if you’re still nervous.
When the kids do something they shouldn’t, say their name softly, look them dead in the eye, and shake your head. If that doesn’t work, follow up by saying, “I don’t like that. You need to ___” or “I need you to ___” or “Please ___ so we can continue with this activity.” They’ll get the message that you’re paying attention and holding them to certain expectations without making a big deal of it.
Establishing authority in the classroom as a student teacher
I also think it’s an excellent idea to talk directly to the classroom teacher about management issues. You could say, “I’m looking for some ways that I can convey to the kids that I am an adult in charge just like their regular teachers. Do you have some suggestions for me? Would it be okay if I __? How would you prefer that I handle it when ___ happens?” Opening up an honest dialogue will probably make you both feel more comfortable about sharing a classroom, and if nothing else, you’ll have a better idea of what the teacher expects from you.
You might notice that whenever the kids have a question or need something, they tend to go to the classroom teacher first instead of you. I think that’s pretty normal, so don’t feel bad about it! When I got my own classroom and was a mentor to student teachers, the exact same thing happened in reverse–the kids always came to me instead of asking the ST for help. It can be helpful to have a quick discussion with the class about what sorts of things they can come to you with. You could say, “I notice that most of you like to ask your teacher when you have a question. That’s fine! But we want you to know that you can ask me for help with your work, too. You can also ask me if you need to go to the bathroom, or sharpen your pencil. If I’m not sure what to do, I’ll check with your teacher.” Remember that you’re not the only one feeling awkward–it’s just as awkward for the kids to suddenly have two teachers and not be sure about who they should go to with which problems!
Advice on successfully sharing a classroom with your mentor teacher
Though having a student teacher is often very rewarding for the cooperating teacher, it’s also a lot of extra work. It can also be very uncomfortable when the student teacher has a different management style or personality type, especially if the classroom teacher is used to being a “one man/woman show” not having other adults in the room frequently. Some teachers are not even asked if they would like student teachers and are just assigned them, so mentoring might not even be something they’re currently interested in taking on.
That said, most mentor teachers will be happy to have you in their room and you’ll be able to learn a lot from them. I think it’s good to be direct about what you need from your mentor but phrase things kindly. For example, if your mentor teacher isn’t giving you enough feedback on your lessons, ask a specific question such as, “I feel like the kids got confused when I ___. How would you teach that skill? Do you think I could have done something different at that point in the lesson?” If you feel uncertain about how you’re doing in a certain area or are worried about overstepping your bounds, you could say, “Earlier today, ___ happened. I’m not sure I handled it the way you would have liked me to. Do you think I should __? What would you do in that situation?”
Figuring out your teaching style and dealing with differences in teaching styles
It’s really important to be yourself when you’re teaching (or more accurately, your professional self, or your teaching self.) There is no one right way to teach or to reach all students, so if your style is very different from your mentor teacher’s style, that’s okay! You should not pressure yourself to emulate your mentor teacher exactly or to adapt methodologies that don’t feel right to you when there are perfectly fine alternatives that fit more with your own style. Don’t take your differences personally or interpret feedback as criticism just because you have a different way of doing things.
Of course, it does take awhile to figure out who exactly you are as a teacher, and your style will evolve over time. There will be some things you do now that will make you look back and cringe in five years! That happens to ALL of as teachers. It’s perfectly okay–you’re learning and growing as a teacher, and each step of the way is an important one.
Student teaching will allow you to observe different teachers in different teaching scenarios: you can take the bits and pieces that resonate with you and leave the rest. Build upon who you already are as a person and your own teaching philosophy, and add tips and tricks you pick up along the way. My current teaching style is a reflection of dozens (maybe hundreds) of teachers who have influenced me all along the way.
You are just at the start of your teaching journey. This is a really exciting time! I hope that you enter into the experience ready to learn and make lots of mistakes. Don’t let your shortcomings get you down! Each day you re-enter the classroom, you’re better equipped to handle its challenges. Stay focused on your passion for teaching and helping children. You can do this!
A new blog post is up with tips and tricks from other educators on having a great student teaching experience!
Please share your experiences, questions, and advice in the comments!
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