Finding space for trying new things: Mentor and student teachers
As universities work harder and harder to prepare teachers who can be powerful and successful educators for/with students from increasingly diverse backgrounds, student teachers can actually find themselves in an enviable position. Sometimes mentor teachers and/or administrators and/or family members will tilt their heads and raise their eyebrows at a classroom practice that doesn’t look familiar…but the student teacher can easily “blame” the craziness on their university professors;) “I have to do it for an assignment” is one easy way out of a politically tenuous situation…but I urge you to also add, “are you interested in seeing the books/videos/articles we’ve been reading to do this?”
Teachers are busy, and mentor teachers have taken on even more responsibilities by inviting you into their classrooms. This means that many of them don’t have lots of opportunities to read the latest research, keep up with the most recent books, or even just sit for a few hours and reconsider how they’ve done things for the past year or so.
Lots of mentor teachers accept student teachers because this is an opportunity to engage with ideas promoted by local universities…so give it a try, and if your mentor teacher is receptive and enthusiastic, you may have just found a fabulous collaborator to work through some new practices.
Some “new” things students have been trying in my course this semester:
Critical literacy practices
I’d love to hear how student teachers have been/continue to negotiate the “disconnect” between current classroom practices and their attempts to insert critically-focused practices that may not be familiar to teachers/students/families/administrators;)
**New questions from students out in the field:
Will I have to do what every other teacher does?
*** and I have been placed in a *** grade classroom at ****. We haven’t been very impressed with the lesson plans and overall atmosphere of the classroom thus far. Yesterday we sat in on a *** grade team meeting about L.A. The teachers were discussing their lesson plans and how they all need to have the same lesson plans and do everything the same. It really concerned me that not only my teacher was teaching non-engaging lessons, but that the entire grade level was doing so as well. I asked if they were allowed to deviate or do their own thing if they see fit, and they expressed how they’re required to be on the same page and that if the principal were to walk into their classrooms at any given moment, they should all look the same.
After all of the things we discussed last semester, especially the Reading Workshop model and critical literacy activities, I was wondering what a teacher would do in a situation like this. If I were a new *** grade teacher at that school this year, would I be able to deviate from the group and incorporate meaningful, engaging activities? There didn’t seem to be much wiggle room for different ideas, so it concerned me. I would hate to work in a place that made me conform to the (sometimes inferior) ideas of my colleagues when I become a teacher.
Any insight on the matter? Sorry, I know this is a long email, but it really does concern me. Given the lesson plans and the way they are implemented, it is no wonder that the students are so miserable. I would just hate to think that there was nothing that an effective teacher could do. Thanks for your time! I miss your class already!
A Humble Response:
I don’t know the particular situation that you’re talking about, but I will tell you this.
I work with incredible teachers in various schools across *** who are engaged with community, developing learning around students’ interests, and explicitly teaching their students critical literacy practices to use in and out of school. In some of these schools it seems there are groups of teachers who all do the same thing (meaning attempting to “look” the same when a principal walks in) – and in some cases, believe that they must do the same thing. It’s extremely complicated to understand why teachers will agree to completely conform even when their students are miserable.
Teachers have agency – they can make change. When you interview, you will ask the principal about how much power you have over developing curriculum that students are interested in and that meets their needs. If the principal says “none,” and you have other possibilities for earning a salary – I personally wouldn’t take a position where someone was going to dictate what would be happening in my classroom without knowing my students, families, and the learning theories I know all too well.
You are right to be concerned. Whether or not they actually have ‘wiggle room’ I don’t know. Whether or not they have the responsibility to educate the children in front of them is no question. That’s the bottom line – children have a right to a deep, broad, and expansive education – not a narrow and limited one.
It sounds like you are using your critical literacy lenses well;) Good for you. You are a powerful person who will be incredibly well prepared for learning from and teaching children from diverse backgrounds. You are an intellectual who will seek out answers when you bump up against something you don’t understand in your classroom. You are exactly the kind of teacher our children deserve. Sometimes you may have to do some things you don’t agree with (I even have things like that in my job at times…), but you will make sure you and your students create powerful spaces together where learning, curiosity, and exploration will be unlimited.
Use this as an opportunity to be an ethnographer to see how different teachers might handle this situation differently. Perhaps you can do some short observations in multiple classrooms, watch them on the playground, listen to how they talk about children and families and education and administration. Learn everything you can about what’s happening – think about it from multiple and critical perspectives – and imagine creative ways you might handle the same situation.
I wish you were in a better situation – I hope you can make this an important learning experience.