Today is a great day. I found out that I will have an interview with Des Moines Public Schools and I had my final student teaching evaluation. Today is a long post, but bear with me. The following is my final reflective journal paper for my student teaching placement. Thank you for being on this journey with me.
It is insane that I am at the end of my student teaching placement and graduation is staring me in the face. The last four years of my life has been dedicated to this moment and it seems like just yesterday that I started out on this journey. My first day of student teaching, I sat in my car and cried after school because I was so overwhelmed. I thought it was going to be the longest, worst 15 weeks of my life, and now I am crying because it is ending. What seemed so scary, turned out to be a life changing experience.
I have learned so much over the last 15 weeks. The main things I learned were how to be flexible, how to accept defeat, and how to stay positive in the face of struggle. As I headed in to student teaching, I felt the need to be very scripted and by the book with my lessons. This was in large part due to the way that Simpson had coached me to write lesson plans. The first time one my lessons went a little off script, I was freaking out. It was this very lesson though, that turned out to be one of my best ones. By allowing myself to go with the flow, I was able to engage my students more and turn their learning into something meaningful. Because of this experience, I learned that more of a rough outline of a lesson is what works best for my teaching style than a script, and my lessons began to blossom. When I say I learned how to accept defeat, this also connects to the lesson of flexibility. As a teacher, it is important to recognize when a lesson is bombing and you need to stop and reevaluate what you are doing. I was so eager to be perfect that it was hard for me to admit there was something I was doing wrong, but I now understand the importance of truly placing learning above my ego. My students helped me learn my final lesson of staying positive in the face of struggle. It is so easy to get down on yourself when things are getting stressful, but the little light my students brought to me each day through their actions and things they said reminded me that there is truly something good each day, even if it feels like the hardest one you’ve had.
The areas I have seen the most personal growth in over the past 15 weeks are my reflective skills, behavior management, and confidence. We are asked to frequently reflect during student teaching and at the beginning of my placement this was very difficult for me, so much so that I would get angry because of the struggle. As humans, we are not naturally inclined to want to find our weaker areas and I was not on board at first. After the first truly reflective piece I did though, I realized how quickly little changes can make an impact. Now, I do as much reflection as I can and have taken advantage of the reflective guidance our building coordinator can provide. Behavior management was also an area I struggled in the first few weeks. I didn’t want to come in to the class and be the bad guy. I now understand that this is not what having good behavior management means. There are ways to control your class that still make them respect you. Also, students are extremely forgiving and love you just as much the day after they get in trouble as they did before. Because I was aware of the areas I struggled in, I was lacking in confidence at the beginning of this experience. I felt like I would never be a good teacher or be able to control a class. In large part because of my reflectiveness, I have really felt myself improve and this has boosted my confidence in teaching. When I lead a lesson now, I am more knowledgeable about the areas I want to focus on for myself and need a little extra prep in and this has made me far more comfortable being a leader in the classroom.
As I reflect on my personal growth over the past semester, it allows me to also focus on my lesson growth. As every teacher does, I have had a mix of good and bad lessons, and I have learned from each of them. I think some of my best lessons came from my social studies unit. This was a unit that I had created, so it was catered more towards my teaching style and the classroom set up that I prefer. I was able to include a lot of partner work and interactive work, which are both things I am passionate about. I also enjoyed teaching the persuasive writing unit because it was something I understood. It was also a unit my students enjoyed, which made the lessons go much smoother. Some of the lessons I struggled with were in math and figurative language. Both areas were more difficult for me mainly because of my knowledge base in them. I hadn’t done most of the stuff for math since high school, and hadn’t looked at figurative language since I was probably in 5th grade. It was a lot of extra work to teach myself while also teaching my students. After going through a semester of teaching these areas, I feel like I would enjoy them more and do a better job in following years of teaching them.
The overall most valuable part of this experience was my mentoring teacher. I cannot express enough how grateful I am to have been placed with Caitlin. After hearing horror stories from student teachers of the past, I think finding out the type of person my mentor would be was one of the scariest parts of heading into teaching. A relationship with a mentor can make or break an experience like this. Luckily for me, Caitlin has been wonderful. I truly don’t think I would have grown nearly as much as an educator had I been placed with someone else. The most valuable thing she did for me throughout my placement was be honest. Caitlin never stayed away from telling me when I needed to change or improve something, and she gave me constant feedback about the areas I was successful in. Her willingness to be open with me was what allowed me to develop and improve. As I head into my first year of teaching, I can only hope my mentor for that is even half as wonderful and helpful. The principal and building coordinator were also instrumental in my growth and improvement. They too gave excellent and constant feedback about strengths and weaknesses, and I am so lucky to have gotten to work alongside them. I have truly loved the last 15 weeks and I am so excited to put my learning to use in my own classroom one day.