Super Teacher's Job is Never Done!

Super Teacher's Job is Never Done!
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Teaching is the profession that teaches all the other professions. ~ Author Unknown

My goal is to reveal one teacher's humble journey of self-reflection, critical analysis, and endless questioning about my craft of teaching and learning alongside my middle school students.

"The dream begins with a teacher who believes in you, who tugs and pushes and leads you to the next plateau, sometimes poking you with a sharp stick called 'truth'." ~ Dan Rather

Sunday, February 28, 2010

The Struggle for Respect and Power: A Student Teacher's Story

It is my hope that my blog can be a place for teachers to exchange ideas and share their stories. I am fortunate enough to be in contact with a student teacher at my alma mater who is embarking on what I'm sure will be a prosperous and fulfilling teaching career. 

This teacher is allowing me to share her concerns, and please feel free to offer your thoughts and suggestions as well. Here is her story:

Your blog is wonderful, and a few of your entries really hit home for me. You actually addressed some of the issues that I have been struggling with recently. I have been in charge of my eighth grade class for about two weeks now, and as of yesterday, I found out that my students are complaining about me. I hold these students to higher standards than my cooperating teacher (i.e. I expect them to write more frequently, and I am very strict about being respectful and staying on task). One of my students told my cooperating teacher that I was a "complete b" and that I was screaming at them and tearing up kids' papers. The guidance counselor has also been getting complaints from the students that I'm too mean. 

For now, I asked my cooperating teacher not to leave the room while I am teaching because clearly I am not screaming or tearing up anything, and I don't want it to come down to my word against theirs. I am just feeling a bit attacked, because I don't think I have the support of the guidance counselor. I am also a little taken aback, because my cooperating teacher and professors specifically told me that they thought my classroom management and professionalism in the classroom were admirable. I know that the students are bored with the curriculum, but I am struggling to find ways to make it more meaningful to them, as my cooperating teacher has a routine that I am being expected to follow. I haven't been given any really useful advice by my cooperating teacher on this matter. The students clearly do not think that I am on their side, which I know is a huge problem. 

Like you said, however, I am struggling to establish an atmosphere of respect in a school where the students have no conception of apropriate behavior or the way to speak properly to a teacher, especially a young woman. I think the school culture encourages students to complain about teachers without really having any accountability for their own behavior. I know that my students resent the fact that so far I have expected them to stay on task and to show far more respect than their previous teacher demanded. I was wondering if you have any advice on this issue. Thank you again for all of your helpful advice!


Wow -- so much of what she is talking about here resonates clearly with my experiences in the classroom.

First off, I believes she NEEDS to let her cooperating teacher and college professor know about all her concerns and perceptions of this situation. She must keep her communication as open and honest as possible with them.

I also think this teacher needs to have her cooperating teacher speak to the students about behavioral expectations while she is teaching and to emphasize to them directly that she is their new teacher, not just a young person temporarily filling in whom they do not need to respect or listen to. I know it can be difficult for students to take student teachers seriously, and a lot of it depends on the tone and expectations set forth by their mentor teachers.

More importantly, this teacher needs to give herself a lot of serious credit here. She has walked into a room where the students are used to doing what they want, and she knows she is holding them to HIGH expectations. She is doing them a real favor. In fact, they are probably learning more from her -- about English and how to behave -- than they were previously.

It also sounds like the students are trying to play this teacher and your cooperating teacher off each other. They are trying to play good cop vs. bad cop, just as children tend to do with two parents. This teacher needs to NOT let them see that they are getting to her or negatively affecting her. She needs to keep her tone as professional and poised as possible, as she is already doing. After all, they are children, she is the adult, and she needs to remember that. The students are not her equals, and she cannot let them fool her into that or have her thinking that she needs to negotiate with them. 

Above all, she needs to know that she is doing an amazing job in a very difficult situation! Student teaching is a challenging enough experience in and of itself without all of the unnecessary stressors and negativity she is experiencing. I remember this from my own experiences just five years ago. I encouraged her to document this experience and what she is learning from it. It will only make her a stronger and more knowledgeable teacher -- and professional -- as she begins her own teaching career.

Her response:

Your response means so much to me, thank you. Honestly, I've been feeling like a lot of blame has been coming my way and it seems like the fact that I am holding students to higher standards is negatively impacting me in terms of the way my cooperating teacher and the guidance counselor view my teaching style. I am also wondering whether it is worth it to keep emphasizing this classroom atmosphere if it is going to cause so much drama, especially in this school where there seems to be no culture of accountability. 

You are so right that the students are trying to play my cooperating teacher and I off each other. The problem is, is that I think she is letting them and doesn't really see the problem with it. For instance, when one student told her that I am a "bitch," she seemed to think it was funny in a "kids will be kids" kind of way. I was offended that she didn't tell the student that it is never appropriate to speak about a teacher that way, but that's just not the culture of this school. My friend (who is gorgeous) who is also student teaching had a twelfth grader say to her "I'm 18 and single," and her cooperating teacher thought it was funny and didn't say anything to the student. 

I have seen other instances where a student has complained to the guidance counselor about a teacher and instead of asking the student how he might have been wrong, she jumps to the student's defense and encourages this "it's not my fault" attitude. I have watched my cooperating teacher, and she allows students to not participate in class, come unprepared, and be disrespectful toward her. The fact that I don't allow this behavior is making my students see me as the "evil teacher" who is their enemy.

This student teacher has such a powerful voice here and a truly frustrating story that resonates with so many of us. Please feel free to post comments and suggestions to her on this blog! After all, as teachers, we have to be there for one another and lend our ears, knowledge, and words of wisdom whenever possible. It is time we do something to change the mentality that teaching is a profession where we "eat our young!" Change all begins here....

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