Nothing says “Happy New Year!” like professional development meetings, chaotic PA system checks, and teacher conferences. This first week of student teaching exposed me to the behind-the-scenes reality of starting a new school year. Instead of Pinterest-board classrooms, the start of the school year is founded on anxious sorting of old and new boxes, troubleshooting log in codes and student rosters, and deep breathing exercises before open house.
I am incredibly grateful to join my new third-grade team on this hidden roller coaster. Teachers and school staff do so much before day one to create a safe, fun learning environment. There are endless questions –“How do we want to do things differently this year?” – and many do not yet get answered before students arrive. My new team of dedicated, kind, and strong third grade teachers led through example. Their devotion to their students shone through every question, meeting, and conference. To say that I have much to learn from them is an understatement. It is a privilege to be welcomed onto a top-notch team built on open-mindedness and self-reflection.
Honestly, I did not know what to expect on the first day. When I first walked into the cafeteria for the introduction meeting, I was surprised to feel at home. After sitting with my cooperating teacher, the third-grade team and a table of other grade-level teachers quickly introduced themselves. We chatted about our summers while I scrambled to remember everyone’s names (this is still a work in progress).
Although these were typical back-to-school conversations, everyone seemed connected and excited to see one another. It was clear after that meeting that all the staff shared a similar purpose and drive; they were a true community of educators.
My new team and I swiftly returned to our classroom to begin professional development training. We pulled up our comfy desk chairs, surrounding the SmartBoard like we were at the movie theater. While we watched the information-dense videos and Zoom recordings, I took the opportunity to observe the team’s commentary, questions, and concerns. Names and acronyms were tossed left and right among my brief interjections for clarification. Although some of the messages passed over my head, I focused on discussions of restorative practice and equity.
Throughout the past year of researching equity practice and its application to classrooms, I was intrigued by the presented strategies. One of the hardest things about teaching is behavior management and intervention. To make note, I strive to never label a student as “difficult”; however, balancing positive relationship building, intervention, and restoration is difficult. This balance is especially difficult with students with “high energy points”: an expression I just learned to describe the amount of energy a student presents and how much energy it takes from a teacher to support co-regulation.
By the end of the first day, I felt tired from all the posed questions, training, and organization. There is so much for teachers to consider before the start of the year, including behavior plans, curriculum implementation, classroom schedule, online portals, etc. Little did I know. . .I was just getting started.
I came out of today with more questions than when I entered it. Do we already have access to our portfolios? How can I condense this schedule of planning, instructing, and assessing? Why are there so many steps? That’s right! Today, I was formally introduced to the world of edTPA.
Most former student teachers will have a similar reaction to hearing this term. The edTPA is a required project for student teachers to assess their developing skills in lesson preparation, instruction, and assessment. Although it does not equate to a letter grade, the formalities and structure of the edTPA are infamous among teacher candidates. I will not get into too much detail in this post, but I will provide a brief overview to describe what the edTPA entails.
Student teachers with a typical schedule (approximately 12-16 weeks) are required to complete three tasks to be completed throughout the entirety of their experience. Before teaching, student teachers must collect contextual information about the students, classroom, and school that will inform their future instruction and assessment. While teaching, student teachers must record themselves, observe students, and collect work-sample evidence to be used in the assessment. After teaching, student teachers assess their teaching and student learning using the collected data. So, as you may understand, this project holds a lot of weight for many teacher candidates, including me.
Today’s introduction to the edTPA was held via a “boot camp” overviewing the tasks, timeline, and requirements. Teacher education students from all majors –from physical education to elementary education– were present. To stress again, the edTPA is a required step to receive a teacher license nationwide; however, there are a handful of exceptions. By the end of this overview, I could feel the air of confusion and anxiety. This feeling was somewhat diffused in my first faculty meeting with other early childhood and elementary school students.
The leader of this meeting, a previous professor, connected with each of us with an icebreaker and reassuring message. Throughout the next few months, I will participate in weekly check-in meetings with this professor and a group of candidates about our collected progress. I appreciate this meeting setup, but I still feel particularly worried about completing my edTPA project within a condensed timeline. Will I get the most out of the experience when I will teach for only 4 more weeks? How will I plan and execute all of these detailed steps in that time? My head continues to spin and wander with these haunting questions, but I must push them aside for now. After all, the first week of school is dedicated to building relationships with my students.
I returned to the school for a couple of hours to set up a mental health check-in system and sort through my classroom’s book collection. I have quickly come to enjoy brainstorming with my cooperating teacher (CT). We are both open to suggestion and change – traits that are foundational to a strong, reciprocal relationship. After discussing the check-in routine, I settled into the read-aloud carpet, surrounded by a scattered pile of children’s literature.
Today, I joined thousands of educators and staff at the welcome-back conference. I walked into the historic auditorium –which was reminiscent of the Twin Cities’ Ordway theater– filled with a sea of red “Proud Public School Teacher” shirts and coffee mugs. To be honest, I was excited to see all of the district’s teachers together in one room. I observed a scattered, city-wide community of educators being brought together for three hours.
I’ve come to expect motivational speeches from superintendents and staff as a part of the welcome-back routine. Teachers reminisce about their summer break –sometimes jokingly referring to it as a prolonged nap– while trying to get back into the spirit of the “new year.” It felt eerily similar to my freshman college orientation with matching shirts and inspirational messages.
The rest of the conference consisted of in-person “break-out rooms” introducing an organizational system for the district’s curriculum. I could barely keep up with the technical jargon regarding online platforms, standards, and log-in information. At moments, it felt like I was surrounded by a different language. I thought my special education studies would have prepared me for these types of meetings. Boy was I wrong!
(For fun, I’ll share one of my new favorite terms with all of you! Waffle is the square resource center on Chrome, located next to the profile picture.)
With our minds filled with technical jargon and log-in questions, the third-grade team and I returned to the school to get prepared for the open house. Yes, I got to meet some students’ families today! I was so grateful to connect with some of the students and their families for the short hour because I will have limited time with them.
Thursday marked the end of the teacher preparation week! Before the long weekend began, my team and I suited up for one more round of staff meetings. After quick greetings and check-ins, we settled into the library with our teams, some with a breakfast pick-me-up in hand.
We curiously listened to the principal as they shared their goals, questions, and changes regarding the start of the school year. Soon, the floor became open to comments, clarifications, and questions. I intently observed the room professionally discuss a shared issue. Every staff member was equally heard and was given the floor to speak if they wished. There was an extended back-and-forth between “How will this play out in reality?” and “How far should we go with this idea?”.
The third-grade team and I returned to our appropriate classrooms to tie the remaining strings on the first day of school. My CT and I put our heads together to generate a list of tasks to divide and conquer. For example, I created visuals for routine checklists while she checked in with various specialists. I also took on the job of drafting a read-aloud lesson for the first day! That’s right everyone, I’m jumping right in.
Since I will be in my domestic placement for only five weeks (with students present), my teaching progression looks different than some of my classmates. Although my CT, supervising teacher (who will observe me teach and assign lessons and readings), and I have not yet formally discussed my transition, I know I will be leading the read-aloud routine from the beginning. Don’t fret! I will be observing and assisting for the rest of the school day.
This observation period is critical to my success as a student teacher and leader in a guest classroom. It gives me the time to get to know the students individually; soak in the particular language of the classroom for transitions, redirections, etc.; and become comfortable in my developing role. Gradually, I will take over more and more routines and responsibilities until I am the full-time teacher in the room.
Believe me, I am feeling nervous about teaching just this one lesson! Although I have all of the details planned, I still overthink what I will say, how I will transition from the reading to the activity, and how to give instructions. One of my areas for improvement is giving instructions to students in a developmentally appropriate manner. Even though I can picture the lesson and activity perfectly in my mind, how can I explain it to a group of learners who can’t picture it?
. . .
Now, it’s the middle of a long weekend. I have been spending my time away from potential stress triggers. I strive to positively approach time by myself, so when I feel alone, I can lean on myself as well as my inner circle. I slept in, drank coffee while doing “deep work” on this blog post, jammed in my car along the North Shore, set off on a long hike by a dusty dirt road, and nostalgically watched Funny Girl.
I’m ecstatic to say that my student teaching experience started on a good note. I feel hopeful going into the first day of school. Although there will be inevitable ups and downs, moments of euphoria mixed with self-doubt, I feel grounded being surrounded by a supportive CT, teaching team, supervising teacher, and cohort.
I will end this somewhat unsurprisingly long post with a note to other student teachers or future teachers navigating their first weeks in the field. You are not alone, and your experience –no matter how positive or negative– is valid. In becoming teachers, we face endless challenges, questions, and whirlwind emotions. Represent yourself and what you stand for by speaking up, asking questions, and taking initiative. Good luck!
Previous post: Thoughts on my first day of student teaching
Student teaching is inherently an emotionally charged experienced. I wanted to reflect on all of my feelings and thoughts with my first day being less than a week away.
Leave me a comment!
How did you react to this post? If you are an educator, how does your experience compare and/or contrast to what I've described?
Take action. Start the conversation. Be the change.
Meghan Hesterman (she/her) is a child advocate and education blogger. While a student at the University of Minnesota Duluth (UMD), she created Journal of a Future Teacher to share her journey in becoming an early childhood teacher.