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Making Effective Use of Student Teaching

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Everyone who aspires to work in secondary education will have to spend anywhere from nine to eighteen weeks working in a school under the direct supervision of a professional. Many students feel imposed upon by this requirement because they have to pay tuition to their college during the student teaching period, and they have to work forty hours a week without pay. Although this can be very frustrating, it is important to remember that the student teaching experience can become a nine- to eighteen-week audition for a job. Innovative, energetic, responsible student teachers can make a tremendous impression on colleagues and supervisors. The young people who complete teacher training experiences have a sense of what a school's goals and priorities are, and they have a sense of how the institution works. This insight makes them excellent candidates for a job. Personnel directors are comfortable hiring former student teachers because they can base their evaluation on an extended period of activity instead of relying on recommendations and a brief interview.

In order to make the best possible use of the student teaching experience, you need to plan in advance and you need to consider some very important questions:

What do you want to do? Secondary education is very challenging work. Before you decide to enter this field, you need to take stock of your strengths.



Have you mastered the material that you need to teach? Do you know the material so thoroughly that you can teach in spite of interruptions and distractions?

Do you have the patience to work with students who may not understand the material and who may need repetition?

Do you have the organizational skills necessary to create a structured environment for your students?

Can you create a classroom atmosphere that allows students to feel safe but demands that students strive for excellence?

Do you have the emotional stamina to work with young people who are faced with emotional upheavals?

Can you develop activities that will allow students to teach themselves by being engaged with meaningful work?

What are your long-term goals? Where do you want to be in five or ten years? What do you want to be doing in five or ten years?

Once you have taken stock of your strengths and interests and determined that secondary education appeals to you, you must consider a second, important question: where do you want to live?

Certification requirements vary from state to state in the United States, and almost as important, the school that you attend will have specific geographic boundaries for students who want to student teach. Colleges and universities simply cannot afford to send professors all over the country to supervise their students. If you are determined to live in a specific part of the country after you graduate from college, plan to attend college and perform your student teaching nearby.

OPPORTUNITIES

In order to find out which schools are expecting to add staff, you need to do some research. This project might sound a little overwhelming, but if you allow yourself a generous time line and break the task into three parts, it does not need to be terribly time-consuming.
  1. Gather information.

  2. Make an initial contact with the institution.

  3. Write an introductory letter.

As you begin your junior year of college, start to gather information about schools that you might use for your student teaching. The schools should be in the geographical area that appeals to you, and must be within the boundaries that your college has set for sending supervising professors out for observation. There are several directories that will help you.
  • Private Independent Schools

  • Directory of Canadian Universities

  • Directory of Public Elementary and Secondary Education Agencies

  • Directory of Public School Systems in the United States

Once you are armed with the addresses and phone numbers of these schools, you need to sort through them and make a list of the schools that you might be interested in using for your student teaching experience. Pare the list down to a manageable size. Before you can write anyone and ask about opportunities for student teaching or future employment, you need to find out who you will be writing to. The process of calling personnel offices and asking who the personnel director is will take some time and cost some money, but it is an important step. Competent, professional people always know who they are writing to.

You can save some time and money if you plan out what you want to say before you dial. Ask for the personnel office. Explain that you are a student in the field of technical education and that you want to write the school and ask for some information. Find out how to spell the personnel director's name. Double check the spelling, his or her title, the mailing address, and the zip code.

Your next step is to draft an informal but professional-looking letter that asks for some information about the school district. Explain that you are a student in the area of technical education, and that as you are beginning to plan for your student teaching experience, you want to be sure that you are as well prepared as possible. Ask about the kinds of skills and qualifications that the personnel director thinks a successful professional should have. In a sentence or two describe why you want to work in special education, and discuss the kinds of experiences and training that you have. Be sure to ask the director's thoughts about a future in technical education and if the director anticipates any openings in the near future. An informal letter might look something like the letter on the next page.

The content of the letter may be informal, but the format must be immaculate. Proofread carefully; make revisions as needed. This is the first impression that the personnel director will have of you. Misspellings, typos, and errors in grammar or syntax will work against you. Keep track of your responses, and when it is time to select a school for your clinical experience, be sure to pick the one that will offer you the best opportunities for education and employment.
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