Want to be a Master Teacher?
So, you’ve mastered the basics of class management, you have the curriculum down. What’s the next career step? Instead of rushing off to principal school, I hope you’ll seriously consider staying IN the classroom and passing on your expertise as a master teacher.
Of course, the pay, compared to being a principal… There isn’t any extra. The prestige? Um, no, not really. Although it is kind of cool to have someone take notes when you are talking. (One of our math teachers actually had a tee shirt that said “If I’m talking, you should be taking notes.”) The siren call of extra prep time while someone else teaches some of your classes… that’s sort of like going into teaching for the vacations.
There are real risks taking in a complete stranger and handing over classes to them. But there are huge benefits too.
I’m currently experiencing student teacher loss syndrome, with no one to talk to about how the day went, what we might do tomorrow, cool little insights and breakthroughs that either of us noticed.
Teaching can still be a fairly lonely profession and I am aware of dumping the good, the bad and the ugly on any adult that wanders into my classroom. Matt from WestEd, I’m sorry about that. Karen, my next door colleague, forgive me. And of course, my long suffering husband. Ask him. He’ll tell you.
So Krissy and Robert, my friends, relatives and colleagues thank you, and so do I. Because like middle school students, I construct understanding and ideas by talking them out and it is a great blessing to have had your ear, your ideas and to frankly, have someone to pass experiences and advice gleaned from years of paying attention. It’s sort of like being fully seen, so that I can pay it forward. The sense that perhaps some of what I’ve learned will help you and the thousands of students you will influence.
Here are a few tips that have helped make my experience as a master teacher so rewarding.
1. I interview a prospective student teacher before accepting them.
You’ll be pressured to just take ’em, right now. Everything seems to be done at the last minute and there are deadlines that have to be met in the credentialing process.
I’m looking for enthusiasm, a decent level of science understanding (because it is too much to be learning the subject matter as well as classroom and curriculum management) and, most importantly, the ability and willingness to reflect on practice. Interview prompts like ‘Tell me about a time when you got some useful coaching.’ can be interesting and revealing.
2. Be willing to cut bait:
I’ve had student teachers who have not been cut out for the profession – one who didn’t understand the subject matter and was unable to reflect on practice without having her feelings hurt.
Another who thought ‘How hard can it be?’ and felt it would be easy to learn the subject matter as well as class management while continuing to work as a real estate agent.
I’m prepared to let a student teacher go if it’s really not working out for my students and for me. I won’t sacrifice 3 months of their science education for someone to ‘learn’ on. That’s a big fear of many experienced teachers, I think. I was strongly pressured to just let it slide by my administrator at the time, and by the university, but no. It’s my duty to the profession and to all concerned to be honest, in a respectful and fair way.
3. Ask “How did you feel about that lesson? What went well? What could be done differently?” every day, and listen to the answer quietly. It’s tempting to jump in with “you have to get quiet before you start talking.” or whatever. But it’s more successful and less intimidating for people to figure out it out, at least partially, themselves. In the end, I do give a bottom line, or a key tip. Hopefully only one or two at a time. More than that, also overwhelming.
4. Check in often about the level of responsibility and work load.
Some people like to jump in and take at least part of a class early, others like to wait a bit and watch. I try to be responsive but I also use my best judgement. Sometimes, if things are getting a little rocky with one class, we changed which classes are taught for a bit of a fresh start.
5. Remember that kids are really resilient.
They’ll recover from a few mistakes, and are so much more forgiving than adults, especially to a new face, someone who’s trying to learn from them.
6. Be aware of the balance of help and helping.
Allow student teachers to help you too – it is so, so great to have help with clean up and set up of labs, sometimes to sub for me in a pinch. I’m really aware of not exploiting someone who is a genuinely vulnerable spot. Master teachers are gatekeepers for their future career. I heard some pretty shocking stories of master teacher malfeasance.
7. Don’t worry about the secret fear – the elephant in the room – What if the kids like your student teacher better than you?
Well, they did, with both Krissy and Robert. I can’t lie. They both rocked, in different ways. We missed them both after they left and referred back to them often.
But here’s the thing. I think my students were sort of grateful to me for allowing a student teacher in. They like and respect me (or not :)) in a different way. It’s not a zero sum game – teaching is not a competition. There’s a lot of goodness to go round and the more I open my classroom, the more it comes back in.