This time last year, I was preparing to go back to JMU for my semester of student teaching and I was beyond nervous. At this point, I was really hoping that I would enjoy it and not suddenly discover that this wasn’t something I wanted to do because it took so much work to get here and it was going to take a lot of work to get through it. So yeah, that was kind of my mindset going in. Not the best one, I admit, but it is what it is.
My semester of student teaching consisted of two 8-week placements. My first placement was at a high school about 30 minutes away. Let me just tell you that my high school experience was fine as a teenager, but I was definitely not excited about going back, even as a teacher. I don’t want to make this too long so I’ll attempt to briefly summarize my time there. I co-taught and taught multiple Art I classes, Art II, Art III (which focused on 3D art), and Art IV. I had a great cooperating teacher to work with who was a practicing artist, used all his resources, got the students quality supplies, and was great to talk to about lots of things, including art. The students were great, but often very unmotivated or troubled by things going on outside of school, so that was a challenge. I also unfortunately noticed that at this school, art was overall not considered a necessary part of the curriculum and so the students generally shared that perspective. Finally, it was winter, so there were plenty of snow days which constantly changed my plans. Here is a list of some of the things I learned at this placement:
- Don’t assume that all students have basic skills (I had to spend quite a bit of time showing students how to use a ruler, for example)
- You have to spend time proving to the students that they are in a safe place where all questions or comments are welcome and everyone is free to speak, even if they don’t have the “right” answer. This is so challenging because a lot of students seem to become paralyzed by the fear of being wrong or made fun of by their peers.
- Things usually don’t go as planned so prepare as much as possible. Include a note in your lesson plan for what to do if students finish early and what to do if students don’t finish in time.
- Grading is really hard. Some students worked really hard, but their technique was consistently pretty rough. Other students were very talented in art, but did not take the class seriously and often exhibited laziness and a lack of interest.
Being in this classroom was really eye-opening and I thought of a lot of things that I would do differently the second time around in my own classroom. Here are some images from the lessons I taught. Some of the lessons were very successful and some weren’t as great, but they all taught me a lot and I was able to see what worked and what didn’t.
I could go on about my high school experience, but let’s move on to my second placement. For my second and last placement, I actually went to two elementary schools each week. My cooperating teacher worked at one school Monday-Wednesday and another school Thursday and Friday, and I followed her where she went. She was a big help and so enthusiastic about art and teaching. I was more excited about teaching at an elementary school because I have a better connection with younger kids and it didn’t seem as intimidating.
There was a lot less down time in elementary school because the classes were 30-45 minutes each and often back-to-back. It was definitely a challenge to stay on top of things. It was harder to learn names and observe each student because there were so many of them. I got to repeat my lessons several times, which allowed me to tweak them along the way, but it was also tiresome to repeat lessons that turned out to be just okay. The volume of work produced was much greater, and that gave me a better idea of how effective my teaching was.
In terms of discussion, the elementary students were the opposite of the high schoolers. While it took a lot of effort to get a peep out of the older kids, all hands would go up when I asked a question in the elementary classrooms. The younger students were eager to share their ideas and tell their stories and that was one of my favorite parts about working with them. They were very enthusiastic about their work and weren’t afraid to show it. Again, here are some things I learned during my elementary placement:
- Be cautious about providing lesson examples because some students will try to copy it, and we want to encourage them to come up with a new idea.
- Come up with some kind of signal to get the students’ attention, especially during lessons that require moving around to different stations.
- It’s often a better idea to show students what not to do instead of what they should be doing. For example, demonstrate a sloppy printmaking job so the students know to avoid putting too much ink on their block.
I really enjoyed teaching in an elementary school in spite of a lot of challenges. Here are a few images from some of the lessons I taught:
I came out of student teaching alive, relieved, and ready to teach in my own classroom. The new challenge was to find that classroom, but more on that in the future :] Thanks for reading!
A Whole New World Part I
A Whole New World Part II
A Whole New World Part III