How Do We Guide a Student Teacher in a Year When We Are All Still Learning?

As a cooperative teacher, my hope for my student teacher is the same one I carry for my students: a desire to teach something worth knowing, a hope that the intent and delivery are clear, and an inclination to inspire. These goals are muddied during remote teaching. 

And so, this year, like all teachers, I also ask that my student teacher is endlessly flexible, learns to navigate unclear waters, can juggle new grades and content, and learns how to run a classroom through a screen. She learns how to coax a student to participate, how to give surveys to find out what they are feeling when we can’t rely on body language or inflection, and how to create classroom culture when we aren’t together. 

Much of what is lost while hosting a student teacher remotely is obvious: there is no classroom management, we don’t need to practice routines, and we can’t see most of our students. There are a few in each class who keep their cameras on, but the core of teaching, the relationships, is just different in this landscape. Still there, but different. 

For example, this year, we celebrate the tiniest signs of engagement—a note in the chat, the camera on (pointed at the ceiling counts), or the offering of anything from their lives. Anything. We encourage and celebrate any part of the day that lets us know them better. For some kids, it’s answering the attendance question in the chat, for others it’s sharing through an email a story they are working on; still others share a drawing, or something about how stressed they are with the workload. Anything they give us is a gift. 

Because my student teacher and I don’t eat lunch together, with no hallway catch-ups, no way to stand and chat as the students enter the classroom, we fill our day with text messages, emojis to clearly articulate what was felt, and scheduled google meets to debrief or review the day’s lessons. To evaluate the lessons she will use for an observation, we talk at nine at night after my small children have gone to sleep and she’s had a chance to create the details to bring the material to life. Teachers often have trouble separating life from our work, but this year the lines are even more blurred. 

The advice I gave to my student teacher when the year started was that what really mattered, what she should focus on, was supporting them emotionally and to adjust if they needed it. That’s it. The learning would happen, I was sure of it, but what really worried me was if these kids would be okay. 

One year I had a student who moved into the district in the middle of the year and was clearly struggling. He would sulk into class, fold his arms, and audibly exhale most days. Every day I would kneel next to him and ask if he wanted to talk, if I could do something to help, ask about his day, and every day he would turn his body away from me and tell me to leave him alone. I tried to connect in all the ways I knew how, but he never budged. This felt like a failure all year long, but I still tried, still smiled at him, still hoped to crack that shell. 

At the end of the year, this boy wrote me a letter. In the letter, he said, “you were the one teacher who made this move easy, you were always there for me and cared about me when I had a problem even though I never talked about my feelings…thank you for showing up even if I did not want to open up.” 

I think about these words all the time, especially this year. 

What I hope my student teacher really learns is that as teachers, our most important job is to show up for all students. Some years that means giving them a safe place to eat lunch, other times it means writing them a letter to tell them that it gets better, or just saying their name and that you are happy to see them each time they walk into the classroom. This year, it means believing that what my former student said is true: we can make a difference by being there and showing that we care especially for the students who don’t feel safe enough to turn on their camera. For the ones who lack the confidence to hear their own voice and can more easily hide in this landscape. We have to believe that they are still listening. That even if they don’t complete every assignment, even if we can’t see it, they are listening and watching. Especially for those students, keep showing up. Because we can never know how we will affect the students in our class, and many of them will never tell us what impact we really made, but it’s possible that you were the one adult that child needed, and for that, it’s worth it.

When I am not teaching, I love reading and writing poetry, trying new vegan restaurants with my husband, spending time with family, and playing Settlers of Katan with my daughters.