Two ConVal student teachers reflect

Take a 14-week crash course in teaching, learning and living

Tuesday, May 10, 2016 1:46PM

Alexis Esposito and Amy Donovan, both Keene State College Students, recently completed a semester of student teaching at ConVal.

Walking through the doors of ConVal High School on that first day, Jan. 19, we were excited, nervous and completely unaware of what we were getting ourselves into. Between the two of us, we had one bachelor’s degree, 18 semesters of college courses, three years of tutoring experience, and four years of counseling and substituting under our belts. However, we had absolutely no idea what it took to be a teacher. After 14 weeks of leading courses in literature, public speaking, and theater under the supervision of English teachers Liz Moore and Courtney McKay, we quickly learned.

Being a student teacher is planning an entire month’s worth of classroom activities, only to throw all your plans away and start over when you quickly realize that your strategies just won’t work for the class you are trying to engage. These are our stories.

Amy: It was a Tuesday in February when I attempted to capture my students with an introduction to the genre of dystopian literature using a PowerPoint. My initial plan was to engross my students in the wildness, rebellion, and hidden truths within dystopian societies with 14 informational slides. Class began at 7:35, and by 7:48 I had completely lost every single one of my students. The clock ticked slowly on the wall, and like my students, I could not wait for the period to end.

When the bell finally went, I ran into the teacher’s room to discuss this issue with my supervisor, Liz Moore. We spent our 80-minute prep block brainstorming activities and lessons I could incorporate into the unit to develop student engagement. By the end of the block, I was throwing out all of my plans and starting over with new ideas.

My new unit plans included classroom selfies, tasting food from different cultures, mock trials, classroom debates, and more. Now, as I engage students in these unique and memorable lessons, I never look at the clock. While traditional teaching was not going to work for this class, I mainly learned that I was not meant to be a traditional teacher.

Alexis: Over winter break I had worked and worked on making the first two units for my American Cultural Studies class for juniors. I made a packet, I marked up my books, and I printed my first few assignments.

Two weeks in I discovered that the unit plan I had worked on so hard was not for this group of students. I felt like I was scrambling to make this class what I wanted it to be.

For the next unit, I scrapped my nights of homework and decided to read in class. I finally understood that I couldn’t make my class fit my unit plan. I had to fit my unit plan to my class.

Once I realized this, I was able to make connections with my juniors. I started to ask them for input. What lessons did they want to do? What would make the next text more interesting? How can we make Socratic seminars livelier? Students started to take a real stake in the classroom once they saw that they were part of the overall decision.

My next unit was class-work heavy. Students rarely had homework. I read aloud to students during the lesson, and we worked through the book as a whole group. I threw a creative project in and started to give rewards. If everyone turned in their art project, we could watch “Forrest Gump.”(Watch, analyze, and discuss, that is; films are texts, too.) I made students see that we had to move forward as a whole group to get to the finish line.

Although I would consider ACS my toughest class of the semester, I’ve been starting to realize it was also the most important. It taught me how to deal with the reluctant learners. I had to figure out what to do when I had to completely scrap a unit. I had to learn how to ask a disruptive student to leave for the benefit of others. I had to learn that students need to feel they are part of a team.

I will be sad to say goodbye to this junior class. Being a student teacher is more than learning how to teach content. It’s about how to teach to students who may not want to learn the material. My ACS class taught me just as much as I taught them.

Being a student teacher is trying your best to never, ever let your students know that you are learning as you go.

Amy: Before student teaching, I had never so much as taken a single theater course, and the only public speaking experience I had was from a quarter-long course I took in high school. However, before I knew it I was leading students through set designs, monologues, costumes, and makeup. Although I hadn’t been in a play since middle school, I was advising my students as they created and performed two incredibly successful plays for the school. On top of leading the theater course, I was creating public speaking classroom activities, unit plans, and final projects for the first time in my life. I sat and watched as my public speaking students grew from shy and timid presenters into confident and professional public speakers.

During one of my last observations, my Keene State College adviser told me, “I had no idea you had such talent in theater arts and public speaking.”

I quickly replied, “Yeah, me neither!”

Being a student teacher has been the most humbling experience of our lives thus far.

Alexis: A few weeks into taking over my literature courses, one of my students, who didn’t seem to be connecting with me at all, says “You know, I think you’re almost ready.”

“For what?” I ask.

“To be a real teacher.”

I realized then that I might not be struggling as much as I thought.

Walking out through those same ConVal doors, we are confident, strong, unflappable; we know that early mornings prepping and late nights grading (without a paycheck, of course) have been worth it. Between the two of us, we now have two bachelor’s degrees, 20 semesters of college courses, three years of tutoring experience, four years of counseling and substituting under our belts .and two teaching certificates. We know what it takes to be a teacher. 

Thank you, ConVal students and staff, for being part of our journey.