When I was student teaching, my supervising professor and mentor teacher were truly invested in my success. They expected me to arrive with thoughtful questions each day, and they also expected me to tolerate the frustration that bubbled up each time they offered uncertain responses. There are few absolutes in the field of education, after all.
Our work is as messy and unpredictable as some of the relationships we forge inside of the systems we serve.
Most approach student teaching as a great opportunity to practice planning and instruction and classroom management. The classroom tends to dominate most conversations, and often, everyone involved is focused on making the most of this intense but very brief experience in order to polish up practice.
Think about it, though: you haven’t committed to any of this yet. You’re still in the relatively risk-free position to ask uncomfortable questions about things that matter even more–like the realities of living a teacher’s life. You’re just figuring things out and deciding whether or not this vocation is truly for you, after all. Great supervising professors and mentor teachers won’t shy away from your hardest questions. They’ll answer them honestly and share their own stories with you.
Here are ten questions that some of my former graduate students appreciated asking me and the other mentors who supported them. They tell me that the answers they received continue to serve them well now that they are leading classrooms of their own.
Ten Questions Student Teachers Must Ask Their Mentors
1. If you had to do it all over again, would you become a teacher?
2. How do you stay passionate about what you do?
3. How can I teach inside of a reform movement without sacrificing my own vision?
4. Which evidence of student learning is most informative to you? Why?
5. What can I do to make my teacher evaluation process more meaningful?
6. How can I balance my teaching life with my personal life?
7. How do I deal with a toxic colleague or administrator?
8. What were your biggest mistakes as a new teacher?
9. What will I sacrifice by becoming a teacher?
10. What are the greatest rewards?
I’m wondering what you would add to this list and how your levels of experience might inform your perspective. If you’re a student teacher or new to your position, I hope you share your most pressing questions.
If you’re a seasoned teacher, I hope you’ll shed some light on the questions that new teachers should be asking. Please leave your thoughts in the comments. I look forward to adding your voice to this conversation.
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A former English teacher, Angela Stockman is the founder of the WNY Young Writer's Studio, a community of writers and teachers of writing in Buffalo, New York. She is also an education consultant with expertise in curriculum design, instructional coaching, and assessment. Read more from Angela at Angelastockman.com.