The Moments That Make Us (part 2)

My student teaching experience taught me more about what not to do in the classroom than best practices. I was split between 2 teachers: one of which was the department chair and the other was a person who openly told his classes that he didn’t believe in public education so he home schooled all 5 of his children. The department chair (Mrs. V) only taught 3 classes–AP Chemistry and 2 sections of remedial Chemistry. I was not allowed to teach AP so I was given the remedial Chemistry. All of the students were in the lowest level math class the school offered; one student was taking the class for the 3rd time; one student was a convict who I had to sign a paper for at the end of every class to show he came to school or he went to jail (side not: he went to jail); another was a talented graffiti artist. It was a very eclectic group and each class was only about 10 kids. The other 2 sections that I taught (for Mr. C) were sophomore Honors Chemistry. Each class had 26 kids, but the classroom was only big enough to hold 24 desks. The entire class literally hoped every day that at least 2 students were absent because the last 2 kids in the door had to stand. My schedule flip-flopped between these 4 sections so that I was jumping back and forth between 2 rooms and 2 very different levels of abilities during the time I was in the school.

Since Mrs. V only taught AP Chemistry, and it was the first period of the day, once I took over the rest of the day was free for her to do whatever she wanted. Most days I have no idea what she was doing because other than the 2 observations she made of my teaching during the semester, she was never in the room. I remember once she went to get her oil changed, another she fetched her dry cleaning, and a third she remarked how nice it was to go out to lunch with her husband on a weekday.

Mr. C rode his bike to school so he never left the building. However, he wasn’t much help either. They gave me a desk to work at in the chemical stockroom that was in between the 2 classrooms in which I taught. One day I had forgotten my photocopying on my desk and when I went into the stockroom, I found Mr. C asleep on my papers. I just went back into the class and told the students I must have forgotten them in my dorm room. I mentioned this to him after school that day and he apologized for getting in the way of my teaching and would never use my desk again. The following week I found him asleep on the lab bench in the stockroom. He commented how uncomfortable it was so from then on he brought a pillow from home.

The point in my career where I needed guidance and resources the most and I was left to figure out everything on my own. So, that’s what I did. I tested out ideas, tried new activities, gave extra credit to students who were willing to stay after school with me to test out labs, and wrote tests from scratch. The school had a set of Vernier equipment (digital lab probes) that were still in the shrink wrapping. I pulled those out, read the manual, and tried them in my class. When I told my cooperating teachers what I was doing, they told me I should just stick to the simple stuff. But I was having fun and the students really appreciated the effort I was putting in.

Whenever I tell people about my experience, I say that the only thing I learned was to never rely on other people to help you. Now that I am writing this I don’t think that’s the lesson I truly took from it. By having no one to tell me otherwise, it gave me the freedom and the confidence to experiment in the classroom. I lived for 5 months completely outside my comfort zone and I am all that much stronger because of it.


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