What does it take to be successful?
Ponder this question while trolling quote sites and you get a pretty good picture of what others think — preparedness, hard work, vision, stick-with-it-ness, determination, and the ability to turn challenges into opportunities. (It is curious to note that not one quote suggested needing to know a specific set of knowledge about the 13 original colonies, but I digress.)
All of these boil down to attitude — how one approaches life, living, and learning.
In the abstract that makes sense, but in real life?
My wife spent her undergraduate years learning Russian. When asked what inspired a degree in Russian, she states simply, “I loved the books in English and wanted to read them as they were originally written.”
After earning her degree she decided to go to law school to pursue her dream of becoming an environmental lawyer. A year later she found herself in the revered halls of an ivy league institution learning a wholly different set of content.
The content of her undergraduate years have proven to be immensely useless. She might well have learned macrame. However, what has proven indispensably useful has been her approach to learning — a voracious curiosity accompanied by an unmistakeably outstanding work ethic.
In essence, what she learned was not as important as how she approached learning it.
I believe the same is true for pre-service teachers (students in the colleges of education preparing for a career in education). How they approach their practicums, internships, and experiences with students determines the value they draw from it. In my opinion, it is their attitude that provides the best barometer for determining their eventual success as educators.
Don’t get me wrong, methods courses provide necessary and significant exposure to tools for effectively accomplishing curricular goals and objectives. I draw on lessons I learned from those classes daily. However, those classes represent the frame of the house, not the foundation.
What does it take to be successful as a teacher, regardless of the age of the student or the content being taught? And what patterns of behavior do we want to see established in our new and emerging corps of graduates?
While interns who know their jargon and can execute a lesson like a recipe generally do well, those are not faultless indicators of future success in classrooms. I’m more interested in student teachers that come in, get involved, ask questions, engage with the students, make mistakes, learn from them and ask the question, “Is there anything else I can do?” Unfortunately, these seem to be few and far between.
Whenever new interns or pre-service teachers show up in my classroom I ask what their requirements are and what my responsibilities for oversight are expected to be. I often find an inordinate number of tasks (teach a lesson, create a unit, modify for an ESL student, etc). Necessary tasks, to be sure, but they often lack behavioral expectations that cultivate a long-term, self-motivated professional development mindset.
I developed the below list that I give to practicum and interning students. I tell them we will use the list as a jump start for conversations about the teaching profession, their development, and as a reflection tool for digesting their experiences in my classroom. I also tell them I will provide end of the experience evaluation based on those skill sets and behavior patterns. I make sure to iterate that I do not expect mastery or perfection, just effort and growth.
Most of the time they swallow, steel their will, and then agree to use these areas as starting points for our conversations about their experiences in my classroom. Some stammer out the ole’ “But, but, but . . . ” or the classic, “But this isn’t what my professor is grading me on.” Their reaction is an instant assessment of who might do well in this field and who still has a long way to go.
In the end, I’ve found that interns and practicum students using this set of criteria give far more to the experience than the ones left to satisfy only their professors’ expectations. Perhaps it has only enabled me to more consistently address core components of teaching. Whatever the case, an additional benefit is that I find I reflect on and learn about my own practice to a greater degree when using this tool with the pre-service teachers.
After reading, please share your thoughts and ideas. What would you add to the list? What would you take away? What type of assessment device do you use to offer both summative and formative data to preservice teachers?
Intern “Grading”/Feedback Areas
Four basic areas:
• Building positive, professional rapport with them
• Attending to their ‘needs’ while helping them to understand and work toward their ‘wants’
• Engaging with and listening to them
• Exposing them to new ideas and ways of approaching problems
• Providing them with opportunities to practice and succeed
• Building skills at managing whole class and understanding roots of behaviors
• Inquisitiveness (about methods, incidents, possibilities)
• Taking the initiative to be involved with students, grading, research, or other area you see or identify as in need of development or attention
• Professionalism – timely, dedicated, and quality-driven
• Enthusiastic and energetic (at least not asleep)
• Willingness (eagerness) to take-on/try new responsibilities
• Actively acquiring and incorporating educational knowledge base to improve and inform practice
• Thoughtfulness of lessons
• Thoroughness of research
• Accuracy of information
• Balancing didactic instruction with engagement
• Staying flexible to student interest without loosing conceptual objective
• Working to integrate themes, concepts, skills, and ideas between disciplines
• Ensuring emotional and physical safety
• Cultivating a culture of curiosity and inquisitiveness
• Managing resources
• Maintaining high expectations for quality
• Cultivating a sense of consistency, fairness, and democracy
• Setting high standard for compassion, tolerance, and understanding in regards to differences and diversity