The following SAMPLE letter has been developed by Kelly Hart, a Cooperating Teacher. She has given us permission to share it with you.
Dear Student Teacher,
Welcome to Pinegrove fifth grade! I have 14 students (7 boys and 7 girls). I want the children to know that we are a team teaching together. This will make your job easier as far as control of the classroom. Although we will be a team, the students have been made aware that while you are teaching, you are in charge. During that time, they are to ask you the things they would normally ask me, including questions about the lesson, restroom visits, etc. You can direct them at your discretion. I will be circulating or blending in (depending on the situation) and responding to questions (both yours and/or theirs), but I would like them to see you as a "real" teacher, not solely as a "student" teacher.
I wrote down some thoughts for you to ponder while you are observing. We will talk about things at length after you have had some time to watch the class, get to know the kids and the schedule, and come up with some thoughts of your own. Please jot down any questions or comments, no matter how "silly," so we can discuss them as time allows. I am always open to your ideas and activities and willing to try almost anything. Having a student teacher is very rewarding and enriches my teaching career.
When the kids come into the classroom in the morning, please greet them, but do not try to immediately become their "buddy." Instruct them to go about their normal procedure. This may not sound very friendly, but it gives you a big advantage when you get up in front of the classroom. They will want to know what you are all about, and they will be better listeners. When you become a "buddy" toward one or two kids, then those kids feel they can get away with more when you are with the whole class. After the first two weeks or so, you won't have to worry about this anymore. By this time, they know you and you know them, and the proper teacher/student relationship has been formed. They have a whole classroom full of "buddies;" you are their teacher. I'm not saying don't be friendly, just don't go overboard! This is a common mistake student teachers and substitute teachers make (including myself before I was hired).
Get to know the students. Watch for the different attention spans. Feel free to get up and walk around the room and observe their abilities. Note their activities during down time. They should be reading, working on homework, taking accelerated reader tests/working on Math Facts in a Flash on the computers, and a variety of other appropriate activities. No one should be sitting there doing nothing. Also pay attention to how they interact with their peers.
Once you have been with me a couple of days, you will notice that I do not always keep the same schedule. I plan for a certain amount of instructional time per activity. I adjust this, as needed, depending on student understanding and abilities. I always vary my activities so that the students can complete a variety of tasks.
During direct instruction, when I am calling on the students for answers, comments, reading, etc., I make a pattern, draw names, or mark names in my gradebook so everyone gets a turn. It's easy to call on the same volunteers all the time. Kids who don't volunteer need to be included also or you will lose both their attention and their understanding. I also encourage "wait/think time" before calling on someone. If you call on someone immediately, almost everyone else shuts down because they know they're off the hook! You don't want to lose anyone.
Always move slowly! Do not assume that they know anything. Find out what they know and what they want to know. Show them a purpose for learning it, and then teach it! The students have to understand they are responsible for their education. If they have the desire to learn, then your job is much easier.
There are times when the class gets out of control. This happens to everyone. When this happens, don't always try to talk above their noise. Stand still, maybe with arms folded, and wait. Whisper to the kids who are listening and the other ones will soon want to know what you are talking about. Another way to get their attention is to write something on the chalkboard, rewarding the ones who follow your instructions. You can write "recess" on the board and start to erase, letter by letter. They may earn letters back also. I like to avoid having them lose their entire recess because they need some kind of a break. I tend to take minutes off when necessary. Discuss with the class a signal or a clue that you will use when you want their attention. Sometimes saying a few names will get the room quiet. Do not begin a lesson or instruction until all are listening. Never hesitate to discipline a student or students, even if I am teaching. I can't see everything, I'm busy, and I welcome the help with discipline. I will never be offended. Any help is appreciated.
I want to see you take control and show me you are ready to be in charge of the class on your own. Follow the schedule. Line the kids up for lunch or special class when it's time. Please keep in mind that these are not "my" students, they are "our" students. You are in control the same as I am. You need to know the class routines and schedules and flow with them. Take over. I'll love it and be impressed!
Another thing that you might hear is "Mrs. Hart always..." When you hear this, politely explain that you are not Mrs. Hart, and this is the way they are going to do something. Keep in mind that teaching is a very individual thing and what works for one person may not work for another. It is very important to be yourself so you are comfortable. Then and only then can you be a good teacher. Feel free to use my experience and ask questions, but put your own mark on what you're doing as well. I am certainly not perfect, and I don't pretend to be. Just keep in mind that we all try our best. One of the biggest mistakes you can make as a student teacher or a substitute teacher is to judge everything the classroom teacher does. You'd be amazed at how different things are when you have daily experience in a classroom filled with students. I'm often embarrassed when I remember how naïve I was, and how often I thought I wouldn't do this or that when I got my own classroom. You'll see all kinds of things you like and don't like; just remember that things don't always go the way a textbook or college course says they should! Also, remember that things can't always be fun, fun, fun. It shouldn't all be dry and boring, either, though. You need a good mixture.
This brings me to the PSSA. Fifth grade is a PSSA year, and, like any school, we are very concerned with it. Sometimes schedules will be juggled around to accommodate PSSA preparation and other related things. We need to be flexible and do our best to prepare them for the PSSA and for 6th grade. Flexibility, in general, is one of the best qualities for a teacher to possess. This applies to PSSA and every aspect of teaching. This year, the writing PSSA test is in February, and the math and reading PSSA tests are in March.
Another thing that you always want to have ready is a book or an activity in case you need a time filler. Kids lose teeth, throw up, have asthma attacks, or need extra help or a listening ear. In these times, it is good to have something on hand to keep the other kids busy while you tend to the business at hand.
Avoid leaving the children unattended. Have another staff member cover for you if you would need to leave the room for any reason. Do not send a child alone back to the classroom. Every student has to go with a buddy of your choice so they do not go astray by being in the room alone. Kids sometimes mess around or even become dishonest when they are left alone.
Please use appropriate grammar. Remember that you are a role model for the students, through both your words and your actions. Correct students using incorrect grammar. Encourage good grammar is speech and writing. Also avoid using repetitive words like "okay" and "um." Use imperative sentences instead of interrogative sentences. (Please get out your reading book. vs. Will you get out your reading book?) It's not a choice for them; it's a directive. "This should be easy because we did this yesterday," is a sentence that may make some students feel dumb or inadequate. Imagine how you would feel if the teacher said this and you still didn't understand the concept. Please avoid saying this kind of thing.
Try to keep the chalkboard erased as you go so students keep focused on current material. Provide a flowchart on the chalkboard for the students when they are expected to work independently. Always inform/remind them what they can do when they are done with an assignment while they are waiting for others to finish. They have classwork and homework folders to keep papers organized, and graded assignments go in the black basket on my desk as they finish.
During a test students will ask many questions. Be very careful not to give them the answer. Sometimes it's too late for them to ask certain questions. (In other words, they should have studied certain things.) Other times they'll say, "I've done the work, but the answer isn't here." I reassure them that the answer is there. They're trying to get me to solve it for them. Avoid this, please.
When students approach you for help, have them read the material/directions to you that they are questioning. Many times they haven't read it clearly (or at all), and they want you to do the work for them. Also have them state their question. Many times they will want help but don't ask a question. They will just make a few statements, such as, "I don't get it." I'll listen and then say, "What's your question?" or "What don't you get?"
While you are getting to know the children, do not plan activities which require a huge amount of movement around the room or competition between groups of kids. This can get out of hand very quickly. A few lessons with the kids in their seats the "traditional" way will help you gain control. Once you have that control, such activities will be easier to handle.
Use your voice to get the kids involved in what you are about to do. Use appropriate humor or something silly to get their attention. A child who is laughing is also ready for learning.
When you have a child who is causing a problem, talk to that child individually, not in front of the class. Try to use praise to change a behavior. "Praise in public and correct in private" is a good motto to remember. Use proximity, eye contact, or a touch to the desktop/paper/activity to return a student's attention to the task. You may also choose to move a student or alter the seating arrangement, if necessary.
You will see me make mistakes and forget to follow my own advice. As I mentioned before, I'm not perfect, but these suggestions will let you know what is "ideal." I try my best to follow them as often as possible!
These are the things that have caused student teachers problems in the past (including myself). Some of what I wrote down may seem so obvious to you that you wonder why I even took the time to write it down, while some may have caused you to stop and ponder a moment. In either case, my hope is that this letter will make a smoother transition from a "student teacher" to a "teacher," not only in this teaching situation, but in your future teaching experiences, too. You can also use this if you are ever a substitute teacher in different classrooms because those situations put even the best teacher through the paces!