College Survival Guide: The Adventures of Student Teaching

Jason Hersey / UAF Sun Star

Mar. 4, 2014

“Mr. Hersey, are you gonna come play handball with us?” comes a question from a soft-voiced, high school girl from the P.E. class that I occasionally substitute for during this jam-packed student teaching semester. I have to admit I’m still not used to hearing “Mr. Hersey,” especially when sitting in the coffee shop enjoying a pizza and writing.

Really, I don’t even teach P.E. but as my mentor teacher teaches Spanish (the subject that I am becoming qualified to teach), English and P.E., I get to do a little bit of everything.

The Fairbanks high schools are a couple weeks away from spring break and I find myself so excited for the week break I can hardly stand it. A couple more weeks of lesson planning and grading and then I will have a week to perhaps get caught up in the 12 credits of graduate courses I have been mildly neglecting this semester.

The teachers at the schools all say the same thing: “I am so glad my student teaching year is over; I would never want to do that again.”

I can understand why. The full, year-long program demands incredible amounts of hours of coursework, observing, field-trip planning, school board meetings, lesson planning, teaching…and some 12-13 credits of graduate school on top of it all. It is one year of your life, June to June, of apprenticing an incredibly dynamic career—without enough time to hold a job or much of a social life.

My fellow UAF student interns and I, as we are called, were about ready to break at the end of the fall semester. The coursework was extremely demanding then, but also, we did so much required observation time in our soon to be classrooms, that we sounded like a bunch of grumpy, old, almost retired folk every time we got together for a class. But talking with my fellow student teachers now in the middle of the semester, in which we actually teach about four classes, it is a total change of tune.

It’s not that the work load has gotten to be any less. Nor is it that we are now getting payed for our time. But it is that we are putting forth our time and passions and seeing the results directly influence the lives of more than 100 teenagers—all of whom are just trying to make their own way. It’s a beautiful thing.

As the year is moving forward, the students are starting to get to know me a bit better, and I them. They are more relaxed, they joke, they ask about my personal life or how to make dreadlocks. I enjoy telling them about some of my long and short-term dreams or trials that I face. It’s more human that way. I’m not just trying to fill their heads with the conjugations to Spanish verbs (though I try my darndest!), but clueing them into caring about the world and seeing it through someone else’s perspective.

I don’t know if there are too many people out there that really plan on becoming a teacher. For me, it just sort of made sense at one point in my life. I wanted to continue using and bettering my Spanish. And when you teach something, you really learn it.

The other part of it is the young people themselves. People always tell me, “I don’t know how you can deal with high schoolers on a daily basis!” High schoolers never bothered me. In fact, I remember exactly what it was like to be in their shoes and how important it was to have adults you could trust who pushed you to make better, more informed decisions.

It is also more than just a daily basis relationship. Like the P.E. student wondering if I’ll be joining them for handball, or the student who saw me walking down the road from their car and shouted “Mr. Hersey!,” the good teachers are the ones who are the same inside and outside the classroom. They see their students and meet their parents in Fred Meyer and get a chance to add one more little detail to the complex balance of managing so many individual relationships. One more chance to be you.

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