Four hard, but incredible and rewarding years of college all amounted to this moment for me. This semester I took on the responsibility of student teaching at a local high school, the final step in my preparation for my university diploma and teaching licensure. Over the past couple of months, I had the opportunity to gain valuable experience and insight into the challenges and rewards of teaching at the secondary level. Though the semester is not yet over, I have learned a number of important lessons that conclude my time at Brigham Young University, reflect my time in the humanities, and will serve me well in my future career as an educator.
I must admit that getting to know 185 students in only 10 weeks was an intimidating task for me. I doubted my own abilities to remember so many names, faces, and personal facts. Still, I knew this would be one of the most important parts of student teaching. First, building rapport–the positive and respectful relationship that exists between a teacher and their students–establishes a positive classroom environment, leading to increased student engagement, participation, and motivation, which can result in better academic performance. Additionally it helps me, the teacher, understand my students’ needs, interests, and learning styles, leading to more effective learning opportunities that cater to the individual needs of students. Luckily, I had a strong conviction that I was well-equipped to establish a good relationship with my students since I had studied the fundamentals of rapport during my humanities degree. Through my humanities studies, I developed a genuine concern for human cultures, experiences, and interactions, all of which are essential in building rapport.
To build rapport, it is crucial to include the three P’s in your lesson: Products, Practices, and Perspectives (Cutshall, 2012). In my previous blog post “Things: As They Seem and As They Are,” I wrote about the three P’s. As a reminder, these could be demonstrated “birthday cakes (product) are used during birthday parties (practice) which celebrate the excitement we share about life and a loved one making it through another year (perspective).” What I didn’t know then was how much the three P’s would be relevant to my personal experience of teaching high school students. While the three P’s are usually a tool to teach about culture, I extended them to my students, seeking to understand each of their own products, practices, and perspectives. In this way, I learned to build empathy and understanding to meet their needs, challenges, and perspectives. Student teaching confirmed to me that when students feel that their teacher cares about them, they are more likely to be engaged and motivated in the classroom.
As I learned to build rapport with my students, I inevitably learned the importance of being flexible and adapting to the needs of my students. In a high school classroom, students come from a wide range of backgrounds and learning styles, and it is up to the teacher to cater to these differences. This may involve modifying lesson plans, incorporating hands-on activities, or incorporating technology into the classroom. As I allow myself to be flexible and adaptable, I allow myself to reach students where they are and help them achieve their full potential.
Once again, the BYU College of Humanities helped me prepare for this moment.
In the humanities, teaching is often focused on the interpretation and analysis of complex ideas and cultural artifacts, and flexibility is crucial here because the subject matter can require multiple perspectives or approaches to be fully understood. The humanities taught me that a flexible teacher can adjust their teaching methods to accommodate different learning styles and to help students make connections between their own experiences and the subject matter. These can be the simplest of adjustments! For example, as a French teacher, I always try to create engaging and interactive lessons to help my students improve their language skills. One day, I had planned an activity where students would work in pairs to practice their French conversation skills. The plan was for each pair to have a short conversation on a given topic and then switch partners to continue the conversation with a new topic.
However, one of my students was feeling particularly nervous that day. She had struggled with speaking French in the past and was worried about making mistakes in front of her classmates. When it came time to start the activity, she was hesitant to participate and seemed anxious. I realized that I needed to adjust my plan to make her feel more comfortable and confident. Instead of having her switch partners, I allowed her to work with the same partner throughout the activity. I also provided her with some extra prompts and vocabulary to help her feel more prepared. As the activity progressed, I noticed her becoming more comfortable and engaged. By the end of the lesson, she was smiling and even volunteered to share her conversation with the class. This experience taught me the importance of being flexible and adaptable as a teacher. Every student is unique and has their own learning needs and challenges.
High Expectations, High Love
Finally, I learned the importance of setting high expectations for students. While it may seem counterintuitive, setting high expectations can actually motivate students and help them to perform better. When students know what is expected of them, they are more likely to rise to the challenge and strive for excellence. On the other hand, when students are not challenged or are given low expectations, they are more likely to become disengaged and underperform (Rosenthal & Jacobson, 1968). The key here is balance. I learned on my mission of the “high expectations, high love” chart, which stipulates that people grow the most when high expectations are combined with sincere, strong love.
The perfect example of this for me was my 3rd year math teacher in high school named Mme Olmstead. She had a reputation for being tough, but she also showed a lot of care and support for her students. Many of us were behind and struggling to keep up in class due to some staffing issues from the previous year. Mme Olmstead did not lower her expectations. Instead, she encouraged us to keep trying and provided us with extra resources to help us understand the concepts better. She opened her lunch periods to tutoring hours, encouraged us when we struggled, and praised us when we did well. Her belief in us and her willingness to go above and beyond to help us succeed made a significant impact on my life. I learned that when teachers have high expectations combined with high love for their students, it can create a positive and motivating learning environment. In fact, Mme Olmstead was a key figure in my personal decision to pursue education myself. I aspired to be the kind of teacher she was to me. My time in the humanities prepared me well, and I try everyday to model what I have learned by believing in my students and loving them to success.
In conclusion, student teaching in a high school classroom, accompanied by my training in the college of humanities, has been an incredibly valuable experience that has provided me with the skills and knowledge I need to be successful. By building relationships with students, being flexible and adaptable, setting high expectations combined with love, and creating a positive classroom environment, I can help students reach their full potential and achieve their academic and personal goals. Most importantly, I simply couldn’t have learned to be this type of teacher without my major in the College of Humanities. For that, I will always be grateful.
This blog post was written by Shannel Morin, a Humanities Center student fellow.
Cutshall, S (2012). “More than a Decade of Standards: Integrating ‘Cultures’ in Your Language Instruction.” ACTFL, https://www.actfl.org/sites/default/files/publications/standards/Cultures.pdf.
Rosenthal, R, and Jacobson, L (1968). “Pygmalion in the Classroom.” SpringerLink, Kluwer Academic Publishers, https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/BF02322211.