DisruptED TV Magazine

Learning to Teach

By Peg Grafwallner

Peg Grafwallner @PegGrafwallner

I was very excited about student teaching and hardly nervous at all. I was eager to put all of my learning into practice. I met the cooperating teacher and immediately realized that she and I were quite different. She was rigid; extremely professional and focused.

She asked that I observe her for a while and take notes. I observed for nearly five or six weeks until it was my turn. I tried being like her and merely parroted the lesson plans she had given me; but, without putting my stamp on them, without “owning” them, I couldn’t teach them with integrity or fidelity.

There was no curriculum to follow since the “book” was a series of handouts that she had gathered over time. When I was allowed to write my own lesson plans, they didn’t follow her vision for that particular lesson. As a result, I failed miserably.

At the end of every day, she and I would reflect on my teaching. She would always begin the conversation by asking me how I felt the lesson went. Every day I grew more and more discouraged. Every day I began to second guess myself. My self-confidence soon began to wane. This wasn’t fun anymore and I wasn’t excited anymore.

I wanted the students to like me and be my friends. I tried to create a classroom where we were a community, not necessarily realizing that structure needed to be implemented before community.

I tried so hard, that one afternoon I knew we had lost any semblance of learning. I was teaching a vocabulary lesson solo, while the cooperating teacher was in her office next door grading papers. She must have heard the noise. Several students were eating, a couple of paper airplanes flew over my head, and a few students were wandering around the room.

At that moment, the door opened and my cooperating teacher walked in. She took one look around the room and in a very controlled tone, said: “Mrs. Grafwallner, I will take over. You can leave.” I sheepishly walked out of the room, wanting to hide in shame and embarrassment.

Soon I panicked about becoming a teacher, thinking I had made the biggest mistake of my career. Thankfully, my cooperating teacher encouraged me to stay in the field. While I don’t remember exactly what she said, she made me realize that this experience was part of the learning, too. I was so consumed by wanting to do a good job that while my heart might have been in the right place, I was overlooking the pedagogy behind teaching.

This experience was painful and it was necessary. Without it, I’m not sure I would have become the type of teacher that I became proud to be. I developed the “look,” the “voice,” and the “stance.” Students knew I was tough, but knew I would listen. They knew I wasn’t “fair,” but I was just. Students knew they could come to me and I would help, assist, support, and guide.

I never gave up wanting to be a student’s “friend,” but realized that “friend” could encompass many definitions. I learned that I really wanted to build an academic family with my students; a family whose core beliefs centered on creating a caring, compassionate and collaborative classroom where learning and laughter were expected and experienced every day.