Friday, June 28, 2013

A refugee from the land called student teaching

I had grandiose plans for this blog when I first created it. I was going to post on a schedule (bi-weekly, to be exact) about all the fabulous happenings in the land of student teaching, my cute teacher clothes, and present to you, my lovely readers (do I even have any readers….?) marvelous teaching strategies knowing full well you’d probably never use them. Well, obviously that hasn't happened — mainly because the land of student teaching was far less fabulous and much more stressful than I originally envisioned, filled with stacks of paperwork and presentations and a never ending pile of laundry. But here I am, a refugee from the aforementioned sleep deprived land with a renewed vision for blog posting (but admittedly I don’t have any “marvelous” strategies, so you can rest easy in knowing you didn’t actually miss anything on that front…) 

And now I should clarify that student teaching actually wasn’t that bad, it was just an intense learning experience. Not only did I have absolutely no idea what I was doing half of the time, I also had to write and piece together a rather large portfolio (which, in true Marshall University style, I wasn’t told about until the last minute), and then present it before a panel of professors and the dean of the COE. Throw in doing weekly reflections and preparing for visits from my university supervisors and I was swamped. Did I mention I was stressed?

My entire time in the teacher education program was spent believing that I wanted to teach high school. I gave no consideration to middle school, having already made up my mind that I was absolutely uninterested in going back to the drama-filled, early teenage years. My own were terrible enough and I reasoned that I was in no way capable of helping someone else navigate that onslaught of hormones! So, in January I started my first eight week placement at Spring Valley High School and I was very excited to be an almost real teacher. I even bought a cute lunchbox that very clearly said:  “I’m a fun, yet sophisticated teacher….” 

And then things turned ugly.

Every day I spent at Spring Valley I grew more and more discouraged. By the second week I was miserable. A lot of the stress came from the demands of my university supervisor and at the end of the day I just didn’t enjoy being in the classroom like I thought I would. I received hate notes and rude comments and quickly decided that I loathed tenth graders. Also, everything I did turned out to be a failure and I was extremely frustrated with myself. I cried almost every day (no, really...I did), and spent a lot of time questioning why in the name of Paula Deen I’d spent five years and twenty thousand dollars pursuing a career that in two weeks I’d already decided I hated. The real truth, I came to acknowledge, was that I had an attitude problem — a skewed view of what it meant to be a Christian teacher. 

I should probably stop for a minute and say that I’m thankful for the supportive and encouraging people that God placed in my life during that eight weeks (which by all accounts felt like an eternity) and I’d like to publicly apologize to all the shoulders I whined and cried on, while also publicly noting that I intensely hate The Scarlet Letter. (I will not apologize for that….) Seriously though, I was very blessed to have had a wonderful supervising teacher who encouraged me even when I totally failed at teaching a simple lesson, and who also kept me laughing in spite of the fact that all I wanted to do was whine. 

And then it came time for the dreaded middle school placement. And, this was me the night before my first day: 

I wasn’t sure I could handle another eight weeks of pure misery that was high school. So, I spent a lot of time praying for myself and for the people I’d be spending the next two months with — that God would change my attitude about this age group because ultimately I knew this placement wasn’t an option if I wanted to graduate. Once again, I felt truly blessed to have been placed with a fabulous supervising teacher (and really, this is a blessing because it seems like such a roulette game when it comes to assigning supervising teachers — they’re most definitely not all equal, but I digress…)

I won’t lie and say that by the end of the first day I was in love (I wasn’t anything except for exhausted), but by the end of the first week I wasn’t seeing the ugliness of this age group that I expected to encounter. I only saw precious pre-teens who desperately needed love and attention and a place to  “fit”. I prayed that God would change my heart and my attitude, and wouldn’t you know, he did (funny thing, prayer…) 

Not only did God change my attitude towards middle schoolers, but about my job as a teacher in general.  Again, I’m thankful for the teacher I had as my supervisor who exemplified everyday what it meant to be a Christian role model for her students. God used her to really show me that teaching is a ministry, and ministry isn’t about me. I’ve decided that teaching is not about test scores (well, it is...but it isn’t). It’s not about being comfortable, and it certainly isn’t stress free. It’s about serving. It’s about being Jesus’ love incarnate. This teacher came early and stayed late — she saw a need and she met it, whether it was visiting a sick student in the hospital or making sure that a student had dinner, clean clothes and a shower when his electricity was off because his mother couldn’t pay the bill. She took great time and care for each student individually, regardless of their situation. She made them feel important and showed them that they had worth. She loved. She ministered. 

It only took me about two days to feel completely ashamed of myself. Here I had just spent the last eight weeks complaining and whining about anything and everything because I was so stressed out instead of seizing the opportunity to really make a difference by simply loving my students and doing my very best to teach them to the best of my ability. 

Middle school was still stressful, and there was still paperwork and observations, I was still sleep deprived, and I still had a miniature mountain of laundry in the corner of my room...but I felt like I had a whole new purpose. I realized that it was because I prayed out of an honest heart for God to change my bad attitude, and he did because I allowed him to. I hate that I just couldn’t see my purpose when I was in my high school placement because I was too busy complaining about how much I didn’t enjoy it because it wasn’t rainbows and butterflies. I was too busy complaining to minister. Ouch. 

Maybe this seems like a really simple revelation … and on some levels it is. Ultimately when I decided to be a teacher I did so knowing that it I wanted to “make a difference”, but until student teaching I didn’t realize what “making a difference” looked like. Now I know what it looks like, and I know for sure that I want to spend the rest of my career being Jesus’ hands and feet. Making a difference. Ministering. Even when it’s stressful and even when it’s hard...because it's necessary, and it's worth it. 

In other news, the end of student teaching also meant graduation! I promise you that a happier graduate never existed. I also promise you that it was only by the grace of God that I actually made it across the stage...after five long years. 

For now I’m still an “almost teacher”, although I’ve applied for several middle school (and a few high school) jobs for the upcoming year. So, I hope that my next update will be filled with wonderful news of my own classroom and frantic lesson planning, so stay tuned! 

For now I'll leave you with some pictures from the last few months :)


I found this note from one of my students posted to my bag one morning -- so sweet!

I loved this so much -- with the help of my supervising teacher, all of my students (100+ of them!) wrote me sweet notes of encouragement and gave them to me on my last day.

Found Poems

9th period haikus

Matt and I -- graduating!


  1. Reading your post was such a reminder of the stress of student teaching and being a beginning teacher. I love what you wrote about teaching is a ministry. I'm definitely trying to work on how I can show God's love through my teaching (especially during my most impatient of moments). It's so funny that you were at Marshall...a lot of my family went there and live in the area. And I actually have a cousin that just graduated from Spring Valley! (I live in NC, though.) Anyways, good luck with your job search. It's such a stressful time but I know God has a great plan for you and will put you with students whose lives you will touch deeply.

    Carolina Teacher

  2. Danielle

    What a small world! Where are you in NC? I actually graduated from high school in NC and my parents are still living there (in fact, I'm visiting them for the summer!) I bet I even know your cousin -- I know a lot of the seniors that graduated this year.

    Thanks so much for the encouragement!


    1. I'm in Durham. What part of NC are your parents in? My cousin is Erin Fuller.

    2. How cool! My parents live in Spring Lake -- 30 minutes from you! Oh, I don't know your cousin...but I have heard her name. Small world! ;-)

  3. Hi Emily,
    I am so glad you found my blog so I could find yours. Everything you wrote in this post I have felt and I understand! I live in an area of the country that is one of the most difficult, nearly impossible, areas to get a teaching job. I finished student teaching almost 5 years ago and I have not landed a "permanent" job yet. It is really difficult year after year to remind yourself why you do what you do.

    If you have time, go to my blog and read my post "Confessions of a Type A Work-a-holic". It reminds me of your post here. It's listed under my Popular Posts sidebar. We have a purpose through teaching and we can't give up! So often we get overwhelmed and stressed and we forget to see the big picture.

    Congratulations on finishing student teaching. You have hundreds and thousands of students in the world waiting for a great teacher like you!

    The Eager Teacher
    Miss Eager//Create & Inspire
    A Special Sparkle

    1. Sarah,

      Thanks so much for the encouraging words! I just read your post "Confessions of a work aholic" and laughed a little bit -- we might be soul sisters! I felt the same way when I left student teaching because I knew that it was pretty uncertain whether or not I'd actually have an opportunity to be in a classroom this year and it broke my heart (it still does when I think about it...!), but I'm keeping my fingers crossed everyday! I hope that you find a permanent job too, but let's make a difference in the meantime! :)

  4. Emily, I just stumbled on your blog and read this post. It is beautiful. It is so hard to remember when you are "in the trenches" every day with the students that it is your place of ministry. I had a similar experience when I student taught in third grade with one particular student who was "different". Just like you, prayer completely changed my attitude and my circumstances. I am praying for you as you embark on your job hunt. I know how super stressful it is to be looking for a job and not finding or getting offered the one you want. I was firmly set on third grade, but wound up getting the only spot left at my school teaching 4K...what a difference! However, I know that God placed me in that particular room with those particular students (one specifically) who needed me. I know that he has the right spot for you, where you are going to do great things for Him!


  5. I love your writing voice! I think you found your voice, good luck with your interviews!


  6. oops I meant, I think you found your place. Sorry, I'm currently sleep deprived!

  7. It's your new follower again...and oh, my word, if I don't identify with you!! I have been having a difficult time with my first placement so far, and it did me good to see that you survived yours and that our faithful God pulled you through. I know He'll do the same in my case (He always does), but it's easy to forget that when a student is misbehaving and disrupting class (though that's only an indicator of a more serious problem). Thanks for sharing.

    PS - those "fuzzy on the details" moments aren't just a Marshall University thing, trust me! ;) I love my school, but sometimes they do forget that we aren't mind readers, ha!

    Miss White's Classroom