Opinion | Columns

Diary of a student teacher

I drag myself out of bed at 6 a.m. There’s a midterm paper due tonight, but more importantly, there are 60 high school students expecting me to teach today, just like I did yesterday, the day before that, and every day this semester.

I’m a student teacher—a college student and a high school teacher—crisscrossing both campuses and piecing together an applied philosophy of education.

This semester, there are 11 of us in the Barnard Education Program working full-time in K-12 classrooms in order to become certified teachers. Having already studied multicultural pedagogy and educational psychology, we now teach our own courses by day (alongside an experienced educator) and take university classes by night.

I can’t speak for other student teachers because we each have different identities that intersect with our occupational one, but this semester has been the one during which I have both laughed and cried the hardest. If you’re an undergraduate also interested in student teaching, I invite you to step into my schedule and see how it suits you.

8 a.m. — I climb two flights of spotless stairs that become a milk-puddle obstacle course by the time I leave this historic six-story building, and I take my place at a makeshift desk. We are a small transfer school that uses performance-based assessments rather than standardized state exams, so teachers create classes like Origins of Racial Slavery and Dracula and the Politics of Gender rather than A.P. U.S. History.

Building Facade.jpg

Photo: Daniel Bergerson, 2016.

9 a.m. — My co-teacher hangs up his bike and pulls up a chair. Reflecting on yesterday’s class, he describes my strengths and areas for improvement, most of which start with, “If we had had more time…"

10:35 a.m. — “Is freedom mental or physical? Individual or collective?” Two dozen teenagers quote Jean-Jacques Rousseau, the U.S. Constitution, and the Black Panther Party in response to the prompt. There is no such thing as a perfect classroom, but I take note of which documents, questions, and activities I might use when I teach my own early U.S. history course.

12:10 p.m. — Though I used to dread eating lunch alone, I now force my introverted self to shut the classroom door and dim the lights before I crack open the Tupperware. In between bites, I journal and enter attendance data, feeling like something between a comrade in an educational community and a cog in a bureaucratic machine.

1 p.m. — “F**k Donald Trump.” That’s what two of my advisees choose to write in bubble letters during a student debate on the presidential candidates in homeroom. Most agree Hillary Clinton is the “lesser of two racists,” but another student poses a provocative question from the back of the class: “Why do we even need a leader?” People ask me if I indoctrinate my students, but it is often them who radicalize me.


Photo: Daniel Bergerson, 2016

1:40 p.m. — I lead two periods of “Whose City?”, a 20th-century history class in which students make arguments about their neighborhoods through film. Today we analyze how a documentary uses different camera angles to represent Robert Moses’ and Jane Jacobs’ opposing views on urban renewal, and I am convinced the lesson is a hit. Then, a Black student reminds me that I have a long way to go before being an anti-racist educator by asking, “Were there any Black people doing this?"

4:20 p.m. — Like usual, I’m 10 minutes late to a seminar with my fellow student teachers, and my feet hurt. With the help of a few teacher educators, we carry out research rooted in our own students’ data, brainstorm solutions to the latest pedagogical challenges, and vent.

6:10 p.m. — I plod upstairs to a lecture on the history of crime and policing. Each time the professor pulls off a pedagogical trick, I gain more respect for him. Each time I yawn or miss a deadline, I gain more empathy for my students.

7:45 p.m. — Dinner is when I keep up with friends on campus, though I worry I now use “teacher speak”—a Jedi mind trick to influence children—on fellow 20-somethings. Apparently taking your work home with you means not only hauling stacks of ungraded papers but also transforming habits and relationships.

9 p.m. — My bed is beckoning to me, but there are too many unfinished lesson plans and university assignments, not to mention the songs and phone calls I’d like to make. I told myself I’d never do a full-time unpaid internship, even for course credit, but student teaching is exactly that.

10 p.m. — I set goals and write portraits of students in my course-required journal, though some entries are nothing but questions. How can I get to know 60 students in four months? What’s the point of assigning homework to students who work jobs until midnight? When is teaching whitesplaining?

11 p.m. — I brush my teeth, look in the mirror, and see a more attractive person than I saw three months ago. The bags under my eyes are droopier than ever before, but body image is mostly self-efficacy, and I feel like I am becoming not only a better teacher but also a better student, listener, friend, writer, and brother.

11:30 p.m. — At times, questions of how I reproduce inequities in the classroom keep me up at night. Mostly, however, I fall asleep right away, exhausted from a long day’s work and excited to do it again tomorrow.

For me, student teaching has fused liberal arts and vocational education into a happy, if somewhat stressful, medium. I’ve put theories to the test, routinized self-reflection, and met mentors both young and old. It’s a lot of unpaid labor, and that takes a real toll, but if you are willing and able to student teach your senior year, go for it.

You may find you love waking up at 6 a.m.

Daniel Bergerson is a Columbia College senior majoring in history and urban teaching. You can follow him on Twitter @DanielBergerson and read more at The Dandruff ReportThe Red Pen runs alternate Thursdays.

To respond to this column, or to submit an op-ed, contact opinion@columbiaspectator.com.


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