For the last 15 weeks I have had to privilege of teaching 105 different students in my agriculture classes. Perhaps "teaching" is a light term, instead I believe we should use the word "impact." I began my student teaching experience at Octorara Area High School in January of this year. From day one I believed that I would step into this program and begin utilizing my resources and knowledge to teach students about agriculture. Although students came to my classes and gained knowledge in different subject areas, I feel as though I not only taught students but I also impacted them.However, it took me till the end of my student teaching to realize this.
My student teaching experience did not start with warm welcoming arms. In fact many of my students were upset with the fact that they had a student teacher. I was different and I taught much differently from my cooperating teacher. It was an adjustment that we all had to work through. It took many long and exhausting weeks to condition my students to a different way of thinking about school. Many students didn't like the challenge of thinking creatively. What I found was that students preferred sitting and taking notes off of a powerpoint. When I implemented a hands on activity where they had to create something or perform a lab, then I heard all sorts of complaining. I couldn't figure it out at first, but I realized that some of my activities really pushed students out of their comfort zones. At first I wanted to give in and do what the students wanted so that they would appreciate me more as their teacher; however, I reflected on this decision and realized that pushing my students out of their comfort zones is positive for their cognitive development. I wanted my students to think creatively and I wanted them to simply think. Having students take notes off of a powerpoint is sometimes necessary but if done everyday then it's cycling the idea of spoon feeding our students information without allowing them to apply the information. I wanted my students to apply information and at first it was not an easy sail. However, the last two weeks of student teaching really hit me in realizing the impact that was occurring in my classes. I had implemented a few labs and activities that involved all hands on learning. What did I the students say when I explained the lab to them? Nothing! They got right to work and completed the task that I asked of them. Nothing made me more happier than knowing that I could successful change their perception of school and change a way of thinking that would help them in positive ways. In reflecting on my teaching experience I realize just how important it is to challenge our students beyond the ordinary. Don't let any of your classes be an ordinary working environment but rather change it to be an extraordinary one. I believe agricultural education has the power to do just this.
Another great piece of advice that has carried with me from the beginning of this experience is to build rapport with your students. I have seen the importance of this play out in my student teaching experience and I could not agree more. A previous student teacher once told me, "invest in your students and they will invest in you." I love this because it is very true. These past few months I have not only gotten to know students but I have been able to help students because they have trusted me. I went to my students basketball and softball games and I have talked to students after school about how I can help them in class. I have also given students encouraging words when they have hit a low point in their life. Sometimes I didn't know why I received respect from my students, but I do know that I took the time to get to know them. I always told my students how much I believed in them. I don't think students hear this enough from their teachers. I don't know how much my words impacted my students but I know that I saw many changes in my students' behaviors and attitudes over the past few months. It has been an absolute joy making these connections with my students, and I know more than anything that I will miss their diverse personalities that make your job worth the while.
Impact is a small word that makes a big difference. The most sad part about leaving my cooperating school on that last day was knowing how much I had worked with my students to get them to where they were and knowing that I wouldn't be there Monday morning to continue this pattern. I wouldn't be able to ask my one student who comes to school 45 minutes early how he was doing and talk to him another 10 minutes about his favorite fishing memories. I wouldn't be able to talk to the two freshman girls that stopped by every morning just to say hi. I wouldn't be able to help finish planning out the FFA banquet with the officer team. The list could go on and it is sad knowing that I will never have these same opportunities again with these students. However, leaving my empty desk on my last day, I was at peace. Every single student gave me a hug and a thank you after leaving my class. Some threw a surprise party and others got me gifts. This sense of peace came from knowing that I didn't only teach these students but I impacted them too.
My Students and I representing FFA at a Sheep and Wool event in Chester County Pa
My Agricultural Mechanics class on my last day!
My Animal Science class on my last day!