“It is the supreme art of the teacher to awaken joy in creative expression and knowledge.”
- Albert Einstein
With student teaching coming to an end and graduation swiftly approaching, I wanted to take a moment to thank the unsung heroes of the student teaching experience: cooperating teachers.
A cooperating teacher (as defined by the Niagara University College of Education) is a mentor classroom teacher with a minimum of three years of teaching experience (and a master’s degree) who guides/coaches a teacher candidate in their certification area for a seven-week instructional internship placement. Mentorship entails providing experience-based guidance to a teacher candidate through demonstration, support and feedback. Cooperating teachers are facilitators, leaders and positive role models...and I couldn't be more grateful for the two wonderful mentors I was lucky enough to be placed with in my final semester at Niagara University.
Thank you, cooperating teachers. Here’s to you...
You opened your classroom to me, and opened your arms to a fresh new face with a million ideas as she came in with boundless energy every day, applying it to everything she experienced. You smiled (and maybe even laughed) as I burst through the classroom door, glowing with excitement, as my new plan book and many multicolored pens spilled out of my newly monogrammed teacher bag onto the desk you cleared off for me. (It's in the little things that count, and something as small as a workspace can make one feel so much more like a true teacher. Thank you for that.)
Every day, you endured the millions of questions I had and answered them all with a calmness and experienced understanding of my sponge-like wish to soak up as much information as I could – and as often as possible.
You tolerated my countless insane Leslie Knope-esque organizational binders, my lengthy color-coded (and detailed) lesson plans, grew accustomed to my perfectionist demeanor, and let me organize and rearrange everything as I stayed late after school to make sure it was all “just right.”
But, most importantly, you tolerated my unique Disney/Pixar obsession as it shined brightly through...with all the songs, the hats, the costumes, the dancing, and the fun. I have learned that teaching is a work of HEART.
Over the past few years, through my classroom placements, I had longed to become that kind of teacher…the one who inspires. I watched as the students so enthusiastically asked/answered questions, hugged their teachers, smiled and told her stories, and genuinely loved their teachers. I got to become the teacher I have always dreamed of being – because of you.
You never treated me like a student, but rather like a respected colleague – giving ideas, imparting wisdom, sharing projects, attending staff meetings/professional seminars together, letting me introduce myself, referring the students to me as their “teacher” rather than their “student teacher.”
You believed in me and, within the first week, trusted me enough to grab the reigns and jump right in, allowing me to make my own decisions and giving me constructive feedback anytime I asked.
You – with a solid career built from dedication and hard work, and with outstanding respect from others – gave me your trust. You handed me the class list, seating chart and markers for the whiteboard, and said, “Go for it!”
You believed in me. From the nervous, anxious, (but organized) mess that I was...your support and guidance helped me change into the confident, risk-taking, bold teacher that I am today. You gave me the freedom, the independence, and helped me grow.
Looking back, one of the most important and valuable lessons I’ve learned is that the difference between a good teacher and an exceptional teacher is that exceptional teachers most often are the facilitators of learning, acting as “the guide on the side” in the classroom. Modeling and demonstration can be good, but the hands-on application and guided practice are the best way for students to learn and develop.
Thank you, cooperating teachers. Thank you for believing in me, guiding me, teaching me to laugh at my own mistakes, and helping me to see how wonderfully rewarding this profession truly is. Teaching is a calling and one of the most marvelous benefits of teaching is that there is no limit to growth as a teacher.
(Dedicated to my mentors, Elena and Ann Marie: Thank you for everything.)