January 2018 -new year, new semester, new student teaching placement -and only 4.5 months until the UTAP Elementary Cohort graduates from our program in May! The summer session and first semester were filled with valuable and challenging classwork and experiences in my elementary classroom placement. It was a six-month period, but there was so much going on that it moved by rapidly. It is hard to believe we are nearing the completion of our program.

The first semester was jam-packed with classes and student teaching. In addition to two and a half days in our student teaching placement site, we had Three Methods courses -Science, Literacy and Math -a Child Development course, and a rotating “special topics” course. Our cohort was totally immersed in education and our role as students at Penn, student teachers at our placement site, and future educators. Within the program, we are constantly reflecting on what we bring to the classroom and how we can modify or improve our practice; however, the new year (and winter break) provided me an opportunity to reflect on some of the major pieces that stood out to me as invaluable and essential to my growth as a student and educator over the course of the semester. As I enter the new semester of student teaching and classes, I know that I will hold these few pieces of reflection close.

  1. Ask questions (or write them down if you can’t ask them in that moment).

    As a graduate student and as a student teacher, I constantly have questions. Even with previous experience working in classrooms or with kids, every classroom and class of students is unique and it’s important to ask questions to learn specifics. As a student teacher, this is the time to ask questions! Once I have my own classroom, I won’t have the luxury of having professors, a Classroom Mentor, a Penn Mentor or my cohort members to ask questions to all the time. Fortunately, the mentors within the program encourage questioning. Questioning of specific outcomes, how to improve, and the context we work in. Following up with questions about specific practices or components of a school or curriculum only serve to enrich the graduate student and student teaching experience.

  2. Save everything!

    Notes, handouts, student work, cards from students (you will get them!) -almost everything builds on one another in this program. Saving all of my materials help me gather information I needed more quickly for my final projects -and it also serves as a paper record of the classes and coursework I did last semester. The resources we receive from professors are high-quality tools to reference both as a student teacher and a future teacher. If you’re not keep-every-paper-ever-person, scan the resources for later use. At the very least, save your notes from the students -they serve as another reminder why teaching is so enriching.

  3. Self-care is essential for all graduate students/student teachers/teachers/human beings

    Some days are incredibly busy, and it is impossible to stick to a normal routine However, as a student and a future educator it’s essential to make sure that there is something in the day, or at the very least week that is dedicated to recharging and preparing for the rest of the week. Whether it’s a gym session, delicious meal, or Netflix, make sure that you take some time to recharge and rest up for the next days.

  4. Show gratitude to those that supported you as a graduate student

    I was fortunate to have a Classroom Mentor and Penn Mentor that were positive, constructive supports last semester. Because of their feedback and mentorship, I had the opportunity to be comfortable in trying specific classroom practices, struggle in some areas, ask questions and then try the same-but-better routine later on in the classroom. Experience is essential for learning how to teach (and learning how to bounce back from lessons that inevitably don’t go as planned). I am very grateful for my mentors that allowed me to build experience in the classroom, and it is essential to show gratitude towards the people who are helping me build my practiceand future career as an educator. Beyond my direct experience in the classroom, I found that outside of school my loved ones helped me stay focused and happy -they deserve a thank you as well :)