By: Joanne Choi
I graduated from Northeastern University with a bachelor’s degree in English two years ago. When I entered college, I had never considered teaching as a profession. My interests were to pursue business or law. However, during my sophomore year, I completed a full-time experiential learning placement at a suburban public elementary school, where I worked as a Teacher’s Aide. I enjoyed the experience immensely because I felt that teaching was a good fit for my personality, and I loved working with the students.
Following the placement, I enrolled in an education course that introduced me to the idea of teaching as a means to resolve social inequalities. I started to view teaching as a way to address systemic issues, such as discrimination against the underprivileged and resolving income gaps due to privilege. I decided to become a teacher in response to the call to equity because I sought to leverage my role to perpetuate change.
After graduating from college, I taught English at several middle schools, including a public school in the South Bronx. I also taught English as a Second Language to international students in Beijing, China. After a year of teaching, I enrolled in the Teaching of English program at Teachers College because I felt that my limited experience in teaching would not suffice if I were to continue in the profession. Rather, I wanted to gain a thorough theoretical understanding of pedagogy to feel more prepared for the profession. I also wanted to be certified to teach, which would require my completion of a traditional teacher education program at the graduate level.
During my first semester in the program, I was placed at Stuyvesant High School for Phase I of student teaching. I co-taught two sections of ninth grade Freshman Composition and was an editor in the Writing Center, where I consulted with students on their college application essays and writing assignments for classes. Since my background was predominantly working with at-risk student populations, teaching at one of the most competitive specialized schools was remarkably different from my previous teaching experiences. My students constantly challenged me to analyze literature from unconventional perspectives and lead open, thought-provoking discussions. With the guidance of my cooperating teacher, I learned to avoid asking students questions with singular prescribed answers. Rather, I encouraged my students to become leaders of their own thinking processes, and I embraced the role of teacher as facilitator, rather than solely as leader.
One of my favorite memories of student teaching is during my last day at Stuyvesant High School. At the end of the day, my students lined up one by one to say farewell. They shared with me best wishes for the future, and I received numerous cards, gifts, and hugs. I refer to the moment fondly, and it was a particularly memorable and meaningful conclusion to my first semester.
For my Phase II student teaching placement, I was placed at Bergen County Academies, a public magnet school in suburban NJ, where I co-taught two sections of ninth grade American Literature. I have thoroughly enjoyed the experience of acclimating to various school environments and student populations. As a Phase II student teacher, I am enjoying the greater sense of responsibility and flexibility in terms of planning full units and assessments, as I have been encouraged to be more original and independent while planning. I have also been delegated with determining the culture and logistics of my classroom as well as crafting lesson activities aligned with my personal preferences and educational philosophy. As a result, I have grown increasingly cognizant of my teaching style, as I have become more experienced throughout both placements.
For students who have never student taught before, I would advise you to build strong connections with your cooperating teacher, supervisors, and seminar leader. Having a great relationship with these individuals can be a wonderful source of assistance as they support you during your student teaching placement. My current supervisor, Professor Zumhagen, and seminar leader, Professor Twining, as well as my advisor, Professor Bruni, have been instrumental in ensuring that I have felt continual support during my student teaching experience.