Claire E. Cantrell
(M.T. ’14 Elem Ed)
Stepping into student teaching was like dropping a 1,000-piece puzzle on the floor and trying to put it together overnight. I had no idea where to start. And I felt completely overwhelmed at first. The question weighing on the mind of every student teacher is, “Where do I start?”
I had the privilege of student teaching in a third-grade classroom at Meriwether Lewis Elementary School in Charlottesville, and it was a remarkable growing experience for me as an educator. One of the first lessons I learned is that teachers are, first and foremost, lifelong learners. We need to be reading, researching, learning from one another, and always looking for ways to improve.
My mentor, Anne Straume, who has 35 years of experience, was constantly sending me articles, books, links, and ideas for how to make our classroom the most dynamic, authentic, and inspiring learning environment possible. The world of education never stands still, and I want to be moving with it.
My mentor also radically altered my thinking about what makes an excellent teacher. She encouraged me to plan creative and engaging lessons that would be entertaining enough to “sell tickets” to like a movie or a Broadway show. She reminded me that children desire to be dazzled and amazed. They want to be surprised, amused, and delighted by learning. The world is a magical place to them, and teachers have the power to encourage their sense of wonder, curiosity, and awe. That should be our job description.
As a student teacher, my view of what constitutes excellent reading instruction also changed dramatically. My mentor and I both read The Book Whisperer by Donalyn Miller at the beginning of the year. We were pleased to discover that research supports what our hearts have been confirming all along: that giving students freedom to choose their own reading material and time to read independently yields greater gains in reading achievement than anything else.
We started a read-for-enjoyment movement, and the results were inspiring. Our classroom was a place where children recommended books to one another, discussed what they were reading, and embraced their identities as readers. At the end of my student teaching, I gave the class a reading survey, and every single child reported that he or she liked reading. It was nothing short of magical.
Student teaching was also an induction into the wonderful world of working in a school. I was blessed to be surrounded by many generous, intelligent, and caring professionals. If I had questions about how to help a struggling reader, I had a topnotch reading specialist across the hallway who would give me ideas and materials. The school librarian pulled out books for my class at a moment’s notice. The specialists gave me ideas for incorporating movement, art, and music into the classroom.
The administration counseled and supported me in my job search. Teachers from every grade level gave me ideas, encouragement, and advice. During student teaching I discovered that no teacher is an island, and collaboration is crucial to teachers’ and students’ success.
Now I am a third grade teacher for Fairfax County Public Schools. The puzzle seems a little less daunting. Every year the pieces change, however, which means every year of my teaching career will be a new opportunity for growth and improvement. I will always be grateful for the memorable, solid foundation I built at the Curry School and through student teaching.
Claire Cantrell graduated from the Curry School in December 2013 with a masters in teaching and a bachelor of arts in Spanish. She is currently teaching third grade for Fairfax County Public Schools at a Title I elementary school with a large percentage of ESOL students. You can learn more about her educational philosophy by visiting her teaching blog: http://clairesclassroomexperience.blogspot.com/ or following her on Twitter @claireecantrell.
Update: Mentor name added 3/6/14