“I’m obsessed, thank you very much.”

The title of this post is a line Emilio Estevez delivers to Andie MacDowell in a classic Brat Pack movie St. Elmo’s Fire. He has been following her around, clearly hoping that she will choose him as a lover, but in the end, he finds that she has chosen someone else when he follows her to a mountain cabin and meets her buff boyfriend. The line – and the movie – have been going around in my head now for a day or so. No, I am not obsessing on someone. Rather, I have been obsessing on characters in novels and wondering why I cannot write characters such as those I fall in love with, who bring me back to their pages time and again.

I am in the middle of a second draft of a novel. As much as I try to make the characters seem real, the words in which I wrap my characters are flat, dull, and boring to me, so I know they will be to others as well. I want dynamic relationships between teacher and students, but instead I feel like yawning. I thought the relationships between teacher and students would improve after I finished student teaching, but I am not capturing the teacher-student dynamics that I came to love with my students. I don’t want to recreate those scenes because that feels like cheating. I want the characters to have their own lives. Does that make sense?

That said, I have returned to books that I love with characters that have lives and personalities that are so real to me that I don’t want to leave their world. I am trying to figure out what it is about these characters that make me fall in love with them. I don’t know if I am doing this right. Are there books I should read about writing? It is my dream to write a novel, but perhaps I am not cut out for that.

Before I give up entirely, however, I will keep searching for answers. If you are writing a novel, you should never give up either. Keep working. Keep writing. Do what you love.

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So, you want to be a guiding teacher…

Yin and yang stones
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The MAT@USC program is unique in its approach to student teaching (also known as “guided practice”), mostly because it cannot ask its guided practice professors to visit teacher candidates on a regular basis to observe. Instead, the teacher candidate and the guiding teacher (also known as “cooperating teacher” or “master teacher”) feel the professor’s presence when the teacher candidate records a “teaching event” using a video camera and receives feedback from the professor via the LMS. In many respects, the TC and GT have more autonomy in the program, which can foster a more professional relationship between the two. TCs and GTs can form a co-teaching partnership in this situation and explore the vocation of teaching in deep and satisfying ways. If you are interested in collaborating with a TC, then accepting a TC from the MAT@USC program is a good decision. If you are interested in learning as much from a TC as the student will learn from you, then accepting a TC from the MAT@USC program is a good decision.

This program requires a lot from its guiding teachers and it can be confusing at first. Here are a few tips from a teacher candidate who recently finished 20 weeks of guided practice with three wonderful cooperating teachers. Some of these tips are based on stories I have heard during those 20 long, arduous weeks. My experience was very positive and I am proud of the teachers I worked with, but others had issues. (These things could happen in any program, by the way.)

  • Reflect. Before your TC arrives, think back to your student teaching experience. What did you like about it? What did you not like about it? Imagine the perfect student teaching scenario. What would happen? Write it down and share it with your TC.
  • Use the LMS. USC provides access to the LMS and provides an orientation course that will give you useful advice. Login and check it out.
  • A “teaching event” has four parts to it, and three are recorded on a video camera. As you work with your TC, you will become quite used to being recorded and, hopefully, forget that it is there after a while. The teaching event proceeds as follows: planning session, lesson plan submission, lesson delivery, and reflection on the lesson. All but the lesson plan submission are recorded. The professor reviews all of these videos and makes comments on them via the LMS. Make sure you allot enough time in your schedule to complete the recordings in a timely manner.
  • Plan with your TC. Use prep time to review the lesson plan the TC is developing. Some GTs allowed the TC to develop lesson plans independently and then reviewed them. This is your chance to tap into the knowledge the TC has and supplement that knowledge with your experience in the real-world classroom. Ask pointed questions and give constructive feedback.
  • This might go without saying, but do not leave the room for an entire class period. In most states, it is illegal to leave a classroom without a certified teacher for very long. You are still responsible for that classroom and you must be present to observe the TC. It is your responsibility to provide timely and constructive feedback to that TC. If you are not there, you cannot do that.
  • Refrain from assuming control of a lesson if the TC is not doing well. It is just as important that a TC experience and recover from failure, as it is that he or she experience success. Failure and success are yin and yang; without one, one cannot feel the other. Instead, reflect briefly at the end of a lesson that did not go well and offer advice on how to make it better. Besides, you only embarrass the TC and decimate his credibility by taking over a lesson. 
  • Let your TC teach. Some GTs think that it is important the TC learn a particular style of teaching. In the MAT@USC program, however, the professors spend a great deal of time emphasizing that there is not one particular learning theory or teaching technique that works all the time for every student. The TC is, therefore, using knowledge of the students, the social context, content knowledge, and state standards (among other things) to develop a lesson plan and deliver it in a way that will best benefit the students. While your style might work, it is important that the TC discover that independently. Therefore, let the TC teach and be there to advise if things do not go well.
  • On the flip side, watch for opportunities to guide your TC. There are going to be times that a TC will need direction and even need to watch you teach a couple of class periods before taking over. Use those opportunities to co-teach with your TC, to show her how it’s done, but use them judiciously. As an example, I needed help teaching grammar, as I had more experience teaching literature than grammar. My GT helped me by sharing her method and co-teaching with me. She then allowed me to create lessons to review for quizzes on the content, which gave me a chance to teach according to my preferred style.
  • Reflect. People who know me know that reflecting upon one’s practice is an activity I find vitally important. While you are acting as a GT, it is important that you reflect on the TC’s performance as well as your own. Use the evaluation form provided by the program to guide your reflection. Share the evaluation with your TC. Then discuss with the TC what you did well and what you could have done differently.

I am sure there are many other tips that my classmates could share, but these are the tips I consider most important. I look forward to any feedback others can provide. In the meantime, fight on!

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