Working With Interns: Intern's Frames of Mind
Habits of "Studenting”
Being a "student” is a likely frame of mind with which interns will begin their internship. This frame of mind comes from well-formed habits of a life-long student. The habits of course-taking, or of "studenting” might or might not serve them as interns. Among these habits:
- a tendency to wait for "the teacher" (mentor teacher or instructor) to say what to do (when we might want more initiative to shape one's own professional development)
- a strong focus on their own evaluation (getting a good grade, keeping up the GPA)
- a tendency to think that it is the program's problem to manage the difficulty of their task (as always in their experience to date to far) so that they (as students) can succeed (when we CAN'T control the difficulty of their task in schools).
In the preceding four years, interns will have been assigned to read a large stack of stuff, on the explicit or implicit premise that reading it will help them to become good teachers. But to be quite honest most will have few or no vivid experiences that such reading would do them any good, as teachers. Few interns will, at their own initiative, consult anything that they have read in order to try to do their work as teachers. Even fewer will do so as anything like a habit.
Ideas about Learning to Teach
Interns will also likely bring a wide range of "frames of mind” about learning to teach. These "frames of mind” can range from:
- Some interns understanding the internship entirely in terms of their opportunities to try what they think is good teaching, and to see for themselves.
- Many interns having strong feelings of knowing exactly what is going on (from a student's point of view) and knowing exactly what to do (as a student), but little or no idea that the classroom is a very different place for teachers than for students, and that knowing what to do as a student is an uncertain guide, at best, to knowing what to do as a teacher. They will soon discover this, and it will be more or less shocking.
- Others will approach the internship assuming that the main mode of learning will be or is intended to be emulation of the mentor. The fact of our assigning them to mentor teachers would tend to confirm the assumption that they are to emulate the mentor teacher. But emulation is problematic because the mentor teacher will not be (a) just like their favorite teacher from school, or (b) the spitting image of their ideal future self, or (c) a model of all of the methods they have studied. The mentor teacher will be an ordinary human being who is trying to teach school. Or, emulation will be problematic because the interns do admire their mentor teacher, but don't have much access to what the mentor teachers are thinking while they are doing what interns admire. If they are thinking they will learn by emulation, interns may be stumped.
- Yet, a final frame of mind about learning to teach, which the literature shows is largely absent from intern's thinking about "learning to teach” or "becoming a teacher” is related to developing "wisdom of practice.” Simply, the intern approaches the internship as an opportunity to observe and interpret and assess the interaction of students and teachers in the context of a given school to figure out what might be going on in order to act wisely. For this frame of mind to be developed it should be explicitly discussed with demonstrations of the possible.
What will Interns be Trying to Do?
Interns will be trying to stop being students and start being teachers - as they understand those roles.
Interns will be trying to be defined as teachers and trying to act as such, and in many cases will be finding that that is not an easy task, quickly achieved. They are likely to attempt to address their situation on the basis of what they thought they learned as students in school, and on the basis of the images they formed of themselves as teacher while students in school.
Possessing the mental equipment of a novice, interns are unlikely to notice or attribute significance to much of what their MT's are doing to organize classes and get going a program of work in the subject matter. To interns as experienced students but novice teachers, all this vital activity is likely to seem like just doing school - as distinct from an achievement on the part of teacher and students. Interns may hold the idea that school will go right unless someone or something makes it go wrong. That is, many will NOT be trying to understand "grooving a class at the beginning of the year."
Trying to play the new role of teacher, and feeling like the center of attention, interns might interpret everything in the classroom as though it is related to them or aimed at them. They probably will not entertain alternative hypotheses, for example, that students who appear not to care, not to be motivated, or even appear to be disrespectful, are actually pursuing their own goals and interests without much thought for the teacher. Interns are often unlikely to place themselves at the margin of the universe and see how it looks, for example, with students at the center.
Interns might or might not be noticing that there are students in the room when they are trying to teach, and might or might not be able to respond to what students are doing while they attempt to play the role of teacher they have set out for themselves. If they do notice, they may discover that the students appear not to know or care about the intern's scripts for lessons.
The labor of getting students to attend and respond is likely to be a surprise. And there will be some early, shocking encounters with kids who don't do what they're asked to do, or tell interns to take a hike, or convert interns' instructions into something very different than they thought they intended.
In the face of these complexities, interns may fluctuate wildly between blaming their troubles on everything but their own inexperience and doubting their fitness to teach.
Interns are not likely to connect their previous studies to any of this experience, partly because they do not yet fully appreciate that they need options for thought and action, partly because they just can't remember what they presumably studied in early courses, and partly because making those connections is substantial work.
Adapted from 'Grades and Grading" by Tom Bird, AY 2005-2006