The Double Life of a Student-Teacher
The journeys of student-teachers at Stuyvesant.
Reading Time: 5 minutes
As the job title suggests, student-teachers are caught in the limbo between finishing their degrees and teaching classes to prepare for their future careers. As a busy Stuyvesant student, you might question why someone would want to spend more time in the classroom than they have to. Yet, for aspiring teachers, real-life teaching experience is priceless. Many departments, such as music and social studies, have hired student-teachers. Reflecting on their time working at Stuyvesant, these student-teachers have revealed the fulfillment that comes with educating the next generation.
During the fall 2022 semester, Victoria Meyer was a student-teacher for AP European History and AP U.S. History courses. She recently finished her master’s degree in Adolescent Social Studies Education at Hunter College, where her program matched her with Stuyvesant social studies teacher, Mordecai Moore. “I was thrilled when I found out that I got to be at Stuyvesant,” Meyer said, “At the beginning of June, I got an e-mail saying that ‘You’re working with Mr. Moore [...]’ and he wanted to meet up right away so that we could start preparing over the summer.”
Despite thorough planning, Meyer had to be ready for whatever the day threw at her in order to give her 170 students the best possible learning experience, and find both personal fulfillment and enjoyment in her daily lessons. “You can never be too prepared for a day of teaching,” Meyer emphasized. “It’s hard to really enjoy [your lesson] if you’re not super prepared… even though it’s so much work, the actual teaching part comes easily when you have all that preparation,” she continued. Her responsibilities included putting together informative slides and designing class activities.
This year, Meyer was particularly busy due to a newly-introduced National History Day project that increased the grading workload for teachers and student-teachers alike. “That gave him [Mr. Moore] a huge new workload, so I think I did more work than his previous student-teachers,” Meyer said. “Working with Mr. Moore is so great because he’s so experienced, but there’s always so much to do, and that was a major adjustment. That would be the case for any teacher, but it’s especially the case with him,” she added.
Moore is highly experienced in training student-teachers, having mentored more than 20 student-teachers over the years. He encourages them to stick to his tight work schedule in order to give them a realistic teaching experience. “I ask them to arrive when I arrive, which is 8:30 in the morning, and, when possible, to stay close to the time I leave, which is about 5:00 p.m.” Moore explained. His training method also includes student-teachers taking on grading workloads that accurately represent a high school teacher’s.
On top of Meyer’s daily class preparations, she had to take an additional course at Hunter every week, which Moore was considerate of. They were able to arrange an efficient grading system. “[Mr. Moore] would take home all the grading on Wednesdays, and when he had to go to a Hanukkah party with his kids, I would take home all of the grading that day,” Meyer explained.
Another former student-teacher, ZhenHong Chen, taught Global II with social studies teacher Dr. Lisa Greenwald. Chen attended Stuyvesant himself, and returned as a university student at NYU to student-teach. “Without actually going to a school and doing hands-on teaching, it really leaves you unprepared to go into a classroom by yourself,” Chen said. “[My university] structured it really well so that I wasn’t overburdened with a workload throughout student-teaching,” he described.
Chen believes that becoming a student-teacher was beneficial for his career. As someone who does not consider himself to be a particularly outgoing person, Chen had to adapt to the teaching environment. “Being super outgoing in front of friends and being outgoing in front of a classroom [are] two types of social skills,” Chen clarified. “You do need to be able to project your voice, you do need to know how to interact with students and to make sure your lessons are engaging or interesting,” he said.
Similarly, Meyer emphasized the importance of engaging students without rushing the learning process. “If you start a class and most of your students are really quiet or no one is participating, it will get better. You just believe that your students will open up more as they get to know you, as you get to know them, and it’ll happen,” Meyer said.
Sometimes, however, student-teaching programs teach participants a different lesson: not everyone is cut out to be a teacher. “In one case, that teacher realized very quickly that they should be a police person instead of a teacher when they made a [quiet] student cry,” Moore recounted.
While these programs are undoubtedly useful for student-teachers to explore a potential career path and build experience, they are not flawless. For instance, in her student-teaching seminars, Meyer found out that other aspiring teachers may not have been so lucky with their school placements. “One person had to switch schools because his kids were saying really offensive things to him […] There was more than one racist incident,” Meyer revealed. Fortunately, according to Moore, in most schools, student-teachers are treated with respect. “They’re able, over the course of the semester, to earn the respect of the students,” Moore explained.
English teacher Sarah Lifson, another former Stuyvesant student-teacher, currently teaches American Literature and Writing in the World. She studied English education at Hunter College, where fieldwork was mandatory to get her degree, which was how she ended up teaching freshman English classes at Stuyvesant during the Spring 2020 semester. She recalled her transition from student-teaching to professional teaching and the differences in responsibilities between them. “[Now,] I’m responsible for communication with parents, with guidance counselors, and serving the whole student, rather than just parts of the student,” Lifson noted.
Chen felt that student-teaching at Stuyvesant led to a smoother transition when becoming a Global I and AP U.S. History teacher. “I’m very much a history person, and I feel like teaching, in general, is the best way to make use of the knowledge and to impart the story of history for all these students,” Chen reflected.
Lifson agreed that her student-teaching experience provided her with the necessary skills to thrive in her job. “I remember having such issues with timing. I could not teach and keep track of time […] I would kind of just get carried away in conversation,” Lifson said. “[English teacher Katherine Fletcher] really encouraged me to be honest that I was also a student. I was also in a learning situation, and I think that has stayed with me even as I’ve been teaching professionally for three years.”
Even now as a full-time teacher, Lifson feels that the continued mentorship and advice she has received from the English department has made the transition smoother. As Moore put it, “They leave after the semester, in essence, really understanding fully the time commitment both in the building and outside the building of what it means to be a teacher, and therefore they’re ready to get hired as teachers.”
Student-teaching comes with many challenges and responsibilities, but it is ultimately a rewarding experience. The student-teacher learning experience, as indicated by their personal stories, is serving them well as teachers today. Student-teachers deserve recognition for their hard work; after all, these young scholars are training to be the educators of the next generation.