This morning I was reading some tips for education majors that are about to begin their student teaching. As I read, I thought about my own student teaching experience sixteen years ago. In the weeks before my first day, I was consumed with worry. Some of the worry was caused by horror stories I had heard about other people’s experiences. However, I was mostly worried about whether or not I had made the right choice.
Going into college, I had fully expected to become a band director. As the teaching certificate for music education is for kindergarten through 12th grade, I had been given opportunities to explore teaching at all of the different grade levels. Through these experiences, I was surprised to discover that I had enjoyed working with the younger students. This led me to change my path and to choose student teaching at the elementary level.
For my student teaching, I was assigned to work with Dale Ludwig at the Baton Rouge Center for Visual and Performing Arts. By the end of my first week, I not only knew that I had made the right choice but I felt like I had won the lottery in mentor teachers. She was positive, kind-hearted, funny, intelligent, talented, open-minded, and dedicated. In short, she was everything I hoped to be as a teacher.
Over the coming months, Dale taught me so much more beyond the skills for being an effective teacher. Through thematic planning with the other enrichment teachers and classroom teachers, I learned to see how music was connected to all of the other subjects. At the same time, I witnessed the value of working as a team in order to help the students succeed. While problem solving, I loved that Dale included me in the discussions and showed me how I can effectively bring about change. She was also constantly seeking ways to improve her teaching. During my time with her, I learned what it meant for a teacher to be a life-long learner.
The first few years of teaching can be a perilous time as the teacher encounters uncharted waters. At my first school, a classroom teacher was assigned to be my mentor. Although my mentor was able to guide me through school routines and evaluations, there were many questions that I had in regards to music. I was fortunate that Dale also served informally as a mentor. Several days a week, we would meet after school to walk. During these walks, I was able to seek her guidance on a wide variety of concerns.
Even though it has been sixteen years since I student taught, I still find myself occasionally asking when I encounter new problems, “What would Dale do?” Although she now teaches in Indiana, I take comfort in knowing that I can always, “Give a little whistle (or e-mail), and always let (my mentor) be my guide.”