Editors’ Note: Dr. Evelin Schotte-Grebenstein is a teacher of English and German and now a principal at a German school. Before stepping into her new role as principal last year, she was also a teacher trainer for aspiring English teachers in Germany. Her role in supporting student teachers included meeting with them in seminars, observing their teaching, and assessing their teaching. She kindly agreed to sit down for an interview where she shared her expertise in helping student teachers develop their teaching skills. Sit back and enjoy her interview and think back to your own transition from novice to experienced teacher. Do you remember how hard that was?
Why did you decide to become a teacher trainer?
Teaching is a very important task for me. I personally like being a teacher, which I found out after becoming a teacher. I like planning lessons, and I like people. For me, it’s always been important to be surrounded by people. As a teacher trainer I had the chance to have a positive impact on future teachers, who then had a positive impact on their pupils. So, what I did had a multiplying effect.
Can you give us a little background information on your student teachers?
The student teachers I worked with were in the final stage of their teacher training curriculum. Their aim was to be English teachers at a Gymnasium, a type of secondary school in Germany that prepares pupils (grades 5–12, ages 10–18) to study at a university. Before beginning their 1½- to 2-year student teaching at a Gymnasium, the student teachers have already studied at university for four to five years, specializing in the two school subjects they will be teaching. For some student teachers, a five-month practicum at a school is an integral part of their university studies, but others have very little actual teaching experience during their university studies. So, while they all begin their student teaching with good knowledge of their subjects, they may lack experience in applying psychology, pedagogy, and even teaching methods in the classroom. This meant I had to use differentiation with my student teachers: I tailored my instruction to meet their different needs.
How did you support your student teachers?
When student teachers come from university, they know an awful lot of things. They’re experts in their subjects. The problem is that they can’t talk about the English language with their Gymnasium pupils the way they’re used to doing with their peers in their university courses. Student teachers have to learn how to make English easy for the pupils. I think a good teacher is someone who can teach something in an easy way, even a very difficult topic. The student teachers are now stepping into the world of another age group, and the target learners are young people who aren’t yet university students. University students feel they need to prove they’re clever and smart, but you’re clever and smart as a teacher when you make it easy for your learners and they like learning your subject.
Another way I supported my student teachers was to make sure they had background knowledge in psychology and pedagogy. They studied these subjects at university but in an artificial, theoretical way. When student teachers are standing in front of pupils, they have to take the theory they learned and make it reality. This involves not only psychology and pedagogy, but also methodology, and a clear lesson structure. Student teachers soon come to realize that the subject—English—is only one part of what they need to know. This is what I helped them to understand during my seminars with student teachers, and, of course, I encouraged them as well!
What challenges do student teachers face?
There are a lot of challenges. Being a teacher means you have to cope with many different roles. Student teachers have to bear in mind that being a teacher means a lot more than giving good lessons. We educate pupils; we teach them subjects; we also mark pupils’ work. And this last one is tricky because without the marking our relationship with pupils would be a lot easier. Teachers have to be fair and transparent in their marking, and the pupils need to understand the teacher’s marking. As a teacher trainer, I gave my student teachers recommendations to help them overcome teaching challenges, and in turn, they made recommendations to their pupils to help them overcome their learning challenges.
What did you find rewarding about working with student teachers?
It was really rewarding because I was working with young people. They helped me stay up to date, think about my own lessons, and focus on being a teacher. And when you discuss things with young teachers—staying open-minded and willing to learn—, you get a lot back from them. I can easily pass on to them my experience of being a teacher for 25 years, and I can be a role model. But the student teachers are eager to learn, and sometimes they struggle, and then you have to say: “Come on, keep going, it’s okay. Not every lesson is perfect, even for me: A bee flies into the classroom, and everything changes! That’s life!”
So, it’s really a rewarding task, and one of my best decisions was becoming a teacher trainer. I miss it a lot. Yesterday evening, one of my former student teachers contacted me and asked if I could send her something we had done during one of our seminars. I was so happy because I know they’re using the things we did together.
What important advice would you give new teachers?
Being a teacher is not easy, and every day can be a challenge. But when I’m in class with pupils, I know this is the right place for me. This is something new teachers need to check for themselves. My advice is: if you’re unhappy in class, don’t become a teacher. Teachers have to know the classroom is the right place for them.
Do you have tips for other teacher trainers?
Show that you are a good teacher yourself. Be a good role model. Show that you like school and that you like pupils—this is very important!
Talk about what makes a good lesson with your student teachers. I like alliteration, and a good lesson has a mix of 5 C’s:
You and your student teachers can think of even more C’s. When I discussed this with my student teachers, we were amazed at how many things we came up with that are important for a good lesson.
What final message would you like to leave our readers with?
Being a teacher trainer is a perfect task for people who like teaching. There’s a lot to do, but you get a lot back.
Dr. Evelin Schotte-Grebenstein earned her degrees at Friedrich Schiller University in Jena, Germany. She has been teaching English and German for over 25 years. Now she’s beginning her second year as principal of St. Josef Gymnasium, a lovely secondary school in Dingelstädt, Germany.