6 lessons I learned as a student teacher
Heather Sinclair Wood thought she was ready for the classroom, but, she writes, "I'm not sure anyone can truly be prepared."
June 17th, 2013
11:35 AM ET

6 lessons I learned as a student teacher

By Heather Sinclair Wood, CNN

Editor’s note: Heather Sinclair Wood is a writer-producer for the CNN Newsroom. She holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from California State University, Northridge, and a master’s degree in education from Mercer University in Georgia.

(CNN) - I’m a newswoman, tried and true. Journalist, news junkie, news hound, call me what you like. So when I decided three years ago to pursue a master’s degree in education, family and friends thought I was crazy. Having an advanced degree was something I had always wanted, so I figured why not earn a degree in a profession that I could possibly see myself doing one day? Two years of night classes and a few months as a student teacher seemed easy enough, and then I would have another career option under my belt. I thought of teacher and journalist as practically the same job - just a different audience.

So I embarked on the amazing journey, and a journey it was. But what I didn’t realize were the things I learned during my time as a student teacher in a suburban Atlanta middle school were eye-opening, humbling, and little did I know, would truly change my life and my job as a journalist forever. The way I see the world has changed dramatically, and I have a whole new appreciation for the profession that many take for granted.

Here are six lessons I learned when I jumped from one career to the classroom:

No matter how prepared you think you are, you’re not prepared
I was raised in the classroom of Mrs. Sinclair; my mother, a career educator, taught me everything I needed to know about life right from the realms of her school. My aunt is a teacher, my cousins and my sister. The love of teaching practically runs through my veins. So when graduate school required me to complete a four-month stint as a student teacher, I thought I was so ready. Years of papers, classroom observations and some of the best professors and peers a student could ask for equipped me for life in the classroom. But in reality, I’m not sure anyone can truly be prepared for what an actual classroom is like. I would have never considered myself a novice, but walking into that seventh-grade classroom in January was one of the most terrifying experiences of my life.

Befriend the people who (really) matter
After nearly a decade in the news business, my first day at school came with all the nervous feelings any new job would have. Only this time, I actually had the petrifying power to alter a child’s life permanently. As I stuck my yellow visitor badge to my freshly ironed blouse, I was greeted with smiling faces and inquisitive looks. I know running through their minds were questions about why the “CNN lady” would want to be a teacher. They would soon find out that my passion for news carried over to my time as a teacher, too. I discovered almost instantly that the lunch ladies, custodians, secretaries, resource officers and librarians are the ones who keep a school running. Unlike CNN, where oftentimes you must look up the corporate ladder for help, schools operate as families in which every member, no matter his or her job status, plays a pivotal role in the operation of the school.

Middle schools can be war zones, as I found out, and you’re going to need some people in the trenches with you. Within my first two weeks, there was a broken nose incident, a chocolate pudding explosion and an index-card shortage that had me knocking on doors. I probably talked to the school principal only two or three times while I was there, but the men and women on staff became my heroes.