Things I learned from one week of student teaching in a 5th grade classroom:
1 - Very few guys are involved in schools at the lower-middle level.
There wasn't even a men's restroom in the building - the only other males in the building were the gym teacher and the principal. This means that for the students who have been in that building for the whole of their schooling, I was the first male classroom teacher they ever had.
2 - While some schools are under-funded, others have way more money than they know what to do with.
I ended up teaching in a rich suburban school district, quite different from my own. There were SmartBoards, really nice computers, scanners, and printers in every room. They had better technology than my college's computer lab.
3 - Elementary school teachers are the most stereotypically wholesome people in the world.
Eating lunch in the teacher's lounge means that I got to hear all about their home lives. Talk of little league games and marching bands and homecoming and church youth groups and cheerleading and all of those non-threatening school-and-church-sanctioned events that I avoided like the plague when I was in school. So not only am I completely alone in being (1) male, (2) single, and (3) childless, but I come from a radically different subculture. Don't get me wrong, they're nice, but it's just...tough to talk to them when we have no common interests outside of teaching.
4 - Teaching is exhausting.
This surprised me. A day of teaching leaves me more tired than a day at the gym. Now I know why all the other people in the teachers' lounge seem to be addicted to coffee. Of course, a lot of this probably has to do with waking up early combined with staying up late to write lesson plans (that, and I tend to go into high-energy, adrenaline-rush mode when teaching)
5 - Teaching changes the way you think about things.
Just a week, and I'm already looking at things differently. I see an empty egg carton and think "Hey, I bet could make something out of one of these." I listen to a new song and think "I could use this to teach about figurative language." I see a kid causing trouble in a store and actually start putting on my "Teacherly Disapproval Face" before I remember where I am, and that I've got no authority there.
6 - You can tell a lot more from grading papers than whether or not they're getting the answers right.
One kid would get all of his answers wrong, but have huge paragraphs of text - complex, perfect sentences - completely unrelated to the homework written on the back. One had horrible handwriting and was in special classes for help with reading, but if you flipped his papers over, you could see the big, detailed drawings that he'd done. He would get in trouble for "wasting staples" by using fifteen or twenty of them just to fasten his homework pages together...but if you flipped the paper over, you could see that the bent-over sides of the staples formed an intricate pattern on the back of the page. One girl never turns in her individual homework assignments, but if she's in a group with others, that group always finishes first and turns in the best work, because she knows how to organize a team.
This is stuff that I learned on the first day, just by grading a few different papers. Later, I talked to these kids and confirmed it. The writer loved Eragon, and wanted to be the next Christopher Po-whats-his-name. The artist took me into the hall and showed me some of his work that was on display - sculptures and a near-perfect colored pencil reproduction of a Van Gogh painting. Apparently, he likes to sneak into the art teacher's room during recess to see if she has any extra projects for him. The leader? She was in charge of the student government, crossing guards, and a half-dozen other team activities after school that took up all of her time for homework.
The back of the page is worth a lot more than the front.
7 - Make sure you're wearing an ID around your neck when doing a restroom escort.
One of the other teachers walks by and sees me - a guy, who is definitely not one of the two guys who work in the building - standing outside of the restrooms. She pauses, says "...Waiting for the girls to come out of the restroom?" I shrug and say "A couple girls, a couple guys. Just going to take 'em back with me." Words cannot describe the look she gave me. That's when I remembered that I left my ID in my pocket, and quickly pulled it out and dropped it around my neck. She exhales deeply and walks away, muttering to herself. Awwwwkward.