Conversations From the Classroom: English Education student teacher Rachel Stern shares her story ☆

For Rachel Stern, teaching is both exhilarating and challenging, but she didn’t find this calling overnight. Having studied English at the University of Michigan, she then moved to Los Angeles in hopes of pursuing a career writing for film and television. Disillusionment soon followed, however, when she found screenwriting in the entertainment industry to be more of a commodity than a craft. It was then that she decided to move across the country and reengage herself in the rigors of school and the study of literature, a discipline she knew and loved.

Now, as a student teacher in the Teaching of English program at TC, Stern is finding her passion for teaching. “I feel constantly stimulated, whether I’m responding to a question in the classroom, exploring the nuances of a text, or planning a difficult lesson. After a desk job in which lunch was unequivocally the highlight of my day, it’s a wonderful feeling to actually rely on my intellect and creativity day in and day out.”

She wants her students to feel stimulated as well, and hopes to create a classroom environment where their analytical and rhetorical skills are cultivated, while being encouraged to explore, imagine, and create.

Stern’s student teaching placement is in the High School for Math, Science, and Engineering at City College, a small magnet school in Harlem. “I have really enjoyed my time there so far, especially the diverse population of students I teach. I’m also lucky to work with a supportive and experienced cooperating teacher, and we’ve established a nice balance of guidance and freedom in planning.”

Her strong background in writing has proven to be an asset in guiding these young writers through the process of preparing for college. “We are just finishing up a unit on personal essay writing, and because most of my 12th grade students are college bound, they’ve put a great deal of energy into writing their essays and peer-editing their classmates’ work. I am looking forward to reading the final products next week before we embark on our academic research paper.”

As is the goal in all student teaching experiences, Rachel is taking this opportunity to work through some challenges she faces as a teacher. “I’m constantly working on striking a balance between finding levity in the classroom and establishing a suitable atmosphere for rigorous work and serious thought. I want my students to be able to question why we do particular lessons or activities, but not to the point where it can derail the important things we are trying to do.”

In an effort to strike this balance, Stern sets out to establish a clear tone in the classroom that is conducive to balancing out these two cornerstones of an optimal learning environment, an endeavor that involves more work than she’d ever imagined before starting this phase of her teacher training.

Despite the challenges involved in establishing the perfect classroom setting, Stern enjoys many causes for celebration. “I feel successful when my students come up to me after a lesson and ask if they can edit a piece of writing they’re working on based on what we did in class that day. I say, ‘Yes, of course, that is the whole point!’”

Rachel Stern sees herself working in an urban school for as long as possible. “I think having diverse perspectives in the classroom allows for a certain depth and breadth in students’ connections between literature and life. As far as long term, I’m open to a lot of different possibilities, but eager to continue this wonderful, surprising adventure of teaching high school or middle school students.”