I have recently had the opportunity to be a cooperating teacher for six graduate students from DePaul University. They are currently in the same program that I was in, just three short years ago. It has been wonderful having an extra person in the classroom these last couple of weeks. My students have loved the extra attention from our “visitors,” and I have enjoyed seeing some of my more quiet students interacting with our visitors.
I have really wanted them to get their “feet wet” while working with my students. I have let them decide what they want the kids to call them, whether it’s by their first name or last name. What has been interesting is seeing how they all were unsure about how much of their personal lives to they share. When my students have asked them a question, the graduate students have looked at me for guidance, as if they are unsure how much they should share. I think that as long as you are comfortable with what you are sharing (and it is grade level appropriate), it is fine.
I have found that my students are always so curious about my personal life and the more that I keep it a mystery, the more obsessed they become about it. I am pretty open about my personal life, and I find that my students are able to relate to me a little more. I am constantly using my family and dogs as examples in class to help me illustrate our concepts as it fits. I was recently checking in with a former student of mine and told him a story about how I woke up and found a chocolate bar wrapper on the floor. Before I could finish the student looked right at me and said “It was Ava, wasn’t it?” I laughed so hard, because he knew exactly which one of my dogs loves to get into trouble.
While I love sharing the happy and funny points in my life, I also do share the not so happy moments in my life as well. Last March, my mother lost her battle with cancer rather suddenly. She passed away the night before my school was scheduled to begin ISAT testing. I made the decision to go into work that next day, because I knew my students would need me for testing. I also made the decision not to tell my students what had happened, just yet. My students knew that something was up; I was quiet, tired, and occasionally running out the classroom to answer my cell phone, none of which is the norm for me.
After nearly a week and a half, testing was finally over, and I knew it was time to tell my students what happened. I was nearly in tears, my aide was nearly in tears, and so were the students. But the support I got from my students and their families was beyond what I imagined. Some of my students went back to their general education classroom and demanded to their teacher and classmates to make cards for me. I had parents come to me before and after school and offer their condolences. Sharing with my students what I was going through really helped me heal. It also helped them cope with some of the things in their life as well.
So my advice is, share what you are comfortable sharing, and be honest. Your students will not only enjoy learning a bit more about their teacher, but will be able to relate to you better.