Recent UWM alum honored as student teacher of the year in English

Student teaching is always a challenge, but Siraj Khan faced a harder-than-usual assignment. His student teaching started right after his students returned to the classroom after a long pandemic break.

“It was difficult to start out my teaching position and kind of help students get used to being back in the classroom,” Khan said. “But also — and I think this would apply to any student teacher — going from being a learner yourself to now being a leader in the classroom is a challenge. We do a lot of coursework and that’s awesome, but nothing can really prepare you 100% for stepping into the classroom.”

Khan managed his student teaching so well that the Wisconsin Council of Teachers of English is honoring him as Wisconsin student teacher of the year for 2021-2022. He will receive the award at the group’s fall 2022 conference Nov. 12.

Good fit for interests and skills

Khan came to UWM to earn his post-baccalaureate degree and teaching certification in English Education after completing his undergraduate degree in English and political science.

He decided to become a teacher when he figured out that it was a good fit for his interests and skills. “Every job that I’ve had and enjoyed has been about working with and building relationships with young people.”

His student teaching at Rufus King International High School prepared him well for the classroom, Khan said. “Honestly, I think it was one of the best experiences of my life.”

He tried to bring that attitude of building relationships into his student teaching.

“I liked getting to a point in our relationship where they understood that, yes, I am their teacher, but I care about them and what’s going on in their lives.”

Engaging with students

Khan made a point of engaging in small, off-topic conversations with students before class, talking about their weekends and what was going on in their lives. “I wanted them to know I care about them as people. Seeing that manifest in our student-teacher relationship was really cool.”

“As lead teacher in three Media Studies sections, Siraj strikes a lovely balance between caring teacher and authority figure,” Ann Christensen, who was his cooperating teacher during student teaching at Rufus King, wrote in a nomination letter. He fit so seamlessly into the classroom and the school’s culture, she added, that a visiting district delegation who was observing her classroom thought he was her co-teacher.

Khan credits Christensen and the School of Education staff members who oversaw his student teaching with helping and inspiring him. Kristine Lize, director of the English Education program and Alanna Harris, senior lecturer, were especially helpful, he said.

He appreciated the fact that both not only gave him insights on what he was doing well, but also on areas where he could improve. “I enjoyed the chance to talk one-on-one with Krissy after she observed my teaching. Alanna gave me really concrete feedback.”

Respect, collaboration

In her nomination letter for the award, Lize wrote: “I am most impressed by his respect and appreciation for the diverse students in his class, his competence and knowledge of his field, and his ability to collaborate with colleagues to ensure student success.”

Khan was able to help his students bring their own lives into the classroom, she added. “He continues this work in his Communications Media course where he engages often in discussions about the content of the course and students’ own use of social media. In this way, Siraj is able to engage students more deeply with the content of the course and he finds that students are willing to put forth greater effort and more deeply enjoy the work they do.”

This summer, Khan worked at a summer camp through the Wauwatosa Recreation Department. He’s now started his full-time teaching at North Middle School in Menomonee Falls.

He’s excited about teaching seventh- and eighth-graders after student teaching with high school seniors.

“They have a lot of energy and a desire to learn that high school seniors might not have after 14 or so years in school,” Khan said.

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