Professional Development Opinion

Response: Student Teachers Should ‘Be Colleagues’

By Larry Ferlazzo — October 05, 2014 12 min read
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(This is the first post in a three-part series on this topic)

This week’s question is:

What are your suggestions for teachers who are supervising a student teacher, as well as for student teachers themselves?

It’s that time of the year when many student teachers are being placed with their supervising teachers (including me!). We’ll hear some good advice from guests and readers in this three-part series (I’ll also throw-in my two cents in Part Three).

Today’s guest responses come from Emily Geltz and Linda Rief, who co-authored their contribution (Emily was Linda’s student teacher two years ago); Carol Ann Tomlinson, Jessica Bennett and Jane Fung.

I also had a interesting conversation with Emily and Linda on my ten-minute BAM! Radio Show. BAM! has had some technical issues, but should have that show and my previous one on book recommendations for teachers online within a few days. In the meantime, you can listen to interviews with previous guests.

Response From Emily Geltz with Linda Rief

Emily Geltz (an 8th grade Language Arts teacher, who just finished her first year of teaching at Laconia Middle School in NH) interned with Linda Rief (a Language Arts teacher for the last 30 years at Oyster River Middle School in Durham, NH) during the 2012-13 school year, as part of a 5th year Masters Program through the University of New Hampshire.

Linda is the author of numerous books published by Heinemann and Scholastic, the most recent of which is Read Write Teach: Choice and Challenge in the Reading-Writing Workshop (Heinemann, 2014):



It is so important to have an open line of communication with each other. Discuss all that is going on in education, both the positive and the negative, locally and nationally. Talk about philosophies of teaching. What is it that you believe? How have these beliefs changed over the years? Disagree. Talk about what you may do differently as educators, but recognize there is more than one way to run a classroom. Your student teacher will not be, and should not be, a cookie cutter version of you.

I think Linda and I spent just as much time having conversations about our teaching beliefs as we did planning lessons, and these conversations were the most valuable part of my student teaching year. She made me realize that teaching is not something that has a “Eureka!” moment, but a craft that good teachers work at day by day.


No matter how many years I have been teaching I have so much more to learn. Having a student teacher is the fresh voice that keeps our teaching alive. Emily asked great questions that made me rethink what we were doing and why. We were colleagues--collaborating as we planned together, listened hard to each other, and questioned intentions, always trying to be thoughtful, respectful and curious in our interactions with each other and the students.

Let go. Take risks.


Do not be afraid to let go. As the supervising teacher I am sure it is hard to lose your class to someone, but it is such a vital part of the learning process. Be okay with sitting back and letting someone else take the reins. After a lesson taught by your student teacher, make sure to debrief. What worked well? What changes could be made for next time? I wanted constructive criticism because I knew that it would help me become a stronger teacher.

As the student teacher, don’t be afraid to let go and make mistakes. We preach to our students that they learn through their errors, and we must abide by the same philosophy. Everything you do will not be gold, and that is okay. Share your fears and your concerns with your supervising teacher, and she will help you conquer them.


Emily is right; it is hard to “let go” of our designs, our frames, our lessons. But, it is not often that we have the opportunity to be the student, sit with the kids, try out the old and the new lessons, and really notice how the students are reacting and growing in the process of the teaching. Many times I found myself thinking about something Emily did a bit differently and wondering why I had not thought of that before. It also helped me to notice those things that were not working and questioning myself as to why I had held onto those things for so long.

Dive in.


Take on everything possible. You have a short time as a student teacher and you must make an impression. Make the most of your time by doing the things that many other student teachers do not. Attend parent, staff, and department meetings, help out with a club, attend the school play, musical performances, dances, and other school functions. Be an active member of the school community. You may only be a part of the community for a finite amount of time, but become involved in all that is available while you are there. Not only do all of these things work in your favor when trying to get a job, but this level of commitment is what being a teacher is all about.


As a supervising teacher, make sure that your student teacher knows all that goes on in your school community. Introduce her to everyone at the school, tell her about functions going on, and give her the chance to get involved. One of the things that made Linda such an excellent supporting teacher is she really allowed me to become a part of the classroom from day one. She pushed me when I needed to be pushed to take a more active role, and sat back when I needed to figure things out on my own.

Be colleagues right from day one. Trust each other. Respect each other’s ideas. Try things out and talk things over. No matter what Emily and I were doing, the kids knew we were doing it together. When we responded to each other we followed the same format we used in writing conferences: this is what you did well, these are the questions I had for you, and here’s one suggestion.

How can I help you?


Our professional jobs work best when we ask of each other, how can I help you? It is my job to help my students become the best writers and readers they can be in the time that I have with them. As a supervising teacher it is my job to help my student teacher grow as much as she can as a learner and a teacher. The best question to ask is: How can I help you?

Find a Professional Community


I think it is vital to have a professional community around you that supports and nourishes you. Positive, respectful, curious professionals who extend your thinking and nudge you as a learner. If that community isn’t in your school, find it by joining professional organizations in your state or at the national level. Stay in touch with educators you admire through blogs and conferences. Read, write, and speak about your thinking to keep it fresh and constantly evolving. Supervising teachers really help their student teachers by suggesting some of the professional organizations to which they belong and gain the most satisfaction as teachers.

Response From Carol Ann Tomlinson

Carol Ann Tomlinson is William Clay Parrish, Jr. Professor and Chair of Educational Leadership, Foundations, and Policy and co-director of the Institutes on Academic Diversity at the Curry School of Education, University of Virginia. One of education’s most influential voices, Tomlinson’s books include The Differentiated Classroom: Responding to the Needs of All Learners, 2nd Edition (ASCD, 2014) and Assessment and Student Success in a Differentiated Classroom (ASCD, 2013):

My hope for the student teachers as they enter their internship classrooms is for a supervising teacher who helps them become students of their students. The message I’d love them to hear repeatedly would go something like this. “Every one of our students brings a wealth of possibilities to school with them--and some challenges. No two of them are exactly alike. Our job is to study them each day so we know how to best address their needs. As we learn more and more about them, we can develop better and better strategies for meeting their needs, even as we work to help them achieve shared goals.”

There’s no single set of instructional strategies that constitutes effective differentiation. It begins with the intent to see students as distinct human beings rather than as a batch of relatively indistinguishable “kids of a given age.” It proceeds with a problem-solving approach to teaching through which a teacher works to achieve clarity about what constitutes essential knowledge, understanding, and skill in a body of content--and then creates “variations on those themes” so that there are both shared learning opportunities to move along a trajectory toward mastery and individual/small group opportunities designed to scaffold and extend learning from students’ varied entry points.

Novice teachers will develop the critical skills of teaching at varied rates, of course. But I’d hope the message would be the same for each of them. “Study your students and your content deeply. Find ways to successfully connect each student with what matters most in what you teach. It’s okay to start small. It’s not okay not to start. I can help you grow.”

Response From Jessica Bennett

Jessica Bennett is an 8th grade Language Arts teacher at Brookpark Middle School in Grove City, Ohio. She has received the NCTE Leadership Development Award and been nominated for the Ohio Council of Teachers of English Language Arts Outstanding Educator Award. She is the author of Common Core in the Content Areas. She can be reached at Jessica.Bennett@swcsd.us:

Teachers have a lot of responsibility and a little time. Student teachers can be viewed as a blessing or an inconvenience. The same can be said for cooperating teachers. In my experience, if done well, working as a collaborative team can be a learning opportunity filled with growth, motivation and a well-needed reminder of why I wanted to be a teacher.

Suggestions for Cooperating Teachers:

* Be open-minded. While they may seem young and intimidated, student teachers are walking into your classroom with a wealth of knowledge and ideas. Look at your time together as a learning experience.

* While tempting, remember that you’re not on vacation. Student teachers need constant guidance, support and feedback. You are a team.

* Control is overrated. Your student teacher may not have the exact same teaching style as you. IT’S OKAY! Ask yourself if you’re students feel safe and valued? Are they learning? If the answer is yes, it’s okay.

* Make your expectations clear. Don’t assume that your student teacher will know the way things are done, especially basic housekeeping.

* Be prepared for bad days. Be honest, are all of your lessons and strategies successful?

Suggestions for Student Teachers:

* Be prepared to work hard and to work at home. Our day is not 8 hours.

* Ask for help and guidance. After 10 years, I still need both.

* It’s okay to become frustrated. It’s not okay to give up. Teachers are resilient.

* Remember, things will get easier. Planning will become natural. Grading will get quicker. Classroom management if a work in progress.

* Remind yourself why you wanted to be a teacher.

* Keep a reflective journal. This will help you work through hard days and give you something to smile at 10 years down the road.

Response From Jane Fung

Jane Fung has been teaching and learning in Los Angeles public schools for the past 27 years. She is National Board Certified, a Milken Educator, and a member of the Center for Teaching Quality:

The role of a guiding/master teacher is not an easy one. You’re allowing another person to teach your students, and are responsible for preparing a teacher to enter the profession. My advice for supervising teachers would be to:

Let Go and Trust

Allow the student teacher the freedom to create and teach their own lessons. You can collaborate on objectives and standards, but rather than tell them what and how you would teach lessons, trust that they have the ability and knowledge to teach your students. Let them teach, make mistakes, and learn without interrupting. Your classroom is their lab for experimenting and learning, while you are there to support them. Unsuccessful lessons could provide opportunities to model the process of reflecting, revising, and reteaching.

Listen and Guide

As teachers we love to teach and share knowledge with students. As a supervising teacher, I have learned I need to listen before I “teach.” Most times my student teacher already know what went well in their lesson, and what they could have done better. They are more critical of themselves, so I don’t need to be. My role is to be supportive and assist as needed. Share your experiences, suggestions, and observations too, but remember you are training a future teacher and want to them to become independent thinkers and problem solvers.

Teach and Learn

Feel free to model and teach lessons with and for your student teacher. This gives them a chance to observe an expert teacher at work, and also provides a chance for them to work collaboratively with a colleague to create effective lessons.

My advice to student teachers that enter my classroom...

This is an opportunity to experiment and try out teaching strategies before you have your own classroom, so feel free to be as creative as you want. I will provide support and feedback as needed, but this is your classroom too. You are the teacher. You won’t damage the students, they will survive if you make mistakes. Mistakes are part of the process, you will learn from them. I may be considered the expert, but I know I will learn from you as well. We will work as a team.

Thanks to Emily, Linda, Carol, Jessica and Jane for their contributions!

Please feel free to leave a comment your reactions to the topic or directly to anything that has been said in this post. I’ll be including readers’ thoughts in Part Three.

Consider contributing a question to be answered in a future post. You can send one to me at lferlazzo@epe.org.When you send it in, let me know if I can use your real name if it’s selected or if you’d prefer remaining anonymous and have a pseudonym in mind.

You can also contact me on Twitter at @Larryferlazzo.

Anyone whose question is selected for weekly column can choose one free book from a number of education publishers.

Just a reminder -- you can subscribe and receive updates from this blog via email or RSS Reader... And,if you missed any of the highlights from the first three years of blog, you can see a categorized list below. You won’t see posts from school year in those compilations, but you can review those new ones by clicking on the monthly archives link on blog’s sidebar:

Student Motivation

Implementing The Common Core

Teaching Reading and Writing

Parent Engagement In Schools

Teaching Social Studies

Best Ways To Begin & End The School Year

Teaching English Language Learners

Using Tech In The Classroom

Education Policy Issues

Teacher & Administrator Leadership

Instructional Strategies


Teaching Math & Science

Brain-Based Learning

School Relationships

Author Interviews

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Education Week has published a collection of posts from blog -- along with new material -- in an ebook form. It’s titled Classroom Management Q&As: Expert Strategies for Teaching.

Watch for Part Two in a few days....

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The opinions expressed in Classroom Q&A With Larry Ferlazzo are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.