Opinion
School & District Management Teacher Leaders Network

Student Teaching: More Than a Custody Arrangement?

By Sarah Henchey — July 26, 2011 6 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

I took the leap in the fall of 2010. With six years of experience as a teacher, I agreed to partner with a local university (my alma mater, as it happened) to mentor my first student teacher.

She joined my 6th grade language arts classroom for one day a week throughout the fall semester and participated full-time in the spring.

While I had experience mentoring others and collaborating with colleagues, I found the role of “cooperating teacher” to be quite different. I knew it was my responsibility to create a transparent environment where my student teacher could practice and develop the instincts necessary for effective teaching. Yet, I found myself creating my own path and, admittedly, stumbling a bit as I went—never quite sure whether I was making the best choices.

See Also

This is the fourth in a series of articles by Sarah Henchey on supporting student teachers. Also, read “My First Student Teacher,” “Preparing New Teachers in Frustrating Times,” and “What I Learned From My First Student Teacher.”

My student teacher’s range and depth of engagement over the year really helped both of us to grow as professionals. But, reflecting on our time together, I am struck by the missed opportunities to make clear, meaningful connections between my student teacher’s coursework and what she experienced in the classroom.

The university’s placement process is not an unusual one. Each student teacher is matched with a supervising professor who observes him or her once per week, providing written feedback. Due to barriers on both sides, there was very little dialogue between the supervising professor and me throughout the year, limiting the scope of our work. While I respect the professor, I believe that her role, as well as my own, could have been used in more effective and efficient ways to support the learning of pre-service teachers.

Conversations with colleagues revealed that ours was not a unique situation: The university made attempts to foster collaboration with cooperating teachers, but time and personnel constraints prevented this goal from being achieved. As a result, a student teacher’s experience often resembled a custody agreement rather than a partnership.

How could professors’ and supervising teachers’ expertise be used in more effective and efficient ways to support the learning of pre-service teachers?

Improving the Partnership: Five Recommendations

Teacher-education programs owe it to their students (and their students’ future students) to ensure they offer integrated, authentic field experiences in partnership with practicing teachers. This will require honest, direct dialogue about strengthening teacher education programs and, in turn, the profession. In that spirit, I’d like to propose five program upgrades that might be considered by our university partners.

1) Invite a wide range of guest experts to speak with pre-service teachers. To truly understand the inner workings of a school, pre-service teachers must understand how all individuals who work in a school contribute to the overall climate and success of that school. Invite teachers, specialists, and counselors to visit college courses as guest experts (or use virtual discussion tools, such as Elluminate, to work around scheduling complications). Ask each guest expert to share a typical day and common dilemmas that emerge among various age groups. Then, in partnership with the expert, guide pre-service teachers in role-playing and exploring techniques for solving these problems.

2) Create targeted observation tasks. Prior to my student teaching, I had many opportunities to observe classrooms. While these experiences were valuable, I did not know enough about classroom dynamics to synthesize what I was seeing. I would encourage schools of education to assign weekly observation tasks to cohorts of pre-service teachers. For example, in a given week, the pre-service teacher’s task might be to track the different ways a teacher praises a child; to interview a teacher about communicating with parents and guardians; or to examine how technology is being used to advance student learning. Each week, the cohort could come together and share their observations. Professors, collaborating teachers, and guest speakers could help to frame the focus areas so that pre-service teachers understand how each element contributes to student learning. Through a scaffolded approach, with professors initially organizing the group’s findings and then gradually releasing control to students, cohorts could use technological tools, such as wiki pages, to track their qualitative data on effective teaching strategies and create resources they could reference (and share) throughout their own teaching careers.

3) Simulate the collaboration expected in most schools. At this point, a high percentage of schools rely on PLC s (professional learning communities) as models for collaboration among teachers. Learning to work with colleagues gives new teachers access to ideas and resources, provides a support system, and aids in time management. However, the actual work of collaboration can sometimes be difficult and frustrating in ways not covered in most pre-service training. To give students experience in on-the-job collaboration, schools of education might consider creating PLC groups within cohorts of student teachers. These groups could be organized by content areas (8th grade math with 8th grade math) or using an interdisciplinary approach (one team consisting of student teachers in science, social studies, language arts, and math). The teams could work together during their student teaching experience to plan units, analyze data, review case studies, and gather resources. Teams would be expected to adhere to the professional standards set by school systems and be held accountable for their results through authentic means such as reflections, debriefing sessions, and dialogue with professors and supervising teachers.

4) Experience the politics first-hand. In our current reform climate, pre-service teachers need to understand and be able to navigate the politics of education. Teacher-education programs should encourage pre-service teachers to attend local school board meetings, interview principals, and follow press coverage and national op-ed discussions. Hold conversations about how the public image of teaching is shaped, how teachers are being evaluated, and how to achieve our visions for the future of education within a political context.

5) Create true partnerships with cooperating teachers. From my own experiences and conversations with my student teacher, I was familiar with how the local university approached teacher preparation and which topics were heavily emphasized in their program. However, how much more meaningful could I have made the student-teaching experience if there were clear, measurable objectives and increased communication? How could the supervising professor and I have worked together to create connections between what was discussed in the preparation courses and what was seen in the field experience?

Educators are experts in helping students synthesize and construct knowledge from their experiences. We must do a far better job capitalizing on this expertise as we plan teacher-preparation programs. Our current system may have limitations, but, as educators, we are masters of “working with what we have” for the success of students. We may have to look at less conventional options, including hybrid roles for teachers and virtual meetings, but we cannot continue to allow our lack of dialogue to downgrade the quality of teacher preparation.

Pre-service teachers are integral to the future of a fully realized teaching profession. To support their growth, universities must work together with local teachers to foster authentic on-the-job learning—and lots of it. We must have candid conversations about what’s working, what’s not, and what we can do to change things. I look forward to these conversations—and to my next opportunity to guide an eager young colleague toward a rewarding career.

Related Tags:

Events

School Climate & Safety K-12 Essentials Forum Strengthen Students’ Connections to School
Join this free event to learn how schools are creating the space for students to form strong bonds with each other and trusted adults.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
IT Infrastructure & Management Webinar
Future-Proofing Your School's Tech Ecosystem: Strategies for Asset Tracking, Sustainability, and Budget Optimization
Gain actionable insights into effective asset management, budget optimization, and sustainable IT practices.
Content provided by Follett Learning
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Budget & Finance Webinar
Innovative Funding Models: A Deep Dive into Public-Private Partnerships
Discover how innovative funding models drive educational projects forward. Join us for insights into effective PPP implementation.
Content provided by Follett Learning

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

School & District Management Opinion I Invited My Students to Be the Principal for a Day. Here’s What I Learned
When I felt myself slipping into a springtime slump, this simple activity reminded me of my “why” as an educator.
S. Kambar Khoshaba
4 min read
052024 OPINION Khoshaba PRINCIPAL end the year with positivity
E+/Getty + Vanessa Solis/Education Week via Canva
School & District Management The Complicated Fight Over Four-Day School Weeks
Missouri lawmakers want to encourage large districts to maintain five-day weeks—even as four-day weeks grow more popular.
7 min read
Concept image of one hundred American dollar banknote and a fishing hook dragging across 4-day week calendar.
Liz Yap/Education Week and iStock/Getty/E+.
School & District Management From Our Research Center Principal Salaries: The Gap Between Expectation and Reality
Exclusive survey data indicate a gap between the expectations and the realities of principal pay.
4 min read
A Black woman is standing on a ladder and looking into the distance with binoculars, in the background is an ascending arrow.
iStock/Getty
School & District Management Schools Successfully Fighting Chronic Absenteeism Have This in Common
A White House summit homed in on chronic absenteeism and strategies to reduce it.
6 min read
An empty elementary school classroom is seen on Aug. 17, 2021 in the Bronx borough of New York. Nationwide, students have been absent at record rates since schools reopened after COVID-forced closures. More than a quarter of students missed at least 10% of the 2021-22 school year.
An empty elementary school classroom is seen on Aug. 17, 2021 in the Bronx borough of New York. A White House summit on May 15, 2024, brought attention to elevated chronic absenteeism and strategies districts have used to fight it.
Brittainy Newman/AP