A Newsletter for CSB/SJU Cooperating Teachers
Growing, Nurturing, Developing, and Supporting
Remembering Our First Days of Student Teaching--and Beyond
I distinctly remember walking into the high school where I student taught. After being welcomed by the office staff, head custodian, and department chair, I was ushered into my cooperating teacher's classroom. There was a desk set up for me in the corner, supplies and curriculum at the ready. When my cooperating teacher entered the room, she was a force! Her personality filled the room, and I was overwhelmed. She showed me where everything was, introduced me to what seemed like the entire staff, and plowed through the curriculum I would be responsible for teaching. Moments after that, her students arrived, and that force proved to me what good, even great, teaching was. She made it look easy. Students responded to her every move and question. I was excited, anxious, doubting my ability to do what she did, and fearful that I would fail. What a difference a few months and years have made!
While my introduction to student teaching was brusk, it has reminded me of a few things I would like to pass on to new cooperating teachers, things I have learned from my own experience as a cooperating teacher and in reading the research available in the practice of mentoring our pre-service teachers.
Costa and Garmson (1987) remind us of our responsibilities to model, pass along tools of the trade, and to make a contribution to the "intellectual process of teaching" (Henry & Weber, 2016, p. 3). Let's think about that.
Student teachers need good models. Classroom practices and behavior management are not skills that most student teachers have mastered. Cooperating teachers can help student teachers move their plans and notions to reality as we know that master teachers "know classroom management involves more than just teaching a lesson; it involves creating the conditions for teaching" (Podson & Denmark, 2000, p. 112). Student teachers also need models for instructional strategies, assessment techniques, and professional behaviors. Each of these elements helps to build quality teachers.
Student teachers also need mentors who will "pass along tools of the trade." Todd Whitaker wrote What Great Teachers Do Differently: 14 Things that Matter Most in 2004. Eight years later, that number was raised to 17. Nonetheless, master teachers "know stuff" that student teachers may take years to understand. Whitaker reminds us that teaching is a complex task, but there are simple things we can share with our student teachers that will make a huge difference in the long run. I will discuss his text in another newsletter, but his starting thought is a great one to share as it directly relates to the role of the cooperating teacher. Whitaker (2012) notes, "Great teachers never forget that it's people, not programs, that determine the quality of a school" (p. 12).
Finally, student teachers need cooperating teachers who identify the difference between "know how" and "know why" (Costa & Garmson, as cited in Henry & Weber, 2016, p. 3). The guidance a master teacher can provide with planning, instructional strategies, analysis, assessment, and application can develop a larger vision of teaching. It's not just important for us to know how to teach the curriculum or develop behavior plans; it's important for us as reflective and purposeful educators to know and understand why these choices are made. This reframing allows student teachers to pause and act rather than react. This reframing allows us to have a common goal in what we do for the benefit of students and learning.
My cooperating teacher was a role model, sharer of the tools, and a "know why" person. I firmly believe that contributed to me being (as I would like to believe) a great teacher. Somewhere in your experience, perhaps you had someone who offered those opportunities for you. Now, let's pass those on!
Henry, M. A., & Weber, A. (2016). Preparing for a student teacher. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield.
Podsen, I., & Denmark, V. M. (2000). Coaching & mentoring first-year and student teachers.
Larchmont, NY: Eye on education.
Whitaker, T. (2004). What Great Teachers Do Differently: 14 Things That Matter Most. 6 Depot
Way West, Suite 106 Larchmont, NY 10538: Eye On Education.
Whitaker, T. (2013). What great teachers do differently: Seventeen things that matter most. New
York, NY: Routledge.
What to Do the First Few Days
*Connect with the student teacher and university supervisor
*Make arrangements for the student teacher in your classroom by setting up a workspace, gathering materials, providing internet access, and preparing current students
*Inform appropriate individuals of your planned student teacher including support staff, department or team members, and parents/guardians of your students.
(Specific Orientation information can be found on pages 9-11 and Appendix G of the handbook)
Once the student teacher arrives, ease the student teacher into their new role as would be done with any scaffolded unit. A gradual progression is often best for our student teachers, regardless of how competent and confident they appear upon arrival (Henry & Weber, 2016, p. 5). Student teachers have had experience observing and teaching mini-lessons or units, but the entry into full responsibility has a steep learning curve. Allow your student teacher to:
*Observe you and other staff members
*Participate in planning and staff meetings
*Collaborate on a few lessons prior to gaining individual responsibility
*Be observed by you
*Receive specific, guided feedback on strengths and improvements
At the end of each day of those first few weeks, visit with the student teacher about how they are doing, what plans you have, how they can contribute, and deliver any feedback you have about the day. It is best to be transparent, upfront, and clear! Student teachers appreciate honestly knowing how they are doing. It helps calm their nerves and assists in building communication.
First Week Documentation
An informal observations followed by discussion with specific, guided feedback (nothing submitted to the university; this is for the student's benefit)