Student teaching may not be a magic bullet for combating the myriad problems that plague teacher preparation, but it sure comes close—if only school districts and teacher prep programs paid more attention to the quality of the experience. A steady stream of research finds that new teachers trained under a genuinely effective mentor teacher are not only light-years ahead of other new teachers, but also that great teachers need not worry that their student achievement will suffer by agreeing to train a student teacher.
Now a new study from Dan Goldhaber, John Kreig, Natsumi Naito, and Roddy Theobald of CALDER provides good evidence of how important it is for districts to proactively seek high-quality student teaching partnerships if they are to achieve a healthy pipeline.
Goldhaber et al.'s study builds on the previous findings that teachers tend to get jobs near where they student taught, rather than what had been more popularly understood, that a teacher's high school is more determinative. Here, the researchers examined a potential link between the placement of student teachers and how frequently districts had to look to emergency credentialed substitutes, finding that school districts that host more student teachers tend to hire fewer new teachers with emergency credentials the following year.
What makes this more than a "well, duh" finding is that this relationship held up even after controlling for other factors likely to cause districts to have to hire emergency certified personnel, such as geography, demographics, and the distance to the local teacher prep programs. A vibrant student teaching program may solve a host of ills.
Most school districts are eager to take on student teachers for just this type of reason, but are discouraged by problems such as housing options or the difficulty of transportation for both student teachers and their supervisors—but with some planning, these are all easier problems to solve than having no qualified adults to staff schools year in and year out.
We've beaten this drum before—here, here, and here! If states (with their dollars) and school districts address some of these logistical challenges, along with exercising more quality control on who it is that qualifies to mentor a student teacher, districts could solve chronic problems of staff shortages and hire better-prepared teachers.