Student Teaching: why you should be thinking about it NOW

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New teachers face challenges that encompass managing classroom behaviors, schedules, parents, emails, lesson plans, shoe tying, nose wiping, and countless other tasks that are not listed in undergraduate coursework descriptions.  

In most teacher preparation programs, there is no course on how to work with your colleagues, how to navigate IEP (Individualized Education Program) meetings, or how to provide quality feedback to your peers. The closest most come to providing teacher candidates with this How-To guidance is during the clinical, student-teaching experience. But, too often, programs don't go far enough in ensuring students are set up with an experienced cooperating teacher.

I recall just a few years on the job, as I was honing my own how-to skills in classroom management, planning, and co-teaching, when my director informed me a student teacher was being placed in my classroom under my supervision. I felt so ill-prepared, and later, uncertain of how to guide a woman who had switched careers, was 30 years my senior, and had a son my age. 

In the 12 weeks she taught in my classroom, I attempted to provide strong examples of quality early childhood planning, teaching, and learning. I didn't doubt my ability to lead by example or to provide quality experiences for my young students, but how could I sit across the table and provide feedback on her performance  in a role to which I myself was so new? How could I honestly share my ideas with her when I was also in need of guidance and support? 

Was I qualified to be a mentor to a new teacher?

Thirteen years later, I reflect on what more I could have done to make that experience more successful for the both of us. We could have used the experience to support one another, but being placed in a supervisory role so early in my career prevented collaboration. 

Ultimately, placing student teachers under the guidance of more experienced Master Teachers is the best way to prepare teachers for their work in the classroom, perhaps reducing the number of how-to's they will need to learn on-the-job in their first year of teaching. But not every program does this. 

It's up to YOU, the soon-to-be teacher, to do the research (Path to Teach is a great place to start!) and ensure the college of education you choose places its student teachers in quality classroom environments with teachers who are effective at communicating with teacher candidates. 

You have the power to choose a program that understands the importance of a quality student teaching experience.

About the Author

Freeda teaches First Grade at Agassiz Elementary in Chicago and serves on her school's Instructional Leadership Team. Freeda is a 2015 Hope Street Group National Teacher Fellow, as well as a member of NCTQ's Teacher Advisory Group. She is a teacher leader on VIVA's Leadership Council and has served on the Chicago Public Education Fund's Educator Advisory Committee. She is a National Board Certified Teacher and collaborated with N.B.C.T.s to design an exemplar K-2 Interdisciplinary Unit, available nationwide on ShareMyLesson. Over her 15 year career, Freeda consulted on the development of a K-2 Performance Task Toolkit and on the Illinois teacher evaluation system. She has a B.A. in Early Childhood Education and a Masters in Early Childhood Special Education.