Just as a caterpillar spins its cocoon to emerge as a gorgeous butterfly, future teachers have their own chrysalis stage called student teaching. This is when teacher candidates try to synthesize the knowledge gained through their teacher preparation programs while working with actual students. It's a chance to watch, imitate, and receive feedback during an extended period with an expert mentor teacher. And finally, it allows future teachers to build, refine, and expand their teaching skills before taking full responsibility for their own classrooms.
Knowing the importance of student teaching, NCTQ focuses on the key actions teacher preparation programs can take to ensure a high-quality student teaching experience. We look to strong research that identifies two essential elements of a good student teaching program:
- The selection of a high-quality mentor teacher: Too often, by letting schools select the mentors with no questions asked, teacher prep programs leave this vital choice up to chance. Teacher prep programs should instead take an active role in picking mentors based on their effectiveness with students, skill at working with other adults, and past experience.
- The quality of feedback provided by supervisors from the teacher prep program: Here we look at how programs evaluate student teachers and if they provide sufficient feedback on classroom performance.
Why focus so much on supervisor feedback?
- First, teacher preparation programs are the subject of our evaluation. These programs have greater control over and more opportunities to train and interact with the supervisors, who are their employees, than they do mentor teachers, who voluntarily host student teachers. Programs can set the priorities for supervisors and require them to rate specific items.
- Second, supervisors work with multiple student teachers – frequently half a dozen in a semester. This develops their understanding of what a typical student teacher is likely to know and be able to do. Without adequate training, mentor teachers, who work with one teacher at a time and may go years between student teachers, lack this perspective.
- Finally, there is good research defining how much supervisor feedback makes a difference. Unfortunately, we don't have an equivalent baseline for other aspects of student teaching.
Moreover, many studies make clear the importance of feedback for student teachers. Frequent high-quality feedback can accelerate learning, allowing student teachers to get much more out of this experience. The best programs devote considerable resources to offering feedback to their students, making a well-chosen investment in the next generation of teachers.
While the shift from student to teacher may seem less magical than the caterpillar's metamorphosis, it still requires substantial work during the in-between stage. This capstone of future teachers' training is their prep program's last chance to provide guidance as well as the best time to determine how well the program prepares future teachers.