The "make or break" of teacher prep: Student teaching

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What does student teaching done "right" look like? That's the question we sought to answer in our three-year effort culminating with the release of our final report at a lively event on July 21st.

This unprecedented assessment of student teaching practices focuses primarily on the process of selection of the mentor or cooperating teacher. We found that about three-quarters of the 134 institutions in our sample exert too little control over the caliber of this teacher, leaving much of the quality of the experience to chance. Ten institutions (7 percent of the total) stand out for having a "model design" in terms of how they select that all-important mentor.

Unfortunately, fixing this is much, much easier said than done. It's tough enough to convince the fairly scarce teachers who are qualified to take student teachers under their wings (we estimate 3 in 25 teachers). It doesn't help that there is a flood of too many student teachers--more than twice as many elementary teacher candidates as will be hired upon graduation-- who are not all up to the task of teaching.

We focus our recommendations on how to achieve a better balance of smaller cohorts of more qualified teacher candidates who are mentored by higher-quality cooperating teachers:

1. State regulations and institutional policies should work in tandem to narrow the teacher candidate pipeline well before student teaching begins, primarily at the point of admission into a preparation program.

2.The institution must guarantee a minimum level of quality of their student teachers, sending only those teacher candidates into the school district who are promising teachers.

3. School districts should calculate the number of student teachers they can reasonably prepare each year for consideration by state agencies in approving teacher preparation programs.

Many of the policies and practices we ran across in our research were so good they deserved to be shared, hence we compiled "Key Ingredients for Strong Student Teaching," a complete set of resources about how to structure every aspect of student teaching: setting a vision, instituting high standards for student teaching participation and placement, providing guidance and evaluation to student teachers, and gathering feedback on student teaching placements.