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Keep the Student in Student Teacher

Caitlin Corrigan Education Policy, Mentoring, Uncategorized

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Dear Student Teacher,

Congratulations! In a few months, you will begin the part of your college experience that you have likely been waiting for forever – student teaching.

I hope that your student teaching experience gives you all the tools you need to be successful as a first-year teacher and that you will enter each day with an open mind and coachable attitude. I hope that your student teaching journey will guide you along the path toward becoming an effective educator. In Arizona, we could really use a few more. Well, several thousand more.

I want to highlight the phrase “effective educator”. Our students need more than a warm body in the classroom. Our students need a teacher that is warm and understanding of their social, emotional, and academic needs, and who knows how to respond to their needs. The only way to begin your journey toward becoming that teacher, the one our students need, is to go through student teaching with a mentor teacher. It is called STUDENT teaching for a reason, and while you are so excited to become a teacher, you are not there YET.

You are not ready to be released into the wild (read: classroom) on your own YET. The things you learned about behavior management in your college classes are not enough to be able to manage student behavior or run a classroom. The things you learned about lesson planning in your college classes are not enough to effectively plan lessons to meet the needs of your students. Your internships, practicum experience, etc. are not enough. It would be like performing an appendectomy on your first day of a surgical internship; you may know the steps in theory but you do not have the skills to do surgery on your own YET (Okay, maybe I have been binge watching Grey’s Anatomy recently, but I think you get my point).

I would like to paint a picture of the teacher version of George performing an appendectomy on the first day of his surgical internship. Imagine that you are at your school and are so ready to begin with your students. You are taken on a tour, you have the chance to meet your teammates, see your classroom, and maybe even meet your students. You are bursting with excitement and energy, and ready to put all your ideas together in your own classroom. You have a day or so to get your classroom together, and then you are introduced to your students. You keep the class under control for a little while, but then it is time for library. You line your students up, and they are a little noisy, but they will quiet down in the hallway. Right? Well, when your class enters the hallway they run off like the pack of wildebeest stampeding in the Lion King toward the library, leaving you standing outside your classroom wondering what in the world just happened.

This, by the way, is something that really happened. This student teacher was completing student teaching by herself in a classroom, and this happened on her first day in January. I helped her get her class under control after they ran down the hallway, which took me, an experienced teacher, about 15 minutes to get them settled down. I gave her a shoulder to cry on, a pep talk and went back to my classroom.

My students were left with the student teacher I was mentoring because she was able to handle my class, whether they were misbehaving or not. She did not have to do an appendectomy on her first day and learned plenty of strategies on how to handle different behaviors that come up in the classroom and best instructional strategies.
Slight variations of this scenario repeated itself daily and do not even skim the surface of the rest of her responsibilities that began on day one including lesson planning for all subjects, parent conferencing and communication, after-school duties, administering district tests, field day, progress reports and report cards, and more. She was not ready for all of the responsibilities that come with teaching YET.

After several weeks of struggling on the student teacher’s part as well as the students’ in her classroom, her college professors removed her from that classroom to complete her college coursework in a traditional student teaching placement. She left with a rotten student teaching experience, and those students were once again left without a teacher. I do not know if she continued on to become a teacher, but I hope that she was able to be successful in a traditional placement with a mentor teacher.

I urge you to go through student teaching with a mentor teacher. Please do not let this student teacher’s story become your own. You have worked too hard to let your journey toward becoming an effective educator come to an end with a poor “student teaching” experience. Jumping into the classroom ahead of schedule does not just fail your students, who have a teacher who is not ready to be released into the wild, but it fails you, too.

I caution you if you are considering performing an appendectomy on your first day (Ok, that is my last Grey’s Anatomy reference). You owe it to yourself to become the best teacher you can be. You can be the teacher who understands our students’ social, emotional, and academic needs and know how to respond to them. Our students need that teacher.

Best of luck to you as you begin student teaching!

Sincerely,

An Attending Surgeon (Ok, that was the real last Grey’s Anatomy reference)

An Effective Arizona Educator

 
  • Mike Vargas

    Outstanding examples… I agree they are not ready YET!!! The thing that really bothers me is when I see student teachers thrown in with nothing in the form of support. My student teacher was all about doing everything on his own when he first started. He has a physics degree and knew everything.. I gave him autonomy but he learned soon that you need help no matter who you are and now he is thriving because he had help from a support system.. A lot of districts don’t do enough to support our newbies and this makes a huge difference….

    • Caitlin Corrigan

      It is so hard to see student teachers, and beginning teachers, struggling because of a lack of support. Or, sometimes they are receiving support through a program but it isn’t the type of support they need. We follow a gradual release of responsibility model when we teach our students, and it should be the same for student teachers and beginning teachers. This “sink or swim” method isn’t going to keep new teachers in the profession.

  • Leah Clark

    This is a great post! I had an amazing student teaching experience, but that’s not true for everyone. I was fortunate to have a fabulous mentor teacher. I think this makes all the difference. We, as the teachers, have to remember that it’s our job to help guide and mentor our student teacher. We have to give them honest feedback and step in or stay away when necessary. If we want to fill our schools with highly effective teachers, we must be highly effective mentors.

    • Caitlin Corrigan

      I had a great student teaching experience, too, and it was because I also had an amazing mentor! I completely agree – if we want highly effective teachers then we need to be highly effective mentors.

  • Jen Hudson

    So much YES! Too often, staffing decisions are not made with the best interests of the students or teachers. Arizona seemingly has a ‘warm body’ policy when it comes to who can be the teacher of record in a classroom. Be it a student teacher without a mentor teacher, someone on an emergency certificate who has never taken a classroom management class or read an IEP, or even a subject area expert who knows the content but doesn’t know how to handle 38 juniors, everyone deserves a mentor teacher to lean on.

  • James King

    I feel like I just was discussing this with colleagues… There’s so many people who expect a student teacher to step in, in their first week or so and be able to replace a veteran teacher seamlessly. The mentor teacher should not expect perfection, yet sometimes they (and students, and parents!) do. It is a shame that we stress these college STUDENTS out by expecting them to be equivalent to veteran teachers.

    Good topic to bring up! I think many of us can benefit from these thoughts.

  • Jaime Festa-Daigle

    I 100% agree with this. However, as an HR director, what has happened is we are hiring alternative certified teachers with no education experience and paying them while they learn, but requiring student teachers to spend that semester in our classrooms with no pay. This was actually pushing people even further away from education. We came to the consensus this year, we would begin hiring student teachers at long term sub pay. The requirements to get a student teacher certificate are very high and limited to specific universities. We decided that we would at least allow student teachers to apply if interested and have the opportunity to be hired. We would support that teacher with a very high level of mentoring.

  • Yolanda Wheelington

    This was a great post amd well written. Thank you. I am writing on the same topic this month!