Communication is the Key to Student Teaching
By Mary C. Clement
Dr. Clement is a Professor of Teacher Education at Berry College in north Georgia, where she continues to supervise student teachers annually. She earned her doctorate from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and is the author of 13 books in her research area: the hiring and induction of new teachers.
As a senior education major, you are thrilled to begin your student teaching experience. You may also be concerned about the relationship with your cooperating teacher. Are you a guest in the classroom or a co-teacher? Did the teacher volunteer to work with you, or were you just assigned to him or her as another duty this year? How worried is the cooperating teacher about supervising you and raising the test scores of all students during the same semester? It is critically important to start student teaching “on the right foot.” You need to clarify answers to so many questions with clear communication before, and during, the student teaching semester.
What To Do Before the Student Teaching Experience
- Find out where you are to be, and when. Start dates are important. Are you to meet with the teacher before the first day of the student teaching assignment? Are you to coordinate that meeting with both the teacher and the college supervisor?
- What are the hours involved in student teaching? Does your college require the same hours of the teacher, or can you leave when the students leave on days that you need to be back on campus?
- How do you communicate with the cooperating teacher (sometimes called the mentor teacher)? Today’s teachers are overwhelmed and may not want to be available 24/7 for your text messages and emails. Make sure that you know how the teacher wishes to be contacted. If it’s only during the school day, plan ahead for your work.
What To Do the First Few Days
- Make a copy of the bell schedule for yourself.
- Make a copy of all seating charts for yourself.
- Read the school’s management plan and faculty handbook.
- Discuss the management plan and discipline with your teacher.
- Find out where things are—the computers, copier, and supplies.
- Get to know the building—restrooms, emergency exits, cafeteria, and other teachers’ rooms.
Plan Your Work
Your cooperating teacher may not know the expectations of the college’s student teaching program. At your initial meeting, share copies of specific assignments that you must complete, and communicate the hours you need to teach.
- Get a calendar and look at your assignments side by side with the schedule of the cooperating teacher. Make sure you both write the specific due dates.
- Share the guidelines with the cooperating teacher about how he or she will approve your teaching hours.
- Be the go-between person to coordinate the required observations from your college supervisor.
- Show your cooperating teacher a copy of the evaluation that he or she will complete about your work. Discuss how you can demonstrate some of the requirements of the evaluation, such as use of technology or differentiation of instruction.
- If your college or state requires EdTPA, (the Teacher Performance Assessment) or other video assessment, get the necessary permissions for use of video early in the semester.
What Your Cooperating Teacher Expects
While many cooperating teachers are delighted to share their knowledge and consider working with a student teacher to be a recognition of their expertise, others are very worried when they are assigned a student teacher. To assuage their fears, be the best co-teacher you can be.
- Always be on time. Communicating that you will be late is not an excuse, so don’t text and say you are running behind that day. Your teacher/mentor expects you to be there on time.
- Your teacher expects you to be there all the time you are assigned to the room. Teachers rely on student teachers for help with everything from attendance to teaching lessons. Don’t let them down.
- Be prepared. With 28 third graders sitting in front of you, you can’t just “wing it.”
- Look professional. You can’t dress the way you would for a class on campus. Look like the teacher! No casual clothes, and you must get up early enough to have a good hair day.
- The teacher wants help. He or she appreciates help to provide more small-group remediation and to provide more individualized attention to students. Having a second adult in the room can be a real asset. Being a remarkable helper ensures that you will learn more at the same time.
- Your teacher expects you to be immersed in the classroom experience—no texting or reading Facebook during class time. Be 100% present.
The Magic Words
Student teachers continue to evaluate their field experiences as the best part of their teacher education programs. A good student teaching experience prepares you well for your first year of teaching—and beyond. Remember the magic words, “How can I help you today?” These words are the best communication tool for a productive learning experience in student teaching.
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