I have a friend whose daughter just started her student teaching experience. She had met her cooperating teacher for the first time—it sounded like it went well, but one comment stood out. She said, “I shared an idea with the cooperating teacher, and she said she really liked it!”
What an early impact this can make in the formation of a new teacher! By simply validating an idea, the teacher started building a connection, encouraging her enthusiasm, and setting a tone of reflective practice for the semester. It didn’t take much, but there is already a positive connection being built between the student and the teacher.
The student teaching experience can be really great or really bad (I have witnessed both). Because so much hinges on a great relationship between the cooperating teacher and the student teacher, it is important to be as positive and proactive as possible when starting out. Here are some helpful hints for the cooperating teacher to remember as they get started on this amazing journey:
- If you want to be listened to, you need to listen: It may seem hard—new teachers have idealistic concepts of how the classrooms are “supposed” to work. Much of this comes from their courses in college. If cooperating teachers don’t listen to the student teacher, the enthusiasm for the profession will quickly be lost. The relationship between student teacher and cooperating teacher is vital to success, and the onus is on the cooperating teacher to keep that relationship a positive one.
- Remember who they are: This sounds really simplistic, but it is key to see student teachers as both students and teachers. They need to be given the reins of the classroom to gain the experience, but they are still students. They need to be taught, at times directly and explicitly. It is easy to fall into the trap of treating them like another teacher, but remember to focus on teaching them skills they need and refining skills they already have.
- Model reflective practice: Great teachers reflect often. For new teachers, this may not come naturally. Early on in the student teaching experience, the cooperating teacher should model how to adjust a lesson after reflecting on it. This should be done aloud and with intent so the student teacher can see and hear how it looks and sounds.
- Be honest: This is not the same as being cruel. Being honest can be done in a respectful and professional manner. It doesn’t mean that feedback is negative, but if there is something that needs improved, do a future principal a favor and give the honest feedback that they need to hear.
- Encourage them to expand their awareness and experience: Having a student teacher can feel like having a shadow sometimes. After a few months, the cooperating teacher might feel like they need some space. This is natural, but cooperating teachers need to fight the urge to limit the student teaching experience to “just teaching.” By being open to letting them tag along to professional learning, IEP meetings, staff meetings, and parent meetings, student teachers gain an exposure that is needed for their career. Be sure to remember confidentiality concerns when doing this—I encourage cooperating teachers to check with parents first to make sure it is okay to have the student teacher present at a meeting.
- Don’t stifle their enthusiasm: Many student teachers are really excited to begin their experience—and it makes sense why. After thousands of dollars and many hours committed to becoming a professional teacher, they are finally there. We want to make sure they keep that excitement and passion since it is so important to have for all teachers. This enthusiasm can turn into ideas that are probably less than stellar. Even so, don’t discourage them to try. With a true growth mindset in place, failure is how we learn. Without failure, we probably aren’t stretching ourselves and getting out of our comfort zones. It is okay for a student teacher to bomb a lesson or make a mistake—as long as the reflective practice is in place and the cooperating teacher can help them adjust to improve.
Student teaching is a formative experience for the student teacher, but hopefully the cooperating teacher can also learn from it. By remembering some of these helpful tips, the cooperating teacher can support the student teacher as they enter into an amazing profession and a long, successful career.
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