Saturday, March 28, 2015

Student-Teachers: The Best of Both Worlds

This post was written as a collaborative effort between Jen Houlette and Greg Armanentos from "Dash - Life Between the Numbers".

It can be intimidating at first.
A stranger in your classroom.
Watching every move.
Looking to you for advice, feedback, and direction.

Why do I allow this, or even welcome this?
Could it be that by contributing to a future educator’s ability to grow as a teacher, I’m actually benefitting as well?

A noticeable benefit to having a student teacher is the flow of new ideas, energy, and fresh perspective.

After teaching for a long time, we can get used to a lot of things and once in awhile, get in a rut. It’s nice to have a student teacher with new ideas ready to try and a positive outlook on their time with the students.

Student teachers are eager to dive right in, try new lessons, and have an optimistic attitude. Student teachers often energize the atmosphere merely with their presence as a new member of the classroom.

Student teachers are expected to reflect often, ask for advice, and adjust their lessons or approach as they learn more about the class and the students. This is a great opportunity for us to practice listening and thinking skills as well as give constructive feedback.

Even though student teachers are often stepping into a classroom that is already established in terms of relationships and procedures, they are seeing everything with fresh eyes. This can lead to “Aha” moments for both of us as the student teacher reflects on things he/she notices for the first time.

The process of working side by side with a student teacher can benefit a veteran teacher as it provides an opportunity for the veteran teacher to think and talk through the many procedures, challenges, and decisions that are made on a daily basis.

Working with a student teacher can help us reflect through each decision that is made as we explain and model our role in the classroom.

This can serve as a great opportunity for us to challenge ourselves to think about any changes that could be made to make our classroom an even better learning environment.

Having a student teacher in the room increases the number of adults available to work in small groups with students, help give feedback, and maximize teachable moments.

A chance to work with more groups of students simultaneously, assist students while the student teacher leads, or even have a chance to team-teach is a benefit to both adults as well as all of the students.

Meanwhile, the student teacher might have some similar concerns:

It can be intimidating at first
being a stranger in someone else's classroom.
Their watching of your every move.
A constant flow of advice, feedback, and direction.

Why would a teacher welcome me into their classroom? How will the students and I get along? How will I make sure to keep students growing? How will I be a benefit to the teacher? Is this the grade level I want to work with? How will I do all that is expected from my college program, my cooperating teacher, my supervisor, and still be able to secure a teaching position for the next school year?

How do we make this a rewarding experience for the student teacher?

Model Teaching Like a Pirate / Growth Mindset / Genius Hour.
Just as we want to craft the most engaging and empowering learning experience for students, serving as a cooperating teacher provides the unique opportunity to imprint excellent instructional practices on the teachers of tomorrow. It is unlikely you will ever encounter colleagues nearly as eager to learn from your example as when they are student teaching.

Embody excellence during an era of teacher-bashing.
Today's student teachers are entering a profession that is being assailed in many corners of society. They will face greater scrutiny, more consistent testing, and less career security than their predecessors. We are the diplomats welcoming them to our noble profession. They are the next ambassadors to carry the torch to future generations.

Necessitate connections with other building / district personnel.
Our student teacher will see an awful lot of us and our kids, but we want to make sure their experience is much richer and broader. We want them to learn from our colleagues and administrators, paving the way for multiple relationships and learning opportunities. These relationships will be critical when the student teacher is ready to begin interviewing to lead a classroom of their own.

Tie them into your diverse, global PLN.
Many of our student teachers may be younger and more savvy with technology, but their social media connections are usually not of the type that will prepare them for their future in this profession. You have connections with educators, authors, and leaders across the globe. Reach out to plug them in.

Offer a mentor beyond the student teaching timeline.
The student teaching timeline is densely packed with expectations and responsibilities, but it passes quickly. Rather than simply wishing them well, and sending them on their way, we can keep the relationship growing. They will likely need someone to lean on in the coming years as they transition into their career, and since we are all learners, the relationship will be mutually helpful to each of us.

Render a safe learning environment.
As the lead learner in my classroom, I make the most mistakes. We embrace errors, bumps, pitfalls, hiccups and failures as part of our relentless forward progress. Virtually everything the student teacher will face will be new, and errors will be aplenty. They might view these as obstacles, but the cooperating teacher will see them as opportunities for their growth.

After weeks of leading and learning,
reflecting and relationship-building,
energizing and equipping,
two strangers are no longer intimidated at the initial awkwardness
of sharing a classroom.

Instead, they are collaborators and colleagues on a journey to
continued excellence in education.

When given the opportunity to mentor a student teacher, consider all the benefits that can be gained by both sides of the relationship. It’s a memorable experience for every learner in the classroom.

Best wishes to our student teachers ~ we look forward 
to seeing you shine with your future students!


  1. It seems kind of silly, but I got choked up when our post first went up. I was thinking about the student teacher that I currently work with, and what an amazing young woman she is. She will have such a wonderful impact on so many children's lives going forward. It has been such an honr and a privilege to work with her, and helps make me a btter teacher.
    Jen, thank you for your willingness to share your insights from working with student teachers, so we could collaborate on this piece. I hope our experiences help other teachers when they consider this wonderful opportunity.

    1. I agree Greg! This was our first week without our student teacher - she's moved on to her next placement. It was quite different adjusting to one less teacher in the room. It's like a member of the class is now gone, but we are so happy for her and her future position! The experience helped us both grow. :)