Advice from Former Student Teachers To Supervising Teachers
Article by Kristi Fowler, Ph.D.
For most student teachers, their student teaching experience is both the exciting culmination of several years of study and the most nerve-racking part of their teacher education program. In speaking with almost any student after completing the student teaching experience, the university supervisor hears comments like: "I wish I'd known...", "If I were to do it all over again...", and "If I had a student teacher, I'd...". Perhaps the following insights, provided by students who have recently completed their student teaching experiences, will help supervising teachers to make the experience even more valuable.
Before the Student Teaching Experience
Several responses appeared consistently when student teachers were asked what they wished they'd known before beginning student teaching. They wanted to know whether their supervising teachers were experienced in having student teachers, if parents might be leery of a student teacher's inexperience, and more about differentiating instruction and meeting the Standards of Learning.
One student found herself placed with a supervising teacher who had not previously worked with a student teacher. While the student teacher felt the experience ultimately turned out "okay", she indicated on her survey she would have liked to have known her supervising teacher had no prior experience. Though prior experience with student teachers isn't necessarily an indicator of the success of the placement, the knowledge that the supervising teacher and the student teacher are learning together can make the student teacher more comfortable.
One student teacher had to deal with a parent who had doubts about her abilities. This problem was not one she had anticipated and felt unprepared to reassure this mother. Some preparation of parents by the supervising teacher could help alleviate such doubts and tensions, smoothing the way for everyone involved.
Besides classroom management, student teachers seem to worry most about differentiating instruction. Student teachers want their supervising teachers to share what they know in terms of concrete practices that have proven effective. They feel the same way about meeting the Standards of Learning. Supervising teachers should be sure to share effective lessons and techniques for conveying the information students will need to pass the standardized tests.
On a personal note, student teachers wanted to know more about managing stress. Supervising teachers could share some strategies for stress management. Stress levels will naturally be high during the student teaching experience and the sooner student teachers learn to deal with stress, the more likely they will last longer and be happier in the profession.
During the Student Teaching Experience
Student teachers want to know what is expected of them. They don't want to guess what the supervising teacher is thinking. Some supervising teachers are willing to let a student teacher try anything. If that is the case, make it clear so student teachers don't feel tentative and as though they need to ask permission every time they want to do something different. Other teachers offer student teachers the opportunity to experiment in some areas, but don't want some procedures changed for the sake of consistency for the students.
One student teacher wrote, "Understand that one of your student teacher's biggest concerns is classroom management and discipline." Student teachers consistently express concerns about classroom management issues. They all have doubts about how they will handle problems which will inevitably arise in the classroom. Student teachers want to know which students will likely be a challenge, what strategies have worked for their supervising teachers in the past, and feedback about how situations might have been handled better when they do occur.
Student teachers repeatedly mentioned communication in their surveys. They want openness and honesty from their supervising teachers and they want to feel the lines of communication are open. Wrote one student teacher in succinct form: "Be available 24/7." Student teachers want to try their wings, but they want to know their supervising teachers are present to answer questions, provide suggestions, and give positive, constructive feedback regarding student teachers' progress. Wrote one student teacher in her survey, "Be a mentor, not a silent partner. Offer suggestions for improvement." These neophytes want to hear they're doing a good job, but they also want to know how they can be better teachers.
While student teachers want to have the freedom to try some new things, they don't want a sink or swim situation. They want the chance to ease into the experience. Wrote one student, "Assist students at first to create a comfortable working environment." Most student teachers are more comfortable, in the beginning, with their supervising teachers in the classroom, present in case of problems. Another tip for easing student teachers into the teaching situation is to have student teachers begin teaching one subject or period, then have them take over further classes gradually. One student's supervising teacher simply told her to do whatever she wanted and disappeared the day the student teacher showed up at the school. Needless to say, this poor student teacher was panic-stricken.
However, student teachers also caution supervising teachers that they want to experience everything by the end of the student teaching placement-"including the parents". One student teacher found sitting in on parent-teacher conferences to be one of her most beneficial learning experiences. Writes another student, "Let student teachers teach; don't assign 'grunt' work." Student teachers need to be learning to teach, not cutting out circles for a bulletin board designed by the supervising teacher. They'll have enough "grunt" work of their own if they are making best use of their student teaching experience. A related perspective regarded including student teachers in the school climate. Wrote one student teacher, "Make her feel like faculty," a professional instead of an underling or a volunteer.
What I'd Do For My Student Teacher
Former student teachers responded enthusiastically to the section asking what they'd do if they were to be assigned a student teacher.
Several suggestions had to do with supplies and space. Wrote one student teacher, "Provide a student teacher with her own 'space' in which to work-her own desk, etc. if possible". Another student teacher suggested providing student teachers with their own lesson plan books. Student teachers felt uncomfortable using their supervising teachers' desks and plan books even if the supervising teachers encouraged them to do so. More than one student teacher suggested allowing full access to all materials and resources. Other student teachers asked they be given examples of lessons that worked in the past, as well as lessons that did not work, and information as to the reasons for success or failure of lessons.
Other former student teachers wanted to know more about long-range goals and expectations. Some felt they were just operating on a day-to-day basis and wanted a better idea of the big picture. Former student teachers indicated they would have felt they had a better grasp of material if the instructional goals for the whole year had been made clear to them. Other student teachers wanted " . . . an idea of pacing so the most important info can be identified and covered in depth. "Student teachers felt, like many teachers, pressured to cover material in a limited amount of time. They wanted to be sure they covered the most critical information and needed some direction to determine precisely what material was most crucial.
In conclusion, a former student teacher said it best: "Be free with praise; student teaching is a trying time." Most student teachers are dedicated, conscientious, and eager to do well. With these tips and insights, student teaching should be a rewarding experience for all involved.
Note: This article is based on a research study of education students who recently completed their student teaching experience through Hollins University in Roanoke, Virginia.
Related Article: Advice from Former Student Teachers To Future Student Teachers
About the Author
Dr. Kristi Fowler is currently enjoying her first year as an assistant professor of education at Hollins University. She teaches courses in education and supervises student teachers in the school systems in and around Roanoke, Virginia. She also presents occasional guest lectures for the University of Virginia in Charlottesville where she received all her degrees. In addition to her work as an educator, her interests include her family, a small horse farm in Bedford owned by her and her husband, gardening, and reading.
Published: January 2002