Hal Portner
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Do You Have a Student Teacher?

Having a student teacher requires a delicate balance between encouragement and evaluation.
by Hal Portner
Regular contributor to the Gazette
February 1, 2009

In just about every teacher preparation program in the United States, schools of education require and arrange for their students, typically in their senior year, to student teach in a public or private school preservice program. This field-based experience is usually a credit-course and is graded. The major responsibility for day-to-day guidance of student teachers rests with the classroom teacher, usually referred to as a cooperating teacher. In addition to assisting the student teacher, the cooperating teacher is also expected to report on the student teacher’s performance and recommend a grade.

From what I have been able to ascertain, not many states require training for cooperating teachers. One exception is Section 1–10–145d-8-x of The Regulations of Connecticut State Agencies, which defines student teaching as “supervised full day practice teaching, with a trained cooperating teacher (emphasis mine), as part of an [approved] educator preparation program.” Connecticut’s cooperating teachers are also encouraged to participate in the state’s mentor training program.

In some other states, the unofficial criteria are that cooperating teachers have a minimum number of years of experience and be willing to take on a student teacher. To exacerbate the situation, not all higher education institutions offer training for cooperating teachers that includes coaching or mentoring.

Mentoring and Coaching a Student Teacher

The role of a cooperating teacher includes responsibilities similar to those of a teacher-mentor, that is, to develop and provide a teaching/learning atmosphere that supports dialogue and discussion, promotes the sharing of advice and constructive feedback, and encourages open communication.

There is one important difference, however, between mentoring a first- or second-year teacher and mentoring a student teacher. The mentor of a student teacher is involved in evaluating and grading; the mentor of a new teacher is not. The student-teacher/cooperating-teacher relationship is impacted by the need to share information about performance with others who will use that information to evaluate the student teacher; therefore, the relationship cannot be entirely confidential. Nevertheless, it must be based on openness and trust in order to work to its best advantage.

If you are a cooperating teacher, you need to make it clear to your charge that your role is to help them succeed. This places you (ouch!) on the horns of a dilemma: you need to a) gain and keep your student teacher’s trust while giving up some aspects of confidentiality and (b) not letting the need for a trusting relationship interfere with evaluation and grading responsibilities.

This is why the training of cooperating teachers is so important and must include methods of establishing openness and trust within the student-teacher/cooperating-teacher relationship.

How to Develop Trust and Support

An effective way to encourage trust and support is to regularly check to determine whether your student teacher feels he or she is receiving the help he or she needs. Here is an extensive checklist for this purpose. It is modeled after a list of attributes by Hudson, Skamp, and Brooks for mentors of primary science teachers.

Does your student teacher perceive that you:

  • are supportive
  • are comfortable in talking
  • are attentive
  • instill confidence
  • instill positive attitudes
  • assist in reflecting
  • discuss aims
  • outline curriculum
  • discuss policies
  • guide preparation
  • assist with timetabling
  • assist with classroom management
  • assist with teaching strategies
  • assist in planning
  • discuss implementation
  • discuss content knowledge
  • provide viewpoints
  • discuss questioning techniques
  • discuss assessment
  • discuss problem solving
  • model rapport with students
  • display enthusiasm
  • model a well-designed lesson
  • model effective teaching
  • model classroom management
  • demonstrate hands-on approaches
  • use syllabus language
  • observe teaching for feedback
  • provide oral feedback
  • review lesson plans
  • provide evaluation on teaching
  • provide written feedback
  • articulate expectations

If you can answer “Yes” to most of these, you stand a good chance of helping to develop an effective teacher. After all, isn’t that what being a Cooperative teacher is all about?

Material for this article is an adaptation of a section of Chapter 1 of Mentoring New Teachers, 3rd edition, by Hal Portner, published 2008 by Corwin Press.

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About Hal Portner...

Hal Portner is a former K-12 teacher and administrator. He was assistant director of the Summer Math Program for High School Women and Their Teachers at Mount Holyoke College, and for 24 years he was a teacher and then administrator in two Connecticut public school districts. From 1985 to 1995, he was a member of the Connecticut State Department of Education’s Bureau of Certification and Professional Development, where, among other responsibilities, he served as coordinator of the Connecticut Institute for Teaching and Learning and worked closely with school districts to develop and carry out professional development and teacher evaluation plans and programs.

Portner writes, develops materials, trains mentors, facilitates the development of new teacher and peer-mentoring programs, and consults for school districts and other educational organizations and institutions. In addition to Mentoring New Teachers, he is the author of Training Mentors Is Not Enough: Everything Else Schools and Districts Need to Do (2001), Being Mentored: A Guide for Protégés (2002), Workshops that Really Work: The ABCs of Designing and Delivering Sensational Presentations (2005), and editor of Teacher Mentoring and Induction: The State of the Art and Beyond (2005) – all published by Corwin Press. He holds an MEd from the University of Michigan and a 6th-year Certificate of Advanced Graduate Study (CAGS) in education admin¬istration from the University of Connecticut. For three years, he was with the University of Massachusetts EdD Educational Leadership Program.

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