A Look at Pre-Service and Student Teaching

How are colleges presenting this to student teachers? That question was raised several times as I worked with newly selected mentors in Rochester, New York. (See previous blog on Rochester’s award winning Career in Teaching program.)

Education Week Teacher carried an article by Sarah Henchey titled Student Teaching: More Than a Custody Arrangement.

Henchey made 5 suggestions:

#1 Use guest speakers for pre-service teachers to be introduced to all the school based staff who contribute to students’ success: counselors, specialist, teachers, etc.

#2 Create Targeted Observations. Pre-service students should be doing many classroom observations that are targeted, focused to see specific elements. They can then synthesize their learning.

#3 Simulate the collaboration expected in schools. Pre-service teachers should form and practice professional learning communities as they begin studying the practice of teaching.

#4 Experience the politics of education first hand. Attend school board meetings; follow local press coverage of schools, and interview principals.

#5 Create true partnerships with cooperating teachers. Expert teachers who serve as cooperating teachers can be involved with university staff to plan for the greatest pre-service learning.

Two of Henchey’s suggestions have been on my recommendations list and were discussed with the Rochester mentors.

Targeted Observations

I encourage mentors to focus their observations in teacher’s classrooms more on students than on the teacher. In conversations with beginning teachers I ask them to describe the student behavior (actions) needed to get the desired learning outcomes. For example in a pre-conference a teacher shared that the lesson I would observe had students reading on their own for about 15 minutes, then working in pairs to analyze the reading, then participating in a whole class conversation. I asked the teacher to describe key student behaviors in each section of the lesson.

If the teacher cannot identify the key behaviors, that’s where my coaching and mentoring begin. That identification is critical to designing the learning activity and deciding the teacher’s facilitation.

If the teacher is clear on identifying the behavior, we are then ready to observe the lesson and record “what happens”.

In a post conference we can explore alternative teacher behaviors at any point where the student response was not the desired one. My finding is that teachers in this conversation are more open to changing their behavior after exploring the student behavior.

Pre-service students should get plenty of practice observing students.

Simulate Collaboration

Years ago I was asked to provide coaching skills training to a group of cooperating teachers. Prior to my beginning a university staff person speaking to the group said, ”Be sure as the semester proceeds that the intern is making more of the teaching decision on his/her own.” I sat there thinking, “In two or three years I’ll be working with these young teachers convincing them to make decisions collaboratively.”

Pre-service teachers should be assigned to a PLC before being sent out to student teach. That PLC should all be sent to the same building and function as a learning team throughout their internships. As their careers start these new teachers would readily join existing teaching teams or seek out teammates in their new settings.

I believe that a key role for mentors is to assist new teachers in becoming active collaborative team members of the school. Until a school staff becomes collaborative it cannot reach maximum student achievement. Mentors and coaches play important roles in creating a collaborative school culture.

Beginning a teaching career is a demanding time. Partnerships between university programs and district mentor programs can build a strong support.

What thoughts would you add to Henchey’s list?

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Steve Barkley

For the past 30 years, Steve has served as a consultant to school districts, teacher organizations, state departments of education, and colleges and universities nationally and internationally, facilitating the changes necessary for them to reach students and successfully prepare them for the 21st century. Read more…

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