How to Find the Best Supervisor for Your Graduate School Internship

Dr. Ellen Mauer
Dr. Ellen Mauer
Elementary school principal; Ph.D. in Educational Leadership & Policy Studies
A professor sitting with a smiling graduate student and looking over papers.

How Important is the Student Teaching Internship?

The student teaching experience is the capstone event of graduate school. This is the most significant experience in which to be successful. Your cooperating teacher will be the crucial reference you earn, even more important than your university supervisor.

Your success will not be based mainly upon your skill level; it will be based upon the soft skills you bring to the classroom. Attitude toward learning new things and the way in which feedback is taken is the single most important trait that will be assessed. Taking feedback in a positive way and then changing practices will be measured and spoken about to future principals looking to hire teachers.

Work ethic is another important soft skill to have and will be assessed by your cooperating teacher. Working with a team and making contributions will be a part of your student teaching as well. Time management and organization are other valuable skills that will be taught.

While demonstrating these soft skills, you will also learn a great deal about skill and strategy for classroom management and teaching. Learning to differentiate instruction and juggle multiple skill groups with students will be a challenge but will give you priceless experience. It will be crucial for you to openly speak to your cooperating teacher about how they learned to become a successful educator. Be sure to take their suggestions and implement as much as possible.

What Should You Look for in a Cooperating Teacher Supervisor?

When finding a cooperating teacher, your university will work with you to find a placement and a teacher to do the supervision. The university will have expectations for the person that is assigned to you. The expectations may vary depending upon the university. There is usually a length of time that a teacher must have worked to gain experience. Some universities require a tenured teacher; others may ask for more years of experience. They will ask that the teacher have a certain evaluation rating. They will not want to pair you with a person earning low marks. You should ask about what the university requires prior to your student teaching experience to be sure you are comfortable.

Some online universities may expect you to find your own placement and teacher. In that case, you should call the district office of the area in which you want a placement and find out who handles these placements. Once you have that contact, call and set up an appointment. Discuss your specific needs. You will want to have someone who earns a high rating and is certified in the subject they teach. You will want at least five years of successful teaching experience. More experience is usually better.

Be sure that the person to whom you are assigned wanted to accept a student teacher as well. That cooperating teacher should be very approachable, be open to answering questions along the way, and be ready to give rationale for the decisions that are made on a daily basis. You will want to be included in important events in a school year such as opening day procedures, closing day procedures, curriculum night, parent conferences, and any other type of added event that the school hosts.

How to Set Expectations with Your Cooperating Teacher Supervisor

When you first meet with your cooperating teacher, be frank and up front about your expectations in a tactful way. Ask if you can have a regular daily and/or weekly meeting time to discuss the situations that have taken place during that time period, and set up those meetings on a calendar from the start. That will allow you to get full comprehension of why your supervisor handled situations in the way that they did.

Share with your cooperating teacher your own strengths and ask to be a contributor in those areas. Offer to take on some daily tasks from the start. Be sure to share your weaknesses and let the cooperating teacher know right away that you are looking for help to improve in those areas. Be ready to do extra reading and researching. Be very open to frequent communication.

Other Things to Consider for Your Student Teaching Experience

It will be important to talk to your cooperating teacher about doing extra observations around the building in a variety of classrooms. There is so much that can be picked up from various grade levels, subject areas, and other settings. For example, observing in a special education class that focuses on behaviors can give you great ideas about how to pare down some of what they do for a regular education classroom. Talk to the other teachers you observe and ask questions. Take notes for the future.

When your experience is nearing its end, be sure to get a letter of recommendation from your cooperating teacher and any other teacher you feel that you had a good relationship with who could speak to your abilities. Be sure to write a very nice thank you letter for the experience to give to your cooperating teacher. You may also wish to ask the principal in that building to do an observation of your teaching so that they can speak to what they saw you do as well.

Finally, consider that your entire experience from start to finish while student teaching is a long-term job interview. You will want to present the best picture of yourself every single day. That will be an important part to securing an actual job after the experience is completed.

*Updated January, 2021
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