As tenured professionals in the field of education, we carry an unspoken obligation. That obligation is to assist the aspiring educators who are seeking to join our great profession. Training a student teacher adds to the workload of the cooperating teacher. There are specific requirements to be fulfilled by the college or university. Student teaching is not about the student watching and then mimicking the teacher; it has much to do with mentorship, which requires time to discuss strategies and give feedback with specific explanations.
I personally have always welcomed student teachers into our school. I think about the opportunities that were given to me when I was an aspiring teacher. I had several mentors who gave me the guidance and feedback I needed to grow. Collegiate courses are valuable and teach the history and foundation of teaching, effective strategies, and allows for practice. However, the student teaching experience is unmatched in terms of preparation. The live, on-the-spot interactions, knowing how to manage the classroom, monitor and adjust, etc. is the highest form of learning that will best prepare any novice.
Challenges Student Teachers are Facing
Student teachers today are facing challenges that no other cohort of student teachers have faced. They are anxious to jump in and get their feet wet; to experience all the aspects of the classroom setting that they have learned about. Now, with virtual classes and even hybrid models with COVID restrictions, they are not learning the traditional components of school.
Currently, we have a few student teachers with us. I asked one of them about the challenges he is facing with our county being fully virtual since the year began. He mentioned that it is difficult for him to personally connect with the students. Being that he is not their formal teacher, he says he is struggling to make authentic connections, but over time it has gotten better. Relationships are essential between teacher and student. He stated that he was already trying to learn how to foster relationships face to face, but the virtual piece has added an extra obstacle.
He also mentioned behavior management. As we all know, behavior management face to face is totally different than behavior management virtually. Traditionally we would train him on implementing classroom procedures, how to create and enforce rules, how to manage students who are off task, disinterested, or misbehaving, and how to keep students actively engaged in their learning.
While virtual learning shares some of those same aspects, teachers now must learn to effectively manage the class virtually. These skills include active engagement through movement and participation through using online tools. Teachers must be well versed with digital applications and platforms. They must teach their students how to respond using these applications and the features on the platform. Virtual participation is dependent on these things. Our student teachers are forced to learn how to accomplish this in their own way.
Concurrent teaching is another challenge for student teachers. To be honest, concurrent teaching is a challenge for all teachers. Concurrent teaching is when a teacher is responsible for simultaneously teaching their face-to-face and virtual students. This is the newest form of teaching and no blue print has been created for it. Therefore, teachers all around the country are navigating unchartered waters.
Student teachers are learning from tenured teachers who would normally have a blue print to share. Now, all teachers, novice and veteran, are in the same boat and share the same insecurities about whether or not they are reaching their virtual students with the same impact as they would face to face.
What is a Mentor Teacher’s Job?
A mentor teacher is the lifeline for the student teacher’s success. This teacher becomes their go-to for all things school. Most ideally, the teacher and student will build a relationship and a bond that will last long after the student teaching assignment.
Mentor teachers are responsible for showing them the ropes and making sure they walk away with an experience that prepares them to confidently lead their own classroom soon after. Mentorship means that the cooperating teacher is an open book. It is the mentors job to “show and tell” everything that is relevant to teaching success.
This is more than teaching practice. It is also how to build relationships with students and families, how to engage students and manage behavior, how to find resources and be a valuable teammate, how to manage their time and be efficient with tasks, how to lead their teacher assistant to be effective, and so much more. Often times, student teachers don’t know what to ask so the mentor should lay it out for them and leave no stone unturned.
How to Mentor a Student Teacher
If you are lucky enough to be asked to mentor a student teacher that means that you are accomplished or distinguished in your practice and that is to be commended. It is an honor to be able to influence a future educator.
In an all-virtual model, cooperating teachers should be prepared to spend extra time with the mentee outside of the class to give examples of what full time face-to-face learning looks and feels like today. We are going through a national pandemic; however, this will pass and we will be back to some type of normalcy soon. It is important to prepare them for this. The bright side is that current student teachers are living and learning through this pandemic education and now have those new skills going forward in their career.
If you are a face-to-face cooperating teacher, be sure to give your mentee the most authentic, hands-on experiences with immediate and kind feedback with suggestions and examples for growth. Model for them and let them know all questions are valuable.
Cooperating teachers should be honest but not negative. It is vital to be honest about a teachers responsibilities, the paperwork, the meetings, and other issues that teachers would rather not have so much of but it is also vital to share with them the many positive outcomes of students and impacts that we make on them and their families that last long past the year they were assigned to you.
In education, mentorship only makes us all stronger. To build a strong and competent teacher is to build strong and competent children who will one day make our world a better place.