At some point in your career, you may be asked to host a student teacher. You may or may not be comfortable with a “newbie” coming in and taking over, but I want to share some of my top tips that can help set up your student teacher for success and make things easier for you in the process.
A Pre-Screening Interview
Before you decide to take on a student teacher, you need to get a general “feeling” for how this person will fit into your program. You will most likely get some information from the candidate’s school which may include transcripts, a resume, and some essay answers to some basic PE related questions. Look through this information carefully, and if you like what you see, ask your administrator to have a pre-screening interview. This can be done over the phone or in person. It will give you a better gauge of the candidate’s readiness and trigger any red flags that can potentially cause problems down the road. Don’t be afraid to decline accepting a student teacher if you’re gut feeling is telling you otherwise.
Before the Student Teacher Starts
Once you’ve accepted a student teacher, make sure you reach out prior to their start date with any important information they’ll need – school computer/email access, ID badge process, keys, parking areas, school calendar/important dates, class schedule, etc. You should also make sure you have dates they may have to be gone for school-related instances, so you are clear on this before they start. Attendance is super important, and any pre-planned absences should be discussed beforehand. They will most likely have lots of questions, so try to ease their transition by answering their questions without overwhelming them with too much information.
Day One – Before Your First Class
Before the school day starts, I like to give my student teachers a tour of the building and take the time to introduce them to staff as you encounter them along the way. This helps develop a rapport and sense of belonging to the school which is important. Make sure you introduce them to the most important people in the building too – the front office staff, building principal, the school nurse, and of course the custodian(s)! They need a lay of the land including bathroom locations, copy machines, printers, mailboxes, staff lunch room, outdoor recess/field spaces, etc.
My Teaching Transition
I want to give my student teachers autonomy as soon as I can because nothing prepares them for teaching on their own than teaching on their own. I’m not going to be there when they get their first job to get the students’ attention or explain directions, they need to learn to do this on their own, and we learn by doing! Now, I’m not saying sit in your office and turn over the reins on day one. Depending on the length of the student teaching experience and the progress you observe them making will determine how fast or slow you transition full control to them. Here’s the progression I typically take with them:
- “I teach; they observe” – I spend up to a week teaching all the classes like normal while the student teacher gets to observe how I do things and interact with individual students. They should focus on my class management strategies, transitions, and the sequence and pacing of the lesson.
- “I teach; they copy” – Before they start planning their own lessons, I will have them observe my lesson and then copy the exact same lesson. This lets them focus on managing the class using activities that I know work with students. They work on their delivery, transitioning activities, and managing their time.
- “They plan & teach a warm-up; I teach the lesson focus” – This gives them one short activity to plan and deliver at the beginning of class. When they’re done, I will teach the remainder of the class.
- “They plan & teach; I observe” – Their supervising teacher from the college/university will most likely be coming for their first visit to observe and evaluate soon, so I let them teach a unit on something they feel comfortable with, something that has content they’re familiar with. Most student teachers played some kind of sport growing up and defer to an associated skill for which they feel competent. I’m okay with that, because this is their first experience, and I want them to feel as comfortable with the content as possible so they can focus on the “teaching” aspect of things. Toward the end of their student teaching when they have their final evaluation, I have them pick a skill/sport/activity that they are uncomfortable with. This gets them out of their comfort zone and forces them to research the skills involved to come up with appropriate activities to build into their lessons. I also ask them to come up with some way to assess what they’re teaching. Too often, student teachers focus on the activities/games and never integrate assessment into the process. Helping them learn how to assess student learning is a vital piece of the educational puzzle.
3 Great Things I Do During Student Teaching
Some of the “extra” things I do for my student teachers include what many have told me have been the most beneficial to them once they landed their first job.
- Video Record – I take some video clips of my student teachers teaching and share those with them. It is very powerful to see yourself in action and then take steps to make refinements to your teaching practice. It also allows me to see growth in the student teacher throughout their time with me and I have clear examples and recollection of things I want to highlight when writing a letter of recommendation for them during their job search.
- Evaluation by the Principal – I will ask my principal to come in for one class and observe my student teacher just like they are observing a first-year teacher using the Danielson Framework evaluation tool. Then they will set up a time to go over what they saw. I feel it is important to get feedback from as many different sources during their time with me as possible. It will also help familiarize them with the teacher evaluation process.
- Finally, a Mock Interview – I again ask my principal to do a mock interview with the student teacher and go through the exact interview questions/process that they would ask if they were looking to hire someone to teach at my school. This authentic interview process gets them used to being in the hot seat and coming up with answers on the spot. It is also another opportunity to get feedback on their answers and tips for making future interviews better.
On a personal note, I specifically became an elementary PE teacher largely because of the excellent student teaching experience I received. I had a cooperating teacher that gave me daily feedback, pushed my thinking, and challenged me. She let me try things, celebrated my successes, and gave me helpful advice when an activity or lesson failed. My secondary experience was very different. I had a cooperating teacher that basically saw me as someone to do their job while they sat in their office reading the newspaper. I had little guidance, scarce interaction, and I really didn’t learn how to be a good teacher. I tell you that because you have the power to make a difference for your student teacher. Be a positive role model for them and do whatever is in your power to make their first experience in teaching a great one!
I’d love for you to comment below and share about your experience either as a student teacher or a cooperating teacher – good or bad, we learn from both. #AlwaysLearning