At a time when there is such extensive conversation around PARCC testing and teacher evaluations, especially in places like New Jersey, one area that hasn’t been explored as much is the impact on student teaching.
Essentially, the opportunity for field placement\student teaching in the spring semester has disappeared. While we as student teachers are still “in the classroom,” the opportunity to engage in what is at the core of student teaching is slowly fading away.
Teachers College at Columbia University describes student teaching as the following:
The student teaching experience provides pre-service teachers the space and opportunity to learn how to ask important questions about teaching and learning, come to know children and adolescents by observing and interacting with them consistently over time, apply newly acquired knowledge, theories, strategies and models in a variety of contexts within and across classrooms, and experiment with, design and adapt practice according to learners’ needs.
During the student teaching experience, pre-service teachers are guided and instructed by two key individuals – the cooperating or mentor teacher, and the university supervisor. While both work collaboratively to support the growth and development of the student teacher, each assumes a very specific role.
Field placement\student teaching in the spring semester encompasses March and May – the testing window months of PARCC. I have heard stories of students who sit around all morning doing nothing because, well, their classes are testing. Often, those same classes are then doing lighter activities in the afternoon, even just watching movies. Students, especially in the younger grades, are coming home with no schoolwork of any sort, often reflective of the little to no work they are doing in school. One has to ask: when does all of this testing provide for the opportunity for student teachers to teach? The answer: it doesn’t.
Teachers across the board have expressed concerns over taking student teachers, especially with the potential impact on their evaluations (SGO’s\SGP’s\VAM’s of any sort). Understandably, teachers are nervous to hand over their classrooms in any capacity to someone with a lot less experience – and who is still just beginning their intense learning (as teaching and life are always about learning) – with the pressure and risk of evaluations, test scores, etc.
At the core of student teaching, in my mind, is the opportunity to make mistakes. Learning is about making mistakes. The best learning is messy. But in this time of high-stakes education, there is no room for mistakes. Aside from this, teachers are also strapped for time: between increasing class sizes, increasing amounts of useless paperwork, and the daily work of a teacher for their classroom, where is the time for mentorship? The answer: there isn’t.
Sure, this is not across the board. There are always going to be teachers who find a way to take student teachers and provide them with the best learning experience they can. But what we see happening here is no fault of the teachers: rather, it is a result of the “education reform movement” happening to our schools. Think about it: as it becomes harder and harder to find placements, and regulations on teacher education programs become stricter and stricter, it leaves more opportunities for groups like Teach for America to send their corps members into the classroom. They only have to commit for two years, schools can keep them low on the pay scale with the conveyer belt of teachers in and out of schools, and most importantly it’s a win for the privatizes who love groups like TFA.
Before the State Board of Education in New Jersey earlier this month were regulation changes to teacher education programs. One of the proposed changes was increasing student teaching to a full year, or two semesters. While in theory I think this is great – more experience in the classroom – I worry about the quality of that experience (were these regulations to pass and become practice). How much am I going to learn about teaching if I’m not, well, teaching? I won’t student teach for another few years by the structure of my program: what are classrooms going to look like then? I worry that I am going to miss the collaborative mentorship that is so crucial to the student teaching experience because of the testing, evaluations, and sheer commitment it takes for a host teacher, despite the aforementioned.
All I’m speaking about here are my personal experience and sharing some of the feedback I’ve gotten. I’m sure research would have to be done in some capacity looking at trends in student teaching over the years, etc. But the place to start is at least having the conversation? Why aren’t schools of education actively expressing concern over this? That’s a rhetorical question – I know the politics of it all. But we better start having the conversation before student teaching is taken over by the corporate model, too. This is a full blown attack on education from K-12 to teacher education programs\students to teachers themselves to retirees to the entire system.
I am in a teacher education program to learn about teaching, to be the best teacher I can be, and learn from the best that my mentor teachers have to offer me.
I am not spending five years getting my Master’s in education to become a test administrator.