Student Teachers: The Missing Piece to the Reform Puzzle

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.


9 thoughts on “Student Teachers: The Missing Piece to the Reform Puzzle

  1. Pingback: OTR Links 03/23/2015 | doug — off the record

  2. Come on people. TFA will be all over this. They already tell us 5 weeks summer camp is enough training. Meanwhile my kid had to do 2 semesters, unpaid, while still attending college classes and working part time on the weekends. If we leave this up to the privatizers and Pearson, the only “teachers” coming in the future will be supplied by liars/thieves like TFA and TNTP, and that is exactly the way the government, backed by billionaires, wants it. Complain all you like, it isn’t make a difference. Pearson, a UK/Libyan company, owns the USA.


  3. I have had student teachers working my classroom for the past five years. This is my 5th grade students’ first year taking PARCC. We just completed five sessions that were under two hours each. My students were provided with rest and play time after the test, but regular instruction continued in the afternoon. My student teacher was able to teach the normal subjects she would have taught because I made time for her to do it. Also, she made mistakes. She doesn’t make huge mistakes due to careful planning and collaboration between us, but like any teacher, she makes mistakes. Learning happens all around. I’m not a proponent of high stakes testing, but I do think that, if you try, you can still afford students and student teachers the same experiences they would have had in previous years.


  4. In addition, in the state of Illinois starting next semester teacher candidates will only be licensed to teach if their portfolio (edTP) is passed by Pearson…not the Universiity/cooperating teacher or anyone else. They will have less than half of their student teaching experience to submit the portfolio to prove their worth. This is so wrong.


  5. I was a student teacher once way back in 1975-76, and the program I went through was an urban residency that was a full time, paid (but not that much) program where I learned in a 5th grade classroom with a master teacher who slowly guided me to work, first, with individual students, then groups, and one day near the end of the school year, she walked out of her classroom and left me alone and in charge with my own lesson plans. By then, thank to my master teacher, I was ready.

    I survived and then spent the next 29 years teaching until I retired in 2005. What I learned from my master teacher served me well. I also stayed friends with my master teacher and her husband who was also a teacher back then. They are both retied now and in their 80s.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. This is an interesting exploration of this topic, but you fail to consider one very important question: if the current model of student teaching is as messy and mistake prone as you suggest it is, is it good (or at least fair) for the students? (This is of course setting aside other factors like the benefits of consistency, etc.) As a teacher myself, there is no question that the traditional model of student teaching was beneficial for me for all of the reasons you point out and a whole slew of others – especially learning to navigate all of the politics. Now, however, I teach at the college level and have had to start looking at this from the other side. When I supervise student teachers, I have to evaluate their impact on student learning (which involves making baseline observations of the classroom BEFORE the student teachers start), and quite often there is a significant negative influence – even with an engaged host teacher and a dedicated student teacher.

    Perhaps team teaching for an entire year as was introduced in NJ is a better solution? I don’t know. I’m still trying to find a practical answer that benefits everyone. My point in all this is that we need to take a very serious look at student teaching (and really all teacher training) that stops automatically privileging the position of student teacher. We need to weigh the benefits to the student teacher against the cost for the students.


    • I don’t think the current model is “mistake and messy PRONE,” but do acknowledge that learning ~ whether it be a student, a teacher, a student teacher, and person ~ is messy and does include mistakes. That’s learning. Student teaching takes commitment from both the student teacher and the mentor teacher. As far as the model, I would like to see – if the proposal for a full year of student teaching was to go through – one semester of co-teaching and one semester of the traditional student teaching. I think having the time of co-teaching would be a great opportunity for that mentorship.


  7. What you said is correct and it will only get worse as the testing is becoming the norm. Between practicing for the test, district testing and the state testing teachers are expending about 30 to 60 days of instructional time to teaching the test. Another factor that is never talked about is teachers are asked to advocate and report abuse. In most, if not all, school districts at the beginning of the year teachers are required to review slide shows or documents on these subjects. Then they sign to say they read them or saw the slide show. Yet, if a teacher advocates for students or reports abuse it could mean the end of their teaching a career. The people evaluating in most cases haven’t had any training or are not qualify to evaluate teachers. Most administrators once where teacher with little experience in supervision, management, training, and leadership.

    Liked by 1 person

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