Student teaching is an important part of any teacher’s training, but having a student teacher in your classroom can sometimes feel like a challenge. Recently, the discussion in our WeAreTeachers HELPLINE group on Facebook turned to this topic, with one teacher wondering how to best help student teachers, especially one that seemed to be struggling. Other teachers, as well as some current student teachers, offered their best advice. Take a look.
1. Be honest and direct.
This one behavior can help student teachers more than any other. When the students in your class get something wrong or do something well, you tell them directly, don’t you? Student teachers need the same from you. Praise what they do well, but don’t be afraid talk about behaviors or skills that need work.
Olivia recently finished her student teaching experience and had this to say, “I think that what helped me most was really specific feedback. Give specific benchmarks that you can check in on. For example, my teacher would give me a specific strategy for a specific student or challenge me to wait at least five seconds before sending the students off to stations, and then at the end of the day we’d discuss how that went.”
Even if your student teacher is doing well, challenge them to strengthen their skills in a certain area. “My student teacher’s advisor said that they must have areas of needed growth (we all do!),” says Sylvia. “They are here to grow.”
2. Model the right behaviors.
Classroom learning is one thing, but if you really want to help student teachers, show them how it’s done! Before you ask them to demonstrate a skill, model it for them first. “When I’ve had a student teacher, I would model and then have them teach a little bit at a time,” Pam explains. “My role is to help them learn. I’ve learned that their college mentor didn’t really know what was needed at each grade level.”
If your student teacher has trouble with certain skills, ask them to step aside and watch how you do it before trying it themselves. This doesn’t mean you should do their job for them, of course. Think of it more like teaching a complicated dance move—it’s a lot easier to get it right if you see it done first.
3. Help them plan in advance.
Most new teachers are blown away by the amount of planning involved in teaching. Help them learn the process and use it as a chance to give feedback before they find themselves in front of the class. Sue shared, “My mentor used to look at my lesson plan two days prior and then tell me what to specifically adjust. Then she would check it again [to see] that I made those adjustments. That was really helpful to me.”
Kathleen offers a schedule to try. “You teach Monday, and the student teacher observes. Plan Tuesday together, with you setting the work and team teaching. Wednesday’s to Friday’s planning is up to them but checked by you [on] Tuesday, with work to be approved ahead of time.”
4. Use co-teaching, especially at the start.
Many veteran teachers use co-teaching, or team teaching, to help student teachers get their feet wet. “Co-teaching really helped when I was student teaching,” notes Courtney. “My mentor teacher helped to plan the lesson and prepare the materials so it was at appropriate levels, and she was able to jump in whenever necessary. This really helped me to see what I should work on while it was happening instead of having to think back or imagine ahead.”
Be sure that over time you start to step back and let your student teacher take the lead. “One thing that helped me is to come up with the solution myself. I had to pretend there weren’t other adults in the room,” Olivia says. “It wasn’t that she didn’t want to help—it was that she didn’t want me to use the other adult as a crutch when I wouldn’t always have that.”
5. Provide constant feedback.
Just as you coach your students throughout any lesson or project, offer feedback to your student teacher as often as possible. You don’t want to undermine their authority with students, of course, but you can still make suggestions or adjustments if you see something about to go off the rails. (Although that can be a good learning experience, too!) Current student teacher Katherine suggests, “Be very frank during the lesson if it is necessary! In the beginning of my semester, I had my mentor teacher quietly suggest I make the work easier or harder as I was mid-explanation.”
Whenever possible, take time at the end of the day for a more thorough chat about the day’s highs and lows. Try to take notes as you observe your student teacher so you’ll remember what you wanted to share. Even better, videotape a lesson and watch it together, discussing what you see.
One more tip from Katherine, “Give an evaluation just as you would be evaluated by administration.” Future teachers need to know what will be expected from them. Consider inviting in another teacher or your principal to watch for a bit. They’ll offer advice from another viewpoint. Plentiful feedback is an excellent way to help student teachers along the way.
6. Be up front when they’re struggling.
Some people seem born to teach, while others need time and effort to become good teachers. When your student teacher is the latter, it’s more important than ever to be honest and direct. You won’t help them by trying to protect their feelings or self-confidence. “As someone who failed my first student teaching assignment, make sure they understand what they need. If they aren’t living up to the requirements, they might not pass their student teaching,” shared one teacher. “I didn’t know I failed until the very end, and I was crushed.”
Give your student teacher every chance to succeed, just as you would a student who needs some help. Identify the problem, make actionable plans, and expect improvement. If they continue to struggle in the same area, it’s time to bring their college supervisor in on things. “I had a student teacher who wouldn’t listen to the advice I was trying to give him,” Katie told us. “When I finally called his supervisor, we had a meeting together. I was able to be blunt with support from his supervisor.”
In the end, the students in your class are ultimately your responsibility. While it’s important to help student teachers learn and grow, your own students must continue to have that opportunity too.
Current student teacher Nicole sums it up well. “My whole thought is that if I’m not doing what the teacher and students need I may as well not be there,” she writes. “I have worked with my host teacher every step, and things have gone well. But we as student teachers don’t know everything about the classroom yet.” Veteran teachers may not know everything either, but they have experience. They help student teachers become exactly what the next generation of students needs and deserves.
Share your tips for working with students teachers in our WeAreTeachers HELPLINE group on Facebook.
Plus, how teachers can support each other more.