Eight student teachers of varying ability and personality have walked through my classroom over my career, craving the multi-week internship that would sharpen their skills, confirm their commitment to the profession, or signal that their gifts are better directed toward another field. Supervising them, often harder than teaching itself, has been an integral part of my role as an educator.
This year as I have been on leave from the classroom touring and speaking around the state and nation, I've had the honor of working with seventeen English education majors at Purdue University, providing my public events as field experiences for them to complete as they prepared for student teaching. Those student teaching this semester are now in their placements. I find myself being a fluttering mother hen to them now, hopeful and curious and wanting to make everything go right for each of them.
With the national attention on the recruitment and retention of excellent teachers these days, I was delighted to stumble upon a "do" and "don't" list I had made over the years as I mentored these young women and men into the profession. If you support student teachers, maybe you will find a gem among these tips as we nurture the next generation of superior educators.
- Communicate communicate communicate! Student teachers are generally somewhat intimidated by their supervising teacher, so it is our job to override that by being forthright in communicating. That means sharing plans, reflecting with the student teacher after a lesson, and giving tips. Never assume any amount of communication is enough. It is not!
- Save communication for private times, always. Never ever correct or redirect a student teacher in front of a class as this is the fastest and surest way to deconstruct any authority the student teacher has. The single time to interfere in a class is when there is an unsafe situation. Otherwise, take notes, and save the communication for between classes or during prep.
- Refer to the student teacher by Miss or Mr. or Mrs. in front of the kids. This adds to their authority and standing in front of students.
- If you have a student teacher mimic a lesson after seeing you do it, be sure that the student teacher has written plans ahead of time before watching the modeled lesson. Student teachers do not have the ability to do a quick turnaround imitation lesson. We are building that in them. Having a student teacher hold a lesson plan first, then watch a model lesson while comparing it to the lesson plan, then teach is an acceptable sequence, only if all parts of that sequence are present.
- Show you trust the student teacher by stepping out of the classroom more and more. Never disappear, but have strategic longer breaks for the bathroom, to go get the mail, to make copies, to indicate you are fine with him or her being alone.
- Don't let a day go by without giving encouragement. Many student teachers internalize failure, and with so many weeks being the consuming thrust of student teaching, that can play out as no growth versus growth. No matter how rough a day might have been, be sure to affirm positive moments and improvement.
- Consider little gifts, notes, and kind gestures, like treating the student teacher to a Starbucks or offering to refill a water bottle. Just like for us, the little things can make a difference.
- Deflect student questions and responses away from yourself and toward the student teacher. The more we make ourselves visible, the less the student teacher has to build upon for his or her authority as the teacher. No matter how tempting to commend an answer, correct an answer, or interact with a behavior, we should step back. Let the student teacher have the positive and negative moments that shaped us and are now shaping a new educator.
- Remember that our job in this is to help the student teacher get better. That means feedback. Student teachers come in with university knowledge but generally not enough practical experience. We are the last threshold before a job. If the student teacher leaves us without adequate preparation and full awareness of strengths and area of need, that is totally on us, totally. No one else is helping this student teacher in such a tangible way. It is our job and privilege.