What We Can Learn from Student Teachers

Andrew Coyne, a student teacher in Grade 3, leads the students in a team exercise. 


This fall, we were delighted to welcome into Marymount’s  classrooms several student teachers at both the elementary and middle school levels.  Gabrielle Minervini (Grade 1), Andrew Coyne (Grade 3), and Emily Kasiske (Kindergarten) joined the Marymount community from The College of New Jersey and could be seen busily interacting with their classes. 

Elyse Van Bogaert joined us from Loyola University of Chicago and immersed herself in the middle school English class.  In addition to teaching Grade 6 English, Elyse dove right into the middle school orientation field trips as well as coaching the afterschool Basketball team.  Each of these young teachers brought unique and interesting ideas and perspectives into the classrooms where they worked. 

Student teaching is the culminating experience at the end of any good teaching program.  Most professional educators would agree that it is the most important part of the time that they spent preparing to become a teacher.  The impact that a “mentor” teacher can have on a young or inexperienced teacher is immeasurable.  Most of us can recount some of the most important do’s and don’ts that we learned from our cooperating teachers.  That is why it is imperative that cooperating teachers be selected with great care and consideration. 

Cooperating teachers should not only be effective teachers, but they must also be effective mentors.  This means that they are active listeners and that they know how to observe and comment about the strengths and weaknesses they see in their student teachers in a way that is both constructive and educative.  In addition, mentors are coaches, problem solvers, advocates, facilitators, collaborators, learners, assessors, and resources.

The benefits of a good student teaching program extend in direct ways to the mentor teacher.  Studies have shown that when mentors were asked to elaborate upon the ways they grew professionally, more than half of them did so with responses falling into three categories: (1) forced me to focus on and improve my own classroom teaching skills; (2) made me aware of the need for educators to communicate with each other; and (3) helped me better understand the principal and central office supervisors' roles. These findings led the researchers  to conclude that "educators should look not only at the direct effects that teacher induction programs have on beginning teachers, but also at residual effects that such programs have on all involved professionals" (Hawk, 1986-87, p. 62).

Besides the three areas of reflection mentioned above, there are many other ways that being involved in student teaching benefits seasoned teachers.  Firstly, it requires a certain amount of professional competency.  Ideally, only the best teachers are asked to model the craft of teaching for student teachers. 

Secondly, anyone who has acted as a mentor teacher will admit that serving as a model forces much more reflective practice.  Having the responsibility of helping to form a new teacher is a positive impetus for taking the time to really think about effective instructional practices.  

Lastly, a veteran teacher can benefit from the renewal that a new teacher sometimes injects into their teaching practice.  Perhaps the student teacher has new ideas about the use of technology or the latest techniques for teaching literacy. 

Typically student teachers spend several weeks observing the routines and methodologies of their mentor teachers.  Then, as they become more familiar and more comfortable, the mentor teacher begins to assign teaching responsibilities to them.  Usually they begin with small group instruction and then, when the mentor teacher feels that the student teacher is ready, they are given the responsibility of teaching whole class lessons. 

Each of these lessons is carefully prepared with the mentor teacher.  The student teachers are carefully monitored during the lesson and redirected when needed.  Besides the mentor teacher, there is always an on-site supervisor to whom they report in addition to their college supervisor who comes to visit for a week during the semester. 

Over the years we have carefully chosen the schools from which we accept student teacher, and selected those that consistently send us the most prepared, professional student teachers. 

Shortly, a new group of student teachers will arrive at our front gate.    These young educators are an asset to our school community, bringing with them enthusiasm, energy, and innovation that renews all of our spirits.  If your child is in a class that has been assigned a student teacher, please take the time to ask questions about the individual and about where they are from. 

As a professional learning community, we look forward to welcoming them into our school and to fulfilling our responsibility as teachers; to continue to light the way for those who will come after us. 

Ms. Maria Sweeney
Curriculum Coordinator

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