BY PAM CLIFTON
When I stepped into my fourth-grade classroom at Fredericktown R-1 as a student teacher under the guidance of my cooperating teacher Bettie Whitworth, I was excited and naturally nervous. But with Whitworth’s help, I adjusted quickly to the class schedule, duty times, recess responsibilities and more. I learned my students’ names, how to handle multiple questions and tasks at once, and immersed myself in lesson planning and grading.
Student teaching was not an easy time in my life. I was married with a 2-year-old son and a full-time job. I arrived at school early in the morning, and then traveled a half hour to work my regular job until late evening.
I’ll never forget this special group of students and our time together. We completed fun projects and lessons and even did a Missouri history musical. It was exhausting, exhilarating and unforgettable. Even on my darkest day – when I felt like I was ready to collapse from total fatigue – I survived student teaching.
Sixteen years later, I still recall those experiences. I feel it’s important to be super helpful and welcoming to student teachers. It’s also necessary to have some guidelines in place for those who will be mentoring a student teacher.
Suggested guidelines for cooperating teachers
• Sit down with your student teacher. Be clear in telling them what your expectations are for classroom management, student achievement, parent communication, meetings and special activities, before- and after-school duties and events, grading, and more. It would be helpful if you share a typed list of these basic items when you have your initial meeting with your soon-to-be student teacher.
• Have a talk with your students. Tell them about the new teacher who is about to become part of their daily learning. It’s a good time to remind them about being respectful, helpful and focused.
• Make your teacher-in-training feel welcome. Create a space for them at your desk, which eventually becomes their desk for a short time.
• Release control of your classroom over time. This can be accomplished by creating a weekly schedule of turning responsibilities over to the new teacher in smaller increments.
• Have daily discussions with your student teacher. Check with him or her to make sure they understand the routine and use effective methods to present material to students.
• Provide encouragement in a variety of ways: one-on-one discussions, notes of encouragement, student cards and letters of appreciation, and small treats. Fresh fruit, bottled water or colorful sticky notes are thoughtful gestures to make your student teacher feel welcome.