If you have ever taken on the awesome responsibility of being a cooperating teacher, then you know how amazing and frustrating the entire process can feel. If you are considering tackling the “teaching a future teacher” challenge, then be prepared to feel a range of emotions from anger to guilt to enthusiasm (and probably all in the same day). With two very local teacher colleges (Shippensburg University and Wilson College), there are a fair share of student teachers (both traditional and non-traditional) who come through my building. I’m NOT claiming to be an expert but here are 5 tips for cooperating teachers from someone who is passionate about teacher education. This would be an excellent checklist for a meeting with your student teacher BEFORE their student teaching begins.
Tip #1: Get to know your student teacher’s life outside of school. I’m not recommending a beer bonding relationship right away but it is important to know the demands that your student teacher may have outside of student teaching and how that may impact their performance. Do they have children? Do they have a job? Hobbies? An honest conversation about your expectations and how that may impact their life outside of school will be beneficial for both you and your student teacher. I worked three jobs while student teaching – my cooperating teacher was aware of my outside responsibilities and we were able to work out a reasonable schedule that allowed me to be successful while still allowing me to make enough money to even stay in college!
Tip #2: Set up a schedule. Most college protocols require student teachers to take on a full class load by the end of their time. Ease them into teaching by breaking down a week by week schedule of the classes and/or units/lessons that they will be taking over. Sit down and work out a schedule that provides them with a path to success – let them take over the classes that they feel the most comfortable with (students or material) and then work up to the harder classes.
Tip #3: Stay organized. Keep a dedicated folder for EVERYTHING related to each student teacher. With observations, I kept a small notebook that I wrote in everyday and from that I would create the formal observations that needed to be submitted. It was too difficult for me to use the formal observation template while observing so I create my own system BUT I needed to stay organized for that to be successful. It is also nice to have a folder for each student teacher within your online filing system.
Tip #4: Create clear expectations. While you are setting up a “take over schedule”, also provide your student teacher with a copy of the school’s policies (including drug/alcohol and tobacco forms) and faculty handbook. Review your syllabus and class management policies. With my student teachers, I have non-negotiable class management policies that they have to continue even when I’m not present in the room and then we discuss policies that they would like to try. I also lay down policies about cell phone usage in class, dress code, social media recommendations, and expectations for turning in lesson plans and materials before they are taught to students.
Tip #5: Be honest but understanding. Remember, YOU are the expert teacher – they are just learning. Be lenient and understanding when something doesn’t go as planned or a mistake is made. After each lesson, I like to use my notes to provide constructive feedback and suggestions for the next class. But do NOT be afraid to take charge and come back in when something is way off track or could lead to a larger issue. If an issue arises, maintain your composure and handle it when appropriate (sometimes that means waiting until students are gone before addressing the issue). I had a student teacher curse in a conversation with a student. Instead of berating her in front of the students, I waited until they were gone and then I explained (because I had FINALLY calmed down) that it was not acceptable what she said. I made a parent phone call in front of her to demonstrate how to handle a situation that was a mistake. Teachable moment.
Do you have any other recommendations for co-op teachers? Any student teaching horror stories to share? Let me know in the comments!