Student Teaching at the Middle Level
Most beginning teachers will agree that the student teaching experience is the most practical and worthwhile experience in their teacher preparation program. It is the one culminating experience that brings together the earlier studies in subject matter specializations, adolescent development, pedagogy, and curriculum.
Middle level student teachers also share a respect for this final field experience, yet these students are often placed in a setting that is basically different from the junior highs of yesteryear. In addition to the former areas integrated into the student teaching process, there is an added dimension to this teacher induction process in which the student teacher must learn to absorb the culture of the middle level schools.
The fact that many beginning teachers in middle level schools are encountering elements such as interdisciplinary teaming, flexible block scheduling, advisory programs, and integrated curricula adds to the uniqueness of the middle level student teaching practicum.
Because the experience may be unique, there are a number of ideas that can facilitate the transition from college student to effective middle level teacher. A few of those ideas are: getting off to a good start, developing effective interpersonal relationships with the cooperating teacher and the university supervisor, and acclimating the student teacher to the responsibilities of an effective middle school teacher.
Getting off to a Good Start
The beginning days of the student teaching experience are crucial to the growth of the novice teacher. This is the time when learning about the new surroundings, introduction to the role of the middle school teacher, and laying the foundation for a classroom management system are initiated.
An excellent way for the student teacher to learn about the environment of the middle school is through participation in a shadow study. The student teacher, with help from the cooperating teacher, selects a middle school student to shadow for a day. The student teacher records impressions about the student he/she is following, considers the events of the day, and draws conclusions about the daily life of a young adolescent in this particular middle school. Much opportunity for observation and reflection is provided by a well done shadow study.
Since the focus of an effective middle school is meeting the needs of the young adolescent learner, situations that permit the student teacher to view the school environment from the eyes of a variety of individuals working to meet learner needs is important. Interviews with support staff, other faculty at the same and different grade levels, administrators, and the secretarial staff help the student teacher appreciate the educational atmosphere of the school.
Another activity that can facilitate a smooth adjustment to the student teaching position is early conferencing between the cooperating teacher and the student teacher focusing on planning and teaching responsibilities. Topics such as appropriate lesson plan format, deadlines, mode and delivery systems for feedback, and transition of teaching load should be discussed early. These initial conferences will set the tone for communication between cooperating teacher and student teacher for the rest of the experience.
Conferencing during student teaching needs to involve analysis of planning techniques, teaching, student assessment and evaluation, and the effectiveness of interpersonal relationships. The conference is an ideal time to discuss these topics, analyze and revise approaches, and plan for future skill development. A focus on young adolescent learner characteristics and needs should be maintained in this field experience.
Another valuable form of conferencing is the three-way conference between the student teacher, the cooperating teacher, and the university supervisor. The university supervisor is probably responsible for visiting a number of student teachers as a part of his/her assignment. This breadth of experience provides a new set of eyes and ears that can contribute information tempered with a knowledge of how other student teachers are doing at this stage of development.
Getting a good start on developing a classroom management plan that takes into consideration the developmental needs of the learners is another area to be addressed at the beginning. The student teacher should talk with the cooperating teacher and the university supervisor about what techniques will help put in place a plan that teaches students to take responsibility for their own actions.
Developing Effective Interpersonal Relationships
One of the most significant determiners of success in student teaching is the student teacher's ability to develop effective interpersonal relationships with young adolescent students, the cooperating teacher, and the university supervisor. The degree to which the parties involved are able to communicate will affect every other aspect of the student teaching episode. In addition to the immediate parties with whom the student teacher needs to communicate, the interdisciplinary team is also a participant in the development of professional relationships.
Teaming is often a new concept to middle level student teachers. Whether or not the teacher education program contained instruction on teaming, the actual collaboration expected at the team level requires the development and practice of new skills. The student teacher and the cooperating teacher should spend conferencing time discussing the role of a productive team member. Any responsibilities that team members have on the team should be built into the transition plan for the student teacher to eventually assume.
It is a good idea for the student teacher to visit other team meetings in order to gain a broader perspective. The student teacher can observe how diversity of personalities, management styles, and mode of operation can vary from team to team. In this way, the student teacher can appreciate the need for effective group interpersonal communication skills.
Becoming an Effective Middle School Teacher
An effective middle level teacher is knowledgeable about the nature and needs of young adolescents, middle level philosophy, curriculum and instruction, appropriate middle level methodology, and ideally is prepared to teach in two or more teaching fields. In order to provide supervision and guidance across these areas, the student teacher, cooperating teacher, and university supervisor need to monitor progress in each.
Activities may be developed to allow closer observation of the physical, social, emotional, intellectual and moral development of the student in a variety of social contexts within the school. Guided observations could be completed which require the examination and study of developmental characteristics of the young adolescents in both classrooms and extra-curricular settings. An appropriate tool designed to communicate ideas would be a journal kept by the student teacher facilitating later reflection about learner needs and characteristics.
Opportunities for participation in the planning and implementation of exploratory offerings, teacher-based guidance, and cross graded groupings should be an integral part of the responsibilities shared with the middle level student teacher. Early and continuous feedback on the student teacher's work in these areas should take place through written dialogue in a journal, or through the conferencing process. There is no substitute for frequent reflection and feedback.
Methodology appropriate for use in a middle school covers a wide variety of techniques. Careful planning will allow the novice teacher to learn to make effective use of techniques such as large group work, small group work, cooperative learning, independent study, problem solving, and other useful instructional strategies. The cooperating teacher should remember that the student teacher needs to feel safe to experiment with new techniques. A good plan-implement-review process should facilitate greater trust in this areas.
It is widely accepted that all student teachers feel they need to know more in their subject area teaching fields. It is important to provide many opportunities for accessing materials and resources. The broader the student teacher's experiences with subject area resources, the more confident the student teacher will be.
If the student teacher is prepared in two or more content areas, it is a good idea to provide some teaching experiences in each of the areas. Curriculum integration becomes much clearer when seen through the eyes of one who has experienced teaching through a multi-disciplinary approach.
Although the literature suggests that student teachers at different levels tend to share some common concerns, it is clear that middle level student teachers face special challenges. A student teaching program focusing on a strong start, effective interpersonal relationships, and assimilating the role of an effective middle level teacher can place the middle level student teacher on the path to success in meeting the needs of young adolescent students.