Agreeing to have a student teacher in your classroom is an important decision. It's one more time commitment on top of a schedule that probably is already overflowing with things to do.
But consider how unnerving it can be for the student teachers. Although they usually spend about 100 hours in the classroom before student teaching, they soon discover that everything looks different when the classroom is really theirs.
To get a window into the minds of students entering the teaching profession, I surveyed 140 students currently in or about to begin their student teaching experience to find out what concerned them most about student teaching. Here are some of their most common fears and ways mentor teachers can help reduce their student teachers' stress.
"No one will listen to me."
A majority of the student teachers surveyed mentioned concerns about classroom management. This is a challenge for all teachers, but especially for student teachers who lack experience dealing with the variety of behaviors that typically fill a classroom.
Mentor teachers might share the following classroom management suggestions from the National Education Association (www.nea.org):
- Be consistent with your words and actions.
- Learn your students' names quickly.
- Find an effective way to quiet your students.
- Address behavior problems as they arise.
- Reprimand students one-on-one when possible.
- Use punishments that are appropriate.
All teachers will find these strategies helpful.
"I will be overwhelmed with too much to do."
Teachers have a wide range of responsibilities that take up their time outside teaching, including meetings, planning, grading, and parent communications. Getting organized can help. Some ideas for new teachers include:
- Allow students to grade their own work.
- Use the Internet to find lesson plans, activities, and units when appropriate.
- Allow students to help with grading, filing, and organizing the classroom during lunch or before school.
One of the most important things to do is to say "no" to requests that are not important.
"I won't be able to meet the needs of all of my students."
Today's classrooms are more academically diverse than ever before, which presents a huge challenge for teachers. Nonetheless, student teachers can address their students' individual needs in many ways:
- Use a variety of materials to appeal to learning styles.
- Provide reading materials at a variety of levels.
- Allow students to work at their own pace when possible.
- Include group or partner activities to provide support for struggling students.
- Ask parents to volunteer to work with students who could use extra help.
- Encourage active participation and hands-on learning.
Remember, it takes a while to get to know students' strengths, weaknesses, and learning styles.
"Parents won't support me."
It is natural for an inexperienced teacher to be somewhat intimidated by parents. However, the best way to earn parents' support and respect is to build a partnership with them. The following ideas can help.
- Touch base with each student's parent at least once a quarter with a positive phone call, e-mail, or note.
- Invite parents to volunteer in the classroom.
- Let parents know when a problem arises with their child before it becomes a major issue.
- Use an assignment notebook to let students' parents know what their child needs to be working on each night.
Teaching is a difficult profession in and of itself. The job is even more challenging for the new or student teacher. When the mentoring teacher recognizes and addresses the student teacher's concerns, both can reap rewards.
Previously published in Middle Ground magazine, August 2010
Diana Brannon is an assistant professor of education at Elmhurst College in Illinois. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org