The most common path to becoming a teacher is through a traditional teacher education program offered by an Institute of Higher Education (IHE). As we know, this typically involves coursework and immersion in the experience of instructing students as a classroom teacher. This immersion often takes two forms: (1) a more experiential experience, often referred to as a practicum, where one is often urged to observe various classrooms across grade and subject levels to inform future decisions related to coursework and eventually licensure aspirations and (2) a more intensive and focused experience, often referred to as Student Teaching, where a person in a specific licensure track is expected to both gain experience and contribute in an actual classroom setting led by a Mentor Teacher (also referred to as Cooperating Teacher, Host Teacher, Lead Teacher, etc. depending on the institution). Given that the Student Teaching experience is often a requirement in licensure programs, and often explicitly required in state legislative codes regarding formal granting of licensure, Student Teaching is traditionally more a focus of academic interest than practicums. Let’s review a few key findings from recent studies that can yield practical insights:
The quality of the Student Teaching experience has been linked to future performance and student achievement once novice educators join the workforce. (National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education, 2010; National Research Council, 2010; Boyd, Grossman, Lankford, Loeb, & Wyckoff, 2009; Ronfeldt & Reininger, 2012)
The context in which a Student Teacher learns to teach is critical to that experience. (Grossman, Ronfeldt, & Cohen, 2012)
Cooperating Teachers have a profound and lasting impact on their mentees. (Smagorinsky, Sanford, & Konopak, 2006)
The logistical challenges faced by universities and districts in placing large numbers of Teachers every year often result from placements that are not based on fit. (Clarke, Triggs, & Nielsen 2014)
In our work, we’ve found several areas of opportunity aligned to this research when thinking about the challenges of the placement process and the opportunities to optimize the Student Teacher learning experience.
1. Challenge: The supply of Student Teachers, the number of available placements, and the areas of licensure concentrations are not aligned with each other or with district needs.
Solution: Developing more nuanced relationships between IHEs and school support organizations like districts, as opposed to individual relationships such as Principals or Teachers, can create more opportunities for candidates and create a closed feedback loop to your students about what types of licensure areas school systems are looking to hire in. Additionally, cultivating deeper pools for strong Mentor Teacher/Student Teacher matches can help expand the number of available placements.
2. Challenge: Identification of Mentor Teachers is inconsistent and too often based on “who you know.” Not only does this mean that the same teachers are repeatedly called to serve, but other great teachers aren’t given the chance to grow in their leadership.
Solution: Seeking out opportunities to grow the pool of potential Mentor Teachers. Cast a broader net for potential Mentor Teachers and use a solid approval process to narrow the field. Considering using practicum placements as a training ground for developing new Mentor Teachers, by making those matches more intentional. Not only does this grow the number of potential placements, but it affords a more diverse set of schools, sub-specialties, and individuals with whom your students can be matched.
3. Challenge: Matching of students to placements focuses on logistics above fit. The current processes are based primarily on licensure area match and do not take other candidate and placement characteristics into consideration.
Solution: Give Student Teachers and Mentor Teachers more of a voice in the process. This presents an opportunity to increase the satisfaction of all parties involved, as well as improve developmental opportunities for Mentor Teachers and Student Teachers.
4. Challenge: Insufficient data and insight contribute to the inefficient matching of Student Teachers and Mentor Teachers. The traditional sequence of events in the matching process limits the availability of timely information for decision-makers on both sides of the match. If, for instance, Student Teachers do not have timely access to understanding the full range of learning opportunities available, they may seek opportunities that are less than ideal or seek out other opportunities outside of the organization.
Solution: Improve your tools and processes for managing the matching process and sync the collection and distribution of information to critical decision points. This presents an opportunity for improving the experience of stakeholders across the system with respect to the process itself and an opportunity for improving outcomes.
5. Challenge: School sites host widely different numbers of candidates. The distribution likely reflects logistics rather than researched-based decisions about sites with optimal characteristics, highest need, or any other intentional strategy.
Solution: Creating relationships with more schools or developing stronger relationships with a central placement process. This presents an opportunity to leverage sites that may provide better developmental opportunities to aspiring Mentor Teachers or that may particularly benefit from hosting Student Teachers.
If you would like more information on Student Teaching, go to our Student Teaching Program Resources page which has links to resources for districts and IHEs.
Support for Customizing Solutions
Request a demo with Torace to receive a one-on-one consultation with Team Torace to learn more about how your organization can strengthen the Student Teaching experience for both Mentor Teachers and Student Teachers to recruit and retain talent. After completing the demo request, Team Torace will reach out to help your team identify and customize the right approach to achieve your organization's goals.