Letting Go and Letting Them: Mentoring a Student Teacher
Mentoring a student teacher can be a positive and rewarding experience for your student teacher, you, and your students. It will make you a better teacher by forcing you to analyze your own teaching and consider why you make the educational choices you make.
Before you decide to take a student teacher, consider if you are comfortable with letting go of some control in the classroom. Student teachers need room to make mistakes and learn from them. If you are unable to let go of your idea of “perfection” you may want to reconsider accepting a placement. I have learned so much FROM my student teachers by letting their teaching style and strengths shine through. I like to have a prospective student teacher observe me for at least one day prior to accepting them. The student teacher can decide if my teaching style, my school and my students will be a good fit for them.
Prepare for your student teacher so they are comfortable and have everything they need to begin. Start by prepping physical space and providing information. Have a desk or table where they can work. Make a space for them to store their coat and personal items, and provide them with their own set of keys. Give your student teacher a binder with your school and classroom information. Some things to include:
- state and/or district standards
- your curriculum maps
- the district calendar
- copy of the schedule
- report times
- information on building norms
- dress code requirements
- social media policies
- required meeting dates
- behavior plans
- procedures for copying and printing
- email addresses
- a map of the building
- the rhythm syllables and solfege systems your students use
- seating charts
- how to access IEP’s, 504’s, ELL and Health Alert information
- how and when they should communicate with you outside of school hours
Make learning students’ and faculty members’ names easy by providing a copy of last year’s yearbook. I also use an app that creates seating charts with names and pictures, which makes identifying students much easier.
Before they begin the placement, or near the beginning, arrange for lunch or coffee together and take time to get to know your student teacher as a person: learn their expectations and concerns. Take them on a tour of the building and introduce them to the staff. I introduce student teachers to parents by posting their photo, bio and a brief letter of introduction, on my website and school-wide communications. I request deadlines for college paperwork and their formal observations up front, and let them know reminders are welcome. If you practice a specific teaching approach (Orff, Kodaly, MLT etc.) don’t assume that the student teacher will be familiar with the details of the approach. You can recommend websites to student teachers, loan books and journal articles and discuss them early in the placement. Select your best resources to share with your student teacher, so they don’t get overwhelmed.
Now it is time to prepare your students. A colleague suggested the idea of referring to your student teacher as a “guest teacher” and referring to the class as “our class” and “our students”. This puts them on equal plane, and will help the children to view your guest as an authority figure. Be sure to respect them in front of the children at all times. Ask you student teacher how they would like to be addressed by the children and write it on the board. Have your guest introduce themselves and perhaps perform a short selection on their primary instrument.
Begin with observation and find ways to get your guest involved right away (helping to reset the classroom, pass out instruments etc.) It helps to have a week or two of lesson plans available for your student teacher so they see longer range goals. Have them write “why” questions about your teaching while they observe in the notebook. Stop and briefly explain the “why” of teaching techniques. Ask them to join the students and participate in the lesson. Having a physical or digital “notebook” (e. g. Drop Box or Google drive) makes it easy to keep track of questions and answers, lesson plans and feedback. I like to schedule time twice each week that will be dedicated to answering questions and providing feedback. Of course, I answer questions as they arise informally, but our scheduled time allows for deeper conversations.
When your guest is ready to begin teaching, first review pacing guidelines provided by their professor. Then create a plan with your guest teacher to begin teaching small portions of lessons you have modeled. Offer voice and choice to your guest about pacing how much teaching they take on and when, and the content they will teach. Co-teaching lessons is another way to scaffold as they build confidence and skill. Move on to co-planning segments and full lessons. If you are having a performance have them help in planning the program and participate in the organizational process. When they are ready to plan and teach lessons on their own ask to review the lesson plan before they teach. Set clear deadlines for how far in advance you need to see the plan. Do not expect perfection right away, there will be missteps big and small. It is part of the process of learning. There will also be magical moments of beauty and success, where you will come away with fresh ideas for your own teaching.
Finally, after the guest teacher begins teaching, look for the best parts of their teaching to discuss first, then move on to the areas that may need attention. Be direct, clear and gentle with suggestions. If there are critical deficits or the guest teacher does not respond to feedback, contact their supervisor right away. Celebrate successes, and when a lesson crashes be just as ready to console. After a really difficult lesson, leave a little time before providing feedback so the guest teacher is ready to hear what you have to say.
With a little preparation and planning hosting a pre-service teacher can be a positive experience for everyone involved.
This article was originally published in TRIAD by the Ohio Music Education Association. April 2018/May 2018 Vol. LXXXV No. 3 pg. 54