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Easing Student Teachers into Their New Role

By Emma McDonald, co-author of Survival Kit for New Teachers

Dyan and I recommend to all cooperating teachers that they use the following format to help ease the student teacher into their practice teaching.

  1. Several days of classroom observation

    Encourage your student teacher to make observations and jot down questions/ideas as they arise. At some point during the day, you need to set aside a little bit of time to "debrief" with the student teacher about their observations. Explain your reasoning behind the decisions you've made throughout the day. Why did you respond to "student A" differently from "student B", as an example. Talk through the flow of the lesson(s) and the way your classroom set-up enhances student learning.

  2. Begin planning lessons together

    This begins team planning of lessons that you as the veteran will present and the new teacher will observe. While you plan, model your thinking out loud and your processes for planning lessons. If all you do normally is to write "fractions" because you know how you will present the lesson, try planning it out in detail for the benefit of the student teacher. You will be training this teacher in how to plan effective lessons and so should be planning that way yourself. What you model is most likely what this future teacher will do in his/her classroom. Also, after a couple of days, allow the student teacher to offer some input into the lesson. Ask for ideas and thoughts that you might include in the lesson. You want to begin the process of collaboration at this point.

    Once again, provide some time at some point to debrief. The student teacher, now having been a part of the planning process, may have further questions and observations to discuss. Yes, we often plan more than what we accomplish. Or, yes, sometimes I have to throw the plan out the window because the students are not responding well to it, etc.. We need to show that although we may plan and plan and plan, we must also be flexible and think quickly. The lesson may look great on paper but be a total flop in reality.

  3. Begin team-teaching lessons which have been planned out together

    In the beginning, you should be giving the majority of the lesson with the student teacher participating in one or two activities or sharing one or two ideas. The student teacher's role at this point may also be to help redirect student behavior. Encourage her to jump in with her own thoughts on the subject/concept at hand if she feels it will enhance the lesson and student learning. Team teaching can be lots of fun when both teachers offer their input.

    For example, my partner and I often team-taught our students. I am an overhead type person and so I would stay at the overhead to give notes. Dyan would walk around monitoring students and when she had something to say, she would just jump into the conversation. It works out well because students get the perspectives of two teachers. When the concept/subject was an area of strength for me, I did the majority of the lesson. When it was her strength, she did the majority of the lesson. When we both felt confident, we would divvy up the different parts of the lesson and each do one part.

    As you go along, let the student teacher do the majority of the teaching with you as the "monitor" and jumping in occasionally with your thoughts and/or to help him/her out of sticky situations.

  4. Next have the student teacher present the lessons (still planning together) while you observe

    Take some time to debrief when you can. Offer your suggestions. Always start with the positives observed and then move on to your recommendations for improvement. Don't overwhelm the student teacher with too many recommendations at once. You'll probably see the same problems over and over for a bit and will have other opportunities to provide feedback.

  5. Lastly, have the student teacher take over the majority of the planning with you offer comments and ideas when asked

    I would still be there in the beginning while the student teacher is planning so that you can offer guidance as needed. Don't be too pushy at this point and let the student teacher flex his wings - try out new ideas -- even if you don't agree with them or think they won't work. At this point the student teacher should still be presenting the lessons, only now he is planning them as well. You continue to observe and offer feedback.

    This plan offers the best chance to train the student teacher in the realities of the classroom without overwhelming her. It is more meaningful with you as a guide than simply saying, "Go for it." and then running your own errands.

    Remember that the student teacher is finishing their training and will want to try some of their own ideas. She is an individual with a mind of her own. Encourage this. It is better that they try something and flop with you there to pick them up, offer guidance, and offer support, than for the student teacher to flop on his own with no one there to help.

Encourage the student teacher to be an active participant on your grade level, with your team, with the staff & school. Encourage participation in parent conferences & phone calls. You want to model and also let them try it out themselves. Encourage him to fill out forms, report cards, progress reports, etc. Let her check the mailbox and sort through the memos. Show him your system for organization, etc.

It is a big job to be a cooperating teacher if you want to do it right. But just think of the opportunity you have to bring up a new teacher in the profession!

If you would like some further help in different topics to discuss with your student teacher, you might think about getting the Mentoring Kit (or ask your principal to purchase it for you). This kit includes 2 Survival Kits - one for each of you - plus a Mentor Notebook. The Notebook has guidelines for topics to discuss from Survival Kit with page numbers, a place for questions, a list of activities, and hints for you. It also has a place where the student teacher can journal. You might find it helpful, although depending on the amount of time you'll have with the student teacher, you may not use every page. If you are interested and want to take a look, go to our Mentoring Kit Page.

I hope this has not been too overwhelming and that you find it helpful as you begin to work with your student teacher. Good luck and happy training!

To reprint this or other articles on this website, contact Emma McDonald at

Survival Kit for New Teachers Survival Kit for New TeachersLooking for practical tips and ideas for the start of school?
Check out Survival Kit for New Teachers.

Survival Kit for New Secondary Teachers Survival Kit for New Secondary TeachersLooking for practical tips and ideas for the start of school?
Check out Survival Kit for New Teachers.

Mentoring Kit Mentoring KitCheck out our Mentoring Kit and call us at (877) 496-7633 to ask about our Mentor Training Services.

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