As a cooperating teacher, you play a huge role in the development – and future – of your student teacher. At the same time, the best mentors also leverage their student teachers to be great allies and valuable colleagues. I have served both as a cooperating teacher and a university supervisor, and it has been a privilege to work with many fantastic mentors in both capacities. Based on my experiences, here are some ways for both you and your student teacher to get the most out of your time together.
Before the Semester
As any veteran educator knows, preparing for the semester is crucial for success. Engage your student teacher in this process, not only so that they understand how important preparation is, but so that you can use their time during the semester more effectively.
The first step is contacting the university supervisor. Find out what assignments the university expects your student teacher to complete so you can plan according. Many institutions have a handbook, manual, and specific contact that may contact you first. Next, communicate information and procedures from your school district to the student teacher and register the student teacher with your school district. A student teacher might not know about the district’s snow day policy, how to fill out a background check for the district, or what your school does in case of an emergency (intruder, fire, etc.).
Next, set up an initial meeting to outline expectations, assignments, and hand out badges and keys. This meeting is also the best time to discuss classroom management and discipline policies. Consistency is key with these issues, so help your student teacher be consistent! Show the student teacher how your class policies relate to school and district policies. Show the student teacher a map of the school and how to use the phone. Take time to go over copy room procedures (and specific recommendations for the efficient use of those resources) at your school. If possible, introduce your student teacher to administrators, staff, and colleagues. This will help the student teacher feel comfortable if, for example, a student gets sick in class.
Share important dates with your student teacher before the semester starts. Dates that seem second nature to you but not to your student teacher might include:
- District or campus professional development meetings
- Staff meetings
- Concerts, gigs, and other performances
- Academic Testing
- In-service days (partial or full days)
- Regional Conferences
Help your student teacher be musically prepared by sharing copies of warmups, scores, and method books – they need all the music you do!
Run through a typical day’s schedule with your student teacher. Go over general procedures – music, chair, stand and instrument storage, school instrument procedures, class lists, attendance policies, lunch schedules, and a typical rehearsal agenda. Remember that class lists should include any allergy or health information about students so that the student teacher is aware and mindful.!
Finally, get to know your student teacher. What teaching experiences has she already had? Is he from out-of-state, or local? What kinds of performances is your student teacher passionate about and could contribute to your program? What is your student teacher hoping to learn from you? Will there be absences for graduate school auditions?
During the Semester
Avoid making your student teacher the copy assistant. When they are out of the classroom, they miss valuable time observing you teach your classes.. This may also send a negative message about the role of the student teacher to your students. Besides, you can use them in more effective ways! Instead, ask them to assess the students’ development and performance of a particular skill you are working during the rehearsal. Tell them that you are going to ask for their assessment of the students’ development in class. Reflect with the student after the lesson about the process of assessment and how they presented their assessment to the students. You’ll gain an extra set of ears, and they get valuable experience in assessment.
Encourage your student teacher to participate in the ensemble (as you see fit) on a secondary instrument. Start on an instrument they feel the most comfortable and encourage them to work on the exercises and pieces for your class on their additional secondary instruments. Becoming more familiar with secondary instruments will make your student teacher a better educator and give students more one-on-one instruction.
Give your student teacher opportunities to teach! You can start with a sectional, or small group, then progress to a warm-up, skill strategies required to perform a piece, and finally a piece rehearsal. But most importantly, record, record, record! Have the student teacher video record as many teaching moments as possible. The video camera should be a constant figure in the rehearsal set-up.
Outside of the rehearsal, share your paperwork and administrative obligations. Show your student teacher how you plan your budget, how selection of the solo and ensemble pieces works and how the entries are submitted. Offer your student teacher copies of proposals you have written and letters of recommendation you have submitted on the behalf of students for entry into organizations on campus, summer camps, or even college applications.
Set aside 10-15 minutes in your day to allow the student teacher time to ask questions, communicate with them about their developing teaching checkpoints, and facilitate a plan of action for the upcoming lessons. Use this time to assist the student teacher with drafting of lesson plans before allowing them to take ownership of the process. These meetings can also serve as moments for the student teacher to share upcoming university requirements, including video submissions, blogs, university supervisor observation dates, teaching portfolio artifacts, and interviews.
After the Semester
Find a time at the next state conference to grab coffee. What is going well in their new position? What help can you offer them? Encourage collaboration by inviting their groups to play with yours in a side-by-side performance or a 21st century pen-pal situation. The classes could Skype into rehearsals of their colleagues.
Continue to mentor them as young teachers. We know that we cannot expose a student teacher to every possible teaching situation during the teacher-training years or even during the student teaching semester. Offer guidance and insights to them as they go out on their own! The work you do as a cooperating teacher is incredibly important for student teachers. Both of you – and your students – will have a better experience by engaging them in the entire process rather than relegating them to coffee and copies.
Blair Williams (PhD, The Ohio State University-in progress; MM, Kansas State University; BME, Baylor University) is the Assistant Professor of String Music Education at Texas Tech University. Her duties at Texas Tech include supervising string student teachers, teaching courses in string pedagogy, music education, and instrumental conducting, and directing the Texas Tech University String Project. In her first year as the director of the TTUSP, the enrollment tripled. She has supervised student teachers in Ohio and Texas.