Academic journal article Education

The Role of Cooperating Teachers' Power in Student Teaching

Academic journal article Education

The Role of Cooperating Teachers' Power in Student Teaching

Article excerpt

For decades, all 50 states required student teaching for certification (Watts, 1987), though recently a few states have begun to allow those with alternative experiences or previous teaching experiences to forgo the student teaching practicum (Soares & Soares, 2002). Nearly all of the approximately 4.5 million K-12 teachers in the U.S. had to pass student teaching in order to receive their certification (United States Census, 2004). While failing student teaching does not signify the end of one's career, it is likely to result in a tarnished reputation in addition to costing the student time and money.

Cooperating Teachers' Power

Regardless of how student teachers and cooperating teachers perceive their roles and those of the other, one interaction pervades the student teaching experience: evaluation of student teachers by cooperating teachers. Though cooperating teachers are often considered to be mentors to student teachers, a fundamental flaw exists. Mentors should not be involved in assessment or evaluation since novices are less likely to share problems and ask for help if they are going to be evaluated by their mentors (Feiman-Nemser, 1996). A power differential is bound to occur since student teachers tend to avoid confrontation (Borko & Mayfield, 1995; Graham, 1999). Student teachers are aware of the cooperating teachers' decision-making power, and most student teachers give high priority to receiving a good student teaching evaluation (Beck & Kosnik, 2002). Barrows (1979) conducted a comparative case study of four student teaching triads and found that student teachers' desire to obtain a positive evaluation from their cooperating teachers lead "student teachers to imitate, and not experiment, to conform and not challenge, and to accept and not question" (p. 25).

Cooperating teachers often are left in precarious positions. Student teachers report that they want caring, nurturing cooperating teachers who will act as mentors allowing student teachers to practice their craft; yet, cooperating teachers must also provide the final evaluations that determine if the student teachers pass and receive their teaching certifications. All of the student teachers in McNay's (2003) study were well aware that the written evaluation at the end of the practicum "can make or break a career" (Themes, [paragraph] 3). Their concern appears to be justified. Clarke and Bariteau (2005) found that of the nearly 10% of Canadian student teachers who fail to receive a teaching certificate, "virtually all falter during the practicum rather than the coursework" (p. 14).

The role of power in the student teaching dyad extends beyond the impending evaluations. Cooperating teachers assert their power in various ways, only some of which are understood. Using open-ended interviews with 28 cooperating teachers Mays-Woods (2003) found that cooperating teachers sometimes interject and correct student teachers mid-lesson thereby establishing the subordinate status of the student teacher and resulting in disappointed and resentful student teachers. Mays-Woods determined that cooperating teachers held their student teachers "to a strict formula of classroom behaviors paralleling the mentors' style of teaching" (Discussion [paragraph] 1). Beck and Kosnik (2002) found that seven of the 11 student teachers they interviewed reported difficulty teaching with a different philosophy and style from the cooperating teacher. One of McNay's (2003) subjects reported feeling pressure to use the cooperating teacher's jokes.

This paper is part of a larger study on student teacher change and the role of cooperating teachers on that change and seeks to explore the multifarious ways cooperating teachers exert influence on their student teachers. Numerous qualitative studies (Brouwer & Korthagen, 2005; Cochran-Smith, 1991; Enz & Cook, 1992; Karmos & Jacko, 1977; Koskela & Ganser, 1998; Mays-Woods, 2003; McGlinn, 2003; McNay, 2003) pointed to the roles of cooperating teachers and their relationships with student teachers. …

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