Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

10 Things to Know about Mentoring Student Teachers: Student Teaching Is a Critical Period That Can Affect How a Person Performs in the Classroom Early On

Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

10 Things to Know about Mentoring Student Teachers: Student Teaching Is a Critical Period That Can Affect How a Person Performs in the Classroom Early On

Article excerpt

I recently visited a student teacher at the end of his first month of full-time student teaching in an urban magnet school. I had watched him struggle with teaching science to 6th graders during his initial practicum and was looking forward to seeing him teach a lesson in physics, his college major and prospective area of teacher certification. He had assured me that a high school physics class was where he belonged, given his experience as an electrical engineer in a previous career.

When I arrived at his room a few minutes before class, he had stepped out into the hall while his cooperating teacher handled the short advisory period. His appearance reminded me of a wrestler leaving the ring, and the way he mopped the sweat off his forehead and arched his back against the lockers communicated a deep exhaustion. He caught his breath and greeted me, and when I asked him how it was going, he simply said, "This is really hard."

As I watched him teach that afternoon, I understood completely. It was the last day of the marking period, and he seemed barraged by students with last-minute work all throughout the hour. Furthermore, his students hadn't understood the previous day's lab on heat capacity, and his patient explanations and expertly formatted slides didn't seem to be helping much. A demonstration in which he tried to boil water in a bell jar at room temperature completely failed to work, even after his cooperating teacher stepped in to help. After 10 minutes, they both admitted defeat and moved on with the lesson. I had hoped we could chat after class, but as soon as the bell rang, he was swamped at the front desk by students jockeying for his time and attention. We only managed a distant wave, with an implicit promise to catch up later. As I returned over the course of the semester, the strain of student teaching was never far from the surface, even as he continued to find joy in teaching a subject he loved.

Over the past seven years, I've spent many hours in high school science classrooms researching how people learn to teach science, and I have learned that the mentoring role of a cooperating teacher can't be understated. Undoubtedly, cooperating teachers' ideas about how people learn to teach influence the types of support they offer to student teachers. Yet these ideas and personal theories don't always align with the research on learning to teach.

Here are some things we know: Learning to teach is stressful and is a time of intense personal transition that often forces people to change who they think they are (Britzman, 2003). Student teachers also come with their own ideas about teaching formed from their own experiences, and they often use their own schooling as a guide to best practice. Prospective science teachers' own experiences with inquiry inside and outside science classrooms greatly influence their likelihood of fostering inquiry in their own classrooms as teachers (Windschitl, 2004). Prospective high school teachers may know they're supposed to address misconceptions, but then aren't quite sure what to do with student ideas once they're out in the open. Many are still learning the content, and most are struggling with both teaching equitably to all students and keeping pace with district curriculum guidelines.

We also know that prospective science teachers usually try to enact the vision of good science teaching put forth by their teacher education programs (Zeichner & Conklin, 2008). In some cases, this means adhering closely to particular resources and approaches that rely on following the guidelines of expert curriculum developers. For others, this vision of good science teaching may entail combining learning cycles with vibrant activities, lesson planning through backward design, or reflective practices that weave social justice topics into every science unit.

It is challenging for student teachers to integrate their own ideas about good teaching with those of their teacher education programs. …

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