Academic journal article Teacher Education Quarterly

The Difference Explicit Preparation Makes in Cooperating Teacher Practice

Academic journal article Teacher Education Quarterly

The Difference Explicit Preparation Makes in Cooperating Teacher Practice

Article excerpt

Introduction

University-based teacher education programs rely on cooperating teachers to provide a meaningful field experience rooted in the day-to-day practicalities of the classroom. Part of what differentiates traditional programs from alternative credentialing pathways is placement with an experienced classroom teacher. Whereas university supervisors and faculty may offer theoretical perspectives on education, both pre-service and cooperating teachers view student teaching as where people learn about the real life of schools and children (Leatham & Peterson, 2010; Zanting, Verloop, Vermunt, & Van Driel, 1998). Studies consistently identify cooperating teachers as the actors with the most influence during the field experience because they serve as socializing agents, gatekeepers to the profession, and role models--for both good and bad practice (Clarke, Triggs, & Nielsen, 2014; Guyton & McIntyre, 1990; Wang & Odell, 2002). Preservice teachers often accept their cooperating teachers as experts in all aspects of teaching--as well as in teaching others to teach.

Despite persistent emphasis on the importance of the field experience and its influence on preservice teachers, the lack of preparation for cooperating teachers is well documented (Butler & Cuenca, 2012; Clarke et al., 2014). Universities rely on classroom teachers serving as teacher educators yet do not prepare them for that role. One reason is the belief that teacher education is a "self-evident" activity, or one that any teacher can do (Zeichner, 2005). Another is that inservice teachers report relying on their own student teaching experience for strategies (Koerner, 1992; Wang & Odell, 2002). Cooperating teachers also have minimal time to attend professional development, especially in light of increased demands and decreased compensation for their work as teacher educators (Fives, Mills, & Dacey, 2016). Although the 2011 National Council on Teacher Quality report on student teaching made several recommendations about cooperating teacher selection, it remained silent on the issue of training (Greenberg, Walsh, & McKee, 2015). This view of educating teachers--from different voices in the credentialing arena--as a self-evident activity contributes to a laissez-faire approach to preparing cooperating teachers for their role. The assumption that experienced teachers of children can also be teachers of teachers thus constrains the potential effectiveness of the field experience. A status quo that takes a hands-off approach to ensuring quality placements and preparation for cooperating teachers leaves open the question of relevance in the current context for teacher education.

The absence of formal preparation for cooperating teachers becomes a more pressing problem in light of new credentialing requirements and, in particular, the adoption of performance-based assessments like the edTPA. University professors have begun responding to the need to support preservice teachers in reflection on their practice, recognizing that mere imitation of teaching strategies is not sufficient in the new context for teacher preparation; novice teachers need to reflect on instructional decisions and plan for future instruction (Lit & Lotan, 2013; Peck, Gallucci, & Sloan, 2010). Preservice teachers, however, look more to their cooperating teachers--who were prepared for the classroom in a different time--for guidance in learning to teach. One way to address this gap in reflective practice is to provide explicit preparation for cooperating teachers. Professional development for cooperating teachers, especially with a focus on supporting reflection, has the potential to improve the quality of the field experience for credential candidates.

Improving quality is especially important given challenges from fast-track alternatives to teacher certification that bypass the field experience and thus the cooperating teacher. …

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