The Role of Legitimacy in Student Teaching: Learning to "Feel" like a Teacher

By Cuenca, Alexander | Teacher Education Quarterly, Spring 2011 | Go to article overview

The Role of Legitimacy in Student Teaching: Learning to "Feel" like a Teacher


Cuenca, Alexander, Teacher Education Quarterly


The preparation of preservice teachers through a student teaching experience is a widely accepted practice in teacher education Many claim the experience gained from doing the work of teaching is invaluable in the preparation of future educators and has a significant impact on the beliefs of prospective teachers (Wideen, Mayer-Smith, & Moon, 1998). Grounded in an understanding that teaching is "to a great extent, an uncertain and spontaneous craft situated and constructed in response to the particularities of every day life" (Cochran-Smith & Lytle, 1999, p. 262), student teaching provides prospective teachers with an opportunity to develop "personal practical knowledge" about the work of teaching (Fenstermacher, 1994). Although the common position of student teaching at the end of formal preparation suggests that the experience serves as an occasion to test and enact the theories advocated by the academy, learning as simply applying and refining theories ignores the interactive and social nature of learning from experience.

Ultimately, the student teaching experience is considered beneficial because, as Hammerness and Darling-Hammond (2005) note, "modern learning theory makes clear that expertise is developed within specific domains and learning is situated within specific contexts where it needs to be developed" (p. 403). With the knowledge of teaching emerging directly from the activity of teaching, student teaching provides prospective teachers with an opportunity to construct their own understandings of teaching based on the practical dilemmas they encounter in the field (Cuenca, 2010). In acquiring experiential knowledge, learning to teach becomes contextualized and embedded in the practice "from which it arose" (Borko & Putnam, 1996, p. 677). In other words, how student teachers learn about the knowledge and skills needed to teach and the situation in which they learn to teach are inextricably linked, shaping how student teachers ultimately understand the work of teaching.

A key factor in learning to teach during student teaching is the cooperating teacher, who supports and mentors prospective teachers. In the apprenticeship that is student teaching, the cooperating teacher serves as a gatekeeper to the experiential learning of pre-service teachers. Although several studies indicate the significant influence cooperating teachers have on student teachers' beliefs about the teaching profession (Stanulis, 1994), professional norms (Koerner, Rust, & Baumgartner, 2002), or what student teachers decide to teach (McIntyre & Byrd, 1998), the focus of many of these studies equate mentorship with the direct transmission of teacher knowledge to student teachers. Often missing in the student teaching literature is the crucial role of the cooperating teacher in sanctioning the entrance of the student teacher into the community of teaching and providing access to the settings that contain the tools, artifacts, and message systems student teachers need to learn to teach from the activity of student teaching.

Seeking to address this gap in the research literature, this study explores the following research question: how is access to the practice of teaching granted by cooperating teachers during the student teaching experience? In particular, I will examine how two student teachers saw their cooperating teachers conferring legitimacy on them during student teaching. Drawing on the work of Lave and Wenger (1991), who suggest that the social structure of any community of practice, such as teaching, defines the possibilities for learning, this study attempts to identify dimensions of legitimacy and access that can provide favorable conditions for learning during the student teaching experience. By providing a sociocultural perspective on the work of learning to teach during student teaching, this study builds on work that frames the role of the cooperating teacher as a socializing agent (Zeichner & Gore, 1990), and contributes another perspective on the social structures that constitute an effective student teaching experience (Feiman-Nemser, 2001). …

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