Red Flag Challenges for Cooperating Teachers
The following content under 'Areas for Concern and Suggested Responses' is adapted with permission from Henry and Weber (2016, 10).
Responsibility for addressing student teaching concerns is part of a cooperating teacher’s role. Understanding that not all problematic situations can be resolved, a cooperating teacher should nevertheless continue to provide support, encouragement and opportunities for student teachers to grow personally and professionally. Professional judgment, experience and expertise are critical in addressing concerns, as well as working collaboratively with the faculty advisor, the school administration and the student teacher to overcome difficulties.
Areas for Concern and Suggested Responses
Lack of aptitude for teaching due to unrealistic expectations of performance, or failure to understand amount of time and effort required
Suggested response: Provide extra coplanning and coteaching opportunities, a clear plan for gradual assumption of teaching responsibilities and open dialogue on work–life balance. Share personal stories about your teaching journey and provide encouragement.
Feelings of inadequacy and insecurity
Suggested response: Ensure that the student teacher experiences success as soon as possible, leading to further chances of success, through regular conferencing and discussion of evaluation procedures and adapting suggested guidelines for student assumption of teaching responsibilities, with increased coteaching and coplanning.
Personal financial concerns
Suggested response: Be aware of the student teacher’s situation, and refrain from requests that may cause further financial strain (for example, lunch, after-school events). Note: Lack of money should not be used as an excuse for not meeting obligations. A conversation with the faculty advisor may be necessary.
Family and peer issues
Suggested response: Address the concern, be empathetic, and have a plan in place to meet field experience requirements. Refer to sources who could provide emotional support (for example, university counselling services).
Suggested response: Have an honest, courageous conversation with the student teacher and the faculty advisor, outlining areas for growth and a remediation plan. Provide opportunities for the student teacher to be in situations where they can be accepted as an adult by students and staff; monitor the student teacher’s relationship with students; use proximity to oversee situations where immaturity is likely to surface; provide concrete examples of language, actions and attire that show lack of maturity, authority or professionalism; encourage association with mature teachers; review the student teacher’s work to ensure high quality; and reinforce positive, mature behaviour.
Stress and anxiety
Suggested response: A positive, open and honest relationship between the cooperating teacher and the student teacher is critical in helping the student teacher manage their stress. (Refer to Tina Boogren’s Self-Care for Student Teachers During a Field Experience.)
Suggested response: To reduce feelings of confusion, stress and disappointment, ensure that the student teacher becomes familiar with overt and covert school culture (“the way we do things around here”) pertaining to knowledge of school procedures, student demographics and student profiles, as well as developing relationships and communicating with other staff.
Personal life or work requirements (coursework, employment, cocurricular activities)
Suggested response: From the onset, point out the possible consequences of outside influences on field experience success. Share ideas on how to balance the need to work, complete coursework or engage in cocurricular activities with the intense demands of field experience. Explore options and courses of action with the student teacher and the faculty advisor if these activities are negatively impacting student teacher performance and your students.
Suggested response: Focus on helping the student teacher get to know the students. Through ongoing discussion with the student teacher, provide guidance in creating awareness and understanding of student motivation, creating and sustaining interest throughout the lesson, linking lessons to real-life experiences, engaging students in active learning, lesson preparation, delivery style and using a variety of instructional activities.
Adapting subject matter to learner level
Suggested response: Highlight the importance of appropriate and relevant subject material for the level taught. Refer to unit plans to identify previous learning, current outcomes and future outcomes.
Classroom management and discipline
Suggested response: Classroom management is a major concern for student teachers. Providing tips and strategies and sharing your experiences and personal management philosophy are helpful. Furthermore, modelling positive and proactive management strategies and incorporating your student teacher into the established management system provides opportunities for the student teacher to imitate and learn. However, providing the space for the student teacher to explore and initiate other methods is equally valuable. Creating the conditions for successful management is an ongoing topic for the duration of the field experience.
Lack of basic teaching skills
Suggested response: Documenting early identification and diagnosis of the areas for growth (teaching skill stretches) is a first step to remediation. A written plan for success should be established with the student teacher. Collect data as evidence of change, temporarily reduce teaching time and responsibilities, increase coplanning, and demonstrate and encourage. Keep accurate records, and be ready to notify the faculty advisor as needed if concerns with the student teacher’s basic abilities persist.
Henry, M A, and Weber A. 2016. Evaluating a Student Teacher. Book 3 of Student Teaching: The Cooperating Teacher Series. Lanham, Md: Rowman and Littlefield.