Great teachers make great teachers

We need you to help us prepare great future educators

By Kristen Hawley Turner, Eileen Heddy and Leyone Royster

We need you.

As representatives of teacher preparation programs across the Garden State, we write this article with a simple message: we cannot educate the next generation of teachers without you.

There is no question that this year has been the most challenging of our careers. From an overnight shutdown last spring to the uncertainty of opening schools in virtual and hybrid modes this fall, our work as educators has forced us into uncharted waters.

At the 2019 NJEA Preservice Conference: Kaylynn Millien (l) and Jocelyn Tapia.

Do any of these things sound familiar?

  • You were forced to suddenly teach remotely without enough time and training for implementation.
  • You worried about students who disappeared.
  • You struggled to reach learners.
  • You were frustrated by technologies that were new, different or limiting.
  • You had to teach students online and in the classroom at the same time.
  • You were exhausted, emotionally and physically, before you and your students could even find your footing in the new school year.
  • Your colleague—or colleagues—next door or down the hall retired or resigned.

2020 has brought us new challenges. Yet, there are things that remain the same. We must do all we can to educate the children of New Jersey, and to do that, we must prepare the next generation of teachers who can step into vacant roles and become great teachers.

We need you to help us prepare these future teachers.

As you think back on your own student teaching experience, you likely remember your cooperating teacher, who opened their classroom to you, shared their expertise, and served as a supportive mentor. Student teaching has changed a lot in New Jersey in the last five years. Teacher candidates complete early field experiences, yearlong internships, and prepare edTPA portfolios on their paths to certification.

What hasn’t changed is the need for cooperating teachers to open their classrooms, share their expertise, and serve as mentors—just as yours did for you.

We know that right now it is difficult to think about adding one more thing to your plate. We hope to convince you that it’s worth it with our top five reasons to be a cooperating teacher.

At the 2019 NJEA Preservice Conference (l-r): Karina Canales, Brenda Paez and Taylor Donato.

Top five reasons to be a cooperating teacher

#1: You get extra hands in the classroom.

When schools suddenly pivoted to online learning in mid-March, many teachers were stressed and uncertain about how they would continue to meet the needs of their students. Some teachers had an advantage: a teacher candidate who partnered with them in planning lessons, locating resources and working with students.

For many of these teachers, the teacher candidates played a critical role during that very challenging time. As the semester ended in May, some of these teachers found themselves wondering how they would handle remote learning on their own.

“I am actually full of tears thinking about what e-learning will be like without Cori,” wrote Carlotta Marini from Paul Robeson Community School in New Brunswick. “She has been extremely vital in my e-learning.”

This school year, teacher candidates continue to work alongside in-service teachers to meet the many challenges that the pandemic presents.

#2: Teacher candidates provide tech support and resources.

One of the areas in which teacher candidates have proven most valuable is managing technology. Through their coursework and experience, teacher candidates often learn new apps and programs that can be used to facilitate learning.

Working together, in-service and preservice teachers find ways to creatively use tools such as SeeSaw, Flipgrid and Screencast-O-Matic.

“Megan has been amazing during this time of distance learning,” Heidi Rooney, a fourth-grade teacher at Sunnybrae Elementary School in Hamilton wrote. “She continued to teach and provide lessons through Screencast-O-Matic, which the students absolutely loved. I even had some of the parents email me to say how much the students were engaged… I don’t know what I’m going to do when she is finished with her student teaching experience.”

Taking some of the pressure off their cooperating teachers to act as tech wizards is a benefit student teachers bring to the classroom.

#3: You have more resources for family and student outreach.

Maintaining relationships with students and families provides another opportunity for interns to demonstrate their skills, commitment and professionalism. Teacher candidates are able to offer students individualized support and create opportunities for engaging and communicating with families.

When students fell behind in their remote learning last spring, Kelly, an intern in North Jersey, emailed, called, and texted them to help get them back on track. Offering this kind of support allowed her cooperating teacher to reach more students.

Similarly, Ashlee Ennis from Grant School in Trenton said of her student teacher, “Parents and family members have reached out to thank Maureen personally for her hard work and the love she shows toward the students. I am so thankful and grateful for all of her hard work and dedication during such a trying time.”

#4: Your students will benefit.

With or without a pandemic, there are significant benefits to mentoring a teacher candidate. Studies have demonstrated that P-12 students of mentor teachers show increased achievement in math and ELA scores for the years after the teacher hosted an intern (Goldhaber et al., 2020). Student teachers inspire mentor teachers to analyze and reflect upon their own teaching in order to offer critical and reflective feedback.

Studies also conclude that working with a teacher candidate can increase a teacher’s motivation, increase a teacher’s reflectiveness and encourage them to utilize new pedagogical approaches and tools (Altan & Saglamel, 2015; Fisher et al., 2004).

#5: Giving back feels good.

Your own cooperating teacher helped to start you on your path, and today you are the one who has something to give. Teacher interns are looking for mentors to help them develop into long haulers.

Research by Struyve et al., (2016) finds that social connectedness is a key indicator for remaining in the profession, and that social connectedness begins with you. Interns need a teacher mentor who has been there before and is willing and committed to showing them the highs and lows of teaching.

Sharing your perspective with novice teachers completes a circle started when you were in their shoes. You support an individual, and at the same time, you support the profession as a whole. You also leave a legacy, as your influence on the teacher candidate’s practice will last their entire career, affecting hundreds of future students. In turn, you feel connected to a larger community—and it feels good to give back in this way.

We need you!

Who would have thought that teaching would be so challenging and yet somewhat exciting in the year 2020 during a global pandemic?

In teacher preparation programs, we are always in need of cooperating teachers. The state requires that candidates have early field experiences, as well as full-year internships, and we agree that practice in the field is essential for preparing great teachers.

Now, more than ever, we need you to volunteer. Without your expertise, we cannot train high-quality teachers. If we do not succeed, our schools will be faced with additional challenges because of a teacher shortage.

Please consider hosting a clinical field experience. Discuss with your administrator your district’s process for signing up to become a cooperating teacher for the spring semester. Together, we can prepare great teachers to be ready for next year and beyond.

Teacher candidates are ready to begin clinical work (student teaching) in late January or early February. Please share your interest with your school administrator no later than Jan. 29.

Resources

The following references were noted in this article.

Altan, M., & Sağlamel, H. (2015). Student teaching from the perspectives of cooperating teachers and pupils. Cogent Education, 2(1), 16. doi.org/10.1080/2331186X.2015.1086291

Fisher, D., Frey, N., & Farnan, N. (2004). Student teachers matter: The impact of student teachers on elementary-aged children in a professional development school. Teacher Education Quarterly, 31(2), 43–56. Retrieved from search.proquest.com/docview/222852051

Goldhaber, K., Krieg, J. & Theobald, R. (2020). Exploring the impact of student teaching apprenticeships on student achievement and mentor teachers. Journal of Research on Educational Effectiveness, 13(2), 213–234. doi.org/10.1080/19345747.2019.1698087

Heeralal, P. (2014) Student teachers’ perspectives of qualities of good mentor teachers, The Anthropologist, 17:1, 243-249, doi.org/ 10.1080/09720073.2014.11891434

Struyve, C., Daly, A., Vandecandelaere, M., Meredith, C., Hannes, K. & De Fraine, B. (2016), “More than a mentor: The role of social connectedness in early career and experienced teachers’ intention to leave”, Journal of Professional Capital and Community, Vol. 1 No. 3, pp. 198-218

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