Supervising student teachers or interns can be a challenge! You want to provide them with an amazing learning opportunity but you also are responsible for making sure your classroom is running smoothly and that programs are being implemented with fidelity. It may seem overwhelming to give up the control that you work so hard for, but I've had 6 student teachers so far and I promise you it gets easier with practice! Having a supportive and collaborative supervising teacher can make all of the difference for your student teacher's success. I was blessed to work with an amazing SPED teacher when I was student teaching and much of how I handle student teachers came from her. If this is your first student teacher, here are my recommendations for making it a positive learning experience.
First, I believe that you need to provide the most realistic and complete experience possible. I want student teachers to leave my classroom feeling fully prepared to step into a classroom of their own and I don’t think they can do that without me giving them the whole experience. By that, I mean full control. Even if only for a short amount of time. I know, I know! You’re thinking "What?! I can’t do that. It’s MY classroom and I like how I do things." I suggest that before you commit to a student teacher, you make sure you can give them that real experience. There have been plenty of years I’ve declined student teachers because I knew I didn’t have the ability to give them as much as I would have wanted to. I know it plays a huge part in their success as a new teacher when they have their own classroom.
Second, I believe that the relationship between a student teacher and supervising teacher has to be a true collaborative effort. I love having student teachers. It’s my opportunity to teach them what I’ve learned along the way and give them my best tips and advice. However, I also learn a ton from them and I value their input and advice. I told you earlier about my experience with my wonderful cooperating teacher but I also had a not so wonderful experience. I’m a dual major so I student taught in two settings. My second cooperating teacher did not treat it as a collaborative relationship. She didn’t value my input or give me much responsibility. I was extremely frustrated throughout the whole situation and I wanted to quit. I don’t ever want my student teachers to have that kind of experience. I am open to my student teacher's suggestions and ideas and we collaborate on everything. They come to meetings, they help write a schedule, they help train peer tutors and paraprofessionals, etc. I treat them as a co-teacher so they feel welcome and appreciated.
Here are the 5 things I think every supervising teacher should let their student teachers do.
Let them run an IEP meeting. If there was one thing I did when I student taught that helped me the most when I had my own classroom, it would be this. My cooperating teacher let me run several IEPs. I was fully in charge, I went through the entire agenda. She was of course there and still an active participant but this helped my confidence so much!!! It took something that was overwhelming and terrifying and made it do-able. When I ran my first IEP meeting as the teacher, I felt prepared and ready to go! I know this isn’t always possible, so some alternatives would be running parent teacher conferences, quick IEP reviews, or even transition meetings.
Let them write an IEP. From the testing to the written goals, this is essential practice before you have a classroom of your own. Obviously student teachers won’t be able to do any standardized testing but you can let them administer curriculum based assessments, determine goal areas and actually write the goals. I have my student teachers complete the whole process. They show me the goals and I give them feedback and we change things together. I help them align go the goal to our standards, which I've found to be a huge learning curve for beginner teachers. It’s been super helpful for my student teachers to have hands on, real life practice before they are in their own classroom and writing their own IEPs.
Let them supervise paraprofessionals. We all know how difficult it can be as new teachers to supervise other adults. It can easily be called the hardest part of the job. When I give my student teachers control of the classroom, I explain to my paras and peer tutors that they will need to go to the student teacher first with questions or concerns regarding students. Then if the student teacher can’t answer, he/she can come to me and we can brainstorm. This allows the student teacher practice to think on their feet and solve real life classroom problems as the arise. Occasionally, the student teacher may give a different answer than I do, and if it’s not a big deal, I explain to them afterwards what I would have done and why. If it’s a bigger deal, I may step in and have the final say.
Let them put a behavior management strategy in place. There’s always some type of behavior that can be improved in the classroom- it doesn't have to be a severe problem behavior (and it probably shouldn't be). I generally give my student teacher a specific student and say, "Create an intervention or strategy for this behavior." This is a great opportunity for them to develop something on their own (besides lesson plans) and I pretty much give them free reign. Because where you probably already have a specific whole class management system in place that the student teacher doesn’t change or create, this is an opportunity for them to do their own thing. They can try out something they may be thinking about doing in their future classroom.
Let them figure it out! Step back, step out, let them experiment and work through the little things that come up. Giving them the real life, hands on experience is the best thing to prepare them for actually teaching!