The Student Teaching Survival Guide

From meeting with your cooperative teacher to getting feedback from students, learn how to make the most of your student teaching experience and get critical insight from experts in education.

Meet the Expert
janet-ferone
Janet Ferone

M.Ed

View Bio

After more than 30 years as a school administrator, Janet Ferone, M.Ed. is now President of Ferone Educational Consulting. Currently completing Certificate of Advanced Educational Leadership from Harvard University, she holds a master’s degree in special education from Hofstra University. As founding director of a public high school program for students with depression/suicidality, her program was recognized by Gates Foundation and she received a Goldin Foundation Award for Excellence in Education. She provides training, program design and evaluation, technical support to transform schools into places where all students, especially those with special needs, thrive and succeed. She is also Associate Lecturer at Lesley University and Curry College supervising student teachers.

Student teaching is real-world immersion in an actual classroom. In addition to putting your curriculum to work, it’s the final stage between being a student and becoming a full-fledged teacher. But student teaching at the end of a degree program can be either a positive learning experience and a great first step of a promising career, or a wasted opportunity that puts you behind the curve. Here’s how to make the most of your student teaching experience.

Meet with Your Cooperative Teacher

Cooperative teachers serve as a mentor and model throughout your time in their classroom. As someone with at least a couple years of teaching experience, they can help answer your questions, provide feedback on your classroom techniques, and guide you through the process. Meeting with your cooperative teacher prior to your experience is a great way to set expectations, get a handle on standard processes and procedures, and begin building a mutually beneficial relationship. The following sections go more in-depth on how to make student teaching a helpful experience for all involved.

Expectation Setting

Setting expectations between you and your cooperative teacher early on can help all parties avoid needless points of stress and offer a clear roadmap for how the experience should go. Sitting down before the semester begins represents an important step in this process, as it’s more difficult to set expectations once you’re in the swing of things.

While much of the meeting may revolve around expectations the cooperative teacher has for your involvement, it’s also good to bring a few expectations of your own – both for yourself and for the teacher. A great place to begin the discussion is to talk about basic responsibilities and how those divide between you and your co-op teacher. List out each one and assign a primary owner. Create a spreadsheet while reviewing these so you can save the document and share with your teacher.

Another important component is looking at university requirements for your student teaching experience and how to ensure all of them get checked off throughout the semester. You should provide your teacher with a list of these requirements and review them together throughout the experience to make sure none are forgotten.

Processes & Procedures

As any seasoned teacher knows, having the right processes and procedures in place can make or break your year of teaching. By setting up standardized ways of doing things before the year starts, teachers can both get themselves organized and set expectations for students.

Your co-op teacher should already have established processes and procedures in place before your arrival, making it important that you go over these with the teacher and understand them fully. Now is the time to ask questions and seek clarity rather than waiting until the school year begins. A few things to make sure you understand include:

  • Daily routines, schedules, and duties of both teachers and students
  • Policies around substitute teachers and student teacher absences
  • Contact information for your teacher, grade chair, and any other relevant staff
  • Procedures around receiving feedback, including how often this happens and what form it will take (e.g., verbal, written, etc.)
  • General policies governing both the individual school and the larger district
  • Details on how you enter the school building and where you keep your items

Lesson Plans & Standards

Lesson plans and learning standards serve as the backbone of the school year. All student teachers need to understand the goals of lesson plans and how they contribute to meeting educational standards. When looking at a lesson plan, you should be able to identify seven clear components, including materials, objectives, background information, instruction, practice, closer, and assessment. As you review lesson plans for the upcoming week, identify each of these components and ensure you understand each on thoroughly. If not, make contact with your cooperative teacher and ask for clarification.

You can also compare each lesson plan with the stated educational standards to understand how it contributes to outcomes. Completing this type of exercise regularly will not only help you write stronger lesson plans, but also provide you with the skills needed to connect materials to testing standards.

When reviewing these components, be sure your cooperative teacher clearly outlines his or her expectations for your participation. A few questions to ask include:

  • Will I teach full lessons or mostly take on smaller components?
  • Will I develop lesson plans for the classroom? If so, how will they be reviewed?
  • How long before a lesson plan is taught do I need to turn it in?

Testing & Grading

Testing and grading are important components of the K-12 system. They help evaluate student comprehension of lessons and allow teachers to assess and fill informational gaps as needed. Most school districts set policies around how grading is done, with mastery-based grading being a common option. All student teachers should be well versed in multiple testing and grading methodologies before entering the classroom. When you sit down with your cooperative teacher before the term, make sure you know the testing and grading methods he or she uses, and how you’ll factor into the processes.

It’s also essential to know which testing modes will be used in your classroom. Some schools may still rely on paper-based assessments, while others use digital tools to administer exams and grade assignments. Your cooperative teacher should review procedures around both prior to the school year starting, but don’t be afraid to ask questions and clarify what needs to be done. You should also be able to find information either in the student handbook or on the school’s website.

Steps to Prep for the Classroom

Stepping foot in the classroom for the first time as a student teacher can seem overwhelming. You’ll be speaking to large groups, working with smaller group, and teaching students one-on-one, all while trying to exceed the expectations of your cooperative teacher. The good news is, this meant to be a learning experience, and it’s okay if you make mistakes or don’t know something. That being said, there are plenty of things you can do to feel more prepared when the school year begins. After you’ve taken time to meet and get to know your cooperative teacher, you still need to check off a few more steps.

Step 1

Familiarize Yourself with the Classroom

Getting to know the classroom can make you feel more comfortable once you visualize where you’ll be standing, see how the room is set up, and observe the different areas where students work. Second, familiarizing yourself with the locations of teaching tools and materials can help minimize frustration or stress during a lesson. Finally, this step will give you ideas for what works and what doesn’t work when it comes time to set up your own classroom.

Step 2

Read the School Manual

While elements included will vary by individual schools and districts, these documents typically contain information about student expectations, purposes and priorities, contact information, schedules, health services, meals, and other important details. By reviewing this manual early, highlighting important parts, and keeping it nearby, you can avoid a lot of uncertainty. If you’re unsure about policies around student behavior or how the bussing system works, turn to the manual. Need to get in contact with a member of school staff but don’t know their number? Use the manual. This is a vital document to keep with you throughout your student teaching experience.

Step 3

Get Organized

As any teacher will tell you, the best time to get organized is before you’re teaching multiple classes per day, handling grading, and creating lesson plans. Fortunately, many tools exist to help you get – and stay – organized throughout the student teaching experience. Whether you prefer a paper or digital calendar – or your teacher shares a master calendar with you – these tools can help you stay on top of tasks and ensure you don’t miss anything.

Carefully reviewing your class list and keeping it nearby during the first weeks of school can also be valuable in helping you learn students’ names and familiarize yourself with any seating charts. Rather than spending precious time trying to remember your password, create and keep handy a secure login list for each school website.

Step 4

Meet Others You’ll Need to Know

The majority of your day will be spent with a cooperative teacher and your students, but it’s also important to get to know – or at least know where to find – others in the school building who you may need at some point. Examples include:

  • Vice Principal
    This person can help with any behavioral or disciplinary issues
  • School Counselor
    The school counselor can help with academic and personal issues arising in students’ lives
  • Nurse
    If you have a student with an accident or an ongoing health issue, knowing the nurse is important
  • School Librarian
    This professional can help ensure needed materials are stocked in the library for projects/assignments

Achieving Success in the Classroom

After doing all your prep for the school year, it’s time to start thinking about success in the classroom. The next few sections highlight things you can do to feel prepared, confident, and ready for a busy year.

Ask Questions Designed for Learning

Students majoring in education spend years in college classrooms, learning about the stories and pedagogies behind teaching best practices. These valuable lessons form the cornerstone of your ability to work as a teacher, but learning about and doing it can feel like two very different actions.

It’s normal to have a lot of questions when you first enter a K-12 classroom, making the relationship between you and your cooperative teacher even more important. Questions will arise, so don’t be afraid to ask them. You’ll have plenty of questions on your own, but here are some a few basic ones to ask as you start your work in the classroom:

What do you do to avoid burnout?

With approximately 44% of teachers leaving the profession within five years, this question is timely and important. Teachers often feel stressed and stretched for time. But the teachers who get past those first five years often love their work and stay in the field for decades. Try to ask your cooperative teacher how they handle burnout, what they do to create professional and personal boundaries, and what advice they would give you just starting out.

How do you approach classroom management?

Despite spending full semesters pouring over academic texts and case studies related to classroom management theory, student teachers often find theory and practice function quite differently. Also remember that the tools and approaches used in one class might not work for another. By asking your cooperative teacher this question, you can gain real-world knowledge and ideas about implementing processes that work in practice. You can also ask them which approaches they tried previously and found less successful.

What do you wish you’d known in your first year?

While this question may seem like a cliché, you may be surprised by the answer. Every first-year teacher’s experience looks different, but all would say that they learned things during that schoolyear that helped them evolve and improve their approach for the future. Given that the number of teachers leaving the profession is so high, learning how to avoid some common mistakes can also help you avoid burnout. You can also ask how the lessons they are learning now have changed over the years.

Can you film one of my lessons?

Asking your cooperative teacher to film your lesson takes trust, but it can benefit you in myriad ways. Firstly, you can see how you look on camera and make changes to body language, interaction with teaching tech and tools, and how you transition subjects. By sitting down with your cooperative teacher to review the video, she or he can provide real-time feedback rather than simply a list of suggested changes. You could also ask your cooperative teacher if you can film one of their lessons as a way of remembering what you’re striving for.

Why are you a teacher?

This open-ended question gives your cooperative teacher the opportunity to reflect on their career and highlight both the good and bad sides of working in this field. Aside from getting a more experienced glimpse of how to keep your passion for education alive, you can also reflect on their answers later on if you find yourself questioning your decision to become a teacher.

Get Feedback

As a student teacher, feedback is one of the most important components of the process. Whether given by your cooperative teacher, students, or parents, feedback can help you improve in areas of classroom management, lesson planning, content delivery, and interpersonal relationships. While critical feedback can sometimes be hard to hear, know that it is offered in service of helping you become a better teacher. As part of the process, know that you will also be required to offer feedback. Learning how to do this in constructive ways is a valuable skill both inside and outside the classroom, so take advantage of this opportunity. Below are some do’s and don’ts for receiving feedback.

Student Teacher Feedback Do’s and Don’ts

FROM THE TEACHER

Do’s

  • Work with your cooperating teacher at the start of the schoolyear to create a schedule or calendar for when feedback will be given.
  • Identify the form communication will take, based on works best for both you and them. Verbal feedback may be easier to give in the moment, yet written feedback can be reviewed later on.
  • Accept both constructive and critical feedback with professionalism and remember that, as a mentor, they are trying to help you improve and prepare for taking on a classroom on your own.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask follow-up questions or seek clarification on feedback you don’t fully understand. The purpose of feedback is to help you, so make sure you can take something from it.

Don’ts

  • Assume that your cooperating teacher will remember to give regular feedback. They have a lot to do each day and may forget. That doesn’t mean they don’t care; they simply may need a reminder.
  • Forget to ask for feedback from any other school personnel you work with regularly, including inclusion teachers, behavioral support specialists, and others who can help you improve.
  • Think that your cooperating teacher is trying to break your spirit when they give you more critical feedback. Always remember that knowing what you’re doing wrong is a good thing because you can change your behavior.
  • Forget to take notes. If it works best for your teacher to give verbal feedback, either take notes or ask if you can record them so you can refer back later on.

FROM THE STUDENTS

Do’s

  • Put your feedback request in a format that works for them. Students may not feel comfortable giving verbal feedback, but you can create a paper-based or online survey they can fill out anonymously.
  • Remember that you might need to provide structure for the feedback and ask specific questions, but also provide space for them to add general feedback as well.
  • Thank them for taking time to reflect on your teaching, classroom management, etc. and let them know how valuable their feedback is in helping you improve.
  • Be open about ways that you’re trying to improve and model what it looks like to take on feedback and use it to better yourself.

Don’ts

  • Forget to provide a space where students can respond in thoughtful ways to your request. If you ask at the end class, for instance, students may have already checked out and started thinking about their next class, break, etc.
  • Forget to ask your cooperative teacher for help formulating questions. They likely have experience in this area and can help you create a constructive plan for getting their thoughts.
  • React poorly if students have harsh things to say. While any mean comments should be moderated and dealt with, it’s important to provide a safe space where they can share honest thoughts.
  • Be afraid to admit that change and improvement takes a lot of hard work and sometimes you will still make mistakes. Remind students that it’s a good thing to ask for feedback.

Build Relationships

Relationships are some of the most important things you can cultivate – both when student teaching and once you have your own classroom. As a student teacher, building relationships with your cooperative teacher, other teachers, and school administrators helps to grow your network. Building relationships with students helps you better understand their specific needs and builds a sense of purpose when putting in long hours. Getting to know parents can assist in better understanding your students’ home life and building a spirit of collaboration for the best possible outcomes. Here are some tips for building relationships as a student teacher.

With the Teacher

1

Know who’s in charge

While it’s great to give your opinion and offer ideas when invited, remember that you’re a visitor in your cooperative teacher’s classroom. Defer to their hard-earned wisdom and learn from them rather than trying to take the lead.

2

Ask for their advice

Student teachers are placed with more experienced educators precisely for what they can learn from them. Don’t waste your experience. Instead, try to ask thoughtful questions and pick up as much advice as possible.

3

Put in the time

Teachers are known for working hard, long hours. Show that you want to be an equitable partner during your time by putting in the time and effort and earning their respect.

4

Take feedback graciously

While much of your feedback will likely be positive, take the more critical feedback in the same stride. Remember, at the end of the day, your cooperative teacher is trying to help you unlearn any bad habits and find ways of thriving.

With Students

1

Show your personality

Students like to know who is teaching them, so don’t be afraid to tell them a bit about yourself and show your personality. If you come off as a robot, they won’t be engaged when you teach.

2

Demonstrate enthusiasm

Regardless of the subject you teach, show your enthusiasm. If you’re teaching history, talk about why understanding information from the past is so interesting. If you can get them on board and excited, they are far more likely to remember the material.

3

Listen to them

Today’s students often have a lot going on in their lives, both at school and at home. If they come to you and want to talk to you about something outside of the lesson, make time for them and show real interest.

4

Make fun of yourself

If you make a mistake while teaching, don’t be afraid to make fun of yourself. Injecting humor into lessons helps keep students engaged and reminds them that learning and having fun can go hand-in-hand.

With Parents/Guardians

1

Learn which communication medium works for them

Parents and guardians have busy lives filled with personal and professional responsibilities. If you want to maintain a strong line of communication with them, find out what works best. Some might prefer texts or phone calls while others may do best with emails.

2

Ask questions

Try to learn more about your students, their challenges, and their interests by asking their parents questions. They can help you understand why a student may behave in a certain way or how they are doing with their homework.

3

Remove any language barriers

If working with an immigrant parent, make sure you have someone in the school who can speak the language to provide translations. This will help bring the teacher on side and ensure they feel heard.

4

Listen to them

Like students, parents sometimes need to simply be heard. Sometimes what they say will be directly related to their student, other times only tangentially. But giving them the space to talk and process will show they can trust you.

Insight from an Expert on Student Teaching

janet-ferone

After more than 30 years as a school administrator, Janet Ferone, M.Ed. is now President of Ferone Educational Consulting. Currently completing Certificate of Advanced Educational Leadership from Harvard University, she holds a master’s degree in special education from Hofstra University. As founding director of a public high school program for students with depression/suicidality, her program was recognized by Gates Foundation and she received a Goldin Foundation Award for Excellence in Education. She provides training, program design and evaluation, technical support to transform schools into places where all students, especially those with special needs, thrive and succeed. She is also Associate Lecturer at Lesley University and Curry College supervising student teachers.

What are some of the unexpected components of student teaching and how can student teachers best prepare for them?

College instruction focuses a lot on teaching subject matter – how to teach reading, how to teach math, etc. But what student teachers struggle with more is how to actually teach students, particularly those with special needs. Student teachers can prepare for this by studying the best ways to build relationships with students and how teaching strategies such as UDL (Universal Design for Learning) and Differentiated Instruction can help meet the needs of all students without having to design special plans for every single student. They should also educate themselves on resources available at their school. Sometimes student teachers think they must figure all this out on their own but asking their cooperating teacher for resources is essential.

If student teachers only take one big lesson away from this process, what should it be?

Flexibility is a crucial component of the process, and now more than ever during remote learning, all teachers are expected to be flexible in how to deliver instruction, how to reach students, and how to assess students. Student teachers need to come into classes with an open mind (not a predetermined idea of how things will go) and be able to pivot quickly when they see a need to change up their plans. Again, our current times require student teachers to also address their implicit associations and educate themselves on race and ethnicity and use culturally responsive practices.

What is your advice for student teachers during their first day/week in the classroom? 

The first day/week should definitely be a time to observe, both individual students and how the teacher works with them. What seems to work well with students? What are the routines and rituals? How does the teacher create a safe and welcoming environment that includes all learners? While observing, the student teacher should be greeting students and interacting warmly, yet maintain boundaries and act as a professional, particularly if the student teacher is young and students might want to interact with them as more of a peer. Often student teachers might be employed as a paraprofessional in their school and need to make sure they develop a “teacher persona” for authority.

What should student teachers do if their mentor teacher isn’t as engaged as they’d
hoped?

As a college supervisor, I have encountered this and am happy when student teachers reach out with their concerns, both regarding mentor teachers and cooperation of school administration. I can act as a resource, reminding mentor teachers of their responsibilities while understanding how much is required of teachers, and brainstorming strategies for support that may include other individuals in the building.

How does student teaching prepare individuals for their first year of teaching after licensure?

As a supervisor for both pre-practicum and practicum experiences for student teachers, the state guidelines give clear rubrics for competencies needed for minimum standards for licensure. The hours for the student teacher are calculated for observation as well as “take-over” hours where the student teacher has control of the lesson and both mentor teacher and college supervisor can gauge readiness for licensure and put necessary supports in place as needed. The practicum seminar is also an environment where student teachers can gain knowledge and skills to put in practice in the classroom, along with their academic college classes. The process works best when college instructors, college supervisors, and mentor teachers are collaborating and communicating to address all aspects of the student teacher’s performance and needs.

Student Teaching Resources

20 Tips for Developing Positive Relationships with Parents
Edutopia offers actionable tips for building solid relationships with your students’ parents.

3 Ways of Getting Student Feedback
This article has some great examples of specific questions you can ask to elicit feedback from your classroom.

A Handbook for Master/Cooperating Teachers
This pamphlet provided by California State can help student teachers better understand the role cooperative teachers play during this experience.

Assign-A-Day
Created specifically for teachers, this calendar app helps keep everything organized while also encouraging better communication between teachers and their students.

Cooperating Teacher Roles & Responsibilities
Temple University provides this comprehensive guide that can help inform both student teachers and cooperative teachers on best practices.

Google Classroom
This versatile tool helps teachers arrange lesson plans, track grades, manage calendars, arrange testing, and stay in touch with students all on one sleek platform.

Resources Toolkit for New Teachers
While designed for educators in their first couple years of teaching, this toolkit also has handy resources for student teachers.

Resources for Student Teachers
The University of Maine at Farmington provides tons of helpful handbooks, tutorials, and other resources specific to student teachers.

Student Teacher Resources
Teachers Pay Teachers provides a variety of helpful resources designed specifically for student teachers.

Student Teacher Roles & Responsibilities
This is an excellent and thorough resource for those who want a better sense of what their time as a student teacher may entail.