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Maximizing the Student Teaching Experience: Cooperating Teachers ShareStrategies for SuccessDonna R. SandersonWest Chester UniversityAbstractThis article critically examines the results of a survey completed by fifty-sevencooperating teachers from nine different school districts in the greater Philadelphia area.All of the cooperating teachers had welcomed elementary education student teachers intotheir classrooms. Strategies used to help alleviate student teachers’ fears and concernsrelated to their student teaching experience are shared and explored. Findings suggestthat teachers use a multitude of strategies to calm their student teachers and set them upfor a successful student teaching semester. Cooperating teachers detailed the tasksneeded to be accomplished BEFORE the beginning of the student teaching semester toensure a smooth and successful experience. Detailed information stating when and howstudent teachers should assimilate into the classroom are provided, plus strategies such asobserving, modeling, and journaling are noted as significant ways cooperating teacherscan assist pre-service educators. Overall, this collection of strategies was compiled so allinvolved in the student teaching relationship (the students, student teacher, andcooperating teacher) experience a fulfilling and meaningful experience in the classroom.Implications for change and future research are provided.IntroductionAs a relatively new assistant professor at a four-year state university in suburbanPhiladelphia, Pennsylvania, I have been given a wonderful opportunity to superviseelementary education student teachers. This is something I have wanted to do since I wasa college student. After supervising fifty-five student teachers over a span of two years Ihave come to the realization that a large percentage of them were extremely fearful ofstarting this first “real” teaching assignment called student teaching.From informally conversing with my students I quickly noticed that this sixteen-week, full-semester teaching assignment, which takes place in local elementary schools,is a cause for great concern and stress for many student teachers. Much researchdocuments this phenomenon and reports on how this ‘culminating semester’ is frequentlyviewed as the most important experience in the professional preparation of teachers(Conant, 1963; Johnson, 1982; Holmes Group, 1986) and the most stressful semester oftheir college career (Clement, 1999; Enz, 1997; Schwebel et al., 1992). Many studentshave shared personal stories of not being able to sleep for weeks before they begin their2placement, eating antacids for breakfast, stressing about their relationship with theirsoon-to-be cooperating teacher, having panic attacks over which grade they will beassigned, and worse, having nightmares that the students will not listen to them or respectthem as their teacher.While I always have believe moderate stress helps students prepare for the uniquechallenges of the student teaching semester, excessive stress can inhibit both teaching andlearning and, if left untreated, may eventually lead to physical problems (Justice, 1998;Swick, 1989). Listening to these stories prompted me to take action and was the basis forthis study. Much research on student teaching has focused on the perspectives of thestudent teachers as opposed to those of the cooperating teachers (Rikard and Veal, 1996).This particular study focuses on what specific strategies cooperating teachers use to assisttheir student teachers during this critical time of their apprenticeship in an attempt to helpalleviate their fears and anxieties. In this regard, it is my perception that the studentteachers main focus should be on their students and their teaching, not on stressing aboutmismatched teacher personalities, student discipline, or assigned grade levels. It is myintent to use the information gleaned from this study to assist student teachers for theirteaching experiences and help alleviate their concerns, while simultaneously providingcomfort and support. More specifically, this research uncovers the strategies used toensure the students, student teacher, and the cooperating teacher all have a successfulsemester teaching and learning in the classroom.Idea Construction and RationaleThe purpose of this research is twofold. One, to better understand cooperatingteachers’ views of student teachers and learn about the deliberate ways they offer helpand assistance to student teachers during their culminating student teaching experience.Two, to share this information with future student teachers in an attempt to offer comfortand support, as well as with cooperating teachers who are mentoring student teachers,some possibly for the first time.Student teachers will benefit from the perspectives of cooperating teachers as theyshare strategies of what works well in the classroom. It is my intent to use this criticalinformation during weekly student teaching seminar meetings to help lesson students’anxieties and fears of the “real classroom.” Additionally, this research will be helpfulwhen collaborating with new cooperating teachers who have decided to mentor a studentteacher for the first time. Learning strategies and helpful tips for a smooth semester fromveteran cooperating teachers will certainly be an advantage for novice cooperatingteachers. In this regard, I view this research as beneficial to all parties involved.ParticipantsOver four semesters (fall 2001, through spring 2003), sixty cooperating teachersfrom nine school districts in the Philadelphia metropolitan area were surveyed. From thesixty teachers asked to participate in the study, fifty-seven completed the surveyquestions, for a return rate of ninety-five percent. School districts were located in both3suburban and urban type locations and grade levels of the cooperating teachers rangedfrom kindergarten to eighth grade. The exact number of returned surveys broken downby grade level is provided in Table 1.Table 1Grade Level Number of Returned Surveys Kindergarten 3 First Grade 8Second Grade 11Third Grade 10Fourth Grade 11Fifth Grade 11Sixth Grade* 2Seventh Grade 0Eighth Grade 1Total 57* It must be noted that from the two surveys submitted from sixth grade cooperatingteachers one sixth grade is part of a middle school and one, from another district, is partof an elementary school.Student teachers were assigned to these


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