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10 Tips for Mentoring a Student Teacher

Do you remember when you did your student teaching? Everything was both exciting and terrifying, completely new and intimidating.

Then one day you’re a veteran teacher and your administrator tells you that you’re going to be the advisory teacher for a new preservice teacher. And suddenly everything’s intimidating again….

How to Best Prepare Your Student Teacher: 10 Tips for Mentor Teachers

Seriously, though, it can be tough to know exactly how to best prepare your student teacher. There’s not really a lot of training material out there for advisory teachers, and it certainly seems that this is an area where we may be dropping the ball a bit.

My student teaching experience was pretty intense. At Pensacola Christian College, they send you to their own academy (PCA), and they have the student teaching system down – which means I got some great training.

But I’ve seen too many student teachers just get stuck in a classroom with a mentor that has no idea what to do to help prepare them. And, unfortunately, they don’t learn nearly as much as they could.

If you’re going to be an advisory teacher, this is a great opportunity to help a new teacher learn and grow. To set them on the road to success. To be a great mentor, inspiration, and encouragement.

And here’s some practical idea for how to make that happen:

How to Prepare Your Student Teacher for Success

  1. Explain everything you do. Have your preservice teacher with you as much as possible and explain to them exactly what you are doing and why you do it that way. The more practical tips you can give them, the better. And don’t just tell them – have them experience as many aspects of teaching as possible, such as grading, lesson planning, communication, attending meetings, etc.

  2. Ease them into teaching. Start them off with bits and pieces of lessons. Maybe they first administer a quiz or go over homework, then they teach part of a lesson, then a full lesson, etc. Provide feedback all along the way.

  3. Work up to the point that they’re teaching extensively. By the end of their internship there should be at least a week where they are teaching every day. You can either have them teach all day every day or just teach every day in one or two of your classes/subjects. Use your best judgment about what is best for both your student teacher and for your students (that means choosing the week they teach wisely. The week that they learn the hardest concept is probably not the best choice.)

  4. Critique their teaching. You may be tempted to give only positive feedback, but this is the worst thing you can do. Preservice teachers are learning and thus desperately need constructive feedback. Of course you need to tell them what they’re doing right, but you also need to show them what they’re doing wrong AND how they can do it better.

  5. Keep a notebook. Ask your preservice teacher to buy a notebook and to put it on your desk every time they teach a lesson – that way you can jot down notes while they’re teaching. This not only saves time, but it also helps you to provide fresh feedback. They can also write down questions they have for you, which you can answer either by writing back in their notebook or during an in-person conversation.

  6. Let them watch you deal with student issues. Personally, handling student discipline was the most intimidating part of being a new teacher, and I know I’m not alone. Help your student teacher gain insight by allowing them to sit in on conversations you have with students. Then ask them if they have any questions.

  7. Have them deal with discipline issues. It’s tempting to swoop in and deal with all the discipline problems for you preservice teacher. But this is one thing they really need to learn to do on their own. If an issue arises during their teaching, have them bring in the student and talk to them. Coach them through what they should say and how they should handle it. And be sure to leave them alone with the class for at least a period or two during their final days of teaching. They’ll get a much better feel for real classroom management when the students know you’re not watching them from the back.

    Of course this will be an intimidating process for them, but they’ll be so glad they gained this experience when they find themselves starting school in their own classroom.

  8. Talk with them about start-of-school procedures. Speaking of the start of school, we all know just how important those first two weeks are. However, most student teachers never get to experience them until they’re on their own. Talk to your preservice teacher about the start of school and how you teach procedures and routines.

  9. Ask them what questions they have. Simple but important – just ask them often what questions they have.

  10. Be encouraging. Remember to encourage them often (read: always). Remember how intimidating student teaching was for you and be sure to give your student teacher a healthy dose of encouragement.

And if you’d like to send your student teacher off with a departing gift, consider getting them a copy of Create Your Dream Classroom. This tool will help them evaluate their own student teaching over the summer and prepare them for a successful start to their first year.

What did your mentor teacher do that most helped you (or what do you wish they would’ve done)? If you’ve been an advisory teacher, what other tips would you add to the list?

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  • I would also recommend them observe you making phone calls to parents and having meetings with parents. When I first started teaching I was scared to death to make parent phone calls. I think if I would have gotten the practice during student teaching I would have been better prepared.

  • This is a well thought out list. I may have let my 4 young ladies down a bit. One item I would like to lift up and reiterate is the “why” you do what you do. Many times we have been doing “it” for so long that we need to conscientiously think through the million little things to prepare for the coming of our student teacher.

  • I student taught in an ICT class with two teachers. They included me in their planning sessions as if I was a peer almost from the get-go. It made me feel valued and part of a team, and I got to see the serious time and effort that go into planning and how a good team works.

  • Paperwork! I wish my cooperating teacher would have helped me more with the grading aspect, how to use it as a portfolio for each kiddo to back up the grades given, and just home much went in to it. The other student teacher that got the job over me quit in under two years. She was so overwhelmed by the paperwork that she had to do for all the meetings with the principal, other teachers, the teaching coach, and the parents.

  • Great article! I was definitely one of those that was told to teach all day on day one. But my mentoring teacher never let me plan lessons or grade papers. I graded one test because she was out sick.

    I’d love to see an article on how to mentor first-year teachers – when they are all alone in their first classroom and/or new to your school.

  • Thank you for these great ideas. I really like the notebook that we can both write in! I’ve been teaching for 30 years, yet I am a little nervous about having a student teacher. I want to be a good model for her.

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