Student teaching is an experience full of possibilities and for many student teachers (ST) is the exciting culmination of their teacher preparation journey. Student teachers and cooperating teachers (CT or CI) may have misconceptions that they bring to the placement, and both the CT and ST may need to manage their expectations. Consider these common misbeliefs and the contrasting realities.
Reality The cooperating teacher–student teacher relationship is a professional one based on a common goal and similar expectations. In time, some of these relationships grow into friendships but that is not a necessary condition of a supportive working partnership. Trust, respect, and communication are the key conditions for the student teacher – cooperating teacher relationship.
Reality When we asked CTs about their student teachers’ communication skills, we found that several noticed a difference across generations and in the communication styles of female and male student teachers. In a survey response, one CT summed up the communication differences by noting: "The difference [is] between a 48 year-old man and a 26 year-old woman -- it's gender and generational."
Reality The best CTs almost unanimously state that they enjoy the challenge of coaching a novice teacher because they continue to learn from what the student teacher brings from their teacher preparation into the classroom.
Reality Some might say that 'student teacher' is an oxymoron. How can one be both at the same time? To the classroom pupils, the individual has to be the authority figure as teacher. To the CT, he or she is a student to be mentored. In the authentic practice of teaching, one is always a student and a teacher in that professionals continue to learn. Student teachers need to be supported so that they can balance the roles of learner and instuctional leader.
Reality Student teaching is about finding a teaching voice through experimentation and practice. Many student teachers find that each classroom experience is different and that the first-year teaching experience is vastly harder than student teaching. Pre-service teachers use student teaching to learn who they are and who they want to be in the classroom. In Barnett Berry's words (2002): "No matter how good teacher education is, the complexities of effective teaching are such that teachers will never know all they need to know when they enter their first classroom."