What’s the Value of a Student Teacher?
An exploration of the impact of student teachers on the classroom environment.
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From an early age, separation anxiety works its way into the classroom. On day one of kindergarten, children find their mother’s absence to be the stuff of nightmares. For students who continue to have this separation anxiety, it doesn’t get any better when a familiar face is replaced by a new teacher.
Jam-packed schedules, copious amounts of homework, and an overwhelming pressure to stand out on college applications can cause students to be less than fond of their regular teachers. After a student teacher is introduced, this tension can be heightened. After spending significant time with and around student teachers, a question arises: to what degree do student teachers impact the classroom setting?
Before this question can be answered, it’s important to follow the steps to find the answer.
When becoming a teacher, future educators must first obtain a bachelor’s degree in their field of interest, and then go on to obtain a credential. At Fresno Pacific University, applicants have a series of requirements to meet before they’re even considered for enrollment. Such requirements include three letters of recommendation, a cumulative GPA of 3.0 or higher, and passing results on both the Basic Skills and CSET Test. The CSET, or California Subject Examinations for Teachers Test, was designed to measure the aptitude and overall readiness the student possesses in their intended subject of teaching.
Upon entry to the teaching credential program of their choice, educators must not only pass the credential test, but have minimum experience in a classroom setting. Fresno Pacific’s program ensures their students a spot in a Central Valley classroom, but an issue emerges when attempting to find a master teacher.
Standards for incoming teachers have shifted over the past decade or so. In the Midwest, East, and South, the five-year program is only four years; upon receiving their bachelor’s degree, these students can move on to become teachers immediately. For those in states such as California, the credential program provides theoretical, in-class instruction, and a master teacher provides on-site, physical application.
Fresno State also requires a passing score on the CSET exam and subsequent courses based on the desired subject. However, regardless of major, all students must take Educational Foundations and History, a course taught by Professor Joe Parks.
After teaching for 48 years, Dr. Joe Parks has extensive experience with giving student teachers adequate theoretical instruction to aid them in the transition from student to teacher.
“My job is to prepare my students to understand the theoretical basis for teaching,” said Parks. “I can theoretically explain how to deal with a group of teenagers who won’t be quiet, but they won’t understand how to actually handle that until placed in a classroom setting.”
Through the transition from the rhetoric of the 1990s “No Child Left Behind” campaign, Common Core dictates that teachers across the nation should be teaching the same theoretical principles at the same time. This way, if students move from city to city, they won’t be any more behind or ahead than the next student. Regardless of where someone comes from, in-class student teacher experience is mandated by the state of California.
Thomas Craig – a current teacher of yearbook, Bible as Literature, and senior college-level English at Clovis High – has taken on several student teachers including current AP Language and Composition teacher Katie Green. To Craig, an excellent student teacher possesses five main qualities: “classroom management, knowledge of subject matter, people skills, professionalism, and problem-solving skills.” For those lacking in two or more of these areas, Craig affirms, teaching isn’t the wisest career choice.
“If you introduce someone who’s incompetent, you start to erode that [established respect] and you see it’s not a matter of not accomplishing something as it may have been in the first semester,” added Craig. “It’s a matter of destroying something that’s been established. At some point, you have to do damage control and begin to pull them back from the front of the classroom and re-establish what was lost.”
“A good master teacher,” said Craig, “will give a student teacher enough freedom so that their personality and strengths can come out, bringing about something that wasn’t there before.”
When student teachers heed the advice of a master teacher and develop their skills, the overall workload in the classroom can be more evenly distributed.
Craig said, “A real teamwork emerges where we compliment each other’s efforts. The student teacher makes the classroom experience twice as good for students; there’s someone else to dialogue with, there’s fresh ideas, there’s someone to hold me accountable if I make a mistake.”
Generally, AP teachers are unable to take on student teachers for obvious reasons; when placed in an accelerated course, students range from hesitant to downright acrimonious at the notion of placing their educational livelihood in the hands of someone who’s just starting out.
In turn, the non-AP teachers are forced to pick up the slack.
This year, the teacher who stepped up to the plate was CHS social science Thad Crews. Because Shawn Murray recently transferred from Buchanan and Tim Douglas teaches AP Government, the opportunity arose for Crews to take on a student teacher. When reflecting on his own experience becoming a teacher, Crews mentioned how having a patient, cooperative master teacher impacted him when obtaining his credential.
“If it wasn’t for my master teacher,” Crews said, “There’d be a lot of little things I wouldn’t be good at.“Getting in front of kids and going through those initial mistakes that trains us,” said Crews. “If you’re an athlete, you can talk about the rules of the game and understand them, but you have to go out and play the game before you naturally learn and start speeding up.
“It’s kind of the same thing being a teacher. You constantly have to ask yourself, ‘How can I make that better?” added Crews.
The choice to become a teacher can be a difficult one despite possessing the power potentially shape and even improve the lives of others. This stigma surrounding teaching programs likely stems from the early interactions most student teachers endure. Typically, students will often ignore or even disregard the student teacher, due to a lapse in overall authority.
Nash Vidmar, a senior in Mr. Crews’ third period class, has experienced this power dynamic firsthand. When interacting with the student teacher, there appears to be a gap; due to the student teacher’s closeness in age to pupils themselves and the “lack” of authority.
“There’s a lack of respect,” said Vidmar.“I think some of the kids take advantage of it, because they think they don’t have to listen to her.”
However, as student teachers begin to gain students’ respect and trust, a shift typically follows.
In Crews’ fourth period class, Teachers Assistant Gabe Martinez describes how this gradual shift impacts the class environment.
“[Our student teacher] just doesn’t have as much experience or [possess] the commanding presence Mr. Crews has,” Martinez said. “They don’t treat her as a student teacher type of relationship. It’s almost like it’s on a lower level, or closer to equal with students. Because of that, it’s harder to understand [and enforce] the concept of hierarchy in the classroom.”
Renee Nonini, a recent graduate, is currently pursuing her teaching credential at Clovis High. Nonini acts as Megan Dorais’s student teacher in a few of her freshman Honors English courses in the morning. Nonini was first greeted with dead silent, shy students who were wary when participating. After a few weeks, she found that students began to ask for her help and engage her with questions and concerns. Despite this initial unwariness, Nonini still possesses an optimistic attitude and is eager to move past any mistakes.
“Being able to teach in the future outweighs any obstacles I may go through in the credential program,” Nonini said, “I believe that in order to be a well-rounded teacher, I must put in the effort to really understand, the most effective ways students learn [and how to] make it enjoyable for them.”