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Cultivating Student Teachers for Multi-Dimensional Engagement

by Brian Gibbs - September 20, 2013

This commentary critiques the traditional view of student teachers as too narrow. Rather than preparing pre-service teachers to educate students only, they must also be prepared to engage veteran educators and administration in complicated and complex conversations about pedagogic and curricular choice. An example of what this might look like is described.

They were huddled together in a cramped teacher office.  The school wasn’t quite overcrowded, but it was bursting at the seams a bit.  Every space was used, and used well.  With all the classrooms in use, the two teachers were engaged in a lesson autopsy while five other teachers swirled about the four feet wide and ten feet deep “office.”  Pages loudly clattered out of the printer, fingers clacking on keyboards, and one teacher spoke “softly” to her son who was home sick from school.   

The first teacher said, “Talk to me about how you facilitated that.  The wait time you used seemed so long to me . . . but the students responded so well.  I mean, I had Jackie last year and I could never get her to speak as much as she did in that discussion.”    

The second teacher responded, “I got a sense from them in the pre-discussion text examination in the class work that they were going to need time to mull.  I’ve learned that time is the most precious gift we can give students.  It was hard waiting that long, but that’s what the essays I’ve been reading about discussion indicate, that it’s a developmental build up.  That students need time to think, to process, especially if it’s their first time doing something like this.  I knew I had a topic of high interest and an article they could access and they had done well in the class work the past few days building up to this, so I trusted them I guess and I trusted myself.  Let’s take a look at the articles I brought about this. I think they might help.”

“Yep, let’s do it, but quickly, I’m nervous.  That modeling you did for me was great, but I gotta get ready,” replied the first teacher, with a slight catch of panic in his voice.

A stack of stapled pages was foisted out of a backpack, which were quickly skimmed as highlights and underlined passages were found.  The conversation took on an even deeper air of hushed intensity as they dove deeper into their analysis of classroom discussion, unaffected by the busy work of the teachers around them.  It’s the type of conversation and level of depth that we want happening in schools, classrooms, and cramped teacher officers the country over.  What was different about this conversation was that the first teacher was a veteran with 21 years of experience while the second teacher was a student teacher engaged in her first half-day student teaching experience.      

The hope is that the student teaching experience will be a two-way street, with both the cooperating teacher and the student teacher offering the other something of value.  The assumption is that the cooperating teacher is streetwise, knows content and pedagogy well, can implement it, and can pass on how to manage a class to the student teacher.  This is a wise assumption if the cooperating teacher is chosen well, which is usually the case.  The other assumption is that the typically very enthusiastic, young, and woefully inexperienced student teacher will somehow have something of value to offer to the veteran educator.  But this is rarely the case.  Most often what the student teacher offers is a youthful, upbeat companion that reminds the cooperating teacher of how they were and might like to be again. Pedagogy, teaching, curriculum—these are almost always out of the equation, but they don’t have to be.  

The cooperating teacher was well chosen.  He was experienced, highly competent, well known by the program, and a highly regarded and successful teacher.  He had student teachers often and they reported learning much from him, while reported that his students responded well to his teaching.  Like many, if not most, veteran educators, he spent his first few years getting to know the students and the school community, and built a curricular and pedagogic program that would work successfully with them.  He had spent many years perfecting it and he was now enjoying the fruits of his labor.  He still read content and added the most recent scholarship to his teaching, but rarely if ever read a book on pedagogy or teaching.

The student teacher hadn’t been specifically chosen, other than being accepted into a rigorous teacher education program.  There was, however, an underlying intent embedded within her teacher education coursework that she was to be a pedagogical change agent.  Knowing that student teachers are easily discounted and ignored as overenthusiastic, inexperienced and sometimes arrogant, the teacher education coursework cultivated several abilities.  


To be able to successfully engage in difficult pedagogy.  To plan it, write it, and implement it.


To be able to accurately explain the theory and ideas behind it, why it works, and why it is good for students.


Be able to speak to veteran faculty without being intimidated and without being overly confident and arrogant.  Go kindly and gently.  

The conversation described earlier didn’t happen accidently, it happened because student teachers were cultivated to engage in complicated conversations about complex pedagogy with strong, competent veteran teachers.  It is not for the faint of heart. It’s the result of a specific intent to create young teacher candidates who are ready to fully engage in the pedagogic battles that are happening in schools.  We prepare them to teach, we help them understand the how’s and why’s of the classroom, but we never prepare them for the friendly (or, sometimes unfriendly) battles over pedagogy, teaching and curriculum that take place in schools everyday. We need to prepare them for these engaged discussions, encouraging them to practice them during student teaching alongside lesson planning, teaching, grading, and interacting with students.  If we don’t, we are abandoning our new enthusiastic teachers to possibly harsh climates, encouraging them to remain silent and disengaged rather than being en la lucha (in the fight) struggling towards possible solutions.  Just as new teachers need to know and have practiced engaging students, they need equally rich experiences engaging veteran faculty.   

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record, Date Published: September 20, 2013
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 17259, Date Accessed: 5/22/2022 11:22:22 PM

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