Responsibilities of the Cooperating Teacher
The role of the cooperating teacher is unquestionably one of the most demanding and important components within an effective student teaching program. As any experienced teacher knows, the task of assisting the beginning student teacher in developing and applying appropriate teaching techniques while simultaneously overseeing the best possible instructional program for his/her own students is complex. Fortunately, for the field of teacher education, there exist teachers with sufficient professional commitment and expertise to be willing and able to assume this vital role. In collaboration with the Middlebury College Education Studies Program, the cooperating teacher, student teacher, and college supervisor, a) shape and plan the student teachers’ teaching schedule, b) schedule constructive observations of the student teacher and c) formally evaluate the student teacher's performance.
During the professional semester, the cooperating teacher performs the following supervisory duties, described in the chronological order in which they arise over the course of the student teaching semester.
Before/Upon the arrival of the student teacher
- Provide a dedicated space for the student teacher, such as a desk or table, where the student teacher can store materials for the duration of the semester. Schedule a regular time, semi-formal meeting time to with the student teacher to review/preview the work in progress. This meeting should occur a minimum of once every week.
- Exchange contact information, including home/cell phone numbers in case of emergency. Be sure that the student teacher has been added to the faculty ‘phone tree’ that is used to share essential information.
- Establish the daily arrival time for the student teacher and orient h/h to building procedures including parking and entering the building.
- Ensure that the student teacher has the necessary name-tag or badge that is required for your school.
- Draft a “Letter to Parents” modeled on Appendix A.pdf
- Even to a careful observer, much of the work of teaching remains unseen because planning happens ahead of time, and even real-time decisions remain invisible because they are made in the teacher’s head as a lesson unfolds. As much as possible share your planning, thinking, and rationale for your decisions with your student teacher. It may be helpful to follow a ‘brief-teach-debrief’ framework in which you provide your student teacher with an overview and/or lesson plan of a lesson, then teach the lesson while the student teacher observes and takes notes or participates with the class, and then debrief what happened in the lesson, provide your rationale and reflection, and allow the student teacher to ask questions.
- Orient your student teacher to the curricular materials you use. Teach student teachers how the information is organized in the “teacher guides” and other resources you use, and explain how you use these in your planning.
- Develop a plan with your student teacher for steadily assuming a greater instructional role in the class. This plan should include explicit dates for which areas will be co-taught and when.
- Lesson planning: Student teachers must write lesson plans using the Education Studies template (Appendix B.pdf) for all lessons taught. In the early weeks of the semester (weeks 1-4), this applies to all segments of the day. For elementary teachers this would include those instances when a student-teacher is leading Morning Meeting, Number Corner, or small group work. Student teachers should turn in a lesson plan several days before the lesson to ensure that the cooperating teacher has time to provide feedback and suggest modifications in advance of the lesson being taught. Cooperating teachers should, in collaboration with the student teacher, develop a system for the student teacher to submit lesson plans (email, electronic, or hardcopy) and for the cooperating teacher to provide feedback (email, electronic, or hardcopy). The cooperating teacher may request all lesson plans to be turned in on a set day for the subsequent week or establish another routine that meets these criteria.
- More on lesson planning: An area of particular importance and difficulty for novice teachers is anticipating the complexity of the content they are trying to teach and identifying what students will likely find challenging. This is extremely difficult for novices to do without having taught the given topic to the given age level before, and so it is an area to which we call your attention and ask you to share your expertise. Although there may be some aspects regarding behavioral or logistical challenges (for example, when asking students to work in a group for the first time), the focus in this section of the lesson plan should be on what is inherently difficult given the merging of the content area with the developmental level of your students.
- Questions to talk through with your student teacher in advance of their lesson planning might include:
- What are common errors or misconceptions within this topic?
- What are students likely to find challenging?
Discussing this in advance of lesson planning will allow student teachers to think through their content/topic carefully before writing out the steps of the lesson. These are the habits of mind we are trying to develop—habits of mind that keep their focus on student understanding rather than teacher activity.
- Review and provide feedback on all the student teacher's lesson plans in advance of the lesson being taught.
- Observe and provide feedback on the student teacher's classroom teaching. Develop a system for de-briefing following a lesson, which should include time for the student teacher to engage in self-reflection as well as the cooperating teacher to provide feedback.
- Provide weekly assessments of the student teacher's strengths as a classroom teacher and areas of targeted improvement for the subsequent week; these assessments are usually conveyed orally to the student teacher and should take place weekly for the duration of the semester.
- Your student teacher will ask you to take pictures and/or video record lessons for use in the licensure portfolio. We ask that you facilitate that process in whatever manner you deem appropriate.
- Provide at least two formal observations prior to the midterm. These first two observations would be part of the mid-term evaluation discussion. For a formal observation, the cooperating teacher should use the form in Appendix C.pdf. While there will be many possible areas on which to comment, we ask that cooperating teachers carefully select the two or three areas that you feel will most contribute to your student teacher’s growth as a teacher. We also ask that, while your feedback will no doubt address “classroom management,” you spend ample time providing feedback and debriefing about the teaching of the content within the lesson. A question to consider is, what will help your student teacher improve h/h teaching of social studies? math? literacy? science? These two guidelines, to 1) focus on two or three aspects of the student teacher’s practices and 2) focus on teaching the content apply to debriefing informal teaching observations, as well.
- Determine, along with the supervisor, the topic(s) that will be covered in the student teacher’s unit, which will be taught during her/his two-week full time teaching or ‘max time.’ The topic/theme should be responsive to the classroom curriculum, the individual students, and the expertise and interest of the cooperating teacher and student teacher. The unit topic/theme needs to be determined in consultation with and approved by the supervisor.
- Unit Planning: Prior to the beginning of ‘max time’—the period of time during which the student teacher assumes full responsibility for the class, the cooperating teacher should schedule an extensive planning meeting (2-3 hours) with the student teacher to review plans and expectations. This meeting may take place in one of two ways:
1) off site and on school time if permission for this meeting is granted by the building administrator, in which case the Education Studies Program will cover the cost of the substitute teacher.
2) on a non-school day or after the school day.
The intention of this meeting is to begin the process of unit planning. During the planning, we ask that the cooperating teacher make freely available any materials and ideas that have been demonstrated to be effective in helping students learn the essential content and to also remain open to (but not require) the student teacher to compile an original unit. The goal is to ensure that the unit of study is both responsive to the developmental and curricular needs of the classroom, and challenges the student teacher to integrate previous coursework, knowledge and interests. To be clear, if an original unit of study is appropriate that is fine. However, it is not necessary that a student teacher invent an original unit that has never before been taught by any teacher anywhere—while this is sometimes ‘the norm’ in the United States of America, no other industrialized nation expects such things from novice teachers. Learning how to utilize existing, well-vetted lessons is a valuable skill for novice teachers to learn—max time is a valuable opportunity to learn such a skill.
- During the planning for the unit, topics to consider discussing include:
- Identifying extended learning goals,
- Organizing the introduction to the unit,
- Clarifying how individual lessons are used to support the extended learning goals and provide a trajectory of experiences to foster student learning; and
- Developing a culminating experience for the unit.
- Following the unit-planning meeting, there will still be a substantial amount of work for the student teacher to do. The cooperating teacher and student teacher should continue to check in about the student teacher’s progress. Each daily lesson in the unit should be written in advance of beginning the unit. The full unit should be completed and submitted (hard copy or electronically) at least one week before the unit begins so that the cooperating teacher and supervisor have time to provide feedback and suggest modifications.
- Prepare for the mid-semester, three-way conference by completing Appendix D.pdf prior to the conference. At the conference, the cooperating teacher, supervisor, and student teacher meet to assess the student teacher’s progress based on each person’s mid-term evaluation. At this time, all participants review the status of the student teacher with regard to the competencies required for teacher licensure in Vermont and check progress toward the completion of the portfolio.
- ‘Max time’ and the role of the Cooperating teacher. We believe that solo teaching during ‘max time’ does not necessarily result in improved teaching. Rather, the professional growth of the student-teacher depends on the thoughtful, reflective interaction among the student-teacher, the cooperating teacher, the college supervisor and other professionals. As a result, during ‘max time’ cooperating teachers are welcome to remain in the classroom in a supporting role. Max time is the student teacher’s most substantial amount of time actually teaching, and provides an excellent opportunity to receive feedback from you. At the same time, there are also time periods and, perhaps, full days, when it might be best to allow the student-teacher to ‘fly solo.’ As always, ongoing formative assessment regarding the student teacher’s performance is a key ingredient in determining the best use of the cooperating teacher’s time and presence during ‘max time.’ [Max time is also a good time to have someone running the video camera.]
- Once the unit begins, the student teacher will likely need to modify lesson plans based on the student teacher’s formative assessment of students’ learning. The lesson plan modifications should be done in consultation with the cooperating teacher at least one day ahead of time. At the conclusion of each day, the subsequent day’s lesson plans should be reviewed and any adjustments discussed. If minor, these can be noted with annotations to the lesson plans.
- During ‘max time’ it is appropriate for the student teacher to ask the cooperating teacher to teach a small group of students (for example as a “center” activity) to take advantage of having two teachers in the room. These should be included in the student teacher’s lesson plans.
- At the conclusion of the professional semester, the cooperating teacher participates in the final evaluation meeting of the Professional Semester Review Committee (see Appendix E.pdf) for which meeting he or she provides a written assessment of the student teacher’s classroom practices (Appendix F.pdf). The parties involved determine the location of the Professional Semester Review Committee meeting at a time and place of mutual convenience.
- Finally, after the final review meeting, and often during the actual exam week of the Middlebury College academic calendar, the Education Studies Program organizes an afternoon of summative presentations during which the student teachers present a sample of their work with their students. Cooperating teachers, Liberal Arts Mentors, friends and family are all invited. The Education Studies Program hosts a dinner following the presentations to which all attendees are also invited.