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Redefining the Roles of Cooperating Teacher, Student Teacher, and Supervising Teacher

October-November 1997

Our next topic regards the relationships between the student teacher, cooperating teacher, and university supervisor.

Last Saturday, the NYC group met with Michele Reich, director of field programs,  Department of Technology and Learning at New York University. Michele is responsible for coordinating all aspects of the field based  experience of all students seeking certification N-12. In her talk she told us that she views the student teacher as the child, the cooperating teacher as parent, and the university supervisor as grandparent. The relationship between the student and cooperating teacher is a more intimate one, while the grandparent -supervisor is more distant, she explained. 

This view engendered much heated discussion among our group, first with Michele present, and then without her. What do you think? Is her metaphor accurate in your eyes? Do you think that all partners are equal in her scenario? How have your experiences as a student teacher or hosting student teachers played out in regard to this parent-child-grandparent idea? 

--Judi Fenton

I think the metaphor is a bit too simple for such a complicated relationship. Grandparents dote on grandchildren and indulge their every whim and that certainly wasn't the case with my university supervisor when I student taught (a very long time ago). As I remember, she observed me once for half a period and I can/t even remember her name. I do, however, remember the name of my incredibly wonderful cooperating teacher, who was  gifted at training new teachers. We kept a steno-type notebook; I wrote on one side about my reflections on teaching and she responded on the other side.

Even though it was 26 years ago, I reread the comments just last week for my new job and she talked about transition, transition, transition. Just last week also, I took the Skillful Teacher (Jon Saphier) Administrative Course and one of the most important moves he talks about is transition. I do know, though, that Rachel, the university coordinator from the George Washington Intern Program is quite effective in mentoring student teachers. I have eavesdropped on her counseling sessions with interns and wished every student teacher could have the opportunity to work with her. She/s nothing like a grandparent. She visits the school quite often and observes the interns. 

--Gretchen Portwood

Well that child,parent, grandparent metaphor sent me right up the wall too. The implication is that somehow the student needs to be taught by more experienced folk who are "family".  

I see the relationship as those three being equals with different perspectives to bring to the experience and that ALL being valid. Each has a viewpoint that collectively leads to a much fuller view of the issue and education in general. To impart information to a student  without considering her/his viewpoint is to continue the already dysfunctional system.  

--Sally Roderick

I think identifying the student teacher as child, teacher as parent, university as grandparent sends the message of "top down." We/re all thinking and learning adults no matter where we are in our careers.  

--Diana Takenaga-Taga

There are certain appealing aspects to the notion of student teacher as child, cooperating teacher as parent, and university supervisor as grandparent. I like the familial connotations it conjures, and the passing on of experience and knowledge to the next generation. However, I/d shade the notion somewhat differently. Perhaps student teacher as younger sibling, cooperating teacher as older sibling, and university supervisor as beneficient aunt or uncle would be more appropriate, and convey less patriarchal overtones. {Also, another complicating factor is second-career student teachers, who are often older than their "parent"} 

I do have a hesitation about using a "family model" for these professional relationships. I don/t want to get too psychoanalytic or anything, but my fear would be that members of the triad might look to one another to embody expectations--either fulfilled or unfulfilled--of  the corresponding members of their own families. This could be messy to  manipulate. Perhaps we/d be wiser to utilize a "community model." After all, just as it takes a village to raise a child, so too it takes a village to educate a student teacher. 
I/m not fully clear on what roles within the village would correspond to each member of the triad. I/ll think more about this.  

Unfortunately, either of these equations is more often ideal than real--many of my fellow student teachers here at Harvard do not feel that they are regarded as family members or community members at their schools. More often, they feel like "invited guests" (and occasionally, "babysitters") in a home that is not their own, but where they will be spending significant time. 

My university in fact *encourages* this understanding, cautioning us not to wear out our welcome. University supervisors, while supportive, are in many cases not connected to the university except through this peripheral appointment, and thus outsiders of another sort. It makes for an odd liminal state for all parties involved, to say nothing of the  students.  

--Sanda Balaban

I will very quickly dismiss the grandparent-parent-child metaphor as false. My cooperating teacher was a basket case - she was maybe 8 years older than me and had just broken up with a boyfriend and needed my shoulder more for emotional support than me needing her as a role model. As I told the NYC group last week, I spent 7 years as a substitute in Nyack prior to teaching in NYC. It may be viewed as somewhat of a very long apprenticeship. Many of my assignments were long term (3-4months) and one of my best friends is the AP. I learned how to teach and work within a school setting from the fantastic role models around me. I tended to gravitate towards those who knew how to manage students and knew how to  teach. All of them had various styles. Whenever I had a problem with remedial students I would go to Sulynn as she was a master of "slower" children. Linda would help me with discipline. Esther taught me intensity. Debbie taught me thoroughness. My cooperating teacher taught me how to wing it - that/s all she did, and I picked up on it quickly. As a substitute, I often had to wing it - and , in the school I presently work in, where things schedules change ALL time, i have to wing it a lot - but I cannot say that I/d want inexperienced, first time teachers to learn how to wing it from their cooperating teachers. My other cooperating teacher never wrote a lesson plan - I/m not sure she even took attendance. 

However, my supervising teacher - is a super amazing person - and has supported me through thick and thin - constructive criticism, support, discussions, openness, etc.  

--Lexi McGill

I think that her metaphor is inaccurate and does not create a better understanding of what the relationship should be which, to me, would be the purpose of the metaphor.  

As others have said, these relationships are very complex and unique to each individual and situation. I think that it is more important to be open to ways in which people can connect to and help each other and realize that all  members of the partnership can and do learn from each other.  

One of the highlights of working with student teachers is their wealth of ideas and their enthusiasm for the profession which can be energizing for the cooperating teacher. I think that Lexi brought out a good point when she mentioned how she learned different things from different people, drawing on each one/s strengths and areas of expertise. The university professor can provide the theoretical and research base, however, it is only through the actual experience of the classroom, that a student teacher will understand the realities of what a teacher needs to know and be able to do. And by listening to those realities, the university supervisor can learn from the student teacher and the cooperating teacher as well. We need to remove barriers and build bridges so this exchange of ideas can happen.

--Carol Horn

I am not so troubled by the metaphor because I think it misses the more pressing concern which is the notion of the student teaching triad itself. As long as the triad is seen as the primary organizing principle and the status divisions between student teacher, cooperating classroom, and university are maintained, the generational family metaphor seems obvious, albeit unproductive.  

On the other hand, moving away from the triad may be more fruitful. I think that what is needed is a re-conceptualization around the notion of cohorts that builds on what we know about teams and networks. Teams of student teachers working with teams of teachers would help to broaden the essentially narrow and unrealistic experience that is the traditional student teaching experience. At the same time, it would provide a new context for teachers to meet and reflect on their practice. And to be honest, I don/t really see a clearly defined role for the university. I see the university in an adjunct role that supports what happens in the school.  

--Mark Silberberg

The roles of teams or cohorts can be tremendously powerful. Not only can teaming transform situations where teachers do little of it, but it can also set the tone for people entering the profession to move away from the too often troubling sense of isolation. 

Perhaps in this type of model, the university can play a role by offering classes in schools for both student teachers and cooperating teachers. These classes could be around pressing topics central to everyone involved in the schools. Group action research could be facilitated by a university person, or two or more university people. Their connection to formal research to help the classroom research grow.  

--Peter Dillon

First, although metaphors are very powerful things which shape the way we see and act on the world, they are also, by and large, unconscious forces. Only rarely do we adopt metaphors with a full consciousness of the complete range of their implications. Second, the problem of teacher education can not really be properly examined and confronted so long as our thinking remains constrained by the notion of the triad -- we need a fundamental re-negotiation of these roles, with a re-centering of the teacher education process on the school. 

--Leo Casey

I think the analogy of parent, child and grandparent is not a good one because it is hopelessly paternalistic in a situation whose main problem is that kind of relationship. I/d like to get away from it all together. In fairness to Michele Reich she had a lot more to say than that metaphor. She mentioned possibilities of making cooperating teachers adjunct faculty and an interest in on site education, both ideas near and dear to our hearts. I think we are in the process of trying to change an entire zeitgeist and we need to think in a big picture to know where we want to go with each of the nested parts. 

First, we are about professionalizing the teacher community. This includes both the people who are currently in the field and those who will enter. I believe that means we want to create teachers/educators who are research practitioners. People capable of generating research, consuming it and teaching it as well as being in class teachers of children. I would like to see the whole undergraduate and grad process operate in a way that would prepare newcomers to do that. So that at some point they would perhaps teach on and off in the school and at the university as full time faculty in both institutions, that they would gather research at the school level and present it at the university. 
Hopefully, this would help to remove the separation of these two institutions, and gain equity for the professionals in the schools. Clearly, we are a long way from this ideal goal. So in the meantime we need to begin to take small steps to move in the right direction. We need to begin to involve the present faculty of the university and the teacher corps in each other/s cultures. A good way to begin is to create adjunct positions for cooperating teachers hopefully with the understanding that  is not just a crumb, but a first step to integration. 

Second, any mechanism that would get more full time faculty into the physical plant of real working schools would be a good step. It could be in the form of cooperative teaching of student teachers on sight with the cooperating teacher as co-instructor, involved in planning, instruction and evaluation on an ongoing basis, or the creation of more PDL/s or the provision of class space in schools for faculty to conduct on site classes. 

A second area( in addition to mixing cultures) which I think is a necessary temporary or initiating step is to begin to raise the level of acceptance of the "school teacher". Two sides exist (at least) to this. One is to raise the actual competence in areas of research and university level teaching. The other is to begin to change the perception and conception of these individuals. Part of this is PR work and part is the use of strong symbols like actual payment for their service, recognition of the importance of their contribution to the student by creation of time blocks in which they can plan with the university personnel and student and other forms of symbolic recognition. Finally, (for now) I would like to suggest that education of student teachers is not something we do to them, but a process in which all three of us--student, cooperating teacher and university teacher work on together. If we expect students to develop as teachers we must believe they are learners who take responsibility for creating themselves and can participate as equal members of a team helping them to define themselves. This is not rhetoric, but represents a strong commitment to autonomy.  

I think we need to see the big picture. I/m sure the picture is bigger than I have suggested, but maybe we can begin to build it together.  

--Joe Rafter

In defense of Michele, I/d like to add that in her recognition that the cooperating teacher plays an important and intimate role in the education of student teachers, she is eons beyond many of the university professors and supervisors I interviewed for my policy paper. (And those that I/ve worked with). At least she believes that the primary relationship in the triad is that of the cooperating teacher and student teacher, and therefore, she values that connection. Many that I interviewed view the cooperating teacher as a necessary interference in educating new teachers. 

I agree with many of your criticisms of her metaphor, especially about the need for equality in the triad and that all members learn from each other (although I strongly disagree with Mark about the unnecessary role of the university), I wonder if we are digging rather too deeply and perhaps she was commenting on the nature of how the relationships play out between the members of the triad. 

What do you think?

--Judi Fenton

As long as Judy is disagreeing with me, I/ll disagree with myself (which I assume qualifies as continuing the conversation). I think my initial objection to the university role hinged on the ability of the university to rethink itself. Given Judy/s comments concerning university practitioners and school practitioners there is a tremendous gap in perception (one that Joe rightly points out can only be overcome by a shared culture). I think universities are going to have an incredibly hard time changing which is why I would advocate for school-based teacher education. However, if the university is willing to engage in the kind  of action research that Peter mentions this would be significant. At the same time, the university cannot simply teach action research skills. It needs to become part of the life of the public school. More important is the direct link between action research and policy. If the academy gets its hands dirty in the life of public schools as opposed to  analyzing large sets of data, there are profound implications for the impact this could have on policy. The question then is how to finesse universities into this relationship.   Maybe we need to involve more university-based educators in this conversation. So I stand corrected. 

--Mark Silberberg

As for the metaphor, I believe that Michelle/s analogy is typical. Most universities do distant themselves from the schools. My student teaching experience was adequate. I was fortunate to have two fine cooperating teachers who set good examples for me to follow. Since my student teaching classroom experiences worked out, my university supervisor only made one visit per student teaching assignment. So she visited me twice during the entire school year. Was this enough or adequate? It was adequate, but hardly enough. Once I entered the NYC public school system, I was placed into a win-lose situation. Classroom management skills were helpful from my student teaching days and kept me afloat with 41 students on my first day on the job. After fifteen years in the classroom, I think I came out a winner. 

I have to agree with Mark/s last point regarding the reality of the university/s role in schools. It will take time to get schools of education to re-think and re-invent their role in public schools. So what do we need to do? I believe we need to build relationships with universities. Instead of waiting for the university to call on us, we need to establish ground rules. The current role allows the university to come in and out of the teaching/learning environment with no other connection. Perhaps schools should require universities to play an active role in the teaching community for an extended period of time or limit student teaching opportunities at school sites. 

--Peggy Wyns-Madison

I/m glad my disagreement fueled your rethinking, and I agree with you now. The university certainly must reinvent itself in regard to teacher ed. For the most part they are not adequately preparing or supporting new teachers to take on the realities of teaching. Certainly, any situation that encourages dialogue and interaction between actual teachers and teacher educators (as well as teacher education students, of course) will help to frame the reinvention. I think it would be interesting and productive to invite teacher educators to join our conversations. Any other feedback on that idea? 

--Judi Fenton

I finally had to add my two cents. Everything Sally has written seems on  target to me. The metaphor was a perfect model for a dysfunctional family all right! If the relationship is not a collaborative one with the roles and contributions of all partners understood, we will always get what we/ve always got. We all know we can/t afford that!   

--Tina Yalen


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