Blast from the past: Myths and realities of student teaching


Originally published in the April 5, 2004 Wartburg Trumpet, a student-run college newspaper.

Nearly eight years later some things have changed while others have stayed the same.  Feel free to make your own connections in the comments below.

Myths and realities of student teaching
by Matt Townsley, Columnist

Get up around seven, teach kids for six or seven hours, and then come home and relax with your college friends.  This is often the life of a student teacher, right?

From the outside, it may seem like a semester of student teaching would be less stressful and involve fewer evening hours of preparation compared to the typical academic load.  Based of my experiences of ten weeks of student teaching thus far, I beg to differ.

Because a fair number of the friends I have made here at Wartburg also major in education, I do not often hear the stereotypes surrounding education majors, but I have managed to catch a few.  With those thoughts in mind, I hope to clear up a couple of myths that are often attached to student teaching.  

Myth #1 - "Student teachers have an easier daily schedule - they have evenings off!"
During student teaching, it's vital that school building hours are observed.  For me, this entails being at school from 7:30 a.m. until 3:30 p.m or 8:00 a.m. until 4:00 p.m., at the very least.  So, yes, evenings are typically unscheduled, but events such as parent-teacher conferences fill the evening hours at least once per semester for us.  Furthermore, I spend on average one to three hours each evening creating lesson plans, checking papers, writing assessments and working on my student-teaching portfolios.  For the duration of my seven semesters of academic study at Wartburg, I have never had 10 straight five-day weeks with constant activities eight until four.  In fact, there were more days that I slept in past eight in the morning because my day did not begin until nine or 10.  True, I did have various organizational meetings in the evenings, but those were by choice and were not necessarily pertinent to the next day's activities like lesson planning, paper grading and test writing are presently for the student teacher in me.

Myth #2 - "Student teachers just teach, check papers and do other regular teacher duties."
Part of this myth is true.  Student teachers do teach, check papers, write tests, attend teachers' meetings and discipline kids. In addition to being a teacher, we must journal on a semi-daily basis, create at least one portfolio to be turned in at the end of the semester displaying our progress and reflective thoughts, complete and review a wide array of paperwork before each of six Wartburg personnel observational visits and attend evening seminars on a weekly or bi-weekly basis.   More specifically, secondary student teachers are required to turn in a portfolio addressing our progress towards meeting the Iowa Teaching Standards, various reflection pieces describing how our student teaching placements addressed various components of the Wartburg Education Department Knowledge Base, a small research project proving that students are actually making academic progress in our classrooms and an assessment of our personal professional growth during the twelve weeks of teaching.

To sum it all up, student teaching is an experience like none other.  It is more than just a trial run at becoming a teacher.  It is a test of endurance, perseverance and daily excellence.  If nothing else, it is going to make me appreciate being a "student" once again for my final May Term on Wartburg's campus. 

Professional development: focus on outputs or inputs?

Ryan Bretag had this to say about an organization focusing on instructional strategies,

The problem with that is that if we continue to focus on the question “how well are we instructing”, we will continue to search for a non-existent formula. Instead, leaders and teachers need to focus on the question “how well are we learning”.
We focus too much on how we want teachers to teach: this strategy, this technology, this belief...In fact, I’m not overly concerned with how any teacher is teaching so long as the learning we desire is happening.

I do think that some instructional strategies have the potential to be more effective than others.  Bretag goes on to quote Marzano - it's how you use the strategy that matters.  I encourage you to read Ryan's thoughts.  I don't have much to add other than a connection to what's going on locally in Iowa.  I mentioned nearly a year ago the way the Iowa Core is written focuses too much on adults (inputs) and not enough of on students (outputs).   As a district administrator charged with leading our professional development efforts, it's tempting to spend an entire year or more on inputs such as any of the Iowa Core's characteristics of effective instruction.  So far, we haven't bit the bullet.  Instead, we're learning about and implementing the professional learning community philosophy, specifically the second learning question, "How will we know when each student has learned it?"  If Teacher A used more direct instruction and Teacher B used a more of an inquiry approach and both of their students learned the agreed upon learning target at the level the team collectively agreed upon, then so be it.

I realize the pendulum swings both ways here - from a strict emphasis on inputs (instructional strategies) to outputs (learning based on assessments) - and see my philosophical bias leaning heavily towards outputs.

I am looking for the perspective of two groups of people on this topic.

  • Folks in charge of professional development - the majority of you that I talk with focus on inputs (my perception can be off target, admittedly) what drives you to lean in this direction?
  • Classroom teachers - where is the philosophical bias in your district - inputs?  outputs?  What is your perspective on this leaning?