Over the past seven years, I’ve spent many hours in high school classrooms mentoring student teachers. I’ve learned that my role as a mentor cannot be understated. Many student teachers seem quite capable, but they still benefit immensely from formative feedback and logistical support. Additionally, student teaching may be one of the few times in a teacher’s career when they have the opportunity to learn hard truths about their teaching from a knowledgeable and caring colleague. With this in mind, here are tips for mentoring student teachers.
Tip #1: Show new teachers how to be creative within the boundaries of a classroom lesson
Give teachers the task of deciding exactly what they will say to introduce a lesson, elicit student ideas, run a discussion, review assignments, and help solve problems of practice.
Tip #2: Share teaching knowledge for specific topics
A veteran high school science teacher might know 12 different ways to teach the concept of density. A student teacher might know just one or two different ways. Encourage them to develop their own repertoire of practices, and share your knowledge about various approaches for teaching different topics.
Tip #3: Plan together
This preparation time is critical; it’s when you help the student teacher set appropriate learning goals for the students, design experiences that connect to learning goals, and decide what constitutes acceptable evidence of students meeting those goals.
Tip #4: Help new teachers test drive classroom equipment
In a science classroom, for example, help student teachers test drive oxygen gas sensor probeware or van de Graaff generators and other laboratory and demonstration equipment. Even if student teachers are familiar with this equipment, learning to use these items pedagogically can be challenging. Give them time to explore the equipment before they use it in front of a classroom audience.
Tip #5: Make time to talk
While touching base each day is important, be sure to build time into each week to talk with student teachers about how things are going. Classroom management troubles often take precedence for student teachers, and your approach to talking through these issues will determine whether they’re able to move beyond a focus on student control to a focus on student learning.
Tip #6: Connect teachers to the larger political world of the school and school district
Student teachers may show an interest in learning about their rights and responsibilities. Give them opportunities to learn. Suggest that they attend a school board meeting. Introduce them to a union representative. Show them what a teacher evaluation looks like. Encourage them to explore school testing data, state report cards, census data for the district, and the school budget.