After my fifth year of teaching, I became a cooperating teacher at Parkland Middle School in Wheaton, Md. As I remembered the silenced conversations in my own student teaching experience, I thought about ways to help my student teachers engage in real dialogue about teaching — including race and class issues.
But creating a space for conversation in a large school setting poses challenges. Everyday practicalities consume student teachers' first couple of weeks: How should I set-up my classroom? How do I get to the copy machine? How should I format my lesson plan? These kinds of issues often inhibit student teachers from reflecting very deeply on their practice.
After these everyday concerns about teaching get layered upon the larger issues of working in a bureaucracy, it becomes extremely difficult for student teachers to discern what is essential and what is nonessential in their teaching.
This is why it is critical for cooperating teachers to shift the discourse for student teachers. We must encourage beginning teachers to recognize that one of the major keys to success is not how you format your lesson plans but how you get to know what best motivates your students.
Here are a few practical suggestions based on my work with student teachers: