Balancing the Tripod: Tips for Student Teaching
By NAfME members John M. Denis, Dakota Reynolds, and Jessica Coleman
Student teaching is commonly thought to be the single most effective aspect of pre-service teacher training by new and experienced music teachers. Such capstone experiences can provide opportunities for novice teachers to gain real world context and experiences, which in turn allow them to mature into strong educators.
Yet, while the student teaching (also known as practicum) experience is essential to the transition from university student to professional educator, there are many challenges which bar all parties involved from realizing such success. Cooperating teachers, university supervisors, and the student teachers themselves all have unique concerns that may impact the effectiveness of the student teaching experience[i].
Knowing What You Don’t Know
For many student teachers this is their first real exposure to both the world of education and the identity of being a teacher. The newness of the experience often provides some specific difficulties that student teachers may face. It has been said that true wisdom is knowing what you don’t know, and yet gaining enough experience and insight to understand the limits of one’s knowledge can be hard.
This challenge is further exacerbated by the reflection and humility needed to understand the wide ranging impacts a change of setting, such as from a class of peers to a class of students, can have on applicable knowledge. Student teachers have to be courageous to question during their student teaching experience. They must question themselves, their prior coursework, and their cooperating teacher, yet still retain the humility to do so with a continual focus on improvement and understanding.
By balancing inquisitiveness with humility, it is important to seek out the knowledge held by those with experience.
In my experience, student teachers are sometimes either too afraid to approach those with more experience for fear of looking inexperienced or too proud to ask for help. Neither approach will provide the understanding, improvement, and mentorship that most truly desire. Instead, by balancing inquisitiveness with humility, it is important to seek out the knowledge held by those with experience. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, to jump in to help, or to seek advice from cooperating teachers or university supervisors.
Along these lines, it is important for both the student and cooperating teachers to have a healthy grasp on the dynamics of their relationship going into the student teaching semester[ii]. One of the most effective ways to prevent student teachers from reaching their potential is to breed conflict between cooperating and student teachers. To avoid such a situation both parties need to be aware of common challenges, the most glaring being communication.
No relationship can be built or maintained without effective, intentional communication.
No relationship can be built or maintained without effective, intentional communication. Student teachers, as already mentioned, can struggle to ask questions or seek help. It can also be difficult to navigate the transition period of student teaching, as individuals may struggle with perceptions of limited time, limited responsibilities, limited respect, and the fluid nature of self-identity in transitioning from student to teacher.
In contrast, cooperating teachers must make conscious decisions to provide the time and effort necessary for the development of a meaningful relationship with their student teachers. To this end, several experienced educators[iii] have suggested building consistent meeting times into the weekly schedule. This can allow for questioning opportunities, general communication about progress and participation, and establish rapport between the cooperating and student teacher. Likewise, meeting with the student teacher prior to their official start may provide a good foundation for communication as well as provide a perfect opportunity to present expectations.
It is unlikely that any student teacher will immediately understand what their cooperating teacher is doing or why in every situation. As such, it is important to remember that while they may fill a partial role as a staff member, they are also a student there to learn from their cooperating teacher and gain authentic experiences in teaching. This final piece of learning is an incredibly vital one, so setting aside discussion time for the student teacher’s growth is essential.
Connecting Theory to Practice
One of the major goals of communication in the practicum context is the development of knowledge and skills for successful teaching. While some student teachers enter the practicum experience with age-appropriate teaching experience, many more have never had any time individually instructing children. Perhaps the prototypical example can be found in classroom management skills.
Varying theories and basic concepts of classroom management are taught in every music education program, however many of these ideas may not make sense until seen in a real world context. Learning about the application of management strategies in an environment where the personalities of the students are known can help to build connections between theory and practice. Student teachers should ask questions about how management was (or should be) handled, and cooperating teachers should provide explanations or strategies that will work for their students and both can be career saving actions in the life of a novice teacher. Management is but one aspect where teaching moments like this are beneficial, but a myriad of other areas and skills can all be developed or improved through the back and forth between student and cooperating teachers.
The university supervisor can play an important role in facilitating communication, providing meaningful feedback to student teachers, and helping to elucidate expectations.
Communication, however, is not limited to just between cooperating and student teachers. The university supervisor can play an important role in facilitating communication, providing meaningful feedback to student teachers, and helping to elucidate expectations. The most obvious aspects of supervisory roles involve the student teacher themselves. University professors observe student teachers and contribute meaningful discussion and feedback based on student performance or questions. They also communicate the university expectations necessary for graduation and are responsible for guiding the student teachers to completion of their degree. In presenting expectations, it is also important that the university supervisor also be in communication with the cooperating teacher. Through a mutually respectful dialogue the supervisor can, in many cases, help to avoid problems before they even begin.
Awareness of the unique circumstances, individuals, and requirements inherent in each student teaching experience can help participants to provide the best possible practicum for everyone. Student teachers need to be aware and reflective about their own teaching, and to seek out feedback or advice whenever possible. Cooperating teachers should provide consistent time for such conversations to happen, and build rapport with their student teachers to further growth. University supervisors can help facilitate healthy communication, understanding of expectations, and perspective. Together, we can all work towards continued excellence in music education.
About the authors:
NAfME member John Denis has 8 years of Texas band directing experience working with middle school and high school students. Mr. Denis is currently pursuing his PhD in Music Education at UNT and is a member of the Texas Music Educator’s Association, the Texas Music Adjudicator’s Association, the National Association for Music Education, Pi Kappa Lambda, and Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia. Mr. Denis has been active as a clinician in North Texas and Oregon. He has also presented at the TMEA Convention, California All-State Music Education Conference, Maryland Music Educators February Conference, the NAfME Music Research and Teacher Education National Conference, and International Society for Music Education World Conference.
NAfME member Dakota Reynolds is in his second year at the International Leadership of Texas Keller Middle School. His responsibilities include directing the Symphonic Band and teaching beginner band classes. He believes in providing comprehensive education for students so that they become self-sufficient, critical-thinking and independent learners through music. He is an alumnus of the University of North Texas where he graduated Cum Laude. During his time at UNT he served as President of Mu Phi Epsilon as well as working with the Denton community’s youth and elderly population in music outreach programs.
NAfME member Jessica Coleman is in her second year at Trent Middle School in Frisco, Texas. Her teaching responsibilities include directing the Concert Band and teaching beginner woodwind classes. She graduated from the University of North Texas with a Bachelor’s degree in Music Education. During her time at UNT, she studied flute with Dr. Mary Karen Clardy, and performed in many ensembles including Concert Band, Symphonic Band, and Phi Tau Winds. Ms. Coleman was involved with the Green Brigade Marching Band as a performer and a field technician and was a member of Mu Phi Epsilon where she served as an executive board officer.
[i] Draves, T. J. (2013). Transition from student to teacher–student teaching: The capstone experience. Journal of Music Teacher Education, 23(1), 50–62. doi:10.1177/1057083712474935
Legette, R. M. (2013). Perceptions of early-career school music teachers regarding their preservice preparation. Update: Applications of Research in Music Education, 32(1), 12–17. doi:10.1177/8755123313502342
[ii] Draves, T. J. (2008). Nurturing our future colleagues: Cooperating music teachers’ relationships with their student teachers (Doctoral dissertation). Available from ProQuest Dissertations and Theses database. (UMI No. 3312680)
Duling, E. (2000). Student teachers’ descriptions and perceptions of their mentors. Update: Applications of Research in Music Education, 19(1), 17–21.
[iii] Cannon, R. M. (2002). Music student teaching in Texas: A Delphi study of issues in the new millennium (Doctoral dissertation). Available from ProQuest Dissertations and Theses database. (UMI No. 3076235)
Draves, T. J. (2008). Nurturing our future colleagues: Cooperating music teachers’ relationships with their student teachers (Doctoral dissertation). Available from ProQuest Dissertations and Theses database. (UMI No. 3312680)
Stegman, S. F. (2007). An exploration of reflective dialogue between student teachers in music and their cooperating teachers. Journal of Research in Music Education, 55, 65–82. doi:10.1177/002242940705500106
John Denis, Dakota Reynolds, and Jessica Coleman presented on their topic “Key Aspects of Student Teaching: Successfully Navigating the Triumvirate” at the 2016 NAfME National Conference. Register today for the 2018 National Conference!
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