Helpful Tips for First-Time Cooperating Teachers in Music

Help! I Am Going to Have a Student Teacher

Helpful Tips for First-Time Cooperating Teachers in Music

By NAfME Member Amanda Soto


“The principal calls you to announce that you will get a student teacher next semester from your local university. You are excited but nervous of the prospect of another human being observing your every move in the classroom. You begin to doubt your experience and expertise and wonder if you should decline the offer.”

The scenario described is a common experience of a music teacher who is about to enter the world of mentoring the next generation of music teachers. While the feelings of self-doubt and unworthiness are normal, I urge you to let them pass and to accept this next chapter in your professional development.


student teacher FatCamera


As a music education student teacher program coordinator for a large School of Music department, I often place up to thirty music education students in surrounding music programs. I work with cooperating teachers and field music supervisors to ensure the best possible placements and experiences for our students. Here is a list of successful strategies that I have learned when working with new cooperating teachers that may help you as you chart these unfamiliar waters.


Getting a Student Teacher

The process of assigning a student teacher is complicated and is unique to each institutions’ College of Education or School of Music department. There are differences in the amount of time you will have a student teacher. Some programs will place a student in a school for an entire semester or quarter, while other programs may do split placements that consist of a seven-week secondary and a seven-week elementary placement. It is important to fill out any district student teacher request and to let your principal know you are open and willing to host a student teacher.


This is your contribution to the field of music education and to provide the support that was once extended to you.


Most universities required a minimum of three years of experience at your current school. You may also want to contact your music education student teacher coordinator at your local university to let them know that you are interested in mentoring a student teacher and to describe what type of program and experience you have. Field supervisors are there to mentor and encourage growth from their student teachers and are not there to judge your teaching ability, skills, and music program. They only observe the student teacher and do not supervise you in the classroom.

It is important to understand that this service is often a labor of love. Some universities may pay a small fee of a few hundred dollars or give you professional development credit, but the amount of time spent is never truly compensated. This is your contribution to the field of music education and to provide the support that was once extended to you.


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So, I Have a Student Teacher, Now What?

Below is a list of helpful suggestions to be a successful cooperating teacher.


  • Meet with student teacher the week prior to their start date to review time schedules and teaching calendar and to discuss any expectations. It will be helpful to give your student teacher a copy of your teaching schedule, behavior plan, student and teacher handbook, and any other resources that may assist them. The field supervisor will set up a meeting to discuss expectations and other requirements. This can also happen over email or through the phone if distance and time is an issue. Make sure you read the institution’s cooperating teacher’s guide or handbook.

It is important that your students view your student teacher as another teacher.


  • Share your campus calendar so that your student teacher is aware of required meetings and professional development meetings. Review the student teaching calendar to be aware of required assignments and off-campus seminars or job fairs. Other than required university events, your student teacher is often expected to attend all classes, performances, and school field trips that are planned even if they take place after school or during the weekend. Any absences should be pre-approved and made up by extending their required days.
  • Provide a space or desk where they can work and keep their personal belongings. It is important that your students view your student teacher as another teacher.


Planning and Presentation Guidance:

  • Share a copy of your weekly lesson plans with your student teacher.
  • The first few days or the first week the student teacher will be observing and taking notes. They need to understand the structure of your classroom, learn your curriculum and behavior management protocols, and become familiar with the students in your classroom.
  • Some cooperating teachers like to ask their student teachers to start teaching small portions of a lesson and slowly expand upon their teaching duties. Others will give them an entire class or ensemble after much observation and a thorough review of lesson plans. The best approach can be decided upon through discussion between you, your student teacher, and the field supervisor so that everyone is on the same page.
  • Although, there may be times when you will ask the student teacher to jump right in and teach unexpectedly, try to limit these moments at the beginning. Make sure your student teacher has enough time to prepare and create a lesson plan for the class or session they are going to teach. Review and give feedback on detailed lesson plans that are submitted by the student teacher before they teach in order to fix any pitfalls in their lesson plan. Their field supervisor will also expect them to turn in lessons plans. It is best that everyone is on the same page about this date depending on your teaching schedule or rotation.
cooperating teachers Highwaystarz-Photography


Teaching Mentorship:

  • Informally observe your student teacher and schedule a time to debrief at the end of each day. Allow the student teacher to experiment with their own teaching style.
  • Formally observe and fill out required university paperwork specified by field supervisor.
  • Be honest with the student teacher about any shortcomings they may have. Suggest further readings or resources that can assist them with their preparation.
  • Communicate with field supervisor immediately if there are any concerns regarding tardiness, lack of lesson plans, communication issues, teaching ability, professionalism, or anything else that raises a red flag. It is important that the field supervisor is aware of these issues so they can be addressed formally. Documentation or a growth plan may need to be completed depending on the issue, which is important in case the student teacher does meet the student teaching requirements laid out by the syllabus and other student teacher contracts.
  • Be honest about the type of recommendation you will provide for the student teacher once they start applying for jobs. You may need to craft a general recommendation letter or fill out online references for each job they apply for.

It is rewarding and invigorating to mentor a student teacher. Cooperating teachers often evaluate their own curriculum and teaching habits and have mentioned how they have become better teachers through this process. They learn different repertoire and teaching techniques from their student teacher. As mentioned above, you will continue to grow professionally as you learn from your student teacher and through this process of mentorship.




Clements, A. C. & R. Klinger. (2010) A Field Guide to Student Teaching in Music. New York: Routledge.


DeWitt, Peter. (2014). Are You Prepared to Be a Cooperating Teacher?, Education Week.

Wide, T. Student Teaching: Tips for Cooperating Teachers.


About the author:

Amanda Soto

NAfME member Dr. Amanda C. Soto is the Assistant Professor of Music Education at Texas State University, where she teaches undergraduate and graduate music education courses. She is the program coordinator of the Music Education Student Teacher program. She co-teaches the Smithsonian Folkways Certification Course in World Music Pedagogy. She earned a B.A. degree in Music Education from the University of North Texas and received a M.A. in Ethnomusicology and a Ph.D. in Music Education from the University of Washington.

Dr. Soto’s ongoing research has produced publications in journals in both music education and ethnomusicology. Soto has presented clinical workshops and research presentations at conferences at state, regional, national, and international conferences related to music education and ethnomusicology.

Learn more about Dr. Amanda Soto.


Dr. Amanda Soto presented on her topic, “Social Justice Issues, Lesson Plans, & Resources for the Music Classroom,” at the 2017 NAfME National Conference last November in Dallas, TX. Register today for the 2018 NAfME National Conference!

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