Building a Better Cooperating Teacher

How do we transform an education major into a student teacher? How do I transform myself into the best cooperating teacher that’s possible?

How do we transform a education major into a student teacher?

How do I transform myself into the best cooperating teacher that’s possible?

I sat down with my student teacher-to-be for lunch, knowing my most important task was to listen so I could begin to plan the upcoming semester. Now I not only have to plan a positive learning experience for my 8th graders, but simultaneously a different positive learning experience for the student teacher.  I needed data.   As he talked, I took stock of who he was and probed for his educational passions.   We went through a checklist of expectations—dress, when to show up for work, important dates, and so forth.  I created a DropBox folder of all my classroom documents for the start of school—things like classroom expectations, the anatomy of a high quality answer, The Framework for the Science Standards, a planner with school rules, the district’s curriculum, my grade level’s unit plans, Back To School night presentations and invitations, parent communication form letters and so forth. There is way too much to print out and give someone, so sharing access to an electronic filing cabinet seemed best.

I gave two tasks for him to complete.  The first task was to create his plan for teaching the first unit.  I gave him a copy of our district’s master unit plan to use as a point of comparison and challenged him to find ways to make it better.  Second, I gave him 3 sets of student work to analyze.  I wanted to see what he could tell me about those students from reading through the spirals and analyzing student work.

I’m sure many readers are wondering why we didn’t start with classroom management or how to setup the classroom. We’ll get there to be sure.  But since I have the luxury of working with him over the summer, we’re starting with content and student work analysis first. 

Both of these tasks are something that we can do together to build our cooperating teacher-student teacher relationship without actually having students in the classroom. Both of these tasks will give us something concrete to begin professional conversations focused on student work.

It’s my belief that professional conversation supplemented with the opportunity for him to field test his ideas on my students will give him a positive student teaching experience.

I hope to build myself into a better cooperating teacher.  For the next month, I will be creating my master plan of the most important things I can offer the student teacher using what I learned about him in that first meeting and what I’ll find out from his unit plan and student work analysis.

What other kinds of data should I collect about my student teacher’s capabilities?

What else should I be doing to become the best cooperating teacher ever?

Photo credit is under Creative Commons Attribution License and the image can be found here.

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  • ReneeMoore

    Students At the Center

    I love your approach of putting getting to know students and their work at the center. You even modeled it by how you opened your relationship with him. The next best thing he’ll get is watching you in action!

    In my entire teaching career, I’ve only had one student teacher, and it was  precious experience for both of us. Do encourage him to visit the Collaboratory (if he has time after trying to keep up with you and the 8th grade) and let us share in his learning journey.

    • marsharatzel

      Great idea

      Oh Renee,

      I hadn’t thought of having him let us in on his learning journey….what a great idea.

      I know my biggest enemy is that I always feel pressured by time.  It’s hard for me to sit down, slow down, breath and listen.  I hear all these big, grandoise plans and feel like they can’t possible work….but I don’t feel like I should totally discourage him.  I don’t want him to fail but I would never be able to pull them off and I just want to say that.  Instead I’m trying to breath, listen and gently redirect?

      That’s tough for me.  It’s not really that I don’t want to interact/listen…it’s that I always feel like I have so much to do in such a short span of time that I can’t allow myself the luxury.

      To conquer this, I think I’ll need resolve and lots of prayer.  Divine intervention is probably the only thing that I think will really work to calm my type A down enough to be fully in the moment.

      I know you’re someone else who has loads of commitments.  What did you do to make the time with your student teacher work so well? 

  • Dawn


    Love how you are setting him up for success! Critically thinking about different student work models and then reflecting and analyzing with you the master teacher!

    I have high school seniors who teach in our local classrooms. In an effort to prepare them for edTPA, I have them video a lesson and analyze a fellow students along with their own. It has proven very informative for them. They notice a lot more about their classroom, their students and their own teaching style.

    I would have a student teacher video at the beginning of their experience and again at the end. While growth is important for students it is equally important for teachers!

    Thanks for this thoughtful post!

    • marsharatzel

      Thanks for a great idea

      Dear Dawn,

      Video is a terrific tool.  I was wondering if you have any kind of checklist that they used when analyzing the videotape?  If I can focus their attention on two or three things, it seems like they are better able to “get” something out of it.

      What’s your experience been with processing the video in the post-taping analysis?

  • Dawn Oler

    Video Reflection


    I created a basic form for reflection and observation.  I used the edTPA model for video commentary.  My experience has been that the students become much more critical of their impact in the classroom.  They see student reactions they didn't before and some have been able to identify struggling students they didn't recognize when teaching the lesson.  

    I have been toying with the idea of having them rewrite their lesson plans after viewing the video focusing on the changes they feel needed to make their lesson more effective.  However, since they are high school students, who will likely not teach the same lesson again, I am leaning towards continuing with the relective commentary.  

    With a student teacher, I would probably have them demonstrate their growth from viewing the video in another lesson.


  • Karen

    Modeling Reflection

    This is a great topic and also the focus of my dissertation research!

    On page 32 of this newsletter you'll find a write-up of the interim results:

    The preliminary survey findings show that what matters most in what student teachers perceive as a high quality experience is modeling and coaching from the cooperating teachers. From interviews it has seemed to be important that the student teacher feels integrated into the whole school community.

    My personal bias is that it's important that cooperating teachers model reflection about their own teaching so the student teacher gets access to the thinking behind instructional decisions and reflection from an expert teacher. 

    Your student teacher is lucky to have you!


  • marsharatzel

    Showing the ropes

    I took the prospective student teacher with me to an equipment training.  He really enjoyed it and told me later, “That is so much different than studying planning a lesson in school.”

    I think that’s a good and a bad thing.

    What he pointed out to me is that the lessons they use for learning the process are standards either given to them or self-selected…usually without a good rationale and certainly nothing that is in a sequence of lessons.

    What we did is learn new equipment and then set about embedding in the outline of the district-wide unit that was already designed.  He witnessed us talking content and I think he brought excellent content-related ideas into that conversation.  He witnessed us talking pedagogy and using what we know about 8th graders to break too difficult tasks apart and speed up other sections that our instinct tells us won’t be successful. 

    Along the way, I tried to make sure to explain the thinking behind the reasons we were shorthanding as we talked to each other.

    All in all, it was a productive day.