Friday, February 20, 2015

Testing vs. Student Teaching

This week the e-mail came out as it does every year. Who's willing to take a student teacher next year? Let the office know.

For the first time in my career, I wondered if that was a good idea. In fact, I wondered if I should send a reminder to my colleagues to think hard before saying yes.

Mind you, I am a big believer in being a co-operating teacher. I have always believed that helping train the next round of teachers is a professional responsibility. It's kind of like jury duty-- you can't complain that it's being done poorly if you say "no" every time it's your turn. Like most teachers who take on a mentee, I've had the full range of student teachers in my room, from a young woman who was better after two months than I had been after two years, to a gentleman who was a great guy but could not teach a puddle how to be wet (for what it's worth, neither is a teacher today).

It's a real journey. I believe hugely that a student teacher is not there to become a mini-me, but to find her own voice in the classroom, to figure out who he is when he's a teacher. I expect my student teachers to eventually take over, design their own stuff, plan their own materials; I stay with them every step of the way, but it has to be their way, not mine. It's a tough process; inevitably there will come a moment when I'm telling him or her, "That's okay. If you don't cry at least once during student teaching, you don't understand the situation." It can be a huge challenge, but the next generation of teachers has to come from somewhere.

But times have changed, and teachers in public schools face a new question-- can you really turn your class over to a trainee for any significant amount of time when so much is riding on Big Standardized Tests?

If I'm teaching under a system like NY Governor Andrew Cuomo's proposed 50% test score weighting for teacher evaluations, how can I possibly turn over my class and my professional future to a green college kid? What about a system like Pennsylvania's, where every teacher is partially evaluated based on a building rating? In PA, my buddies the shop teacher and the band director depend on me to get a good score out of my students' Big Reading Test, because those scores will affect their professional rating-- how do I turn that responsibility over to an inexperienced newbie?

I could take on a student teacher and keep her on a short, tight leash, never letting her do anything except exactly what I've laid out for her to do. But the world does not need any more Content Delivery Specialists who just unpack the program and mindlessly follow the directions; the world needs more teachers.

I suppose we could also just say to heck with actually training teachers and just take people with any kind of degree and drop them into a classroom where, under the newer accountability systems they would quickly wash out after a year or two and have to be replaced over and over and-- oh, wait. Now I see it. If you wanted to de-professionalize teaching, this would work just fine.

But for the rest of us, it's just one more bad side effect of test-driven accountability.


  1. I sure don't know if I would any more. I used to love it.

  2. I said no to a student teacher this will be rough for anyone looking to be a student teacher in NY with the conditions placed on employed teachers. I cannot afford to jeopardize my own SLO rating by giving up my classes.