By Ann Weber and Marvin Henry
If you haven’t already, you will want to read Esther Cepeda’s recent column entitled “Learning by Example: What an Idea.” Her message distributed through the Washington Post Writers Group is that future teachers need to observe great teachers teaching. She laments that there are not many master teachers from which to choose and cites the National Council on Teacher Quality as reporting that only one of every 25 faculty members is qualified and willing to mentor. This means a limited number of placements.
While we nod in agreement with Cepeda’s call for the observation of master teachers, we also feel reservation about her implication that observations of great teaching will produce great teachers. We can spend many Sunday afternoons observing the fine-tuned swings of professional golfers, culinary-wizardry of chefs, or renovations by skilled woodworkers, but we still slice off the tee, have better luck by ordering take-out, and have to pay professionals for most of the household repairs.
We can learn valuable information through observation but more is needed from the experts than simply viewing them at work. The same can be said for our future teachers. We believe that there is more to choosing quality placements for our pre-teachers than providing observations of master instructors. Exemplary instruction is valuable but when a placement is combined with a classroom teacher who also possesses effective supervisory skills then the pre-teacher’s chances of professional growth soar.
We have witnessed very effective classroom teachers who were poor cooperating teachers. Some did not have the analytical ability to dissect and explain the events of effective instructional success. Others did not have skills for sharing knowledge or providing quality feedback, much less possess time, patience, or nurturing qualities. In contrast, we have witnessed average and even mediocre classroom teachers who were effective as cooperating teachers. They provided a nurturing yet challenging environment and understood the developmental stages of a student teacher as they facilitated professional growth on a daily basis. Yes, it’s dynamite when both teaching skills and supervisory skills are exemplary in the cooperating teacher, but in the end, it is the supervisory element that is highly important to advancing the career-lasting development of our future teachers.
Those of you in education know that there is also a college supervisor that bridges the gap between college course work and the school experiences. However, budget constraints are now limiting their travel time for supervisory observations of the student teacher and guidance for the cooperating teacher. Additionally our society continues to loudly beg for effective classroom teachers. Indeed, cooperating teachers with supervisory training seems even more imperative to address these concerns.
Supervisory skills can be learned. Several college programs now offer on-campus professional development for their cooperating teachers, but there are far more cooperating teachers who still operate without supervisory training. The advent of the internet and subsequent courses developed for online study have further created manageable opportunities for the preparation of cooperating teachers.
We have been advocating for years that teachers need professional development if they are assuming the important role of a cooperating teacher. We are as perplexed about the lack of action in the supervisory qualification for our cooperating teachers as Cepeda is about finding placements with teachers who are great at teaching. If the school experience is the capstone of the undergraduate education program then surely the cooperating teacher, who is a part of the college program, should be fully prepared to supervise.
We are appreciative of the dialogue that Cepeda’s column is initiating and of you who are accepting her challenge of finding great teaching, yet we now nudge, beg, and implore you to expand your definition of quality experiences for our future teachers as ones that include exemplary instructional teachers with effective supervisory skills.
Ann Weber and Marvin Henry are co-authors of Supervising Student Teachers the Professional Way, 7 ed. (Roman & Littlefield, 2010) and Supervising Student Teachers the Professional Way: Instructor’s Guide (Roman & Littlefield, 2011).