How tough is it today to find good student teaching placements for up-and-coming education graduates? Are education reform efforts making this an even greater challenge?
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The Demand for Student Teaching Positions
Almost every educational degree program has some form of student teaching component. The structure for that component may vary a lot from state to state – and even from institution to institution within a single state – but the general principle behind the guidelines is the same. Teachers are expected to have supervised instructional experience before they’re given their own classroom to run.
The importance of the student teaching experience cannot be underestimated – and it has been a topic of concern for quite some time now. In July 2011, the National Council on Teacher Quality [NCTQ] published an in-depth report discussing the current state of student teaching and the need to establish more unified national standards. As the report states, “Teacher candidates have only one chance to experience the best possible placement. Student teaching will shape their expectations for their own performance as teachers and help determine the type of school in which they will choose to teach. A mediocre student teaching experience, let alone a disastrous one, can never be undone."
But, what types of student teaching assignments are being passed around today – and how many future teachers are just being shoved into whatever vacant slot can be found? During the 2009-2010 degree year period, over 101,000 education majors received their bachelor’s degree and a whopping 182,139 took home a master’s degree. The NCTQ report estimates that around 200,000 new student teaching placements are needed each year. The sheer volume alone makes the job of finding good placements hard enough, but now even more variables are getting tossed into the mix.
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Impact of Education Reform Efforts
All across the country, we’re seeing various education reform initiatives and many states are focusing on ramping up their teacher performance standards. As of 2012, 24 states require all teachers to be evaluated annually and 13 of these states include student achievement as a major component of their evaluations. These numbers have risen significantly over the last three years. In 2009, only 4 of the 15 states that required annual evaluations heavily incorporated student achievement as a teaching performance factor.
Whether or not they support these reforms, many teachers are still struggling to figure out how the changes are going to affect them and their classroom duties. Will they need to adjust their teaching styles? Are they in danger of losing their jobs if certain measures aren’t met? How are their colleagues responding to the new performance evaluation guidelines?
While trying to find answers to these questions, it’s only natural for teachers to want to shut out other distractions and focus primarily on adjusting to ongoing changes. But, is mentoring student teachers one of these distractions? Some believe that it is.
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Finding Good Mentors
In a Star-Gazette story by Jessica Bakeman now shared on WGRZ.com, several university education coordinators in New York admitted that they have been having trouble securing placements for student teachers this year. When schools and individual teachers are asked why they’re unable to offer student teaching positions, many are pointing to the new evaluation system.
Bakeman quotes George Theoharis, associate dean of Syracuse University’s education school: “People are saying, ‘If 40 percent of my evaluation is based on student numbers, I’m leery about having some instruction done by somebody else. I’m worried about giving up my time.’"
While some feel that this is a temporary problem that will ease over time as teachers become more comfortable with the performance evaluation system, how can current education majors deal with the issue? Even if a student teaching position is secured, will it be an enriching experience – or will it end up being just an item checked off of a list? How will this impact future employment opportunities?
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Should Future Education Majors Be Concerned?
Although many might wave a hand and claim that this is just a passing concern that will fade quickly, it’s really not a point that should be taken lightly. With so many recent education graduates having difficulty finding a job, it’s more important than ever for prospective students to take all factors into consideration when deciding which degree to pursue and which institution to attend.
If you’re thinking about becoming a teacher, put together a list of your own questions to ask during interviews with the universities on your short list. Don’t settle for anything except solid, honest answers – backed up with verifiable data, whenever possible. In addition to other things that are important to you, ask about the school’s success rate for securing good, relevant student teaching placements for its education majors. Note the emphasis on “relevant" – you may even want to ask how often students are placed in a classroom that is outside of their focus area.
If you’ve recently completed – or if you’re in the middle of – your student teaching assignment, how would you rate it? Did you have trouble securing a placement or were you “matched" with a coordinating teacher that you feel wasn’t a good fit? More generally, do you believe that your student teaching experience was truly helpful or was it just another degree requirement you felt forced to complete?