Surviving a Teacher Preparation Program: Five Key Areas to Know

Participating in a teacher preparation program can be an extremely stressful and demanding experience.  If you’re goal is to become a teacher, passing through the traditional route of completing a college or university-based program, then it’s essential to equip yourself with knowledge and strategies to survive-and ideally-thrive.  Fortunately, student teachers can learn from those who have gone through similar programs and from research reporting such experiences.

Typically, completing a teacher program involves studying coursework along with a student teaching at a school. According to Sadler (2006), student teachers experience two major areas of concern: The first involves teaching in the classroom. Student teacher often worry about establishing a classroom presence, managing student behavior, and knowing the content or curriculum. Student teachers can also experience, praxis shock, or becoming overwhelmed at the demands of the profession and an identity crisis as they trade idealistic ideas of teaching for more practical ones.

Of course, surviving a teacher program goes beyond coursework as student teachers must also learn to balance their assignment workload with time in the classroom. This article provides success strategies in five, key areas within a teacher program: program requirements, collaboration with mentor teachers and supervisors, timemanagement/planning, stress/emotional management; and the observation cycle. Using these strategies together, student teachers can better prepare themselves for the challenging work ahead.

Collaboration

Working effectively with classmates will make life easier in the program, but student teachers must also learn to navigate the relationship between themselves, their mentor teacher, and university supervisor (sometimes called the triad).  Typically, student teachers will be assigned to a veteran teacher when placed in the classroom. However, they will also report to a university-based supervisor, who oversees the program, ensuring that requirements are met.

This person may also assign course grades and complete evaluations of teaching. Therefore, as Marais and Meier(2004) advise, “a good relationship between student and supervisor is indispensable” (p. 222). This advice also applies to one’s relationship with the mentor teacher. In both cases, make sure to communicate openly and frequently. If lesson plans are required before teaching, make sure to provide them in advance. Similarly, if paperwork is expected, make sure to give this to the proper party, meeting deadlines in the process. Also, be careful not to create a competitive situation between the supervisor and mentor teacher by favoring one over the other or giving one more attention, as research suggests.

Time Management and Planning

With pressing assignment deadlines, piles of coursework, and teaching expectations, managing time becomes essential. Some ideas include keeping a calendar as well as writing a weekly/daily list of priority items that must be completed. When possible, work smarter by combining assignments. For example, you might be asked to complete a lesson plan for a science methods course. Determine if you can use that plan when teaching an observed lesson, thus saving time on additional planning. Also, when starting student teaching (the practicum), student teacher Tristyn Mandel (2019) found it extremely helpful to meet with the mentor teacher and discuss in advance the dates for the student teaching experience as well as what particular lessons you will be responsible to teach. Taking time upfront to plan will save time later and help you strategize the use of your resources.

Stress-Emotional Management

As mentioned, student teaching can be highly stressful. Therefore, you must take care of yourself and practice self-management as you complete your degree. Establish routines to help you manage the stress that will inevitable occur as a student teacher, whether this is taking time to exercise, read on the beach, and or whatever activity helps you de-stress.  Teachers have also turned to approaches such as mindfulness, which may involve sitting quietly, breathing, and other techniques (Jones, 2018).Mandel (2019) emphasizes a strict, early bedtime to provide the rest and energy needed for student teaching as well as maintain a healthy diet. Also, developing a support system—other students in the program going through the same challenges—might help reduce tensions and provide perspective.

Navigating Observations

The program will likely involve an evaluation or observed teaching, where mentor teachers and/or supervisors will formally observe lessons and provide feedback and possibly scores or ratings. To be successful in this process, make sure to adopt an attitude of learning from mistakes, as teacher is a specialized craft that takes time (“A Survivor’s Guide,” 2018). Watson (n.d.) suggests selecting subjects and teaching methods that one feels more comfortable teaching for an observation (at least when first starting out). Other factors include properly planning for the observation and informing your students that a visitor will be coming to the classroom.

Completing a teacher program is challenging and can be stressful. One must balance coursework and the rigors of learning to teach in the classroom. Student teachers must also learn to work collaboratively and manage time as well as engage in self-management. If you’re goal is to work as a teacher, then familiarize yourself with these key areas and employ these strategies to increase your chances of success and make the journey more enjoyable.

Steve Haberlin is a PhD candidate and graduate assistant at the University of South Florida in Tampa, Florida. A former education news reporter for the Ocala Star-Banner and k-12 teacher, Steve currently supervises pre-service teachers and teaches undergraduate courses in the College of Education. He has published articles in a number of peer-reviewed journals, including Action in Teacher Education, the Qualitative Report, and Gifted Education International. He is a regular blogger for Education World, as well as freelance writer for other organizations like Patrick Henry College..

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