Student teacher Grace Spaulding stands in front of a fourth-grade class at Silver Rail Elementary School in Bend, guiding students through math strategies. After giving the students an example and telling them to discuss a problem among their table groups, Spaulding huddles with the class’ teacher, Ona Larsell. Larsell reminds Spaulding to not talk at them for too long — “That way, they’re not sitting, they’re doing,” she says — and then they both wander through the class, scoping out students who need help.
This cooperative style of student teaching, called co-teaching, has become the norm for those earning their master’s degrees in teaching at Oregon State University-Cascades. Both student teachers and the full-time teachers they work with say they love how co-teaching provides more support and hands-on experience compared to the traditional model, where student teachers played a more passive role.
“Being able to compare what I was going to say to what (Larsell) suggests is a really cool learning strategy for me to use, because it gives me a different perspective,” Spaulding said. “I’ve learned a lot from her so far, and I’ve only been here for a couple weeks.”
The university has used the co-teaching model for about four years and has trained more local teachers throughout Central Oregon each year to host the student teachers, according to OSU-Cascades teaching professor Melinda Knapp. Co-teaching can look slightly different depending on the classroom and teacher, but typically, the teacher and student teacher might take turns leading the class or will spend some time together in front of the students. While the student teacher gives a lesson, the full-time teacher might interrupt briefly to correct or give a tip to the student teacher.
Amelia Glass, a student teacher working with Pine Ridge Elementary School first-grade teacher Stephanie Johnson, said having an experienced partner by her side helps boost her confidence in front of a class.
“It’s hard to come in (to teaching), because there’s things that you’re like, ‘Oh my gosh, I forgot,’” Glass said. “Just to have that support, and to be comfortable enough where if I forget something, I can be like, ‘Mrs. Johnson, what do you want me to do?’ and we can hop in and out.”
According to Johnson, her students have responded by treating the pair with equal respect, even getting upset when Glass has to return to “teacher school,” or OSU-Cascades classes.
“We’re seen as equals, and not just that I’m in charge of her,” Johnson said. “If we’re seen as the same team, it’s more cohesive.”
Many teachers who’ve recently worked with OSU-Cascades student teachers said they appreciated how having an active student teacher, instead of someone who only sits in the back of the classroom and takes notes, helps with handling large classrooms of students.
“They’re a big help, they really are,” said Laura Gemiganani, a biology teacher at Bend High School. “It’s nice to have a second pair of eyes and a second person in the classroom, because our classes have so many diverse needs, and the class sizes are so large.”
Co-teaching also allows teachers to brush up on basic teaching skills or learn new techniques the student teachers were taught at OSU-Cascades.
“While I have experience she can learn from, (the student teacher) knows all the most up-to-date research in education right now,” said Lindsey Kealey, a kindergarten teacher at Silver Rail. “There’s collective genius, it’s not one person as the teacher and one as the student.”
Having a second teacher to provide one-on-one help for students during breakout sessions has its benefits as well, teachers said.
“It’s great for the kids, because it’s basically two teachers for the price of one,” said Stephanie Morrison, a science teacher at High Desert Middle School.
Many teachers and student teachers said one benefit of co-teaching is that the partners get to bounce ideas off each other, which can especially be beneficial when the two are different genders and/or ethnicities. James Marlowe, a student teacher in Christen Seymour’s English class at Bend High, said his experiences as a black man gives students a different angle on the books they read than Seymour’s, who is a white woman.
“Instead of having one lens, you have two, and that makes it easier to facilitate and have class discussion,” he said. “It makes students more willing to be more engaged in those discussions.”
Beyond all the immediate benefits of co-teaching, some student teachers said the co-teaching method made them feel confident in leading their own classes in the future. However, Morrison said one flaw of co-teaching is that it doesn’t properly prepare the student teachers for the reality of running a classroom alone.
“Although some co-teaching does happen in some classrooms, it’s not the norm, so it doesn’t give them the full picture of what a classroom would look like day-to-day on their own,” she said. “It’s not a great model for what their job will look like in the future.”
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