Districts are raising salaries, building apartments and giving teachers more planning time. But, with superintendents warning of worsening staff shortages, districts may be overlooking another solution: student teaching.
“A quality student teaching experience with an effective mentor is equivalent to an additional year of experience for a new teacher. But student teaching experiences can vary greatly,” writes University of Michigan researcher Matthew Truwit, author of “Increasing Teacher Preparedness through Effective Student Teaching,” a new EdResearch for Action report.
There is little evidence teacher shortages will ease anytime soon. In Nebraska, for instance, teacher vacancies more than doubled (they rose by 114%) between 2011 and 2023, leaving the state with 769 unfilled positions last year, the Omaha World-Herald reported. The number of high school graduates who entered teacher preparation programs rose to 4,149 in 2020-21, compared to 2,822 in 2017-18. Yet, only 1,350 students completed their programs in 2020-21, the World-Herald noted.
Truwit notes further that the nation’s teacher workforce is “greener than ever,” as the number of first-year educators has doubled over the last 30 years.
Also, policies in many states are working against raising the quality of student teaching programs. For instance, only about half of all states require a student teaching experience to last at least 10 weeks and it has to be “full-time” in even fewer.
“Alternative [or job-embedded] programs, which produced about 23% of new teachers in 2019 (nearly 35,000), typically involve a much shorter period of student teaching—or even none at all—before candidates become teachers of record,” Truwit adds.
Why student teaching matters
Superintendents should know that districts that offer robust student teaching experiences are likely to eventually hire those educators full-time. “Surveys of new teachers show that the student teaching experience is the most important part of their preparation,” Truwit asserts.
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Truwit details five evidence-based strategies school districts and teacher training programs can leverage to better prepare new educators to thrive in the classroom:
- Incentivize effective teachers to serve as mentors.
- Provide mentors with professional development on coaching.
- Collect frequent feedback from the student teachers and their mentors.
- Place teacher candidates in schools with low turnover, effective faculty and collaborative environments.
- Place candidates in grades, subjects and schools in which they may later teach.
Truwit also described some practices that have proven not to work:
- The length of candidates’ student teaching experience alone does not seem to impact their initial instructional effectiveness.
- Recruiting mentors based solely on years of experience does not guarantee they will be effective mentors.
- Relying heavily on available teacher effectiveness metrics—such as observation ratings—for selecting mentors may provide an incomplete picture of effectiveness and can introduce bias against teachers of color.
- More instructional effective mentors appear to produce better student teachers but this does not appear to alter if, where or for how long candidates are employed.
- Small stipends may not be enough to affect which teachers choose to become mentors.