If you are ever given the opportunity to supervise a student teacher who is blind or visually impaired, please do so. You could be a great encouragement and role model for him or her by helping to dispel fears and unrealistic attitudes and expectations, and by imparting the adaptive techniques for performing classroom tasks without sight which you have developed over the years. Let's face it: blind and visually impaired student teachers will be more successful if they have experienced mentors in the field who are also blind or visually impaired, and you can help them along these lines better than any sighted supervising teacher or professor of education.
Regardless of whether or not your student teacher is blind or visually impaired, there are certain things which you can do to make the student teaching experience a positive one for everyone involved. Start by trying to recall your own student teaching experience, that period of limbo during your life when you were still a student and yet expected to behave like a teacher. You will do well to remind yourself every day that this period of confusion and uncertainty is precisely what your student teacher will be going through while working with you in your classroom. It will be your job to help transform this student into a competent teacher who can withstand the rigorous demands of a teaching career and even excel as a teacher. This will take patience and compassion on your part. Do you remember how you sometimes made mistakes as a student teacher due to your lack of experience? Your student teacher will doubtless make similar mistakes, and must be allowed to learn from these mistakes in order to become a better teacher. Do you remember the fears and feelings of insecurity that you may have felt during your student teaching experience? Your student teacher will probably be experiencing similar ones.
There are several things that you can do to help build confidence and competence. First, address your student teacher by Mr. Jones, Mrs. Smith or Miss Johnson from Day One rather than by using a first name. Insist that your students do the same. Using formal address will help the student teacher to begin behaving more like a professional. It will also help to set the necessary boundaries in your classroom which will encourage your students to treat him/her with respect. Second, allow him/her plenty of time to observe in your classroom before taking over your classes. During this period of observation, be prepared to answer questions about how you do your job, why you do things the way you do them, and specific classroom procedures such as testing, grading, discipline, etc. Third, when you feel that he/she has had ample time to get used to your students and classroom, allow your student teacher to plan and teach a lesson independently while you observe. Afterward, be prepared to give feedback about how the lesson went including what he/she did well as well as constructive suggestions for improvement. Fourth, gradually turn over your classes to the student teacher until he/she is teaching all your classes. At this point, the student teacher should have total responsibility for teaching, lesson plans, developing teaching materials and tests, evaluating students' progress, grading, correcting papers, classroom management and discipline with little intervention by you. Although you can give occasional encouragement and advice, do not interfere unless the student teacher is doing something which is putting your students' education in jeopardy. Remember: your first responsibility is to your students.
Here are a few additional things to keep in mind. Stay in constant communication with the student teacher's college or university and work with the supervising professor(s) throughout the entire practicum to make the student teaching experience a success. Be careful not to impart to your student teacher any personal biases about particular students or negative attitudes about your school, your job or education in general which you may have developed. It is best for a teacher in training to learn as much as possible from personal experience. Monitor your student teacher's work carefully throughout the entire process. If you see that he/she is floundering or doing something incorrectly, do whatever is necessary to rectify the situation before things get out of hand. If you must give corrective criticism, never do it in front of the class; instead, deal with the matter tactfully and objectively in a private meeting. The best way to encourage your trainee to behave like a professional is to model professional behavior. Finally, when asked to evaluate your student teacher, be honest and objective about his/her performance and readiness to teach. Take care not to over-react to minor mistakes or ignore serious shortcomings. Doing so will only cause problems for everyone involved.
In conclusion, those who supervise student teachers are helping to mold the teachers of the future. If you take this responsibility seriously, you can help a new teacher enter our profession and influence future generations.
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