Ross has been making time in his early morning schedule for student teachers for 15
years. "I truly value the time that we spend discussing teaching because it gives me
an opportunity to analyze my own practice as well," he says.
Student teaching is a critical component of pre-service teacher education. The Ontario
College of Teachers requires a minimum of eight weeks practicum in teacher education
programs and student teachers across North America consistently report that student
teaching was the most valuable part of their teacher education program.
Each year, thousands of Ontarios experienced associate teachers welcome some
6,000 pre-service teachers from this provinces faculties of education and U.S.
teachers colleges into their professional lives and classrooms for about one-third
of the school year.
They willingly share their curriculum, their materials and ideas, their pupils, their
beliefs and ideologies of teaching with a previously-unknown student teacher. They provide
continuous guidance and support for periods ranging from one day per week throughout the
year up to 14 weeks or more at a time.
Ontarios associate teachers are volunteers. Normally, they are invited to take on
this leadership role by a school
administrator who recognizes their excellence in teaching, their leadership potential and
their ability to be a teacher of teachers. Sometimes they participate because they are
cajoled into doing so by a teacher education institution that may not have enough
placements for their student teachers in that geographic area.
These classroom teachers are influential teacher educators who have a dramatic impact
on the future practice of beginning teachers. But the massive changes in education,
numerous teacher retirements and the need for many competent new teachers make it
questionable whether Ontario will have enough experienced teachers to act as associate
teachers in the next few years.
Ontario Teachers Federation (OTF) Secretary-Treasurer Susan Langley recently
observed that, "The shortage of associate teachers, especially at the secondary
level, was acutely felt by several faculties last September. We believe that the situation
will be even worse next September, as large numbers of teachers continue to retire,
leaving fewer and fewer experienced teachers who can serve as mentors to teacher
The OTF and the Ontario Association of Deans of Education (OADE) addressed the issues
surrounding recruitment of associate teachers at the annual OTF/OADE conference in May.
This years conference was called "Where its A.T. Focus on the
Associate Teacher." Professionally Speaking will report on the recommendations from
this conference in a future issue and a video produced for the conference will be
available from the faculty of education at the University of Western Ontario.
The role of the associate teacher is complicated by the fact that there is little
training or preparation and associate teachers are forced to supervise their student
teachers as they remember being supervised in their own student days.
However, associate teachers report that there are many benefits. Shari Blaha is one of
several associate teachers at Londons Chippewa Public School. The elementary music
teacher says that while her student teacher is teaching, she is able to observe her pupils
in a unique way, watch how they react to certain learning strategies and adjust her own
teaching to reflect her observations.
Grade 1 teacher Sue Bergsma enjoys the blend of her tried and true methods with the new
ideas that her creative student teachers bring from their classes at the faculty of
education. She says, "The learning is certainly a two-way street. The student
teachers bring so much energy, creativity and new research in teaching with them that I
learn as much from them."
Pat Cowan, who teaches Kindergarten, enjoys the team-teaching she is able to engage in
when she has a student teacher. And she says, "Having an extra set of hands in this
busy classroom is so helpful."
John McGoey, who teaches science at John Paul II, says, "In order to learn more
about teaching, I thought it might be useful reflective practice for me, as a teacher, to
be engaged in teaching a young teacher, to see how they learn. In my mind, teaching
teaching really requires that you learn about learning. And thats how I think I can
learn more about teaching and about me as a teacher."
A recent survey of secondary teachers showed that the factors that discourage
experienced teachers from volunteering as associate teachers include:
- work load expectations
- recognition and support
- lack of communication with some faculties of education
- teacher candidate preparation leaves some candidates ill-prepared for the classroom
- lack of training/preparation for associate teachers
- classroom disruption, particularly with extended practicum blocks
- student teacher evaluation and a lack of training and support in evaluation of teacher
Even with these drawbacks, having staff involved in teacher education provides numerous
benefits for the school community.
Chippewa vice-principal Jeanette Johnston asked her staff to become involved as a
teacher education school because she remembered how she had grown professionally through
her own experience as an associate teacher. When eight Chippewa teachers took on the
challenge, she watched as they analyzed and reflected on their own practice when they
discussed teaching with their student teachers and how many of the schools pupils
seem to enjoy the extra attention and assistance. She also found that most of the student
teachers willingly came back to the school to work throughout the year as volunteer
tutors, coaches and educational assistants.
Susan Langley says, "The benefits of serving as an associate teacher
notwithstanding, over the past five years OTF has witnessed a growing discomfort among our
members with taking on this task. In teacher education, as elsewhere, these years have
been characterized by steadily declining resources and the mantra of doing more with less
has become the order of the day. Ironically, this same period has seen a growing
appreciation of the value of practice teaching and an accompanying movement in teacher
preparation programs towards extended practica." The OTF secretary-treasurer said she
hopes the recommendations from the OTF/OADE May conference help point the way to resolving
the associate teacher shortage.
Lack of time seems to be the most overwhelming reason inhibiting teachers from
participating as associate teachers. Given the benefits to the teachers, pupils and
schools when they do become involved as teacher education schools, providing some time for
associate teachers to work with student teachers might be one way to assist those teachers
while indicating both support and recognition for this important duty.
Carol Beynon is the Director of Student Services at the University of Western
Ontarios faculty of education. Her primary area of research focuses on teacher
development through the practicum and she has developed a professional preparation program
for associate teachers at UWO. You can reach her at email@example.com
for more information or a copy of the video Where its A.T. Focus on the