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June 1999

Where it’s A.T.

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Focus on the Associate Teacher

"When I have a student teacher, I find that I have two jobs. My first priority is to my students and the curriculum, but equally important is my role as a teacher of teachers. These are the folks who represent the next generation of teachers and it is imperative that I find the time to help them as much as possible in their professional growth. While the task is time-consuming, I too grow as a professional through my interactions with our newest colleagues. Student teachers re-energize me; they bring enthusiasm and new creativity to my classes. I learn from them and I think it is probably the most valuable professional development that I receive."

Jane Edwards, Grade 7 teacher at
Chippewa Public School in London

By Carol Beynon

High school science teacher Jim Ross is going to work early. After he prepares for his classes, he wants to have enough time to help a student teacher from the University of Western Ontario prepare for their teaching and learning experience at London’s John Paul II Secondary School.

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 Ontario’s experienced associate teachers welcome some 6,000 pre-service teachers from this province’s 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.


Ontario’s 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 candidates."

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 year’s conference was called "Where it’s 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 London’s 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 that’s 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:

  • time
  • 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 candidates.

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 school’s 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 Ontario’s 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 for more information or a copy of the video Where it’s A.T. – Focus on the Associate Teacher.