Value in Observations: Student Teachers and Veterans

Many first year teachers, are surprised at the number of details their cooperating teacher had taken care of, without their knowledge, while they were a student teacher. These details make themselves known during the first year on the job. New teachers usually find out about these forgotten details at the most inconvenient times their first year.

Teacher preparation programs vary from college to college and state to state. First year teachers will never feel completely prepared for all of the duties and details that a teaching job includes, but I do think there are some lessons that should be included with all teacher preparation programs.


Future teachers need to have hours in the trenches - real classrooms - every semester of college. Don't wait to observe classrooms a semester or two before student teaching. Students interested in becoming teachers should take an introduction to education class their freshman year. This class should include at least 10 hours of observation in a classroom. It would be helpful if the observation were divided into 5 hours in a primary class and 5 hours in an intermediate grade classroom for elementary majors. Having field based experiences each semester has many benefits:

Students will get a first hand view of what the job of a teacher is like on a day-to-day basis. Is this something they want to do? It is much better to decide this is not the job for them instead of after investing three years of program. Students may feel pressured to complete a program that isn't right for them if the observations occur later in the program. Teaching is hard enough when you have a passion for the job.
Many teachers will give college students copies of the lesson that they observe. This is a great way to begin their teacher files.
Future teachers never know what grade they will teach some day.
Teachers often switch grade levels during the first few years of their career. Having materials that include a wide range of grade levels will be very helpful.
These activities will be useful to help students in their future class who are working below or above grade level.

Other countries support their teachers by giving them time to observe their colleagues. These countries realize there is value in seeing work in action. To watch a teacher at your school or in your district teach the curriculum that you're teaching has real valuable.

I was fortunate to work for an administrator who believed in this. We had recently adopted new curriculum and was a little stressed about it. He arranged substitutes for us and spoke to another administrator so we could observe a team at another school. Each of us observed a different teacher for half a day. The colleagues were nice enough to answer our questions during their prep periods. Then we went back to our school and met for half a day to discuss what we observed.

Guess what all of us were looking for in these observations? We wanted to see the organization and classroom management of the new curriculum.

  • How did the teachers organize the materials? 
  • How did the teacher distribute materials? 
  • How did they decide what to take a grade on? 
We were all veteran teachers yet gained so much from observing our colleagues. Doesn't it make sense that future teachers would gain just as much if not more from doing similar observations?
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