The field instructor plays a key support role in helping the intern develop standards-based practices in planning, teaching and assessment, and in becoming a fully participating member of the teaching profession. In addition, the field instructor supports the mentor teacher in problem solving and providing effective mentoring practices. The field instructor also works with the cluster leader, program coordinator and team leader to understand and communicate current program practices and policies, and is available to pass along information provided by course instructors about planning and other course requirements.
Working With Interns: Co-Observations
Mentor teachers might wonder why the field instructor and intern would take notes in the back of class and then go off to discuss them. Mentor teachers might even wonder what field instructors and interns whisper to each other briefly as they watch class activity. By tradition, "evaluation” is a likely reason for such activity. That is not a pleasant association for the mentor teacher, and not an accurate description of what the intern and field instructor intend to be doing. So, it is important to let the mentor teachers know, in advance, what will be going on.
Ethical Considerations for Co-Observatons
For the case of co-observation by interns and field instructors, field instructors should communicate to the mentor teachers in advance about what we hope to achieve by co-observation. We will go about it in a manner that carefully respects the mentor teacher and the teacher's students. These principles might be particularly important to the mentor teacher:
1. Establish ethical ground rules. Early in the course, establish and maintain ethical ground rules for all discussion, oral or written, of activity in mentor teachers' classrooms.
2. Explore [interns'] ideas about learning to teach. Their ideas can make large differences in the soundness and fairness of their thinking about activity in mentor teachers' classrooms.
3. Always start with careful descriptions. Require that the first step of all such discussions is to produce careful, specific, dispassionate descriptions of the activity in mentor teachers' classrooms.
4. Consider alternative hypotheses. Consistently require teacher candidates or interns to construct and compare alternative hypotheses about the activity they have described.
5. Then proceed to assessments. If the preceding principles have been well honored, it is then reasonable to attempt to make assessments. These should be clearly based in careful description, carefully reasoned and generous to the persons—teachers and students—who produced the activity being discussed.
6. Recall the network of duties. Throughout, keep in mind the program's duties to school pupils, to their teachers as colleagues in teacher preparation, to the teachers' schools and to the teacher candidates or interns involved.
Remember that there is no way to learn from observing and participating in classroom activity without assessing practices and their consequences. But that is not the same as evaluating persons and their competence.
Adapted from 'Grades and Grading" by Tom Bird, AY 2005-2006
Intern's Frames of Mind
Habits of "Studenting”
Being a "student” is a likely frame of mind with which interns will begin their internship. This frame of mind comes from well-formed habits of a life-long student. The habits of course-taking, or of "studenting” might or might not serve them as interns. Among these habits:
- a tendency to wait for "the teacher" (mentor teacher or instructor) to say what to do (when we might want more initiative to shape one's own professional development)
- a strong focus on their own evaluation (getting a good grade, keeping up their GPA)
- a tendency to think that it is the program's problem to manage the difficulty of their task (as always in their experience to date to far) so that they (as students) can succeed (when we CAN'T control the difficulty of their task in schools)
In the preceding four years, interns will have been assigned to read a large stack of stuff, on the explicit or implicit premise that reading it will help them to become good teachers. But to be quite honest, most will have few or no vivid experiences that such reading would do them any good as teachers. Few interns will, at their own initiative, consult anything that they have read in order to try to do their work as teachers. Even fewer will do so as anything like a habit.
Ideas about Learning to Teach
Interns will also likely bring a wide range of "frames of mind” about learning to teach. These "frames of mind” can range from:
- Some interns understanding the internship entirely in terms of their opportunities to try what they think is good teaching, and to see for themselves.
- Many interns having strong feelings of knowing exactly what is going on (from a student's point of view) and knowing exactly what to do (as a student), but little or no idea that the classroom is a very different place for teachers than for students, and that knowing what to do as a student is an uncertain guide, at best, to knowing what to do as a teacher. They will soon discover this, and it will be more or less shocking.
- Others will approach the internship assuming that the main mode of learning will be or is intended to be emulation of the mentor. The fact of our assigning them to mentor teachers would tend to confirm the assumption that they are to emulate the mentor teacher. But emulation is problematic because the mentor teacher will not be (a) just like their favorite teacher from school, or (b) the spitting image of their ideal future self or (c) a model of all of the methods they have studied. The mentor teacher will be an ordinary human being who is trying to teach school. Or, emulation will be problematic because the interns do admire their mentor teacher, but don't have much access to what the mentor teachers are thinking while they are doing what interns admire. If they are thinking they will learn by emulation, interns may be stumped.
- A final frame of mind about learning to teach, which the literature shows is largely absent from intern's thinking about "learning to teach” or "becoming a teacher,” is related to developing "wisdom of practice.” Simply, the intern approaches the internship as an opportunity to observe and interpret and assess the interaction of students and teachers in the context of a given school to figure out what might be going on in order to act wisely. For this frame of mind to be developed, it should be explicitly discussed with demonstrations of the possible.
What will Interns be Trying to Do?
Interns will be trying to stop being students and start being teachers as they understand those roles.
Interns will be trying to be defined as teachers and trying to act as such, and in many cases will be finding that that is not an easy task, quickly achieved. They are likely to attempt to address their situation on the basis of what they thought they learned as students in school, and on the basis of the images they formed of themselves as teacher while students in school.
Possessing the mental equipment of a novice, interns are unlikely to notice or attribute significance to much of what their MT's are doing to organize classes and get going a program of work in the subject matter. To interns, as experienced students but novice teachers, all this vital activity is likely to seem like just doing school— as distinct from an achievement on the part of teacher and students. Interns may hold the idea that school will go right unless someone or something makes it go wrong. That is, many will NOT be trying to understand "grooving a class at the beginning of the year."
Trying to play the new role of teacher, and feeling like the center of attention, interns might interpret everything in the classroom as though it is related to them or aimed at them. They probably will not entertain alternative hypotheses, for example, that students who appear not to care, not to be motivated or even appear to be disrespectful, are actually pursuing their own goals and interests without much thought for the teacher. Interns are often unlikely to place themselves at the margin of the universe and see how it looks, for example, with students at the center.
Interns might or might not be noticing that there are students in the room when they are trying to teach, and might or might not be able to respond to what students are doing while they attempt to play the role of teacher they have set out for themselves. If they do notice, they may discover that the students appear not to know or care about the intern's scripts for lessons.
The labor of getting students to attend and respond is likely to be a surprise. And there will be some early, shocking encounters with kids who don't do what they're asked to do, or tell interns to take a hike or convert interns' instructions into something very different than they thought they intended.
In the face of these complexities, interns may fluctuate wildly between blaming their troubles on everything but their own inexperience and doubting their fitness to teach.
Interns are not likely to connect their previous studies to any of this experience, partly because they do not yet fully appreciate that they need options for thought and action, partly because they just can't remember what they presumably studied in early courses, and partly because making those connections is substantial work.
Adapted from 'Grades and Grading" by Tom Bird, AY 2005-2006
Opportunities to learn
If interns are to achieve the Professional Teaching Standards, they will need particular opportunities to learn. The statements here describe performances that MSU course instructors should prepare interns to undertake, and that mentor teachers and field instructors should provide interns opportunities to practice with support. If some of these opportunities to learn are not feasible in the intern's primary placement, supplementary opportunities should be provided in another setting.
Using the standards for assessment across the year
During the fall semester, we seek evidence that interns are making satisfactory progress in meeting each of the Program Standards. A recommendation for continuing the internship experience will be based on the professional judgment of the field instructor, the mentor teache, and relevant others who are familiar with the intern's teaching practice.
In order to be recommended for teacher certification by the end of the internship year, an intern will need to show that she or he is capable of responsible, autonomous teaching based on the Program Standards. During the spring semester, we seek evidence that the interns have met the Program Standards and are ready to assume the responsibilities of beginning teaching.
To see the Professional Teaching Standards policy and procedures, please visit the Professional Teaching Standards page.
Thoughts & Advice
Starting the Year in Field Instruction
- Starting the year in a classroom is a complex and important teaching task that extends across the first few weeks of school and tends to shape the whole year.
- Ideally, interns would learn so much from observing and participating in the mentor teacher's class that they would be able to start the year well in their own classroom next year. But we have good reasons to think that's a very ambitious goal. It just doesn't happen that fast.
- We are not sure what or how much interns' can learn, using their experience and studies to date. This is a matter to be explored.
- We are not sure what or how much interns can learn when playing the roles of observer or assistant teacher. This is a matter to be explored. At a guess, an assistant will be unaware of much that is going on.
- In the first weeks, some or many mentor teachers will be so heavily engaged in getting the class started that they will be unable to talk much with the intern about what's going on. So, many interns will have limited access to the mentor teacher's thinking as they observe or try to help the teacher.
- We are inclined to think that, unless we cue interns how to use their studies so far to interpret what they see/hear, and unless we help them to make sense of what they see/here, they are likely to learn far less from observing and participating than we would hope.
So, our problem is described. What can/could we do?
Field instructors make important contributions by "co-observation" with interns. At the most extensive, co-observation would mean that the intern and field instructor would independently take notes for 30 minutes while the mentor teacher teaches. Then the field instructor and intern (and perhaps mentor teacher, on some occasions) would go and talk about what's in the notes and why. In that exchange, the intern would get to hear what the field instructor thought important to record, and why.
The idea or tactic of co-observation can extend even to small events like standing together watching for two minutes and then exchanging four sentences. What matters is (a) looking/listening together and (b) field instructor helping the intern to perceive, interpret, etc., partly by asking what the intern "saw” and partly by sharing what the field instructor "saw.”
Ask Important Questions
Field instructors have a stock of questions that tend to be fruitful when co-observing. (Bracketed statements attempt to express the aims or strategies behind the repeated use of these questions.)
- Tell me about; tell me more about...
We are giving open-ended cue to remember and describe, not everything, but something the field instructor generally points toward as being fruitful to talk about. That is, the field instructor is using her judgment to say "there's something important over in that direction,” and asking the intern to get in the game.
- How would you describe or explain that to someone who wasn't watching...?
We are making another request to recall and describe "just the facts, ma'am,” and then to go on to interpret.
- How did you feel when....?
We are cueing the intern to notice her/his own thoughts and feelings, and how they might affect her or his own learning. Also, possibly, a way to cue an intuition.
- Did you see how (the teacher just did something)?
We are labeling an event or pattern as move or practice, so that it can be perceived.
- How many times...(did something or other happen)?
We are giving a cue to notice repetition, as a way to detect patterns of classroom activity, or to detect what's important or to detect what might be going wrong.
- Did you see that (the teacher has just made some move that makes sense in relation to her last move or in relation to something that a kid did or said)?
We're pointing to teacher-student interaction playing out in some way, pointing to something that a teacher probably would or ought to notice.
- Did you notice the student who....that group of students which...?
We are pulling the intern's attention away from the teacher's actions and toward the students' activities, statements, etc. Promoting the habit of watching and listening to kids. Introducing the idea that a teacher figures out what to do largely by observing students.
- What other ways could a teacher have....?
We are promoting the habit of generating and comparing alternative options for thought and for action, because that's how we increase our wealth as teachers.
- What did you see or hear that made you think that?
As teachers, we have a duty not to fool ourselves about what's going on in our classrooms, a duty not to make up nice stories about what's going on because those stories make us feel better. We avoid fooling or misleading ourselves, and we avoid abusing our students, by constantly asking, "What did I actually see and hear?"
- How could we discover who learned and who didn't?
We are declaring that we cannot just "see" that kids learned, and that we cannot assume they learned because we told or taught. A constant invitation to build curiosity and assessment skill.
- I was wondering what you were thinking when....
A cue that thought process is important, and a way to get into the intern's mental game, in order to help.
Teach Intern How to Ask Questions
There is reason to think that interns often refrain from asking questions of their mentor teachers because the interns know that they will be unable to keep their biases and judgments out of the question. For example, "Why did you get down on Johnny so hard about that little thing?”
There is a teachable question pattern that seems to be pretty safe in lots of situations. It seemed to meet approval from some field instructors. Example:
"(a) A few minutes ago you went over to Johnny's desk, leaned over close to him and said something I couldn't hear, but it sounded firm. (b) I think it might help me learn if you would (c) tell me what you were thinking about just then and what you said to him.”
The pattern of the question is: (a) Brief, dead-pan description of what was seen and heard, (b) invocation of one's role as novice teacher and therefore mentor teacher's obligation as teacher educator and (c) a brief indication of the information that the intern would like to have.
Ordinarily, when the mentor teacher has responded, the intern would just smile and say "Thanks;” what was asked for has been provided.
Adapted from 'Grades and Grading" by Tom Bird, AY 2005-2006