George Lucas Educational Foundation
New Teachers

4 Ways to Mentor Student Teachers

Supervising teachers can use a structured approach to share their insights into the profession and set new teachers up for success.

February 15, 2024
FG Trade / iStock

When I first learned I would be hosting a student teacher in my fifth-grade class, I was ecstatic. Analise, a senior in college, was completing the same program I had graduated from seven years earlier. She had completed an internship in a first-grade classroom and was looking forward to seeing the differences with older students. I was hopeful that I could make her experience as meaningful as the one I had when I was in her shoes.

However, I quickly realized how difficult it was going to be to give up control in my classroom. Analise was amazing, but her style was different from mine, and I knew that would take some getting used to. After our semester together, she and I reflected on the experience. We created a list of strategies that I now use as a supervising teacher to ensure that students, teachers, and student teachers can thrive. 

1. Provide Opportunities to Teach

During my own student teaching experience, I didn’t teach very often on my own, and I struggled during my first year as a classroom teacher because of that. As a supervising teacher, I want to make sure that my interns have the opportunities I didn’t have without overwhelming them.

After several years of teaching, it’s safe to say I’ve developed my own style. I am perfectly comfortable with the balance of control and chaos that happens in my classroom. In supervising student teachers, I realized that my style doesn’t work for everyone! To help new teachers develop their own style, I want to give them lots of opportunities to develop and deliver lessons. Along the way, it was important to me to provide guidance but not to impose my own way of doing things. For example, I encourage my students to collaborate instead of compete against each other, but when my intern came to me with a competitive, game-based lesson idea, I kept my opinions to myself, because I knew she had to have space to develop her style. 

As a supervisor, I adopt the same warm demander strategies I use with my own students. When she first started, Analise would observe what I was doing and take notes. Soon after, we started co-teaching, and then she would deliver lessons on her own. Sometimes the lesson I was observing could’ve gone better, and there were several things I noticed that I would’ve done differently. However, I learned to pick only one or two specific suggestions to offer, and I was very targeted with my feedback. I knew Analise needed to be supported, but I knew too that she wanted to be pushed to be her best.

2. Make the Unseen Seen

Throughout the student-teaching experience, I try to be aware of and bring attention to the things I do without thinking. For example, I share a list of the supplies I use frequently. I walk new student teachers through the routine I use before I leave each day so that my mornings run smoothly.

Analise and I discussed specific items she might want in her own classroom. I have a stockpile of supplies that I can grab at a moment’s notice. If my students come up with an amazing and creative science activity on the spot, chances are I have plenty of construction paper and other craft supplies in my cabinet to make it happen. I also have my own special stash of pens, pencils, and markers that are off-limits for students. My specific stapler might be the thing I love most in my classroom (other than my students, of course!). I would also much rather come in early than stay late.

Other important topics might include if students are allowed to join for lunch or if that’s teacher quiet time, what types of assignments are graded and which ones are just practice, and how to make the most of planning time. Having conversations about these everyday things helped Analise develop her own plan for preparing things for her classroom.

3. Set Realistic Expectations and Boundaries

Describing teaching as “difficult” is an understatement; I've worked hard to find my own balance between the never-ending demands of the profession and what is realistic to accomplish in a given period of time. Veteran teachers know how rewarding the profession can be, even on the hard days. With my interns, I try to model healthy habits and think about what I wish I had known during my first few years in the classroom. 

When tasks feel overwhelming, I prioritize and actively look for things I can take off my plate. If I have several deadlines to meet in one week, can I move my exciting classroom transformation to the following week and still accomplish the same academic goals with my students? If I know I’m staying late for parent night, can I move or change the intricate, possibly messy, science activity I had planned? 

Further, I try to model healthy boundaries. Early on in my career, I saw weekends and breaks as opportunities to catch up on work. Even now, I do some work over breaks, but I’ve tried to limit it to projects that I’m really excited about and not my normal, day-to-day responsibilities. After a few particularly difficult weeks, I told Analise that I would not be doing any work over our weeklong break. I made sure that she had what she needed from me for her college classes before we left on break, and I stayed true to my word. When we returned the following Monday, I was refreshed and ready to get back to work.

4. Encourage Them to Find Their People

Supportive colleagues and administrators are the reason I’m able to love what I do every single day, and it’s important to communicate to new and future teachers the impact that those whom you surround yourself with at school can make. I told Analise about the experiences I’ve had with different administrators and colleagues and how I avoid the gossip that happens in so many schools. 

Sometimes it might take more effort to find the people who bring out the best in you, but I’ve found that when you look hard enough, you’ll find them, and it’s so incredibly worth it.

As I continue to host future teachers, I’m excited about what I’ll learn from them and what I’ll learn about myself. Above all else, student teachers don’t want to be forgotten, because they’ll never forget their experience. Remember to make them feel included because chances are, they are your future colleagues!

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