Student Teaching Right Now? To Ask or Not to Ask Your Principal to do an Observation… That is the Question.
EDU Edge friend (Melissa) at Penn State sent us a question via email … “I’m presently doing my student teaching and a few people have suggested that I should ask the principal of my school to do an observation of me before I leave. Why should I do this? Do you think this is a good idea?”
Melissa, what these people are getting at is that having a formal observation done by the principal of your school would:
A. be excellent feedback and benefit your personal and professional development
B. be an excellent artifact to put into your interview portfolio
C. could potentially result in the principal being a quality reference on your resume.
At first glance, appear to be some pretty reasonable assumptions here, but are they valid? To test drive them, we forwarded your questions to the school administrators in The EDU Edge consortium. We received mixed responses with mixed emotions. Half responded that it was perfectly fine, but the other half worried about their own professional time constraints to do this for student teachers.
The principalship is a very demanding position. Time is always scarce and if classroom observations are done well, they take time. For a typical observation, the principal would have to:
- schedule a pre-observation conference
- review your lesson plan
- take the time to discuss it with you
- actually observe you in action for at least a class period
- write up the observation itself
- give you specific written feedback
- meet with you afterward to discuss the lesson
- suggest how it could be improved upon, etc, etc.
Our point is that you need to know that, as a student teacher, you are not a permanent member of the principal’s faculty yet. With all the other responsibilities the principal has to take care of, this is asking a lot, even of the most willing and generous school leader. That doesn’t mean that you don’t ask (we’ll get to that in a second) but please know that it is not a small favor. The fact that you are questioning the advice that you are getting, shows us that you are considerate and respectful and we commend you for this.
With the input of our EDU Edge colleagues, a quality answer on whether to ask or not hinges on a couple variables:
1. Do you know the principal? Not just who he or she is, but do you know and have a relationship with them?
2. How comprehensive and time consuming is the school’s/district’s teacher observation process? The process that we described above is an example of the process that principals work with in many schools and districts across the country. Not all are this time consuming though. If they are check boxes or your school has a process that can be done more efficiently, this definitely helps.
3. How large is the school? Our EDU Edge consortium members state that a 200 student K-3 Elementary building is going to have a much more intimate feel and be easier for that principal to do a full-blown observation than a high school of 3000 students and a faculty of 200 teachers. We’re not saying one job is easier than the other, simply stating that the ability to extend this opportunity to a student teacher may be different.
4. How are the responsibilities of the administrative team divided? If there is an assistant principal for curriculum and instruction or one who supervises all of the teachers in your content area, then asking the principal is unlikely to produce the best observation or one at all.
Many people may disagree with us on this one Melissa. But our advice comes directly from the consortium of administrators that make up The EDU Edge so it is important to weigh these variables in your specific situation and then go from there.
Another option suggested by The EDU Edge consortium, was to plan an innovative lesson and invite the principal to come by to see their students in action. If you decide to go this route, you want to ensure that the principal is seeing you at your best. With an advanced invitation, the principal can easily add the visit to her normal walkthroughs observations. Once she’s seen you in action, you can then more comfortably ask her to be a phone reference for you. Ultimately, this is a much less time consuming option for the principal and you don’t put them in a tough spot. At the same time, you get an administrative reference on your resume. Chapter 4 of The Insider’s Guide to the Teacher Interview ©2012 discusses selection of appropriate teacher references in detail as well as how to keep them useful for your job searches during many years to come.
Good luck to you Melissa! And, good luck to all of you following The EDU Edge. Please come back and let us know how it went so we can all learn together.
Yours in a Partnership in Learning,
The EDU Edge
(Please feel free to contact us with additional questions … we’re on Twitter, Facebook and you can email us at info@theEDUedge.com Tell us what interview obstacles you’re dealing with and trying to overcome. We’ll do our best to respond and we welcome dialogue from others going through the same process.)
Here’s a question via Twitter from our new EDU Edge friend Elle a senior at Eastern Michigan:
“I’m going to be doing my student teaching next semester … any tips?
Elle- We’re thrilled to try to help. On December 13th our EDU Edge Twitter Tip was: “We cannot stress enough … your search for the job of your dreams starts the first day of student teaching. Take every day seriously!” Your high priority for your student teaching experience is right in line with our thinking. Because our mission is to help aspiring teachers successfully navigate the interview process, let’s focus on the things you can do during your student teaching experience to optimize your MARKETABILITY when you complete your degree in education.
The reason that we feel so strongly about the connection between student teaching and landing a job is because our network of administrators works with dozens and dozens of student teachers every year. Some student teachers maximize this opportunity and some don’t. Those that come to learn, work hard, listen, reflect, and connect with the staff and students in the school, in essence, the ones that do everything they can to go above and beyond and stand out, are the ones that get hired … plain and simple. One of the greatest dangers is to conceptualize student teaching as another task to check off your list and believe once you get to an interview or an actual job you’ll show people what you are made of and define your style. Moreover, we know that your student teaching experience is sooooo important because there are a lot of important “firsts” during this experience. How you handle them when they happen to you (trust us … they will) and how you build upon them matters when it comes time to apply for a job and be successful in the teaching interview.
First #1 – During your student teaching experience, you get your first opportunity to put into practice (with real children for multiple weeks) all the coursework and ideas that you have spent learning in your education program. This is the first time that you will (on a daily basis) build lessons, put them into action, feel the thrill of having spent hours planning a lesson and have it succeed with students learning and enjoying what you have created. It will also be the first time you feel the internal disappointment when one of those well planned lessons falls flat. This is the first time you will really feel a taste of the pressure that comes with being THE teacher. During this journey you begin shaping who you are as a teacher and what you bring to the profession.
First #2 – During your student teaching experience, you will have your first opportunity to develop contacts and get letters of recommendation. Principals are not going to read the letter from the pizza joint you worked at during the summer. At this point in your career you have very limited references that really mean anything to a potential employer. Consequently, your cooperating teacher and your college advisor’s recommendation COUNT! The educational community is a close-knit and people talk. If your cooperating teacher thinks you are stellar, she will let those in other districts know … the same goes for the principal and your college advisor. Their opinion of you and what they say about you matters. Do yourself a favor and do everything possible to ensure that these individuals see you for what you want to be- someone who will do everything they can to become a master teacher and will make a difference in the lives of their students. You want and need their recommendations to reflect this positive outlook (see our comments in Chapter 4 – Resume Advice in The Insider’s Guide to the Teacher Interview audiobook ©2011 – theEDUedge.com).
First #3 – Teacher Interview Portfolio. You get to put First #1 and First #2 into First #3 – your first complete teacher interview portfolio. During student teaching you will be designing lessons and assessments that will actually be implemented with students. When you do, think about your portfolio! Think about your future interview! What we mean is create great lessons, assessment, and tasks. Then take pictures of your students in action in the classroom (with appropriate school and parental permission of course). Keep copies of the lessons, the assessments, and examples of student work. Reflect on what worked and what didn’t work and put in writing what you would do differently in the future. When student teaching is over, you will have beautiful artifacts to add to your portfolio. Visual representations where individuals on interview teams can actually see you as a teacher and see the work that you have done inside the classroom with students goes a long way in the hiring process (see our comments in Chapter 12 – Portfolio Advice in The Insider’s Guide to the Teacher Interview audiobook ©2012 – theEDUedge.com)
Finally, during your student teaching experience you are constructing and framing your answers to future interview questions. You are dealing with difficult students, implementing successful lessons, giving different types of assessments, dealing with and managing parent communication, etc, etc, etc. All of these will give you a base from which to grow as a professional and most importantly a reference point on how to tackle the difficult questions that interview teams will throw at you (see Chapter 8 on how to master hundreds of interview questions through our ‘Umbrella Approach’tm). Keep a written or audio journal each night of the prominent students, events, successes and failures of your experience. Review these prior to each interview experience. Not only is it a great way to grow and reflect from your student teaching experience, when you get interview questions that ask you to reflect upon situations you have encountered in the past, you will not need to hesitate, search your memory or wander in order to find an applicable experience.
Good luck to you Elle! Good luck to all of you following the EDU Edge. Please come back after your student teaching experience and let us know how it went so we can all learn together.
Yours in a Partnership in Learning,
The EDU Edge
(Please feel free to contact us with additional questions. We’ll do our best to respond. The EDU Edge community is growing on Blogger, Twitter, Facebook. You can email us at info@theEDUedge.com. Tell us what interview obstacles you’re dealing with and trying to overcome. We welcome dialogue from others going through the same process.)