As I wrap up my fifteenth semester teaching future early childhood educators, I find myself asking, “Who is responsible for preparing early childhood teachers?” Naturally, I hope that as an instructor, supervisor, and mentor to teacher candidates, I play some part in the teachers that these candidates become. However, I know (and am somewhat thankful) that I alone am not solely responsible for these future teachers. What has become more evident to me during my time as a teacher educator is that it does not just take a village to raise a child, it also takes a village to grow a teacher.
So, who are these villagers you might ask? I compiled a list below of who I see as most influential to the development of high-quality/effective educators.
- Professors/Instructors: As stated previously, professors in institutions of higher education certainly contribute to what teacher candidates know and understand about the theory, philosophy, and art of teaching. Professors offer the framework and foundation upon and around which teachers mold their teaching. Without this structure, teaching often lacks the depth needed to understand how children learn and how to respond to children in ways that promote learning.
- Cooperating/Mentor Teachers: Research has shown over and over again that teacher candidates (and all of us really), learn through experience. It is human nature to emulate what we see. Thus, cooperating teachers who mentor teacher candidates have a huge impact on the practices that the candidates will one day use as teachers in the field. Often the most influential cooperating teacher is the teacher who mentors the candidate during student teaching. This individual works side-by-side with the candidate to help them learn how to plan, teach, and assess students, how to collaborate with colleagues, how to communicate effectively with parents, how to navigate being a part of a school building, and the list goes on and on. Clearly, it is critical that candidates are placed with mentor teachers who are utilizing developmentally appropriate practices and who are prepared to share their knowledge and experience with future educators.
- Supervisors: In many cases, clinical/practicum supervisors are the link among the teacher candidate, the institution of higher education, and the cooperating teacher. These individuals should promote open and honest communication as they act as a liaison among these entities. Supervisors should have a solid background in teaching theories and how these theories translate into practice.
- Former Teachers: We know that many teachers decide to become teachers because of an influential educator from their past. It is quite common for teacher candidates to want to re-live an experience or teach a lesson similar to one they were taught in school. Therefore, teachers from the past can play a large part in the type of educator candidates become in the future.
- Peers: The longer I teach, the more I realize that teacher candidates learn a lot from each other. In the past few years, I have supervised many students in ‘paired placements.’ Basically what this means is that two teacher candidates are ‘paired’ with one cooperating teacher for pre-student teaching experiences. Working together in this model creates a co-teaching model of collaboration that has proven very valuable as a future educator.
Clearly many people can influence teacher candidates in many ways. In the list I actually left out one person, the teacher candidate, him or herself. As illustrated in the figure below, the candidate is the link among all of the spheres of influence. In fact, sometimes we are our own best teachers. Of course, having positive learning experiences in courses and clinical/practicum classrooms is critical, however, it is up to each individual to turn what they have learned into positive teaching practices.
So, what have I learned about teaching future teachers?
Teach them well. Give them as many tools and resources as possible. Provide positive opportunities for them to practice the art of teaching. Support their learning- from me, from cooperating teachers, from supervisors, from each other, and about themselves. Facilitate reflective thinking about their teaching practices. And, most importantly, above all, teach them to be kind to children.