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Steve Haberlin's picture
Steve Haberlin is a Ph.D candidate at the University of South Florida, where he also works as a teaching assistant, supervising and teaching pre-service teachers. Steve holds a master's degree...
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Why Student Teachers Struggle (or Don’t Make it)

After serving as a teacher educator for the past two years, I have begun to reflect on why student teachers might struggle as they prepare for the profession. Of course, as in other posts, I don’t proclaim to have all the answers. Rather, I hope by writing this, it prompts discussion and further discourse, research, and contemplation—as preparing teachers is a vastly important endeavor.

Student teachers, such as the ones I work with, often carry heavy coursework loads as undergraduates-and if they are in a clinical program-spend time in schools as part of an internship experience, where they are paired with more experienced, mentor teachers. My role, as a university supervisor, has been to provide support to these student teachers in variety of ways, which includes coaching them in instructional strategies, conducting observations and giving feedback, and guiding them in becoming reflective about their practice.

The following is what I have observed regarding those student teachers who struggle with getting through the program and entering the field:

  1. Time Management

Balancing coursework is challenging in itself, but student teachers are expected to also balance their internship, which requires them to spend focused time on the “job.” They must learn to complete their course assignments as well as prepare for their teaching roles. On top of that, students often work part-time jobs to help pay expenses. Finally, they should have some life outside of school and make time for friends, sports, hobbies, and other leisure. Those who struggle don’t seem to use their time effectively, don’t streamline activities, or just don’t have the energy it takes to manage everything. Sometimes, it’s a matter of just adjusting to the new, demanding schedule; other times, student teachers are lacking time management strategies (which I try to assist with, but such information is often lacking in undergraduate programs).

  1. Emotional Management

Student teachers facing emotional turmoil often struggle the most. The event could be a death in the family, a breakup, a family emergency—and the event throws the student teacher for an emotional loop. From that point, they have difficulty focusing on completing coursework and being at their best during their internship. Other times, it’s not one major event that shakes them,but just the everyday stress and pressure that comes from a demanding teacher education program. These students haven’t been taught tools and methods that could help them with their emotional lives. They also require support from mentor teachers, supervisors, and professors,and may not be getting it. One strategy I have used is to have regular times during weekly seminars or classes, where the student teachers can ask questions, express concerns, or just vent about challenges in the program.

  1. Improper Placement

Student teachers paired with mentor teachers who are not a good match can cause challenges. It can be a case where the student and the mentor’s personalities don’t match or the mentor’s teaching style is very different from what the student aspires. Whatever the case, if the student teacher doesn’t feel comfortable with the pairing and supported by the mentor teacher, it results in stress and an unpleasant experience. There’s no full-proof way to avoid this, but better matches can be made by having everyone complete personality/profile questionnaires in advance and holding “speed dating” events, where student teachers spend some time talking with a potential mentor teacher before rotating to other mentors in the room.

  1. Not the Right Fit

I know this is not popular to talk about, but sometimes a teaching career is not right for everyone. A student may participate in the program and decide it’s not the right job for him or her. They may want to do the job and find they lack the abilities and personality that makes a good fit. For instance, if they can’t naturally connect with children, the student can certainly work on this area, but is going to find it very hard to move ahead. In other cases, the student’s heart just may not be into teaching or it’s not the right time for the student to attempt the program.

These four challenges point out the need for student teachers to have strong support along every step of the journey to becoming a teacher. They need supportive mentors, supervisors, and college instructors, who will help them gain the necessary skills and knowledge needed to prepare to enter the field. But we also need to coach them on areas such as emotional and time management and remember where these students are in their current stage of development.