Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Student teaching needs reform

Student teachers need clearer expectations

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(Collegian file photo)

(Collegian file photo)

(Collegian file photo)

By Jacob Russian, Collegian Columnist

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At most higher education institutions across the country and here at the University of Massachusetts, student teachers are utilized to educate large swaths of students in introductory classes. Many times, these experiences prove to be positive for both parties involved. However, when a student is subjected to learn from a student teacher with little experience, the outcome can be extremely negative. Throughout my time here at UMass, I have taken classes under both formidable student teachers and individuals who do not have the ability or the experience to teach a class effectively. I have since wondered if it is unfair that our University would allow students to potentially lose opportunities at fully understanding the material being presented, simply because the utilization of student teachers is convenient and cost-effective.

Student teachers are often graduate students pursing their Master’s degrees in education, typically with the goal of eventually teaching the subject they studied during their undergraduate education. This situation works to the benefit of the University, which does not have to enlist the services of professors to teach some lower-level classes. The student teaching training at UMass is done through a practicum course for the education student. In theory, this situation should be mutually beneficial to the University and student teachers hoping to gain experience in their field, but it can leave students unequipped with proper education. I have been in a similar situation throughout my semesters on campus, as I have been eager to take a class and left only disappointed with the way it has been taught. This is not meant to disqualify all student teachers as incapable; there are certainly individuals who are capable of teaching effectively.

Despite this, I have often felt as though some of my student teachers are experimenting with teaching a class, which is something that has left me confused and lacking the knowledge I had hoped to learn. I do believe it is important for individuals hoping to become licensed in teaching to gain skills in this realm, but I find it unfair that the tuition money from students is being used toward classes that fall far below acceptable. Unfortunately, the inexperience of some student teachers directly degrades the ability for students to learn as they should.

The interactions I have had in these classes are not unique to just me; many other students have been placed in similarly unfair situations. This dissatisfaction has led me to question if UMass should do more to ensure that student teachers have a clearer method of educating paying students. Student teachers work closely with their respective departments, but I feel that the problem lies within the day-to-day operations inside the classroom. Perhaps a more concise set of daily expectations could be implemented so that student teachers are not left unsure of the proper protocol. On top of this, student teachers are taking classes of their own to further their education, which leaves even less room for focus on teaching other students. The student teachers themselves are not responsible for this stressful work-load, but it can become a losing combination for those that they are teaching. Furthermore, if the student teacher has multiple classes to teach coupled with their own personal workload, it can create an environment where only a limited amount of attention can be spent on any individual issue. Despite this, I still find it important that teachers have the ability to make their classes creative and personalized, but I believe there should be a stronger emphasis on ensuring that the students paying for the class are receiving the knowledge they have elected to learn.

With the sheer cost of college education continuing to rise in this country, obtaining the education we pay for is of the upmost importance. The disparity between what could be considered a positive and negative learning experience is too great; the University must do more to create a more streamline approach to student teaching. Otherwise, students will continue to be left without the tools they hope to gain.

Jacob Russian is a Collegian columnist and can be reached at [email protected]

2 Comments

2 Responses to “Student teaching needs reform”

  1. Ed Cutting, Ed/.D. on March 26th, 2018 12:04 pm

    The author is co-mingling two very different things — K-12 Student Teaching and being a UMass Teaching Assistant. I’ve been both, and they are completely different things.

    A student teacher is someone who is doing the required practicum for a teaching certificate — a state-issued license to teach something in Pre-K through 12th Grade. For example, I am licensed to teach both Social Studies and English in Grades 7-12. A student teacher is UNPAID — is actually paying tuition — and is theoretically being supervised by both the regular teacher and a professor from the university sponsoring the student. (Yes, it doesn’t always work out that way.)

    A Teaching Assistant (TA) is a graduate student who is receiving a tuition & fee waiver, along with what is now a fairly healthy stipend of over $20,000/year — for a 20/hour/week job *only* during Spring & Fall semesters. Many are from out-of-state so they are getting out-of-state tuition waived, all their fees waived, AND what would be about $70,000 in cash were they working full-time on a year-round basis. It’s a very good deal, and *you* are paying for it.

    With the exception of the TAs in Education classes, they are NOT grad students in Education. Usually they are grad students in the department offering the class (e.g. English, Chemistry), and the primary purpose of these positions is to provide funding for the department’s graduate students (hence the term “assistantship”) — they are supposed to be ASSISTING the professor who is supposed to be actually teaching the class.

    They are the GEO that you often hear about.

    Now the true scandal is that they only teach one course while an adjunct professor – who already has his/her/its Doctorate *and* is hired on the basis of teaching ability (and ability to communicate in spoken English) usually teaches three. For the same price!

    And while the individual TAs may be competent teachers, and while they may care about the quality of their teaching, the point to remember is that this is just a job to them — it’s like the multitude of jobs that undergrads hold (and many of them are competent and caring people too).

    But the big question undergrads should ask is who represents YOU? GEO, Local 2322 of the United Auto Workers, negotiates with Whitmore — who represents YOU in those negotiations? No One! And that is the root of what I think this writer was attempting to address….

  2. Caitlin on March 26th, 2018 4:29 pm

    Hopefully the editor will read this again and change the massive factual errors in this article. Unless the author is a student in the College of Education (there are only 3 small undergraduate programs), they have likely never had a TA associated with the College of Education. TAs are *almost always* PhD students from the department through which the course is offered (i.e. Chemistry or History). Please get your facts straight before spending hundreds of words dragging College of Education Master’s students through the mud. You have some very legitimate points and opinions, but unfortunately they are totally buried by your erroneous understanding of how graduate education and teaching functions at universities.

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