Student Teaching for a Specialized View of Professional Practice? Opportunities to Learn in and for Urban, High-Needs Schools

Dec. 01, 2011

Source: Journal of Teacher Education, 62(5), 446-464. November/December, 2011.
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

This article reports on a study that aims to generate insights about student teaching’s contributions to preservice teachers (PST) learning.

Specifically, this study explores opportunities to learn within and across student teaching placements.
The authors analyze the degree to which placement experiences present equitable opportunities for PSTs to build a specialized knowledge base,one that can support them to enact in urban, high-needs schools the kind of responsive, learner-centered practices that research suggests are crucial to the academic success of historically underserved students.

The authors address to the following research questions:
What opportunities to learn do first-year teachers report having experienced as student teachers in urban, high-needs schools?
How do opportunities vary across placements and with what implications for PST learning?

The participants were 11 first-year elementary teachers who were completing the second year of a two-year specialized teacher education programs (TEPs) in a large metropolitan area.

During the TEP’s second year, PSTs participate in a weekly seminar and complete master’s theses, while also serving as full-time teachers in local public schools and receiving classroom visits from a field supervisor roughly every third week.


The authors found that all participants repeatedly praised student teaching for nurturing emerging professional identities and conferring new self-confidence.
The participants also credited student teaching with approximating what employment would be like in an urban, high-needs school.

Opportunities to Learn
Specifically, the authors address three core strands of opportunity reportedly experienced by participants.
These include opportunities to learn about curriculum and content; opportunities to see and participate in, but usually not plan for, “what’s possible”; and opportunities to struggle with and for youth.

Opportunities to learn about content and curriculum
The participants argued that most placement experiences focused almost exclusively on math and literacy and that cooperating teachers (CTs) tended to teach those content areas in isolation from one another.

Opportunities to see and participate in, but usually not plan for “what’s possible”
Participants claimed that these placements provided images of “what’s possible,” which in turn anchored them when they faced first-year struggles.
However, all participants reported not having had much opportunity to see CTs plan or plan with them.

Opportunities to struggle with and for youth
In six instances, participants described placements with CTs who communicated a particularly high degree of urgency about their work as educators and who advocated on behalf of students and challenged deficit assumptions about their capacities to learn.
Alternatively, in two cases, participants recounted placements with CTs who seemed to lack the commitment or skill to respectfully meet even students’ most basic needs.
To varying degrees, both appeared to present meaningful opportunities for PSTs to practice struggling on behalf of youth.


This study deepens the authors' belief that student teaching plays a significant role in PST learning and that its role tends to be problematic in practice and oversimplified in research.

Developing and Supporting Exemplary CTs
Overall, findings index the challenges of providing mentors who can model “what’s possible” in the face of tightly regulated reforms and grant PSTs access to the backstage labor that undergirds excellent teaching.

Providing Models Amid Realistic Policy Conditions
The authors argue that teacher educators might need to consider adjustments that maximize partnerships with exemplary, equity-minded CTs. such adjustments might involve assigning new roles and responsibilities to university-based field supervisors.

Moving Beyond Models to Mediation
The authors also consider it crucial for teacher educators to draw on and create opportunities and mediating tools that press PSTs not only to watch others grapple but also to grapple themselves with the tensions between student-centered teaching and a policy context that increasingly standardizes instruction and assessment in urban, high-needs schools.

Anchoring Teacher Education Practice in the Pursuit of Equitable Opportunities to Learn
Findings also suggest the need to conceive of student teaching as a continuum of experiences that work together to expand PSTs’ learning rather than merely compound strengths for some and weaknesses for others.

Updated: Jul. 22, 2013