AN EXAMINATION OF THE PRACTICES AND PERCEPTIONS OF STUDENT TEACHING COORDINATORS FOR MATCHING STUDENT TEACHERS WITH CLINICAL PLACEMENT SITES IN PENNSYLVANIA 

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AN EXAMINATION OF THE PRACTICES AND PERCEPTIONS OF STUDENT TEACHING COORDINATORS FOR MATCHING STUDENT TEACHERS WITH CLINICAL PLACEMENT SITES IN PENNSYLVANIA

Abstract

 

Teacher education programs in Pennsylvania are required by the state to include a student teaching component in their programs of study. This study was an in-depth exploration of the practices and perceptions of student teaching coordinators in Pennsylvania regarding the most important considerations when matching student teachers with clinical placement sites.

The study employed a mixed methodology. Some 46 student teaching coordinators (56%) among 81 contacted through a Pennsylvania Department of Education listing of teacher education programs completed an online survey which contained quantitative and qualitative measures. The survey was followed up by telephone interviews of 8 coordinators for a more in-depth understanding of their original responses to the survey, and as another qualitative component of the study.

The data analysis of the student teaching coordinators’ demographic information produced results on the student teacher placements within the past three years at the institutions they serve. Further analysis of the coordinators’ experience from the online survey and phone interview data indicated the categories the coordinators found to be most pertinent to matching student teachers and clinical placement sites. These included the cooperating teacher, university/school collaboration, and accessibility to placements, as well as the school site, diversity, coherence, and cohorts.

Accessibility to school sites was found to be a challenge, partly because the need for placement sites for student teachers sometimes outnumbered those available. But of even greater concern to teacher preparation programs was the finding that school officials are hesitant to permit access to placements due to school accountability to achieve acceptable Pennsylvania State System of Assessment (PSSA) test results. Prospective cooperating teachers may feel the need to prepare their students for PSSA testing under the No Child Left Behind Act to the exclusion of mentoring a student teacher. The implications of these findings are that limited accessibility or less than adequate opportunity to practice may compromise the quality of the student teachers’ experience, their potential to become a highly qualified teacher, and possibly their commitment to the profession.

 

 

 

     

 

Table of Contents

 

List of Tables ………………………………………………………………………………………………………..x

 

List of Figures…………………………………………………………………………………………………….. xi

 

Acknowledgments………………………………………………………………………………………………. xii

 

Chapter One

INTRODUCTION …………………………………………………………………………………………………1

 

The Complexity of Teaching and Teacher Education …………………………………………..1

The Student Teaching Experience………………………………………………………………………2

The Historical Context of Teacher Preparation…………………………………………………….6

Current Teacher Preparation Standards……………………………………………………………….8

Matching Student Teachers With Clinical Placement Sites ………………………………….10

Considerations for Matching…………………………………………………………………………….11

Purpose of the Study……………………………………………………………………………………….14 Research Questions…………………………………………………………………………………………16

Definition of Terms…………………………………………………………………………………………17

Limitations of the Study…………………………………………………………………………………..18

Significance of the Study…………………………………………………………………………………21

Chapter Summary …………………………………………………………………………………………..22

Chapter Two

BACKGROUND AND REVIEW OF THE LITERATURE………………………………………24

 

A Refocused View of Student Teaching…………………………………………………………….24 The Evolution of Teacher Preparation……………………………………………………………….26

State and National Teacher Preparation Standards………………………………………………29 Current Considerations for Matching in the Literature…………………………………………31

The Cooperating Teacher………………………………………………………………………31

Compatibility of Student Teacher/Cooperating Teacher………………………33

Matching Student Teachers With Trained Cooperating Teachers………….36

Collaboration……………………………………………………………………………………….38

Coherence …………………………………………………………………………………………..41

The School Site……………………………………………………………………………………42

Length of Placement…………………………………………………………………………….42

Clustering and Cohorts …………………………………………………………………………43

Diversity……………………………………………………………………………………………..44

Implications of the Research…………………………………………………………………………….47

Chapter Summary …………………………………………………………………………………………..49

Chapter Three RESEARCH METHODOLGY ……………………………………………………………………………..50

Research Questions…………………………………………………………………………………………54

Population of the Study……………………………………………………………………………………54

Instrumentation………………………………………………………………………………………………54

Data Collection Procedures………………………………………………………………………………58

Validation of the Study……………………………………………………………………………………61

Data Analysis Procedures………………………………………………………………………………..64

Chapter Summary …………………………………………………………………………………………..67 Chapter Four

RESULTS…………………………………………………………………………………………………………..68

The Participants’ Demographic Information………………………………………………………69

Results for Research Question #1……………………………………………………………………..80

The Cooperating Teacher……………………………………………………………………………80

Collaboration…………………………………………………………………………………………….82

Accessibility to Placements ………………………………………………………………………..84

The School Site…………………………………………………………………………………………85

Diversity…………………………………………………………………………………………………..86

Coherence ………………………………………………………………………………………………..88

Cohorts…………………………………………………………………………………………………….89

Location …………………………………………………………………………………………………..90

Certification Requirements…………………………………………………………………………91

Student Requests……………………………………………………………………………………….91

Results for Research Question #2……………………………………………………………………..92

The Cooperating Teacher……………………………………………………………………………93

Collaboration…………………………………………………………………………………………….95

Accessibility to Placements ………………………………………………………………………..95

The School Site…………………………………………………………………………………………95

Diversity…………………………………………………………………………………………………..96

Coherence ………………………………………………………………………………………………..96

Cohorts…………………………………………………………………………………………………….97

Location …………………………………………………………………………………………………..98 Certification Requirements…………………………………………………………………………98

Student Requests……………………………………………………………………………………….98

Other Results of the Participants’ Responses ……………………………………………………..99

Coordinators’ Views of Matching and Current Procedures……………………………105

The Findings of This Study……………………………………………………………………….108

Interview Item #5……………………………………………………………………………….108

Interview Item #6……………………………………………………………………………….112

Chapter Summary …………………………………………………………………………………………117

Chapter Five

CONCLUSIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS………………………………………………….118

Conclusions………………………………………………………………………………………………….120

The Cooperating Teacher………………………………………………………………………….120

Collaboration…………………………………………………………………………………………..122 Accessibility to Placements ………………………………………………………………………123

The School Site……………………………………………………………………………………….125

Diversity…………………………………………………………………………………………………126

Coherence ………………………………………………………………………………………………127

Cohorts…………………………………………………………………………………………………..128

Certification and Grade Level, Location, Student Teaching Requests…………….129

Length of Placement………………………………………………………………………………..130

Summary of the Considerations for Matching……………………………………………..130

Recommendations for Further Research…………………………………………………………..133

Chapter Summary …………………………………………………………………………………………135 Concluding Comments…………………………………………………………………………………..135

REFERENCES…………………………………………………………………………………………………137

Chapter One

INTRODUCTION

 

In this chapter I set the context for this study within teacher education and student teaching in particular. The chapter presents the need to examine the method of matching student teachers with clinical placement sites, which is a fertile area for research and exploration. The chapter first discusses the complexity of teaching and teacher education programs and continues with a discussion of student teaching within the teacher education program. A brief overview of the historical context of teacher preparation leads to a presentation of current standards for field experiences in teacher preparation. The chapter continues with a discussion of why it is important for teacher educators to focus on the clinical placement site and considerations for matching student teachers with these sites. The remainder of the chapter includes the purpose of the study, the research questions, definition of terms, the limitations of the study, and the significance of the study.

 

The Complexity of Teaching and Teacher Education

Given the complexity of teaching in our society today, it is essential that teacher educators design teacher education programs that prepare students for the many challenges they will face in the teaching profession. Educators who have been in the profession for many years readily attest to a significant change in the challenges that teachers face today. David Hansen (2008) states that the complexity of teacher education is evident and that these complexities have evolved “alongside the changing complexity of society” (p. 12). He posits that teachers will need to “appreciate why they teach, why their subjects are important, and why it matters to pay attention to students, parents, colleagues, and others involved in the educational process” (p. 12). As teacher educators design programs to foster such competencies in student teachers, it may be worthwhile to examine the experiences and opportunities that universities provide within the teacher education design framework in order to attain such goals.

In order to facilitate preparation for the complexity of teaching in today’s world, it is imperative that teacher educators look beyond the match of one student with one cooperating teacher toward a broader view of the clinical practice site. I chose to look at broader considerations in this study because the traditional model is remiss in considering the many facets so necessary to teacher preparation today. Factors pertaining to matching must also focus on collaboration between the teacher education program and the K-12 school, within the school community, and within cohorts of student teachers as they support each other and prepare for future collegial professional relationships. Student teachers must be afforded the opportunity for coherence to integrate methods courses into practice, to have access to school sites that promote ongoing professional growth and inquiry, and to prepare for cultural competence through interaction with diverse populations of students. Teacher education programs in conjunction with K-12 schools and the state bear the responsibility to provide preparation opportunities which permit student teachers the chance to experience and embrace teaching in an all-encompassing capacity.

The Student Teaching Experience

Student teaching is the culminating experience of teacher preparation. Teachers laud student teaching as the most important experience in their professional development (Guyton & McIntyre, 1990; Silberman, 1970, as cited in Copas, 1984). Student teachers believe that student teaching is “the most valuable and helpful component of their total preparation program” (Watts, 1987, p. 151). During this experience, students have traditionally been given the opportunity to apply theoretical concepts to practice. The traditional view of student teaching as an opportunity to apply theory to practice is viewed by some reform advocates as simplistic and lacking a more comprehensive focus. Levine (1992) discusses Dewey’s vision of a restructured view of education, along with current reform advocates where teaching “transforms a knowledge base, reflects on practice, and generates new knowledge” (p. 10). Schon (1983, as cited in Levine, 1992) describes practice as beginning with a knowledge base and “becoming an active process involving inquiry, creativity, analysis, and evaluation, all of which are guided by a set of values or a system of ethics” (p. 11). This process permits the teacher to combine “inquiry and action in reflective practice” (p. 11).

Previous models of student teaching have included a theory-laden base of coursework for two to three years, then the traditional observation and participation in an actual classroom to apply that theory to practice. During the course of the last several years, however, teacher education programs have attempted to introduce students into real-world classrooms much earlier, prior to their student teaching experience. Schlechty (1990) proposes situating teacher education within K-12 schools. In this design, teacher educators can circumvent the manufactured simulations of K-12 classrooms so evident in the college classroom. Schlechty advocates that students and teacher educators have an opportunity to work together in authentic settings to engage in discussions about observations and teaching enactment in order for teacher educators to socialize students into the profession. Intense collaboration with K-12 schools to redefine the roles of teacher educators and K-12 faculty would be necessary to revamp the traditional student teaching paradigm.

Goodlad (1990, p. 280) addresses the fact that, although student teachers and teachers rate student teaching as the highest component of teacher preparation, “complex issues arise out of the need to provide exemplary practice settings – problems not resolved through building up a roster of cooperating teachers.” Goodlad emphatically decries conventional student teaching as a “seriously flawed approach” (p. 281). He also asserts that “many of the arrangements for student teaching are disgraceful” (p. 296). He attributes such unsatisfactory arrangements to admitting more students into teacher education programs rather than establishing a quota whereby students could partake of exemplary experiences including student teaching. Colleges and universities enjoy large profits by admitting any interested students, regardless of qualifications, into teacher education programs. As the institutions usher students through the required coursework, numerous placements become necessary to fulfill the student teaching requirement. The need for large numbers of cooperating teachers to fulfill the program’s obligation to provide a student teaching placement precludes the selection of high-quality cooperating teachers. Goodlad calls for intense collaboration between the school and college entities, and proposes state collaboration in the form of funding for schools participating as clinical placement sites in order to support the reciprocal roles of school and college personnel involved. He further decries the traditional model of the student teacher and cooperating teacher as moving through the student teaching experience to the exclusion of involvement in the whole school. The result of such an arrangement is that the student teacher misses out on the context of teaching in its entirety. Goodlad posits that students must be prepared to teach in a broader sense so that they are “stewards of entire schools” instead of being matched to a single classroom with a single cooperating teacher (p. 297).          In the twenty-first century, the discussion of teacher education has ensued relative to the essence of teacher quality, yet there is disagreement as to what teacher quality means and how such quality relates to desirable outcomes (Cochran-Smith & Fries, 2005). As a result of attention to teacher quality, criticism of teacher education preparation programs has followed. One outgrowth of the heightened attention to teacher education has been the pressure for teacher education programs to show that their student teachers can successfully prepare public school students to pass standardized tests. Cochran-Smith and Fries (p. 39) delineate the following five major trends in teacher education:

  1. Heightened attention to teacher quality
  2. The changing demographic profile of the nation’s schoolchildren coupled with growing disparities in educational resources and outcomes
  3. Criticism of traditional teacher preparation coupled with pressure to demonstrate the impact on student learning
  4. Multiple agendas for teacher education reform
  5. The ascendance of the science of education as the presumed solution to educational problems

In view of teacher quality, teacher preparation programs are challenged to provide opportunities to optimize professional growth and the competencies of teacher candidates. Although the debate about best practices in teacher education continues, Cochran-Smith and Fries (2005, p. 48) call for “questions to be posed about the various pathways into teaching that account for the characteristics of both programs and candidates as well as the conditions that are needed to ensure effective teachers.” Therefore, research on considerations for matching student teachers with clinical placement sites may offer insight into “figuring out how specific learning opportunities and teacher education practices . . . can lead to knowledge about teacher development and learning” (Bransford, Darling-Hammond, & LePage, 2005, p. 29).

 

The Historical Context of Teacher Preparation

By reflecting on the history of student teaching, it is possible to track the progression of this component of teacher education. In a review of teacher education,

Griffin and Edwards (1982) reflected on the earliest accounts of learning to teach in the 1600s, when young, prospective teachers apprenticed themselves to master teachers. The structure was very similar to apprenticeships in tradesmen’s guilds. Because of a perceived need to provide more formalized training for teachers, the normal school was developed in the United States during the 1800s to train high school students how to become teachers, with certain norms or standards of teaching. The notion of a model school manifested in 1839 with the emergence of the first state-supported normal school in Massachusetts. In the model school, students engaged in the actual practice of teaching to apply theory to practice in a “near approximation of what a school is or should be” (Pierce, p. 37, as cited in Armentrout, 1927).

In that era of teacher training, Pennsylvania’s normal schools required student teachers to practice teach one hour per day for the last three quarters of the school year. Lessons were developed by critic teachers, followed by weekly conferences and no written evaluations (Griffin & Edwards, 1982, p. 6).

During the 1900s, normal schools evolved into teachers colleges. The National

Association of Supervisors of Student Teaching, established in 1920, and The American Association of Teachers Colleges were instrumental in professionalizing teacher education. The National Association of Supervisors of Student Teaching focused on clinical experiences and in collaboration with the American Association of Teachers Colleges in 1927, established the first standards for teachers colleges, which included guidelines for student teaching.

Collaborative efforts between colleges and public schools resulted in model schools being replaced by public school practice sites. The Flowers Report of 1948 stated, “Student teaching is the period of guided teaching when the student takes increasing responsibility for the work with a given group of learners over a period of consecutive weeks” (Flowers, Patterson, Stratemeyer, & Lindsey, 1948, pp. 321-322).

Throughout the twentieth century, public school sites for practice surpassed the laboratory schools (Tanner, 1997) found at colleges and universities, an outgrowth of

John Dewey’s experiential education begun at the University of Chicago. In 1961, the National Commission on Teacher Education and Professional Standards (NCTEPS) published student teaching guidelines supporting an increase in experiential opportunities. Tensions concerning the responsibilities of colleges and school personnel emerged during this period. Such questions about roles and responsibilities continue today as we move toward more collaborative efforts to improve the student teaching component of teacher preparation. Griffin and Edwards (1982, p. 21) point out that our task as teacher educators is to determine via “a theoretical and empirical basis, what types of practice, evaluation and supervision lead to the most competent teachers.” Current experimental studies have shown promise in student teacher growth when experiences have linked concepts, effective teaching practices, and immediate opportunities to apply learning to practice (Darling-Hammond & Hammerness, 2005, p. 403).

 

Current Teacher Preparation Standards

In 1954, the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE) was founded to establish high-quality teacher preparation programs. To support their mission that “every student deserves a caring, competent, and highly qualified teacher” (National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education, 2007, paragraph 4), NCATE set standards for field experiences in the teacher education program accreditation process. Recently adopted standards for field experiences, which go into effect in 2008, lend support to the culminating experience of teacher preparation that would extend far

beyond the classroom to include whole schools, families, and communities. The target components for student teacher field experiences and clinical practice focus on those that permit full immersion in the learning community. Student teachers not only need to demonstrate proficiency in knowledge, skills, and dispositions in the classroom, but their clinical experiences must also reflect collaboration with colleagues, parents and families, and communities. Student teachers are expected to study and practice in clinical placement sites that include diverse populations and students with exceptionalities. NCATE advocates collaboration between colleges and universities and school partners to the extent that they jointly determine specific placements. Both entities are encouraged to “share and integrate resources and expertise to create roles and structures that support and create opportunities for candidates to learn” (NCATE. Retrieved July 13, 2007 at http://www.ncate.org/public/aboutNCATE.asp).

The Pennsylvania Standards for Higher Education Programs share similar standards with NCATE. (See Appendix A.) Category II, Performances of Program Design, details the requirements for field experience as follows:

Field experiences include the array of studies and experiences that take place outside of the formal classroom in the setting in which the candidate seeks to be certified to work. For initial instructional preparation programs, the culminating field experience is a student teaching placement for 12 weeks, in an assignment commensurate with the area of certification, under the direct supervision of an appropriately certified cooperating teacher with at least three years of experience, at least one year in their present assignment, who has been trained by the professional educator program. (Pennsylvania Bulletiin. Retrieved May 5, 2008, from http://www.teaching.state.pa.us/teaching/lib/teaching/354 guide.pdf)

 

Matching Student Teachers With Clinical Placement Sites

To date, modest research attention has been given to matching student teachers with clinical placement sites. Numerous studies (Darling-Hammond & Bransford, 2005; Copas, 1984; Easterly, 1978; Sudzina & Coolican, 1994) have examined the relationship and match between the student teacher and the cooperating teacher. These researchers indicate that there have been positive and negative outcomes for the student teacher as a result of this “match” (Sudzina & Coolican). Although this interpersonal match constitutes a key piece of the student teaching experience, broader clinical experiences might play a critical role in student teacher development. According to Zeichner (2002), a revitalized, refocused view of student teaching is necessary, and he challenges teacher educators to think broadly about placement sites for student teachers. Goodlad (1990) argues that the notion of preparing students to function as significant members of the whole school is negated by matching a student teacher with a single cooperating teacher in a single classroom.

Although the cooperating teacher assumes such an influential and critical position in the student’s learning-to-teach process, the conceptions of purpose, content, and enacted opportunities in student teaching vary greatly from institution to institution (Darling-Hammond & Hammerness, 2005). The variability in the range of experiences and practices is a result of “different conceptions and traditions which frequently are unexamined,” including where and when these experiences occur (Darling-Hammond & Hammerness, p. 409). Weasmer and Woods (2003, p. 174) recognized that “it is imperative that those who monitor the program be aware of its significance.” DarlingHammond and Bransford contend that the student teaching experience must be given careful consideration of “what the experience should be like and why” (p. 410). Calling for a refocused view of student teaching, Wideen, Mayer-Smith, and Moon (1998) also advocated attention to conditions and contexts in which teachers learn to teach.

Because we know little to date about the outcomes of teacher quality and student learning that result from the contexts and opportunities experienced by student teachers, a closer look at considerations for matching student teachers with placement sites may play a key role in the preparation of quality teachers, and eventually, impact student learning (Cochran-Smith & Fries, 2005). Matching student teachers with clinical placement sites is a salient issue for investigation as evidenced in the literature. Although some research has been done on matching student teachers with cooperating teachers and clinical placement sites, there has been no study of the matching process related to the practices and perceptions of student teaching coordinators at the university level. By exploring their experience of the matching process, valuable considerations of how students are matched with clinical placement sites will emerge.

 

Considerations for Matching

Goodlad (1990) states that given the importance of teachers and the high expectations our nation holds for them, the development of exemplary field sites is required for student teachers. However, there are conflicting views about whether the goal of matching student teachers with clinical placement sites is intended to promote success in the student teaching or to provide an opportunity for continued success in their future profession. Goodlad claims that fieldwork in clinical placement sites “where family backgrounds and educational resources almost ensure success are programs that disadvantage future teachers and short change society” (p. 61). Such sites might be stepping stones to practice for student teachers and may actually mirror the opportunity in the laboratory school. However, additional practice in clinical placement sites evidencing broader considerations may be warranted to ensure the preparation of student teachers for the reality of today’s schools. Goodlad favors exemplary clinical placement sites steeped in collaborative efforts between the K-12 schools and colleges and universities. He calls for exemplary models in affluent and economically disadvantaged areas, and that student teachers experience both settings.

Another consideration for matching is that our society and the complexion of our student population are rapidly changing because of cultural diversity. In order to empower future teachers to influence student achievement, teacher educators must focus their attention on “creating” clinical site experiences for the practice of teaching that include diverse student populations. These experiences may be guided by considerations that are important in our changing world and thus result in a student teaching experience which far exceeds a mere “site to be found” (Potthoff & Alley, 1996). Other important considerations in site selection that appear in the literature include the cooperating teacher, collaboration, socialization in whole schools and communities, diversity factors, coherence, length of placement, and cohorts.

To the contrary, student teachers have generally been asked to complete this phase of their teacher preparation in fragmented, disconnected frameworks, lacking coherence with college and university methods instruction, or in environments that are removed from the mainstream of today’s realities of the classroom, such as diversity considerations. Inattention to appropriate matching of student teachers with clinical placement sites may eventually result in teacher frustration, failure, and exit from the profession in a few years due to inadequate preparedness. Futrell (2008) calls for teacher educators to prepare teachers for “differentiated, integral roles” as opposed to continuing to present teaching as an isolated discipline. She recommends that student teachers must demonstrate “mastery of their content area, and pedagogical skills through wellmentored, diverse field experiences” (p. 537). Futrell contends that we need to attend to the quality of preparation and continued support as these elements reflect demonstrated effectiveness in the classroom as well as confidence in teaching ability and remaining in the profession. She challenges teacher educators to “more clearly define and support the scholarship of teaching and learning, including field experiences” (p. 537).

In spite of concerted efforts in educational and school reform, surprisingly little attention has been given to teacher education reform, as though there is no connection between them. Given the fact that the context of teaching is ever changing in the schools, the tie between schools and teacher education programs needs to be inextricably linked. Goodlad (1990) speaks of the many conflicting directives required of teachers, so removed from the daily exigencies of teaching, as being responsible for 50% of the reasons that teachers leave the profession within five years. He relates this phenomenon to teachers being “ill-equipped to begin with” (p. 64), reinforcing the challenge and dilemma of teacher educators to seriously look at program structure – particularly in view of clinical placements sites. Promising avenues for better equipping our prospective teachers would include collaboration, coherence, the school site, diversity factors in our changing society, cohorts, and length of placement, which in Pennsylvania may last 12 weeks as required, or up to one year.

 

Purpose of the Study

This research study examined the current practices of matching student teachers with clinical placement sites as reported by student teaching coordinators across the state of Pennsylvania, and the perceptions of those coordinators as to the most important considerations to examine when matching student teachers with clinical placement sites. The study also examined various challenges in the matching process, which emerged during the data collection and which were deemed important by the student teaching coordinators.   

The rationale for identifying the important considerations for matching student teachers with clinical placement sites is to provide opportunities in teacher education programs to adequately prepare competent teachers. Robinson (2008, p. 381) argues that it is essential for teacher preparation to be “linked to actual experience in classrooms in assessing and interpreting the development of student competence” and that teacher educators must design programs that shape field and clinical experiences for teacher education. Shaping experiences with regard to matching should encompass positive mentoring experiences, collaboration, coherence, the school site, diversity considerations, cohorts, and length of placement (Chin & Russel, 1995; Koerner, Rust, & Baumgartner,

2002; LaBoskey & Richert, 2002; Rodriguez & Sjostrom, 1995; Sumara & Luce-Kaplar, 1996). Teacher education program designs that evidence a longer time frame and coherence “appear to make a difference in teacher practices, confidence, and long-term commitment to teaching” (Darling-Hammond & Hammerness, 2005, p. 411).

Additional studies indicate that certain matching practices may have positive outcomes. Although the results of studies of matching in diverse settings conflict, McCormick (1990) reported that student teachers placed in urban settings voiced the opinion that such placements had a profound impact on their development as teachers. Hollins and Guzman (2005, p. 512) state that student teachers placed in clinical placement settings with diverse students “acquire more complex understandings and awareness of cultural and experiential differences than do their peers placed in suburban settings.” In spite of a few studies that showed promising outcomes of matching with respect to diversity, “empirical examination of the relationship between teacher preparation for diversity and pupils’ learning and other outcomes is largely uncharted territory in the field of research on teacher education” (Hollins & Guzman, p. 512).

The findings of the present study have implications for improving the quality of teacher education programs by examining student teaching coordinators’ perceptions of matching and the most important contexts to consider, based on their extensive experience in teacher education. Most importantly, the quality and competence of future teachers may be impacted by exploring matching considerations deemed to hold importance in the clinical experience. These implications could manifest in policy changes as well as in individual teacher education program restructuring. Exploring the potential gap between current practices and perceived ideal practices for matching may lead to closing such a gap.  

The results of this study might also address Goodlad’s (1990) assessment of the student teaching situation: “The chasm between what is and what should be is so great that it appears to have intimidated those who should be finding ways to cross it” (p. 280). This was the guiding purpose or mission for this study – to identify student teaching components in order to bridge the chasm of what should or can be.

 

Research Questions

For this study, I designed two research questions predicated on the purpose of this study. To gain insight into the perspectives and practices of student teaching coordinators in Pennsylvania, I used both quantitative and qualitative methods to answer the following research questions:

  1. What criteria do student teaching coordinators in the state of Pennsylvania consider in order to match student teachers with clinical placement sites? 2. What perceptions do student teaching coordinators in the state of Pennsylvania hold as the most important considerations in matching student teachers with clinical placement sites?

 

Definition of Terms

The following are the definitions of the terms that are used in this dissertation:

Student teaching: The culminating field experience where student teachers traditionally apply theory to practice.

Student teaching coordinator: A university person responsible for matching student teachers with clinical placement sites.

Clinical placement site: A place where student teachers practice teach for a specified period of time and in specific grade levels and subject areas.

Length of placement: The time a student teacher spends in each assigned clinical placement site.

Cohort: A group of student teachers practice teaching in the same clinical placement site but not necessarily at the same grade level or in the same subject areas.

Coherence: The congruence between the university teacher education program and the host school for student teaching.

Collaboration: The sharing and integration of resources and expertise to create roles and structures that support and create opportunities for teacher candidates to learn. Collaboration may extend to cohorts’ efforts toward future and present collegiality, university faculty, school faculty, communities and families, as well as state, university, and K-12 school initiatives.

Cooperating teacher: The person responsible for mentoring the student teacher on a daily basis in the clinical placement site.

Diversity: Ethnic, racial, cultural, and language differences.

State-aided institutions: The status originally conferred on institutions in the

1880s; presently eight institutions in Pennsylvania hold this designation.

State-related institutions: The status of four institutions of higher education including The Pennsylvania State University, Temple University, The University of Pittsburgh, and Lincoln University.

State universities: The 14 schools in Pennsylvania that originated from the former normal schools and teachers colleges.

State-assisted schools: The term used in this study to refer to a combination of state-related and state-aided institutions

Private colleges and universities: These schools comprise the majority of teacher education programs (approximately 67).

 

Limitations of the Study

According to Creswell (1994), a researcher should be aware of limitations in research. The following limitations pertained to this study. First, the population was restricted to student teaching coordinators in Pennsylvania. Therefore, the perceptions of the participants may not be generalized to other states’ populations. The return rate of 56% on the survey in this study was not all-inclusive of teacher education programs in

Pennsylvania, yet was considered an acceptable return rate according to Babbie (1998).

Also, the responses of the coordinators who volunteered to participate in followup interviews may not be representative of the views of all of the participants in the study. The interviewees primarily represented private institutions. Additionally, the data collected were self-reported. As the researcher, I did not visit the sites to verify the information. My assumption was that the participants accurately reported their perceptions, which I deemed appropriate data for analysis.

Another limitation of this study may have been my context as the researcher. Thus, I have used reflexivity, which is defined by Denzin and Lincoln (2003, p. 283) as the “process of reflecting critically on the self as researcher.” As a researcher, I am also a practitioner of teacher education and involved the student teaching program at the college where I teach, which may have contributed some bias to my research. The following describes my interests and position as the researcher in this study and the limitations associated with this position.

I approached this research study with great excitement and a true sense of inquiry. My transition to teacher education at the college level, after 20 years of teaching in elementary, middle, and high school, and 10 years as a principal, has inspired my professional growth in unexpected dimensions. The fact that the teacher education program at my college was in its formative stage when I came to the program presented a challenge and opportunity that I was willing to accept. Finding my way to teach again, and at the college level as a methods instructor in teacher education, was a new experience. The supervision of student teachers was a perfect fit with my administrative experience, yet I had much to learn, and still do, about supporting neophyte teachers in order to help them develop as teachers.

Guiding student teachers is an exciting and unique experience with each individual. However, I was perplexed by the fact that some students who were marginal in their courses flourished in student teaching, whereas some students who were stellar in the classroom struggled with student teaching. Thus, my experiences in teacher education led to many questions, one of which concerned the match at the interpersonal level between the student teacher and the cooperating teacher. Discussions with my teaching colleagues and my dissertation advisor Dr. Bernard Badiali, in particular, led me to a more global inquiry as to what are the most important considerations for matching the student teacher and clinical placement sites.

My college is now approximately seven years into its student teaching program, which is still developing. Initially, it was challenging for the teacher education program to cultivate relationships with schools that already had student teaching arrangements with several teacher education institutions in the area. In response to our request to place teachers, administrators indicated they had already accepted student teacher placements. But our persistence initially garnered one or two placements, and we have cultivated positive relationships with several area schools to date, placing 17 student teachers in 2007-2008. Yet I do not take this success for granted. We are engaged in continuous efforts at collaboration of a very positive sort that is growing and changing each year.

My personal quest is to work as an integral part of our teacher education team and do my part as a researcher and learner to gain, as so aptly expressed by Grossman (2005,

  1. 452), “greater insights to help prospective teachers develop the knowledge, skill, dispositions, integrity, and identities that will inform their future practice.”

As I interacted with other teacher educators during my doctoral study, I felt camaraderie in our journeys, and my eyes were opened to new, compelling perspectives on teacher education. It is my hope to join not only my colleagues but also my students in the pilgrimage of becoming a lifelong learner and an adaptive expert, that is, one who believes that “discovering the need to change is perceived not as a failure but, instead, as a success and an inevitable, continuous aspect of effective teaching” (Darling-Hammond

& Hammerness, 2005, p. 363).

 

Significance of the Study

The purpose of this study was to explore the current practices and perceptions of student teaching coordinators in Pennsylvania for matching student teachers with clinical placement sites. The study examined the perceptions of these student teaching coordinators as to the most important factors to consider in this matching process. The results of this study can help provide teacher educators with a clear sense of the current practices available for matching student teachers with clinical placement sites in Pennsylvania. Additionally, and more significantly, this study may have identified the most important considerations for matching, as reported by the student teaching coordinators themselves.

There have been plenty of studies on the matching of cooperating teachers and student teachers. However, there has been a notable lack of research on the process of matching student teachers with clinical placement sites. Thus, there is little in-depth data for teacher educators to consider when matching student teachers with clinical placement sites. It is hoped, therefore, that this study has garnered some of the most important considerations for matching, and contributed to our understanding of this phenomenon through the perspective of student teaching coordinators in Pennsylvania. The desired outcome of a better understanding of the considerations for matching student teachers with clinical placement sites is to ultimately provide a more valuable and meaningful student teaching experience and thus better preparation of our teachers.

The traditional model of student teaching has historically focused on matching one student teacher and one cooperating teacher to complete the practice teaching experience. However, in the twenty-first century, the apprenticeship model of the past may not help new teachers meet the current demands of our profession. Thus, teacher educators need to view the student teaching experience from a broader perspective to refocus this experience in order to better prepare future teachers.

It has been my experience that teacher educators informally discuss the matching process with their colleagues. It is apparent from the literature that teacher educators need to re-examine student teaching practices to provide exemplary opportunities for aspiring teachers in relevant contexts. By examining the perceptions of student teaching coordinators, as those most closely associated with the task of matching and most astutely aware of the current dynamics of the education community, the results of this study can assist with informed decision making by teacher educators concerning considerations for matching student teachers with clinical placement sites.

 

Chapter Summary

This chapter has established the background for this study in terms of teacher education and student teaching, with a view towards the purpose of the study, which was to explore the practices and perceptions of student teaching coordinators in Pennsylvania with regard to the important considerations in matching student teachers with clinical placement sites. The chapter also contains the purpose of the study, the research questions, definition of terms, limitations, and significance of the study.

AN EXAMINATION OF THE PRACTICES AND PERCEPTIONS OF STUDENT TEACHING COORDINATORS FOR MATCHING STUDENT TEACHERS WITH CLINICAL PLACEMENT SITES IN PENNSYLVANIA

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