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Student Teachers Become Co-teachers in the Classroom

In one corner of the classroom, second-grade teacher Dee Eidson discussed a book about snakes with five students, teaching them how to support facts with evidence. “Why don’t snakes smell with their noses?” she asked.

Opposite her, student teacher Kevin Cook drilled four students on pronouncing vowels and writing sentences. “’The pop fizzes in the can.’ Go ahead and write it,” he told them.

By sharing the teaching of small groups, Cook was able to help Eidson zero in on the needs of certain students while others read or worked on computers. Eidson sees it as one major advantage of co-teaching, a new model of student teaching Alpine Elementary has adopted in partnership with Grand Valley State University.

It’s much different from the traditional student-teacher model, Eidson says — and in her view, much better.

“We are both the teachers in the classroom,” said Eidson, known as a cooperating teacher in this model. “There’s a lot of flexibility this co-teaching model has allowed us to have. It allows us to be able to get to kids and meet them at their specific needs.”

Cook is one of 11 GVSU student teachers this year at Alpine, which began the program last year with 10. Working in grades K-3, the students spend the entire school year with the same classroom teacher, first semester as part-time assistants and second semester as full-day teachers.

That allows for more continuity and planning than in the past, when different student teachers would come each semester and classroom teachers routinely turned over instruction to the student teacher, said Principal Jason Snyder. The new model has increased teachers’ interaction with students, given student teachers more hands-on experience and produced promising test-score results, he said.

“Especially in this day and age of budget cuts, when there’s less and less people in a classroom working with kids, it’s been a win-win,” Snyder said. “The demands on teachers now are so high, it’s provided that extra support to focus on kids.”

Kenowa Hills would like to expand the program to higher grade levels at Alpine, and potentially to other schools depending on GVSU’s capacity to scale it up, said Assistant Superintendent Mike Burde.

Mike Moorehead was hired to teach fifth grade this year after spending last year as a student co-teacher at Alpine Elementary

A Teacher, Not a Student Teacher

The program evolved from a GVSU College of Education study in 2013-14 in the West Ottawa Public School District, to see whether two adults working full-time in a K-3 classroom would increase student achievement. Researchers found that it did, improving student test scores in every subject and grade involved with the co-teaching program.

The research was initiated after some school districts became hesitant to use student teachers, said Sheryl Vlietstra, a GVSU affiliate professor of education.

“K-12 teachers have many state requirements to fulfill,” Vlietstra said, “and there is an old perception that teachers have to turn their classrooms over to student teachers, causing a possible disruption in the curriculum.”

The co-teaching model scraps that thinking in favor of a team approach, where the student teacher becomes more involved as the year goes on. Students who volunteer for the program are interviewed and matched up with classroom teachers in a sort of speed-dating assessment.

Mike Moorehead taught third grade at Alpine in the program last year, and was hired this year to teach fifth. He called co-teaching a “fantastic” experience.

“Seeing the full, big picture was super-beneficial,” said Moorehead, who taught with Brooke Johnston. “By the end, when Brooke would be out and I was subbing, I wouldn’t have any nervousness. That showed me I was ready to go.

“It wasn’t her classroom, it was our classroom,” he added. “I felt like I was a teacher by the end of it.”

Kevin Cook is feeling more that way, in his second semester of teaching with Dee Eidson. He said he’s developed a rhythm and gained confidence as he goes, and that students have gotten increasingly comfortable with him.

“They’re starting to see me more as a teacher instead of a student teacher,” Cook said. By year’s end, he added, “It’s going to be a big move to go away from them. I’m going to miss them.”


Alpine Elementary School

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Charles Honey
Charles Honey
Charles Honey is editor-in-chief of SNN, and covers series and issues stories for all districts. As a reporter for The Grand Rapids Press/mLive from 1985 to 2009, his beats included Grand Rapids Public Schools, local colleges and education issues. Honey served as editor of The Press’ award-winning Religion section for 15 years and its columnist for 20. His freelance articles have appeared in Christianity Today, Religion News Service and Faith & Leadership magazine. Read Charles' full bio


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