Q&A with Michelle Reininger: The student teaching experience

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Michelle Reininger

Michelle Reininger

Michelle Reininger was astonished to read a report claiming that nationally, only half of those who complete traditional teacher preparation programs end up in the classroom. Thinking that a negative student teaching experience might be partly to blame, she decided to research student teaching and teamed up with Chicago Public Schools. Her study includes surveys of student teachers both before and after their placement. The study is in its second year and is still ongoing.

One unexpected finding so far is that student teachers who went through an intensive process to match them with a school were no more likely to be satisfied with their placement than teachers who were placed in schools at random.  The Joyce Foundation is funding the research with a $127,000 grant. Reininger, who has a master’s degree from the University of Virginia and master’s and doctoral degrees from Stanford University, talked with writer Daniela Bloch about the progress of the research and what the district may do with the findings.

Q: Tell me about your study in general.

A: Student teaching is a critical time. We want to make sure that there aren’t experiences happening that are pushing people out who should otherwise be staying in [teaching]. The main point is to determine what it is about that experience that may help better prepare teachers here in Chicago, although the work we’re doing will have implications on a much broader level, across the country. The other issue is recruiting—how can the district use student teaching placement to recruit potential teachers?

Q: What do the surveys ask?

A: We ask a lot of background information–where they were prepared, how well-prepared they feel to do a number of things, like manage a class or work with special ed students. Then we ask about their expectations–what do they think the biggest challenges are going to be—how their placement occurred, what grade level they want to work with and where they want to work. At the end of their placement, we ask how well-prepared they think they are.

Q: What are some of your most interesting findings?

A: About 40 percent (of student teachers who responded) said that completing tasks in the time that they had available turned out to be harder than they expected. About 30 percent said that managing student behavior was much more difficult than they expected it to be. Most of those who say they want to teach in CPS are themselves graduates of CPS schools. And 99.9 percent of [respondents] feel more prepared on every measure after they complete their placement. It’s nice to see that student teaching really does help teachers grow and gives them confidence and hands-on experience.

One of the biggest predictors of satisfaction with the student teaching experience was how much [connection] there was between student teachers, the cooperating CPS teacher and the program supervisor. This finding reiterates that districts and prep programs need to be talking to each other. Ultimately, it helps students, and that’s where everyone’s heart is.

Q: Are you researching the effectiveness of student teachers?

A: The next phase will do exactly that. We’ll start asking cooperating CPS teachers to assess the student teachers’ potential. It’s a channel for them to say [to the district] “Look, don’t pass this one up.” In addition, we’ll ask student teachers to assess the schools where they were placed. That will help the district think about what student teachers like in a school and what should be done to help recruiting.

Q: Has CPS expressed interest in feedback?

A: They’ve expressed to us that they care about recruiting good talent. They’re worried they’re losing good teachers to the suburbs, and CPS wants to keep that talent in the district.

Q: What’s the practical application of all this research?

A: It will help ensure that student teachers are having the experiences they need to have and [uncover] what is it that the host school and district can do to ensure that those experiences can happen. I hope that at the end of this, we can say, “Look, these are important factors, and these are things a prep program, a district, a school can control.” Right now, we don’t have a good empirical base of research to say what makes for successful placement.