5 Things Cooperating Teachers (and Student Teachers) Need to Know (Ep. 089)

When it comes to cooperating teachers and student teachers, there is a lot to learn–from both ends of the spectrum. Cassie is here today with advice and her top tips for all involved. Listen as she discusses what we can learn from our student teachers, why we need to give them space (literally and figuratively), and what you need to do to help your student teacher find their voice.  Full episode transcript below.

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Cassie: Is there anything more scary than your very first day as a student teacher? I think not. I had two student teaching experiences. I know many of you guys have probably had multiple student teaching experiences. My first one was a high school not far from where I attended college at Indiana University. That was stint number one. It was pretty horrible, not because I had a bad student teacher. She was fine. I just definitely was not cut out to be hanging with the high school crew. And then my second student teaching experience was in Ireland. That in itself was a blast, but again, I was with middle school and high school kids who pretty much ate my lunch every single day.

If you are getting ready to do your student teaching, or maybe you’re in the midst of it, or perhaps you’re a teacher who’s been tinkering with the idea of taking on a student teacher, then have I got a podcast episode for you, because I’m going to be addressing both camps today. Both of you who are considering taking on a student teacher, and those of you that are about to be or are in the middle of that fresh hell, otherwise known as student teaching. Just kidding. It really all depends on the circumstances, so let’s talk about it. This is Cassie Stephens, and this also Everyday Art Room.

So today I thought I’d share with you my top fives. My top fives for what you should know as a cooperating teacher, and also my top fives for what you should know as a student teacher. I’m going to be addressing both of you all. Sometimes I might step on somebody’s toes, whether that be the student teacher or the cooperating teacher, but just know everything is said with love. I’m just laying it out there, because it needs to be said.

Let’s start with you cooperating teachers first. These are my top five things that I feel like you really should know, especially if you’ve never taken on a student teacher before. Little background about yours truly. I have had in my 20 years teaching just a mere three student teachers. That is by choice. I have thoroughly enjoyed teaching all three of the student teachers that I had. They were wonderful student teachers, and I’m not just saying that, because probably none of them listen to this podcast if they’re smart. Just kidding.

But they were all so unique, so great, and I got along extremely well with all of them. I learned a lot from them. One thing I did learn is that I don’t necessarily want to take on any more student teachers. That’s just me. I have found that for me, my priority is my students. Those kids in my room have always got to take top priority for me. I found that when I was hosting a student teacher, sometimes my students took a little bit of a back burner, and I just didn’t feel great about that, but that’s just me. That’s where I’m coming from. So like I said, take my advice with a grain of salt, having had just three student teachers. I know many of you out there listening right now have taken on tons more, and I know that there are art teachers out there who you have helped tremendously, so slow clap for you, because they wouldn’t be where they are without someone like you taking them on. Meanwhile, someone like me closed the door in their face. All right. Back to my top five.

Top five things that cooperating teachers should know, and student teachers … I’m just going to say right now, you might want to put your ear muffs on, because a couple of things I’m about to say might offend, but you might also need to hear them anyway.

Okay. Thing number one cooperating teachers. Assume nothing, except that your student teacher probably doesn’t know anything, so don’t get frustrated. You’re going to have to explain and explain and explain everything you do. Why you do it the way you do, but keep an open mind. This is a fresh perspective. Maybe he or she has a different idea and is seeing things a little differently, giving you an idea of something new you might want to try. More than likely, that’s not the case. More than likely, they just don’t know.

If this is their first time to ever really spend in an art room, they’re going to have a lot of questions for you, and I like to think of it as those first, let’s be honest, six months with kindergarten. You think they going to know how to put a cap on a marker. They don’t. You think they going to know how to handle a pair of scissors. They don’t. You think a student teacher’s going to understand that kids need to make a line before they leave the art room. They don’t. You think they might want to make sure none of the kids are talking before they start giving a lesson. Uh-uh (negative). Mm-mm (negative). Nope. They probably don’t. So these are things that you really have to hold their hand and explain and be extremely patient with them. That’s thing number one. Assume nothing.

Thing number two. With that in mind, stop, watch, and listen, because you just might learn something. Even an old dog like me who’s been teaching for 20 years. How many times do I say that? That should be like a drinking game. How many times do I have to tell you that I’ve taught for 20 years? Oh. Take another sip. Coffee, of course. You might learn something. I mean, these are kids who are learning about new strategies. Hopefully they’re at the forefront of what’s new and now in the art ed world. They are probably … I’m not even going to say probably. I know that many young art teachers out there are way more advanced and savvy than I am. I’m an old dog, and so these student teachers are learning all these amazing and new tricks.

Why not stop, watch, and just listen and learn from them? They have energy. They’ve got this excitement, and sure, a lot of the stuff that they are learning in school, I’m going to be real honest, is stuff that we’ve already heard before, just repackaged and renamed something else. I mean, am I right? I mean, I’m not even … I’m holding my tongue, biting it, biting it hard, because I could go off on a tangent. But knowing that, it is always interesting to learn something new, even if it is just a new spin on something that you’ve been practicing in your art room before. Okay.

Here’s tip number three. Make your student teacher feel welcome, and clear them a home base or a personal space. This is always something that I meant to do, but if you’ve ever seen my art room, it’s pretty much mass chaos. I never put the same thing down twice. The only thing that is consistent in my room is where the coffee pot is located, and that’s because the music teacher comes in every morning, fills that pot up, and makes sure that it’s running before everybody gets there, so pretty much that’s on her.

But just to help your student teacher feel as though she has a place in your room, carving him or her out a little spot, even if it’s just a shelf, a small desk, a place for them to call their own and to feel at home, will really go a long way to help them feel at ease. You want them to have your art room be their art room, a place where they can feel comfortable exploring and trying out all of these different things that they’ve learned for the last four years in their art ed classes. Having a little spot for them to just carve out and call their own is really going to do wonders to make them feel comfortable and at ease in your art room, which is what you want.

All right. Tip number four, cooperating teachers. Be prepared to be a mom, a therapist, a colleague, a shoulder to cry on for your student teacher, but above all, be honest with your student teacher and be supportive. One thing that I know I always struggled with as a cooperating teacher was being honest. It’s hard to tell somebody who’s never done something before, it’s hard to give them criticism, even if it’s constructive criticism. It’s tough. I’m a pleaser. I want everybody to be happy. You hate to tell somebody that they need improve upon something, but it’s what they need to hear. It’s why they are there.

I’ll never forget one of my … advice that was given to me from a teacher during one of my first years teaching was this. I was really struggling with a colleague, and I needed to take my problems to my administration, but I just didn’t know how to go about doing it, and I was seeking advice from a fellow teacher, and she told me, “Cassie, you can say anything to anyone as long as you choose your words wisely. Be gentle. Be firm. Stand by what you have to say. Be honest. Speak from your heart.” And those are things that you need to do sometimes with a student teacher. You need to point out the things that aren’t working and let them know what is working, and that brings me to my last bit of advice.

Your job as a cooperating teacher is not to make your student teacher be like you. You don’t want your student teacher to show up dressed like you, acting like you, creating visuals like you, doing everything that you do. The world doesn’t need a clone. The world needs more unique art teachers, so your goal, your job as part of this cooperating teacher is to help this young teacher find his or her unique voice, their unique style of teaching and just know that they can be comfortable, and they can totally rock that style of teaching. Even if it’s different than something they’ve seen anywhere else, it’s their unique voice, and giving them that confidence is going to in turn allow them to help their students, our students, do the same thing to find their unique voice to become artists.

So those are my top five tips. Assume nothing. Stop, watch, listen, possibly learn. Make them feel welcome. Be prepared to be a mom, a therapist. But above all, be honest and supportive to help them find their voice. Okay, cooperating teachers, you may now put on your ear muffs, because now I’d like to address my young friends in the crowd, my student teachering buddies. Oh, you’re so cute. What are you? Like 20, 22? Oh my gosh. You just are able to start drinking. Well, get ready, because you’re probably going to start drinking a lot more. I’m just kidding. Okay.

The first thing I want you to know is this. Student teachers, I had two not so great … Oh, the Irish thing was a blast. The teacher portion of it wasn’t, so I had two not-so-great student teaching experiences. They were so not-so-great that when I got out of my student teaching experience, I was pretty certain I was not going to become an art teacher. It just didn’t feel like something I could see myself doing.

Don’t let your student teaching experience define you, define your future, define your teaching career. It’s just a little, tiny blip on what could be a really amazing career for you, so if you struggle, if you don’t like it, if it’s miserable every single day, as mine was … I remember standing in the shower in my dorm room getting ready to go to that high school in Southern Indiana thinking, “I hate this.” I do. I really remember that, because I was letting so much of my failures as I saw them, and the things the kids said to me, and the unpleasantries from the teacher who just wasn’t really thrilled with what I was doing with the students. I let all of that kind of define me. Don’t let it. It’s just a tiny, little blip. Get through it. You’re going to be amazing. Now let’s talk about my top five tips for you all.

Tip number one. Never ever, ever, ever be late. Don’t be late. I don’t care if that means you have to get up extra early. I don’t care if that means you have to go to bed extra early. Just don’t be late. If anything, be early. If classes roll in at 8 AM, you’d better be there no later than 7:45 at the latest. Nothing reeks of unprofessionalness, of immaturity than somebody who’s running in late with a Starbucks coffee in her hand, and if you do that, you’d better have an extra one for that cooperating teacher. Don’t be late. That’s all I’m saying.

Tip number two. Don’t be on your phone. Nothing says, “I don’t care about what is happening in here,” more than somebody on their phone. I used to have a lot of groups of student teachers who would come to my room. Not just a single student teacher. They were kind of like … I guess they’d come in once a week. They would come and observe. A lot of them would be on their phone, and that just really rubbed me the wrong way. When somebody pulls out a phone, that to me says, “I’m bored. I’d rather be elsewhere. This is not what I want to be doing.” And that’s fine if that’s not what you want to be doing, but then you need to find out what it is, because it’s not going to be happening in my room.

If I were you, I would keep that phone either turned off, put it on vibrate, put it in your purse. You will make it through the day without looking at your phone. If you want to take pictures of what the kids are working on, or pictures of the art room so you can get an idea for the layout, things you want to remember, ask permission first. Do not take photos of the students. Don’t take pictures of yourself with the students. All of these things … That’s getting to be really sticky territory, so definitely make sure that you keep that phone put away.

Tip number three. You have a voice. You have thoughts. You have opinions, and you should speak your mind respectfully. Just like the same advice that I gave the cooperating teacher, you can say anything as long as you say it respectfully. Ask questions. Be curious. Pay attention. Pay attention to the things that you like that your cooperating teacher is doing. Pay attention to the things that you see your cooperating teacher do that you don’t like. Then you’ll know what not to do in your art room. There’s plenty of things that I do in my art room that I’m pretty sure people would be like, “I would not do that in mine.” And that’s good. That’s fine. Learn from those things that you see.

Tip number four. At some point, you should really ask your cooperating teacher if he or she would just sit down with you and have a chat. Not just like a little short chit chat here and there. Make sure you got a pen. Make sure you’ve got a notebook. Here’s what you’re going to wish you would have asked about later. Hindsight is 20/20, and when you have your own art room, I mean unless you have your cooperating teacher on speed dial, you’re not going to be able to ask all of the questions that you wish you would have. Here’s what you’re going to want to have a sit down and chat with him or her about. Get ready. I’m about to tell you.

You’ll want to know about budget. Supply order. That’s a big one. Definitely find out what your cooperating teacher always says to order, what supplies that she really enjoys, what supplies he really says don’t work great. Find out the supply order. Discipline. What do they do if XYZ happens? How do they organize? How do thy organize supplies on the tables? How do they organize different kinds of media from clay to water color paint to tempura? How do they organize student art work? Organization is a huge thing, and it doesn’t come naturally to many of us art teachers, so ask about how they organize everything. Get permission. Take pictures.

Fund raisers. How do they do art shows? What do they do about décor? What kind of videos are their favorite ones to share? How do they do grades? How do they assess? Ask, ask, ask. This is the only time you’ll be face-to-face 24/7 with a teacher who’s got some years under his or her belt where you can really learn a lot. Stay curious. Ask questions.

And my last thing is this. Keep in mind that you are in somebody else’s house. Be respectful of your cooperating teacher’s space, but don’t be afraid to make your own. Don’t be afraid to hang up the art work that your kids have made with you. Don’t be afraid to create your own bulletin board, and to carve out a little space for yourself, and don’t be afraid to try new things. Ask first, of course, but don’t be afraid to ask. You’re going to be great. Try it out. Have fun. Ask a lot of questions. Stay off that phone, and don’t be late. Phew. I think that covers my top five for both of you all, student teachers and cooperating teachers both.

Tim: Hello. This is Tim Bogatz from Art Edit Radio. Now Cassie talked just a little bit today about classroom management, and if you want to learn even more about having better classroom management, you may want to consider the Art of Education University’s Managing the Art Room graduate course. Managing the Art Room is a three credit course that runs over eight weeks, and it helps you create a unique blend of strategies and techniques to hold students accountable, manage materials and resources, design procedures to keep the art room running efficiently, and establish an enjoyable, creative environment.

You will walk away from the course with an understanding of several comprehensive management strategies. You will also receive support from fellow art educators as you identify key classroom management struggles and learn to turn them around. If you are interested in learning more, please check out Now let me turn it back over to Cassie so she can finish out the show.

Cassie: And now it’s time to take a little dip into the mail bag. These couple of questions seems to be pretty appropriate in light of today’s podcast topic. The first one is, “I’m studying to become an art teacher. Anything that I should know ahead of time?”

Okay. Thing number one. Start loving the taste of cold coffee, because you’re going to set that coffee cup down. By the time you relocate it, it’s going to be ice cold. It might even be yesterday’s cup of coffee.

Thing number two. Start loving the taste of an ice cold in the middle, although lava hot on the outside, burrito. Mine are always paint stained burritos, because I’m usually walking around with my burrito while preparing. That’s my lunch break. I don’t even know if a bonafide lunch break is a thing for our teachers. If you’re like me, you’re got 30 minutes, but by the time the kids are actually picked up, it’s more like 23 minutes, and you’re just running like a mad woman or man around your room preparing for your next class.

Thing number three, I would say, is start loving paint, clay, and art grime under your nails. Don’t even bother getting your nails done. And your hair, especially those of you ladies and gents with longer hair, I always manage to lean over and have half of my hair dip into the paint, and of course, under those nails.

And start preparing yourself for the toughest, but the funnest job you’re ever going to have. I mean, there’s going to be moments where you’re really going to reconsider your life choices and daydream about working at Target, but nothing is quite as rewarding and fun as being an art teacher.

My next question is, “What’s your advice for future teachers? I’m in my third year of university.” On a more serious note, I would say don’t let all the edu-jargon freak you out. I remember being in those art ed classes and just being overwhelmed back in the late 90s when they would talk about things like … Oh, geez. They had such different verbiage back then, but it basically is all the same kind of thing. Assessment and evaluations, report cards, grades. All of those things, and then on top of all of that, the edu-jargon project brace this, la la la la.

Just take a breath and just know that once you’re inside of that art room with those young artists, and you are creating, and you are having a blast, that is really what’s important. The other stuff is important-ish, but don’t get caught up in all of that. Don’t let it overwhelm you, because I think that sometimes it can overwhelm people to the point that it could actually scare them out of education, so just know that it’s going to be a whole lot of fun, a whole lot of work, and don’t let yourself get overwhelmed with, I’m just going to say it, the B.S.

Hey. If you have a question for me, then you should ask. You can find at theartofed@ … Nope. You can find Everyday Art Room at I don’t know if you’ll actually be able to find me. Really, truly.

I will never forget one of my least fond memories from my student teaching experience was I had a student, a high school student, who was so disinterested in anything that I had to say that for, I would say, the majority of my student teaching he would come in, put his stuff on the table, and then proceed to take a nap, complete with loud snoring under the table every single day. Nothing that I did or said to that young man could keep him from not passing out cold under a table every single day.

At first, it really bothered me. What was I doing wrong? Why wasn’t I engaging this student? Was I failure? Those are all the emotions that you’re going to feel, both as a student teacher, and as a cooperating teacher. You’re not a failure. This little blip in your art teacher and history is not going to define you. Learn from it. Grow from it, but don’t dwell on it. Have an awesome week, you guys. Talk to you soon.

Magazine articles and podcasts are opinions of professional education contributors and do not necessarily represent the position of the Art of Education University (AOEU) or its academic offerings. Contributors use terms in the way they are most often talked about in the scope of their educational experiences.