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I Had a Bad Student Teaching Experience. Now What?

So the unthinkable has happened. You had a bad student teaching experience. Maybe you didn’t reach any of the goals you set as a student teacher. Maybe you and your cooperating teacher never got along. Or perhaps you received low marks from your student teaching supervisors at your university.

Whatever went wrong, a bad student teaching experience has two obvious potential consequences: you might not get a good reference from the school where you student taught, and your university might make you re-do your student teaching.

What to do when your bad student teaching experience leads to a bad reference

Getting a bad reference from the school where you student taught has a definite impact on your job hunt. Most potential employers see student teaching as real work, and will treat your student teaching experience as your most recent job. They’ll want to talk to your cooperating teacher if possible. And if your cooperating teacher speaks poorly of you, the schools you apply to will see that as significant.

So if you’ve had a bad student teaching experience and aren’t expecting a good reference from your cooperating teacher, you’ll want to have alternate good references. There may be other teachers or administrators at the school who do feel you did a good job, even if your cooperating teacher doesn’t.

When approaching other teachers or school officials for a possible good reference, be professional. Don’t trash your cooperating teacher– he or she is a colleague and probably a friend to your other potential references at the school. Explain your cooperating teacher’s concerns in a soft-spoken way. Then give honest reasons that you feel you still deserve a good reference from someone.

Professors at your university are possible good references too. If your cooperating teacher doesn’t recommend you for a teaching job, there’s a decent chance that employers will respect any “second opinion” they hear from your professors. After all, your professors worked with you for years; your cooperating teacher probably only worked with you for a few months.

Last but certainly not least, consider turning to other schools where you’ve done field experience– schools you visited for classroom observations, volunteer teacher’s aide work, and so on. You likely had a working relationship with several different schools by the time you started student teaching— all of these schools are potential sources of good recommendations that employers will respect.

What to do when a bad student experience causes you to fail student teaching

You can fail student teaching for a number of reasons related to your bad student teaching experience. If this happens, you’ll need to re-take your student teaching. This means waiting until the next academic term to start over at a new school.

A student teaching re-do can be a blessing in disguise. Your retake can effectively erase all the long-term consequences of your bad student teaching experience. Do well the second time around, and you’ll replace the bad grade on your transcript with a better grade. You’ll also replace any bad references with fresh, better references. Employers will be interested in what your second student teaching school has to say, not your first one.

The takeaway

Whether you get a bad reference, a failing grade, or both, having a bad student teaching experience is something you can learn and grow from. Even the most experienced and talented veteran teachers have times when things go disastrously wrong– the trick to being a successful teacher in the long run is to avoid making the same mistakes twice. Think about the bad experiences you had, and think of ways you can avoid similar bad experiences– or mitigate them– in the future.

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3 Responses to I Had a Bad Student Teaching Experience. Now What?

  1. Liz July 14, 2017 at 6:08 PM #

    Another tip is to do substitute teaching. I too had a poor reference from my cooperating teacher I substituted long-term positions (such as a teacher in maternity leave or in emergency leave). Teachers and administrators will know/remember you more if you substitute at their school for multiple days. Make sure you demonstrate professionalism and show off your teaching skills that your cooperating teacher did not acknowledge.

    Administrators and teachers will talk if they see you with good behavior management and teaching skills. Make sure to give schools and teachers a substitute business card if they give a compliment about you.

    Many teachers, teacher aides, and administrators were impressed with my teaching qualities as they glimpse my behavior management skills at their schools. In three months of subbing, I ended up having 3 elementary schools asking me to teach there permanently. Your actions (as a teacher) speak louder than your cooperative teacher’s words.

    Don’t give up. I too became very depressed after going through my horrible student teaching experience with my cooperating teacher. Our teaching styles were very different (my lessons were very creative and her’s were by the book) and she micromanaged every little move I made in her classroom. Just because you have a bad reference, it doesn’t mean you are an ineffective teacher. Both my supervisor and cooperating teacher thought I wasn’t a good teacher, but I have proved them both wrong. I now have 1 year of teaching kindergarten, and my students’ reading and math skills soared so much to a point that they (supervisor and CCT) probably can’t believe.

    • Beth February 20, 2018 at 5:15 PM #

      Liz, I’m in a very siimiliar boat. My student teaching experience was horrible and now I’m trying to find a job without a reference from her. Most applications ask for contact info of the host teacher and supervisor. Did you just leave those blank? I don’t want my applications to be suspiciously missing information, but I know for certain that both those people will give me very negative recommendations. I have wonderful letters of recommendation from professors and former employers. Any advice?

      • David Recine
        David Recine February 21, 2018 at 10:52 AM #

        Liz’s advice on subbing is very sound, and she may have some additional thoughts on the challenges you’re facing as well, Beth.

        I have some advice too. One thing you may be able to do (depending on how the application is formatted) is say “reference contact information available upon request.” That way, you get to have a conversation with your prospective employer if they ask for your host teacher/supervisor’s contact info. At that point, you can tell your side of the story, explaining– as diplomatically, tactfully, and professionally as possible– that you may get a bad reference due to having a difficult student teaching experience.

        Honesty never hurts in a case like this. And sometimes it can be surprisingly helpful. For example, sometimes the school you taught at or the teacher you worked for will have a reputation of being difficult to deal with. And if you’re applying to other nearby schools, prospective employers may be sympathetic.

        You may also want to see if you can get a good reference from the principal, vice principal, or another alternate contact from the school where you student taught.

        I’d also encourage you to think of other “fieldwork” you might have done while you were taking your teacher training courses. In most teacher colleges, student teaching isn’t the first time you set foot in a classroom. If you have other past experiences where you visited schools and helped out, you may want to reach out to those schools and see if you can get a good reference.

        Although not ideal, sometimes you can also gain good, relevant references by volunteering in a youth program (Boys and Girls Club, YMCA, Parks and Rec, etc…), and this can make up for bad references from your student teaching experience.

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