I wish someone had sat down and talked to me about what I should expect going into a teaching practicum. During classes, we had professors constantly drill the fact that practicum would be draining and far more work than school, but it's hard to envision what the workload will actually be like. When you're in the teaching world, you'll soon start to realize how most teachers/teachers-to-be are perfectionists who have an intense urge to be perfect all the time. Trust me, I’m not only guilty of this but I'm also surrounded by this type of energy at my Faculty of Education too. It'll be easy to be critical of yourself (esp with the extra set of eyes watching you), but remember, it's okay to feel as though you are doing nothing right. Practicum exists as a learning experience, and you will survive no matter what the experience may be like for you… Think of it as a rite of passage type of thing. Any type of transition is a scary one, and going from being the student to the teacher is no different. The funny thing about practicum is that you’ll be doing a whole lot of both. You’ll be forced to be a teacher one second and will have to switch into your student role almost instantly.
There is so much I want to share with all of you about my practicum experience, but finding the right words to do so is proving to be a lot more difficult than I anticipated. I start semester two next week, and know for a fact that I will never get around to posting this if I don’t do it now. So…. Let’s get started! *pauses How to Get Away with Murder*
My first teaching practicum was in a first grade class. When I found out in early October that I was assigned to a grade one class, I was nervous. I was nervous about how young the students would be and how I’d make an impact on them. Boy was I wrong! First graders are magical, and look up to you so much. I have a newfound love for six year olds and their extremely authentic nature! Working with first graders is a whole other ball game. Their honesty is both admirable AND scary (trust me). Once I got caught yawning in class and a student said “Ms. K, you’re yawning a lot. You should sleep earlier.” Damn are six year olds straight up; we need more of that in this world. I’ll be dedicating another post on some of the hilarious things I have witnessed them say. But for now, I’ll fill you in on some of the things I have learned/ come to terms with after my first practicum experience.
The way you introduce yourself to your class will vary from grade to grade. Since I was in a first grade class, I made a ME bag to help introduce myself to the students. My associate teacher had told me that the students had completed their own ME bag during their first week of school. Students brought in a small paper bag along with 5 objects inside (nothing too expensive, large, or important) to help show what is important to them. This is a great get to know you activity, and will be a much more natural way to introduce yourself in front of a class. If you’re teaching older students a ME bag won't be effective (obviously). If you look online, I’m sure you can find other fun,creative, and age appropriate introductions that other teachers have tried before!
Here's a glimpse into my ME bag, which contained:
- a pair of sunglasses for my love for summer (which worked perfectly because the first graders were just learning about seasons) // PS- check out zeroUV for some of the hottest frames you'll ever get your hands on! Best thing is, they're totally affordable too!
- a childhood picture of my brother and I that always reminds me to be adventurous (I know, I made a pretty cute sidekick)
- an elephant because duh, world's greatest animal and all!
- a watch because I'm always wearing one and it's always important to be on time
- a toy Chuckie because Rugrats was my favourite childhood TV show
TAKE LOTS OF NOTES
Most faculty of educations will include observation days into your practicum block. Observation days are for you to go and observe your associate teacher in his/her classroom. You probably wont be teaching during observation days, but make sure you take some time to jot down some notes on how your associate teacher does things around his/her classroom. One of the hardest aspects of practicum (in my opinion) is taking over another teacher’s classroom management style. You may not do things the way they do, but not every associate teacher will give you the freedom to change things up. Most students are familiar with a routine, and changing that won't be fair to them. Most often a classroom climate will be set and your job will be to efficiently adapt yourself into the environment your associate teacher has created. Your associate teacher may give you the freedom to change things up but it is still important to write down some fool proof attention grabbers you have seen your associate teacher execute successfully. Having a few strategies under your belt will really help once you start teaching your lessons.
During my first lesson with my first graders, I had a few students all ready to go while some were still straggling in from recess. I didn’t want to start my lesson when students were still out in the halls so I started to ask some silly “Would You Rather?” questions to get the attention of the students on the carpet (this also made the stragglers walk in faster because they were eager to participate too). I would ask questions like “Would you rather eat the world’s largest lollipop or ride the world’s largest puppy?” and the students used their fingers to indicate their choice. Did I think of this strategy on my own? Not at all. I noticed my associate teacher use it in the past and decided to run with it. It can become hard to remember all the different strategies you see so write it down. You'll thank yourself later.
START PLANNING AS SOON AS YOU CAN
Week one will be nerve-racking, and you won't quite know what to expect but the good thing is you'll be full of energy. You will want to make your associate teacher proud, and like all other relationships and experiences, week one will be your honeymoon phase. Your associate teacher won't know much about you, and he/she will be pretty lenient with you (for the most part). I got pretty use to my observation days, where I would spend the entire day observing my associate teacher but never having to plan or execute a lesson. I never knew how different practicum would feel once all the lesson planning kicked in. I made the mistake of not taking the initiative to ask my teacher what exactly I'd be teaching and planning as early as possible. If I started planning earlier, I would have had more time to look through resources and collect materials accordingly. Finding resources takes up a huge chunk of time, so asking your teacher what expectations you'll be focusing on will give you time to start thinking about what you want to do and where you want to go with your lessons. My honeymoon phase ended pretty abruptly and I went from planning zero lessons to about three a day. If there is anything I want to change for my next practicum, it would be to brainstorm ideas early as possible.
Aside from the curriculum documents, here are some resources I often relied on for my lesson planning:
- Like always, I used Pinterest to help find fun and creative activities that I could implement into my lessons. I highly encourage anyone going into a future practicum to start a Pinterest board to help with their brainstorming process! This is also a great way to save resources you're interested in and come to in the future.
- Hands- On Mathematics and Hands- On Science & Technology were two books that I used during my practicum. The books are quite worksheet heavy, but a great way to brainstorm ideas when you are stuck. Don't bother buying the books, most schools should have them in their library and you can just sign them out for free. Click here for more info.
RELAX. EVERY EXPERIENCE IS DIFFERENT
You may have an associate teacher who fits perfectly with your personality, or an associate teacher who will make you feel your absolute worst. You may have the greatest relationship with them or a relationship that will have you walking on eggshells. At times, they may even make you feel like this not what they signed up for when they asked for a student teacher. But, remember, the feeling of disappointment can go both ways and they probably weren't what you envisioned in a mentor either. Your relationship with your associate teacher is in no way a reflection of who you are what kind of teacher you will be. You will have some happy days, some sad days, and some straight up confusing days when you’ll be trying your absolute hardest to read what your associate teacher is thinking. No matter how hard you try to decipher what they’re thinking, sometimes it’s just not possible. Let it go. Try your best. That’s really all you can do sometimes.
Just like you, they are people with expectations, and no matter how hard you try you may never meet theirs… and guess what? That is o k a y . Some of your friends will tell you about how positive of a relationship they have with their associate teacher, while others may not feel the same. At the end of it all, it doesn’t matter. Look back on your own education and think back to how many professors/teachers you truly felt a connection to. Your practicum, and the associate teachers you work with are no different. Every experience will be different, every practicum will be different, and every associate teacher will be different too. Your relationship with them will be a miniscule part of your journey; so don’t sweat it so much. Don’t get me wrong, try to foster a good relationship with them because they may be the ones that advocate for you once you’ve graduated but don’t lose your spark just trying to bend over backwards for a relationship that may never work. There’s so many other experiences to be had, and don’t you ever let anyone make you feel otherwise.
FEELINGS, FRUSTRATIONS, AND THINGS
Naturally, you will want to talk about your experiences, especially when you're going through it all. However, be very careful with whom you share that with. Finding someone completely outside of the teaching circle will probably be the smartest decision to make, but that's easier said than done. Sometimes we need people who will understand what we're experiencing. Trust me, I get that. Explaining what a success criteria is to a non teacher friend just isn't the same lol! I highly recommend you talk to someone you trust with your LIFE and someone who is not directly involved with your school community. Even if you have no ill intentions, what you say can get misunderstood and miscommunicated and the last thing you want is anyone thinking you're unprofessional. It's not worth it.
YOUR GREATEST RESOURCE
When you’re off doing your practicum, it’ll be easy to feel like you’re doing it alone. You may be placed in a school with other student teachers from your faculty, but you may also be the only student teacher in the building. Either way, you’re not doing it alone. Everyone at your faculty is going through the very same thing, and reaching out to them from time to time will keep you sane. Even if it’s a quick text letting them know you’re thinking of them, do it. You never know how much one of them may need that little reminder. Share lesson plans and resources ( I should take my own advice on this for practicum #2), it’ll really help with the brainstorming process. I had the privilege of team teaching with another teacher candidate and let me just say dividing and conquering is so helpful and two heads are truly better than one! Message all your student teacher friends and put together a Google doc where everyone can easily share resources. Their lessons may not work for your unit or grade, but it’d be a great way to bounce ideas around and get the juices flowing! Don’t forget about your Faculty of Education family, sometimes they are your greatest resource.
STUDENTS > EVERYTHING
All the late nights stressing about lesson plans and scrounging up the right materials for your lessons are so damn worth it when you see how happy and receptive your students are to your presence. Never did I think I would fall in love with a group of first graders as hard as I did in the last 4 weeks. You really do have the opportunity to make a positive impact on these kids. You will be told time and time again how big of an impact you will have on them but it won’t make sense until you feel it for yourself. These kids will love you hard, and you’ll feel it more and more with every passing day. Was practicum stressful? Yes. Did I rethink teaching? Many times. Did I watch my dinner get cold as I put together a lesson plan and lose my appetite by the time I was done? Yes and yes. Was it worth it? Hell to the yes. What you give is what you get with these students and getting to know your students’ interests will help guide your lessons. Be approachable. Your students may ask you a million questions in the middle of your lesson (while you’re secretly freaking out about your lesson of course), but the fact that these students are comfortable enough to stop and ask you questions should tell you you’re doing something right!
There's no denying the fact that any type of field experience (whether it's one for teaching or not) can be a very tiring and stressful period for many people. I honestly don't remember the last time I did that much learning in such a limited amount of time. Everyone's experience will be different and by sharing a glimpse into mine I hope that anyone going through a new experience/ transition knows that the stress will settle and you'll come out of your own unique experience learning far more than you ever anticipated. x
Till next time,
A 24 year old Canadian living (& teaching) in Shenzhen, China.