First Time practicum teacher – experiences

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I am now in my seventh week doing a practicum as a high school teacher.

And I have observed a few things which maybe other fellow ‘pracies’ might be able to use or even to share their own experiences.

Firstly, its a new world out there in the school. I feel its again being the small fish in a big pond. There are so many people to get to know – the prac supervisor or your supervisor teacher, the other members of staff, the principal, assistant principal, ICT department, special education teachers etc.

How you get along with your fellow staff members makes the world of difference between feeling that you belong and feeling you cannot wait to escape every day. I am very fortunate in that the staff at my school are fantastic, encouraging and easy to get along with. I am also very fortunate that my prac supervisor / teachers are very encouraging, give me helpful hints, and i feel that i can approach them about anything. The experience you have as a practice teacher makes all the difference to your views on teaching.

Do everything you can to get to know the ICT staff. The ICT staff can be your best friends. They help you set up your laptop to fit in to the school’s computers or tv screens and monitors, or help you to set up your laptop to access the internet. Trust me when i say – its really the ICT guys in the school who are the backbone of the school. In this age of technology and technology playing such a big part in education, the ICT staff are really the heart of the school.

Teaching today is more than just delivering content and direct instruction or ‘Chalk and Talk’ where we stand in front of a class talking. Teaching today is about education being ‘Student centered’ where the students discover the learning for themselves. A teacher can stand out in front of a class for a solid 50 minutes and talk – and some students enjoy that. But students need to discover learning for themselves. Lessons need to be planned that allow students to get involved in their own learning – either reading an article, researching a website, group work etc.

Teaching is also an art. There are many different ways to teach effectively. Every teacher has their own style of teaching – and we will all develop our own style eventually. But every prac teacher should go and watch a few teachers in the classroom. Do not be afraid to ask other teachers in your lessons off can you come and observe their lessons. While i mainly teach HSIE, i have been observing and helping out with a maths class. Watching how others teach, how they structure group work, how they control the class and put in classroom strategies. Watching how other teachers ‘teach’ helps you to get ideas about what you are doing right or wrong.

Get to know your students! I know that this is in every teaching manual, suggestion and advice – but its true! Try to learn their names – possibly two or three names a lesson. Knowing the student’s names helps you to control the classroom. If the students see that you know their names, it shows that you care about the students, that you take the time to get to know their names and that they are a part of the class than just pointing at them.

No two students are the same. Every student is an individual and has different learning abilities. Every student learns differently – hence the need to differentiate the lessons. What i have been trying to do with my lessons is spend the first ten minutes refreshing what we did last lesson and what we will do this lesson, then the next ten minutes going over the important content and concepts. Then spend 5 or ten minutes watching a video with 20 minutes for group work. And the last ten minutes for wrapping up what we learnt in a class discussion or letting the students present their facts.

But be careful with the materials you choose for your students. I was teaching a Year 9 class about Latitude and Longitude and i used a ‘You Tube’ clip on it. The You Tube clip was for students who were in year 6 than for year 9 students. The clip – while explaining Latitude and Longitude really well, used cartoon characters to explain it. When i played the clip to the students, i could hear them laughing – so i felt a bit embarrassed that i had used materials that seemed a bit simplistic for the students. I wanted every student to be able to access the learning – and i feel that i achieved that – but the materials i had used may have seemed to the smarter students more for kids than for their age.

One of the things i have not been doing too much of in the class is encouraging reading skills. With complaints that literacy skills are falling among students, we need to encourage students ability to both read and write. But i have been getting students in some lessons to write down a small glossary of words – 5 to 10 words relating to the topic – and looking up the meaning of those words. I should be doing it every lesson – but with time so limited – using the first lesson of the week should be writing down a glossary of words that will be used for that week. Even if you get students to write them down and look them up for homework.

Which brings me to my next point – How do you know the students are learning? I have wondered this during my prac, how much of what they are doing is sinking in. Are they learning or just using their ipads for other uses? Do not be afraid to check their books to see what they are learning. I have looked at student’s books after a lesson on the Kokoda Track and noticed that while some students do really well in keeping on task and in their reading and writing, other students really struggle.  Reading their books lets students know that you are checking to see if they have done the work, but also lets you see exactly where your students are at in understanding how they are doing at school – so you can speak to your supervisor and adjust your lessons accordingly.

Students will talk in class and misbehave. It does not matter where the school is located or what type of high school it is. The most important rule is sometimes you have to make examples of students that are continuously talking. You dont need to shout at them or get angry with them – and you should not do that. They are only young and will talk – after all we did in school. The most important thing to let them know is that there is a time for work and a time for play. Let them know early where the boundaries are – how far they can go until they get pulled into line. Get to know what the school’s policies are in terms of curbing misbehaviour in class. When the students in my classes were talking and not listening, one of my supervisor teachers said – just stand there and stare at them and wait for them to be quiet – no matter how long it takes.

Every two weeks the practicum supervisor from the university will come out to observe your lessons. The first time they come out after the first two weeks, they will offer very useful suggestions about how you can improve. The next two weeks after that they will be alot harsher if you have not improved in certain areas. Use the notes from the prac supervisor and the prac school supervisor to see how you can improve. Dont take it personally. Although you dont want them to be too harsh – you dont want them to sugar coat any advice either. The stronger the medicine the better teacher you will be.

Your students will surprise you.  While there are days when the smarter students will sit quietly and not contribute to class discussions, it can be the students that you do not believe are understanding the concepts that will be active in class discussions and ideas. While at the same time, some really smart students who have a thousand questions to ask will sit at your feet and hang on your every word, correcting your mistakes, asking you questions that are right off the subject topic. But they are all individuals – each with their own personalities, their own experiences, their own beliefs.

There are a few more things i want to add as i go along. But what are the experiences of other ‘pracies’ out there or first time teachers who  are doing casual work or taken up full time teaching?

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