Image courtesy of the U.S. Marine Corps
I can’t believe it’s been twenty years since I completed my initial TESL certificate program. A lot has happened in that time, but I remember it so clearly. At that time, I was going to school in south-central Manitoba (that’s in Canada for those who don’t know) and I was taking the last of my TESL courses including a practicum training course. I was young and carefree, so I don’t think I was paying much attention to the information that was given me in class. All I cared about was getting this thing done!
It turned out that I was going to be teaching at Red River Community College in Winnipeg, about a one hour drive from the college I was attending. A girl from Cambridge, England was also doing her practicum there, so we decided to carpool. The first day came along and we drove into town, sharing how nervous and excited we both were to get this started. For the days leading up to this, we had been talking about our classes and the time was finally arriving. We drove up to the school and jumped out since we only had about 15 minutes before class was to start. I ran to my classroom and introduced myself to my practicum instructor who was not pleased that I was arriving so close to the start of class. I sat in the back and waited. The teacher introduced me and then called me up to the front. I was to teach a 30 minute portion of the class and I figured I had more than enough material to cover it. I started off and started to notice that the students seemed to be finishing the activities much faster than I had anticipated. In fact, I ran through all of my planned material in about 5 minutes leaving me wondering what to do next. Thankfully, my instructor jumped in and took over.
So what was the problem? Well, in my planning during the week, I has somehow mixed up my class, a high level class for business professionals, with my classmate’s class for beginners. Everything I had planned my students had learned years earlier. Needless to say, I ended up talking with my practicum teacher and the teacher of the TESL program as well. I learned a number of lessons that day, more than my students did!
Fast forward to today where I am the practicum instructor and I have that raw rookie, eager to please in my classroom. This isn’t my first time doing this, but for some reason it is causing me to reflect more on how I approach the classroom and what advice I would give to those who are doing a practicum and those who taking them under their wing.
(This is in no particular order. Also, this is a compilation of many years of thoughts, so is not indicative of my present practicum student).
Ask lots of questions (this goes for both the teacher and the student): Don’t be afraid to ask for more information. You may think you know what is happening, but until you dig deeper, you may not have all of the facts. You may feel like you are pestering the instructor (or student), but this is preferable to the alternative.
Don’t forget to use your brain: While it is good to ask questions, don’t get lazy and rely too much on the other person to do things for you. Use your noodle. Make connections with what you know BEFORE asking the questions. Check to make sure you are correct in your results.
Don’t try to reinvent the wheel: Some practicum students spend SO MUCH TIME on creating these elaborate lesson plans and material for the class that they end up tripping themselves up on the day of teaching. Keep it somewhat simple and show your instructor that you are able to actually take the material and teach a lesson. This is NOT a materials development class.
Don’t just follow the book: After saying that you shouldn’t be TOO creative in your teaching, don’t get lazy and just teach what has been given you. Think about your class and your situation. Make changes where needed. Supplement where necessary.
Get to know each other: Take time to know the other person. Meet each other well in advance of the practicum and sit down to chat and get to know one another. You can even just leave out the work stuff! Also, when you go to observe the class, get to know the students. Find out who they are, their likes, their personalities. This will help you when planning your lessons.
Respond to the feedback: When an instructor gives you feedback, read or listen to it and then respond in some way. Ideally you will let them know what you have learned and then you will show them through making changes in the following classes. Nothing frustrates a practicum instructor more than a placement student doing the same things over and over again even though they have been told how they should make changes. As a practicum student, you don’t have to agree with the teacher, but since you are a guest in their classroom, it is only good to listen.
Don’t be late: Show up early and talk things over with the teacher. If you arrive ten minutes before class, there is no time to make changes if you have made an error along the way. Give yourself plenty of time to respond to the feedback of the instructor before class.
Dress well: Look at what the practicum teacher is wearing and then respond accordingly. Remember, this is not your class. Be a professional and look the part.
Thank each other: Likely, the practicum teacher does not get paid for this time (or very little) and you should be at least thanking them in words for their time. Heck, even offer to bring in coffee one morning. Practicum teachers, remember to thank your placement student for their hard work. They planned a lesson you didn’t have to! Acknowledge them in some way.
Don’t rush off after class: Give yourself some time to debrief if possible. This keeps things fresh and can help encourage a student after a stressful day of teaching.
Prepare for the worst case situation: It may be that something happens and your placement student is unable to teach that day. These could be for good or bad reasons, but that doesn’t matter. Have something ready to go just in case. Also, it may be like in my situation that the preparation wasn’t all there and you may need to step in. We can hope that doesn’t happen, but you don’t want your students to miss out just because neither of you were ready for class.
Give some slack: Remember, this is a teacher in training. They will fall back on things such as worksheets and rote memorization at times. That’s okay. Let them do it and then debrief with them about how things went. Also, they are still learning classroom management skills. Give them some rope, even if the class is starting to drift off. Let them learn through these moments instead of just jumping in.
Try team teaching a lesson near the start: This is a really helpful tool. Plan a lesson together and then teach the lesson as equals. This works best with a back-and-forth type of format with one teacher teaching a 10-15 minutes section and then the other teacher does the same. This gives the practicum student a bit of hand holding in the initial stages and a model to work from.
Enjoy this time: Don’t make it all about the work. Learn to embrace this moment and see it for what it is, another chance to grow. That goes for both of you.