I was recently asked by a reader if I could give my tips for surviving teaching placement, practicum, teaching experience. Having gone through the experience myself and having watched two sets of student teachers come into our school, I’m not too far removed but I also get the benefit of seeing part of the other side of the fence. However I’m not at the point where I have enough experience to mentor a student teacher so I can’t give the Associate Teacher’s point of view.
1. You are there to learn
Going into placement you have two what might seem like mutually exclusive goals. On one hand, you want to show what an awesome teacher you are to your Associate Teacher/School and get that elusive permanent teaching job post-graduation. But on the other, you are there to learn. Here’s my advice, stick with the former and the latter will take care of itself. Soak in as much as you can, ask questions, make mistakes. Lots of them. The most important quality student teachers need on placement is teachabilty. Nobody expects you to be perfect when you arrive. Being able to show improvement and take on advice is what will impress your associate teacher.
2. No staying out late on a school night
A student teacher from another institution once showed up to my placement school very hungover. While it’s not against the rules to have late nights on the town, it really isn’t a good look on placement and you will be judged negatively on it.
3. Building relationships with your students
There’s a fine line to be trod between being liked and being respected. Often student teachers try to be buddies with the kids and then find classroom management is a challenge once they take full control. By all means be friendly with your students but remember that this different from being their friend. The kids will test the boundaries just by your mere presence. They’ll want to know if the no-nos with their own teacher are a yes with you. Make sure you find out from your associate how behaviour is managed in your school and if you are unsure in any situation, ask your associate teacher.
4. Observe other teachers doing their thing. Ask them lots of questions.
While the bulk of your time will be spent in your Associate Teacher’s placement, do make sure you that you arrange time to see other teachers doing their thing. If you are teaching juniors, ask to see a Year 5/6 class. If you are at an intermediate, be sure to spend some time in the specialist classes. Ask lots of questions. Teachers by their very nature are usually keen to share their knowledge with others.
5. Keep up with your paperwork
Universities love paper. Every week you’ll likely have some sort of form to fill in to keep your university happy. It’s really important that you familiarise yourself with the paperwork requirements of your placement and make sure that you keep yourself up to date.
6. Never say ‘no’ to an opportunity to teach
If a teacher is handing over control of the classroom to you, it means that they trust you. Yes things might go horribly and you will have your share of bad days. Even taking the roll will help you learn and grown into a better teacher. It’s not unheard of for student teachers to be called on to cover a class but strictly speaking you should have a registered teacher in the room with you.
A source of grizzling about student teachers from associates often comes from planning. No teacher will let you in charge of your class without lesson plans. I think some teacher education providers could do a better job of teaching student teachers how to plan a lesson effectively. However to head off uncertainties in planning ask to see your associate teacher’s template early on and adapt that (with permission) for your planning.
8. Be Professional
In essence your placement is an extended job interview. Dress professionally, be on time, attend all staff meetings. Try and schedule a meeting with the principal of your school during placement. Make sure you have questions prepared in advance to make the most of the meeting.
9. You’re going to get sick
There’s no nice way of saying this schools are vectors of disease. At some point you will get heinously ill and most likely at the most inopportune time.
10. Thank you
It goes without saying that you need to thank your school and associate teacher for the placement. A small gift and a heart-felt card for your associate is probably a good idea. Some sort of morning tea or some offering of food wouldn’t go amiss either.
Anymore tips for would-be teachers?
This video really makes me homesick for South Korea. Having lived there for four years, I’ll probably always have a soft spot for the country (and its neighbour to the North where I spent a fascinating week locked inside). I love how Tesco have used the internet and technology to bring its stores to the places people gather and interact. My question how do we the same to the world to education?
In some ways I already am.
I’m completing my teaching diploma via distance meaning I can study when I want and where I want. If I feel like spending the afternoon having a paddle board lesson, I can. If I’m going away on holiday, so long as I have access to an internet connection my studies don’t have to suffer. My university’s placement office has done a fantastic job of ensuring that in both my teaching experiences I have ended up with my first choice of schools. In short I’ve tailored my higher education to fit my needs rather than having to work my life around institutional demands. I’m guessing that as time goes by more students will making the same demands of our institutions.
How long will be before more students give up on the lecture-based model, which is the staple of undergraduate teaching, will last? Do universities really need to invest in large lecture halls when a student can access the best minds on the planet via podcast or you tube? What place does higher education have in the digital age?
1. Social connections
Alongside learning the theorists great works and how to write essays, perhaps the most useful part of my undergraduate degree was making connections with people who have turned out to be life-long friends. I also had access to some amazing lecturers during my time at university. The best course I have taken in my university career was a Women in Politics where our lecturer decided we would spend out class time on the grounds of Old Government House discussing the likes Mary Wollestonecraft, Harriete Mill and Bell Hocks under trees.
In order to enter a lot of professions, you need the piece of paper to say that you have the requisite skills and knowledge to be a doctor/lawyer/teacher/engineer/pharmacist etc. Generally the only place you can gain both the knowledge and piece of paper is at university.
3. Local content
I would argue that perhaps one of the buffers that universities have against the digitalisation is that institutions are important repositories of local expertise. There would be a lot of content in New Zealand teacher education that is irrelevant to overseas educators conversely gaining a teaching qualification in another jurisdiction might leave me with significant gaps in my knowledge to operate effectively within a New Zealand context.
In my case my current foray into the world of education serves one purpose: credientialing. In order to teach in classrooms, I need to fill some gaps in my knowledge and get the piece of paper saying I have done so. I haven’t made as many friends within my course as I did the last time around. However I have a small group of friends based in Auckland doing the course and an awesome online Personal Learning Network. A lot of my network have no connection at all with the university though some may have graduated from there, I think this is perhaps the most powerful aspect of online learning, the capacity for learning to take place outside of not only classrooms and cities but borders as well.
My main reason for choosing a New Zealand-based university is because I’m a New Zealand citizen which makes it a lot more cost-effective place to gain a qualification due to (relatively) cheap tuition and now that I am officially old I also get a student allowance. However globalisation is making people’s lives a lot more fluid. I’ve lived in three countries during my lifetime and there’s a chance I’ll live in more.
My main criticism would be that the institution is still relying very much on education 1.0 models. A lot of the information is hidden behind digital gates, the platforms that the course uses aren’t ones that students use or for that matter like. While some lecturers have been great about using online forums to interact with students, with others it feels like the content was cut and pasted from lecture notes and that’s all the interaction there is. There’s not much use of you tube nor of social media. Simply put it feels like the university isn’t part of the space I inhabit as a digital citizen. That’s not a good place for an institution to be in, yet I know that my university isn’t alone. But perhaps all educators, no matter the age of the students, need to ask ourselves this question: if your students can get their answers from somewhere else, what purpose do you have in their lives?
Since this week I was on study leave, I could whine about exams. But seeing as I moaned about that last week I feel I should be blogging about something of more substance.
So instead I’ll have a go at taking apart this very bad idea from KPMG:
Only students doing courses that benefit the economy should receive interest-free loans, according to a suggestion from a leading accountancy group….it was time to discuss targeting the scheme at “areas where graduates can add real value to the economy quickly”, such as agricultural sciences, agribusiness, horticulture, viticulture, biochemistry and international marketing.
It is these ideas which are exactly the reason why we have governments who make policy decisions since they are in theory supposed to do so on the basis of what is best for all sectors of society, not just one community. I notice that teaching, social work, nursing, medicine and dentistry have not made the list of ‘adding real value to the economy quickly’ courses. These professions might not add value (though I disagree with that premise) but our society and in turn economy would not function without them.
However on a purely practical level why shouldn’t we picking winners? Didn’t I previously opine that gaining an education with no purpose wasn’t worth the debt? I still think that students need to think about what the purpose of their university study is before they jump into a degree. However I disagree with KPMG’s assumption that a future career should be the only detriment of what course of study for the simple reason that the economy of today will be the same as the one in 4 years time.
We know this is not the case.
Even in my own working lifetime (about 10 years) the world of work has changed considerably. There are jobs that didn’t exist 10 years ago and even within ‘old’ professions like teaching technology has changed the way teachers do their jobs. Picking what the world of work will look like in 5 or even 10 years is difficult to do. Moreover there is an argument to be made that an individual’s passion and talent are also important when you are looking to find your dream job.
But does society benefit if everyone is individually pursuing their talents and interests?
According to a column in the New York Times, it all comes down to whether you are a PC or a Mac person. Bill Gates argues that you should go down the road of making sure your education prepares you for the world of work. While Steve Jobs says you create the right learning environment and the rest will take care of itself.
Right now I’m writing on a clunky old PC while my heart years for a MacBook Pro.
I still have a student loan. Not a big one, but it’s still there. Prior to embarking on University 2.0, my loan was into the four-figure territory but this round of tuition fees has me back in the five figures again. Thank goodness this time around the loans are interest-free, because without it my loan would still be well into five figures.
In exchange for my student loan I have an Honours degree in Education and Politics from respected institution. And self respect and life-long friends and blah, blah, blah.
Don’t get me wrong my degree was fun to earn, and I learned a lot. But I can’t honestly say that university study prepared me for the working world. In fact I would go to say that the experiences I had outside of the lecture theatre, writing for the student magazine, being the Vice-President of the Students’ Association and organizing the odd student protest were of far more use to me in the ‘real world’ than the academic side of university the first time around.
But then I went to university not really sure what I wanted to do except escaping a life-time in west Auckland. Perhaps that was my downfall, my career objective was to escape something rather than train for something else. But it was an expensive proposition and what I am wondering now is what really was the value of that degree?
The topic came up with a discussion with my parents about the governments proposed crackdown on defaulting expat student debtors which inevitably turned into a discussion about whether it makes financial sense for young people to go to university if they aren’t training for a specific profession like law, medicine etc.
My parents pointed out that after one year of professional training my brother found a job earning more than I will as teacher even though I have 5 years of full-time study under my belt (4 year honours degree + 1 year grad diploma). His education cost far less than mine not just in terms of tuition fees but also years forgoing income. I conceded the point that I wasn’t particularly focused on what I was doing at university the first time around.
In retrospect I probably should have pulled pints in London for a few years to get the travelling out of my system and come back more focused on my academic work. But then I suppose you could say that my degree enabled me to get a job out of university, and that if I hadn’t gotten that job, I never would have hated my job, and finally gotten around to getting my diploma teaching 10 years later so everything worked out in the end.
This time around I am a lot more focused on getting done what I need to get done in order to graduate at the end of the year and find a job. But if I was dispensing advice to high school students who were thinking of going to university to avoid having to deal with the perplexing question of ‘what do you want to be when you grow up?’, I would say that perhaps university is not the place to find the answer to that question.
Kia Ora Kotou,
As this is my first post on my new blog, I thought I would tell the story of how I ended up training to be a teacher.
And the most obvious question that springs to mind is why haven’t I got my teaching qualification already?
The answer to that question is that clearly I took a few detours along the way.
The first time I went to university I was 18 and had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. So I took a few papers and found that I enjoyed my education papers enough to major in the subject as part of my Bachelor of Arts but did I want to be a real teacher then? Not so sure.
After completing my degree I decided to take a year out from life teaching English in Asia. That year suddenly turned into 4 because I had enjoyed my life there. But at the end of four years I was burned out and looking for a new challenge. In retrospect my burnout and boredom may have had more to do with living in a foreign country and the limited scope for professional development in that particular environment rather than anything to do with teaching as a career.
So instead of taking the sensible route and finally getting my teaching qualification instead I returned to New Zealand and worked as a researcher for a foreign government writing cables and reporting on current events (which despite the wikileaks scandal sounds far more interesting than it actually was) for a couple of years. The only bonus of this time was that I finally knew that office work was not for me and I needed to do something more satisfying with my life. I missed the buzz of being in the classroom but felt too old to go back to university.
Perhaps the person who influenced me the most to finally go teaching was autistic step-daughter. The adage that life’s most challenging people are our greatest teachers was certainly true with her. She tested my patience, but working out ways to help her make sense of the world and me make sense of her was far more stimulating than spending my days chained to a desk writing about current events.
So last year after
a relationship break up some major life upheavals I quit my job, travelled around the world for 6 months and am now back at university studying to become a fully qualified as a teacher.