26 Unbreakable Rules for Student Teachers on Practicum Placements
As a student teacher, you will want to have a successful experience on your practicum placements. Not only are you learning the ropes as a new educator, but you are building a professional reputation too.
Moreover, schools are often quick to notice students who shine on practicum, often offering them jobs at the end of their University training.
Therefore if you want to do well and avoid trouble at all costs, here are 26 Unbreakable Rules that Student Teachers on Practicum Placements should follow…
Go there to learn.
By its very definition, a practicum is designed to give you practical teaching experience. Therefore see your school placement as a learning experience, from your very first placement to your internship.
Expect to make mistakes.
I would be surprised if you didn’t stuff up occasionally. Your mentor teacher should expect this and show understanding. Reflect on every lesson and collegial interaction, no matter whether they were positive or negative experiences, and then learn from them.
Don’t portray yourself as an expert.
Your mentor teacher should recognise that you have limited knowledge and experience. Even if you come with existing subject specialisation, you are far from being a competent teacher.
Build Student Relationships.
Make the most of building good relationships with your students. Be friendly without being their friend, whilst adopting a firm but fair approach. They can make your placement challenging if you charge in and adopt an autocratic approach. The key is in finding the balance.
Build Collegial Relationships.
It goes without saying that the most important relationship to nurture is the one with your mentor teacher. We are all different and have our own personalities, so expect some adjustment time. The very best way to build a basis for a long-term respectful relationship, is demonstrating professional respect.
Observe at all times.
Keep your eyes open. There are lots of opportunities both in and out of the classroom, where you can observe and learn from student behaviour, teaching practice and staff interaction. Take the good parts from them and adopt them to your personality for future use.
Ask Lots of Questions.
There are bound to be dozens of questions in your head about your school, the class you are taking, about students, about pedagogy: don’t be afraid to ask. I have been a mentor for student teachers on a number of occasions and I would be surprised if I wasn’t getting regular questions from my students.
Reflect on everything.
Some good advice is to keep a practicum diary solely for reflection. I still have mine and occasionally I dip into it for a walk down memory lane. I recorded how I felt my lessons went, on how my relationship was with my mentor teacher and other staff, on my observations. I reflected on what I would do and not do again. Keep all of this confidential.
Stay on top of Paperwork.
There are usually formal documents to complete and get signed off as you go through your practicum. Don’t always expect your mentor teacher to have these. So find out what they are and have them to hand. Don’t finish your practicum and find you have to return to the school site because the paperwork requirements for your University have not been met.
Don’t forget your University Assessments.
Depending on your University, some of you will find that assignments will be due during your placements. Knowing this, if at all possible, try to get these out of the way before your practicum. Trying to do both at the same time can be very challenging.
Plan for your lessons
There is no better time to learn how to plan, when you are around knowledgeable and experienced teachers. If your mentor teacher is worth their salt, they should be asking you for lesson and unit planning. They have to assess your skill level in order to support you.
Some schools have comprehensive existing units of work down to the lesson level. Don’t make the mistake of using these without professionally selecting and omitting material, to build up your own lessons.
Maintain a professional standard of attire that is conservative and modest, no matter your subject area. I have covered this in a previous post: A simple dress code for Teachers
Without exception, act appropriately in both speech and conduct with students, teachers and the wider school community at all times. This is a time to maintain professional standards to the letter.
Make it a rule to be early for your classes and meetings. There really are few excuses for doing otherwise. Get to school early and make sure you are ready to go and prepared for the whole day.
It is professional courtesy to give thanks and appreciation when appropriate. Your mentor teacher will appreciate it and it shows others that you are thinking of them.
Keep an eye on your stress levels
I recently wrote about teachers and stress here: 35 Ideas to avoid Teacher Burnout It’s a fairly detailed article so have a look. Practicum can be a daunting experience, so make sure you keep an eye on stress and take steps to keep yours at manageable healthy levels.
There is something off-putting about being around a know-it-all isn’t there? Even if they do know an incredible amount, do they have to tell us about it?
Show some professional humility and instead of thinking about yourself, think about how you can help and assist others. I recently read an interesting article about humility in the workplace, describing it as ‘an act of courtesy’.
Be assertive when necessary
Finding the balance between going single mindedly after what you want on the one hand, and passively accepting obvious wrongs on the other can be tricky. This is especially so when you are a student and you don’t want to rock the apple cart.
A sensible approach to take is to accept those things that you can live with and to assert yourself when to do otherwise would be unprofessional or unethical.
No matter whether you are an introvert or extrovert, you have to demonstrate enthusiasm on your practicum and maintain it consistently throughout the placement. And that is exhausting!
But the facts remain; teachers respond positively to enthusiasm and negatively to disinterest. That means having a go at things, getting in and amongst students when they are learning, and not sitting back.
Share concerns with colleagues
If you are worried about anything, your first port of call should be your mentor teacher. If that’s not possible, try another teacher. There might be a number of things you could be concerned about: a student behaviour you observed, a part of your practice that you feel you need help with etc.
Remember you are a Guest
The class you have been allocated belongs to someone else, always remember that. Don’t do anything that will undermine your mentor teacher, either by criticism or inadvertently landing them in it. I’ve yet to meet the perfect teacher, so don’t expect perfection. Remember always, they know their class better than you do.
Talk to your Liaison Officer
Although these cases are rare, sometimes students find themselves with an unprofessional mentor teacher. Some of the things you may see or hear, you just have to accept them and make a mental note not to do them yourself.
However sometimes, you may have to confidentially talk to your University Liaison Officer allocated to assist you on practicum, if you are at the end of or you observe unacceptable behaviour especially in the area of ethical standards.
Know the School Rules
Try and learn quickly, the bell times and layout of the school. This will help you to avoid getting lost and being late for class. Get an overview of the school behaviour management rules, especially those parts concerning classroom behaviours.
Don’t over commit
Teachers are notorious for over committing their time to help other people. However, your practicum is not the time or place to do so. Concentrate all of your time and effort on demonstrating, at the highest levels possible, that you are competent on the objectives you have to achieve.
Be an ambassador
Conduct yourself always as an ambassador for your University. Practicum Placement Offices work very hard on building relationships with schools where they can places their students. Don’t be the one who makes the school site think twice about taking on any more student teachers.
At all times respect standards of confidentiality. Never share information on students, parents or staff where they shouldn’t be shared. There are often legal obligations around matters of confidentiality, especially in schools, so respect them and always err on the side of caution. Social media users take note!