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Courtney Langton

Courtney is an aspiring high school teacher. Her teachables are History and English, but she's happy to teach anything that doesn't involve numbers or formulas. Her particular interest is in promoting gender equity and anti-oppression both in and outside the classroom. She writes a detailed To-Do list every morning, and enjoys nothing more than a good book and a plate of bacon on a rainy Saturday.

Jonathan Wong

Jonathan's primary interest is moral education. His teachable subjects are English and Music. He encourages critical thinking and hopes to teach his students to recognize, and strive for, what is truly important to them without forgetting to be compassionate, tolerant, and open-minded along the way. He likes making analogies and his favourite is one that compares life to jumping on a trampoline.

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Easy Tips to Make the Most of Your Practicum
Thursday, July 23, 2009

Now that I have my practicum locked down, I've started thinking about some of the little things I can do to take full advantage of the experience and prepare myself for... *gulp* the future (we have vowed not to mention the h-i-r-e word in this post series. This is not about the job panic, it's just about building a foundation while avoiding that familiar sinking feeling).

I've spent hours on different teaching websites and forums to track down advice, and in the end I've come up with this simple list...


10 Easy Things You Can Do to Make the Most of Your Practicum

1. Be professional. Make a real impression on your associate teacher by acting in an exemplary manner. Arrive even 5 minutes earlier than your associate teacher every day, and they'll be surprised and pleased by your preparedness and enthusiasm. Bonus points if you arrive a half hour before them and set up the classroom for the day. You're also setting a big example for the kids. They'll look to you to dictate the way they behave in your classes, so make sure you comport yourself accordingly.

2. Stand out from other teacher candidates. You know in How I Met Your Mother, when Barney suggests to Marshall that he needs a "thing"-- like Food Guy, Toy Guy, or Creepy Back Rub Guy (ok, that guy not so much)-- to make himself an asset to the company and keep him from being laid off? Like Marshall, you need to find a way to make your mark. As Jon mentioned awhile ago when talking about his best teachers, everyone can't be good at everything, but everyone is great at one or two things. If you're not queasy, be the "I don't feel so good" teacher candidate. That's a sure hit with associate teachers because it means they avoid being vomited on (you don't). If you don't have an iron stomach, you can bring cupcakes to the staff room every week or devise really ingenious activities to go with your lessons. Though catching barf in your hands requires less prep time... just sayin'.

3. Smile. Your practicum can be stressful, but you don't want to be known as that teacher candidate who could turn onlookers to stone with one glare. What you do want to be known as is the teacher candidate who was always in a good mood and never let things get them down. You may not be feeling it on the outside, but fake it for a few hours and save your foul mood for the ride home. Happiness is infectious, and people love to be around (and will remember) colleagues who can pass on the good will without even trying.

4. Take on as much as you can. This is a no brainer, but it's worth repeating. The key part of this tip, though, is "as much as you can." So obviously don't burn yourself out (we covered that in an earlier post). However! If you feel you can survive teaching entire days from the beginning instead of just a few classes, or if you know you can juggle your lesson planning while helping coach the cricket team (my placement school has a cricket team!), DO IT. You'll get experience, you'll stand out-- honestly, you know all this already so I won't even explain it. But if you feel shy about doing this, do whatever you can to work past it because this will be a huge help to you-- and people will notice.

5. Take part in professional development. When the teachers have PD days, you get to go too. It doesn't even cost you anything. Though a day off might be tempting, the things you learn will improve your teaching, and you can put the PD in your portfolio. Not to mention you'll be able to interact with your associate teacher in a whole new environment. All in one day, where usually all you have to do is sit and listen.

6. Soak up information. Carry a journal with you to document every tiny tidbit you pick up from someone else or observe on your own. To enhance your learning, sit in on other teachers' lessons when you have a free period. You can find out even more from a different teaching style. One of my host teachers actually got photocopies of my notes so she could see what she sounded like and what I picked up from her lessons. She appreciated the feedback and she was very aware that I was thoughtful and observant even when I wasn't teaching or helping students.

7. Keep track of the work you do. This is such an easy thing to do and it will seriously come in handy for your portfolio. Hours spent on crafting the most marvelous bulletin board in the history of bulletin boards will be wasted if you don't document it. All you need to do is keep a small camera in your bag and remind yourself to grab examples of inspired ideas you've put in place. It's so simple! Make sure you have permission to photograph the kids (and try to photograph them from the back, unless they have huge smiles on their faces) if you're taking pictures of them completing an inspired assignment you came up with. Don't just get snapshots of yourself in front of the blackboard-- any schmuck can do that. Your portfolio will be used to emphasize how skilled, passionate and creative you are, so make sure your photographs, photocopies and samples reflect this.

8. Get feedback from your students. This takes the proof that you're an awesome teacher and jacks it up to a whole new level. Pictures of happy kids are helpful, but words from happy kids are like gold for your portfolio. Pass around a survey every once in awhile (say, at the end of each practicum block, before you start a new phase of a unit, or after you've done a particularly unique lesson) and have the kids tell you what they think of your teaching. If the kids are younger, have them write simple statements or draw pictures that tell a story about what it was like having you in their class. Not only will you have fun reminders of your placement to use in interviews, I guarantee you'll learn a thing or two and be able to improve the way you teach.

9. Network with other teachers. Go eat lunch in the staff room, introduce yourself to everyone, and offer to help out. You'll be in other classrooms to observe anyway, as per Tip #6, and if you get to know the teachers you observe instead of fading into the back wall, you'll have two or three other people clamouring to recommend you. If you know other teachers and they like you, they'll be more likely to share resources and offer tips, too. And you never know, they may wind up in a position to hire you someday. My very favourite host teacher is currently working on her principal qualifications-- think that might be helpful for me in the future? ;) I hope so! (No pressure though, Ms. H., no pressure)

10. Get to know the principal. This is the most important of these tips, and potentially the trickiest. Here's the thing: in Ontario, principals' recommendations are what get you on supply lists and what snag you those interviews. Your recommendations and evaluations from associate teachers get you hired, but the principal gets you considered in the first place. If your principal isn't too busy, have him or her sit in on one of your lessons. Schedule a meeting to talk about how to get into that school board. If they think you're a capable teacher, they may just skip the official schpiel and offer to recommend you. Personally, this is going to be tough for me. Being in a huge school where there might be up to a dozen other teacher candidates doesn't make it simple to be besties with the administrators. That's where Tips #1-9 come in. I'm going to use those strategies religiously and hope I make enough of an impression to merit a meeting with the principal.



Your practicum will be the hardest thing you do in teacher's college, but it'll also be the most fun. Though the time spent learning the theory behind education is important, nothing prepares you like being there and experiencing the real thing. Stay calm, be confident, and have a great time doing what you love.

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Courtney posted at 8:38 PM - Comments (1)

1 Comments:

Courtney! I love this post. It's helpful and witty and I can see that you're going to make a wonderful impression wherever you end up. I particularly like the reference too How I Met Your Mother (and I'm sure your ability to make such parallels will only aide you in your teaching).

By Blogger Ashley, at July 24, 2009 at 2:08 AM  

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