My practicum was at Gladstone Secondary School, and to date it has been the most challenging and most difficult task I’ve faced.
Their school motto, “Fide et Virtute,” means “faith and courage” and I found this extremely fitting because I required both in plentiful measures to get through the whole ten weeks.
Don’t get me wrong. Practicum was an amazing experience and I wouldn’t trade it for the world, or any other teacher candidate’s experience. For the most part, the teachers I met freely offered advice and the students were warm, welcoming, and engaging. My school advisors (SA) each played their own part in keeping me involved in the school community and I had a successful practicum because they gave me just about all the tools I needed to do well. One SA generously offered me the second desk in his office, and the other SA ensured that I was kept up to date by forwarding me important emails regarding school events and disruptions. I believe that both did their best to make me feel at ease and both were focused on being good and fair school SAs. Despite this though there were still a few barriers that I had to overcome personally.
Probably the biggest difficulty in the practicum was the amount of critique I received regarding my teaching every week. A teacher candidate is monitored throughout the practicum by both his/her faculty advisor (FA) and school advisor(s). Each advisor is required to observe roughly one class per week and submit a formal observation on the class they have seen. My SAs and FA were all very responsible and during the first few weeks I welcomed the feedback knowing that I had (and still have!) an immense amount of learning ahead of me regarding teaching, classroom management, assessment, lesson plans and the like. By the fourth week though, I began to tire. There were times where I felt as if I was forgetting basic protocol (going over the agenda at the start of class, for example) and I didn’t feel like any progress was being made. My SAs would bring up the same points of critique and remind me of things that I knew but had forgotten to do. A few classes ran sour around this time, too. I started to despair; maybe I wasn’t cut out for teaching after all. It wasn’t that I didn’t want the feedback, because I knew I needed it and that it was good for me. My SAs were exacting and rigorous and I welcomed their comments each and every time. What wore me down were my own feelings: that I wasn’t improving fast enough, or thinking that I was becoming careless.
At this point I was also teaching at my fullest capacity. I had five preps (Accounting 11, Marketing 11, Business Education 8, English 8, and English 9) and I was spending a few of my preps as an assistant in other classes as well (Accounting 12 and Business Education 9/10). I began spending extremely long hours at school, not leaving until 5 PM each day for several weeks, and even when I was at home I couldn’t sleep well. The stress was beginning to tell on my body too: I went home to Calgary for Spring Break just in time to fall ill with laryngitis (the Calgary trip certainly wasn’t all bad though… it was actually a lotta good. But that’s a different story for a different post).
Getting back into practicum was even worse after having had a taste of home for two weeks. I kept praying and kept seeking advice and was super blessed through one teacher and one relative. My aunt was an incredible Godsend: she listened to all my problems, counseled me, and gave me encouragement enough that I had the energy to mark papers after school. The other teacher was not only willing to listen but also offered kind advice and, most importantly, an acid test to know whether or not the job was a fit. I ended up using this acid test often in the next several weeks each time I was unsure, and it consisted of two questions:
- Did I enjoy working with the kids?
- Did the kids enjoy working with me (as evidenced by chatting on non-classroom topics, etc.)?
If the answer was yes in both cases then I was still in the right space. According to my mentor, all other things (higher-level questioning, classroom management, etc.) came from years of experience. My mentor also pointed out that if I could honestly say that I still had a passion for the students and that I cared genuinely about them, then that was another sign that I was in the right profession. Thanks to him and my aunt, I kept going and even began to pick up steam. My observation reports showed signs of improvement and my advisors affirmed these improvements verbally as well. I finished on a strong note and went out with a bang by participating in the teacher team at the improv show during my last Friday night.
I wouldn’t trade my practicum experience for the world. It was tough, but it made me to be a much tougher person than before. I learned to be a professional. I learned to work with both youth and adults. I learned to collaborate (especially with my fellow teacher candidates) and ask for advice. I learned to ask for critique and respond to it accordingly and immediately. I learned so much that I really do think the “student teacher” part should be written as “STUDENT teacher,” because I’m sure that I learned much more than I taught and that is invaluable experience.
In sum, here are a handful of the most important lessons I’ve learned from practicum, and the top bits of advice I’d give any other aspiring teacher:
- Care. Care deeply and extravagantly, but also care about your job efficiently and practically. Perhaps the thing I love best about my experience with teaching thus far is that in this profession, hard work shows and hard work pays off. Students and teachers alike can tell whether you’re a teacher that works hard or hardly works, and the amount of care and consideration you sink into a lesson is never lost. That being said, you want to use your energy wisely (we all have our limits!) so look for ways to mark efficiently, teach efficiently, and care efficiently. This efficiency should be seen in your assessments, your classroom management, your lesson plans, and even in the homework you assign.
- Your number one priority is your job. Yes, taking care of the students is important. And yes, having friendly co-workers is also nice. But you’re there to be a teacher first and foremost, and if students or teachers don’t like you, don’t sweat it. Take advice as practical advice, but never take comments as personal attacks. There are far too many people who may lash out at you or roll their eyes on any given day but that is not your problem. You are there to be a teacher and you need to focus on performing that to the best of your abilities.
- Collaborate with other teachers. If possible, connect with other teachers as much as possible. Every teacher, regardless of the amount of experience he/she has, has had some valuable experience that you do not and the simple sharing of ideas can improve each of you vastly. Encouraging each other is also important and I found that making the effort to chat with my fellow student teachers often gave me a little boost of energy at the end of each day before I went home.
- And finally… Keep an eye on the clock. This is something I need to work on (in terms of consistency) and something that all teachers need to do. It comes with striving to be an efficient teacher. Are you using your classroom time wisely? Are your students using their time wisely? Is homework assigned effective in the time that it takes, or is it just busy-work? Are your assessments taking enough time / too much time to mark? All these things and more are necessary considerations.
With that, I’m going to sign off. My practicum was difficult at times but it really was a great experience. The sprinkles on the cake were the drawings, feedback and even a few small gifts left behind by some students (and an SA =D) and I am so blessed to have completed my practicum at Gladstone Secondary.
Thanks for reading (=