Thursday, May 19, 2011

Practicum teachers & Teacher instructors

Practicum is the gateway to the profession.  It ensures new teachers have the experience to have their own classroom and sets clear expectations of performance outside of an tertiary academic environment.

Practicum teachers are a resource that is relatively infinite.  Good practicum teachers are not.  Teaching is an attractive profession to students as it is a familiar environment and one where students see infinite room for improvement.  This gloss can come off to some degree during practicum.

Teachers instructors come in a range of colours and shapes.  Aggressive/passive, lazy/committed,  skilled/enthusiastic (grin),  assessment driven/programme driven and with a range of teaching styles.

Good/bad teacher instructors are relative judgements. They make and break practicum teachers.  Let's see some of the pitfalls for practicum instructors

  • Providing insufficient opportunities to fail
  • Giving insufficient guidance on expectations
  • Providing inadequate encouragement
  • Assuming complete content knowledge
  • Providing inadequate written response
  • Creating insufficient opportunities to show initiative
  • Insufficient direction/focus
  • Insufficient guidance on required scaffolding
  • Overestimating diagnostic abilities
  • Assumption of teaching skills (photocopying, marking, using equation editor, CAS calculator usage, fxdraw, whiteboard usage, interactive whiteboards)

When we look at an incomplete list such as this and then overlay behavior management (which is the usually the primary focus of practicum) we start to realise the hurdle that practicum teachers face.  When I hear about accelerated teaching programmes that reduce the time for undergraduate teaching degrees I fear that policy makers are underestimating the impact that good teacher instructors can make.  Furthermore they are underestimating the impost of the shifting of responsibility from the student during practicum, to the teacher during their first year of teaching.  This will be borne by experienced staff and administration dealing with issues typically dealt with on practicum.

Good teacher instructors are using their full range of abilities to ensure that practicum teachers are maintaining their confidence at appropriate levels and by ensuring student learning is continuing.  The ability of the system to identify good potential teachers is based around the practicum system and bypassing this system has potential for lowering teaching standards further.

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