Reflections on the Student Teaching Experience
Most educator graduate programs require students to complete field experience hours that are related to what they’re learning in each class, and complete a teaching practicum in a classroom for an entire semester. Though field experience hours can be completed while you work full time, your practicum requires you to be in the classroom all day, every day.
The goal of student teaching is to prepare teacher candidates to teach in their own classrooms. Similar to an internship in other industries, a teaching practicum gives students a chance to practice the skills and strategies they learned in their coursework, and gain real-world experience in the classroom.
Preparing to student teach
I have a lot of friends who completed teacher educator programs, so before I even enrolled in graduate classes, I knew I’d eventually have to student teach. As an undergraduate, I completed three unpaid internships to prepare me for a career in publishing, but as an adult with financial responsibilities, the thought of not having a full-time job for an entire semester was daunting.
I took graduate classes for two years before I was eligible for my practicum, and I consciously saved money that entire time. I also began looking into part-time alternatives about six months before I left my full-time gig so I could earn a little money while I student taught. I ended up having to balance a full-time and part-time job for a few months, but the extra money came in handy, and I had some work lined up when I began my practicum a couple months ago.
Choosing a placement school
Many graduate programs work with partnership schools where teacher candidates complete their field experience hours and do their practicum. Getting into a partnership school is great because the teachers there probably will have worked with many student teachers before, and they’ll be familiar with the requirements of your program.
When looking at schools for student teaching, think about where you might like to teach in the future. Do you want to teach in an urban setting or a suburban community? Would you prefer to be in a larger school or a smaller one? What grade level do you want to teach? Though you never know where you’ll end up with a full-time job, if you prefer fifth or sixth grade, you probably wouldn’t want to do your practicum in a first-grade classroom.
Working with an experienced teacher
I ended up in a school that was not on my program’s partnership list. I had completed field experience hours in this school a year before I had to do my practicum, and recognized that the teacher I worked with had a lot of the qualities I wanted to improve in myself. I knew I could learn a lot from her mentorship, so I requested, and was granted, a placement in her classroom.
My mentor teacher has been so accommodating and helpful throughout my entire student teaching experience. She’s given me invaluable advice on everything from effective lesson plans, extension activities, and student accommodations to planning field trips, filling out reporting cards, and working well with parents.
Observing her has helped me to feel more comfortable flying by the seat of my pants, and has better prepared me to handle all the things that pop up in a regular day of teaching that you don’t get to experience in your master’s degree courses.
A more rewarding experience
Overall, I couldn’t be happier with my practicum experience thus far. I was a little nervous that I’d feel like an intruder in another teacher’s classroom, but I was welcomed to her classroom and the school with open arms, and I really do feel like a member of the community. I’m learning a lot and am gaining the confidence I’ll need to manage my own class one day.
One pleasant surprise about my practicum experience is just how well I’ve been able to get to know the students. Like their “real” teacher, I’m with the students every day and have become familiar with their individual personalities and learning styles. I feel like I’m able to teach much more effectively than I could when implementing lessons during my field experience hours, when I was only in a classroom for a short period of time. The result has been a much more rewarding and meaningful experience.
Lisandra I. Flynn spent 2012 to 2014 working toward a master’s degree in elementary education while working full time as an editor. After seven years in publishing, she recently transitioned from corporate life to student teach fifth grade in an elementary school. Flynn shares her journey from the office to the classroom and offers insight and advice to those seeking their own career change.