Have you gotten that practicum letter yet, letting you know what school you will be attending as a student teacher? Or maybe you’re still trying to find a teaching prac placement?
The practicum — or prac — is an important and exciting step in the path to becoming a fully qualified teacher in Australia. Still, that letter can also open up a flood of feelings!
Maybe you’re excited? Maybe you’re unsure? Maybe it’s a mix of the two? Don’t worry! The teachers on the Teach Starter team have all been in your shoes at one time, and we’ve created this comprehensive guide for student teachers to nail your practicum. Read on to find out what really happens during a teaching prac, how to find a placement and tips and tricks from expert teachers on having a successful experience in the classroom.
What Is a Practicum?
A teaching practicum is something every future classroom teacher has to go through, but what exactly is it?
A mandatory component of any teacher education program, practicum involves a period of supervised teaching practise in a school or educational setting where student teachers can apply their theoretical knowledge and skills in a practical setting. A teaching prac typically involves a series of placements — each lasting several weeks or months — where pre-service teachers work alongside experienced teachers and mentors to develop their teaching practice.
Essentially, a teaching practicum could be described as a chance to practise being a classroom teacher under the supervision of expert veteran teachers who can guide you on best practice, offer advice and make suggestions on improving. It’s your chance to get important hands-on experience teaching in a real-world setting and develop the skills and competencies needed to become an effective teacher — so while it may seem daunting to some, it’s loaded with opportunities!
What Happens During a Teaching Practicum?
Most university programs will break practicum up into a series of placements, so you will likely start things off by observing. But don’t worry! You’ll soon get to really engage with your students and get that teaching practice!
During practicum, you’ll get the chance to:
- Plan and deliver your own lessons
- Assess student learning
- Manage classroom behaviour
- Engage with the wider school community
- Work with an experienced supervising teacher
- See the theories you’ve learned in uni come to life
How to Find a Prac Placement
Placements can be easier to find in some places than others. Your uni might have a professional learning department where you can get assistance or a list of schools that often work with student teachers. Then again, it may be on you to organise your placement on your own.
Here are some tips from our team on finding your prac placements!
- Identify schools where you might want to student teach, and write up a short script explaining who you are and what you’re studying, then start making phone calls! You will want to ask specifically who is in charge of placement at the school.
- Check with your uni to find out if they have an email template you can use to send out to schools that can be directed to the prac coordinator. Many do, and this will legitimise your outreach.
- Visit potential schools during mid-morning or mid-afternoon — away from break times — and ask to speak to the prac coordinator. Be ready with information about what sort of placement you need!
What Should Student Teachers Prepare for Their Practicum?
So you got that letter with your supervising teacher’s name and maybe even a huge booklet of text about their expectations of you as a prac student going out into the real world.
Now what? Is this the time you go and buy all those necessary stationery items? Perhaps you need some new outfits? Or perhaps you are still concerned about an essay that is due in 24 hours time that you have been procrastinating about for the last week …
Let’s talk about prep!
Build Your Student Teacher Practicum Folder
There is no such thing as being over-prepared, especially on prac. Get yourself a cheap ring binder folder that can be your bible during your time on prac. Along with the university documents that may have been given to you prior to your practicum, here are a few templates and ideas to include:
- Timetable Templates — A simple weekly timetable template can be used in a variety of ways. Use it for your own planning, or use it to keep up with the classroom’s current schedule. When it’s your time to teach, you will most likely be sticking with the same routines and procedures so as not to upset the flow of the classroom. Take the initiative to ask what the weekly classroom timetable looks like and get to know what the class does during the different sessions throughout the day.
- Assessment Templates — You may like to check with your supervising teacher as to how they keep track of and assess students against the curriculum. However these Australian Curriculum Assessment Trackers are also the perfect addition to your folder. These trackers can even be used as a planning tool as they outline the different descriptions within the curriculum, and they’re perfect to use as a quick tick and flick to see how students are going, especially when you take over some of the teaching.
- Reflection Sheets — Reflecting on every day, especially the days you teach is crucial. It may be hard when you get to the end of the day, and you’re faced with the next day’s planning to even think about reflecting on the day that was. Having some easy templates printed ready to go will make your life a lot easier! You can create your very own daily self-reflection for student teachers template by using the editable version of our End of Year Mindful Self Reflection template.
- Student Observation Templates — During your practicum, observing students is just as important as planning a fantastic ‘hook’ to your lesson. In your folder, have an exercise book specifically for observations. You may like to use our Student Observation Template to monitor student progress in the classroom as well.
- Student Profile Templates — During your practicum, you may need to do case studies on particular students. These Student Profile templates would be the perfect start.
Teach Starter Teacher Tip: Carry around some trusty Post-its! Attach them to your folder, or put them in your pocket. You will often be on the run when you observe a child’s success or a chance to improve a student’s learning. Grab a pen and sticky notes to jot down what you observed. You can then transfer it to your observation book or template that afternoon.
Meet With Your Supervising Teacher
It’s a good idea to make contact with your supervising teacher as soon as possible after finding out where you are doing your practice teaching. Developing that important professional relationship can make or break your prac!
You will most likely be provided with their work email address, so send them a professionally worded email expressing your enthusiasm about doing your practicum in their classroom. Ask for a suitable time for you to go in and meet with them — and possibly the students — before your official prac begins. This will alleviate some of your nerves on the first day of your prac.
Here are some questions you might ask your supervising teacher:
- What is your behaviour management process?
- Are there any special needs students that I need to be aware of?
- What are your expectations of me as the student teacher?
- What syllabus topics/units they are doing? (This way you can start gathering resources and have the objectives and rationales for your plans ready in advance.)
- What resources will I have access to (e.g. photocopying, IT, E board, software or craft supplies)?
- Are there any school timetables or any policies and procedures I should know about?
- Can you share any hints or tips about what works for you in the classroom at the moment?
- Is it possible for me to come in to observe you before prac starts?
This meeting with your supervising teacher isn’t just a time to get to know them. It’s also a chance for them to get to know you, so don’t be afraid to talk about your passions and your strengths. If you love science, for example, tell your supervising teacher! Express that you want to learn from them, as well.
Overall, make sure you take the time during this meeting to listen. This is your chance to soak in a ton of knowledge!
Introduce Yourself to Parents
You are going to be spending a lot of time with the children in your class. Sending a note home to the parents is a nice touch and doesn’t take too long. Having a connection and communicating with parents is an essential element of your practicum experience.
Plan Your Wardrobe
Dressing appropriately for your practicum! It is something so simple but speaks volumes. Here are a few things to consider when you’re looking at your closet:
- Aim for smart casual.
- Do a test run! Can you sit on the floor comfortably with your legs crossed?
- We speak about sun safety with the children, so we should be role models. Wide-brim hats are a must!
Teach Starter Teacher Tip: Get your outfits out ready for the week on a Sunday, so you don’t have to stress about that in the mornings.
During your practicum, don’t be afraid to speak up! If you notice a student not paying attention, or struggling with a task and your supervising teacher is busy with another student, go up and help that student. Offer to mark the pile of books on their desk or to run up and do a last-minute photocopy run!
This is not stepping on your supervising teacher’s toes. They want you to show initiative and help out around the classroom as much as you can.
After you have found out what year level you’ll be on, why not do some research for some really engaging different resources that you may be able to utilise during your practicum?
If your supervising teacher is happy with it, you could introduce a few fun classroom management resources such as our Attention Grabbing Phrase cards.
Say Yes, Yes, Yes!
Say yes to everything, even ask to do additional school-related activities. Is there a camp while you are at the school? Ask to go. What about a school disco? Offer to help set up.
You are there to really get into the school spirit, show initiative and do as much as you can!
Give Yourself Grace
Finally, some lessons or observations may not go to plan. That’s OK! Even experienced teachers have lessons or even whole days where everything doesn’t quite go according to plan.
Remember that prac is a chance to learn, and use those hiccups as a learning experience. Reflect and remember the next day is a new day!