This is the first January in three years that I am not out on Teaching Practice! Yesterday my heart went out to all the Mater Dei students who embarked upon their first, second or final teaching placement. I also caught myself at many times during the day reminiscing about the teaching practice placements that I have completed; smiling to myself remembering the good times (seriously there will be good even great times!) and cringing to myself at the moments that weren’t so good. It is a strange feeling to not be worrying about schemes, lesson plans or praying the students will like you let alone respect you! And lets not forget the dreaded moment when a student or teacher comes to your classroom to tell you your supervisor is waiting in the staffroom and they have tried to delay the inevitable by offering them a cup of tea and a few digestives. Nevertheless, here I am a survivor of Teaching Practice and you can be a survivor too!
HOW TO BE A TEACHING PRACTICE SURVIVOR LIKE ME 🙂
- BREATHE – It does not matter if you have never stood in front of a classroom full of students or if you have done it a hundred times you are still going to be nervous. So take a few minutes to just breathe. It is nothing to be ashamed of and if anything I believe a few butterflies in your tummy before a lesson starts is good for you. Use those butterflies in your tummy, shaky hands or struggling to be heard voices to push yourself to do better in each lesson and before you know it you and those students will be saying to yourselves, ‘nerves, what nerves?’.
- BE ORGANISED FROM DAY ONE – I realise for Mater Dei students I am shouting this piece of advice on day two but it is not too late to get your organisational skills in order! Always, always, always in every single lesson have a lesson plan in front of you (a hard copy NOT on your laptop screen). The art of ‘winging’ it is not your friend at a time like this when you are trying to become the best teacher you can be and that simply cannot happen if you try to cut corners. Have your folders with you at all times and make sure they are neat and tidy; this will make life so much easier for you in the long run. Don’t get me wrong I know the temptation that creeps in after supervisions are done and dusted (especially if this happens in the early days) to let the folder slip to the back of your mind but you really don’t need that added pressure when you’re already exhausted on the day folders need to be handed in. Also, keep in mind that your folders are opportunity to share your hard work and creativity to other teachers in the school and to make an impression. The impression you and your work makes on the other teachers and even the principal could stand to you when you are job-hunting so make sure you’re not remembered as the one who had most of their folder on the floor!
- BE CREATIVE – When I was on Teaching Practice in my third year of college I was teaching ‘The Renaissance’ to a group of First Year students. It was quite a boisterous group of young lads who needed something beyond the norm to keep their attention in every lesson. I am a firm believer in the People in History questions for Junior Cert History as it gives the students the opportunity to become creative with historical facts and they find themselves learning without realising it. However with this particular group, writing about the life of Michelangelo simply wasn’t exciting enough. So I decided to shake the lesson up a little bit in the hopes that this would also shake up their imagination for the People in History question they would be doing for homework. Each student was given a sheet of white paper to stick to the underneath of their desks. Once the paper was stuck the students had to lie underneath their desks with their arms outstretched and a pencil in their hand. I asked them not to draw anything on the piece of paper until they felt that their arms couldn’t stay outstretched any longer. I explained that at that moment in the lesson they were re-enacting the position in which Michelangelo lay whilst painting the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel which took him over four years to complete! I will admit that had anyone popped their head in the door of the classroom that day the scene would’ve taken a bit of explaining to do but the students loved it and I cannot express enough the feeling of achievement I had seeing the lesson go so well. The point of that little trip down memory was to tell you guys to embrace your own creativity and imagination within the classroom. Learn to think outside the box, outside of the textbook, outside of the PowerPoint and just go for it! Yes there will be times when it just doesn’t work and times when it all goes swimmingly (the day the supervisor doesn’t pop in) but that’s ok because this is all a journey of learning who you are and what you can do as a teacher. Imagine that you’re not on Teaching Practice and ask yourself the question, ‘what would you do if you weren’t afraid?’ and then go do it.
- DON’T BE AFRAID OF THE STAFFROOM – Trust me, if there was anything that I could go back and try harder on it would be my involvement in the staffroom. I understand how daunting that room can be and the power it has to turn your normally bubbly and chatty self into the shy mouse sitting in the corner afraid of using the kettle. I’m aiming this particular piece of advice to all Teaching Practice students; don’t let your fear of the staffroom turn your lion’s roar of the classroom into the squeak of a mouse at lunchtime! Be yourself! Believe in yourself! Don’t be intimidated by other teachers, they all started where you did! Make your voice heard and who knows where it could lead you; new friends, useful advice and the chance to learn something new. To the Mater Dei students out on your first Teaching Practice placement, use this time to put in some groundwork into your involvement in the staffroom and it will greatly stand to you on your future placements. Mater Dei final year students it is not too late to turn it all around in the staffroom if you fall into the category of the shy mouse explained above. At this point of your teaching you have the most experiences to talk about, use this to your advantage and you’ll have no fear stepping into the staffroom of the school that employs you when you’re set free into the real world.
- ENJOY YOURSELF – Each Teaching Practice placement is an individual experience and even though you may have to complete a number of placements, each one takes on its own identity. The placement which confirms to you that you’ve chosen the right career path, the placement that makes you think what exactly am I doing here, the placement that you feel your students finally ‘got you’ and the placement that will make you think you’ll simply never understand teenagers. My point is that you simply cannot predict what a placement will turn out to be until you are in the thick of it so why not just accept that it will be a rollercoaster ride and simply enjoy yourself? Your most challenging times will occur within a classroom but so will your most rewarding therefore there is no reason not to enjoy the experience. Allowing yourself to enjoy your placement and placing having a positive experience above the stress of schemes, lesson plans and supervisors will teach you many more lessons than you will teach in the classroom. 🙂
There are so many other tips and tricks for surviving Teaching Practice but I believe that if you keep those five in mind during it you can and you will survive. I cannot believe it has been a year since I last stepped into a classroom but it just goes to show that time flies and it waits for nobody. So please embrace every minute of it, learn from it and accept the changes it might make to your teaching identity. You will not regret it. 🙂