Thursday, March 5, 2015

Tips for Pre-Service Teachers

For the first time in my almost twenty year teaching career, I have the privilege of working with a pre-service teacher for several weeks. Technically, he is a Practicum Student, so he is only required to be in my room for about 50 hours. During that time, he is required to teach a couple of lessons and get involved in as much of the daily activities of my class.

I am excited to finally be working with a pre-service teacher. The way I see it, I have had several tremendous teachers that helped me early in my career, and it is my responsibility to pass along as much of that knowledge as I can. Our main jobs as educators is to pass along our experiences (good and bad) to the younger generation of teachers. Pay it Forward, if you will...

I sat in the back of the room as the Practicum student started his lesson, four feet away from his supervisor from a nearby university. Earlier, in the morning, I asked him if he wanted me to stay in the room. He has a sub certificate, so he could be left alone with students, but he wanted my feedback on what I saw. It was during his lesson that I wanted to pass along the following to all pre-service teachers:

1. Be aware of time. Plan for more than you think you will need. An activity will rarely take exactly the time you think it will. Sometimes it will take less; sometimes it will take more. Bottom line, you need to be ready either way.

2. Watch your wait time before calling on students. This is still something I have to correct myself at times.. It is rewarding to call on the first hands that go up. It makes it seem like the students really know their stuff. But, this can be misleading. Maybe your questions are not high level enough if they can be answered in 3 seconds. What about the kid that is working through the problem, and is just not as quick as his or her classmates? If he or she knows you call on the first two hands, they will stop trying because they know they will never be that kid.

3. Don't hesitate to answer a question with a question. Redirect a question from a student to a different student. The right answers do not always have to come from the teacher.

4. Always provide a few challenging problems in an activity. Your students will appreciate the work.

5. Know the difference between groups (students) talking through their work, and just talking. Just because you can hear their voices does not mean they are off task. I have come to the realization that many of my students need to talk their way through math problems. I just smile because that was me when I was in their shoes. And for some, it actually is their shoes because many are wearing Vans or Nike!

6. Do not be afraid to adjust the groups if you see several students struggling with a particular part of the activity. Give them another shot at seeing some examples in a small group with you or a video to help. Get their questions answered and usher them back to their original group. Many students just need to hear things a different way to understand what is going on.

7. Be interested in their methods, not just their answers. Let students explain how they worked through the problem. Their explanation will solidify their own learning and maybe help a classmate or two along the way.

8. Try and stay for the whole day. It is very easy to just find a two hour window in the morning or afternoon to step into a classroom. I really suggest staying for an entire day. This gives you the opportunity to see the how the whole day ebbs and flows. You get to see how not having recess at lunch requires an alteration to the lesson plan for the 8th graders right after lunch. Those are the things you will never learn in an education textbook.

I guess I appeared to be very into providing feedback, because the supervisor asked me if she could read my notes. After reading through them, she asked if I would like a student teacher in the fall. I told her that I would love the chance to work with new teachers. It is all about paying it forward. When she left, I did not know if she was there to evaluate me or the practicum student!

I am sure I have missed a few tips for pre-service teachers. What can you add to the list?


Starr Sackstein said...

Love the list, Jim. I would add, don't be afraid to be wrong and admit and turn it into an opportunity to learn together. You can even admit you don't know something and make that work in your favor. Pre-service teachers should ask a lot of questions and observe everything. Developing relationships is essential to getting good at what we do.

Jim Cordery said...

Great point, Starr. We encountered that same situation when he was asked a question he was unsure of. He worked it out, but was concerned he was wrong. My answer: "So what if you were. The worse you could be is wrong." It is the same comment I give to my students in class.

Jennifer Hogan said...

Great list, Jim! I also like what Starr added. One I would add is to really listen to the feedback from your supervising teacher. Try not to take anything personally, because the feedback is meant to improve their practice. I'm looking forward to seeing how it goes in the fall when you get a student teacher!

Jim Cordery said...

I like that tip as well, Jennifer. Thanks for taking the time to read it. Actually, your comment applies to all of us; we need to listen to the feedback in order to improve. It is not designed to be personal, just make us better. Thanks again.