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What Is a Teaching Practicum?

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  • Written By: Tara Barnett
  • Edited By: Melissa Wiley
  • Last Modified Date: 22 November 2016
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A teaching practicum is an exploration of the actual practice of teaching under the supervision of a mentor, typically involving actual teaching as well as duties related to this profession. This type of course is almost always offered for credit and may be required in many programs. Not all of a student's time in this type of course is spent on actual teaching duties; some involves consultation, seminars, and other preparatory work. Working through a teaching practicum is thought to give future teachers actual experience in the field, much like an internship, with the benefit of close supervision from a university-approved source.

Most of the time, a teaching practicum must be specific to the types of classes that the student will someday teach. There are, for example, programs specific to teaching at the elementary school level and in the sciences. At the university level, this type of teaching experience is almost always specific to the discipline. A student does not typically have a choice in terms of which practicum to take, as it is usually a required part of the program he or she has entered.

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Depending on the school, a teaching practicum can be set up in a variety of ways, but all courses under this designation will involve some actual teaching involving students, as this is the definition of the course. Other activities related to teaching may vary. For example, in the sciences, supervising lab time, developing laboratory experiments, and providing tutorials can all be part of the practicum. In writing courses, more time might be devoted to grading essays. Most schools try to minimize the amount of grading done by students in these courses, as experience with grading has often already been obtained.

One of the key features of this type of course is supervision. A teaching practicum can be supervised by the student's adviser or a special mentor assigned specifically for this course. Observation may involve the mentor sitting in on courses, or it may require the student to report back at regular intervals. Having guidance when learning the nuanced art of teaching can be helpful and is one of the features that sets this type of experience apart from unsupervised internships.

The skills taken away from a teaching practicum depend on the focus of the course, but some common experiences include a deeper understanding of working with large groups, attention to the demands of teaching, and improved communication skills. This type of course is a learning experience, so perfection is usually not expected. Any student who experiences difficulties during a teaching practicum and tries in earnest to come up with solutions is likely on the right track in his or her teaching career.

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bythewell
Post 3

@croydon - Another thing that you should remember when going on practicum is to hoard teaching materials, like worksheets and curriculum documents.

Teachers will often be very free with them, which is nice, but you can't depend on that for when you do get a job. A school tends to only have a limited amount of teaching materials and everyone there will have roughly the same ones. So if you can build up a diverse collection to choose from before you get there that's definitely going to help in the first year.

Also, try to make friends with the ground staff and the office staff. They are the people who can make your life a lot easier if anything happens to go wrong and often they have the ear of the principal as well. My mother is a principal and she interacts with the groundskeeper of the school as much or more than any one teacher.

croydon
Post 2

@Fa5t3r - I found that it was a toss up between my supervising teacher knowing exactly what they wanted from me, or having no idea what I was supposed to be doing. Either way, you have to be prepared because you might have to fight for what you need.

That might sound scary, but most practicums will be wonderful experiences and most teachers hosting them will have plenty of prior experience, so don't be too worried.

Don't worry, but do over-prepare. That's not something you will regret.

Fa5t3r
Post 1

Make sure you absolutely know what is expected of you for this kind of thing. When I did my first practicum there was a kind of mix up between the lecturers and the supervisors and they had widely different expectations on what we were supposed to be doing and when. I ended up being told I almost failed the course, because I had spent too much time on one thing and not enough on the other.

Remember that it's a balancing act. You need to pass the course, but you also have to make a good impression on your supervisor, because they are likely to be your reference in the future. You also want to make a good impression on the school as a whole, because it's a potential job site.

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