Daniela Silver, a graduate student of early childhood education, explains how she felt before starting her practicum experience in a DC school and the preparation she received to be ready. The practicum semester occurs the semester before student teaching, where teacher candidates spend two days a week for an entire semester in a classroom working with the students. This is considered a "ramp-up" semester to the student teaching semester.
My First Day of Practicum:
Most of us do not sleep very soundly the night before the first day of school. Memories of those first day fears flooded over me the week before my practicum was to begin. More than anything, though, my excitement trumped my fears. Am I excited to learn how to be the best teacher I can be? Absolutely. Am I excited to learn the culture and procedures of a DC elementary school? Absolutely. Am I terrified? Absolutely. I have, however, been supported in many ways that made me feel that no matter how nerve-wracking this experience will be, I know I will be able to handle it and come out as a better educator.
My Preparation for Practicum:
I've learned a lot in the courses I have taken and, during the practicum semester, I have a chance to put that learning into practice, to experience those "aha" moments. For example, by providing "turn-pair-share" experiences during Morning Meeting (a technique that works for all ages), students remain more engaged. It's a better strategy than just calling on a few students in order to keep the lesson moving. I will repeat the topic to be discussed multiple times and ask students to close their eyes and think about what they will say. This strategy gives the students ample processing time to really think about what they want to say. The classroom teacher tells the students that their ideas are like popcorn, and sometimes they need a moment to wait for the kernel to pop.
My University Support:
There is support everywhere! Our program director is very accessible and encourages us to contact her when we feel we might be at a point where we need some serious guidance and reassurance. The university supervisor supports us throughout practicum and provides constructive feedback. University supervisors are AU faculty members matched with practicum students. My supervisor observes me in the classroom, provides feedback and guides me through the experience. The feedback reiterates our program's core value of reflection. Whether you are a first-year teacher or a 15-year veteran, consistently reflecting on your practice is critical if you want to be the best teacher you can be.
My School Support:
Within the first week of practicum, the principal invited all practicum and student teachers for a luncheon meet-and-greet. We went around the room introducing ourselves and explaining how we got into education, why we have chosen this path, and how our experience has been thus far. The principal also shared her story of how her passion for education led her to where she is today. I work with a wonderful teacher who is willing to share her classroom and students with me. And as it turns out, I don't have to be afraid to make a mistake. When things do not go according to plan and I apologize, my cooperating teacher politely corrects me: "Ms. Silver, you aren't making mistakes, you are learning from your experiences." And she is absolutely right.