Food for Thought for Student Teachers

At this time of the year, the majority of – if not all – student teachers are on School Placement (formerly known as Teaching Practice). It is arguably the most demanding element of teacher training. Due to this pressure, students in such situations may be tempted to look for ways to ease the workload. Some choose to purchase lesson plans online – I have discussed the issues surrounding this in a previous post, but to be blunt, it’s sacrificing long-term gain for short-term gain.

There is no magic formula for success on School Placement, but there are some steps the trainee teacher can take that will set good foundations.

Voice

The ability to project your voice efficiently (without compromising your health) on School Placement provides a good basis for classroom management. Pupils must be able to hear you clearly if you are to get your message across. A clearly-heard voice will be helpful when immediate attention is required. It is vitally important to look after your voice, as this is your greatest asset as a teacher. Drink enough water and don’t strain your voice.

Your voice isn’t always necessary to get a message across though. When looking for full attention in a loud classroom and if I can spare a few seconds, I tend to stand somewhere prominent and look directly at the class, or at a group or children. I incorporate a silent countdown from five using my fingers, with my hand held high in the air which will draw their attention if they look my way. This has worked for me most of the time (again, it’s not a magic formula) and it saves me having to strain my voice. When I have the attention of the class, I can usually use a calm and clear voice and everyone can hear me.

Confidence

It’s very easy to just say to “be confident” but it can be done. It’s important to realise that pupils will notice a lack of confidence and this may lead to disruptions not usually experienced by the class teacher. In order to be confident, you need to have the proper mindset. I’m not a psychologist so I can’t give professional advice on this, but I can speak from my own experience. The first step to confidence in the classroom is preparation – once I have planned properly for what I intend to do, I have removed one barrier. Another thing to bear in mind is that it’s not impossible to be confident. When you have been given charge of a class, albeit in the capacity of a student teacher, you have been placed in a role that comes with certain authority. Once this authority is applied fairly, the pupils will recognise this (children are quite competent in recognising what’s just and what’s not) and this will set a firm foundation for a positive pupil-teacher relationship, which will aid your confidence.

Teaching

Let the pupils do the talking! I have discussed this previously here. Present the new learning opportunity as a problem for pupils to discuss and solve together, if the lesson allows for such a format. This is particularly useful in Mathematics. Don’t get too worried about the loud volume during group-work or group discussions – children need to articulate their thoughts and if this is at the expense of a quiet classroom, so be it! If they’re talking, they’re thinking and this is what you want. Just keep an eye on each group in case the discussions veer off topic.

Have a life outside of teaching

Although your weekdays will be intense, make sure that you set aside a decent amount of time at the weekend to do something different, to have a different focus, or to just do nothing at all! Although such time will be a luxury during the week, try to find half an hour to an hour on weekdays to get some fresh air or exercise. This balance is important, you’ll feel better for it and it will help to prevent burnout.

To conclude

Again, there’s no magic formula for success. Each person will be different in their approach to their school placement. Remember to be prepared, be consistent, be fair, look after your health and have a sufficient balance between teaching and life outside of teaching. Ask for help – your host teacher is a qualified professional and can offer good advice. Your family members may not be over the moon about losing the living room to your paperwork and resources but they are a good source of help. Ask them to cut, glue, laminate – whatever they can do to free up some time for yourself. Finally, don’t get too worried about the mistakes you might make during your teaching, allow them to be a source of reflection and learning – that is what makes a great teacher.

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