Practicum Reflection #1

Practicum Reflection #1

I’m four days into my short practicum and there are already a few things I know for sure:

  • I love teaching!
  • There are not enough hours in the day—compromise is necessary
  • Connection is everything

I love teaching!

Sometimes when I walk down the hallway at school, I feel this overwhelming sense of gratitude. I’m finally here, where I’ve wanted to be for so many years, and it FEELS SO GOOD! I feel at home in the class, the lunchroom and the playground. The students like me and have already become attached to me, and I’m attached to them—I’m sad the practicum will be over in a week.

Having said that, I’ve also learned that teaching is much more difficult than I thought….

Compromise is necessary

One thing I found myself thinking during my weekly visits was “I can’t wait until I have my own class.” Why? My SA has been teaching for 28 years and while she’s a passionate, dedicated and skillful teacher, I couldn’t help but notice things I would want to do differently.

I had this idea in my head that when I have my own class I’ll be able to do things exactly how I want to—it’ll be perfect. I’ll have every lesson planned and they’ll all be engaging, meaningful lessons, I’ll connect on a personal level with all the students, I won’t ever yell at the kids and they’ll respect me so much they’ll be perfectly behaved. Ha!

No such thing as perfect

Now at the end of my first week, I’m starting to learn that there is no such thing as perfect when it comes to teaching. Sometimes the best you can get is good enough. It’s not that I’m lowering my standards, but now I can see that teaching requires me to juggle so many elements, and use so many personal resources that there is not enough time in the day to do everything the way I want to. And I’m starting to realize that there will never be enough time in the day.

Right now after 8-9 hour days—staying late to take an after-class workshop with my SA, or build a class profile, or glaze clay pots and stack them in the kiln—I get home exhausted. It’s all I can do to get some exercise, make dinner and fall into bed. The amazing math lesson on integers I’d hoped to plan falls to the wayside as simple self-care takes priority.

Jump Math 6.1 – Opposite Integers

The next day, today, I stick to the boring, straightforward Jump math text and while it’s not super engaging, I find small ways to connect with each student during the lesson so they feel included.

Connection is everything

It might sound small, but connecting with every student during that math lesson was a huge win for me. During my observation, I’d noticed how some of the students were not engaged during the math lessons; they were not paying attention, as some of them already understood the concept, while for others it was over their head. I had determined that I really wanted to connect with all the students, and so even though my math lesson was quite straightforward, it was personally successful because every eye was on the board.

Getting to know you activity

I attribute this success to the connection I’ve built with my students using the community building tools Leyton and Bel provided. The most meaningful experience of my practicum so far was the “getting to know you” activity I did on Wednesday morning.

I brought in some personal objects that reflect me and without telling them they were mine, I asked the students to describe the person they might belong to. At a certain point they guessed it was me, and then we went through the objects again and I explained why they were important to me.

A pen, a pink shawl, a wooden box, a tea-cup… what do they say about me?

The second part of the activity was the Getting to Know You worksheet Leyton encouraged us to use. I scaffolded by going over each box and answering the question for myself personally.

Scaffolding/modeling as a way of connecting

This type of modeling is something my SA rarely does, which I think is a pity since there are many students in the class who don’t understand/read instructions. I think she feels modeling/scaffolding is ‘giving them the answers.’ She wants them to think up their own answers and fears they will copy hers. I constantly hear her telling the students that they didn’t listen to her instructions, and that a large part of her marks are based on whether they listened to her instructions. I understand this on the one hand, because attention to detail is important in real life, but on the other hand, I wonder if this method is effective? Are students getting the most out of their assignments? I do know that it is time-consuming to model/scaffold. It means that some of content takes a back seat as we cannot get through the curriculum quickly enough…. anyway, frought subject, no easy answers.

Warmed up

Anyway, at the end of the getting to know you activity, I felt so much more connected to the students. Two students in particular, who had been quite stand-off-ish really warmed up to me after that. This was a huge win as well, because one of them is the most popular girl in class and when she opened up to me, it meant that her entire posse of girlfriends opened up to me as well.

Classroom strengths & stretches

As a whole, I’ve learned in the last few weeks that my class has some solid strengths:

  • There is a lot of humour in the class and a light-hearted ambience
  • All of the children are good-natured (there aren’t any who have a surly attitude)
  • They genuinely want to learn and when work is mediocre it’s usually because the child needed more support, and not because they didn’t care.
  • The majority of lessons are in ELA, science and math, so the students have a lot of exposure to learn basic skills
  • My SA is a very passionate teacher who demands great work and for whom the majority of students have warm regard and respect

There are also some stretches:

  • There is a lack of self-confidence and a need to do things ‘correctly’ and not a lot of trial and error. Students are often panicked and afraid they’re doing things wrong.
  • Classroom management can be a real issue. There is one student in particular who can take over the entire class and it can cascade to other ‘big-personality’ students who become very disruptive/obstinate as well.
  • About 50% of the students do not talk or contribute much to the class. They need to be included and encouraged more to speak up.