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3 Ways to Give Preservice Teachers Meaningful Classroom Experiences (Opinion)

I recently completed a study for my dissertation that focused on a group of 11 preservice teachers during their practicum semester, just before their student-teaching would begin. One of the participants made a poignant observation that has resonated with me: Her experience felt like “the awkwardness that comes with babysitting, where you’re not really sure how much you can tell someone else’s kids … what to do because you are pretty much just a guest.”

I thought about the preservice teachers who visited my classroom and the amount of agency (or lack thereof) I had given them to practice their skills.

As I read over the participants’ reflections, I realized that we mentor teachers sometimes do a poor job of letting teacher-candidates take over our classes—we don’t want to alter the classroom culture and expectations we’ve worked hard to establish. Creating authentic practice opportunities for preservice teachers is also extra work, often taking up precious time that we need for planning, grading, and other duties. But this extra work is necessary. It’s important for future teachers to find their unique style, voice, and confidence in their teaching ability, which often comes with trial and a lot of error.

To ensure our preservice teachers get the most out of a visit, here are three significant ways we can engage and support them.

Find ways to help preservice teachers build relationships with students. Almost all participants mentioned that they felt more confident about standing in front of the class and delivering a lesson when the mentor teacher encouraged relationship-building activities with their students. One participant said, “It became quite clear that creating genuine connections with students is an important aspect of the teaching profession.”

Creating student-engagement opportunities can look like leading small-group discussions, one-on-one tutoring, or other class activities that enhance the preservice-teacher-student relationship. As another participant noted, the biggest takeaway from her practicum was “the importance of having good relationships with students.”

Be willing to relinquish control, give preservice teachers autonomy, and let them take risks. As a classroom teacher faced with daily pressure to prepare students for top performance on standardized tests, I fully understand why many are hesitant to hand our students over to a newbie educator. However, we need to also consider the importance of supporting the next generation of teachers so that they, too, can be successful. Many of my participants reported that having a mentor teacher who allowed them to experiment with teaching strategies was essential to their developing confidence as emerging teachers. One preservice teacher noted that they felt pretty nervous about developing their own teaching style until the mentor encouraged them to “get creative” and not be afraid to experiment.

Encourage preservice teachers. Research shows that confident teachers have a positive influence on student achievement, and mentor teachers who boost teacher-candidates can help build self-efficacy. Part of mentoring teacher-candidates includes keeping the lines of communication open between the mentor and the preservice teacher. One participant emphasized that being able to ask lots of questions or request help when needed made her feel like there was less risk involved in finding her instructional style. Another participant noted that when the mentor gave affirmative comments—even after mistakes—they felt more confident about learning from their efforts and trying again.

Today’s preservice teachers will soon be our colleagues. As mentors, we can support them by helping develop them into confident, self-assured educators who will stay the course.

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