Navigating the Two Types of Teacher Preparation Field Experiences

Field experiences are a necessary, and highly beneficial, component of your academic development. In the process of developing knowledge, skills, and dispositions that prepare students to become teaching professionals, education students will have various levels of participation and experience for exposure to classrooms and teaching. At the initial level of exposure to the classroom, students have field experiences associated with specific courses. In these experiences, students learn skills and techniques for working collaboratively with other professionals, for observing teaching, and for working with diverse groups of children.

Different variations of field experiences are available. In the most basic form, you may simply observe the class, your collaborating/mentor teacher, or a specific focus assigned by your instructor. At a more advanced level, you may be asked to assist the teacher or act as his or her aide. Finally, you may be asked to teach a lesson. Specifically, these roles take place in two types of field experiences: observations and student teaching.

  1. Observations

Your observations, attentively watching what takes place in a classroom, can help you to make a final decision about becoming a teacher and will help you learn through concentrated discussions of what you observed.

To observe a classroom you may either go and visit the classroom or, by using technology, observe via distance learning. On-site observations take place in an actual school setting. Instructors assign each pre-service teacher to a different class, often at more than one school. You’ll receive a chance to reflect on your observations and discuss what you observed with the other pre-service teachers in a class setting.

Thanks to modern technologies like video streaming and web cams, a modified version of observation internship is now sometimes available in the form of telecommuting.

Distance Learning

Using these distance-learning methods, college instructors may allow an entire class of pre-service teachers to observe an actual classroom without any disruption to the class being observed. This type of observation is beneficial to the pre-service teachers because everyone is observing the same thing, which leads to a more focused discussion of observations.

Whether you’re observing in person or virtually, instructors typically assign a focused observation. A focused observation is an observation conducted with a clear objective. A university instructor may instruct you to observe the teacher’s interaction with students who have special needs, or to focus on the structure of the lesson, the behavior management system, the difference in how boys and girls are treated in the classroom, student ability levels, or many other factors.

Instructors provide various instruments to use in observations. Some instructors require an informal description or a log of journal entries. Another method of recording observations is using a quantitative checklist, which allows the pre-service teacher to observe and discuss multiple interactions and activities in the same observed setting. Another method is the use of teacher evaluation rubrics. Rubrics are a specifically stated set of standards that enable the equal scoring of subjective ideas, observations, and projects.

The number of observations that each pre-service teacher is required to do varies by college or university, class, and instructor. Some instructors may require 10 to 20 hours of observation in addition to the course work, and others may require multiple 45-hour blocks in different grade levels, usually with an overall minimum of 90 hours. Some universities have implemented week-long or month-long field experiences earlier in the training program, although you’d typically be expected to complete the experience toward the end of your education program.

  1. Student Teaching

The most extensive and in-depth field experience is student teaching. You are required to perform this exercise to obtain your teaching degree. Typically lasting from at least 5 weeks to 2 semesters, student teaching places you for an extended period of time shadowing the same mentoring teacher, with a consistent daily schedule, and servicing the same students. In essence, you do everything your mentoring teacher does.

As you begin your placement, you’ll typically just observe for a few days. You’ll get a feel for the climate, culture, and content of the class, and you’ll reflect on your observations. As you and your mentoring teacher begin to feel comfortable, you’ll gradually start taking over the teaching responsibilities. You’ll progress to taking over one or two classroom activities, then to taking over most classroom activities, with the eventual goal of taking charge of the entire class. The mentoring teacher is available for support and to assist with any problems you might encounter, as well as to provide guidance on how to cope with any difficulties that may arise. You will be given a few weeks of solo classroom management, after which you’ll slowly begin to hand the class back over to the collaborating/mentoring teacher, reversing the process by allowing them to observe, take over a few activities, and so on.

An important aspect of student teaching is the reflection process. Regardless of whether your course requires it, keeping a student teaching journal is an excellent personal tool. This could be as simple as a log of each day’s events, using brief, open-ended bullet points. You can extend your student teaching journal to include your observations of your mentoring teacher, including his or her classroom management style, behavior, responses, and reactions to various situations. Include this along with your objectives for the field experience, observations of your own developing classroom management style, behavior, and responses to events that arise in the classroom and how you can improve these.

During a typical internship, students are in classrooms 2 full days per week. They have the opportunity to observe teaching, to work with small groups of students, and to complete independent study projects to engage in experiential learning. In addition, internship students are expected to complete assignments from their co-requisite courses.

Student teachers are placed in schools and assume the work schedule of a full-time teacher, all day, 5 days a week, for a full semester. Interns practice to develop knowledge, skills, and dispositions of the teaching profession. Particular emphasis is placed on planning, in which interns practice long-range, intermediate, and daily planning for student performance based on planned instruction; and using time management and classroom management skills that are essential to student achievement.

Members of the college of education faculty supervise internships and collaborate with collaborating/mentor teachers to guide the intern in developing knowledge, skills, and dispositions and to evaluate teaching practice. The collaborating/mentoring teacher is responsible for providing guidance and feedback as necessary, and communicating with your college advisor about your progress and participation. You should try to develop a good working relationship with your collaborating/ mentoring teacher. As well as having an influence over your academic performance, he or she is also a valuable source of learning and guidance and can be considered as one of the resources during your teaching education. Your degree of involvement in the classroom activities will be based largely on your relationship with your mentoring teacher.

Remember: the more engaged you are in your education, the more engaged your pupils will be in theirs!



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