Not all practicals were created equal. Here are a couple of tips from teachers on how to make the most of your experience.
1. Get involved
The most important part of prac is getting involved. Find something you are interested in and volunteer to help out. Not only will you be scoring brownie points with the school administration and bolstering your CV you may actually find you enjoy it. Spending time with the students outside of the classroom is a very different type of experience, and one that will help you with your discipline inside the classroom too! Wouldn't it be awesome to have a whole class to yourself for the whole day? Well if a teacher is absent, volunteer to substitute.
2. Prep like a teacher
I'll tell you a secret, sometimes teachers don't know everything. Sometimes, teachers have to do some research before teaching a topic. If you know you're going into Grade 5, and you check the CAPS document for History and see that you are doing Egypt, then read up on Egypt. Make sure you have a good basic understanding of what's potting before you step into the classroom. Students LOVE interesting facts, Google a couple and throw them into your lesson and you will look like the Egyptian Expert. This also helps for those impromptu lessons where you want to show off a little for your mentor teacher.
3. Have a lesson or two up your sleeve
The time will come when you have to step in, either for your mentor teacher or for another absent teacher and there is nothing planned for the class. To avoid a total discipline disaster, have a couple of generic lessons on the subjects you teach up your sleeve. For example, if you teach Mathematics in the Intermediate Phase, maybe you have a lesson on exploring and comparing fractions. This should preferably be something that doesn't need to have worksheets printed as you want to pull it out at a moment's notice.
4. Be aware of your surroundings
Being a teacher is not only about teaching. It's also about relationships. In order to avoid sour relationships, be very aware of your surroundings. Teachers may seem like weird creatures. In order to deal with the daily stresses in their lives, they become very attached to certain rituals - the only constants in their day. They can become very protective of these! Here are some to look out for:
- For the first couple of days, wait to see where everyone sits in the staffroom and then find an available seat. It's just respectful.
- Offer to contribute towards the coffee and tea available in the staffroom. At some schools, teachers pay per term for this luxury.
- Check before you park under the shady tree near the entrance. It may well be the principal's spot.
- Speak to the IT guy before downloading YouTube videos during the day. You might be slowing the internet down for everybody. NOBODY likes slow internet!
5. If you don't know, ask
Teachers became teachers for a reason. Hopefully, it's because they love teaching. If you don't know how to do something or you want some advice, ask. Most teachers will appreciate that you value their opinion enough to ask them and will relish the opportunity to share their knowledge.
This will be good for your relationship with your mentor teacher and can be the difference between a good and bad practical experience.
6. Be aware of the law and your responsibility
Being a teacher is amazing and rewarding, but it is also a lot of hard work and responsibility. You are now legally responsible for the students in your care. Make sure you know what the procedures are in an emergency. If you're on break duty, what do you do if a child falls and hurts themselves? Where is the nearest First Aid kit? How do you get hold of gloves? Who do you call if you are not trained in first aid?
7. Take ownership of YOUR learning
Not all practical experiences are created equal. Sometimes you get the chilled teacher who is happy for you to take over their class and will not have anything to do with it, other times you have the teacher who is unwilling to let you teach even a single lesson because you might scar their students for life. Both situations are problematic. You need something in the middle where you are given some freedom but also some guidance.
If you find yourself in the second scenario, try not to take it personally. Try to consider your mentor's perspective. He/she doesn't know you or your teaching from a bar of soap. She might be asked to give up her Matric English class that she feels she's falling behind in or he might be under pressure to teach a specific piece of content in a specific way. Don't take no for an answer. You need to teach! Either approach it slowly - maybe offer to take a junior class first to prove yourself and work your way up to the Matrics - or explain to the teacher that you understand the pressure they are under and suggest that it may be better to transfer to another teacher. Either way, go about it tactfully. Relationships are important!