10 Tips for student teachers on placement

I was recently asked by a reader if I could give my tips for surviving teaching placement, practicum, teaching experience. Having gone through the experience myself and having watched two sets of student teachers come into our school, I’m not too far removed but I also get the benefit of seeing part of the other side of the fence. However I’m not at the point where I have enough experience to mentor a student teacher so I can’t give the Associate Teacher’s point of view.

1. You are there to learn
Going into placement you have two what might seem like mutually exclusive goals. On one hand, you want to show what an awesome teacher you are to your Associate Teacher/School and get that elusive permanent teaching job post-graduation. But on the other, you are there to learn. Here’s my advice, stick with the former and the latter will take care of itself. Soak in as much as you can, ask questions, make mistakes. Lots of them. The most important quality student teachers need on placement is teachabilty. Nobody expects you to be perfect when you arrive. Being able to show improvement and take on advice is what will impress your associate teacher.

2. No staying out late on a school night
A student teacher from another institution once showed up to my placement school very hungover. While it’s not against the rules to have late nights on the town, it really isn’t a good look on placement and you will be judged negatively on it.

3. Building relationships with your students
There’s a fine line to be trod between being liked and being respected. Often student teachers try to be buddies with the kids and then find classroom management is a challenge once they take full control. By all means be friendly with your students but remember that this different from being their friend. The kids will test the boundaries just by your mere presence. They’ll want to know if the no-nos with their own teacher are a yes with you. Make sure you find out from your associate how behaviour is managed in your school and if you are unsure in any situation, ask your associate teacher.

4. Observe other teachers doing their thing. Ask them lots of questions.
While the bulk of your time will be spent in your Associate Teacher’s placement, do make sure you that you arrange time to see other teachers doing their thing. If you are teaching juniors, ask to see a Year 5/6 class. If you are at an intermediate, be sure to spend some time in the specialist classes. Ask lots of questions. Teachers by their very nature are usually keen to share their knowledge with others.

5. Keep up with your paperwork
Universities love paper. Every week you’ll likely have some sort of form to fill in to keep your university happy. It’s really important that you familiarise yourself with the paperwork requirements of your placement and make sure that you keep yourself up to date.

6. Never say ‘no’ to an opportunity to teach
If a teacher is handing over control of the classroom to you, it means that they trust you. Yes things might go horribly and you will have your share of bad days. Even taking the roll will help you learn and grown into a better teacher. It’s not unheard of for student teachers to be called on to cover a class but strictly speaking you should have a registered teacher in the room with you.

7. Planning
A source of grizzling about student teachers from associates often comes from planning. No teacher will let you in charge of your class without lesson plans. I think some teacher education providers could do a better job of teaching student teachers how to plan a lesson effectively. However to head off uncertainties in planning ask to see your associate teacher’s template early on and adapt that (with permission) for your planning.

8. Be Professional
In essence your placement is an extended job interview. Dress professionally, be on time, attend all staff meetings. Try and schedule a meeting with the principal of your school during placement. Make sure you have questions prepared in advance to make the most of the meeting.

9. You’re going to get sick
There’s no nice way of saying this schools are vectors of disease. At some point you will get heinously ill and most likely at the most inopportune time.

10. Thank you
It goes without saying that you need to thank your school and associate teacher for the placement. A small gift and a heart-felt card for your associate is probably a good idea. Some sort of morning tea or some offering of food wouldn’t go amiss either.

Anymore tips for would-be teachers?

How forgetting about ‘the teaching’ helped my students and I learn

New Zealand Graduating Teacher Standard 4.c

“Graduating teachers demonstrate high expectations of all learners, focus on learning and recognise and value diversity”

Graduating teachers focus on the learning. It seems like such a simple idea, you can talk about it, read it but actually doing it? That took me a long time.

For my first assignment for Teaching Diploma, I had to write an essay and draw metaphor around my theories of teaching and learning. I got an A for my discussions around learning theory but my metaphor I only ended up with a B, too much focus on the teaching was the feedback.

Did I take it on?

Nope the marker was being nit picky, it wasn’t my fault.

From there that I went into my first Teaching Experience all pumped up to do a good job of teaching  kids. The problem with this approach is that because I spent so much time thinking about teaching I didn’t do much thinking about the learning. I was student teacher with a plan and I was sticking to it! More importantly because I was so obsessed about being good teacher I was afraid to make to mistakes, take risks and ask questions least I be called out as the imposter I most definitely felt like inside.

I passed my placement with good but not great feedback, I wanted to do better but was at a loss. I was taking on the feedback from my Associate Teacher so was open to the idea of learning but I was also way too focused on teaching. But the more teacher blogs I read and twitter chats I participated in, the more I realized what teachers were really interested in wasn’t teaching it was learning.

When the student is ready the teacher will appear.

In this case my teachers were 25 year 1/2 students and their fabulous teacher who would be Associate for my next teaching placement. I freely admitted when I went in that year 1/2 wasn’t my first choice of age group and I had no idea how to teach these young learners. So I stopped focusing on trying to teach and started thinking about learning.

When I found myself completely overwhelmed at the seemingly frantic pace of the teaching programmes I was undertaking  instead of battling on I took a big breath and sloooowed down, deciding from guidance from my Associate that it was better to do a little bit really well rather than a lot not so well. And then the craziest thing happened, I could manage the programme that was causing me so many problems.

But more than anything what I found from teaching year 1/2 is that they really helped me to listen for the learning.  Because the little snippets that sometimes seemingly come out of nowhere have great such great learning moments attached to them ‘why does my xlyophone have 2 Cs?’ ‘Is that snow?’ ‘Why does the equal sign not mean the ‘same as?’  When I stopped frantically trying to teach and really listened to the students, I found the learning moments I never thought I would see.

But more importantly being focused on the learning took a lot of the pressure off me to be perfect. If I make mistake now I don’t think ‘ZOMG I suck I am the worst student teacher ever.’ I think ‘ok that sucked now how am I going to do it differently next time?’

Because it is not a fail it is a





I used to think that if a teacher concentrated on good teaching then the learning would automatically follow. Now I think that if you focus on creating the right conditions for learning the good teaching will flow from that.

And now I wonder why that seemingly simple concept, graduating teachers focus on learning, took me eight long months to learn.

Weekly Reflection: Onwards to the ‘real world’

A chocolate fish for anyone who can name the city where I took the picture (photo by author)

This week marked the end of student teaching for me. I still have another two months left of lectures, assignments and exams left until the end of my course but the practical part of the course now over.  It feels surreal that in the classroom I’ve been assessed as exceeding the Graduating Teacher Standards but I have to drag myself back to uni for another two months. It’s not that I don’t enjoy learning, I just don’t find university coursework for the most part particularly engaging and I’m really going to miss the kids and being in a school. Especially as I had such an awesome placement, my Associate Teacher was fabulous and the teaching staff were so generous with their knowledge.

Reflecting on my learning goals for Teaching Experience Two. They were:

  • Being clearer with communication with learners around learning intentions, also giving effective formative feedback. Learning intentions have come a long way especially now I am co-construction them with the students. I’ve been enjoying the feedback  aspect a lot better and using questioning techniques to get the students to reflect and tell me where their learning needs to go which is a lot better than me telling them!
  • Making the most of ‘teachable moments.’ I don’t feel like I can check that one off but I am getting there.  I find myself listening to the learning far more than when I started however this may a goal which proves to be asymptote.
  • Time management. Eight reading groups and eight maths groups meant I had get tough on my time management. c3 b4 me has helped with teacher distractions and the students with their learning.
  • Asking for direction and guidance from associate. This particular bit of feedback from my last Teaching Experience caused me to really pause to reflect. This time around I made sure that I asked lots and lots of questions and checked in to make sure the relationship was being managed well from my end. Also because I wasn’t there to show I was a good teacher, I was there to learn I felt a lot more confident about asking questions. I will also give my Associate Teacher mad props for being wonderful and generous with her knowledge.
  • Literacy – yet to teach any English classes.  Teaching literacy is something I struggled with a lot initially but now I find myself looking for learning opportunities from both myself and the students.

My development for next year:

  • Better incorporate Te Reo into my practice .
  • Work more on positive behaviour management strategies.
  • Practice running records.
  • Cope better with teacher distractions in order to maximise learning time.

Looking at both my Visiting Lecturer observations and Associate Teacher reports I can easily track the progress I’ve made from my first placement to my second placement which is awesome. I’ve gone from competent/strong on the seven Graduating Teacher Statements up to strong all seven. I didn’t quite manage a clean sweep of strongs on the seven standards in one report but came very close on my last two reports.

With the benefit of hindsight I can see that this placement was exactly what I needed for my learning. At the start I wasn’t too enthused at the idea of teaching juniors. I thought they would be way too difficult in comparison to the older kids who can self manage not to mention you can’t do as much interesting stuff with the juniors. How wrong I was!

More importantly being out of my comfort zone has really helped me with my learning and I found myself loving teaching the year 1/2s. They taught me how to listen, feel, touch, see and sometimes taste the learning. The little ones have brilliant questions and constantly surprise you, there’s never a dull moment in a junior classroom.

Would I want to be a junior teacher?


Though these days I’m not too fussed about year level as I know I can learn and grow no matter the age group, what I am looking for next year is a school which has a great environment to build on my learning. It is amazing to think that the next time I am in a classroom it will be as a Beginning Teacher. Hopefully this will help me in the next two months grind of assignments and exams.

However this week its holidays which I have celebrated in true student teacher style by getting sick. Again.

How to make the most of… Visiting Lecturer Assessments

I’m shamelessly stealing @krivett1 series of posts  How to make the most of ….  and doing a series on topics relevant to student teachers. My first will be on Visiting Lecturer Assessments if only because I’ve just finished my last observations and the experience is fresh in my head.

So without further ado, Visiting Lecturers. They come to watch you teach a session and write a report about it. Of course the whole is more than the sum of its parts so here are my tips:

1. It’s not an observation it is assessment for learning

These assessments have the potential to make or break your teaching career so it is little wonder student teachers approach these observations as a high-stakes test of teaching rather than assessment for learning. What helped me was to start thinking about what I would want my students to do if they were in the same position. I’d want them to show me  what they know so that I can help them. Another words go in with the attitude that you are here to learn.

2. Your lecturers aren’t looking the perfect lesson

You know that old Hollywood adage about never working with animal and children? The reason they say that is that are putting on a show. Your lesson shouldn’t be a show but a snapshot of your teaching. Working with children means there will always be an element of the unpredictable. During one of my observations the classroom door literally came off the hinges while at another some students were not keeping hands to themselves resulting in some tears being shed.  In both cases it wasn’t the incident itself that I was being assessed on but that I quickly responded and bought the class back on track. What your lecturer is looking for is how you respond to those challenges in classroom management not that things go wrong.

3. Teach like your lecturer isn’t there

For my first assessment I didn’t even introduce the lecturer because I had forgotten she was in the room by the time the year 7s came in. Since the students didn’t feel the need comment on the strange person at the back of the room I just carried on. For the littlies it was best to address the elephant in the room, the new person, and then go about my business.  The lecturers aren’t there to see me at my best, just me at my normal.

4. Your lecturers want you to succeed

I get it more than anyone, you want your gold stars from your lesson observation. However basking in your awesomeness with your lecturer will only get you so far in this learning to be a teacher gig. Taking criticism that you might feel unwarranted and turning it around is where the real learning  happens. I took some criticism from one assessment (that I needed to praise students more) which might on the surface seem a bit nit picky and turned it into a strength for the next assessment 2 weeks later. What was the best bit? Getting positive feedback on my praise of students made me feel good about putting in the effort  into this area so now I know important praise is!   So if your lecturer gives you some negative feedback on your observation, don’t get defensive or blame external factors (the students, the lecturer just doesn’t get it, I was feeling sick that day etc.). Start thinking about how you will turn your criticism into a strength by the next visit.

5. Sunlight is the best disinfectant

If you are feeling nervous, then name it. There’s no point in pretending that you are not nervous and then spending the rest of your lesson trying to cover up your nervousness.  So talk about the elephant in the room, it might  make it seem far less big and scary.

6. Be prepared to justify your decisions

What turned my last Visiting Lecturer assessment from a good one into a great one was that I could justify everything I did in the class. From the warm up to why I was using little teddies as counters (or indeed the counters themselves) I knew why I was doing things as much as what I was doing.

7. Teach to your lecturer’s speciality (from a course mate)

If at all possible try and teach the subject that you know your lecturer is teaching so you can get awesome feedback. Two of my Visiting Lecturers were maths lecturers so I taught maths. As a result I got very content-specific feedback that wouldn’t have happened if I was teacher reading or science.

What advice would you give students who are about to have their first Visiting Lecturer Assessments?

Weekly reflection: the worst possible week to get sick

After ending last week on a high I was super duper excited to get back into the classroom for week five, I planned up a storm over the weekend and was feeling excited about what lay ahead.

And then I woke up on Monday morning feeling absolutely awful. Despite thinking I merely had a cold which I could work through I had the flu.

This would be quite possibly the worst time my teaching experience to get sick. Week 5 should have been getting my days of teaching practice in  plus I had a Visiting Lecturer observation on Thursday so I really loathed to spend any of the week in bed when I had learning to do. In general my attitude to sick days is that I will only take time off if I have lost a leg or an arm and even then I show up to work with said limb so that my boss can send me home.

I would say I picked this habit up having worked in Asian workplaces  for the last 7 years but in reality I’ve long been adverse to taking sick days. My mother still recalls me getting dressed into school uniform and waiting by the door to go to school even though I was obvoiusly sick. I blame  hippy parents, nothing like tolerant trendy parents to turn your child into a nerd.

I got sent home on Monday

I tried battling through Tuesday only to have my temperature shoot up and my joints in pain. I really  was sick which kept my home Wednesday.

Thursday was the day of the observation and I was still dicey. There was no way I would get through a full day of teaching and my observation was last session. I got sent home for the rest of the day so I had enough gas in the tank to do the lesson.

I needed to be on top of my game because I was teaching maths to not only the maths lectuer but the lecturer who edited the textbook.  The students were so ecstatic to see me I was met with a giant group hug. Got to love teaching the juniors for that! Despite coughing and spluttering over the students and having my voice sound very gravelly by the time the observation was over, my observation netted me five ‘strong’ grades over the seven Graduating Teacher Standards.

I then spent Friday recuperating from Thursday.

However instead of feeling upbeat about an awesome report I’m feeling downcast at not getting much teaching in this week.

Part of it is driven by wanting to get up to minimum amount of full control days. Some students in my course are already up around 20 full control days while I’m currently at 8. I need to get to 16 by the end of my placement. Next Friday the school is partially closed for the World Cup which will cut things a little too close for my liking. Of course the Teaching Experience office knows that students do get sick around this time of year and stuff does come up so in reality the number of days aren’t hard and fast rules just guidelines. The reports I’ve received from my Visiting Lecturers were good and the Associate Teacher one should be good too so even if I’m short on teaching days it isn’t likely to be  a major issue.

I also need to stop comparing myself to others. While I haven’t had has much teaching time, the programmes I’ve been teaching have been incredibly challenging. Managing 8 reading groups and 8 maths groups would likely stretch even an experienced teacher if they weren’t used to it. So I’m perhaps I’m being a little harsh on myself and need to keep an eye on my progress rather than worrying about what other people are doing.

I also need to accept that I’m going to get sick a lot in the next year or so. I thought four years in a Korean school during both SARS and also Bird Flu epidemics had bolstered my immune system. But nope I’m just as suspectible as any new teacher to getting sick.

Still I’m frustrated that my learning was disrupted this week due to sickness.

On the bright side I finally finished Drive by Daniel Pink and polished off Out of Our Minds and the The Dressmaker of Khair Khana during the week so all was not lost.

Weekly reflection: putting bad days in prespective

A famous stop on the Great Ocean Road (photo by author)

August 22 is a bad day.

2 years ago this date was the worst day.

I didn’t know when I took that picture, which I’m sure most readers will recognize as the Twelve Apostles, that I was just a few hours away from what would be the first of many hospital admissions, blood tests, IV lines and instances of thinking to myself ‘are you old enough to be a doctor?’

So perhaps this date was a rather inauspicious one for me to start my first block of full control for this placement.

The first two sessions went ok but by the third session the junior juggle turned into a junior jungle.  I’m not going to sugar coat it, that session was an absolute disaster. Students off task, students excluding others, getting students attention to bring us all back to earth was a herculean task and yes my associate teacher had to step in a few times. The children were in charge in that class and not in a good way.

I went to lunch absolutely dejected and made the worst mistake of all, I complained about how awful that session went with another student teacher. Sure the snarking might have been therapeutic in the short term but I should have put my energy into figuring out how I might be able to improve my situation because there was something I could do differently.

Even though I had a well-planned lesson and some awesome classroom management strategies up my sleeve, I also had something I needed to work on my voice. I am one of those people who has a voice which carries especially when I’m excited.

Having a voice which can cut through chatter definitely has its bonuses in teaching but there was a problem, in the classroom my and my students energy levels were feeding off each other. I can be quite loud and animated which has a tendency to make the students the loud and animated. This got to the point where we had one very loud and animated classroom. Once my voice and energy levels dropped off, the class became a lot easier to manage and I was working with the kids energy rather than against it.

Sure enough by Thursday I was getting through my groups and my associate commented that two of the hardest to reach students in the class were engaged and volunteering in the maths warm up. As more lessons were going to plan, I started to praise not just good behaviour but also thinking and effort. For their part the students were eager to share what they were proud of and what they would differently on the task next time which is the learning conversations I wanted to have with them. I ended my week in a state of teaching bliss, students engaged in different tasks around the classroom with some music on in the background. Something I wouldn’t have imagined as possible on Monday.

Even though I hated it at the time, I’m really glad I had my bad day. We all have moments in the muck of feeling angry and frustrated and GAH why is it all so hard and none of it is my fault grrr, grrr, grrr. Those moments totally are important and necessary but just as necessary is finding a way out of those moments and back to “ok, that sucked. What can I do to deal with it now?”

Even on Monday’s walk home I was mulling over stuff I wanted to do the next day, week, month and year despite being absolutely exhausted which is a very good sign. By Friday then events of Monday had quickly faded into the past and I spent 2 hours after school leaping around to Lady Gaga at the gym when by all rights I should have been collapsed on a sofa somewhere after my first week of full control in the juniors.

I also think that bad days also have another purpose. They serve as a reminder that learning is messy, hard and much like time not a linear process. There are hours of my life which I remember better than I do entire years, conversely events that seems like a huge deal at the time can quickly fade into a hazy memory.

This time last year I was trudging the streets of Philadelphia with the events of the Great Ocean Road  still very much dominating my thoughts. This year it didn’t actually hit me that Monday was the day until about 9.30 that evening when Facebook’s new feature of posting old status updates bought the events of August 22, 2009 sharply back into focus. A few tears were shed for the possibilities of a different August 22, 2009 and then I went to sleep knowing that except for this post I probably won’t remember August 22, 2011 as a bad day.

But I will remember to keep my voice down.

Weekly reflection: Making the most of teachable moments

New Zealand Graduating Teacher Standard 4.a

Graduating teachers draw upon content knowledge and pedagogical content knowledge when planning, teaching and evaluating.

One problem I’ve been mulling over for the last few months is making the most of teachable moments. I know that there are moments when teachers need to, in the words of my former eduction lecturer John Hattie, just shut up and let the learners learn. However there are also teachable moments in the classroom when teachers need to step forward and take an idea or question for a ride with your learners to see where it goes.

But how does a teacher know the difference?

Is it this where the idea of the natural teacher comes from? Natural teachers ‘just know’ when to shut up and listen but also when to speak up and the rest of us spend years trying to learn something that simply can not be taught.

You either ‘got it’ or you don’t?

The reason I bring this up is because on Monday afternoon it snowed in Auckland for the first time in nearly 80 years and I completely dropped the ball on a teachable moment. At the time I was busy trying to teach a handwriting lesson and the children’s backs were to the windows. The students probably wouldn’t have noticed what was going on outside had my Associate Teacher not piped up ‘look out the window children, what’s that?’

Graupel (Image used under creative comments licence)

Once handwriting was put down for a moment the room was immediately a buzz and I quickly grabbed my camera to take video footage of the snow and the children’s reaction to it. I’m glad I did because when I was reviewing the footage later, I noticed a small teachable moment amongst the excitement, ‘is that snow’ a little voice asked? As it turned out it was something called graupel.

The children’s story’s this week for writing were amazing, they were animated and used highly expressive vocabulary. The class went nuts at the video I made of the children’s reaction’s to the graupel moreover the students were hugely excited at the prospect of someone capturing their stories on video giving the possibility of a far wider audience than the readers of their exercise books.

As it turned out the graupel was a teachable moment for me. I was bogged down in the nitty gritty aspects of writing, the forming letters, that I had lost sight of the reasons why we write. I think children are no different from adults in their desire to want to share their feelings and connect with others. Yet I wonder if our education system spends way too much time focusing on the mechanics of writing at the expense of the authentic experiences and audiences that inspire all of us to write.

Despite having a great visiting lecturers assessment, I spent another week plagued by doubt. Would I ever be able to judge a teaching moment without my Associate in the room to sound the alarm ‘danger Will Robinson you are missing a teachable moment.’

And then sure enough one popped up.

I was doing a brainstorm around the language associated with the +, -, = signs. I was impressed that alongside more and give, the students managed to hit on language like fatter and upgrade for the plus sign. But then when it came to the equals sign a student piped up that  the sign meant “the answer is.”

I immediately knew that this was one of the mythical teachable moments I had been looking for. One student said it, which meant there might be more that think it. More importantly having taught algebra to a group of enrichment Year 8 students I knew that students misconceptions about what the equals sign means causes problems later on.

So I decided to have a quick mini-lesson on why equals does not mean ‘the answer is.’ I used materials, I used images and finally a moment of genius desperation I got the group to stand on one leg. By this stage the students were undoubtedly convinced that their teacher had a touch of the crazy, what on earth could standing on one leg have to do with maths? But there was a method behind my madness.

Each of the children had their arms out and when I asked them why sure enough they answered that they need to put their arms out to balance. I told them that the equals sign was like a balance, what is one side of the equals sign must be the same as the other. I then asked the students what would happen if they took the other leg off the ground and they responded that they would fallover, which I explained is kind of what happens when what is on one side of the equals sign is not the same as the other.

We started playing with our materials again when one of the children piped up that 1+1=2+0. What an awesome learning moment I sowed the seed of an important mathematical concept and maybe, just maybe, I’m not as blind to teachable moments as I thought.