If you’re a pre-service teacher gearing up for your first teaching placement, there are a few things you should keep in mind. This can be a stressful time, and there are lots of things that are going to be on your mind. It’s important to remember though that this is an opportunity to learn!
Teaching is a set of skills that are impossible to truly learn from a book. Being out in a school actually watching and teaching is the best way to get better at teaching. You’ll have the chance to observe experienced teachers in the classroom, as well as try out your own teaching strategies in a safe and supportive atmosphere.
Where and how you do your teaching placements can have a profound impact on the rest of your career1, so here are 10 tips to make the most of your teaching placement!
1. Arrive early
Arrive early on the first day and introduce yourself to your supervising teacher. The relationship that you have with your mentor teacher is essential to a successful placement, and it is well worth building this relationship as quickly as possible.
This is a great opportunity to get to know each other and set expectations for the placement. You will also be able to ask all of your questions about your classes, subjects, and anything else that you need to know before you get started. It is impossible to be truly prepared for your placement before you get there on the first day, so getting there early will help you get that final preparation done.
The other reason why it is important to get there early is that you will probably have to sign in, get any keys that you need, and do some general admin. You don’t want to run into bad traffic and have these essential things cut into your day.
2. Be prepared
Once you’re in the school and are starting to wrap your head around what you’re doing, it’s important to be prepared for each teaching session. It is essential that you plan each of your lessons in advance; many experienced teachers may not have a detailed written plan for every lesson, but this is an important part of the learning process.
This thorough planning will help you make the most of the teaching time you have with your students. You want to make sure that you’re thinking about all of the elements of your practice and how they fit into each of your lessons. Making sure that you write detailed lesson plans means that you can cross-check and make sure that your lessons are going to be as good as they can be.
In addition to this, many universities require documented lesson plans so that they can give you credit for doing your placement. Planning lessons is an essential skill for a teacher, and they are likely to want to see evidence of this planning. They may have a particular template or have criteria that they want you to use as well, so make sure that you check this before you begin.
Your mentor teacher may also want to see your lesson plans before you begin. Having a pre-service teacher can be stressful for some mentor teachers, especially if they need to hit certain curriculum points or gather particular evidence that their students are improving over the course of the year. Planning all of your lessons in detail before you teach each lesson will mean that your mentor can give you feedback before you start, and they can rest assured that you’re looking after their students.
3. Make use of the resources available to you
Each school will have a huge bank of resources that will be available for you to use. The school library and any of their online resources can be a great place to start when you’re beginning your planning for a particular lesson or looking for ideas.
If you haven’t been shown where all of your school’s shared resources are, definitely ask your mentor teacher. Most schools will have common resources that teachers can take and alter to fit their classes. This makes the process a lot easier and will help you create engaging and effective lessons and fit in with what the other students at the school are learning.
Before you finish your placement, make sure that you ask if you can download some of these resources to take with you. You may need to ask in case the school is not happy for you to take the resources that they’ve built, but if you are able to take copies, bring a hard drive on your last day and download as much as you can. These resources are incredibly valuable and will at the very least leave you with a backup plan if you ever need one.
4. Take advantage of opportunities to observe other teachers in action
This is a great way to learn new teaching strategies and gain insights into different teaching styles. You should be observing your mentor teacher for at least a few days, but asking other teachers in the school if you can observe their lessons will give you a much broader perspective.
Most teachers will be more than happy for you to come into their class to observe them. I would recommend that you observe as many lessons as possible, even if you have no plans to teach the subject or year level. When you graduate and are starting to look for jobs, you may find that you win one teaching in an area that you would never expect. It is also a great way to gain some perspective on the breadth of teaching in a broad range of contexts.
5. Be proactive in seeking feedback from your supervising teacher
This will help you identify areas for improvement and make the most of your placement. Your mentor should be giving you feedback after each lesson, which may take the form of a few notes that they’ve written as you were teaching or as a quick conversation about what went well and what you can improve on.
Having a conversation is essential, as this is where you will discuss your ideas for the next steps to improve your teaching as well. It is well worth asking your mentor teacher for formal notes as well, which can happen at the end of each week.
Again, having a formal record of feedback and conversations with your mentor teacher may be a requirement of your university. Check beforehand what your university actually requires, but having a written record is also important for you to have a record. You can go back and read these notes later in your placement or even after it’s finished, and it might be nice to look back on this feedback in five years’ time to see how far you’ve come!
6. Use your teaching placement as an opportunity to build relationships
Building relationships with your students can be the most challenging, yet the most rewarding part of teaching. You will always remember the relationships that you built with your first class, and this is a good way to practice and get used to this process.
It is also a great opportunity to build relationships with other teachers and other schools. Many people keep in touch with their mentor teachers for many years after their placements, and they can be an important contact to touch base with and ask for advice as you enter the profession.
Many teachers also get their first contracted, full-time position at the same school where they did their teaching placement at. Building good relationships will mean that you end up with a good referee for any jobs that you apply for, and perhaps even your first teaching job.
7. Keep a positive attitude throughout your teaching placement
It may be difficult, after all this is a stressful time. You are very likely to be completely out of your depth, and you’ll likely struggle with certain aspects of teaching as you are learning. Keeping a positive attitude may be a challenge, but it is important that you try.
To begin with, it will make the experience more enjoyable for you and your students. Your students will be able to tell if you’re stressed or upset, and this can be contagious in a classroom. Being able to stay calm and positive will actually make your job managing your classroom a lot easier, as well as improve your students’ learning.
Being positive will also leave a better impression on your mentor and your school, which can lead to some wonderful opportunities down the line.
8. Be open to trying new things
This teaching placement is an opportunity to experiment with different teaching strategies and find what works best for you. Test out all of the things that you’ve been learning about at uni while you have a mentor teacher in the room to help if things go wrong!
Have a go at teaching students that are at a different year level, or teach a few lessons in another subject area. This is a great opportunity to test these out, and you’ll learn a lot when you’re out of your comfort zone.
9. Make sure to debrief with your supervising teacher at the end of each day
This will help you reflect on your teaching experiences and learn from them. Reflection is a core skill for a teacher, and it is important that you learn from your students and every lesson that you teach.
Being able to debrief is important for teachers as this is a stressful job, and it helps to gain some perspective and advice. Even if your conversation is not strictly about your teaching and how to improve, it can be nice to discuss the challenges and obstacles that you encountered during the day, and just learn that you’re not alone!
10. Get involved as much as you can in the school community
You may be hesitant to put extra things on your plate during your teaching placement, but there is a lot more to being a teacher than teaching lessons. If you get the opportunity, going to a school play or doing some parent-teacher interviews will give you invaluable experience and insight into the many various facets of being a teacher.
Placement is a critical time for any teacher. This is the time where you’ll truly get a taste of what it’s like to be a teacher, and where you’ll do the most learning. It’s important to go into your placement ready to make the most of your time and utilise every opportunity that you’re presented with.
By following these tips, you’ll be sure to make the most of your teaching placement and set yourself up for success in your teaching career!
How were your teaching placements? Do you have any tips to add to the list? Are you about to start placement and are feeling a little anxious? Leave a comment down below!
1Ronfeldt, M. (2012). Where should student teachers learn to teach? Effects of field placement school characteristics on teacher retention and effectiveness. Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, 34(1), 3-26.