This post aims at helping candidates preparing for a training course. It is addressed to teachers who have never undergone any official training, either pre-service teachers or more experienced ones. It may prove especially useful to teachers who have only had traditional academic experiences and never been on a hands-on, practical course. What makes a practical course different from more traditional course formats including lectures and written exams is the element of teaching practice. It is therefore very apposite to take a closer look at it. So, let’s get started!
Usually referred to as TP, teaching practice is a series of actual lessons with real students in a real classroom, either a physical or an on-line one. It can range from informal micro-teaching sessions of 15-20 minutes, where the other trainees on the course may play the part of students, to formally assessed sessions of up to 60 minutes, which play a crucial role in your passing a course. Obviously, the first kind of TP can prepare you for the second. Most of my comments below aim at describing the more formal kind of TP.
Typically, the students are non-native speakers of English, often teenage or adults, in a monolingual or multilingual setting. They may be attending regular English classes, or they may be offered a free English course on which they will be mostly taught by the trainees. In the first case, you may or may not be the regular class teacher, but you will have to work closely with the regular class teacher anyway, in order to make the best of the situation and integrate the TP into the series of regular lessons seamlessly. This means you may choose to do your TP with one of your own classes, if that is feasible within the course limitations. In any case, however, you will have to teach at least two different levels of instruction. In the second case, which is becoming more and more common, you will have to teach a class which you have – at best – seen only once or twice being taught by an experienced teacher. If you are also being assessed at the time, which you will most probably be, you can understand that the stakes can be high and stress levels may go through the roof.
More often than not, you will have been given specific materials to work with, e.g., a page off a coursebook, and you will have received support by your course tutor on how to prepare a lesson plan via written notes and/or a tutorial. You are also encouraged to work with the other trainees on the course when preparing your lesson plan and adapting your materials. However supportive your tutor may be though, you will probably feel uncomfortable being observed while you teach, especially if it’s your first time!
The obvious answer to that is that teaching is a craft, a practical trade. You can learn only so much from talking about it and analysing it but, unless you actually do it, you can never get the full picture of what it entails. So, what are the practical aspects of teaching that TP offers insight to?
- Teaching techniques, of course.
- Classroom management skills: an actual lifesaver in real classrooms.
- First-hand experience of the actual language problems real learners are facing.
- Some awareness of how different learners learn: the skills and strategies involved and the ensuing challenges.
Beyond developing these core aspects of teaching, TP also has a more dynamic character: it focuses on progress throughout the course by providing a scaffolding process for you to build upon until you feel more confident with handling lesson planning and actual teaching more independently. This is why the actual objectives of TP change as we move on towards the end of the course.
At the beginning, TP mainly aims at:
- Allowing you to simulate a real teaching situation under sympathetic supervision and support.
- Giving you the opportunity to try out new techniques.
- Getting you used to being observed, as it is common practice in many teaching situations.
- Exposing you to learners at a range of levels so that you develop some understanding of the different approaches required.
- Developing a sense of responsibility for your learners.
As the course moves on, more objectives come to play:
- Offering you the opportunity to have your teaching evaluated and to receive constructive criticism.
- Becoming more independent as a teacher by gradually increasing the freedom to make your own choices.
- Helping you develop your own teaching style.
- Developing self-evaluation and self-awareness.
- Assessing your progress on the course.
That last point is the one most trainees focus on, often at the expense of all these other benefits mentioned above. This “tunnel vision”, albeit quite understandable, can create two very common misconceptions:
Needless to say, this is wrong. TP is an opportunity to experiment and find your boundaries. Your tutor should let you know that and should also be very clear as to what you need to focus on, to begin with. For example, no tutor expects a perfect – or even a fully completed – lesson plan in your first TP! The idea is that you make short achievable steps from TP to TP, with the full support and guidance of your tutor; and, above all, that you learn from your mistakes. Mistakes are not viewed as definitive proof of failure but rather as an opportunity for growth. You may fail again and again but everything is going to be alright as long as you show that you are learning from your mistakes and that you are improving.
There are actually three channels to record your progress on during such a training course:
–> Self-reflection and self-evaluation, by keeping regular written records and discussing them with your peers and tutor.
–> Feedback from observers, either your tutor or your peers or both. Many useful insights can be gained by comparing notes on a and b.
–> Feedback from your students, e.g., on what worked for them and what didn’t, on what their interests and problems are, etc.
Finally, I’d like to close this post with a list of what you should expect after completing a series of well-designed TP sessions:
- Increased awareness of the language areas you are teaching.
- Increased awareness of what helps learning in a particular class and what doesn’t.
- Control of basic classroom management skills (giving instructions, making corrections, etc.)
- Ability to present, practice and revise specific areas of grammar, vocabulary, etc.
- Ability to use activities and texts to develop language skills, e.g., listening, writing, etc.
- Ability to use your coursebook to plan a series of lessons relevant to what your students need to learn.
- Ability to help learners develop awareness of how they learn and what learning strategies suit them best.
- Ability to think critically and creatively about your own lessons.
Bibliography: TEACHING PRACTICE, Gower, Phillips & Walters, Macmillan, 2005
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