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Teaching practice vital in teacher training

teacher reading for school children

LAST week I met a third year university student who is studying to be an educationist. She had just finished doing her teaching practice at one of the secondary schools in Lusaka. When I asked her what it felt like to be in a school environment where she was fully involved in teaching pupils for close to three months, she talked about her experience with great satisfaction.
Jane (not her real name) said, “It was interesting and I enjoyed myself throughout my stay at the school. It was great interacting with professional teachers and, of course, with the young people we were teaching. The man under whom I worked, the one who was my guide in all my activities within the school, really showed me a lot of respect and guided me very well. He is one of the reasons I enjoyed the teaching practice. I never thought I would pursue the teaching career, but I’m now considering sticking to the real teaching world.”
Her resolve actually captures the essence of teaching practice: to ‘immerse’ student teachers into the real world of school so that they are prepared to make the transition from trainees to professionals. In fact, it is an integral component of teacher training. It gives students an opportunity to experience the actual teaching and learning environment. Menter (1989) says teaching practice “…provides for the real interface between studenthood and membership of the profession”.
However, it is true that as they begin their internship, the new experience itself creates a mixture of anticipation, anxiety, excitement and apprehension in the student teachers.  There is the excitement of being part of a real classroom setting, of getting to know the pupils, of planning one’s work and organising all classroom tasks. For many, there could also be doubts about their ability to cope with unfamiliar situations, controlling and managing learners or establishing a working relationship with the rest of the teaching staff and the supervisor or mentor. Such mixed feelings may contribute to the career path that one may decide to follow after they are done with their studies.
Students that fully enjoy teaching are those who are conversant with the subject content. These are the ones who are fully prepared and able to translate theory into practice. Of course, such preparedness should be complemented by an awareness of the industry’s code of conduct, professional ethics, duties and responsibilities of educators. While engaged in the actual practice, they are also expected to handle themselves in a professional manner, even as they judge the professionalism of the educators in the schools.
When student-teachers are formally introduced to staff members and learners – in fact, they must be introduced as teachers, not as students – it serves as the first step in building self-confidence, trust and acceptance in the profession. If, on the other hand, they are not introduced accordingly, they may be affected psychologically as they would feel they are like strangers in the school set-up; devoid of the sense of belonging. Once they feel alienated right from the outset, the result would be reduced effectiveness of the teaching practice itself and student teachers’ attitude towards the teaching profession would be negatively affected.
From Jane’s testimony, a good reception from the headmaster and teachers at the school where she was attached contributed to her positive attitude towards teaching. She puts it this way: “On the first day when the five of us, student teachers, reported at the school, we were warmly introduced to the teachers. They took us to the classes where we introduced ourselves to the pupils. The pupils were told to respect us. We were introduced as teachers, not students, and this, to a large extent, influenced the way the teachers and pupils related to us.”
What would be termed an unfortunate situation is one where the ‘veterans’ take the newcomers as ‘cheap tools of convenience’; seeing them as personal assistants. If one abandons his or her class completely just because there is a student teacher around, or if they are always sending the student teacher to control learners in the corridors, or giving them personal assignments, that is unprofessional and it will surely demoralise the trainee teacher.
Finally, student teachers are supposed to be motivated by ensuring that they get involved in all aspects of the school. They should never be treated as ‘second-class citizens’ in the school. After all, they must also give some valuable input in everything that takes place within the school during their teaching practice.

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