|Becoming a Primary School Teacher in Trinidad & Tobago, Part 2: Teaching Practice - Experience of Trainees (CIE, 2000, 54 p.)|
|Chapter 3: Teaching Practice - First Round|
The practice teaching exercise is considered by both College staff and trainees to be one of the most important parts of the curriculum delivered to trainee teachers. As one teacher educator put it:
And teacher training to me, the final important factor is your going out there and being able to teach effectively. If you have 10 distinctions but you cannot teach the Infant class or the Junior class or the Senior class that you are attached to, the principal will want to know what we are doing at Valsayn.
Yet, data from the first teaching practice round suggested that a number of factors detract from the effectiveness of teaching practice in preparing teachers for the real world of the classroom. These limitations of the programme include the following:
1. Insufficient coordination of activities between specialist lecturers and lecturers in the PET programme results in disjunctures in instruction given to trainees, and sometimes causes confusion in the minds of these trainees.
2. Inadequate formal communication mechanisms exist to facilitate a process by which the schools which host the trainees are made an effective part of the training programme. Schools often do not perceive themselves as being made an integral part of the process. This may lead, in some cases, to their level of participation being limited to simply having the trainees in their classrooms. Even in those cases where schools feel actively involved, adequate feedback mechanisms do not exist to provide the Colleges with a constant source of reliable information about how the trainees function within host schools.
3. The actual practice sites - the schools - provide the trainees with widely varying experiences. All trainees may not have adequate opportunities to practise strategies and skills to which they have been introduced in the programme. Physical conditions range from excellent to poor; cooperating teachers may be involved or detached, helpful or less than helpful. Schools may integrate trainees into their communities to a greater or lesser extent. Hence, trainees may profit more or less from their training experience, based on factors which are extraneous to both the Colleges' curriculum and to their own abilities and understandings.
4. Trainees often come to the practice teaching experience feeling insecure about their ability to plan units and lessons adequately, and many seem to be inadequately prepared to deal with certain pedagogical tasks such as teaching for conceptual understanding and questioning pupils to encourage higher-order thinking. Some trainees were also unclear about some aspects of subject matter content.
5. The consciousness of trainees that they are being assessed from the first practice teaching session appears to lead them to be highly sensitive to the expectations of their supervisors, whose idiosyncratic understandings of what constitutes good teaching practice play a significant role in shaping trainees' strategies and reactions in the classroom. This may, to some extent, diminish their ability to be responsive to the dynamics of the lesson as it progresses, and of the classroom. This is especially likely in situations where supervisors define their own roles primarily as directing trainees and transmitting knowledge, rather than as collaborating with them in constructing meaning about what teaching entails. Hence, a transmission pedagogical model may be given a higher value in the hidden curriculum, even if transactional models (i.e., inquiry and problem-based approaches) and transformational models (i.e., approaches which require trainees to develop their own understandings of how to be responsive to classroom dynamics) are encouraged in the explicit curriculum.
6. The constraints imposed by the timing of practice teaching sessions and by the time needed by trainees to fulfil the required number of practice sessions, often impose a sense of strain on cooperating teachers who feel that their own work is kept back, and that their (own) students' progress is retarded as a result. This, in turn, affects the willingness of teachers to act as cooperating teachers for this exercise.
In spite of the difficulties and shortcomings identified, however, observation of actual classroom experiences suggests that many trainees, even by the end of the first practice session, demonstrate adequate knowledge of the course content in the various subject areas of the primary school curriculum. Other achievements noted were as follows:
1. Trainees were able to establish a good rapport with their pupils and interacted comfortably with them. Generally, trainees were also able to establish a certain level of interaction within their classrooms, and to select and practise classroom management strategies to promote such interaction.
2. All trainees seemed very aware of the importance of selecting and developing stimulating resource materials, and, in some cases, trainees invested a considerable amount of planning time in accessing and developing such materials.
3. Cooperating teachers sometimes expressed a sense that they learned, or were reminded of, alternative approaches to instruction by watching some of the trainees carrying out the practice teaching exercise; some indicated that they wanted to use these approaches in their own practice in the future.