School Placement Top Tips
Get top tips on how to ace your next school placement from Lucy, our international Science Teacher. Lucy is currently living and teaching in the UK.
“Starting placement at a new school is nerve racking! As a pre-service teacher, you want to impress with your aptitude for teaching and learning. All the while, trying to form a fast relationship with your mentor and the staff at the school. Additionally, you’ll be balancing work shifts, your social life and lesson planning. All of a sudden, there doesn’t seem to be enough hours in the day. However, five hours of sleep, plus three coffees somehow gets you through!
Placement is always a strange period of my life. Finding the right balance between it all is tricky, especially since these placements may provide opportunities for the future. Having said that, It’s a good thing that it’s tricky. The experience shows you what it’s like to be a real teacher. To be able to balance a schedule and a variety of students all at once. Once you are organised, placement is one of the best experiences you can have as a pre-service teacher! Trust me.
Whilst, I’m not an expert, I have been on placement at seven different schools, and through this, I have found some top tips and tricks that might help you too. My placement experiences have been extremely varied – schools, countries, policy, age groups, teachers and attitudes, all contribute to the diversity and culture of the school. Fitting into this niche community can be difficult but is definitely achievable. Read on for my top tips!
Tip 1: Building Relationships with Mentors and Staff
I’ve had a wide range of different mentors over the course of my placements. Whilst teaching in England, I was lucky enough to have a mentor who really welcomed and supported me. She was open and honest with her feedback, allowing me to use her advice to build my confidence and improve my practise. Having a mentor like that is fantastic for developing your skills as a teacher. We also worked in a tight-knit science department, which created a strong community base for the teachers.
However, I have had mentors that didn’t seem as interested and ones I struggled to connect with for various reasons. In this case, I have found that simply asking for a meeting to discuss your placement is a great way to start building a positive relationship. Not only does this show your initiative and interest in the teaching, but it also allows you to explain your goals and aspirations for placement. This can lead to more beneficial classroom time, enabling your short time on placement to be experience-filled. Furthermore, this discussion will ensure you’re on the same page. Showing your willingness to try and to learn can help to create a more open and successful relationship between you and your mentor.
Finally, talking to other teachers, both in and out of your department, will help you to develop more skills as a result of these interaction. Different teachers will have differing views and ideas that can contribute to furthering your professional development.
Tip 2: Tackling Tricky Behaviour Management Situations
As an undergraduate student on placement, this may be one of the first times you will have to discipline and show consequences for your student’s behaviours. One of the best bits of advice I have received was to “stick to your word”. Be consistent and display to students that you follow through with any claims that you make. Being able to manage bad behaviour, whilst having classroom control, displays your proficiencies as a teacher and leader in the classroom.
Furthermore, I have also been told to avoid a confrontational battle between student and teacher, especially in front of other students. Rather than letting cheeky behaviour turn into a screaming matching the classroom, it’s better to acknowledge the bad behaviour and follow up later in the class at a more appropriate time. This prevents any power struggle between the teacher and student from escalating.
For more professional development and behaviour management tips and tricks, I recommend attending some of Teach In’s free events – you can find details of all events and webinars here.
Tip 3: Gaining Respect in the Classroom
Whilst each teacher has a different approach to teaching, I tend to take an egalitarian approach, where the students are heavily involved and often lead the way. By showing the students I trust them and I’m invested in their learning, as a result, they tend to be more invested in my teaching. I also make sure I take the time to talk to them. Finding out a little more about your students allows them to open up and contribute more in class discussions and activities. Being an Aussie teacher in England brought an element of diversity to my classroom. Students were interested in me and where I was from. Allowing them to get to know me too, helped to build a positive relationship.
Similarly, when setting up classroom expectations, it is always a good idea to link in with the school policy documents. This will ensure consistency throughout your teaching placement. This is not to say that conforming to the previous teacher’s style is necessary. However, finding the underlying, and at times unspoken, principles of the classroom, and adhering to them, may be the best place to start.
One of the things I have found the most challenging is being seen as a professional, both by students and teachers. In most cases, student teachers are closer in age to the students than they are to their mentors. Students can pick up on this and may use it to your disadvantage. However, showing students and teachers alike, that you are professional, both in and out of the classroom, may help to prevent behavioural issues. Again, following the school policy and classroom rules is a great place to start.
Tip 4: Getting out of your Comfort Zone
School placements are your opportunity to try something new! Whilst being a pre-service teacher generally means you have less experience, you do have a fresh pair of eyes (and a fresh brain!). This can lead to some innovative and creative new ideas. Use this opportunity to be inventive. Even if your ideas don’t work, there will always be something to learn from the experience!