Practice Teaching: A Reflection

“Practice/Student Teaching” in I. ED. and B. ED.: A learning experience or a meaningless ritual?

Ganga Ram Gautam

This is a narrative drawn from my experience as a teacher educator at Mahendra Ratna Campus, Tahachal, Kathmandu.

Background

Practice teaching or student teaching is the obligatory requirement in the faculty of education under Tribhuvan University. In each level i.e. I. ED., B. ED. and M.ED. the students are required to carry out this assignment at the end of the course work. This is to give the students teachers a real classroom experience in teaching so that they can develop the required skills for their classroom teaching later after graduation. The duration is about 4 weeks for I. ED. and 6 weeks for B. ED and M. ED. In order to do this, schools and colleges located in the vicinity of the campuses are requested to provide their classes and the student teachers from the campuses are assigned to teach in them. Each student teacher has to teach at least one class a day with all the preparation and s/he is expected to practice the skills in his/her classroom that s/he learned in the courses. The internal supervisors are assigned to supervise their performance and provide them feed back and sharpen their teaching skills. The final evaluation is carried out by an external examiner at the end of the practice teaching. In addition to this teaching  the students are also expected to do some internship work in the department that includes the preparation of case study of a student and evaluation of the course materials.

As a teacher educator I wanted to see very briefly how the student teachers see this activity as a part of their course work. It is often heard that the practice teaching has now just been a ritual in Nepal and there are complaints from the concerning head teachers and respective teachers that the student teachers come to school just for formality and they do not take this practice very seriously. The teachers teaching in the campuses also say that the practice teaching has not been very useful for the student teachers as it is not being carried out as it should be. If this is true, this will have a very adverse affect not only in school teaching system but also have a negative impact in the life of the student teachers as it is mentioned by (Svincicki, 1996),  “If doctors make worst patients, teachers make the worst students”. I was just curious to find out the current state of student teaching so that the limitations/drawbacks could be found and the suggestions could be made to improve it.

In order to see this practical at a very micro level, I followed a kind of accidental sampling approach. I went to the campus in the morning and stayed in the department. Whoever the faculty members came there in order to sign their attendance I request them to be my respondents as the representatives of the faculty members. I also selected the students in the same manner in which I went to the classroom and told them what I was doing and requested the volunteers to participate in my survey. Since it was not the study for a scholarly work I must confess that I did not follow the standard research procedures in this. My purpose was just to find out how teachers and students see practice teaching and find out some of the immediate key issues related to practice teaching. I prepared a short questionnaire and requested the participants to fill in. Upon my request they did it on the spot and handed it to me immediately.

Key Findings

The Teacher trainers’ teaching experience: 5- 27 years. The students that I selected were B. ED. and M. ED. Students and all of them did their practice teaching in their previous years.  Some of the key highlights of my findings from this snap-shot study are listed below.

Preparation of the student teachers on-campus:

By preparation I mean how the student-teachers are prepared for teaching in the training classrooms in their campuses. This can be reflected in the approach of the teacher training classroom. If the teaching is more student-centred than the students have more room for practising skills where as they have very little practice if the training is lecture based or teacher centred.

Thus, while asking the trainers whether their training was student centred or teacher centred, there was no uniform answer. Among the 10 teachers only four of them (40%) said that their teaching was student-centred. While asking the same question to the students, 57% said that the class was student centred. Actually the students when they were asked to elaborate what they meant by student-centered, they had varied responses.

The method of teaching in the training classroom on-campus was predominantly the lecture for both the faculty and students.

Another question in the preparation was whether or not the student teachers practice the teaching skills in the training classroom in their campuses. While asking this question to the teachers 30% said that they did engage the their students in practice activities but 20% said that they just lectured while 50% said that they sometimes engaged the students in practice activities. Interestingly the students’ response was a bit different. Majority of the students i.e. 83% said that they did not practice the skills in the training classrooms. This clearly shows the lack of practice in the campus classrooms. One can say that the existing training situation seems to be a bit odd, as it does not involve the students in practising the skills in the training classroom.

I tried to dig out this a bit in detail and asked the students why they did not practice the skills in their training classroom and their responses recorded as follows:

  • Large classes in the campus did not allow room for practice
  • Majority of the students did not want to practice the skills in the campus
  • No appropriate environment was created in the campus. But when I asked them what they mean by appropriate environment is, they just could not answer.
  • The faculty and student teachers were not very active in doing things rather they felt comfortable to the usual lecture method
  • Carelessness and irregularity on the part of the students was also a main reason
  • Interestingly the faculty members confessed that they were not prepared enough to share the POWER in shifting their role from a teacher to facilitator could lead to an anarchy in the classroom.

Implementation of the ideas that the student teachers learned in the campus in schools

The success of training can be seen when the trainees are found using the training skills in the classroom practice. In the campus, they learn the skills in theory mainly through the lecture and discussion. I asked them how much of what they learned was actually implemented in the classroom in schools. Obviously, this was not an easy question to answer but I requested them to respond based on their experience. Majority of the faculty and students said that they transferred very little of what they learned. I also tried to find some of the reasons for not being able to transfer the training skills in the classroom. They said that most of the student-teachers did not take practice teaching seriously and there is a sheer negligence on the part of the student teachers.

Frequency of Supervision:

As mentioned earlier, the student teachers are supervised by the internal supervisors during their practice teaching. The supervision is to provide feed back to the teachers and sharpen their teaching skill. One of the objectives of teaching practices as Gower and Walter (1987) put it is, “to provide you with an opportunity to have your teaching evaluated and constructively criticised”. Thus, the frequency of supervision is very important. In this research the frequency of supervision was found very low. The internal supervisors are required to observe at least 3 classes during the practice teaching. While asking them they said that they did supervise 3 times. But while asking the student- teachers there was a different picture. Out of 35 student teachers only 10 of them (29%) agreed with the teachers’ response. Among the rest, 9 students (26%) reported that they were supervised only once and 13 of them (37%) were supervised only twice. Interestingly, 9% said that they were not internally supervised at all. Thus, the supervision system was found to be very weak.

Key issues and challenges of practice teaching:

I was anxious to identify the some of the key issues and challenges in practice teaching. The faculty members had the following observations:

  • Student teachers did not know how to prepare lesson plans: Maybe this is because they were not taught how to do it in the campus or they did not pay attention. The reason behind this was not observed in the response.
  • They had weak language proficiency (English teachers) and therefore could not teach English in schools properly.
  • The faculty members confessed that the Internal Supervisors were not honest in supervision. This shows the lack of sincerity on the part of the teachers.
  • Lack of uniformity among the internal supervisors was a major issue. They say that the supervisors did not give uniform instruction/suggestions to the student teachers which created several problems.
  • Large number of students in teacher training course was another big challenge. Due to this reason the student teachers could not practice the skills in the classrooms.
  • One supervisor had to observe many student teachers in schools located in different places and at the same time the teachers had to teach in the campus as well.
  • Student teachers did not take teaching practice seriously and they took it as a formality and they had a tendency of giving undue pressure to the teachers for giving more marks in their external supervision.
  • On campus teaching (micro-teaching) was not effective as this was also considered by the teachers as a formality.
  • Courses were not taught practically in the campus and the students did not practise the skills in the training situation.
  • Very little or no incentives for the internal supervisors which was also a major contributing factor for the frequency of supervision.
  • Halo effect in the evaluation was also mentioned. The students felt that obtaining marks in teaching practice is a mercy of the internal and external supervisors.

The students brought the following issues and challenges in the forefront:

  • Teaching practice had been used not as a learning experience but as a formality
  • The ideas they learn in the training classrooms were fantastic which are not implementational  in the real classrooms
  • Many students said that the internal supervisors did not supervise properly; they just sat in the class and disappeared after few minutes without giving any comments or feedback.
  • The internal supervisors just criticised what went wrong; they rarely encouraged how the students could build on their strengths.
  • School head-teachers/teachers did not treat the student teachers as they were practising teachers but they behaved them as if they came to schools just to pass their time.
  • Campus teaching was more of theoretical not practical.
  • Lack of enough incentives to the internal supervisors was also mentioned by the students.
  • The schools used the student teachers as the extra teachers and asked them to teach any class which is vacant.
  • Lack of good co-ordination between the schools and campuses made it difficult to handle the situation easily.
  • Schools were not very much co-operative to the student teachers.
  • Lack of classroom management skills in student teachers was yet another issue. Students said that they were not taught in the campus courses.
  • Fixed sitting arrangement in the class did not allow the movements in the class. Thus the teaching did not become student centred.
  • They also accepted that there was a great deal of carelessness among the student teachers.
  • Another serious problem they pointed out was that the Internal supervisors were biased.

Some suggestions for improvement:

Teachers’ Responses:

  • Rigorous training should be given to the student teachers in lesson plan preparation before they go to schools.
  • Uniform lesson plan formats be designed subject-wise and it should be practised well beforehand.
  • Internal supervisors should sincerely and honestly observe the assigned student teachers.
  • Remuneration of the internal supervisor should be reasonable and should be timely paid.
  • Orientation of the internal supervisors should be organised before the practice teaching and proper monitoring of the internal supervision has to be done.
  • Each internal supervisor should be assigned maximum 5 student teachers, if possible all in the same school.
  • Practical courses are to be taught practically.
  • Orientation to the school head-teachers and subject teachers should be held.
  • Refresher training/seminar on practice teaching for the internal supervisors should be organised.
  • Good leadership is ensured to handle this practice teaching business.
  • The campus teacher training should be made student centred as much as possible.

Students’ Responses:

  • Some financial support should be provided for student teachers for materials preparation.
  • Internal supervision has to be made more frequent and it should be made very effective.
  • Full class should be observed and enough feedback should be given to the student teachers by the internal supervisors.
  • Incentives should be made attractive for the internal supervisors.
  • On campus teaching practices should be made meaningful.
  • The government should provide teaching materials to schools so that the teachers in the respective schools also use them in the class so as not to make teaching practice artificial.
  • Demonstration teaching by the trainers could give the student teachers enough idea of how classes are to be carried out.
  • Language improvement course for the English student teachers to improve their own English.
  • Everyone should take this as a serious matter and everyone should sincerely do what they are supposed to do.
  • The evaluation should be done with jointly by internal supervisor and external examiner.
  • Systematic planning has to be made before sending the student teachers to the schools.
  • Harmonious relation between the campus and schools should be established; through orientation to the head teachers and respective teachers.
  • Course in the campus have to be taught practically.
  • Halo effect has to be avoided.
  • Student teachers have to be creative enough in the schools.

Conclusion:

My intention is NOT to put the gloomy picture of the practice teaching but to see it as it is observed by its key stakeholders and draw some implications in our teacher training system. I would like to request the readers to have their thoughts in this issue so that we can initiate some reform in this important area of teacher training. My  purpose is to make teaching practice MEANINGFUL and a RICH LEARNING EXPERIENCE.

Ganga Ram Gautam is a Reader in English Education, Tribhuvan University. He is also President of Nepal English Language Teachers’ Association. He is currently a Humphrey Fellow at Boston University, USA.

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4 Responses to Practice Teaching: A Reflection

  1. ushakiran wagley says:

    I read the whole article “Nepalese ELT practitioners meet the world” and I think I should write something about my experience. Yes, practice teaching is really being a meaningless ritual.
    I’m one of the students of education faculty and now I’m doing my Masters at Kathmandu University. I finished my Bachelor level from Dhankuta Multiple College of eastern Nepal and I also followed the rule of TU and went for practice teaching. When I was in the process of learning to be a teacher, I was not able to ask any question because the class was very large. But later, in the orientation class we were divided in a different group and I was also able to ask question to my teacher.
    The real problems are being created from this point because different teachers are orienting their students from different perspective. At first we deal with one teacher and follow him, but later, another teacher who was not orienting us first comes to my practice teaching class as an internal and external observer. Because of this cause we students are forced to think that teaching practice is nothing but it is a burden for us and we should be victim of different perspectives of our different observers.
    I am also the one who faced the same problem. At first I got the orientation class with an expert of English, I followed his ideas and he appreciates me and gave 19 out of 20. I was so excited at that time, I thought I followed my teacher and he was happy with me. When I went to school in a real situation I always remembered each and every thing that my orientation teacher provided me. I followed the method of teaching; I followed the way of appreciating the students and the way of preparing materials also. The Head teacher was happy with me; the class teacher was also happy with me and all of the students whom I was teaching were also satisfied with me. With this process, I spent my 28 days in that school, but not any internal observer came there to observe my classes.
    At last two experts of Foundation of education came to my class for final observation; one as internal and the as external. They observed my class and scolded me inside the classroom for the way I had prepared the materials; the first lesson plans were not satisfactory for them. What my orientation teacher had asked me to do and I had done but that was not satisfactory for other teachers. They never came before to observe me and instruct me; at last they said I was not a good teacher. My orientation teacher was satisfied with my presentation so he provided me 19 out of 20 but the final observers were not happy, as a result they gave 40 out of 80 to me. This is not only my problem; I think this is for the all. My teaching practice friends who were oriented by the same final observer were benefitted but others were not.
    Now, can you find where the problems are being situated? Who are the real problem creators? Who are holding the teaching practice as meaningless ritual?

  2. Shyam Sharma says:

    The idea of “relevance” of education–including teacher education–is really great subject for us to discuss. I had a positive experience with practice teaching after my one year BEd, but I knew that practice teaching was converted into a mechanical exercise. I think that there are two things that must be added in this discussion. One is the practical difficulty for the department to handle so many students, as Ushakiran has indicated. When a group of one or two dozen teachers who are extremely busy already have to manage this kind of work, they are not able to give it enough attention and time. The other is a general lack of professional seriousness on the part of both teachers AND students. I used to see people who had connections with the “big people” have a much easier time doing thag-thag with the teaching practice, while other trainees (like Ushakiran) working day and night on the training. This is to say that while the administration and teachers must try to make this program more useful by paying more attention, students must also be more serious about it. Considering the general environment and established habits in our education, this is a tall order. For that reason, it is extremely important for us to discuss such problems in public.

    Thank you very much, Ushakiran, for your response.

  3. Ganga Gautam says:

    Dear friends,

    I think Ushakiranji has raised a vey valid point and this is the kind of discussion I and Shyamji, wanted to bring while we posted the article. I believe that it is not a one single issue that is connected to the practice teaching but a cumulative effect of a dozens of problems that include the orientation, micro-teaching, internal supervision and external supervision. We need to elaborate the discussion and bring those problems to fore front so that we all can learn from them to have the desirable impact in the practice teaching. I had similar experience in my B.Ed. and M.Ed. teaching practice and I have also seen the simiral incidents with my students. As an internal supervisor I have had some kind of tensions with some of the external examiners and at some points we had differences in our perspectives. Now it is a high time that we convert these tensions into a professional discussions so that we respect each other’s ideas and creat some common grounds. The main point that we should always remember is that the students should not be the victims of the differences of opinions of the teachers and trainers.

    I am glad to read the comments and thank you Shyamji for your wonderful response to the discussion.
    Ganga Gautam

  4. Bal Krishna Sharma says:

    Thank you Ganga sir for the post. I was thinking of making ‘practicum’ as one of the themes of the issues, but I’m glad we are having discussion now!

    Ushakiranji’s question raises a number of issues. One very serious issue raised is whether the teachers from ‘Foundation of education’, for example, qualify for observing and evaluating the English lessons even when they know little of English pedagogy or they do not understand English at all (in extreme cases).

    When I was a B. Ed. student, that happened to me too. I had a teacher from foundation of education who could not hear my classroom teaching due to a hearing weakness. Luckily, I was not dissatisfied with the final marks, unlike Ushakiranji.

    Being in the shoes of a practicum teacher after 5 years, there were equally overwhelming number of challenges: large number of students, some students not preparing well or doing it as a ritual.

    Having said that I have a very positive experience of practicum as an effective learning tool. I believe I built confidence,learnt classroom management skills and developed content knowledge. Because of my teaching in the practicum, I was hired later by that college. I was curious how Ushakiranji viewed teaching practicum as a learning tool in itself.

    I absolutely agree that we need to work more on making practicum an effective learning experience.

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