Aspiring educators spend years in universities studying theories, attending lectures, writing research papers, and reading textbooks to prepare themselves for a teaching career. While these studies provide a solid theoretical understanding of the field, there is a gap between academic preparation and the challenges of a real-world classroom. It is possible to bridge this gap by introducing the student to two supervised classroom learning experiences, commonly referred to as a practicum and student teaching.
What is a Practicum?
A practicum is a precursor to student teaching. David Recine from Magoosh, a leading provider of exam preparation services, aptly describes a practicum as “experiences that teacher trainees have in the classroom before they take on the full range of responsibilities required for student teaching.” A practicum is part of an on-campus course that also includes lectures, readings, and homework. The student is assigned to a K-12 school and supervised by a mentoring teacher. Depending upon the university, the time spent in a K-12 classroom could range from several hours a semester up to 15 hours per week.
What are the Characteristics of a Practicum?
The primary tasks of the education major are to observe how experienced teachers perform their job duties-to correlate field practices with academic training, to take notes, and to ask questions of the supervising mentor outside the classroom.
Sometimes the trainee becomes involved in limited classroom activities, such as working one-on-one or with a small group of children, providing initial field exposure to differences in learning styles. Some mentors encourage the aspiring teacher to develop lesson plans or to teach part of a lesson plan. Feedback is ongoing since the experienced teacher closely monitors the practicum.
There may be variations in the way practicums are structured. For example, the student may be assigned to more than one school, or to several teachers within a school. Also, those perceived as high-potential trainees may be given slightly broader responsibilities.
Since the field work is part of an on-campus class, the student is expected to meet all the requirements of the supporting curriculum.
What is the Difference Between a Practicum and Student Teaching?
A practicum is part of a class, whereas student teaching is a class. The online teaching resource center, ThoughtCo, notes: “Student teaching is designed to allow pre-service teachers to practice and refine their teaching skills in a regular classroom experience. Student teachers work closely with college supervisors and experienced teachers to learn how to promote student learning.”
Student teaching encompasses a broader scope of responsibilities than a practicum. The student is expected to assume all teaching responsibilities in the classroom, as well as to engage in non-classroom duties such as developing lesson plans, grading tests and homework, interfacing with parents, and attending staff meetings and school events.
Student teaching is structured to simulate a professional work environment. The student is expected to apply their skills and experience in a more independent setting. By being assigned to a supervisor, the reporting relationship is more akin to a professional workplace.
Why a Two Step Process?
Transitioning from the academic to the professional world can be daunting. By participating in a practicum, the student can ease into this transition, gaining confidence and poise, before assuming the full responsibilities associated with student teaching.