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Tips for Practicum Students and Student Teachers

Tips for Practicum Students and Student Teachers

While each college or university will have guidelines for practicum students and student teachers, the suggestions given here could also prove useful.

  1. Always arrive on time or even early. Stay as long as the teacher or later. Often these are the only times you will have to discuss children, make curriculum decisions, and get feedback on how you are doing. If you must be absent, offer to make up the time somehow. Work out a plan with the classroom teacher and university supervisor. Excessive absenteeism may be grounds for dismissal.

  2. Be sure you are covered by liability insurance. This is usually available for a small fee through student membership in professional teacher organizations such as the National Education Association (NEA) or the American Federation of Teachers (AFT). You may be covered by a "rider" on a homeowner's policy or other private insurance. At no time should a student "substitute" for the regular teacher. You should be under the supervision of the classroom teacher at all times. While the teacher may leave the room for short periods, you are not qualified to take over that teacher's role. If the teacher must be absent, a qualified substitute should be in the classroom with you.

  3. You are considered a teacher when you are practicing in centers and schools. Teachers are professionals, so wear appropriate clothing. Take your cues from the other teachers. Clothing should be neat and clean. Skimpy blouses, shirts, shorts, or dresses are not appropriate. Be sensitive about wearing clothing with slogans that might project an unprofessional image.

  4. Each state sets up its own code of ethics for teachers. Find out what the code is in your state. The following tenets that Minnesota teachers must uphold (Minnesota Board of Teaching 1978) are paraphrased here:

    1. Professional conduct means that teachers will be nondiscriminatory in all dealings with both children and adults.
    2. Teachers must protect children from conditions harmful to health and safety.
    3. Teachers must maintain confidentiality. Information about individuals will only be disclosed when there is a compelling professional purpose or when required by law.
    4. Teachers shall not use professional relationships with students, parents, and colleagues to private advantage.
    5. A teacher shall delegate authority for teaching responsibilities only to licensed personnel.
    6. A teacher shall not deliberately suppress or distort subject matter.
    7. A teacher shall not knowingly make false or malicious statements about students or colleagues.
    8. A teacher shall accept a contract for a teaching position that requires licensing only if properly or provisionally licensed for that position.

  5. Become familiar with the school's philosophy and rules. If there is a handbook, ask for a copy. If you don't know, ask for clarification of how certain problems are to be handled.

  6. Make a name tag for yourself with your name and your college or university affiliation-for example, "Sandy Siegal, Student Teacher, Anderson College." This helps the teachers, children, and parents know who you are. You could also prepare a set of name tags for the children in your group or class. Infants and toddlers are less likely to tear them off if they are safety-pinned to the back of their clothing. Older children will enjoy having a souvenir to take home after you have learned all their names.

  7. Get down to the child's level whenever possible. With very young children, this may mean sitting on the floor. Sit with children as often as possible, particularly during snacks or mealtime. This is a good time to hold conversations and find out more about each one. Kneel or sit when helping them on with coats, shoes, or boots.

  8. Encourage children to do as much for themselves as they can. Help only when needed or when the task of putting away the blocks, for instance, is rather overwhelming.

  9. Handle the discipline with the children near you. If there is a problem you are unsure about say, "Let's ask the teacher."

  10. Take time to listen to children. The younger the child, the more difficulty they may have in finding the words to express what they want to say. Wait. When you are talking, keep your voice moderated. Instead of yelling to a child on the playground, go to the child and speak in a normal tone.

  11. Handle toileting in a matter-of-fact way. Young children may be so busy that they forget to go to the bathroom. Simply say, "It's time to go to the bathroom now" when they show signs of needing to go. If accidents occur, know where extra clothing is stored and remain calm. Make sure that children wash hands after using the bathroom.

  12. While touching and holding are appropriate with very young children, they may not be desirable in kindergarten and primary grades, where the teacher to child ratio is larger. Be sensitive to the appropriate uses of touch and holding in all situations.

  13. Be prepared to supervise outdoor as well as indoor activities. Dress for the weather.

  14. Although it is natural to find some children more appealing than others, try not to play favorites. Respond to children by attending to their needs, not your own.

  15. Anticipate what needs to be done. Don't always wait for the teacher to ask you to do something. Volunteer to carry out needed tasks outside of school time. Assist the teacher with routine tasks such as copying, making bulletin boards, grading, or reporting grades. However, if these are the only tasks you are asked to do, discuss it with the teacher or your university supervisor--you want to do all the tasks that a regular teacher does.

  16. As much as possible, focus on how the children are doing rather than on your own performance. Get to know the children well so that you can relax and be yourself. In the end, the teacher's abilities are measured by the outcomes for the children. Teachers are accountable for helping children grow and develop and reach their own potential.

  17. Comply with any medical regulations. Some states or individual schools require proof of freedom from infectious disease before you can be a part of the group.

From Jean Billman and Janice A. Sherman Observation and Participation in Early Childhood Settings, ©1997, Allyn & Bacon, pp. 9-11.

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