Beginner Pre-Service Special Education Teachers’ Learning Experience During Practicum

Table 2

Percentages of PSSE teachers’ responses of the process of SET Practicum (N=33)

Question

Strongly Disagree

& Disagree

%

(n)

Strongly Agree

& Agree

%

(n)

Unsure

%

(n)

No Response

%

(n)

School & Supervisors’ Understanding of the TP Process

  1. I understood the process of practicum when I was briefed during lectures (qs 1)

18.2

(6)

81.8

(27)

0.0

(0)

0.0

(0)

  1. I understood the process of practicum when I experienced it in schools (qs 2)

9.1

(3)

90.9

(30)

0.0

(0)

0.0

(0)

  1. My school’s Cooperating Teacher understood the process of practicum (qs 3)

9.1

(3)

87.9

(29)

0.0

(0)

3.0

(1)

  1. My school Supervisors understood the process of practicum (qs 5)

6.1

(2)

93.9

(31)

0.0

(0)

0.0

(0)

  1. My University Supervisor understood the process of practicum (qs 7)

9.1

(3)

90.9

(30)

0.0

(0)

0.0

(0)

Conveying Correct Information about the TP Process

  1. My school’s Cooperating Teacher conveyed the correct process of practicum to me (qs 4)

12.1

(4)

87.9

(29)

0.0

(0)

0.0

(0)

  1. My school Supervisors conveyed the process of practicum to me (qs 6)

18.2

(6)

81.8

(27)

0.0

(0)

0.0

(0)

  1. My University Supervisor conveyed the process of practicum to me (qs 8)

15.2

(5)

81.8

(27)

0.0

(0)

3.0

(1)

Support from School and University

  1. My Cooperating Teacher provided good support (qs 9)

9.1

(3)

90.9

(30)

0.0

(0)

0.0

(0)

  1. My University Supervisor provided good support (qs 11)

9.1

(3)

90.9

(30)

0.0

(0)

0.0

(0)

  1. My school Supervisor provided good support (qs 13)

6.1

(2)

93.9

(31)

0.0

(0)

0.0

(0)

Rapport with Teacher

  1. My Cooperating Teacher and I had good rapport (qs 10)

9.1

(3)

90.9

(30)

0.0

(0)

0.0

(0)

  1. My University Supervisor and I had good rapport (qs 12)

6.1

(2)

93.9

(31)

0.0

(0)

0.0

(0)

  1. My school Supervisor and I had good rapport (qs 14)

6.1

(2)

93.9

(31)

0.0

(0)

0.0

(0)

  1. I enjoyed my teaching practicum* (qs 15)

21.2

(7)

69.7

(23)

6.1

(2)

3.0

(1)

Factors that helped the PSSE teachers have a positive experience during SET Practicum

The PSSE teachers wrote that they enjoyed their SET practicum experience when their supervisors supported them with good techniques and strategies in organising and delivering their lessons (see Table 3). The PSSE teachers were also receptive to constructive feedback from both their school and the University supervisors, a finding supported elsewhere (Heppner, 1994). Cooperation, mentoring and rapport that the PSSE teachers received from their supervisors were also highlighted as reasons for teachers enjoying their practicum experience (see Table 3). Other studies conducted to investigate teaching practicum of pre-service teachers claim positive associations of their practicum experiences to factors such as having good relationships with their supervisors, support and guidance from supervisors (Boz & Boz, 2006; Caires & Ameida, 2007; Tarquin & Truscott, 2006).

Table 3

Top three most common responses as to why the PSSE teachers enjoyed TP (N = 33)

*If you Agree / Strongly Agree with I enjoyed my teaching practicum, tell us what made your experience enjoyable.

% (n)

27.3 (9)

Provided me with good techniques and strategies in organizing and delivering lesson plans well

27.3 (9)

Obtained constructive feedback from both school and University supervisors to improve my lessons better

21.2 (7)

Received affirmative support such as cooperation, mentoring and rapport received from cooperating teacher, and both school and University supervisors

By contrast, the PSSE teachers who did not enjoy their SET practicum experience cited handling too much paperwork, feelings of stress as a result of being watched, sticking to lesson plans and setting too many objectives (presumably by the supervisors), and not having opportunities with their pupils before commencement of the practicum as reasons. Similarly, Toren and Iliyan (2008) reported that student teachers were stressed as a result of heavy workload during their teaching practicum. This study also showed that a small percentage highlighted that they received limited support from their CTs and schools which led them to have a less enjoyable SET practicum experience (see Table 4).

Table 4

Top three most common response as to why the PSSE teachers did not enjoy TP (N = 33)

*If you Disagree / Strongly Disagree with I enjoyed my teaching practicum, tell us what made your experience not enjoyable.

% (n)

12.1 (4)

Needed to handle too much paperwork for Practicum.

9.1 (3)

Felt stressful during Practicum having being watched, sticking to lesson plan and setting too many objectives but not having enough opportunities with pupils beforehand.

9.1 (3)

Received limited support from school and cooperating teacher to prepare well for Practicum.

Teaching Practicum in Special Schools requires teachers to read, prepare and make sense of the diagnostic summaries of the pupils in their class. In many challenging pupil cases, the PSSE teachers need to discuss with school therapists and parents to get a better understanding of the needs of their pupils. Only after having a better understanding of their pupils, the PSSE teachers will be able to plan the IEPs and lesson plans effectively. Although a relatively small percentage of teachers (12.1%, n = 4) were unhappy, it should not be ignored as we consider that the number of pupils and the type of disability could vary for each teacher. For example, schools may have as many as up to 16 pupils in a class which may be co-taught with a Teacher Aid or Teacher. To assist PSSE teachers with their workload, it is recommended that supervisors limit the number of pupils based on the level of support needs assigned to the PSSE teacher undergoing the SET practicum. Given that the results showed that 9% (n = 3) were stressed when observed (being watched & sticking to lesson plans), the authors recommend that the supervisors convey a feeling of comfort and openness during the classroom observations with the PSSE teachers. The research suggests that when beginner teachers experienced openness with their supervisor s and or mentors, it helped them in their practicum experience (Evertson & Smithey, 2000). Rapport with teachers is critical to set the pace and the atmosphere of the teaching practice. The results indicated that overall, the PSSE teachers had good rapport with their supervisors.

Difficulties that the PSSE teachers faced during their SET Practicum

The PSSE teachers responded that time to both observe their pupils and also develop an understanding of pupils’ educational needs in order to prepare for the appropriate lessons plans was a challenge for them during the SET practicum. In addition, it was difficult for the PSSE teachers to handle pupils who were uncooperative or had diverse educational needs. Of interest, some 22% (n = 7) responded that the transition from learning (at the NIE) to SET practicum was a difficult adjustment they had to make which influenced their SET practicum experience (see Table 5). Currently, the PSSE teachers complete their final year of courses in the DISE in Semester II over 6 weeks followed by the ten-week SET practicum attachment in Special Schools. This process has raised concerns about the difficulties that PSSE teachers faced in the transition from a full-time course into the Special School and which warrants further investigation.

Table 5

Top three difficulties faced by the PSSE teachers during their SET practicum (N = 33)

Tell us about 3 difficulties you faced during the practicum

% (n)

64.5 (20)

Inadequate time to observe pupils to know their educational needs and prepare appropriate lesson plans.

38.7 (12)

Challenge to handle pupils with diverse educational needs as well as uncooperative pupils as they were not used to being observed during Practicum.

22.6 (7)

Disorientation faced in transiting from learning to teaching (working) once returned from NIE to school

Changes that the PSSE Teachers would like to see in new SET Practicum

The PSSE teachers wanted pre-briefings on the expectations of the practicum prior to entering the schools while also allowing for informal observations of their delivery of lessons (57.6%, n = 19; see Table 6). In addition, the PSSE teachers required time to assess pupils’ needs and prepare suitable lesson plans. They also asked for guidance and improved support from both the school and the University in terms of preparation of IEPs and other resources (see Table 6). While pre-briefings in reference to the practicum and preparation of lessons were part of the DISE course, the results suggests that it was not enough for the PSSE teachers and warrants further review. In addition, the overall findings suggests that a review of the SET practicum process in view of the importance of gelling theory with practical experiences within the programme for teacher preparation in Special Education, the authors propose a continuous SET practicum process (see Figure 2).

Table 6

Top Three changes the PSSE teachers would like to see in ‘new’ SET practicum (N = 33)

Tell us 3 things you would like to see take place during the practicum

% (n)

57.6% (19)

Pre-briefings on the expectations of us and also allow informal observations as a discussion platform to give feedback or suggestion to reflect and improve.

41.9% (13)

More time to assess pupils’ needs and prepare appropriate lesson plans.

35.4% (11)

Clearer guidance and better support from school as well as NIE in preparing IEP, lesson plans and other resources.

In reference to Figure 2, the revised SET practicum process for PSSE teachers should spread over the one year full-time DISE course instead of the current compacted 10 weeks. The PSSE teachers will have the opportunity to explore different classroom teaching with their respective CTs while also assisting with the assessment of pupils in the TP I. The PSSE teachers will then be able to observe and get to know their pupils in the class in the Special Schools which they helped assess. The PSSE teacher would then be able to know the pupils better and could also take this class in Semester 2 - TP I (see Figure 2). This process will assist schools to better match pupils, class and level type with the PSSE teacher and CTs thus reducing the stress of all those involved in the revised SET practicum. The PSSE teachers will be able to settle better into the revised SET practicum as they will be at their respective schools on a continuous basis through their training and not only at the end of their courses. It is hoped that this continuous practicum process will help diminish the stress of transition anxiety from a full-time course into SET practicum. In addition, given that the PSSE teachers will be in contact with their respective schools throughout their training, they will be able to share and discuss the problems in relation to observations made in the classrooms with their course mates, brainstorming on effective teaching strategies for classroom management in relation to different disabilities both at the school and University.

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