What Can I Expect from a Practicum Experience?
The realities of your practicum experience can vary quite a bit, depending on the field in which you wish to work and your placement within a program. If you want to become a teacher, for example, then your practicum is likely to take place in a classroom and you will have to deal with students and leading instruction. On the other hand, if you are looking to get into another field, such as healthcare or conflict resolution, then your practicum experience will be quite a bit different. In general, however, you can expect to be in an environment in which you can apply ideas and theories you have learned in class to real scenarios.
Just about any practicum experience is designed to provide you with an opportunity to see how the material and information you learn in a classroom apply to real world settings. This can be intimidating at first, but is often considered to be just as important to your education as anything you learn from a teacher. Your practicum experience is likely to vary quite a bit depending on the field in which you wish to work, though general expectations include exposure to new ideas and a better understanding of what you have learned.
If you wish to become a teacher, for example, then your practicum experience is likely to take place in a classroom under the supervision of a licensed teacher. This means that you will interact with students and may meet other teachers. Since you are in a classroom, you will see the instructor handle classroom management and organize activities to ensure that students stay on task. Your practicum experience may also include seeing how the teacher interacts with other professionals and parents, in order to better understand the ways that different social concepts affect education and teaching.
In other fields and professions, however, your practicum experience may vary quite a bit, especially in situations that may be especially stressful or difficult. Students interested in becoming healthcare providers, such as doctors and nurses, often go through a practicum in which they experience the realities of working in the industry. This can be quite difficult, but is important as it exposes you to certain facets of the workplace that may otherwise come as an unexpected shock when you complete your education.
General expectations for any practicum experience, however, should include a better understanding and awareness of what a particular industry is like. You can learn a great deal of information in a classroom, but not all of it is applicable to your professional future. After you complete a practicum, you are likely to have a much better understanding of what is relevant and what is purely academic. This applies to both information that you have already learned as well as new material in future courses.
Practicums are all so different, it's impossible to know what one is going to be like before you take it. Even if you ask previous students at your organization how they found their practicum experience, you will get a unique answer every time, because they will all be put with different mentors.
Until you meet your mentor and see how you are going to work with them, and until you meet your class or patients or whoever else you are going to be working with, you can't know how you're going to mesh with them.
And I also want to point out that it's possible you might have a terrible practicum even though you are a good teacher. Sometimes you just get put with the wrong people at the wrong time and you don't get along, but that doesn't mean you can't get along with the right people.
@MrsPramm - It's the same thing when you take a practicum for counseling or social work. It seems to be a kind of sink or swim mentality so they can weed out the students who aren't going to make it.
It seems a bit harsh in some ways, but if you can't make it during a practicum when you have a lot of external support, you probably won't be able to make it in the job when you're on your own. And these kinds of jobs involve helping people, so you really don't want to burn out and let them down when they depend on you.
I did a few practicums for teaching experience last year and I'm really glad that they are a component of learning to be a teacher because they helped me to realize I really don't want to be a teacher.
I quite liked the students and some of the activities, but I hated being the one in charge. I wasn't good at keeping an eye on everyone in the class, as I would focus on a single student and then get too distracted to realize when they had become too noisy.
But mostly, I just didn't enjoy it at all. After my first practicum, when I met up with other teaching students, they were all so happy and excited and eager to go back to teaching. I was just grateful the experience was over.
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