Sustaining student teachers' commitment: The role of first practicum experiences

Year: 2008

Author: Peters, Judith

Type of paper: Refereed paper

This research aimed to illuminate students' perceptions of two first year practicum experiences in a Bachelor of Education (JP/Primary) program and the role these played in their learning and commitment to teaching and their studies. Recent statistics show that there can be up to 30% attrition of students in the first year of university (Heirdsfield, Walker and Walsh). Practicum experiences have been found to be highly valued by student teachers (House of Representatives Standing Committee and Vocational Training, 2007) but not all practicum experiences are positive as evidenced by the concerns highlighted by researchers in the field. These include inappropriate balances of challenge and support in student teacher contexts (Tang, 2006) and communication difficulties and power imbalances in the traditional triad model of supervision (Wilson, 2006; Dobbins, 1994). Clearly it is important in sustaining student teachers' commitment to continue in their four year program that their first experiences in schools are as positive as possible. To this end students in the course Practical Applications and Reflection 1 participate in what is designed to be a highly supportive and structured introduction to schools and teaching in their first two practicums. In this study, naturally occurring qualitative and quantitative data about students' perceptions of these practicums were analysed using a grounded theory approach. The research findings revealed that the vast majority of students studied found their practicum experiences to be positive, productive in terms of learning and significant in sustaining their commitment to becoming teachers and their studies in the program. This paper presents findings that illuminates their feelings about initial practicum experiences, their learning from them and the factors they found to be most and least supportive.