Anyone in the job market today can tell you how difficult it is to obtain employment. Not to sound bleak or repeat the media, but this is especially true for recent graduates. Ask them and they’ll certainly be more than happy to tell you about the struggles they have faced that those a generation ago could have never imagined. The most glaring of these barriers is the “you-can’t-get-a-job-without-experience/you-can’t-get-experience-without-a-job” paradox. Even entry-level jobs—those hoping to attract recent graduates and people looking for a career change—will, without fail, require some amount of prior experience.
For those who have aspirations of working in teaching or higher education, there is no better way to gain entrance to the industry than to have experience within it. If you’re reading this, you probably know this already. Fortunately, at The College of New Jersey, students have the opportunity to create a foothold for themselves in teaching and higher education by participating in a practicum at Bucks County Community College. Through the practicum, graduate students get to experience the education system from the opposite side of the desk by taking on the role of teacher. This past spring semester I seized upon this opportunity and was lucky enough to be involved in the practicum program. I cannot stress enough how wonderful my experiences were and just how much learning I took away from the practicum.
While TCNJ’s English graduate program prides itself on students’ active role in the classroom, the practicum places the graduate student at the center of the educational experience: taking charge of their growth as educators through hands-on experience and the learning of their Bucks students. To be clear, while rewarding, the practicum is challenging at times. One must learn to balance the personal learning of graduate student study with learning to become an educator and applying this learning immediately through the role of writing instructor.
The act of teaching itself can be difficult, as students come from a variety of backgrounds and some may struggle with the material itself. Learning to teach to differing styles of learners is essential to success in any classroom. In my experience, I was given a highly diverse class of students with differing abilities and learning styles which my advising professor (who has taught at Bucks for about five years) frequently described as the most difficult class he had ever been assigned. Every lesson and assignment was an uphill battle, which sounds bad, but really it made me become a dynamic teacher, who has learned to employ many styles and tools of teaching.
In regards to my advising professor, I have to add that one of the best features of Bucks is its staff. The faculty and administration are highly supportive and excited to work with practicum students to ensure their success. While you may face challenges and new experiences, you are never alone in doing so. Someone will always be there to work with you to achieve your goals in the classroom and in your own learning.
For those who are interested in higher education and teaching after completing their Master’s degree, there is no better way to get experience in the field than to participate in The College of New Jersey/Bucks County Community College practicum. The practicum is a professional experience, wherein students work closely with faculty advisors at Bucks to facilitate and instruct classes in composition and literature. Students will create their own syllabus and assignments, learn to run dynamic classes, lead meaningful discussions on varying subjects, and will be tasked with grading and maintaining course standards.
As an institution, Bucks County Community College provides a great opportunity for those who are interested in higher education. For those who have never taught before, the small class sizes and diverse student population present an ideal situation for exploring what works in the classroom. For those who have some teaching experience under their belt, they will find that this situation presents them with a unique opportunity to refine their skills, while working with different institutional standards and expectations as well as students of varying abilities.
While the experience itself is the main focus of the practicum, it does provide other benefits, such as fulfilling three credits within the TCNJ MA program, while Bucks provides participants with a stipend, professional development opportunities, and the chance to take on more responsibility and involvement in the Bucks community as a tutor.
For more information about the practicum, please visit this link http://englishgrad.pages.tcnj.edu/current-students/courses/teaching-practicum/ or contact Dr. Ortiz-Vilarelle at firstname.lastname@example.org.