What is an Apprenticeship? - Definition & Training

Instructor: Sharon Linde

Sharon has an Masters of Science in Mathematics and a Masters in Education

Teachers are smart cookies, but they aren't born ready to teach. An important step toward becoming a teacher is apprenticeship. What does this term mean, and what does an apprenticeship entail? Read on to learn about how a student teacher learns from a master teacher.

What is an Apprenticeship?

In education, what we refer to as an apprenticeship is the time an education student spends in an operational classroom learning from a veteran teacher. Think of the difference between being told how to do something and seeing that description in action. Teaching has a lot of moving parts - children, parents, administration, and curriculum. Pre-service teachers, or teachers who are not yet certified and are learning about the craft, spend quite a bit of time in college classrooms learning about and discussing the art of teaching. But it isn't until stepping into a real classroom that the pre-service teacher can apply, in real world situations, the concepts learned.

What steps lead to apprenticeship teaching? Let's take a look at how Debbie, a pre-service teacher, found her way into the classroom.

The Path to Teaching

Debbie has wanted to be a teacher since third grade. She babysat, worked with children in after-school programs during high school and has taken two years of general education at college. Debbie is now enrolling to take some specific classes designed to prepare her for teaching. These classes, often called methods courses, teach her about a few things:

  • Specific subject matter: If Debbie is planning to teach upper-level children in a specific subject, such as math or science, she will focus her studies on learning more about her chosen topic.
  • Child development: Debbie will take a number of classes designed to teach about physical, physiological and cognitive development for the age range of children she will teach.
  • Methodology: In addition to learning about subject matter and the children, Debbie will be taught methods of instruction, referred to as methodology.
  • Curriculum design: Later in Debbie's pre-service teaching education she will take a close look at how to plan quality lessons and how to design a curriculum.

These classes often have a component that gets Debbie out of her college classroom and into a preschool, elementary or high school building. These opportunities begin by letting her observe seasoned teachers. By going into the field and watching how the stuff she's learning in class works, Debbie can see her lessons in action. Eventually she will begin to interact with students in small tasks, such as tutoring. Some teachers allow students at this stage opportunities to grade papers or decorate bulletin boards. Debbie is active in this role and brings her experiences back to the classroom for discussions with peers.

Debbie will spend more and more time in classrooms, ranging from a few hours to a day or two a week, until she is in her last semester.

Learning by Watching and Doing

In her last semester in college, Debbie is going to become an apprentice teacher. She will be assigned a cooperating teacher who will instruct her on the ins and outs of teaching for the semester. During this time, Debbie will shadow the teacher closely and learn how to handle all aspects of teaching, from taking attendance to administering tests and grading. At the beginning, Debbie simply observes. Week by week, she adds responsibilities, teaching one class, then two, until she has taken over the entire day. Debbie will spend two solid weeks teaching the class on her own with no input from the regular classroom teacher, though the cooperating teacher is there for support and guidance. In fact, the classroom teacher is largely out of the room during the day, allowing Debbie to truly get the feel for being a teacher. If something goes wrong, though, Debbie knows where to find her cooperating teacher.

Debbie and the cooperating teacher work closely to design quality lessons, work with student needs, address parental concerns and complete administrative tasks. After the two weeks are up, Debbie begins to wean off teaching as her cooperating teacher takes classes over again one at a time. By the end of the experience, Debbie feels confident she is ready for her own classroom.

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