For students who complete their studies in early childhood education, internships are not only a compulsory component on the path to obtaining qualifications, but also an important introduction to the world of work in the sector.
In this article, Early Years Teacher and Internship Coordinator Tracy Colvin shares her tips for making the internship a successful experience for new professionals and their internship hosts.
As a placement coordinator, one aspect of my role is to make sure that students are ready to complete their placement or that they are “placement ready” in a professional sense. When judged, “Placement Ready” students are matched with an appropriate host (Early Years Department) and placement begins.
When I meet new students for the first time, I always tell them that placement is the best part of their course. And that’s how it should be! This is where all the knowledge and hard work of a student’s classroom study is put into practice. The internship is a chance for students to immerse themselves in the workplace, a hands-on learning environment under the guidance of experienced and talented educators. For many students, this will be the very first time they set foot or engage in the environment in which they are qualified to work. Sounds exciting, doesn’t it?
And yet, despite the excitement of students ‘getting their hands dirty’ (so to speak) and getting one step closer to achieving their career goals and dreams, the end of the internship can sometimes be shrouded in fear. and confusion, not only from a student’s perspective, but also from a host.
Top tips for students
- It’s not just about hours. Of course, you must complete a minimum number of hours to meet certain requirements, but you must also complete your placement duties. Without one or the other, you will not be able to achieve the skill.
- There will be some fun stuff and some less fun stuff. Working in early childhood is incredibly rewarding, but like any career, there are certain tasks that might not be our favorites. Expect to engage in all aspects of the role you are studying for. This means that you will be cleaning and tidying up. Many students are shocked when asked to sweep or mop the floor; however, these are daily tasks that all early childhood educators working in the sector undertake on a daily basis.
- Learn, learn, AND LEARN MORE! Show initiative and get involved. Early childhood services are full of activities, and the teachers and educators you will work with will expect as much from you as you do from them. Ask questions and immerse yourself in whatever you can. As an educator, you will learn and reflect on your practice throughout your career, so get started early to develop good habits.
- Communicate. Don’t expect everyone at your host to understand what you need to do. As a student, you will need to notify the teachers and educators you work with. Early childhood work is teamwork. There is a lot of collaboration. If you find it difficult to work in a team or to communicate with others, discuss with your class teacher and your practicum coordinator the strategies you can implement to support your development in this area.
- ‘Don’t judge your host by the chapter you entered. A wonderful friend and co-worker shared this quote with me and I love it. It goes without saying that as humans we all have flaws. We all have good days and less good days. It is important that we work with compassion and understanding and also with the understanding that we do not know everything about everyone. As we teach best practices, what it looks like in each department may be different. You won’t have information and insight into the challenges your hosting department may have endured the day before, or even with the previous student they hosted. If the reality does not meet your expectations, talk to your class teachers or your practicum coordinator. It’s good to keep your expectations high, but don’t judge too harshly and never go to Google to write a review! While we say there are six degrees of separation, I’m pretty sure in early childhood it’s even less, and you might burn those job opportunities before you even qualify.
- No one is there to fail you. It is really the opposite. Your teachers and your practicum coordinator want you to be successful. If your host provides you with feedback and areas for improvement, think it over in a professional manner. I say professionally because many students (adults in general really) still master the art of accepting constructive feedback, and realize that it is not personal. Your evaluation visits are not a chance for your evaluating teacher to score another failure in his belt. The purpose of their visits is to support and mentor you. At the time of your visit, this rater is your greatest cheerleader and wants to support you in achieving your goals. Your host will want you to be successful because they see the value of highly skilled and knowledgeable graduates entering the industry. In many cases, hosts can end up hiring a student, so use your internship as a job trial and an investment in your future as well.
Top tips for hosts
- A strong induction process is imperative. Unless a reception service advises otherwise, we ask all our students to meet in person before their first day of internship. If a student does not want to meet before the internship, I would ask him the question “why?” Not only is this the time to fill out the paperwork, but also the time for you to get to know the student (and vice versa) and introduce them to the workplace. Having the chance to meet the staff that the student will work with will not only reduce “day one nervousness” but will also begin the relationship building process. Knowing where to store your belongings, where to eat during breaks and especially where the toilets are, all contribute to a student’s sense of belonging.
- Remember when you were a student. We all started somewhere and sometimes when we have been engaged in the work environment for a while we can forget how we felt at the very beginning. Think about all the things you wish you had learned / said at the start of your career and teach them or discuss them with your student.
- Make sure your staff are ready to support a student. Some hosts have a young team who may not have had the chance to mentor and support a student before. I remember when I was studying my graduate degree, my placement mentor was an employee who had graduated 6 months before. She was petrified that I already had a teaching degree and was now studying for another. I didn’t care, I was there to learn and that was all that mattered to me. Think about the support your staff may need to support a student, those who are up for the task, and those who are not quite ready. Talk to your staff about their strengths and why they would make a great mentor, discuss the skills you want them to develop that will be supported by having a student, and most importantly; listen to their thoughts and fears. While students are nervous about placement, so are a large portion of those who work to support a student placement. This raises concerns about being judged and criticized for their practices – meaning support is required from and from everyone involved.
- Approach problems or concerns as learning moments, just as we would with children. Expect students to make mistakes or think they are doing the right thing when they are not. Take advantage of these moments to share your knowledge and expertise. Sandwich aspects of improvement with examples of areas of the internship in which the student excels.
- Questions or concerns (big or small), comments, something wonderful about a member of your staff versus the student, or something wonderful about the student himself; Let me know. If any of your employees have a question, I want them to call me and ask me the question. I want to know everything. I am there and I am accessible. I might not answer the phone every time, but I will call back.
It is important to me to know that my students have a wonderful internship experience and that my hosts have a wonderful student mentoring experience.
I say “my” because I am here to support everyone who gets involved by having a student on an internship. A student who completes his internship successfully is not only about that student’s success. It is also about the success of the host and his willingness to open up his workplace and allow a student to experience something wonderful; these are the educators who supervise this student, who have themselves acquired knowledge, skills and professional achievements, the internship coordinator who has succeeded in pairing a host and a student (yes, I congratulate myself), the Class teachers who have shared their passion, knowledge and skills, and anyone else who has supported this student to ensure that he can be successful.
And that’s why the placement is the best part of the course!