A teaching practicum is an exploration of the actual practice of teaching under the supervision of a mentor, typically involving actual teaching as well as duties related to this profession. This type of course is almost always offered for credit and may be required in many programs. Not all of a student's time in this type of course is spent on actual teaching duties; some involves consultation, seminars, and other preparatory work. Working through a teaching practicum is thought to give future teachers actual experience in the field, much like an internship, with the benefit of close supervision from a university-approved source.
Most of the time, a teaching practicum must be specific to the types of classes that the student will someday teach. There are, for example, programs specific to teaching at the elementary school level and in the sciences. At the university level, this type of teaching experience is almost always specific to the discipline. A student does not typically have a choice in terms of which practicum to take, as it is usually a required part of the program he or she has entered.
Depending on the school, a teaching practicum can be set up in a variety of ways, but all courses under this designation will involve some actual teaching involving students, as this is the definition of the course. Other activities related to teaching may vary. For example, in the sciences, supervising lab time, developing laboratory experiments, and providing tutorials can all be part of the practicum. In writing courses, more time might be devoted to grading essays. Most schools try to minimize the amount of grading done by students in these courses, as experience with grading has often already been obtained.
One of the key features of this type of course is supervision. A teaching practicum can be supervised by the student's adviser or a special mentor assigned specifically for this course. Observation may involve the mentor sitting in on courses, or it may require the student to report back at regular intervals. Having guidance when learning the nuanced art of teaching can be helpful and is one of the features that sets this type of experience apart from unsupervised internships.
The skills taken away from a teaching practicum depend on the focus of the course, but some common experiences include a deeper understanding of working with large groups, attention to the demands of teaching, and improved communication skills. This type of course is a learning experience, so perfection is usually not expected. Any student who experiences difficulties during a teaching practicum and tries in earnest to come up with solutions is likely on the right track in his or her teaching career.