Teacher-Candidate Pep Talk: Just Keep Swimming

By Lydia Gerzel-Short, Lisa Liberty, and Laura Hedin

During these unprecedented times, teacher candidates need to remember the thoughtful words of Dori in Finding Nemo and “just keep swimming, just keep swimming, just keep swimming, swimming, swimming!” Teacher candidates who continue to practice teaching even in the absence of “real” students are developing as effective teachers. Effective teachers practice their craft (Sydnor, 2016) and reflect upon the instruction (Nagro & deBettencourt, 2019). Being reflective and incorporating reflection into teaching is how teachers and students learn best (Dewey, 1933).

If school environments change and teacher candidates miss practicing teaching during their field placement, or student teaching experience, this does not mean they should stop teaching! In fact, teacher candidates become better teachers when they see their practice and reflect upon their instruction (Nagro & deBettencourt, 2019; Sydnor, 2016). In this article, we present a five-step model for preparing practice video lessons that teacher candidates can use to maintain their teaching skills during school and clinical “downtime.”

1. Plan: “Do I need to do this?”

In short, yes. Planning, even for mini-lessons, is foundational in understanding student needs and the direction of your specific lesson. Teacher candidates will want to:

  • Consider planning several mini-lessons.
  • Focus mini-lessons into no more than 20-minute sessions.
  • Base mini-lessons on a single skill or concept (e.g., word blending, paraphrasing a quotation, expanded notation to ten-thousands place).
  • Center the plan for a specific grade level (e.g., second grade) by using the Common Core or state standards.

2. Practice: “I’m doing that over.”

Consistent practice permits teacher candidates to gain confidence and insight into personal teaching (Nagro & deBettencourt, 2019). It is important to review the mini-lesson that will be taught several times before recording the lesson. Engaged teacher candidates:

  • Practice in front of a mirror.
  • Identify changes that improve the mini-lesson.
  • Alter the presentation and practice until the mini-lesson is firm.

3. Record and watch: “Do I really sound and look like that?”

Video is an essential and powerful tool that teacher candidates can use to review their lessons (Baecher & Connor, 2016). Videoing lessons allows teacher candidates to develop fine-tuned self-observation skills. Recording mini-lessons requires teacher candidates to:

  • Prepare materials and the environment for the lesson.
  • Turn on the camera, smile, and record the lesson.
  • Stop the recording after the lesson has ended.
  • Wait a day and then watch the teaching demonstration.

4. Reflect: “Wow, what parts should I keep? What should I change?”

During reflection, teacher candidates examine their teaching and note any “on-action” or events missed during the actual lesson (Nagro & deBettencourt, 2019). Video technology is a way to repeatedly view, pause, and observe actions and thinking in real teaching time. Reflective teacher candidates complete a self-observation and ask themselves:

  • Did I state the lesson objective?
  • Did I model the skill?
  • Did I use a thoughtful “think-aloud”?
  • Did I consider guided practice?
  • Did I close the lesson?
  • Were my materials prepared and organized?

5. Share: “I am brave.”

Sharing video clips and having open-ended conversations about instruction with an instructor is a powerful closure to the iterative cycle of teaching (Syndor, 2016). Reflecting in the company of others creates an environment for the teacher candidate to engage in thoughtful conversations and reflect in order to improve instruction and add to the candidate’s professional development (Sydnor, 2016). During the share session:

  • Instructors can offer tips and resources, including techniques and materials.
  • Teacher candidates and instructors can listen to each other.
  • View and comment on the lesson.
  • Craft plans for changes to the next mini-lesson.

Learning to teach is a continuous process of planning, practicing, recording, reviewing, reflecting, and sharing. Implementing the five downtime steps ensures that teacher candidates become effective, thoughtful teachers, even during times when traditional teaching experiences are not possible. So be like Dori in Finding Nemo and just keep swimming!

Dr. Gerzel-Short is an Assistant Professor of Special Education at Northern Illinois University. Her research interests include teacher preparation, family engagement, and evidence-based practices for supporting diverse learners.

Dr. Liberty is an Assistant Professor of Special Education at Northern Illinois University. Her research interests include evidence-based practices, preservice teacher preparation, and co-teaching in inclusive settings.

Dr. Hedin is a Professor of Special Education at Northern Illinois University. Her research interests include teacher preparation and strategies for including students with mild disabilities in general education settings.


Baecher, L., & Connor, D. (2016). Video as a tool in teacher learning. The New Educator, 12(1), 1–4.

Dewey, J. (1933). How we think: A restatement of the relation of reflective thinking to the educative process. D.C. Heath.

Nagro, S. A., & deBettencourt, L. U. (2019). Reflection activities within clinical experiences: An important component of field-based teacher education. In Handbook of research on field-based teacher education (pp. 565–586). IGI Global.

Sydnor, J. (2016). Using video to enhance reflective practice: Student teachers’ dialogic examination of their own teaching. The New Educator, 12(1), 67–84.

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