Pre-service teachers typically engage in a series of professional development experiences throughout their teacher education courses. These periods of learning enable them to develop as reflective practitioners under the mentorship of experienced school teachers. After these periods of intense learning, sometimes characterised by pedagogic epiphanies, they frequently report extreme experiences of success or failure which influence perceptions of their future teaching career. This study aimed to capture final year pre-service teachers' reflections of critical incidents in their past professional experience by especially focusing on their worst lesson experience. The qualitative research approach incorporated elements of critical incident research design from within a theoretical framework of reflective practice. The research was based on the assumption that pre-service teachers' experiences during professional practice influence their transition to the complex world of the workplace. Coding and analysis of their responses, gathered during written reflective practice sessions, were undertaken using the constant comparative method to determine the characteristics of their most concerning memories of their teaching experiences and their perceptions of the reasons behind these problematic moments. Findings indicate that, when pre-service teachers recall their worst teaching experience, their initial reflections are characterised by emotional distress, followed by concerns about classroom management and planning issues, with some concern also demonstrated about communication and learning issues. Implications of the findings are discussed in relation to course design recommendations and suggested strategies to assist teacher education graduates navigate uncertainty and complexity as they transition to their future workplaces.
Keywords: reflective practice, critical incident, teacher education