Category Archives: managing emotions
So it seems that I am HUGELY behind in my posting schedule. After being so dutiful with recording my reflections as a student teacher, I must admit that as a I’m finding it hard maintaining enough energy to keep this blog going having missed not one but two weekly posts. And it’s not because I don’t have anything to write about. I have plenty of ideas for posts and a lot of content languishing in draft form but the content isn’t at a standard where I would happy to push publish.
Yet it isn’t Type-A tendencies that are keeping my posts in draft form but rather stage fright. These days I am acutely aware that I have an audience. While I love having a PLN and having awesome co-workers, being an online student afforded me a level of anonymity which enabled me to be a lot more candid in my posts than I am now. I know that there are people from my school, including my principal, that read my blog. It’s good that they do (and I would advise any prospective edublogger to tell your leaders at the outset about your blog at the outset rather than have an uncomfortable conversation later). Nevertheless having an audience does have its drawbacks.
There are times when I find myself second guessing myself on content and on occasion not publishing posts not for fear of wanting to offend my colleagues but more through not wanting anyone at school to worry. I often write on the internet for
free therapy to manage emotions. Indeed it is the confessional nature of blogging makes for riveting reading but also makes the writer vulnerable.
I’ve mentioned before that I often want the earth to swallow me whole when people talk to me about my posts. So when faced with the prospect of having people who I work with day in day out having access to my inner thoughts, I’ve found myself wanting to hide my inner freak. The result of this sudden attack of the blogging jitters has been flat writing and infrequent posting.
Yet we are all freaks and we all have bad days. In my last post as a student teacher I boldly declared that the sharing of stories is perhaps one of the most potent forces education reform. I still do. Because despite being surrounded by people all day, my first few months of teaching has been one of the most isolating experiences of my life. It seems so counter-intuitive that I would lose my blogging mojo right at the point when I should be soaking up advice like a sponge.
I wish I could say that this hiatus will be temporary and that my normal service of 2-3 posts will resume shortly. I hope it will but wonder when I will regain the energy to do so because I have never been so exhausted in all my life.
In part I blame the Wellington winter. Although I’ve lived in climates far colder, New Zealand’s lack of indoor heating and Wellington’s biting southerly winds and constant rain make the capital’s winters particularly nasty. I’m cold pretty much all the time and having to wrap up in several layers of clothes is a major downer. Officially Wellington is only a few degrees colder than Auckland but it feels like so much more than that and I am permanently shivering.
Previous experience tells me that I’m also in dire need of a holiday. I spent last weekend at school trying to get my class’s learning portfolios in order and plan for the next week which wasn’t the smartest move because by Wednesday I was paying the price for not taking time away from school. Over the week my stabbing pains at the base of my neck which I initially thought was due to me being permanently hunched up from the cold but was actually the beginning of a nasty migraine. A seeing spots, puking on the way home, slept for 12 hours straight, migraine. Despite feeling decidedly whoozy the next day I still went to school and when the kids showed up and somehow I was back at my normal energy levels. How does that happen?
I hope that I am able to conjure up some energy to be able to post a lot more frequently than I am right now. Blogging is something I enjoyed doing but over the last few weeks has became a chore. Ever so gradually writing posts and responding to comments has been pushed right down the bottom of my ‘to do list.’
How do you regain your blogging mojo?
One of the best pieces advice I received when my stepdaughter came into my life is that in parenting the days are long but the years are short.
I hadn’t thought about those words of wisdom until I collapsed into a heap on Friday and wondered not only where the week has gone but how fast the term seems to be slipping away. How can it already be Week 5 and why do I feel like my class and I haven’t achieved much?
Surely my disappointment wasn’t for lack of effort. I get into school before 7.30 and wasn’t leaving until after 6. I’m often to be found there on Saturday. It was little wonder that exhausted just didn’t even begin to describe my lack of energy.
Yet despite spending a ridiculous amount of time working, I know I haven’t been working all that smart. Every time I sat down to complete a task, I would immediately start thinking about all the other things on my to do list which were screaming like a newborn for my undivided attention. My classroom still looks rather barren in comparison to all the colourful wall displays found in other classrooms, there are units of work that I know we are behind in, parent emails to respond to and wow did that middle session on Wednesday not go in the way I had anticipated it.
Welcome to the mid-first term wall.
It’s the time of year when for Beginning Teachers, or at least this one, that the minute something is not going right then it seems like everything is not going right and it feels like you are the worst teacher ever grace a classroom. Undoubtedly outside events will be colouring my perspective as the end of February has become a time when I find myself lamenting what might of been. But I’m sure I’m not the only Beginning Teacher feeling a lot like the Little Dutch Boy with his finger in the dyke right now and realizing there are many more leaks that need plugging than I can ever hope to stem. Undoubtedly that mindset of the wall undoubtedly creates more anxiety and setbacks.
Even though I knew I had a mountain of work I know I need to get done, this weekend I didn’t go to school. I switched off my devices on Saturday and instead spent time doing some mundane things. I went to the gym, did laundry, spent an entire day meeting up with friends and caught up on my missing hours sleep and wow do I feel the better for it as with distance comes perspective.
I realized that I might have accomplished more in my first few weeks than I gave myself credit for. My start of year assessment has all been marked and I’ve sorted my students into maths and writing groups. We’ve filmed some videos on school norms and the kids know what to do at the start and end of the day. I managed to see all of my writing groups while the rest of the class was working independently and spent time with each individual student in the class conferencing about their writing (by far one of my favourite things to do). Our class blog has had almost 1,700 page views and some of the students are starting to use Quality Commenting Checklist that we developed via our blog. I respond to parent emails usually within 24 hours of receiving them and I’ve made an observation of another teacher’s teaching.
The step back allowed me to identify some tasks to get done during my Classroom Release Time this week as well as prioritize my to do list into manageable chunks so I don’t get so overwhelmed by that wall. It also made realize that perhaps I’m not doing as bad as I think I am. Could I be doing better? Absolutely. If I was in the same space next year, feeling like I was blindly feeling my way around the classroom, then I would be disappointed in myself for not heeding the lessons of the last few weeks.
Because when I look back, I realized I’ve learned so much and I really love my job. But ouch that wall of exhaustion is huge and overwhelming especially when each brick represents another task on my to do list.
New Zealand Graduating Teacher Standard 1.c
Graduating teachers know how to develop metacognitive strategies of diverse learners.
Primary teachers are expected to teach a very broad curriculum. Throw together some reading, dancing, writing, maths, science, music with a bit of technology thrown in for good measure and you might have a school teacher’s week. But if scratch underneath this broad curriculum and you’ll find that just about every teacher will have a problem area that they don’t feel confident in teaching in. Maths daunts so many learners that there was a component of my teaching diploma on mathsphobia.
But what about literacy?
I’m guessing that there aren’t many teachers out there who have problems with literacy because our education system can be brutal on learners who struggle with reading and writing.
Enter the dyslexic student teacher.
Having spent almost all my schooling life being labelled illiterate, the idea of teaching reading and writing was not a prospect I was looking forward to. The shame of having *THESE EXAMS WERE SAT UNDER SPECIAL CONSIDERATIONS* emboldened underneath my grades on bursary certificate still burns brightly despite having since gained an Honours degree. In fact I have never sat another exam under those special considerations least that label pop up again. But this placement I finally had to come to confront this particular demon.
What my dyslexia looks like.
I frequent mix up the letters b, d, p, q and for some reason e and 3 also befuddle me. When I’m reading, especially out loud, I’ll often omit words or substitute words that look the same, for example accept/except or won’t/want but it is writing that really causes me problems.
My spelling is atrocious and the most accurate description of my handwriting is that it is like a drunken chicken making its way across the page (an actual quote from my school report). I can write neatly but only if I am concentrating on letter formation and nothing else. However if I want to write anything of any substance, the writing process for me is a bit like a Jackson Pollock painting. Bits of sentences and ideas get thrown around in no particular order and somehow a coherent argument emerges at the end of it.
Most of the time.
I’m sure at times I come across as a bit of evangelist when it comes to technology in education but the only reason I didn’t fail out of school altogether is because someone gave me access to a word processor in year 12 to write a story and I found away to get my thoughts into written form.
To say that was a game changer is an understatement.
When I am writing by hand I struggle to write a coherent sentence much less a paragraph, the words just seem to get stuck. However when I’m put in front of keyboard little snippets of ideas come out, they might not be in any order but once they are out for me to see I can start taking my garbled thoughts and putting them into a logical order.
This makes me wonder how many children there are out there educational system has previously discarded because their physical or cognitive differences didn’t fit the model of educational success which involved putting pen to paper in order pass exams. Every time I’ve seen technology used in the classroom, whether its an ipad for a student with cerebal palsey or blogging with students with Autism Spectrum Disorders, the result has been a child who had the potental to be marginalized in a classroom engaged in learning. That’s a hugely exciting development in education, learners our education system once deemed defective now get a chance to succeed.
But now I’m back in the classroom and sometimes I wonder if I have any business being in there, especially as I tried to adapt my Associate Teacher’s classroom processes into my own practice. Then one morning I plugged a USB into the classroom’s laptop and had a sudden moment of clarity. The processes I was using to teach were the very same ones that cause me so many problems as a learner. What was I doing copying down a learning intention in a modelling book during a guided reading lesson when I could throw the ideas up onto the classroom’s two-touch along with some pictures to help illustrate the vocabulary that needed to be pre-taught? If I use technology to learn, it make sense that I should also use it to teach.
What’s more maybe the internal conversation I have with myself when I read, ‘go back that doesn’t make sense’ or ‘I’m not sure how to pronounce that word but I know what it means,’ are thoughts that the other learners in my classroom need to hear because I’m using decoding strategies. Handwriting continues to be my bugbear, my students often comment that my letters sometimes come out a bit wonky. I really have to think hard about how each letter is formed when I’m teaching in order to model something legible for them. But perhaps the fact that I have to struggle puts me on an equal footing with my students, we are literally learning together.
August 22 is a bad day.
2 years ago this date was the worst day.
I didn’t know when I took that picture, which I’m sure most readers will recognize as the Twelve Apostles, that I was just a few hours away from what would be the first of many hospital admissions, blood tests, IV lines and instances of thinking to myself ‘are you old enough to be a doctor?’
So perhaps this date was a rather inauspicious one for me to start my first block of full control for this placement.
The first two sessions went ok but by the third session the junior juggle turned into a junior jungle. I’m not going to sugar coat it, that session was an absolute disaster. Students off task, students excluding others, getting students attention to bring us all back to earth was a herculean task and yes my associate teacher had to step in a few times. The children were in charge in that class and not in a good way.
I went to lunch absolutely dejected and made the worst mistake of all, I complained about how awful that session went with another student teacher. Sure the snarking might have been therapeutic in the short term but I should have put my energy into figuring out how I might be able to improve my situation because there was something I could do differently.
Even though I had a well-planned lesson and some awesome classroom management strategies up my sleeve, I also had something I needed to work on my voice. I am one of those people who has a voice which carries especially when I’m excited.
Having a voice which can cut through chatter definitely has its bonuses in teaching but there was a problem, in the classroom my and my students energy levels were feeding off each other. I can be quite loud and animated which has a tendency to make the students the loud and animated. This got to the point where we had one very loud and animated classroom. Once my voice and energy levels dropped off, the class became a lot easier to manage and I was working with the kids energy rather than against it.
Sure enough by Thursday I was getting through my groups and my associate commented that two of the hardest to reach students in the class were engaged and volunteering in the maths warm up. As more lessons were going to plan, I started to praise not just good behaviour but also thinking and effort. For their part the students were eager to share what they were proud of and what they would differently on the task next time which is the learning conversations I wanted to have with them. I ended my week in a state of teaching bliss, students engaged in different tasks around the classroom with some music on in the background. Something I wouldn’t have imagined as possible on Monday.
Even though I hated it at the time, I’m really glad I had my bad day. We all have moments in the muck of feeling angry and frustrated and GAH why is it all so hard and none of it is my fault grrr, grrr, grrr. Those moments totally are important and necessary but just as necessary is finding a way out of those moments and back to “ok, that sucked. What can I do to deal with it now?”
Even on Monday’s walk home I was mulling over stuff I wanted to do the next day, week, month and year despite being absolutely exhausted which is a very good sign. By Friday then events of Monday had quickly faded into the past and I spent 2 hours after school leaping around to Lady Gaga at the gym when by all rights I should have been collapsed on a sofa somewhere after my first week of full control in the juniors.
I also think that bad days also have another purpose. They serve as a reminder that learning is messy, hard and much like time not a linear process. There are hours of my life which I remember better than I do entire years, conversely events that seems like a huge deal at the time can quickly fade into a hazy memory.
This time last year I was trudging the streets of Philadelphia with the events of the Great Ocean Road still very much dominating my thoughts. This year it didn’t actually hit me that Monday was the day until about 9.30 that evening when Facebook’s new feature of posting old status updates bought the events of August 22, 2009 sharply back into focus. A few tears were shed for the possibilities of a different August 22, 2009 and then I went to sleep knowing that except for this post I probably won’t remember August 22, 2011 as a bad day.
But I will remember to keep my voice down.
Fun fact: I played the cello in high school.
Now that I’ve outed myself as an orchestra geek I can talk about my instrument which was a beautiful old thing. I was convinced that the instrument had lived a long life and had an interesting story to tell. Even if the story was being played poorly by various students over the decades, that cello had a soul to it.
There was also a flaw.
Every time I tried to play an F note on the C string my cello would start coughing like a dying dog. No matter what I tried, I just couldn’t get the instrument to play that particular note properly. For a while I was convinced it must have been a problem in my technique but what I had discovered was my cello’s wolf note.
Without getting too complicated a wolf note is the sound produced when the frequency of the played note matches the internal resonance of a bowed instrument producing both a dampening and oscillating effect on the instrument’s acoustics. In short a wolf note is the musical equivalent of having a ‘you shut up, no you shut up’ fight between the note and the instrument itself.
Wolf notes are not a problem of construction, as both good and bad cellos have them, in fact they are a result of an inherent contradiction between the construction of the instrument and the reason a bowed instrument produces sound, resonance. Every hollow body has a primary resonant frequency. You hear it when you blow across the top of a bottle and get a definite pitch sounding. A wolf note is simply a tone at which one of these resonances is excited.
A professional player learns to work around wolf notes with good bowing but for beginners wolf notes are immensely frustrating. You can buy a tiny metal tube to place on the offending string called a wolf note eliminator (well minimizer) to manage the problem but a lot of musicans find that the eliminator effects the overall tone of the instrument.
The story of the wolf note is a highly apt analogy for a student teacher. Especially for this student teacher in light of last week’s meltdown into misery over feeling the pressure to be perfect.
Student teachers need to remember:
- Our students have flaws – do we as teachers use artificial means to manage our students’ imperfections or learn to work around them to get the best out of our students?
- We have flaws – but that does not mean we cannot succeed. However student teachers need to bear in mind that we may have limits to managing imperfection in our teaching and more importantly the learning of our students.
- Our associate teachers have flaws – because everyone does but they will likely be different to ours. But more importantly associate teachers have mastered some techniques in managing imperfection in their classrooms.
But perhaps the most important lesson is that perfection is boring. There’s a reason electronic versions of instruments never sound as good as the real thing, it is these microscopic imperfections that make each instrument unique. Even a bad instrument can produce a beautiful sound in the hands of a skilled player while a highly expensive Stradivarius cello would be wasted on the likes of me who hasn’t picked up a cello in the last 10 years. But with time, practice and patience, I should get my techniques up to scratch so that my classroom sounds more like a Stradivarius and less like the 2nd hand instrument I played in high school.
It all comes down to learning how to manage those wolf notes.
So for this Teaching Experience I will try to manage imperfection by focusing on the learning both mine and that of my students.
For my first teaching experience I was fortunate to be placed with a year 8 enrichment class.
As you can imagine the students were thoughtful, intelligent, interesting and highly articulate. In short they were a dream class.
There was just one small problem, I was absolutely terrified of teaching them.
For the first few weeks I was utterly convinced that these brilliant children were seconds away from working out that I had no idea what I was doing in the classroom and chaos would ensue all in front of my associate teacher’s eyes.
Now throw in how to work the photocopier, find resources, connect your laptop to the schools wifi while navigating the school’s staffroom and trying to remember everyone’s names and you have those first few days of Teaching Experience.
Does any this sound at all familiar?
I’m guessing a lot of people, student teachers or otherwise, go through the ‘ZOMG what on earth was I thinking when I decided to….’ phase when they do something new and starting doubt themselves and their abilities. And it seems that higher the stakes, the more inadequate you start feeling as you take that intial leap into the unknown.
Although I’ve already been on teaching experience, in just over a week I’ll be in a new school with new students and new teachers. I’ll also be taking a big jump in age levels going from a year 7/8 to teaching year 1/2 and woah how did it get to be term 3 already? Time is ticking by and there’s that constant background worry of finding a job next year.
As student teachers we have it drilled into us how important these teaching experiences are for our career. In the briefing about the upcoming TE one of the remarks made was that our practicum was in essence a 7 week long job interview. At a time when rumours of up to 70% last year’s cohort were not able to find teaching work are flying through the student body that pressure to be perfect just went up a few more levels.
Then there’s the thought next year I am going to be doing this teaching thing for real and the huge responsibility that this entails. In general the theme across my diploma is that teachers are these all-knowing, all-powerful, all-present people in the lives of our students and I wonder how I can ever match the standard set down in these textbooks? Especially since we know that bad teaching can have a massive negative effect on students’ journeys through the education system. Right now there are 120 Auckland students whose concepts of level 4 probability have now been determined by my teaching and I can’t help but wonder did my teaching help or hinder their learning?
When I mention any of these doubts out loud I often hear the same responses ‘Don’t worry’ or ‘I’m sure you’ll do fine.’ These sort of platitudes might work for a few hours of feeling better but eventually that self-doubt drifts in again and I’m back to feeling like an imposter.
So what to do?
Do I keep up with trying to keep up with trying the bestest student teacher there ever was on the outside while spending another TE quaking in my boots that I’m just a few seconds away from being outed for incompetence? Or do I admit that there’s a scary monster lurking under my bed right now that goes by the name failure?
Our society doesn’t do well with failure, it’s an ugly beast that is something to be avoided at all costs. So we stuff our failures into a closet or under a bed somewhere so that nobody can see it and we can pretend failure is something that happens to other people. But the problem with failure is that eventually it will catch up to you with some harsh lessons for not paying it enough attention.
Perhaps what is worse than being the student teacher who goes into Teaching Experience thinking they know it all is being the student teacher plagued by self-doubt and the fear of failure that they miss the most important lesson of all; making mistakes in and of itself isn’t bad, not learning and reflecting on them is the problem. After all if you’ve gone through life without failing at something, then your life has been lived so cautiously that you have failed by default.
I’m going to put my hand up and say that I spent far too much of my last TE trying to be a good teacher with excellent evaluations when what I needed to do was focus more on the learning, both mine and also that of my students.
As a result of this failure I am giving up on the idea of setting myself impossibly high standards then finding myself overwhelmed by the task I’ve set myself to accomplish and will go into this teaching experience with a different mindset.
I’m here to learn.
But to do this I’m going to embrace learning for all of its flaws. Because although most of the time learning is interesting and exciting, it is also messy, frustrating and, at times, utterly terrifying.
So the next time I find myself feeling like a great imposter I will mutter three times under my breath, ‘a fail is a First Attempt In Learning.’
Perhaps that will make that failure monster just a little less scary but I’m not sure if it will help make me feel like less of an imposter those first few
days weeks at school.
Over the holidays I had a goal setting conversation with my teaching mentor about goal setting for the next Teaching Experience.
During my first TE my areas of strength identified during my appraisals were:
- Taking on feedback
- Using evidence to inform teaching
- Classroom management
- Use of ICT in teaching
Areas for development:
- Being clearer with communication with learners around learning intentions, also giving effective formative feedback.
- Making the most of ‘teachable moments.’
- Time management.
- Asking for direction and guidance from associate.
- Literacy – yet to teach any English classes.
I know that making the most of teachable moments is impacted on with time management. During my last Teaching Experience the thought zooming through my brain was ‘ZOMG how am I going to keep the students interested and engaged all day’ rather than realizing that actually time zips by and there’ s a risk that while watching the clock you miss out on those moments when they occur.
English worries me as I haven’t yet put theory into practice. I think I will have a steep learning curve when I go back into the classroom in this area. However the flip side of not teaching any English classes is that I’ve had 3 weeks of teaching almost exclusively teaching maths so that would probably be another area of strength.
I suppose it is a good sign that I take on feedback so if I ask for it a bit more often then I should be well on track for having a great Teaching Experience.
My goals for Teaching Experience 2 are:
- Being proactive with my associate by making sure that I regularly check in to seek specific feedback.
- Check in halfway through my teaching experience on the relationship with associate so that I can make the most of my learning opportunities
- Getting associate’s help with putting literacy theory into practice
- Sit down and get feedback from associate about learning intentions and get feedback afterwards on lesson
AKA as the first week freak out.
For some reason I thought having gotten through the first half of my course I’d be feeling a bit better about semester 2. That happy feeling lasted until I cracked the spine on my course outlines for this semester and went ZOMG how am I ever going to learn all that?
Alongside a Maori Educational philosophy and practice paper, I have one paper in which Social Science, Science and Technology are jammed together and another in which The Arts (visual, performing and music), Health & PE and Language Learning are shoehorned in to give the would-be teachers in my course exposure to all the learning areas of the New Zealand Curriculum.
What was it Piaget said about learning?
We go through a period of cognitive conflict as we assimilate and accommodate new information into existing schema.
So that explains the headache.
But can you really learn to be a teacher in a year?
I’m probably unusual in I majored in education as part of a liberal arts programme during my undergraduate degree so obviously there is some significant crossover in what I’m studying now and what I studied the first time around (even if it was 10+ years ago). A lot of my education papers were filled with people who were gaining a teaching qualification (as opposed to people like me who took education papers because they weren’t sure what they wanted to do when they grew up). So my experience in the diploma is perhaps atypical given that I already have a reasonable grounding in educational psychology and philosophy with Special Education and IT and Education papers thrown in for good measure.
Nevertheless the condensed nature of the course means that I’m going to have to rely a lot on general content and pedagogical knowledge to be able to fill gaps in some subject areas. There is no way I will get up to speed on the ins and outs of teaching science/social science/the arts/technology/health& PE to primary school children in a semester. In fact I had to go back and check that I had covered the six learning areas for the semester and realized I had left off language learning. Doh! This makes me think that the duration of the graduate diploma programme just isn’t sufficient to cover everything that we need to learn about teaching all the curriculum areas we are supposed to be teaching by the time the end of the course rolls by.
But in my experience the best way to learn how to be a teacher is by getting out into the classroom and learning from other teachers. During my courses I will have two Teaching Experiences of 7 weeks of which a minimum should be 4 weeks of full control of planning, teaching and evaluating lessons. I’ve already got 3 weeks under my belt from my first TE and even if I do the bare minimum of 3 weeks this time around, I’ll end up with 6 weeks of teaching which really doesn’t seem like all that much in the grand scheme of things. Which is where the induction process for Provisionally Registered Teachers comes in.
Our system doesn’t expect Beginning Teachers to know everything despite having that nice piece of paper saying we are qualified to teach. That process already tells me that I will need to be prepared for a steep learning curve the next few years which will likely flatten out somewhat when I find my feet. However I imagine teaching really isn’t different from any other profession in that the minute you stop learning you are already falling behind. But do diploma teachers have a steeper learning curve than graduates coming in with a three-year education degree?
I suppose it depends what else we bring in with us.
This week my Social Science lecturer joked that one of the duties of my last job, to draft responses to primary students who wrote in protesting *ahem* the southern ocean activities of a fishing fleet from certain country in Asia, *cough* was one of the 10 top jobs cut out for future Social Science teaching. Certainly taking a whole bunch of humanities-type papers has been useful for developing a reflective framework and conceptual understanding of education within a broader context. I also thank my lucky stars that I had enough sense as a teenager to take a reasonably broad range of subjects in school like physics, music and maths right up until year 13 and kept learning after I graduated university in the form of a new language, sports and hobbies. What can I say? I’m nerd.
But does that make me a better classroom teacher?
Probably not, but it doesn’t necessarily make me worse either.
Maybe diversity in the workplace is a good thing.
Thinking back on my first education papers what made them so stimulating was the diverse nature of the student body. School leavers like me got to interact with people from a variety of different backgrounds who were entering or re-entering university after many years or decades away from formal study. This time around, there are only a few students in my course who have just finished university however there is still an extremely diverse student body. There’s a couple of lawyers, a vet, people who’ve run their own businesses, some are ex army, there’s a number with science backgrounds, a few more who are ex hospitality. A lot of students are parents and there are many that have worked overseas. We are a well-travelled bunch!
As teachers were are told that we need to celebrate the different gifts that our students bring to our classrooms but we should also be doing the same of our would-be teachers. Whether they are a fresh young thing out of university waving a graduate diploma, an older person retraining in the degree or anyone in between they all have the potential to make an excellent contribution to teaching. Our students benefit from the multiple perspectives and talents we bring to their lives.
So maybe for some 1 year is enough to get us started.
Hopefully it will be for me.
Unlike large parts of the New Zealand population, I don’t watch much in the way TV sports (or for that matter TV in general). The best part of the All Blacks game is the Haka, I’ve never had a real affinity for netball and still don’t understand why league and rugby are separate codes. In fact the only time I ever make time to watch sport on TV is during the Olympics and even then there’s only been one sport that I will watch, gymnastics.
I’ve never lost a childlike wonder for how the gymnasts are able to seemingly defy gravity in such a graceful way. But the thing that keeps me watching gymnastics is how the gymnasts able make it look so effortless in a “hey I think I’ll do a few cartwheels on my way to order a cheeseburger” kind of easy. Were the gymnasts born to perform acrobatics? The general consensus is that you need to put thousands of hours of blood, sweat and tears go into making an Olympic gymnast.
But what about teaching? Teaching is one of the few professions where many people think oh that’s easy anyone with half a brain could do that. Most of us don’t think anyone could whip out a scalpel and decide to be a surgeon, likewise lawyers and accountants are generally viewed as needing to acquire some knowledge about what they are doing before we pay them money for their services. However many people would argue that great teachers are born, not made.
Perhaps people think teaching is easy because in general we’ve all been to school so know what a teacher does during the day. A good teacher makes teaching look so effortless that you think to yourself ‘hey I could do this’ while a bad teacher makes you think ‘hey I could do this better’… that is until you get in front of a classroom.
The first few
days weeks of teaching experience where I felt like the little boy with his finger in the dike. However as soon as I plugged one hole, another would appear. There were times during my practicum where keeping 28 students on task and learning seemed like such a herculean effort. At any moment the whole lesson could come crashing down (and yes, on occasion lessons did come crashing down). On the outside you try to keep a cool and calm exterior, but in reality you know a few missteps can lead to classroom chaos in even the most docile of classes.
This would be what the experts call ‘reality shock’. For anyone unfamiliar with the term, this is the phase when you start teaching (experience) and think to yourself “I didn’t learn anything about teaching at university.” From my experience, I did actually learn about it I just forgot all my theory during survival the phase.
For instance at the start of practicum I would often forget to take the roll after the class went out for morning fitness. A seemingly simple task, right? How could you forget to take the roll? Everyone knows that teachers need to take the roll. So why did I forget to take the roll? Because I was too busy trying to remember student’s names, where they going and what they were supposed to be doing after fitness. The roll was way down my list of things to remember. In order to overcome this, I started making little notes to myself checking off what I needed to do during form time and at the end of practicum it was second nature to take the roll.
The roll is just one small part of the day. At any one time you need to know what you are teaching, how you are going to teach it, how long it will take to teach, what materials you are going to need in your lesson, what will happen if something (like your screen projector) isn’t working, where the students will sit, how you’ll manage problem personalities, what you’ll do to minimize disruption (if you are working on a practical activity), what do the early finishers do, how to get your learning intentions across to students who don’t speak English, what happens if students don’t have the background knowledge or raise a teaching point during the lesson. And these concerns might just be for one activity amongst the many that might be going on in class. I haven’t even touched on what happens outside of class
Eventually my training started to kick in and activities which would have caused chaos in my first week (for instance students teaching each other games they had invented for their maths homework) went by without major hitch in the second week. But every lesson there was something for me to work on, something I needed to differently. I did manage to get almost all my ducks in a row just in time for my lecturer assessment but just like my students, I’m still learning.
So is there such thing as a natural-born teacher?
I think there are personality traits that predispose some people to be good teachers, but like anything teaching is a craft that develops over time. The hours I spent babysitting and looking after my baby brother as a youngster (there’s a 10 year age gap), caring for my ex stepdaughter, the months I’ve spent slogging away to get my qualification and finally the hours I will log in the classroom will make me in to that ‘natural-born teacher’ I aspire to be.
New Zealand is a small place. So when one part of our waka shakes, we all feel in some way feel it. This week my heart hurts for the people we already know who have perished in the earthquake in Christchurch and the other souls currently missing. Like most people I feel a bit useless to do anything other than give some money to the Red Cross and send good thoughts to the people who will face untold difficulties in the weeks and months ahead.
Of slightly less significance is the news that I officially survived the first paper with a very good, but not great, pass. I also spent the bulk of this week unplugged from the world at a residency run by my university. This is the longest have I gone without internet since my week-long sojourn into North Korea (yes THAT Korea) in 2008 so was in serious internet withdrawal by the end of the week.
However the benefits of going offline was that I was finally able to put some faces to the names of the fellow students on my course. To say that I was impressed by the diverse make up of the student body would be an understatement. I had assumed that freshly-minted graduates would make up the bulk of the students on the course. However the majority of students were like me: people who had been in the workforce for a number of years or even decades and were taking on a second (or even third) career who happen to be scattered all over the country. I have special admiration for the large number of parents taking the course, especially the ones with babies and young children, who are juggling family and life commitments along with a hugely challenging course. Alongside seeing some awesome teachers in action, one of the most useful parts of the residency were the conversations with fellow students. These conversations made me realize that the fears and anxieties about exam performance, assignments and our looming teaching experience are actually quite common amongst the student body.
However I was staggered by the breadth of knowledge areas that primary teachers have to build up teaching expertise in. Alongside English and math (which cover the traditional three Rs) we also have to become proficient teachers of social science, the arts (Drama, Dance, Music and Visual Arts), health and physical education, science, language learning and technology.
I am exhausted just writing the list.
I was a bit disappointed that my beloved ICT and e-learning did not get a look in however I could see how I could use it in other parts of the curriculum.
I know there is a view that schools are wasting time doing ‘frivolous’ things like the arts when they should be spending time on core learning areas like reading and math. I have trouble following the logic that if we spend time teaching kids music and movement, it is at the expense of their learning in hard subjects. I realize that time is a finite quantity however effective teaching in areas like PE and Social studies can inform other areas of the subject areas of the curriculum. We can’t expect kids to develop writing skills if they don’t have rich experiences to write about.
My favourite workshop of the residency was the dance teacher who modeled a lesson which would get kids moving, laughing and learning some literacy along the way. Playing rugby is an application of math and physics just as much as brut physical power. Dan Carter knows that if he’s kicking into the wind, he needs to put some extra force behind the ball to get it where it needs to go. Likewise music, social studies and technology all have the potential to reinforce the ‘core skills’ when the subjects are taught well.
But even if there weren’t educational benefits from the ‘soft’ areas of the curriculum there is a far more important reason to embrace a love of areas outside science and the 3 Rs. Our kids lives would be awfully bleak if they spent all day at school strapped to their seats quietly learning their ABCs and 123s. Their lives are enriched by running, jumping, making music and creating bits of art. Actually adults lives are also improved by doing these things too.
Speaking of which, I need to go to bed because I’ve got an early stand up paddle boarding class out on the harbour tomorrow