Time of year where we are sending home statements about what our students learning goals for the year are. As these are reports going home, they must include a statement about National Standards and be in plain English. Personally I prefer my English in pink and purple polka dots but I digress.
I’ve had a number of problems National Standards in the past but now I’m having to make an overall teacher judgement about whether I think my kids will be at standard by the end of the year I’ve run into a huge set of ethical dilemmas.
There are a few kids in my classroom who without any real input from me are already at standard right now. If National Standards measure success, then what is our system telling the kids who are already there? You’re deemed to be at where you should for your age now put your feet up and watch the year go by. At the other end of the spectrum there are a few kids who even with a herculean effort are unlikely to be at standard by the end of the year. I can’t think of anything more demoralizing for a kid, or anyone really, then being told at the start of the year that even if pull out all the stops and work harder than they ever imagined, you’ll still be below standard at the end of the year.
Yes I realize that standards are supposed to be aspirational and I should have high expectations of all my students, but this needs to balanced by principles of honesty and fairness. Yet even the principle of honesty must be couched. When I hear of stories of children in tears about being labelled below standard and how distressing this must be for some kids and some parents I know I need to be careful when giving those cold hard facts. And it this judgement without context which is the reason why a lot of teachers loathe national standards.
Yet I realize that these feelings aren’t the same for parents.
Last school reporting season I watched my facebook feed light up with friends proudly mentioning that their kids are above National Standards to know that the standards do mean something to parents. A safeguard that yes my kid is doing ok, or no my kid needs help.
But the parents aren’t the only people who read school reports.
As I’m writing my comments and making my judgements on these statements I’m very aware of my student audience. That audience is the reason why I’ve spent more time this weekend worrying about whether or not the kids in my classroom will meet National Standard at the end of the year than I have on identifying their next learning steps or even planning for next week’s classes. In short I’ve spent more time worrying about where the kids are according National Standards than I have working out where they need to go and how we are going to get them there.
I know I shouldn’t over think these judgements but it is such a big call to stick a label on kid.
People outside of the education sector seem to assume that there is a definite line in the sand between the kids that are achieving or not. However even with the wealth of assessment information my school has on each child I still feel like I am performing nano surgery with a sledge hammer when it comes to making a judgement on national standards for some children.
For a number of children the weight of the previous teacher judgements weights heavily on my mind especially if the evidence I have supports an entirely different conclusion from a child’s previous report. The previous teacher might well have made a mistake. I know despite asking for the advice of others, there will be kids I have made an error of judgement on. This doesn’t make them or me a bad teacher. In fact it doesn’t make us any different from any primary teacher in New Zealand.
Because the bigger mistake that has been made is thinking of learning as a product rather than a process. And it worries me greatly that these labels are detracting us from the conversations we need to be having over a child’s next learning step. Despite arguments to the contrary, assessment isn’t a science and should not be treated as such. A guide to be sure, but ultimately like all measures of the human mind entirely fallible by our innate individuality.
Strictly speaking this isn’t my first post that demonstrates competency in one of the New Zealand Registered Teacher Criteria. However since I’ve finally got my project under way, let’s get this RTC party started.
New Zealand Registered Teacher Criteria 1.i
Registered teachers engage in ethical, respectful, positive and collaborative professional relationships with whānau and other carers of ākonga.
Standing on the Shoulders of Giants
Since school has started, the passage of time seems to have picked up pace. I can’t believe that we are already a fifth of the way through the first term. How did that happen?
The highlight of my week was my school’s community get together. During my last two weeks at school I’ve been astonished with how supportive the community is of their children. I was surprised by how many parents showed up on the first day of school to help their children transition into a new school and was amazed by how many parents took the time to come to visit our classroom and find out more about their children’s education.
Although teacher education stress the importance of building those relationships and give student teachers a lot of tips about to go about how to going to build relationships, the experience I drew on came not from books but from spending time as a stepmum in previous life and watching my stepdaughter start school. School was this place I didn’t know much about and I often worried about her getting bullied or slipping through the day unnoticed in a school where she was one of hundreds of kids. As a result, I’ve always been mindful that classroom teachers can spend more time with children than their parents do. Particularly in the case of the younger children whose families don’t live together.
In all my previous teaching experience I have always lived within less than 1km of the school. I often saw my students and their families at the supermarket, on the bus and walking down the street. Living close by gave me a context. I knew the kids weren’t just kids in my class but people with lives and families. By the same token the families in my community knew me because the saw me around town at the supermarket or catching the bust. Now that I live some distance from the school, I can see how easy it is to think of my kids just as students in my class rather than people with their own lives and interests.
Meeting my students’ family underscored again a huge amount of responsibility and trust the parents of the children in my class place on me to do the best I can for their kids. When these kids are in the classroom it’s up to me to not just educate them but to care, to give a damn, to not pass the puke.
So what have I been doing in the last few weeks?
I’ve set up our class blog which amongst other things is a space to let parents know not only what is going on in the classroom but also as a space for reminders about upcoming trips and due dates for home learning tasks.
I try to have a fast turnaround on parent emails. However because online communication is something that is permanent and without the context of body language and tone of voice, there is a risk of causing offence or unwittingly escalating sensitive situations with poorly-worded responses. As a result, when I get an email from a parent that I’m unsure about I’ve asked my tutor teacher or syndicate leader for help drafting a response before hitting send.
The other aspect I’ve been thinking about is that of time. Having made a few last-minute cakes for the school fair in my time I know that parents are no different to the rest of us in that they are working long hours. As a result, I need to be mindful of the demands I place on students and their families in the hours outside of school.
More than anything this week has reminded me that a great deal of my success as an educator wouldn’t be possible without a highly supportive parent community. My work as a teacher will always stand on the shoulders of giants; my students’ families.
Despite my somewhat irreverent post title induction into the teaching profession in New Zealand is serious business.
Beginning Teachers are granted provisional registration when they start their teaching career and spend at least two years being supervised by an assigned mentor before they can apply for full registration. In order to gain full registration Beginning Teachers are required to gather evidence of their professional development to demonstrate how they meet each of the New Zealand Teacher Council’s Registered Teacher Criteria.
Most teachers are still using the dreaded ringbinders as a way to gather evidence in the event that the Council decides to audit their application. After unsuccessfully doing battle with University of the Hill last year to submit my paperwork via google docs I’m seizing the opportunity afforded by working in a digitally savvy school and am going paperless with the evidence-gathering process for registration.
Some of my work will go on behind digital gates however I would remiss if I didn’t also consider about blogging this journey. My Graduating Teacher Standards eportfolio has generated a lot of traffic to the site and provided a useful analyitical framework for my edublogging. I enjoyed the process of using blogging as a way to gain evidence for the Graduating Teacher Standards that in a fit of edugeekism I decided to take on a second blogging project, the Registered Teacher Criteria.
Following my credo that blogging doesn’t work without a purpose. Here’s my purpose
1. To Share – Bloggers love to share. Some would say we over-share, but if someone at some point gets some use out of my ill-formed ramblings then that’s marvellous.
2. To learn – I’ve got an awesome group of teachers to learn from at my school. But yet still I love that there’s a network of teachers around the world that I can on for advice (and who so freely give it). Thanks PLN!
3. To provide an ‘adjacent possible‘ - So much of the discussion around teachers use of social media is ill-informed scaremongering. Someone needs to show that not only can you blog while teaching without the sky falling in. In fact there are many benefits to using social media for professional learning.
4. To inform. One of the troubling misconceptions that came out in the comments section of this post is that people seem to assume that Beginning Teachers come into the profession knowing all there is to know about teaching. Documenting this journey from provisional to registered teacher as a way to de-privatize teaching practice and show that developing teaching ability is a process not just
talent a set of innate personality characteristics.
So yes it seems you have at least another 2 years of reading my opinions, rants, and musings.
I consider it a glaring omission of my Teacher Education that nobody mentioned the importance of a neck chain for your classroom keys.
Having never been the guardian of a classroom of learners has also meant that I have never been in the possession of a set of classroom keys. In the absence of any students at school my personal style had been sloppy student meets budget backpacker; t-shirts, cargo pants and jeans which have pockets.
Lots of pockets.
This being Day 1 with lots of parents in the school I fished some clothing from days as an office flunky out of retirement and discovered a problem nobody told me about: women’s clothing is bereft of pockets.
Who decided women have no use of pockets?
Or maybe it was wardrobe malfunction not quite on the level of Janet Jackson’s performance at THAT superbowl in which I decided that wearing a skirt sans pockets would be a good idea on my first day of teaching. Because I spent far too much of my first session at school wondering where I had put my keys: they were on the table, then on the bench and then in the cupboard but never where I needed them when I needed them.
And then as I walked the kids over to the school’s Pōwhiri, I spotted all the other female teachers in the school were in possession of the one must-have teacher’s fashion item that I had yet to purchase. A neck chain to hold my classroom keys.
How could I spend 12 months in teacher education and not learn the importance of this teacher’s accessory. Is that why I only got a B+ in my Teacher in Context paper?
Fortunately the last teacher had left a spare key neck chain in my drawer and once I located it I could start my day in earnest, remembering names doing some warm up activities and helping the kids decide on some classroom roles:
- ICT Whizz (computer monitors)
- An accountant (a child who counts up borrowed equipment to make sure we have returned all the sporting equipment/camera etc. to avoid equipment getting lost)
- Bloginators (self-explanatory)
- Window watchers (kids to close windows)
- Snapper (photo journalist)
One of the others things they won’t tell you at teacher’s education is that first hour of teaching a class for real WILL BE THE LONGEST HOUR OF YOUR LIFE EVER. For some reason the kids were whipping through my ‘get to know your classmates’ activities so quickly that I secretly wondered if I was going to be out of effective classroom material by the time we hit interval. But here’s another crazy thing about your first day of teaching, at some point those minutes which went by so slowly will suddenly speed up and you’ll be dismissing the kids wondering where your first day went.
Other lessons learned.
- You’ll do a lot of walking, especially to and from the printer and office.
- Flat shoes are no guarantee that your shins won’t be be screaming come 3 o’clock.
- Bringing home-baked cookies is good way to start your syndicate meeting.
Sorry for the lack of any substance in this reflection but I’m afraid my brain stopped functioning effectively sometime around 4pm.
Right time to read over some student writing samples before I get some much-deserved sleep in preparation for day two of teaching.
Along with new students there will also be new teachers who will start teaching ‘for real.’
I’m sure that most of the teachers are feeling a bit like me. Wildly oscillating between “woohoo the kids are arriving next week I can’t wait to start trying out all these cool ideas in the classroom” and “ZOMG I’m responsible for a class of students whatever could they possibly learn from me?”
One of the hardest parts of entering the world of teaching is that there’s no shallow end of the pool for Beginning Teachers to dip our toes into. On Tuesday 30 year 7/8 students and myself come together for at least a year of learning. While the year 8s know each other from last year, the year 7s and I will be the newbies and it’s my job to help bring us together as a class.
Wow is that a big difference between student teaching and real teaching.
In the past my teaching sat on top of my Associate Teacher’s classroom foundations. They had already put the systems and relationships in place. I just needed to follow and/or adapt them when I took control of their classes. Now I have assumed responsibility for the heavy lifting required to build those classroom foundations and right now that load feels awful heavy. Throw in all the responsibilities, obligations and expectations and I’m daunted by the enormity of the task of getting through what needs to be done let alone implementing any of those new ideas I’ve got buzzing around in my head.
Ahh yes a typical start of the year situation rears its ugly head, idealist graduate meets the cold, hard reality of classroom teaching.
I feel very fortunate that my week included 3 days of Professional Development on building relationships, using cooperative learning strategies and inquiry-based learning. Perhaps my key take-away from this week is that if the classroom environment isn’t supportive of learning then any news that I want to implement will be lost if I can’t take the kids along on the journey. It’s the line many new teachers need to walk the line between innovation and teaching fundamentals, between being cutting edge and bleeding edge.
So seeing as it is the start of the term, its a good time to set some goal setting for myself.
Relationship management Teachers need to have great relationships with their students. But perhaps more importantly there needs to be environment in the classroom where the kids to be able to learn from each other. I also need to further develop relationships with the other teachers in my school asking for help when I need it, taking on and adapting advice.
Language I’m by far my harshest critic convinced that my lesson plans suck, my classroom looks awful and basically I’m the worst teacher ever. Perhaps I need to be aware that all this negative self-talk floating around in my head may start seep into my classroom talk and definitely colours my perception of the task at hand. Adjectives matter. Perhaps instead of ”hard and difficult” I could say challenging, “that sucks” becomes “how can I improve?” and “good” migrates to “effective.” More importantly when reflecting on my classroom time I need to start by looking at what has gone well instead of immediately zeroing in on areas for improvement.
Literacy I didn’t do much literacy teaching during student teaching and it’s curriculum area I feel I lacking in terms of content knowledge. Yes I do a lot of reading and writing however I am digital reader and writer best suited to the immediacy and interactivity of the web. Despite working in a digitally savvy school I know my kids will still be using pencil and paper. More importantly I need to have some effective systems and processes in place during literacy sessions.
These aren’t grand goals that are going to shake the world of education to its core but they are my next learning steps.
I know that taking by taking a more conservative road there’s a risk of being sucked into a vortex of dull conformity that comes from being part of a system designed from another time. But the more I think about it, the more I realize we need to get away from this idea of creativity being some lone flash of insight when perhaps it comes from continually refining your own practice and more importantly taking on the ideas of others.
In that regard I feel humbled that I have so many awesome people to learn from and ask questions. During my PD one of the tasks was to find some inquiry learning resources on the web. Being somewhat lazy, I simply put a tweet out and sure enough within just a few hours several answers had popped up from people spread across the globe. So yes while I might be part of a system designed in the industrial age, there’s a network of fantastic educators in my actual staffroom as well my virtual one who I can learn from.
Part of my ‘pay it forward’ to my virtual colleagues is to document my own journey so that others can learn too (the ones in my physical space get pie).
I’m totally expecting this term to probably be challenging, tiring, crazy but also hugely rewarding. So my last goal is somewhat simplistic. If the students and I can finish the term with a smile and wondering where the time went to then that would be awesome.
Welcome back dear readers and happy 2012!
I am now in possession of keys to a classroom I’m responsible for. But right now there are no students only a couple of teachers oh and me.
I’m one of these teacher people now too.
A school without students is a very surreal place. Possibly because I’ve read Children of Men one too many times but also because right now that room still feels like someone else’s classroom. Most student teachers secretly yearn for the day when they get their own classroom and they get to decide what goes where and how to set up their classroom programmes. But oddly when faced with creating a learning space instead of merely borrowing someone else’s instead of feeling liberated I felt the walls of indecision closing in on me.
How can I possibly arrange the classroom until I’ve thought through all possible options for configuration and decided upon the one that will maximize student interaction and collaboration? Am I going first name or last name? What are we going to do for ice-breakers? Even the very act of writing this first post has been an exercise indecisiveness. It’s my first post as a real teacher shouldn’t I have something profound to say now that I have an actual audience?
I’m sitting here trying to think of something of substance to type and I got nothing.
That was my attempt at a primal scream in blog form.
A few years ago I was sitting in the Museum of Modern Art in New York where I became fascinated by this one exhibition that was simply an open mic in the middle of a crowded foyer. Anyone could rock up to the mic say anything and have their words amplified to the thousands of people wandering the museum’s halls. Every so often people would step up to the mic to speak and instead of saying anything profound or even just something coherent people simply screamed. It struck me as odd that when people were faced with the freedom to say anything they wanted they couldn’t find the words to say anything at all. Perhaps the artist’s intention was to show how people will conform to what comes before or perhaps it was a demonstration of a great Volitare saying, the best is the enemy of the good.
Voltaire’s idea that in an endless quest for perfection sometimes we sacrifice good options in a quest to discover an elusive ‘best’ option is a phrase that I and many new teachers need to keep in mind in these coming weeks and months. Not because I think new teachers shouldn’t be striving to be ‘the best’ but more because when you are faced with so many decisions and put so much pressure on yourself to get things right the first time, you end up forgoing the good options in the search for perfection. And it is that expectation of instant perfection that inevitably leads to disappointment and disillusionment.
Over the last few months I’ve read or heard horror stories about people’s first year/s of teaching and wondered if the real frustration comes out of the disconnection between what what new teachers might envision teaching to be and the reality of life in the classroom. We painstakingly make plans, spend hours deliberating over choices and then see so many hours of decision-making and angst go awry in just minutes. However when faced with things not going to plan being able to walk back from the ledge of ‘zomg I am the worst teacher ever how many days is it until the end of term?’ to ‘Ok that sucked now what can I do differently next time?’ is the best survival strategy a new teacher can have when faced with the paradox of making so many choices work.
That might not be the wording of a focusing inquiry question that the authors of the New Zealand Curriculum had in mind when they wrote the Teaching as Inquiry section of the document. But it’s a good enough option for now…