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.
Before I went out on Teaching Experience, I had a couple of people mention that year 1/2 teachers have it easy because all the kids are learning at this age group is their 123s and their ABCs with some finger painting thrown in for fun. I’m convinced that anyone who thinks this must never have set foot in a junior classroom. Sure we all know our ABCs and the prospect of teaching that part of the curriculum might seem easy until you are actually staring down the barrel of 25 youngsters at various reading levels and keeping them engaged with reading.
During my first week I quickly found myself in awe of my associate teacher’s ability to juggle 8 reading groups plus the few extra students that come into the classroom for reading knowing full well that in no time at all I would be taking the reigns. Having only observed English classes at my last placement, where the students were reading George Orwell’s 1984, I knew reading was going to be tough task but I’m here to learn so last week it was my turn.
29 junior students, 8 reading groups, 60 minutes and 1 student teacher what could possibly go wrong?
As it turns out, quite a bit.
This school’s reading programme is based on small-sized reading groups for more individualized instruction. However the corollary of this type of programme is that a teacher doesn’t have much time with each group, maybe 10 minutes but certainly not 15, which is how long I spent with my first group. This meant I didn’t finish going through all the groups I needed to during the session. I had some kids way off task which inevitably led to trouble which I didn’t pick up on soon enough because I was concentrating on putting the theory of what a guided lesson is into with practice and wasn’t scanning the room.
But with so many balls in the air it is perhaps unsurprising that I might have dropped some. I keep reminding myself that it took me about a week to remember to mark the roll back on my first placement so it is unsurprising that I’m finding the reading session hard when I am still literally finding my way around someone else’s classroom. Right now I have to think about things like where are the marker pens, student-sized whiteboards, modelling books and reading books for students while keeping an eye out for off-task behaviour and also trying to keep focused on the task at hand, taking a guided reading lesson.
Eventually I will remember where the marker pens are kept, that student A and student B have a habit of distracting each other from the task at hand so need to be split up and will make better use of the extra space that the collective indoor courtyard area attached to the classroom has since there are extra bodies in the class and activities going during reading that require extra room.
This is learning at its best: messy, unpredictable with lots of mistakes and the best thing is that I get to make some new mistakes next lesson!
Yes there was stuff I did well. I’m good at using questioning strategies to promote thinking and understanding, the students were moving between activities quickly, the dexterity check is a good way to get the class’s attention and at the end of the lesson the students and I did some collective trouble-shooting of problems encountered during the lesson (which we will recap on Monday) but I’m definitely my harshest critic.
Hopefully next week will see some improvement because I have a lesson assessment with my visiting lecturer which Murphy’s law dictates will be during the class’s reading session. Last placement I taught my best lesson when my visiting lecturer came to visit which was an awesome ego boost but also meant we had trouble generating next learning steps for me. So I’m trying to use this assessment as an opportunity to improve rather than to feed my Type A desires of wanting a nice gold star for my learning.