This week I traveled down to Wellington to see the school I will be working for next year and try and find a place to live. Despite living in Wellington for a couple of years as a child this was very much a trip into the unknown.
I had never set foot in the school let alone met any of the teachers or leadership in person. While I’m sure they were just as curious who this Beginning Teacher from the skype interview actually is.
When I think about it now I realize that accepting this job offer is a gamble on both sides. I’m a relatively untested teacher, completing my studies online with a blog, that’s a bit
freaky different. Despite a lot of talk about how fandabulous e-learning is, I know that online students are sometimes perceived as being of lesser quality than our campus-based cousins.
For my part I didn’t know that much about the area and didn’t know anyone at the school, I just knew people who knew people from the school. There’s only so much you can gain from online interactions before you need to take the plunge and meet people in real life.
I had a rather inauspicious start when I realized that flat whites and umbrellas aren’t sold close to the local train station. Also being November I hadn’t thought to bring much in the way of warm clothing since Auckland is lovely at this time of year. So of course on the morning of my first day it was cold, wet and miserable. As I was trudging to school in the rain, I suddenly had a thought, what if the classrooms were grotty, the kids were horrible and the staff were nasty? This anxiety went up a few notches after I spent my first hour in the school at professional development session with some very robust debate led by outsiders. At first I thought ‘ZOMG what have I got myself into?’ thinking all my fears had been confirmed. As it turned out I have a lovely classroom, the kids are ace and the staff were so friendly and welcoming.
Likewise flat-hunting started off bad (damp, cold and next to cemetery) got worse (living with a pitbull) expensive and finally worked out after a blogging contact from a few a years ago facebooked she was looking for a flatmate in my location, time frame and most importantly price range. Yes I pretty much live my life through a browser.
Aside from appalling weather, I’m finding Wellington a very small city. Within a few hours I bumped into one of my friends who was stunned to see me meandering around town and from then on I was bumping into people on streets and public transport. The highlight was undoubtedly meeting @dragonsinger57 on the train home from school. I was about to get of the train when I thought ‘this person looks familiar’ then the iphone came out and I realized ‘hey I follow you on twitter.’ I then had the awkward few seconds of umm hey I’m @traintheteacher before Jo greeted me like an old friend.
This week left me feeling excited, invigorated but also feeling the weight of some big expectations. I know have lots of learning to make good on them but also to be aware of the pit doom that I will inevitably fall into during the first terms as I get my head around this teaching business. If I don’t at some stage have at least one meltdown into misery I will be worried. Learning is fun and exciting but also confusing and hard work at times. However I’m optimistic that the ace staff inside the school and the network of teachers I’ve been building on twitter means help is never more than a tweet away.
Despite having an awesome week I keep waiting for the other shoe to drop. Surely something is going to go wrong? At the moment I keep having nightmares of failing my exams and waking up in a cold sweat thinking I’ll have to go back to varsity next year. The rational part of my brain knows that I’ve done well enough in my coursework to carry me through my the dreaded exams. I could have asked for a reader/writer but I was determined to struggle through what I hope will be last set exams ever. However this doesn’t mean I’m finished learning..
There’s no way to sugar-coat it, the job market for graduating teachers at the moment sucks. If you are lucky, you might end up getting a teaching job from your placement but don’t count on it. Right now there are too many teaching graduates and not enough jobs. A far cry from when my mother graduated Teachers College back in the 1970s and the government found her a job (though she did have my Dad to write a letter to get her out of country service).
While I’ve made no secret that social media got me my first teaching position, there’s a bunch of offline stuff Beginning Teachers can do to network if they aren’t interested in geeking out. Some of this is hard and you might feel a bit intimidated putting yourself out there. But any short term discomfort you might feel will be so worth it when you get the phone call offering you a job.
Job searching is about more than putting in applications
A lot of student teachers think that applying for a teaching job involves having a nice CV and cover letter, putting their application in and hoping for the best. In this job market, where there are dozens of applicants for each position, finding a job isn’t about having a nice CV and cover letter. It is about long-term relationship-building rather than short-term paper work. Although I did get a tip from University on the Hill to drop off your CV in person which is a nice touch I guess but too little too late.
The most interesting people in the world are those who are interested in you
This is the most important advice for Beginning Teachers, be passionate about the schools you are applying for! You don’t want a hiring panel to think of you as just another Beginning Teacher in a stack of CVs, you are a fabulous individual in your own right. Likewise if you are a on a hiring panel, you don’t want to hire someone who comes across as wanting to be hired by any school you want someone who is interested in the wonderful things going on in your school.
You can show interest by turning up to information meetings and asking good questions afterwards. School visits are good way to show interest but most students leave this until the end of the year when the CVs are arriving. There’s nothing to stop you starting early. Well before job search season (I’m talking June/July) knock on doors and ask to find out more about the schools you are interested in working for (also a good way to decide if you really want to apply to the school). Some schools will say no, and that’s ok, move on and find the ones who will say yes. They’ll likely be impressed by your initiative and interest, good qualities to mention when you apply for a position later in the year. It’s also a good way to practice for job interviews because it is a job interview!
Join your union, go to meetings
The first piece advice that one of the principals on my Teaching Experiences gave me and the other student teachers on placement was to join the union. She mentioned that she had hired a Beginning Teacger in part because she remembers meeting the teacher previously at an NZEI national conference. Going to union meetings shows you are interested in teaching and education issues and you get to meet real teachers who can also help with job hunting advice and getting you into their school on a visit (see above). The bonus is that both the NZEI and PPTA are free for student teachers to join so really there is no excuse.
Volunteer – but be prepared to stick with the commitment
A lot of student teachers volunteer at their schools after their placement has ended coaching sports, helping with production, or just doing general work (like laminating) for their Associate Teacher. It’s a good way to show dedication and interest in a school. Even if there isn’t a job going at the end of the year, you’ll have a great referee if you get to reference check stage. Always remember that it’s easier to get into a commitment than out of it.
Go to education-related community events
In my case as a geeky teacher I was attending InternetNZ’s nethui and educamps. The Emerging Leaders Symposium puts on Ignite evenings once a term in Auckland which anyone is free to attend. These evenings are a fantastic opportunity to meet future-focused teachers. It can be a bit intimidating being the sole student teacher in a room full of real teachers but don’t let that stop you! When I visited a school one of the teachers remembered me because we had both attended EducampAKL. All recognition is good when you want to stand out from the stack of CVs and be to sure to mention that you attended these events when you apply.
If you are doing the 3 year degree, get involved in campus life!
Your students association is a great place to gain leadership experience, demonstrate organisational skills and learn how to talk to
university bureaucrats grown ups. I couldn’t recommend involvement in your students association enough, especially for school leavers, and advise getting involved in the central campus organisation as well as the one based around your education faculty to show you have a life outside of teaching.
Go forth and volunteer to be a class rep, join a sports club, put yourself forward for student executive, write articles for your student magazine, help organize orientation week/student parties etc. to help pad out your CV, gain valuable life experience and meet people who will be life-long friends. Your 1st and 2nd year is the best time to be involved in campus life but by final year you want to be pulling back and thinking about finding a job.
Graduate Diplomas are about finding a teaching job and not much else
The one year Graduate Diploma isn’t the course to play the role of social butterfly/campus activity coordinator. For a start the short time frame makes for a heavy coursework burden which means you need to be really judicious with how you spend your time. Steer well clear of campus politics and social intrigues which suck time and energy you could spend doing more productive stuff. In fact that’s one of the reasons I think online study is better than campus-based instruction for the 1 year course.
Use any connection you can
Teaching is a really small world so don’t be afraid to tap into the the networks of the people on placement. One of the DPs on my first Teaching Experience referred me on to another school where a new principal had recently been appointed and would likely be looking for teachers at the end of the year. Did I name drop when I wrote my email to the school? Absolutely. I even went to my old intermediate school to see my old Principal who gave me some great advice.
Say you get to the start of next year’s school term and still don’t have a job. All is not lost. A lot of Beginning Teachers find that relief teaching is their path into full-time employment. Put your name down at schools and keep networking.
‘Isn’t twitter just people talking about what they had for breakfast?’
That’s the most common reaction I get when I mention my Twitter addiction. A lot of people don’t understand why I would want to virtually hang out with people I’ve met and have a conversation. What could you possibly say in 140 characters that could be of any meaning?
Outside of amazing ideas to implement in the classroom, there’s advice, support, professional contacts and something any student teacher would want, job leads.
Because Steven Johnson was right, chance does favour the connected mind, and my job search is over with a permanent position for 2012.
All up I applied for just 5 jobs in total, was short-listed to four schools (three of which I had Twitter contacts), had the difficult task of having to say ‘thanks but no thanks’ to two amazing schools and ultimately received an offer from one of the schools I applied for hours after being interviewed.
Part of the reason I was able to generate a job offer was that I had a presence on MyPortfolio which the school who hired me also uses. University on the Hill doesn’t use MyPortfolio (something I will save for another rant) which gave me an immediate leg up over every other student teacher in the city who applied for this particular gig. How did I get a MyPortfolio account? Through sweet talking a contact I met on, yup you guessed it, Twitter.
But the thing with Twitter is that is so much more than just having a digital presence and general schmoozing. Instead of having just 2 Associate Teachers from my Teaching Experiences I have a network of hundreds of global educators who were contributing to my learning in just 140 characters.
I can talk about pedagogy without sounding like I was regurgitating a Whitney Houston song because of conversations I had on Twitter. Point to web tools I had implemented in my teaching practice which I found via Twitter. Most importantly I had a real idea about what the school I was applying about was about because I had already visited the school virtually through the classroom blogs which I found because the Principal of the school is on Twitter.
Now in case you are wondering I can do other things apart from tweet. My e-portfolio has videos I’ve made of student learning, great reports from my Associate Teachers and Visiting Lecturers, this blog demonstrates a commitment to reflective practice and having an Asian language is a big selling point to many New Zealand schools. All this gives me an added dimension to my e-learning obsession and in fact supports it.
So if you are passionate about arts, there’s a community somewhere go find it on Twitter.
If you are passionate about sports education, there’s a community somewhere go find it on Twitter.
Ditto for maths, science, social studies and just about every curriculum area, find or build your community on Twitter.
My advice to student teachers is simple.
Don’t spend most online life hanging out with other student teachers on Facebook pages closed off to the teaching world. Ultimately that community is constrained by one world view, that of the student teacher, which is a narrow perspective dominated by lectures and assignments. Your time in the teaching profession started when you enrolled in the course so come out from behind the digital walls and start connecting with the awesome teachers and principals out there on Twitter. You’ll learn heaps and all this learning might help you find a teaching job.
Wondering who to follow? Here’s just a few of the people who have helped me on my journey to start you off.
@heugumperNZ I owe you big time.
Thanks to @fionagrant, your tweet back in June really kick-started the readership to my blog.
I could go on…
So I will just say thanks so much to the awesome tweachers up and down New Zealand and around the world who helped this Student Teacher become a Beginning Teacher in 140 characters or less.
Last Friday I had my first teaching job interview. I was very humbled to get to this stage of the process as I know the school had received a huge amount of interest not mention applications from all over the North Island and some from the South as well! But this was a job interview with a difference, it was a group one.
The prospect of having my first job interview with 10 other student teachers vying for 1 or maybe 2 jobs was always going to be a double-edged sword.
On one hand being an online student means that I don’t spend much time physically hanging out with other student teacher so I was looking forward to spending time with student teachers. But there was a rather large elephant in the room, we were in competition with each other for a plum teaching position.
From the outset it was clear that all the applicants had something we were passionate about and had something different to offer the school. There were teachers who were interested in dance, music, sports, fine art and drama. One of the students gave a fantastic mihimihi and a number of us had lived overseas at some point in our lives.
I was dumbstruck by the thoughtful and interesting feedback as well as the creative ideas generated for learning. To say I was intimidated by the talent amassed in that room would be an understatement. If I was a principal, I would want to hire us all! I must confess I spent half the time wondering what on earth I was doing in a room full of awesomeness.
So it was just as well our session didn’t feel at all like a job interview. It was run with clear learning intentions and success criteria, there were individual tasks, group tasks, pair tasks. We were planning lessons, talking pedagogy and learning about leadership. If nothing else comes from the interview, I got a free afternoon of professional development run by some amazing school leaders with some brilliant student teachers. That’s the first time I’ve ever come out of a job interview and immediately wished I could go back for another session.
The only downside was that there was no internet access and most of our work was done with pen and paper. However there were physical reasons for this and by end of the session I had access a laptop which made me realize that yes more than anything I’m an e-learner. I like being able to move text around a screen far more than jotting ideas down on paper. Not having a device made me feel literally disconnected from my style of learning.
I’m sure there will be a lot of experienced teachers out there scratching their heads wondering if this is the future of HR practices. I would say yes. Collaboration is an essential ingredient for 21st century educator but traditional 1 on 1 interviews don’t effectively assess this quality except perhaps at the reference check stage. From an interviewee’s perspective it is easy to talk in an interview by yourself about being collaborative. Walking the talk with people you are competing against? That’s tough. But the thing with principles is that they only mean something if you stick by them when they are inconvenient.
The group interviews undoubtedly gives huge amount of qualitative data about you as a person which just isn’t there in the traditional set up. As a interviewee you need to strike a delicate balance between talking and listening. You want to get your ideas across (I’m a special snowflake! La, la, la! Pick me! Pick me! Pick me!) but at the same time you need to show that you can use ideas that come from other people in the room. In short you are being tested on knowing when is a teachable moment that you need to speak up and when is a learning moment and you need to listen. Do I think I got the mix 100% right? Nope but I’m still learning to make the most of teachable moments. Nevertheless the interview had lots of teachable and more importantly learnable moments.
I wondered whether I should post on this experience because I don’t yet know the outcome of the interview and job hunting is such a secretive process. You don’t want prospective employers to know you are talking to other schools when you are in the process of searching for a job because all your job applications proclaim love for that school and that school alone. To say that not only only are you seeing someone else but they said no seems risky. It puts a big scarlet F on our forehead in a society that doesn’t do well with failure. Someone has said no? Maybe there’s something wrong with you. In reality everyone at some point has experienced failure or had a set back in life and it isn’t the end of the world. Picking yourself up and asking what you can do differently to generate another opportunity is what counts.
In fact through the interview process I know that getting a knock back for this job might not come down to anything specific about me but that the school needs to get the right mix of teachers on staff. The Korean-speaking e-learning nerd might not be quite right in the mix when there are sports teams that need to be coached and productions that need to be staged. I know from the interview process that there are other Beginning Teachers who are far more passionate about sports/music/drama/art than I am. However if creating digital content, engaging online communities and using technology to learn is something schools need, then I’m the best Beginning Teacher in New Zealand to fill that particular niche. A bold claim to make, but I can totally back it up.
So that’s why I’m posting about the interview because this is what I’ve been doing for the last 8 months, blogging about my learning. I don’t know if it makes a difference but this is my teaspoon.
Hopefully the awesome teachers I met last Friday will find ways to utilize our collective talents and I will be doing a happy dance for whoever gets the job/s. That’s another great thing about group interviews, you really don’t have any hard feelings if you get a ‘no.’ Because rather than competing against an unknown entity you know the other applicants and in fact find yourself cheering for them.
New Zealand Graduating Teacher Standard 1.a
Graduating Teachers have content knowledge appropriate to the learners and learning areas of their programme.
It was just a simple maths warm up called ‘guess my number.’ It’s kind of like hangman but for maths.
Now I’m sure you are rolling your eyeballs.
But the thing is this game is great for getting kids to use place value so long as you can make the thinking visible.
So we start with the learning.
WALHT: use place value to guess a 3 digit number.
I use 3 digits because that’s about where my year 1/2 learners are at. But you can go down to two digit numbers to start with or up to 5 or 6 digits depending on what your students learning needs are.
The success criteria is simple students will be able to explain how they guessed the number using place value. This means even mistakes are opportunities for learning if you ask the right questions.
I write 3 spaces and the students start guessing the number and put ticks and crosses beside the guess according to whether each number has a correct answer. So if a student guesses 124, I will tick 1 and 4 if the ‘answer’ is 194. Nine gets an X.
I will always give a ‘tick’ for one number on the first guess to start the students off.
From the second guess I will start asking questions.
How did you know to pick that number? What digits have ticks? What do you think would be a better guess for next time (if a student makes a guess that hasn’t used place value)? What digits do you think will have ticks?
A student wins when they are able to explain how the guessed all three places (which I point out is the success criteria for the game before we start playing).
What was amazing wasn’t how quickly students started using place value to make their guesses, but how they chose to adapt the game.
At the end of one warm up a student commented that he wanted me to record a plus or minus sign instead of ticks and crosses. So for the next lesson I use his suggestion and away we went. The students quickly figured out that using plus and minus signs meant the game was a lot easier because the symbols told them whether to pick a number greater than or less than the previous guess. So not only were the students were not only using the language of maths they had stumbled upon a key concept of probability, chance = favourable outcomes/total possible outcomes, and were now using it to improve their odds! I hadn’t even considered using plus or minus as a way to record answer which showes how agile children’s minds are when the right questions are asked.
I was dumbstruck that a simple warm up yielded such great learning moments.
The students have now decided guess my number is too easy and want to guess 4 digit numbers.
Who am I to argue?
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.
I’m very honoured to have another brilliant guest post from a current school student on the topic ‘what makes a good teacher?
A good primary school teacher doesn’t have to be a genius. They don’t have to let you get away with anything (but that’s always a bonus). But if you are lucky enough to spend some time with a good teacher, you have discovered a treasure.
There are three simple things that a teacher should be. The first is laughter. Walking past a classroom of students and hearing laughter is rarer than hens teeth. Peek in the window and you will see twenty, thirty children and a teacher with grins on their faces, and laughter bubbling out of their mouths. Children will say to their parents at home that night “Guess what Mrs F said today”, and “I’m so glad I’m in her class”.
The second is imagination. One amazing teacher I had was teaching the class about information reports. ‘An information report is like a meat pie. The introduction and the conclusion are like the pastry at the top and the bottom, and the meat is like the information in the middle.’ ‘Mrs F’, pipped up one of the children, ‘why don’t you bring in some meat pies for us to eat. It would help us with our learning’ they said with a cheeky grin. ‘Alright,’ Mrs F replied. And she did. The next day, she brought in a big pack of meat pies, and she heated them up during our English lesson, and gave them to us. Brilliant teacher.
The third is respect. If you respect the children you are teaching, they will in turn respect you. If you talk down to them, they will glare. No need to spoon-feed them, let them work it out for themselves, if they look like idiots, so be it. A good teacher will respect their students enough to trust them, and if they betray that trust, then it is their fault, not the teacher’s.
Three simple things you will find in a good teacher. They are so easy, yet so hard to discover. These three qualities come easier if you are born with them, but don’t give up hope if you are not. The same qualities are found in a good principal, and a good high school or university teacher. If you can make a student laugh, if you have imagination, and if you respect a student, every student you teach will remember you forever as the best teacher they ever had.
Right now that I’ve got your attention hear me out. I can assure I will still be blogging, tweeting and generally living my life through a browser. However while reflecting on my e-learning philosophies and practice for a job application I suddenly had a thought, why don’t we just call it learning?
I’ve been using the internet to learn for almost 15 years which means I’ve spent more time learning with an internet connection than I have without. In fact I’ve been online so long I can’t imagine going back to learning only through textbooks and an individual teacher’s knowledge. So why do we persist in using language to describe this sort of learning as new and somehow unorthodox?
Is it a generational thing?
I understand that there is a need in the market for people with specific skills using ICT to learn and you betcha I’ll be working that angle in any job application harder than the contestants on a photo shoot of New Zealand’s Next Top Model. More importantly e-learning can mean different things to different people. Does using a computer automatically mean someone is learning? Nope but neither does using a pencil, a whiteboard marker or a chisel.
As an learner here are some quick diagnostics I use to gauge a person’s interest in e-learning.
- If a teacher can’t point to a digital presence that either they or their students created, then they are not interested e-learning.
- If a teacher can’t name a blog that they follow, then they are not interested in e-learning.
- If a teacher can’t name an app they’ve recently implemented into their teaching, then they are not interested into e-learning.
Right now the biggest hurdle I see in effectively e-learning into teaching practice is that there are too many people waiting to be taught when the most effective learners, e or otherwise, know that learning is an ongoing process not something that occurs only in a classroom.
Case in point telescopic texts.
I found telescopic texts on twitter the night before I was teaching shared writing session on using describing words to make. I had a quick play and decided it suited my learners’ needs so the next morning I flung the website up on the classroom’s two-touch and bang that’s something in my teaching arsenal. Will I use it all the time? Nope. But that just in time learning is what e-learning is all about. See an idea, give it a go. If it is great, keep it and share it. If it’s a lemon, ditch it.
For the purposes of this tool I knew my students learning needs were to go beyond answering the who, what, when, where, why and how in their recount stories and start to add adjectives to make their stories more interesting however doing it on paper is kind of boring and messy. Being able to construct sentences which they could unfold on screen was the hook the students needed to starting thinking about editing their work which was the focus of their learning for that session. The students were so enthralled that they begged to ‘play’ with the sentences before school the next day.
This type of learning seems so natural to me, a quick 15 minute scan of my twitter feed yielding ideas relevant to my practice as teacher. I didn’t need to be told to learn or show up at a time or place in order to learn from an expert because I built up a community of people who support my learning. The opportunity for me to learn is never more than 140 character tweet away.
The question is should this sort of self-directed learning, professional or otherwise, be the exception or the norm?
I’m guessing if you are reading this blog, then you don’t need much convincing.
But shouldn’t everyone in the business of teaching should be constantly be in a process of learning? The rate at which knowledge and technology is expanding is so rapidly that anyone choosing to stand still is in effect choosing to slip behind. An e-learner knows that to be successful in this environment you need to take initiative, build and contribute to communities of knowledge and most importantly be open to learning anywhere from anyone at anytime. Aren’t these the sort of traits we should be encouraging in all teachers not just those who choose to put an e in front of their learning?
Because at the heart of it e-learning isn’t about learning technology but using technology to learn.
The focus needs to move from the technology to the behaviours and habits of mind that enable effective learning. E-learning by its very terminology puts the technology ahead of the learning. Granted learning-e doesn’t roll of the lips as nicely as the alternative but the implication of using terms like ‘ICT integration’ or ‘e-learning’ is that using technology in teaching practice is somehow special or different. An optional extra that the ICT coordinator takes charge of or something individual teachers put the effort into if they have the time, not something that should be at the heart of everyone’s teaching practice.
When I hear people joke they don’t know how to programme the VCR/DVD player or say that they don’t have the time to spend on integrating ICT what I hear is that they are not interested in sharing and connecting with the world outside the classroom.
In short they are not interested in learning.
Perhaps I’ve stumbled upon my philosophy of e-learning, it should be so ubiquitous that we don’t need to think of it as a special category of learning anymore.
I’ve changed my position on students calling teachers by their first names.
During my first placement was at an intermediate school where I went by Ms Lastname and was reasonably convinced that this was the way to go. I didn’t particularly want to be on a first name basis with my students due to always having to be ‘on’ as a teacher. For this placement I am with year 1/2 class at a school where everyone in the school is on a first name basis with their students and having now experienced the practice of being called Stephanie, I kind of like it.
I thought it might be weird, and it was for the first hour or so, but after that I quickly got used to it because it was simply the culture of the school. In fact the rooms in the school aren’t numbered at all but rather referred to by the teacher’s name classroom. So if I was teaching at my placement for real I wouldn’t be teaching in room 3, it would be Stephanie’s classroom. This sounds a bit egotistical at first glance but the practice seems a lot more warm and welcoming than an impersonal numbered space.
I don’t think the issue of students respecting teachers is a major one. I haven’t noticed any difference in students respecting teachers at my current placement then there was at my last placement. But I discovered that alongside not feeling so detached from my students another unintended benefit when a student talks about another teacher I no longer have to think about who Mr/Mrs Lastname is because I automatically know the teacher’s name. I also like that when I bump into my students outside of school (I live within easy walking distance) the students call me Stephanie as the alternative seems so contrived once you are out of the classroom. So why do most teachers insist on keeping up the practice inside the classroom?
The issue of teacher names isn’t something that I would go to the matresses over. However if I was given the choice, I think I would opt to be on a first name basis with my students. Nevertheless I can’t help but think that school culture might play a role in my decision as perhaps the reason I enjoy students calling me by my first name is because they call everyone by their first name.
New Zealand Graduating Teacher Standard 4.a
Graduating teachers draw upon content knowledge and pedagogical content knowledge when planning, teaching and evaluating.
One problem I’ve been mulling over for the last few months is making the most of teachable moments. I know that there are moments when teachers need to, in the words of my former eduction lecturer John Hattie, just shut up and let the learners learn. However there are also teachable moments in the classroom when teachers need to step forward and take an idea or question for a ride with your learners to see where it goes.
But how does a teacher know the difference?
Is it this where the idea of the natural teacher comes from? Natural teachers ‘just know’ when to shut up and listen but also when to speak up and the rest of us spend years trying to learn something that simply can not be taught.
You either ‘got it’ or you don’t?
The reason I bring this up is because on Monday afternoon it snowed in Auckland for the first time in nearly 80 years and I completely dropped the ball on a teachable moment. At the time I was busy trying to teach a handwriting lesson and the children’s backs were to the windows. The students probably wouldn’t have noticed what was going on outside had my Associate Teacher not piped up ‘look out the window children, what’s that?’
Once handwriting was put down for a moment the room was immediately a buzz and I quickly grabbed my camera to take video footage of the snow and the children’s reaction to it. I’m glad I did because when I was reviewing the footage later, I noticed a small teachable moment amongst the excitement, ‘is that snow’ a little voice asked? As it turned out it was something called graupel.
The children’s story’s this week for writing were amazing, they were animated and used highly expressive vocabulary. The class went nuts at the video I made of the children’s reaction’s to the graupel moreover the students were hugely excited at the prospect of someone capturing their stories on video giving the possibility of a far wider audience than the readers of their exercise books.
As it turned out the graupel was a teachable moment for me. I was bogged down in the nitty gritty aspects of writing, the forming letters, that I had lost sight of the reasons why we write. I think children are no different from adults in their desire to want to share their feelings and connect with others. Yet I wonder if our education system spends way too much time focusing on the mechanics of writing at the expense of the authentic experiences and audiences that inspire all of us to write.
Despite having a great visiting lecturers assessment, I spent another week plagued by doubt. Would I ever be able to judge a teaching moment without my Associate in the room to sound the alarm ‘danger Will Robinson you are missing a teachable moment.’
And then sure enough one popped up.
I was doing a brainstorm around the language associated with the +, -, = signs. I was impressed that alongside more and give, the students managed to hit on language like fatter and upgrade for the plus sign. But then when it came to the equals sign a student piped up that the sign meant “the answer is.”
I immediately knew that this was one of the mythical teachable moments I had been looking for. One student said it, which meant there might be more that think it. More importantly having taught algebra to a group of enrichment Year 8 students I knew that students misconceptions about what the equals sign means causes problems later on.
So I decided to have a quick mini-lesson on why equals does not mean ‘the answer is.’ I used materials, I used images and finally a moment of genius desperation I got the group to stand on one leg. By this stage the students were undoubtedly convinced that their teacher had a touch of the crazy, what on earth could standing on one leg have to do with maths? But there was a method behind my madness.
Each of the children had their arms out and when I asked them why sure enough they answered that they need to put their arms out to balance. I told them that the equals sign was like a balance, what is one side of the equals sign must be the same as the other. I then asked the students what would happen if they took the other leg off the ground and they responded that they would fallover, which I explained is kind of what happens when what is on one side of the equals sign is not the same as the other.
We started playing with our materials again when one of the children piped up that 1+1=2+0. What an awesome learning moment I sowed the seed of an important mathematical concept and maybe, just maybe, I’m not as blind to teachable moments as I thought.