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Weekly Reflection: Finish line in sight

Finish line (or the straits of Malacca) in sight (photo by another backpacker)

This post marks my 40th weekly reflection. If this course was pregnancy, I’d be passing out eviction notices about now.

This week really does feel like the beginning of the end of my teaching studies. Tomorrow marks my last exam and after the exam I’ve got a professional practice paper and then I’ll have officially finished my teaching qualification!

The last few weeks really have been a grind of churning out exams and assignments however the hard work seems to have paid off as the lowest grade I’ve received this semester is B+. However it’s inevitable that my grades will be dragged down as I find exams extremely difficult to complete.  I  pity the poor markers of my papers trying to make sense of my scrawled essays and diagrams.

Nevertheless all I’m after is a passing grade so I’m trying to stay positive that I haven’t tripped up just a few weeks before the end of the year. I’m sure in a few months time  I’ll be wondering why I didn’t savour my last few weeks of being able to sloth in my PJs till noon on a weekday study when the alarm starts going off at 5.30 each morning. But I’m really looking forward to my adventures next year.

Next week I start operation ‘deep south’ to get my meager possessions and I relocated to the capital. On Tuesday I’m heading down to Wellington to find a flat and checking out the new school for next year. I’ve yet to met anyone from the new school in real life so it will be very cool to put some faces to avatars.

Watch out Wellington, I’m back after a 20 year absence.

Weekly reflection: The junior juggling act

Image used under creative commons licence (image by Criss Cross Circus via Flickr)

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.

Weekly reflection – Holidays are for learning too!

Aside from Nethui and EdCampTT  the other thing I’ve been doing with my holidays is visiting  schools that I had an interest in teaching for in 2012.

Although each school had a different organisational culture and leadership style the common theme I’ve had from talking to the principals and teachers I’ve met along the way is that your first teaching job really shapes you as a teacher. These interactions really got me thinking about the purpose of operation job search.

Before I embarked on this process, I must confess that I was more interested in finding a position for the age group I wanted to teach ideally located in a place I wanted to live and hope that there was a vacancy for 2012 that I could wrangle my way into. Now I’m thinking more about the organisational values and culture of the school and hoping there’s a vacancy for 2012 that I can wrangle my way into. An important change I think.

What kind of school would I  like to work at?

  • Collaborative – As a beginning teacher I’ve got a lot to learn about teaching and am going to make mistakes and ask questions. My ideal school would have a culture where mistakes are a learning opportunity and the relationships are there to ask questions of other members of staff. I would also like to work in an environment where I can make a contribution to learning even though I’ll still have my PRT training wheels on. I want to be part of a community of learners.
  • High expectations and high trust – Most students on my course worked up to 5-10 days of full control bit by bit over the 7 weeks we were on teaching experience. In contrast my associate decided that after doing bit by bit for the first 4 weeks, I would have 3 weeks of full control and plan a unit putting my own spin on the programme. At the time I wasn’t feeling at all confident and spent the holidays before I started teaching freaking out. What got me through the freak out were the parting words my associate teacher gave me before the holidays, “I trust you.”  Having a person who I respected put their trust in me made me want to do my best and was a far better motivator than fear (bad grades) or even a reward (good grades).  A few months on I recognize that my associate had given me a massive learning opportunity which I am immensely grateful for. This is also something I need to do as a teacher for my students as well.
  • A culture of happiness –  Perhaps this is Pollyannaish way of me saying I want to work in a school with high morale. But I like the idea that happiness is valued in the workplace. Not the ‘you will be happy OR ELSE’  but I want to be amongst people who love their work and have a strong sense of purpose as to why they are there. Teaching is hard work at times but there should also be joy.
  • Connected – If I were to sum up my teaching philosophy in a soundbyte, it would be that great Stephen Johnson quote, ‘Chance favours the connected mind.’  Working an ICT savvy school, or a school that wants to be ICT savvy, is something that I value because I’m all about using tech as a tool to help future students make connections to support their learning. Obviously reflective blogging is an important part of my practice and something ideally I would want to continue as a beginning teacher.
Going through the thought process of what the key features of my utopia was useful  process if only to make it a lot easier to craft my own interview questions. Now there is the small problem of finding a great school to work for in 2012.

Despite making some inroads into the goals I set myself finding teaching job still has me quaking in my boots. There’s a certain vulnerability about putting yourself out in a job market where there are so many people who are super-fabulous not mention better qualified, I’m going to hear ‘no thank you.’

I’m trying to keep in mind that when schools say no it might be for a reason that has nothing to do with me as a person or even as a teacher. It just means I’m not right fit for a particular school which in the long run will probably be a good thing. I should (touch wood) find a place that is a best fit for my current talents and skill set as well as a place I can learn and grow. I may very well be singing the ‘have diploma, will teach’ tune if I find myself unemployed post-hiring season.

For any student teachers out there I would encourage you to visit schools you are interested in well before an interview perhaps even before vacancies are advertised. It’s a good way to find out about what makes a school tick without the pressure of being under the microscope of an interview panel. In reality you are still being interviewed (so you do need to be professional) but I’ve found the process useful in thinking a bit more about what school would be a good fit for me and the kind of teacher I want to be.

While this holiday hasn’t been a traditional holiday of me watching a lot of bad TV or travelling to offbeat places, I’m feeling energised and excited about getting through the next half of the year so I can start teaching in 2012. Undoubtedly there will be some bumps along the way but it is good to start the semester on a high.

What do you think are the key features of a good school culture for beginning teachers?

How do you identify a school with a good culture for beginning teachers?

Weekly reflection: If you want to learn, don’t let the geek touch your device!

This week I took my PLN building offline. Initially I was just going to Internet NZ’s NetHui, however when @fionagrant offered up a seat to the  Tai Tokerau Educamp, I got up at stupid o’clock on a Saturday to make the journey up to Whangarei to see what these camps are all about. The week was hugely rewarding not only because I meet so many people, but also because I met people I had interacted with on twitter. Nevertheless four days of back to back conferencing, means I’m pretty tired, but the conferences were unlike any I have attended in the past

NetHui was a multi-stakeholder conference initiated by Internet NZ community organisations. The first two days of the conference were more participatory discussions on different aspects of the internet such as cyber citizenship and overall internet governance while the third day bought the discussions into a panel format.

The last day I spent in a corner with my laptop (laptop battery is currently dying a painful death) quite happily tweeting while listening to keynote speeches and report-backs from panels. Unsurprisingly for a conference full of internet junkies the #nethui twitter stream was highly active which bought in further conversations and learning from people in different cities and even countries!

Towards the end of the day I tweeted that I wished my university education was like the conference. However reflecting on this further I’ve realized that my learning is like NetHui. I’m well accustomed to having facebook and chats via text with other students in my course about the week’s bulletin board/upcoming assignment/teaching experience. I’ve proclaimed my love of twitter and obviously reflective blogging is aiding in my practice. So perhaps what I want to do as a teacher is facilitate an environment for my students’ learning to resemble a conference like Nethui.

This could be done by

  • Starting the day with an interesting keynote speaker (the @lessig speech from NetHui was brilliant as was Rod Oram’s) perhaps a child like Adora Svitak.
  • Encourage students to blog/tweet about their ideas, opening up their learning to people outside the classroom.
  • Offer students workshops to choose from, information booths to browse between sessions and spaces to have break-out conversations.
  • Ask students to present their own sessions, scaffolding where necessary.
  • Have students interacting with different people then they would normally encounter, experts, students from other classes, other schools, other countries.

One of the key issues that came out of the last day was the digital literacy of New Zealanders or lack there of.  We have a high level of internet usage but in general we use the internet to shop and pay bills but  is there more we could be doing. Are we only to be a nation of shoppers? How do we learn to unleash the potential of ultrafast broadband?

The general consensus from hui was that learning was something ‘done’ to them. A lot of speakers from the floor were concerned by the idea that we are currently developing digital literacy with people learning from each other.  But really isn’t one person acquiring the knowledge and then sharing it with others, who then share it with more people go to the very core of what education is all about? It’s like a virus, software or otherwise.

Which is where unconferences like educamp come in.  Educamp is basically a group of educators, some people have things to learn others have things to teach, and we learn from each other. I found the experience highly stimulating, especially during the smackdown session at the start of educamp where lots of cool ideas and apps were floated from the floor. What was also rewarding is that I was able to help others learn how to create a google doc and what the docs can do, the basics of twitter (I consider myself by no means an expert on twitter). I also managed to actually put into action what one astute NetHui attendee had remarked, don’t let a geek touch your device!

Speaking as a geek, it is to just take the device away and do whatever it is that the user wants do for them issuing long rambly instructions as I go. I know from last semester (and my own experience as a learner) that this sort of teaching is not very effective. It is little wonder that tech remains a great mystery to large sections of the population. So for anyone who happens to reading this blog who has some techphobia my advice is be open to learning from geeks, but keep your hands on your working device at all times!

What did I take away from this week?

  • To be digitally literate means that you need to commit to be a life-long learner yourself. You need be open to pulling out ideas and tools learning with them, playing with them, and then passing on your knowledge to someone else.
  • The importance of collaboration in learning. At educamp a not yet graduated teacher was helping out teachers with decades of experience to get to grips with new tools which benefited both parties.  The real teachers were learning about new tools they can use in their practice while I had an opportunity to explain how tools work without taking over and doing it all by myself meant that I was also learning too.
  • Be open to learning from anyone, experts come in different forms. Effective organisations take a bit of expertise from one person and add it to someone else’s expertise and share, something I need to think about when I’m looking for a school to work in next year.

But perhaps the most important thing from this week is that I have a vision of what I think a classroom might look like, sound like and feel like for students. Now I’ve got to learn how to effectively implement that vision into my teaching practice. I expect that might take some time, certainly a lot longer than the 6 months I’ve got left in my diploma.

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