Just the word is enough to send shivers down the backs of some students and their teachers too.
The primary school speech format has changed so little from the time I went to school. Most schools have each child get up in front of their class for 3-4 minutes. The best speakers then are selected to stand in front of the school.
There are boxes to be checked. Has the student used repetition, rhetorical questions, quotes and statistics? Check, cross, check, check. There are strict rules about time. Don’t look down. Hand gestures and the odd dramatic pause thrown in for good measure. No images because that isn’t a speech, that’s a presentation.
The end results can be sometimes be decidedly underwhelming. Speeches that tick all those nice boxes on the rubric but say nothing at all.
What makes a good speech?
Instead of having of going the usual route of having students sit through Martin Luther King Jr talking about having a dream, Kennedy going to the moon and Churchill fighting on the beaches then analyse each one for rhetorical devices I was determined to do something different.
Don’t get me wrong as a student of political studies I have an appreciation of oratory and these speeches are quite rightly iconic. However these men were leaders of nations and movements over 50 years ago their lives and thier language is far removed from the pubescent students sitting in Wellington today.
So we listened to Richard Turere talk about scaring away lions, Thomas Suarez wax lyrical about app development, Adora Svitak persuade a group of adults that they could learn from kids. If you haven’t heard of these names before there is a reason for this. These speakers are not much older than my students.
Instead of looking at the rubric I simply asked my students a question.
What made these speeches good?
My students decided that speeches were good because the speaker was sharing a passion, an interest or telling a story. As a teacher the most memorable speeches were the ones when students shared something about themselves that we might not hear.
I then challenged the class. They had 3-4 minutes to share something with the class and they needed to make those moments count. Everyone had a story to share and it was their job to find their one.
Over the next few weeks I spent more time coaching kids then explicit teaching. Alongside offering advice about language features, and giving feed back about structure I often scratched my head wondering why a student had chosen topics they didn’t seem interested in or passionate about.
Despite being officially not the done thing I let students use as many images as they saw fit to help communicate their ideas and some tried out an ignite format.
This year I was amazed to see a number of my kids that don’t necessarily shine when in standardised testing coming out of their shell to boldly declare ‘this is who I am.’ We learned about being the new kid in school, fears, learning disabilities, personal heroes, hobbies, family culture and immigrating to New Zealand.
One child talked about losing a parent.
The speech itself might not have ticked all those nice boxes on the rubric. There weren’t the dramatic pauses or hand gestures. In fact the student could not finish the speech so I read from the cue cards beside them. By the end of the speech, half the class, including myself, were in tears.
This was a speech that everyone in the classroom that afternoon will remember.
My students might not have been good enough to make the finals but there were so many kids who bought their best selves to speeches this year.
And that’s what any teacher should be aiming for.
As a Year 7/8 teacher, I’m sure I’m not the only one who has in times of frustration complained that kids these days just don’t seemed as clued in as the kids of yesteryear.
They’ve been at school 7 years and still don’t know the four times table.
Their work is littered with text speak.
They copy and paste without pausing and thinking.
Sometimes it is easy a middle years teacher to place blame on those at the lower level not doing their job. But here’s the thing, I don’t consider it part of my job to prepare kids for high school. Maybe I need to stop expecting teachers from the years to hand me the perfect students and accept my students for who they are right now.
It is my job as a teacher to find out where the kids are in their learning and help move them along.
I was reminded of my responsibility this week during a class read aloud of The Wave when one of the characters made a quip about the school newspaper office being Anne Frank’s attic.
Quickly realized that only one student knew of Anne Frank.
Was this a case of primary school letting me down or a teachable moment?
Rather than tell my students who Anne Frank was, I challenged my students to find out.
“Anne was born in Germany,” one of them piped up.
“She spent years living in attic” another student found out.
“She was hiding from the Nazis because she was Jewish.”
“Then someone told the Nazis about Anne’s family hiding and she was sent to a concentration camp.”
One of the students noticed that Anne died only a matter of weeks before her camp was to be liberated.
A silence fell over the room.
Her diaries were kept safe and then they were published.
Would Anne’s story have been so powerful if she had survived the holocaust?
In focusing on what students didn’t know, I could easily have missed a learning opportunity.
Our students are not the same.
They were never the same.
How often in focusing on deficits of our learners do we miss the potential for learning?
Another week over, another term done and dusted.
A particular highlight of this week was finally getting the bottle bivvy construction started. My class had been collecting milk bottles all term but I had no idea what kind of base to build the bivvy. Finally in a moment of inspiration I realised that the refurbishment happening in my school would likely mean that there would be spare carpet to use and we were on our way.
I took a group for a ‘guided’ construction process. We watched the video about how to glue the bottles together and then I helped the students to chalk out a giant circle. What was awesome was quickly the students took over the project. Over the course of the week, the students I initially taught were teaching each other the procedure of how to glue the bottles together and we’ve made a big dent in the construction process.
To me this is learning at its purest. Finding an idea, learning a process and then others teaching each other. I hope that this is one of those the experiences that the kids remember for many years to come.
If feels like I’m coming into the home stretch of the year. The last term seems to be a manic mix of camp and end of year festivities. For my Year 8 students in particular I often wonder if I’m actually setting them for success in high school.
My class looks like this. When visitors to my room arrive, they often can’t immediately find me and spend a few minutes around looking a little lost until they find me in a little corner of the room or buried under milk bottles.
Yet I know high school classes don’t function like this. It’s an hour in and then onto the next person, no time for real deviations from the plan.
We spend a lot of time blaming in education. Workplaces blame universities for not preparing graduates for the world of work. Universities blame high schools for not preparing students for high schools. High schools blame the primary schools and on we go.
But perhaps instead of blaming we should put our energies into ensuring that each year for our students is a great year so the stay engaged in learning. Perhaps it’s teachers who need to prepare for our students rather than preparing our students for others.
One of the bizzare things about being teacher is that you quickly start marking out your life in relation to the school year. Some days I may have no idea the date is but I will always be able to tell you what week of the term it is. Teachers don’t talk in dates or even months, they talk in terms or weeks everything in my life revolves around the school schedule.
Oddly I find this set up vastly superior to being an office drone where the days just kind stretched out endlessly with the same routine with no end in sight. At my school at least, there always seems to be something coming up: an event, a competition, a performance. It makes the year pass quickly, far too quickly really for my liking, because I find myself right now wondering to myself how did it get to the be the end of term.
If my first term was characterized by an utter panic of ‘ZOMG what am I going to teach these children I’ve been entrusted to educate,’ this term I’ve made a 180. I felt like I had so much I wanted to do and only got around to doing a fraction of the things I wanted to get done. To be sure there were a lot of interruptions this term, some of which were planned others not so much.
Yet somehow I’ve made it through the halfway mark of the year. This week in particular has been draining simply because I didn’t have enough gas in the tank. As always when my energy levels seem to wane, I find classroom management actually becomes easier.
I hadn’t realized how exhausted I was until I came home at 6pm on Friday and pretty much passed out until lunchtime the next day. I’ve had a number of teachers tell me that the first year out is the hardest and teaching gets easier once you’ve managed to get that first year or two. I’m not sure if this because you know what to expect in subsequent years or because you build up more stamina to get through the craziness that is school term.
Nevertheless, the end of the term is a good time for reflection and more importantly rejuvenation. So here are some goals to get me through the next half of the year.
- Try and get to the gym far more frequently than I have done in the first half of the year (not hard at this point)
- Stay from school more on the weekends.
- Modify my maths programme to have a daily 5 type activity.
- See more of Wellington than the CBD and the suburb I teach in.
- Build a bottle bivvy.
- Blog more regularly than I do.
- Make better use of classroom space.
That should keep me plenty busy for the next few months. What plans do you have for the rest of your teaching year?
I am Beginning Teacher. Last week I left work at 3pm, went shopping and had a leisurely coffee before going to the gym.
On a school night.
There are some teachers, I would be one of them, who would be appalled a teacher much less a Beginning Teacher would do such a thing. They’ll be even more horrified to know that after I went to the gym, I caught up with a friend for dinner where I didn’t spend any time at all talking about school or education.
Yes, I brazenly flouted ‘the Rules’ of the superhero teacher which unequivocally state that on school nights Beginning Teachers limit themselves to: marking; preparation for new lessons; answering parent emails, completing paperwork; analysing assessment data; updating the classroom blog and attending Rules-approved school-related meetings before going to bed late. Maybe, just maybe, that superhero teacher can watch a bit of TV before passing out.
Were you getting weary reading that paragraph? Try living it.
I have, which explains my shamelessness about my early finish last week. Of course part of the reason I was able to skip out so quickly was that I hadn’t spent the day teaching, I was out at a meeting. To be sure I had stuff I could of been doing but that Thursday I did something I haven’t done all term. I stopped working completely when the bells would have been ringing at school.
I’m sure that I’m not the only teacher who has at some point has commiserated with a colleague about coming into school sick, or doing preparation work on the weekend, skipping lunch because of inter-class sport or spent 11-12 hour days at school only to dutifully take the laptop home and keep working late into the night. Yes I realize that my type-A tendencies are major contributor to the this problem, I want my gold sticker for my teaching. Yet I can’t help but wonder shouldn’t teachers be calling each other more often on this kind self-congratulation disguised as self-deprecation?
As teachers we have chosen a path not for the faint-hearted. It’s hard work without trying to be perfect at it. Yet I had a moment of insight as I bounded into school on Friday morning with a renewed energy after spending Thursday doing wild things like sleeping in until 8am on a weekday. Would we rather our students see us as the frantic, overwrought, resentful teachers that never taking time out from teaching can make us? Or as self-accepting, self-aware and self-amused grown ups, which is what we hope our students should become?
I should be just able to self-identify by my work as my teacher, as I am by my culture (ex-West Aucklander, ex-Asian expat, ex-Grey Lynn latte drinker), or my hobbies (geek, cake decorator, world traveller, gym bunny) than I am by teacher status. Yet right now I’m pretty much consumed by that one identity, that of a teacher.
The importance of teachers having a rich an interesting life was outside of the classroom was underscored when I decided to share part of my Asian expat identity with my students. When I arrived in Korea, I didn’t know how to eat with chopsticks so as part of our language learning time last week I decided to teach my students how to use chopsticks.
The desks in the classroom had been pushed back for a performing group to use our classroom during the previous session yet that large open space was exactly what is needed in the a situation when there are nearly 30 kids trying to pick up plastic cubes with chopsticks. Just the act of pushing back the desks completely changed the feel of the energy in the classroom.
I need to remember to do that more often.
When it was time to finish, the classroom was completely covered in plastic cubes. Again it was one of those moments when I was glad my teaching wasn’t being observed as I flitted around correcting my students grip and challenging kids to races of picking up plastic cubes with chopsticks. But when I looked at the video I made of the lesson, every child was totally engrossed in the activity. Wednesday was undoubtedly one of those magic moments in the classroom that many of my students will likely remember many decades from now when they visit a Chinese restaurant and their minds wander back to that morning we spent sprawled out on the classroom floor with our chopsticks and plastic cubes.
So yes a change might be as good as a holiday but I’m sure I’m not the only teacher hanging out for the 3pm bell this Thursday.
At our school the students run the weekly assembly. Having sat through the first few, to be honest I had come to dread the hour I spent in the school hall each week and I knew I wasn’t the only one. The kids weren’t all that enthused about our weekly school gatherings which reminded me a lot of the assemblies I used to endure at school. Sit down, be quiet and listen to the important people up the front saying important things. The kids were in general compliant of the demands but were they engaged?
Not so much.
Although the hall had a big data projector and a decent sound system, they weren’t being used to full effect. I knew assemblies could be fun. Talking with my tutor teacher, who was also new to school, we decided that the assembly our syndicate was responsible for would be different. It would be a celebration of all the awesome stuff happening in our syndicate with lots of music, colour, movement and have some interaction with the audience. And then my tutor teacher said ‘off you go’ and I had the responsibility for turning that vision into a reality.
So our class brainstormed what we liked and didn’t like about assembly, took some inspiration from youtube and other schools, and then got to work on producing a whole bunch of content. We had a movie to demonstrate kindness, a news show, a photo slideshow set to music and even a commercial for a business a group of kids in my class decided to start up. Our presenters were decked out in our pink syndicate colours, another class in our syndicate made a large banner, the other class in our syndicate also had a movie to show and most importantly we had questions for the audience to answer. In short we took a crazy idea to take a traditional assembly and turn it into a What Now show and made it a reality and it was fantastic to see the energy level in the hall rise from silent compliance to kids smiling and participating in the event.
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.
After ending last week on a high I was super duper excited to get back into the classroom for week five, I planned up a storm over the weekend and was feeling excited about what lay ahead.
And then I woke up on Monday morning feeling absolutely awful. Despite thinking I merely had a cold which I could work through I had the flu.
This would be quite possibly the worst time my teaching experience to get sick. Week 5 should have been getting my days of teaching practice in plus I had a Visiting Lecturer observation on Thursday so I really loathed to spend any of the week in bed when I had learning to do. In general my attitude to sick days is that I will only take time off if I have lost a leg or an arm and even then I show up to work with said limb so that my boss can send me home.
I would say I picked this habit up having worked in Asian workplaces for the last 7 years but in reality I’ve long been adverse to taking sick days. My mother still recalls me getting dressed into school uniform and waiting by the door to go to school even though I was obvoiusly sick. I blame hippy parents, nothing like tolerant trendy parents to turn your child into a nerd.
I got sent home on Monday
I tried battling through Tuesday only to have my temperature shoot up and my joints in pain. I really was sick which kept my home Wednesday.
Thursday was the day of the observation and I was still dicey. There was no way I would get through a full day of teaching and my observation was last session. I got sent home for the rest of the day so I had enough gas in the tank to do the lesson.
I needed to be on top of my game because I was teaching maths to not only the maths lectuer but the lecturer who edited the textbook. The students were so ecstatic to see me I was met with a giant group hug. Got to love teaching the juniors for that! Despite coughing and spluttering over the students and having my voice sound very gravelly by the time the observation was over, my observation netted me five ‘strong’ grades over the seven Graduating Teacher Standards.
I then spent Friday recuperating from Thursday.
However instead of feeling upbeat about an awesome report I’m feeling downcast at not getting much teaching in this week.
Part of it is driven by wanting to get up to minimum amount of full control days. Some students in my course are already up around 20 full control days while I’m currently at 8. I need to get to 16 by the end of my placement. Next Friday the school is partially closed for the World Cup which will cut things a little too close for my liking. Of course the Teaching Experience office knows that students do get sick around this time of year and stuff does come up so in reality the number of days aren’t hard and fast rules just guidelines. The reports I’ve received from my Visiting Lecturers were good and the Associate Teacher one should be good too so even if I’m short on teaching days it isn’t likely to be a major issue.
I also need to stop comparing myself to others. While I haven’t had has much teaching time, the programmes I’ve been teaching have been incredibly challenging. Managing 8 reading groups and 8 maths groups would likely stretch even an experienced teacher if they weren’t used to it. So I’m perhaps I’m being a little harsh on myself and need to keep an eye on my progress rather than worrying about what other people are doing.
I also need to accept that I’m going to get sick a lot in the next year or so. I thought four years in a Korean school during both SARS and also Bird Flu epidemics had bolstered my immune system. But nope I’m just as suspectible as any new teacher to getting sick.
Still I’m frustrated that my learning was disrupted this week due to sickness.
If I was to sum up my week in one word, it would be procrastination. I probably shouldn’t be so hard on myself as it is the first week of the school holidays.
But I know that I have three weeks worth of teaching to plan for when I get back from holidays and also have my visiting lecturer coming to see me in action in week 2. Over the course of the week I had lots of ideas however any time I tried to put pen to paper and actually come up with any concrete plans, I suddenly had an attack of the jitters. Everything I seemed to thought was such a good idea, seemed rather naff when it actually came time to put it into a programme.
Right now those three weeks seem like an eternity and the number of students so huge that I have no idea how I’ll get through. Possum, meet headlights.
So I spent the weekend baking… Kumura cake and apple strudel. Because really nothing says Easter like Kumura cake and apple strudel. But after baking up a storm, I felt a bit more confident of my abilities and am slowly putting together a programme for the next three weeks of teaching.
So perhaps this week wasn’t a complete waste. Alongside knocking another 1,000 words off my maths assignment I’ve also learned:
1.Teachers need balance. If you spend all your time living and breathing teaching then you are bound to burn out.
2. You know more than you think.
Right happy Easter!
New Zealand Graduating Teacher Standard 5.b
Graduating teachers gather, analyse and use assessment information to improve learning and inform planning.
T’was the week before holidays and through the school… the students and teachers were counting the hours until… the holiday bell would sending them all flying… out of the gates with no sadness nor crying.
Term 1 is officially at an end which means not only am I more than halfway through my teaching experience but I am also officially on holiday. The students and teachers were really hanging out for the break (as this year the first and second term were extended to 11 weeks so that schools are on holiday for the Rugby World Cup in october) however my holiday is shaping up to be a typical teacher holiday: working on assignments for class and prepping for next term’s teaching because when I get back my Teaching Experience will kick into high gear: full control days.
Every practicum demands that teachers take on the planning and the teaching of a class for at least 5 days during their practicum. For the last few weeks most of my teaching experience has been observational but I’ve also taken form time and fitness with my associate teacher’s class and also taken a small group of year 7s for maths. I also had an impromptu full-class in another subject when the reliever said ‘here you take the reigns’ for my form class but in general I’ve been playing second fiddle to the ‘real teachers.’ However when I come back from holidays my solo part comes up I’m taking over responsibility for FOUR Classes for the next three weeks in probability so I can get my full control days in. I know my form class and a few members of the Year 7 class really well but there are two classes I’ve hardly seen since my first week so I feel like it’s going to be a huge learning curve getting to know the students.
Then there’s the question of what to teach these kids and how I’m going to teach them. Over the week, the associate teacher gave the students an AsTTle pre-test which I marked and entered into the system. The brilliance of the AsTTle tests is that highlight areas of a classes strength as well as gaps in their knowledge (each individual student also gets a printout which shows them where their strengths, achieved, gaps and yet to be achieved). The ability range of students is amazing, there’s some who were testing at 6A(!). So far I’ve used the tests to put the students into groups (although the Associate Teacher twigged them a bit using her judgement of student ability) and also pinpoint areas that I need to work on with each of the classes.
For the Year 7s I’ve decided I’m going to do a rotation-style class with each group moving on to a different mini-topic each lesson and rotating in for a small group lesson (starting with the lowest group, moving up to the highest ones). For one of the year 8s I’m giving them a range of activities of which correspond to the different Achievement Objectives of the AsTTLe test and the students then get to choose the activity based on their level and gaps. This class will also have small group teaching on a topic basis (basically I’m borrowing the Associate Teacher’s current set for this class). For the Associate Teacher’s class I’m taking student choice to the next level. Alongside giving students a range of independent activities, I’m giving the class a calendar and letting groups book-in for mini lessons on topics that they need work on. The idea is that the students are really able to take control of their learning, something the students have mentioned they’ve really valued this term in terms of choosing activities that benefit them. Being able to ‘book in’ for mini-lessons also means that students won’t miss out on important lessons due to being away on extra curricular activities and having to play catch-up. I’m also getting my high-achievers to work with a group as a ‘maths assistant’ so that they can benefit from peer tutoring rather than leaving them bored in class. How this works out in real life, I’m not so sure yet. But I figure now is the time to be experimenting and making mistakes when I am under the watchful eye of my associate teacher.
The bonus of teaching probability is that there are heaps of hands-on experiments to do which is something that the kids really value. I’m thinking part of my lesson is going to be having a coin toss olympics as I’ve got a whole bunch of foreign coins from my travels which would make an excellent experiment for teaching the students how to determine probability of long-run events, a problem area according to the tests. However the next two weeks I’ll be going through a whole bunch of resources and websites to give my students a range of meaningful activities to choose from when we get back next term. Like most new and student teachers, I find myself worried about how to fill the time when in reality I know that I’ll be wondering when the time went once I get back to school.
Nevertheless, I’m feeling a bit overwhelmed… but I keep telling myself that I’ll be doing it by myself for real next year. Well not the four classes thing, but I’ll have responsiblity of a class FOR A YEAR over ALL the curriculum.