lforner


More than just a New Year’s resolution

This year will mark a four year anniversary that I’m not overly proud of. In 2012, I headed out to my first teaching position, optimistic and ready to spread the word about the power of technology and the importance of developing a wide PLN to support best practice. And a year in, I fell off the wagon completely. As I enter my fifth year in the classroom, I’ve realised that it isn’t just about my teaching, or the learning of the students in my class, or even in my school. It isn’t about my faculty, or even the staff at my school. I have cut myself off from so many valuable resources, so much valuable input and so much support, and it hasn’t been until I’ve come up for air, so to speak, that I’ve been able to realise that a great deal of the inspiration I took with me out to my first teaching post was the feeling of contributing meaningfully to a community.

This year, I’m not just making it my New Year’s resolution to reconnect with my PLN, be active on Twitter and blog regularly, I’m also including it as a goal in my PDP. I want to rekindle the fire I once felt when issues surrounding the education industry were discussed and reclaim my own thirst for knowledge. One of my passions, in particular, was the support of Pre-Service Teachers, and I think that with the additional experience I’ve now had, I can offer them far more practical guidance and help.


Memoirs of a second year teacher

Sometimes I have to pinch myself.

Was it really me this time last year in a frenzy of worksheets and with anxiety swirling in my stomach every time I thought about my Year 10 class?

Already halfway through Term 1, this year is flying past. My new goals and the new focus of my teaching, however, has left me wondering rather than worrying. My stress has turned to motivation and at the end of the day I am brimming with stories of enthusiasm rather than horror stories (mind you, there have been a couple of those recently).

This has made me wonder several things:
1. Will I start taking my brilliant classes for granted and become hardened?
2. Is my bubble about to burst? and
3. Seriously, this is considered WORK?

Dilemma #1

I have an Advanced Year 11 class and an extension Year 10 class this year. The biggest issue for students in both classes is the level of confidence they have and their willingness to attempt new things time and time again, even when they fail. I am studying the poet Donne with my Year 10 class and they are loving it, but they baulk every time they come across an unfamiliar word. I’m trying to teach them to read in context, and slowly, slowly they are catching on. I do love their enthusiasm though (and their giggles as we talk about sexual innuendo). They are also far more willing to take creative risks that my Year 11 class-we wrote conceits of our own last week and they embraced the challenge.
At the beginning of the year I was amazed by how much I enjoyed my classes; I was intellectually stimulated by the questions they asked and I could concentrate on teaching and learning rather than crowd control. Now though, my expectations are different; I’m disappointed when the kids don’t appear to be enjoying the learning, I’m disenchanted when getting through the material takes longer than I expected, I’m disheartened when I feel like continuity has been broken or when I’m unable to get the students to connect their learning.
Whereas, last year, small wins in my troublesome classes were so rewarding, now it takes something astounding to feel as though I’ve made a tangible difference for these kids.

Dilemma #2

When I had a meeting with my Head Teacher recently, she mentioned that the stress of an advanced class was yet to hit me as it was more about the pressure teachers of these classes place upon themselves rather than the pressure from external forces. I have this ominous feeling which seems like a hawk that’s circling, closing in.
What I do know is that my Year 11s have improved tenfold since the beginning of the year. We’ve focused on specific things and there has been rapid growth in those areas. Their confidence is increasingly, albeit incrementally, but they are still reluctant to volunteer information or discuss. Everything I get from them must be drawn out painfully.
I just wonder, when they submit their first assessment task, will how hard I have pushed them be hard enough? Will the amount of GROWTH matter, considering there is no real measure of growth? Or will the reliance on raw scores be my undoing?

Dilemma #3

I think I’m annoying people at work; I walk (sometimes I skip, I kid you not) around the school with a grin plastered on my face in the mornings. I love being there. I’m relaxed, I’m confident in what I’m teaching, I’m not paranoid that there’s always someone at my back, waiting for me to do the wrong thing (I mean, that person is possibly still there, but I’m far more willing to take them on than I was before!) and I’m much more assertive with both students and staff members.
The kids make each and every minute of my day, whether it be that they make me annoyed, they make me laugh or they make me think, they are the centre of my school universe.
It annoys my friends and family no end that I couldn’t imagine anything more exciting than doing school work. Not only do they think that I need to seek counseling about an inability to separate work and home life, but they is also jealous of the room that school occupies in my headspace constantly. Because it’s something they can’t relate to, could never understand nor sympathise with my genuine interest in the kid who serves me at the supermarket, whom I stop to talk to for 10 minutes when they want to go home, nor the way I respond instantly to kids’ emails or edmodo comments, yet can take hours to answer their texts (oops!).

There we are then, the perils of being a second year teacher. No more am I likely to be pushed out a window… but the challenges presented by this year in my career are, in some ways, even more daunting.


Languages conference: Day One

Thursday and Friday this week I was lucky enough to attend a conference for DEC new scheme languages teachers, held in Sydney (incidental holiday). Day one was a HUGE day. I left Deniliquin at 3 am for Albury, flew to Sydney, attended the conference, and then went and ate a LOT of different types of food in the afternoon (felt it was very fitting that I exposed myself to a range of different cultural cuisines!).

The best part of the first day was meeting so many other teachers-both new scheme (who could sympathize with some of the difficulties I am having) and more experienced teachers and head teachers, who were happy to provide me with advice, resources, and ideas about teaching languages. For me, this networking opportunity was particularly valuable. As those of you who read my blog frequently would know, I am the only languages teacher at my school. I have a very very supportive HT, however, she is an English teacher, and doesn’t have experience teaching LOTE. She tries her very best to assist wherever she can, but having other opportunities to gain leadership from LOTE head teachers is something I really appreciate.

I also managed to find other rural languages teachers to link up with via video conferencing and edmodo (and possibly an excursion….) in order to broaden my students’ knowledge of other cultures, and establish connections beyond Deni. As you can imagine, country kids can be slightly insular because they are so geographically (and culturally) isolated. But it is not only a concern for students, but also myself. Being able to chat to other teachers in Italian and in German was also helpful for me. I am constantly in fear that I will forget the fundamentals of my second languages through lack of practice. Establishing these connections (and there is even talk of us going to Europe to teach English over the summer holidays for professional development!) will allow me to practice and maintain my knowledge of both vocab and the cultural conventions, despite my opportunities in Deni in this regard being limited.

These connections will really help my kids to participate in more meaningful and authentic tasks (rather than exercises-a distinction which has been reinforced over the conference) meaning that kids can have an authentic audience for something like:
1. Introducing themselves in Italian
2. Recording and narrating a tour of the school or a place in town
3. Peer assessment of other students
4. Demonstrating their intercultural understanding

I have come away from Day One extremely excited!


Lessons learnt from week 1 as a teacher

New Teachers' Attitudes to Teaching

This week it has been me, rather than my students, doing most of the learning.

After surviving the Staff Development Day without going into administrative overdrive, I was feeling like I had it sorted. Had most people’s names pegged, had my desk and programs all organised. I even had my lunches planned.

Aaaaaaaand thud. I landed flat on my face. As someone who had taken a variety of classes at a public school on an almost year long placement, it came as a shock to me that I might be unprepared for this job. For all intents and purposes, I had assumed that the curriculum and ensuring content was engaging and innovative was going to be the biggest challenge of my new job. What a surprise it was then to discover that my biggest challenge was going to be to get these kids to stay in their chairs and not punch each other.

I had heard the tales from many an experienced teacher about the first year being the hardest, but it wasn’t until this week that I could seriously understand the gravity of that statement. The first three days had me feeling completely incompetent and fearing that I had made a terrible mistake. I was convinced that I was going to let these kids down, and that I was going to become someone bitter and resentful, rather than the ‘teacher self’ that I had imagined and felt comfortable as before.

Day three had me at the lowest point. My Head Teacher and my staffroom were supportive, and worded me up with all the right kind of advice, gave me resources and programs to use, and offered to take the trouble makers off my hands. And my Head Teacher said something poignant at the end of this week: there are some things as a new teacher, you have to learn yourself, as a teacher, your idealistic (some would say naive, but she phrased it nicely!) bubble is inevitably burst. And she was right, and I was devastated when my bubble had burst.

When I hit rock bottom, I took a deep breath and decided that I had to take a different approach. Instead of dwelling on all my shortcomings, I had to focus on the positives. I had, after all, had success with 3 year 7 classes, my year 8s and to a limited extent with year 11. They had done some work. No one had killed or injured each other. I hadn’t cried in front of the students.

And then Day 4 came to my rescue.

Thursday was swimming carnival day, but this is held after a normal school day as a twilight carnival. I thought I might need cement in my coffee that morning, as the kids and I had 12 hours together ahead of us, as well as an excuse to muck around. And so, I braced myself for the worst, all the while with the advice of valued twitter companions in the back of my mind: start every lesson with a positive, even if it deteriorates, at least START positive.

My first lesson was year 10, the class which had me questionning my motivation to teach just a day before. They were delightful. We had an entertaining discussion about the emotions which their favourite music artists wrote about, and why they chose particular genres of music to write about these emotions, and then investigated some of the poetic devices in a song we listened to. Pretty impressive for the low ability year 10 class with a reputation.

Following this was a double of my year 8 class, who are really quite sweet and manageable for the most part, except for the boys gang which tend to distract the entire class with their antics. We read part of a novel, discussed the 5 elements of reading and writing, and they laughed at my pathetic taste in music when I played them the Flocabulary ‘5 things’ rap.

The cutest year 7 group were the last class of the day, which was always going to be a positive way to end the day.

I have been told to mark this day in my calender as a “star day”, as for a while it is going to keep me going when days get rough again. I know that next week the kids are going to go back to testing me whilst they try to work me out. But at least I have had a window, a ray of hope, an assurance that I have chosen the right profession. That I eventually will get the hang of this and find my feet. And not wake up nauseous.

My PLN have really come into their own this week; many of them have offered to send programs, checked up on me daily, or fed me constant electronic advice. For their unwavering support during what has been a very challenging week (some may say I’m being overly dramatic, but I would say to them that they either, a) haven’t been a teacher, or b) have blocked their first teaching week from their memory) I would like to thank Robyn Richards, Brenda Norman, Krista Suckling, Beth Kermode, Belinda McKellar, Paula Madigan, Alissa Williams, Bianca Hewes and for therapy-via-phone, Sam Walkerden and Larissa Caillat. Once again, this really strengthens the case for the PSTN project.


Poetry: Remixed

After an extremely inspiring and productive discussion with my PLN this morning, I was given the idea of centring an innovative poetry unit around Komninos, the performance poet who now does a lot to do with media poetry. I have to sincerely thank @madiganda, @vivimat78, @shereej3, and a new connection I made this morning, @KatApel, for collaborating with me to form such a great idea for a poetry unit. Yet another reason to LOVE my PLN!

I was aiming to find something innovative and inspiring for my Year 10 class to follow on from what I know would have been a great unit on protest poetry for them as Year 9. I originally wanted to do something similar to Poetry Pals, a program which connects people from different backgrounds though poetry, however, I had left the run too late to start collaboration on such an epic task as that. I will save that idea up for another year, and hopefully be able to encourage students to compose poetry about their experience as ‘country’ kids, and learn from their sister city classmates about life in the city.

After my conversation this morning, however, I have decided to go with something a little more radical, and look at ‘remixed’ poetry, which will allow me to draw my students attention to the way in which our culture is constructed as a remix of the past, popular and high culture, and the modern and traditional. Whilst a post-modern or post-humanism unit is probably beyond the scope of these kids’ interest and ability, this unit will allow me to dip into these things a little bit, and hopefully result in them developing some critical thinking skills akin to those associated with these movements.

The study of radical forms and content matter of poetry will naturally require contextualising, and thus students will be required to view today’s culture through a critical lens: Why would poets choose to be different and radical? What message are they trying to convey through this choice?

I have had many many suggestions for poets and poetry which will be useful. For the time being, I am going to investigate in detail:

Komninos
Pam Ayres
Herrick
Free Verse novel extracts (esp. Sally Murphy: Pearl vs the World)
Yellow Rage
and zombie poetry, which I came across a couple of weeks ago, quite by accident!

I am also interested in poetry by cybernetics, and perhaps can source machine generated poetry which I vaguely remember being told about….

If you are interested in this unit or have suggestions, please feel free to contribute them in this space! I will post the unit up on the blog as it progresses.