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Week 2: Split Personalities

Whilst my first week of teaching was characterised by steep learning curves, in my second week of teaching I have found what I have struggled most with has been my identity as a teacher. This is in some ways ironic because I am teaching an Area of Study to year 11 on this very subject.

I have been given so much advice on how I should be running my classroom, conducting myself, lesson planning, and managing behaviour (some of it useful, some of it patronising, and some just generally unhelpful) that I feel as though I should be being and doing a million things at once.

In my infinite wisdom I have realised that this is highly unreasonable. Instead what I need to do is find a way to ‘be myself’ in the classroom, as I don’t want to spend my days at work feeling uncomfortable in my own skin. However, this is easier said than done, and required me to reflect quite thoroughly on who I am, and what I value. I am someone who needs to be highly organised in order to feel comfortable, hence I do not want to ‘wing’ lessons as I know other teachers thrive on, but instead take time to plan them carefully. And whilst this will eat up a considerable amount of my own time, at least I will be minimising stress in other areas. I am also someone who values discussion, and hope that this can be a central part of my classroom practice, encouraging students to value the opinions of their peers.

I have also realised that I may not be able to ‘be myself’ until late in my first year of teaching, or even until my second year. I am lucky to have a senior class, with whom I have already allowed aspects of my personality to seep in. I have been told by many teachers at the school I am at that the kids test (and aim to break) their new teachers, and so my aim in the first instance is to do what I need to to survive. If I spend most of my time on behaviour management, students will learn nothing from my classes, which is desirable for neither the students nor myself. Therefore I may have to adopt a persona this year not entirely consummate with the one I wish to cultivate, but necessary to achieve some level of learning.

So I have set myself a slightly more achievable goal for this term than ‘finding’ my identity; that of consistency. Whilst this might sound easy for experienced teachers because it is part of their routine, I need to establish this ‘routine’ myself in a very conscious and deliberate way. Whilst we have discussed rules in classes at the beginning of the term and they have been displayed since then, this week I will be making a poster with 1 rule on it, and I will work on continually enforcing this. If it takes two weeks to achieve, fantastic, if it takes til the end of the term, so be it. I will also display the way in which it will be enforced, and rewarded. I think 2 verbal warnings, moving within the classroom, then moving outside for a one-on-one discussion is a reasonable routine for enforcing breaches of the rule, whilst verbal praise (which I try to give often, but will make more systematic and targeted now that I know students’ names) will be used for correct observation of the rule.

And whilst there are plenty of progressive pedagogies which advise against the above practice, I have had an epiphany; these pedagogies are for teachers who already have classroom management down pat. Unfortunately for me, even though many of these pedagogies are ways in which I aspire to run my classroom, they are simply far down the list of priorities at the moment.

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Reflections on an SDD – an outsider’s view

Having attended my first staff development day (SDD) today, I thought I would blog about my experience as an outsider and a newbie on the scene.

We started the day with a ramble from out principal which culminated in his giving us some advice about the primary way in which we should be influencing our students: “being an example of someone who has it together”. Apparently going into the classroom stressed doesn’t set a good example of how students should be handling life.

Wow. What we construed from that was that we should have a professional facade which we don when things go wrong in our lives. But my god, it was certainly a rough way to start a day.

Then we had some thrilling activities which got us to match the punishment to the “crime” as it were. This exercise, and the responses of many of the groups, really represents one of the biggest issues I have with the current education system. Instead of doing such an activity, why didn’t the deputies ask us to think about ways to motivate these same students to be on task instead of disturbing others, or how to design an activity to engage these students? I figure if those who are the leaders in our system can’t think past classroom “control”, how can we expect teachers to?

What I did enjoy about the day was the way in which the head teacher of the English faculty inspired his faculty to structure their unit programming around the habits of mind. Introducing students to lifelong skills and embedding such skills as critical and flexible thinking into the curriculum is essential to developing students who can tackle the important social issues which will face them on a daily basis.

Something which I gleaned from these faculty discussions was that the teachers all have the most honourable of intentions in regards to being innovative, being reflective, and developing programs which reflect solid pedagogy. The resistance wasnt to the new ideas; it was with the concrete manifestation. What we were struggling with was the WAY in which we could implement these habits of mind in a lesson.

It was so nice to see the English staff being the group who were keen to embrace a new curriculum framework (habits of mind skills), hopefully this will translate into some solid programming and we have something innovative to share with the rest of the education community!