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.

Improving Teaching through heightened self efficacy

Self efficacy, what is it? And why is it important for teachers?

Many teachers (and the population generally) turn their nose up at research, thinking that it is something conducted in a lab with limited real world applications. Having done an entire research-based degree (psychology), I can empathize with this view.

Recently however, I have come across some interesting and very relevant research on self efficacy which can really help us in the classroom and in the staffroom. Self efficacy relates to someone’s beliefs that they can accomplish something or succeed in a particular domain or at a particular skill. Whilst it is generally considered more specific than confidence, it might be helpful for present purposes to be discussed as confidence in a particular area.

Research on self efficacy in teachers has found that teachers with high self efficacy, that is, teachers who are confident that they can assist their students in achieving the outcomes and bring about change in their students, are more likely to:

-value student autonomy in the classroom
-allow more student directed learning
-praise than criticize students
-persevere with low-achieving or behaviorally challenging students
-raise student achievement levels
-try new strategies, resources and materials
-be more flexible in the classroom

I don’t know about you, but to me, these teachers seem to be overall more successful teachers, and the students seem to benefit immensely from having a teacher high in self efficacy.

Great! But how do we lift the self efficacy of teachers?
I’ve looked around for research on this topic, but the most I have found is on boosting student self efficacy. Although some of this information is helpful, there seems to be to be other solutions which are relevant to boosting the self efficacy of teachers in your workplace:

help each other out: teaching is renowned for being a collegiate profession, though many people think this is declining with the emphasis on standardized testing. The more you can assist each other in sharing resources and ideas, the more likely teachers are to feel in control and on top of their workload, leading to a feeling of mastery.

give someone in your workplace a compliment: we all know that teaching can be difficult because it is sometimes thankless. Just commenting on how effectively a teacher in your workplace handled a situation, or the rapport they have with a difficult student, or the way they are always so organized, could be a boost for a teacher who feels as though they are struggling.

reduce emphasis on standardized testing as a means for assessing teachers: I know I’m probably dreaming with this suggestion, but consider the impact of low standardized test results for a teacher who is already feeling as though they lack the ability to help their class reach appropriate achievement levels.

But we already have enough to worry about as teachers…

The consequences of low self efficacy include the unwillingness to try new materials or teaching strategies, low self esteem, and can be as dire as dropping out of the profession, or mental health issues. Instead of blaming these teachers for reverting to a ‘safety blanket’ of traditional teaching practices, we should be looking to give these teachers experiences of success, and slowly build their perception of themselves as great educators in order to maximize learning experiences for students in their classes.

In an environment like teaching, where there is constant talk of a need to “change” our mindset as teachers and move to more student centered modes of instruction and encourage C21st skills in our students, teachers can be made to feel as if they are to blame-they aren’t doing enough (to quote @EduSum “Don’t tell me my classroom is broken!”). It can be overwhelming, even for someone who considers themselves competent. If we want to wield change in our profession, this blame culture must go. We must boost self efficacy by empowering teachers, making them and their contributions feel valuable, and recognizing the diverse range of skills which exist within the profession. If teachers have this high self efficacy, they will be more willing to try new things in the classroom, including relinquishing the control which student centered learning requires and integrating more technological tools and applications in their teaching. What seems to be a forced change will come naturally.

Let’s look after one another-tell another teacher they are great today!

Badura et al. 1977
Kagan, 1992
Smylie, 1988
Woolfolk & Hoy, 1990