Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Five Weeks of Teaching and Learning

From early February, I have been on a placement that is concluding on Friday. Having both taught and learnt so much, I want to reflect upon and share my key learnings and successes.

1. You must jump straight in: there is no worse mistake you can make than no mistakes at all.

Kids, and fellow teachers, are very in-tune with body language and enthusiasm levels. On my first day, my supervising teacher very welcomingly set me up a desk at the back of the classroom. This was a very nice gesture; however, it was also one that I gradually and intuitively declined to accept. This was so much so that, after two weeks of roaming the room, sitting at the front alongside the teacher or teaching, Mrs C removed the desk altogether. Even if you have been told that your first three days in the classroom should be primarily 'observation based', you don't need to take a back seat. In fact, I don't agree with observing a class, ever. You learn much more from roaming the room, assisting and interacting with students, than by sitting back and 'observing'. What can you observe better from the back of the room that you cannot gain from building rapports, plus engaging in one-on-one or small group teaching?

After my first two days, my supervising teacher was away for the remainder of the week. Based on the initiative and competence I had demonstrated during my nominated 'observation days', she handed me the reigns to the class for the following three days, with a CRT only assisting me as opposed to running the classes. Some may some this was too early or premature. I JUMPED AT AND RELISHED THE OPPORTUNITY. After three days of teaching the class full-time, I established an authority and understanding with them that stood me in great stead for the remainder of the placement.

The most common reason student teachers perform poorly, or fail, placement is not because they take initiative but because they are too shy, timid and wait to be asked to do something rather than just doing it. In fact, I have heard of a student teacher doing nothing but observe for two straight weeks. On every one of my first days of volunteering at a wide range of schools, teachers have been confident enough to assign me to run small groups, including outside the classroom, in a large part due to the initiative and energy I display around the room from before the first bell rings.

Sure, sometimes you can be overly eager. I instructed some students to hand out notes, only for my supervising teacher to exclaim, "Girls, I told you to wait!" At which point, I sheepishly announced my apology across the classroom, "Sorry Mrs C, I told them to hand those out," accepting the blame for what was wholly my error and making a mental note to leave the notes to Mrs C. The response was, "Oh Ms Kap, you are going to stay behind one minute after school for that!" No harm, no foul. Much less of an error, I think, than sitting at the back of a classroom during what is supposed to be 'teaching practice'.  

2. Rapport with your students is and means EVERYTHING: to your effectiveness, fulfilment and enjoyment of teaching

If your students are your allies, your job is instantly easier. This is particularly true of the more attention-seeking, challenging students in the class. If you achieve this, when you make a mistake, no one laughs, or even thinks it's funny. In fact, they try to assist you with technical issues you encounter with ICT and appreciate every effort you make in teaching, even if it doesn't amount to the perfection for which you may have been aiming. After the first Xtranormal lesson I ran, which was particularly challenging for its loading time delays and login issues, having bounced after the classroom like a bouncy ball and feeling like the lesson had been a bit of a flop, the students actually applauded my efforts and one propounded, "Imagine if we never knew about this?!"

It is the pathway to better learning and behaviour management. A prime example is student S. I taught student S for only one lesson when I ran an Excel tutorial in another class. However, I had briefly engaged in conversation with student S during before school football training, for which I had voluntered. The day before my lesson, student S had flatly refused to write anything during literacy and the Vice Principal had been called in for a chat. Student S was sitting at his desk, hunched over and very bored looking for the whole first third of my lesson.

I approached him and encouraged him to do something with statements such as, "Come on mate..." and "Here, trying typing in this and this first..." No response and no action. I knelt down, realising a conventional approach was not going to cut it given the resort to the VP yesterday, and tried an alternative. "Hey, you know I'm running football training with Mr L, right?"
"Well, we need resilient people in our football team. I want to be able to say that you are a hard-working person when we decide on the teams..."
Instant success. "Okay, but I don't know what to do?" After a brief repeat of instructions, he was motivated and kept up with rest of the grade for the remainder of the session - and actually went "Woooh it worked!" when a formula solved for him.

Most importantly, building relationships with students is a massive part of what makes teaching an enjoyable profession. Students are amazing people. That they are young doesn't, to any extent, reduce their fascinating personalities and, in fact, I find the majority of my students much more captivating than most adults. They are diverse, talented in so many different ways to what we can view on a daily basis in the classroom and engage in unique lifestyles and hobbies. Taking an interest in their lives, passions and dreams makes your role more enjoyable, interesting and worthwhile. It also makes you a more trusted adult, confidant and role-model; thereby also, a better, more resourceful and capable teacher.

One example is Student C. I spent many a time conversing with Student C about her love of horses. Her dream is to become an Olympic show jump rider. Her brothers competed in Moomba water-skiing final, which I found particularly interesting given that I attended this Melbourne festival and watched part of the skiing. I loved talking to Student C, and all the others students of my class. For this reason, I genuinely enjoyed the company of my students, which made my teaching of them all the more fun and rewarding.

3. Extra time planning pays off

I'm not saying that, after a few well-run lessons, you actually need to fill in that lesson template the university wants you to fill out like a passport application everytime. In fact, I very rarely did or do. Instead, I write my plans on jotter pads, dominated by the key points I need to emphasise and instructions I wish to issue, and spend the majority of my planning time ruminating and brainstorming the ideas that will make the lesson a great memory for students. This involves careful thinking about:
This is likely to lead to a much more engaging, easy to manage and educational experience than if you only have a rough idea of what and how you are going to teach the material and no way of making it engrossingly interesting.

What are your top learnings and successes from your recent placement or teaching experiences?


Anonymous said...

I think you are on-the-money with this one. Sitting back and taking notes is NOT best use of time. I know that I often have objectives and assignments that require some note-taking but I try to squish it into 5 minute slots every now and then throughout the day, so that I can focus on #2: building rapport. Getting to know the kids is vital - they will certainly be curious about the 'new' person in their room and want some interaction. I am heading out to a new classroom for 4 weeks in May - and am very excited! I hope it is as positive as your recent placement *fingers crossed*
Well done Anna, I imagine the kids are sad to see you go.
I am loving their Xtranormals too. Awesome.

Anna Kapnoullas said...

Thanks Carolyn. Yes, it was a very sad day for me as well and I found myself disappointed to not be able to look forward to Monday with them on the last Friday night. I received a card from the class and another from one student in particular. I will miss them heaps but it's a great reminder to me to maximise and really enjoy the time I do have with classes. I can't imagine how difficult it will be to say goodbye to a class after a year with them.
Best of luck with your placement and look forward to reading a lot about it!