Five New Things

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So…it begins…Term Two! I’ve just finished my first day and as knackering as it was, I really enjoyed being back in the classroom. Over the holidays, I read a fantastic blog over at Life Through a Mathematician’s Eyes about ten things that she had learned during her first term of teaching, so in a similar vein here are five new things I’ve learnt about teaching from last term.

1.) It is always better to go in early to do schoolwork than it is to stay behind late. I got this tip from another friend in the profession and although the prospect of dragging yourself out of bed any earlier than necessary may seem horrendous, it is not so bad once you’ve done it the first time. Keeping a sensible school/world balance has been very important to me, and this helps me do that because when four o’clock comes round, I know I am good to go home and relax.

 

2.) Observed lessons are nothing to fear! For more details, check out my earlier post, Ditching the Pass/Fail Mindset.

3.) Going through jotters is a legitimate joy. I absolutely adore going through my class’ jotters, whether it’s to mark an exercise or to just have a look at how they’re doing. This is especially true after a nightmare lesson when you’ve convinced yourself that they have learnt precisely zero – have a look through their jotters and you may be surprised at what’s in there!

4.) You should never label or attempt to predict what your classes will do on any given day. And this works both ways; I’ve had days where my ‘good’ class have driven me up the wall, and days where my ‘bad’ class have been the best class of the day. Children are children, they’re unpredictable beings and I’ve learnt to love that – it makes the job endlessly fascinating!

5.) This job is all about the learning. I’ve saved the best for last; my mentor told me this when I was beating myself up about being too hard on a difficult class because I was worried I was affecting our relationship. It has been my go-to lifeline ever since! As a teacher, your job is not there to be liked. You are there to teach, to make sure that your class is learning. So if you have to be strict to make learning happen, that’s what you need to do.Start a learning diary and at the end of each day, make a note of what you think your class have learnt that lesson. If it’s zero, then reflect and work out why then make a note of how you are going to make that better in the next lesson. It wasn’t the easiest bridge in the world to cross for me, because I want the kids to like me. But I’m glad I did because it now means my teaching is clearly focused on the learning, which is where it needs to be.

 

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Ditching the Pass/Fail Mindset

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If you went/go to a university where the teaching qualification is taught in a similar way to the way mine did, you may experience the same shivers that I did when The Observed Lesson is mentioned.At my university, your tutor would observe you teach two lessons and it was on a pass/fail basis.Let me tell you how that would go –

First, you prayed like crazy that your tutor would choose your best class, your favourites – you know, the ones who listen to you and follow your instructions without telling you to shut up. Then, once you found that out, you started work on your lesson plan. You submitted a masterpiece of a lesson plan that had been pimped and critiqued and sweated over like no other lesson plan you’d ever made before. Then there’s The Day. And before you’d even started, the bees are suspicious. Your class knows that something is different. There’s a Someone they don’t know in the back of their classroom. You can see the cogs in their minds spinning. Do you introduce your tutor? Do you ignore the whirling cogs and begin? Whatever you chose, it doesn’t change the fact that your lovingly planned lesson with all its bells and whistles is done and dusted in less than an hour. Which doesn’t seem fair considering the length of time you spent planning it.  And all the time, the only thing in your mind is that this observation is pass/fail. Sure, it’s not the end of the world if you fail – you’re still going to get valuable feedback –  but that’s the overriding goal.  The feedback is marginalised because all you want to know during that blood freezing chat you have with your tutor afterwards to discuss the lesson is whether you’ve passed or failed.

Now, my university only observed two of the many lessons I taught as a student teacher. And while I have my issues with that system of assessment, it was only two lessons. But it wasn’t until my mentor at my probationary school asked me which class I wanted to be observed with for the first of my numerous observed lessons that I realised the impact of those two lessons on me. ‘Which class would you like to be observed with?’ she asked.

‘My first years.’ I immediately replied, instinctively going for my favourite class.They behave, they respect me, I haven’t had a dud lesson with them so far.

‘Ok,’ my mentor said after I’d explained my choice, ‘but what do you think you’ll learn from an observation with that class?’

And my whole perspective on observation changed. This observation wasn’t designed as a test to trip me up or as a potential barrier to my teaching education. My feedback wasn’t going to be framed as a pass/fail assessment, it was all there to help me become a better teacher. It had probably always been like that, but the pass/fail aspect of my university observations had made me afraid of it. Once that idea was removed, so was my fear of observation. I’ve had two observations now and have a third in a fortnight. I’ve deliberately chosen my worst classes, the ones I need help with, because I know that the observation is another source of help that I can use in a positive way.

So if you have a university observation coming up, try not to let the pass/fail aspect of it bother you; it’ll stress you out and that won’t do you any good. Prioritise the feedback because feedback is only going to help you get better at what you do. Good luck, and remember; you’ve got this!