‘Private’ and ‘teacher’ identities

In my first ever essay during my initial teacher training I discussed the role of the teacher, describing it as becoming ‘the facilitator of learning’. Although this is true-a good teacher must create an environment in which learning takes place and where the students can take some ownership of their own learning-I have found this hard to put into practice in the classroom. Every student I teach struggles with my subject to a varying degree. Very few enjoy it. Why would they? Who in their right mind enjoys something that their no good at?

At the start of this academic year I thought teaching would be difficult. I knew engagement, behaviour and motivation would all be issues. I knew nine months was not a long time to lift a D grade to that ‘golden grade C’. I knew the paper work would be rigorous and the planning and marking would follow me home. I knew I’d have to act as a mentor, an actor, a comedian, a counsellor, an example as well as a teacher. But switching between these roles, as well as trying to bring across my own personality and values, has left me slightly confused at the end of my first year.

I do not know what type of teacher I am. Hopefully, a decent one.

Most of the time I feel like a crutch to my students. I do not want to be this. But massively poor levels of literacy, way below a D grade and the lack of confidence that young people have (not only with the subject, but in general) have led to this role. ‘I don’t know how to explain why I think that’, ‘I can’t do it’, ‘I’m no good’, ‘I just can’t read’, ‘can you do it for me?’ are phrases that have become the norm. Despite positive communication and encouragement and behaving like a cheerleader essentially, this negative attitude spreads like wild fire. If one student ‘can’t do it’, no one can.

So what to do? One to one sessions work splendidly, but having the time for these can be difficult. I’ve tried breaking things down, repeating myself, re-phrasing, giving the students distance to work independently, allowing them to work in groups, but I am still struggling to get across to students that learning is THEIR responsibility as well. Especially for their age group (16-19), in which students will be moving on to employment and higher education in which independence and initiative are integral and desirable skills.

I am still a student myself. The dual role of being a student and a teacher is a strange one. Finding a balance is tricky, I almost don’t believe I’m the one responsible and in control at times. I think to myself, “Oh no, who’s the adult here. Bugger, it’s me.” Although quite academic, I, like a fair few of my students, can be very unconfident. So maybe it’s okay to be their crutch, their support? Because who am I to talk, I struggle too sometimes.

Using my own education I can model what type of teacher I want to be. I don’t want to be the pompous university lecturer who would mock my Yorkshire accent, I don’t want to be my sixth form sociology teacher who taught didactically from a book she hadn’t written, I don’t want to be my year ten science teacher who thought it was okay to teach the same lesson (four weeks in a row!) because he couldn’t be bothered to plan.

Don’t get me wrong. For every unprepared, uncaring and inept teacher I have had at least two fantastic teachers and have met many great teachers on my PGCE course and on placement who evidently care and are passionate about what they do. I want to be like these teachers. I want my teacher identity to share similarities with theirs. I want to be the teacher that is encouraging, fair, firm, patient, understanding, engaging, creative and fun.

Teaching has developed my personality, even within such as short amount of time. It takes a lot more than it ever did before to get me stressed, I can multi-task, I have become more empathic, my patience has come on in leaps and bounds, I can improvise and adapt quickly and most importantly my confidence has improved massively. This is not to say that the ‘private me’, the ‘me’ at home, hasn’t affected my teaching as well. The same creativity, goofiness and love of English transfers across to the classroom, at least I hope so. If it doesn’t, then it might be time to take off the teaching cape-the teaching identity- and hang it up for a better time.