‘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.

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Reflection two, a follow up.

Well, I didn’t buy that diary.

The last term flew by. I have been given a range of classes to take over, so along with session planning, training, meetings, revision sessions, university, marking, keeping up with paper work, registers and writing essays, reflections have been on the back burner! Jeez, no wonder all these brand new squeaky clean teachers are leaving the profession, it is hard work!

I have been loving it though. I enjoy having some freedom and creativity with what I teach and building rapport with the students.

Although behaviour management is still a major struggle for myself, it is slowly improving the more I get to know my students. I have definitely stopped taking the behaviour personally. I find it very sad how desperate some of the young people are to get attention, so I am looking at ways to involve everyone and make them feel valued.

Since my last post my Functional Skills English classes have been completely reorganised. The groups how been mixed up and the sessions have doubled in time! So three hours with these demon groups (I know it’s bad, but that was my initial thought-terrible).

Due to the mix up and change: new teacher (me), new classroom (it’s actually a lovely room), new classmates and new style of lessons, the students were quite rightly distressed and annoyed. I can’t blame them for that at all, as I am quite adverse to change as well.

However they have settled really well and behaviour is slowly improving. Instead of two tricky groups, my afternoon group have settled down and are working well. Apart from being a bit giggly and loud they are working to a high standard and now have a lot of pride in their English work. When it comes to four o’clock they often take a while to leave! Which is a really lovely feeling.

The morning group are a slightly different story. It’s a larger group with some very disruptive students in it. I have found that nothing spreads faster than a negative attitude. Once one student says, ‘I can’t do it’, everyone seems to have suddenly decided they can’t do it either. It’s a real shame, I know I need to boost positivity in my classrooms. I go in with a positive attitude, but even find myself at times leaving feeling drained and miserable sometimes!

So to tackle this I have been adding competitive elements, I group my students in their tables and good behaviour, good contributions and work helps their group to become the winning team. It works really well and points can also be wiped away for bad behaviour. I have also learnt all my students’ names and got to know them a little as individuals, which is invaluable.

Short exercises have been used throughout the classes, which works really well and stops the students’ disengaging. It also provides an urge to move on and progress onto the next activity. Very slowly, student’s confidence is developing, especially in the afternoon group. One particularly disengaged pupil who is often tired and gets agitated at times has softened to the subject. She has started taking a lot of time and care into her work and I am confident she will pass.

So…..

Positives

  • Slow improvement in terms of behaviour.
  • Rapport developing with students.
  • Students’ confidence growing.
  • My confidence as a new teacher is developing with these students.

Negatives

  • Need to work on certain aspects, especially reading, in more detail.
  • Behaviour is still an issue.
  • Positivity needs to be boosted in the classroom.

Things to work on

  • Keeping up with marking and setting targets, complimenting students on what they are doing well on.
  • Embedding core subject into writing section of the course.
  • Develop behaviour management techniques and try new methods.

First Reflection

So here goes, my first reflection from my first term! This reflection is a very late one and I am learning the importance of keeping a record of thoughts/feelings/ideas as soon as the session has finished. (Think I’ll be investing in a diary this Christmas!). One particular session stood out for me this term and I’d like to explore the things that worked well and the things that did not.

This session took place during 19th of November. I was teaching the same session (Functional Skills English) to two classes, one in the morning which I have been observing and taking over slowly and one new class in the afternoon who I’ve only met once before. The session revolved around the blessed thing that is SPaG (Spelling, Punctuation and Grammar) which can be difficult to make engaging at the best of times.

From my time observing Functional Skills sessions and taking over a few of the classes I have noticed short exercises work the best for the learners. Longer exercises provide the students with too much time to become distracted and bored. My short activities included word searches, and adjective exercise to practice using dictionaries, an exercise to help students’ spot grammatical mistakes and then a recap of punctuation which involved moving around the classroom.

So the morning group first…The session went relatively well, although students spent a long while on the starter activities. I have noticed students in the morning session lack confidence in their abilities. There is one particular student who has some truly fantastic ideas, however often puts herself down. She finishes the work before others and finishes it to a high standard. There are a few other students like her in the class and they are a pleasure to teach (such a cliché teacher thing to say-but true!).

These students benefit from stretch and challenge, and can move onto new tasks and extension activities without any objection. However, a few members of the class are very difficult to engage and ask for a lot of help. There is a range of level 1 and 2 within the class, so differentiation can be so difficult. Any tips for differentiation besides having lots of extra activities available? It’d be nice to pair up advance learners with learners who are struggling, but due to the group dynamics and behavioural issues I feel this would be tricky.

Now for the afternoon group. I have only seen this group once before (I was covering for a colleague). They are a small group however they are exceptionally giggly and easily lose focus. This group’s behaviour was particular challenging. There is a lot of negativity towards the subject and to trying new things. Although in class I push on and tell them to have a go inside I am often feeling massively drained. For this group I hope to add more elements from their core course to help improve engagement.

Funnily enough however, this group completed the work much quicker. Possibly because they wanted it to be over with but after checking their work it was of a decent quality. I think this group needs a challenge to make the students realise their capabilities and potential. I think with time rapport with these students could also be built on and developed which could improve behavioural issues.

So some positives:

The students produced relevant and decent work, some better than others.

The aims were reached.

Learners were stretched and challenged as well as supported.

The negatives:

Low level disruption.

Lack of consolidation activities. I need ways to ensure students have learnt. This is something I find difficult in the FS sessions as I try to keep activities short to keep students engaged.

After the Christmas holidays I’m going to try change things up a bit. Unfortunately since this session the groups have mixed and merged. They have become bigger and the session time has doubled. Although this is daunting I am having a rethink of ways to use this as an opportunity to really get them on board with English.

Ways I will do this:

Read up on behaviour management and observe some challenging groups with teachers who are good at BH. Try some new techniques and stick to my expectations.

A range of recap and consolidation activities as well as just stretch and challenge activities.

Develop rapport over time, learn all student’s names and try keep a record of their abilities through marking and reading their work.

Reference to the real life application of the subject throughout sessions.

Embed the core subject when possible.

 

I will reflect on these improvements in the coming term!