Posts Tagged ‘Teaching’

The development in student-centred learning is certainly gaining pace in the last few years. Each day, further strategies utilising BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) policies are highlighted, classes are flipped (where students are able to view and review brief videos created by teachers at home) and the role of the teacher continues to be refined. Certainly, the concept of the teacher as the authoritative dispenser of information via chalk and talk is being challenged.

In light of this, what developments are there with the process of interviewing teachers for positions? Currently, it is not uncommon for prospective teachers to be asked to teach a lesson or take a class. It’s not something that I’ve had to do, but I’ve often wondered about this. Does it lead to the potential for a “crackerjack” lesson to be delivered by a candidate – perhaps the best that they can do? Or is it designed more to weed out those who might handle the interview itself successfully enough, but give little indication of the fact that they would be flounder if put in front of a more ‘colourful’ Year 9 class? Certainly it has probably had its value over time and, as a general litmus test, one can determine a degree of rapport (or not) between a teacher and a group of students.

So, do schools need to visit how they interview teachers? If we are looking at dynamic and innovative ways of interacting with students and delivering content, does this stand at odds with more traditional methods of demonstrating your classroom credentials? Perhaps the criteria need to be considered as part of the application process, looking at a wider range of skills such as:

  • examples of a teacher’s ICT skill base and how this directly correlates to classroom activities
  • a teacher’s ability to facilitate and mentor, rather than be the arbiter of instruction
  • a demonstration of a teacher’s connection to the need for lifelong learners in society (and with the ability to be taught by the students as well)
  • the place of content and creation in the classroom
  • the need to teach the value (or otherwise) of the ICT tools as part of the learning process

Would love to hear about “different” experiences in the selection process that you have witnessed or experienced.

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The school I teach at, as part of its 150 year anniversary celebrations, has been hosting our brother school from Tonga. This is an interesting story in itself, as this College was founded by the same “first” headmaster, only 3 years later, in 1866. 

We have 90 boys and staff staying with our boys and staff, as billets. It has been an inspiring and often humbling experience. Those we are hosting come from a situation of limited means, yet their spirit and ability to give makes us look like minnows by comparison. In our chapel on Sunday evening, we were blown away by the performances of their choir and brass band, respectively and together. At the time, our Headmaster made an astute observation; despite our financial and technological strength, we are the ones who receive the greater benefit from our mutual relationship. Why might this be surprising, when we aim to support them with educational and financial aid each year?

Simply, it amounts to the idea that those who have least to give, often have the most to offer and the greatest generosity to boot. From my perspective, it highlights the power of service. Another, former, headmaster of mine, took pains to explain to the students that to be a leader in a school does not equate as the one who gives all the orders. Instead, a true leader is demonstrating their ability and capacity to serve. This observation struck me at the time and came back into view with the current visit from our Tongan friends.

While it is commendable for our community to make donations that support charities, the greater recognition for us comes from when we give of our time. There are occasions when I feel that (and this is not meant to be a nasty thought by any means), it is simpler for us to make a monetary donation and, perhaps, in doing so, salve our conscience from larger concerns. By contrast, I have appreciated the accounts from our students and staff who, when visiting Tonga, have been met with a people who give up their own residences to house us, who stay up the whole night preparing banquets and cutting down the trees to ensure that there is sufficient firewood for the feast to take place. Their love of God, of community and generosity is a lesson to all at my school. I reiterate that it has been a humbling experience.

I sometimes get asked whether, being an English teacher means that I want students to be able to learn how to read and write (put a little simplistically). I tend to observe that, for me, I would rather that I encourage students to have the ability to actively question the world around them, than they have a set of rote learnt answers. Additionally, I would like my students, to have that wider world view – one that recognises the need of others and how best to further those aims. I hope that the lessons of this week will have a lasting effect, long after our Tongan brothers have returned to their homeland.

Starting out as a new teacher, you might well be asked to take on a Year 12 (or senior) class. On the basis that you have the necessary class skills in hand and know your curriculum, what might be the first fly in the ointment for your new teaching career?

English: A special education teacher assists o...

Teacher skills often extend beyond the class room (Photo credit: Wikipedia).

The chances are, you might well have a parent/teacher evening, or a set of reports to complete before the end of Term 1. Yet, as far as I can tell, most university training does not focus on either of these skills.
In my case, it was comparatively unremarkable. I was not quite 23 and the oldest student was already 18. Admittedly, it was nearly 20 years ago and the night went smoothly enough. Apart from the drunk parent and the couple going through an acrimonious divorce that played out before me. Nothing directed at me personally, but this isn’t really the issue. It was more the sense that I felt like I was winging it, on some sense of what was expected.
Talking to colleagues recently, it seems little has changed. I acknowledge that my survey is hardly extensive. However, it does take in experience from the United Kingdom, the United States and Australia, over the course of the last decade in particular. Even now, I have a prac student about to start an internship – no experience of parent/teacher nights or reports has been provided by the university. Perhaps fortuitously, she will be able to sit in on our scheduled night, and so will gain some experience before going live as a newly employed teacher, on her own.

With reports, it might be a little easier. The chance to look at a set of earlier reports from a colleague, or to have them looked over beforehand certainly exists. But why not take it back a step and look at what reporting ought to entail? A clear understanding of the student, certainly, but what beyond this? Results? Pedagogy? Curriculum goals? What is best avoided?

As for the parent/teacher interview, why not have a practice run, in addition to any school practicum that a trainee teacher might undertake. Having a number of scenario interviews, with unknown adults, provides scope for direction and reflection. Medical students undergo a variation of this in order to both direct their diagnostic skills and ‘bedside’ manner. Surely this is as pertinent in a

I recognise the need for universities to adapt to new teaching methodologies in light of the changing world of ICT. However, these basic skills seem to have been overlooked in the past and continue to do so in the present. Despite other developments, such as the changing realm of ICT, surely teachers will need to be able to write reports and meet with parents for the foreseeable future.

If you have seen programs where these skills are incorporated, I would love to hear about it.

Was there an unlikely skill or area at school that ended up serving you so well later on in life?

There was some media exploration of the declining numbers of girls studying mathematics as senior students this week (in Australia). I’ve provided a link to one of the articles, in the Sydney Morning Herald here. This post isn’t looking to explore this topic per se, but the topic did get me thinking more broadly about the subjects you study at school, and their relevance to your future. We have all wondered about that subject just making up the numbers so that we are eligible for the final qualification. Tales in the days of old of a bonfire of notes post exam for that much maligned subject that you somehow ended up taking, have been around for years. But what about things that aren’t even subjects, that end up helping you beyond expectation?

Students often ask me if I always wanted to become a teacher and are surprised when I say “no”. I was always good at English but it was rarely my strongest subject in terms of results. My mother was a teacher, as was, for some time, my paternal grandfather. When asked what I was going to study at uni and I responded “Arts”, it usually elicited an “Oh… so you want to me a teacher!”, which I seemed to rail against. But, I got to the end of my Arts degree, then an Honours year and hit a wall. What now?

Lectern

Lectern (Photo credit: Timmargh)

Mum suggested I look at a Dip Ed. At the time I was hoping to become the next big Australian playwright and having the chance to do a bit of part time teaching seemed like a good way to support the ‘craft’. The same year I was doing the NIDA Playwrights’ Course. With three months of the Dip Ed to go, I’d decided it might be good to get the C.V. in order, apply for a few jobs for experience and without quite knowing how, wound up with a one-year position for someone on maternity leave. That one-year ended up lasting me for nine, before I switched schools.

So back to the question at the top – and my answer to the students – the unlikely skill set that best helped me with where I am now? It would come down to two things. The first was Debating. I took it up in Year 9 and can recall the first topic “That there is too much violence on the news”. I was first speaker and can still recall the sheer terror of talking ‘unscripted’, with my mouth drying up to make this uncomfortable smacking sound as I tried to pronounce words and make them into something approaching a coherent sentence for an eternity of minutes. But over the next three years, unwittingly, it taught me how to breathe, how to think, how to pace myself and, perhaps most important of all, how to speak in front of large numbers of people without gabbling-like-I-used-to-do-when-slightly-nervous-and-excited-in-equal-measure!

The second stemmed out of English, out of my love of writing. It was joining the Drama Society at University and along with watching and being involved with plays, discovering that I wasn’t bad at writing them. Out of that came my ability to enter a Diploma of Education in English and Drama, without my having formally studied Drama. Out of that came the chance to study for a year at NIDA. Out of that came the chance for me to get an interview for my first job as a teacher… one that I got. And, perhaps most happily, out of that came the chance, with my first play touring to a University Theatre Festival interstate, to meet the girl who would end up becoming my wife 9 years later.

So this post probably has more in common with Ken Robinson on Creativity than a call for more students (of either gender) to study mathematics. But it’s nice to think that I can tell my children that, thanks to the Arts, I was able to meet your mother and ultimately, to be able to have you.

I’d love to hear about those unlikely or serendipitous moments from your education that perhaps had a greater sway on your life than you could possibly envisage.

Over the Australian summer holidays, I’ll change tack a little and look to write more often and more broadly. Normal blogging transmissions will resume late January/early Feb next year. In the meantime, I hope you enjoy these posts.

A Year in Reverse

A year ago, I was in the process of moving out of the school Boarding House, having lived in for more than six years – four of which I oversaw the running of the place. I left for a variety of reasons, but was quizzed by a few students as to “why it had to be now?” In answering, I said that first term was just too hectic a time. There were all the new boarders and, for this next year, I would also have my youngest child starting school. It felt like I was juggling a few too many things. At the time, I also said

If the year could start as it is ending, then I could do another year. But with the big start it’ll be just too much. I want to dedicate my time to a whole number of areas, but feel like I’m spreading it so thinly none might be covered fully.

Fast forward to now and, while recently chatting to a colleague, I reflected upon the these sentiments. Currently, teachers start the year with a full battery, full of ideas, only to be met with a full load, the need to be fully prepared and (perhaps) not with sufficient time for reflection. By the time one gets to the end of the year when there is possibly more time on your hands (say with the exit of a Year 12 class), you are often mentally, if not physically tired. It’s that time of the year when someone could show you the best app of all time, the greatest teaching strategy, the best book you could read and your reaction is lukewarm to indifferent. What, we mused, if the year could start the year as it ends – with Term 4, moving towards Term 1. Here were the perceived benefits of our grand manifesto:

  • Rather than starting at full tilt, in a Reverse Year (RY), you might start a little more slowly. The year 12s don’t even arrive for a whole term (this would be their “stu vac” time!!)
  • As a result, you’ve got at least one lesson per day to put towards your own R&D – what about that online open uni course you’ve thought about that always starts in the first part of the year?
  • Or do some app trialling, rather than having only a basic understanding of how “Explain Everything” or “iMovie” works. Now you can get some real functionality.
  • Continue reading and perhaps even writing, rather than “dropping everything” as might be the case in the normal year, when the pressures of lesson preparation are at their most pressing.

Of course, the middle of the year would be kind-of-the-same, but the downside would now be the end of the year. You would end the year at full throttle and fall over the line into the holidays (quite likely factoring in the first week to get over the looming illness that you’ve managed to stave off for the last couple of weeks… but then again, how often does this happen now at other points of the year?!)

But perhaps this has, to some degree, been offset by the sense of gain already achieved over the course of the year. As teachers, we need to remember the need to be learners for life and, while not perfect by any means, a RY could offer a starting point for further consideration.