Monday, March 20, 2006

Teaching rounds are NOT like teaching!

How so? Weeeell...

It turns out that although you think you are experiencing 'teaching' like it's the real thing, it is so far from the real thing that it's hard to compare the two. The following areas are discussed in no particular order of importance: responsibility, organisation, discipline, planning, administrivia and paper warfare, politics, relationships/friendships/mentoring, support and self sufficiency. I may think differently about these topics in the future...

[*WARNING* This will probably be dry and boring to non teaching readers. It is also very long!]

5 weeks was nowhere near as physically and mentally and emotionally draining as this short 6 week term. It's nice to get a break now but I worry about how I will cope with a full length term. The last 2 weeks have felt like a full time low grade smokey pub hangover. I hope I will build some resistance to the stress otherwise this job will make me ill on a regular basis (This may be why the job comes with so many sick days though...).

The responsibility that I have as a 'real' teacher sometimes feels enormous! On rounds you can always look to someone else to take charge if you are unsure. Now I just have to make it up, appear confident and hope for the best. I can get advice before or after an event, but whilst it's happening you're it! Other people in the team look to me for guidance and decision making. How do I want it to happen, should we do this, what do you want me to do – in short, I don't really know. Learning to control the events in my classroom is a big task, especially when I often have a cast of thousands in to help or just one person I need to make the most of. Things change so often, as do the kids. I spend a lot of time thinking on my feet and there may be no way around this. I na├»vely thought you could plan, including contingencies and then it would be fine. These kids create so many contingencies that a lot of the time I just feel I have to go with the flow and make the most out of the time for a positive, fun, educational experience. It's hard for me to relax into something like that and say 'Whatever, never mind. We'll do it this way then.' When I have to make up an answer and work by trial and error I feel like I am not doing the best I could for my students, that I should could do better if I knew more, but I understand (or at least a small, rational part of me does) that I am creating, or having, the experience that my answers will one day come from. On teaching rounds, you have someone to say 'perhaps try it this or that way next time.' I have no such luxury now and can only try to describe what happened to colleagues and hope they have a good idea for me. The kids and class dynamic are so different that each teacher may need to create something new to make things work and that is a bit daunting at this stage.

Organisation... on the run... When you start something new with no idea what you are doing you have to play catch up to get ahead again – or perhaps not sleep, but I am too lazy for that option. Maybe other new teachers cope with this better than I. I am usually a very organised person even if things look cluttered. At the end of this term I have no idea what many of the bits of paper littering my desk and shelves refer to or even if they are important. That is why I will be going in to school this holidays... and maybe a little future planning now I have a clue what I am supposed to be doing. On teaching rounds you have plenty of time to plan and make cool stuff for the kids to do. One of my kids works well and independently with worksheets... Great! I'll photocopy a book and that's one less thing for me to think about! This change has come about a lot more quickly than I expected. Teaching rounds gives you a false sense of security that it's all manageable, and it would be, if you were teaching a 0.5 fraction. My kids don't generally work independently either, so unless I put a video on, I am teaching all the time. It would be nice to set kids on a task and then get on with some administrivia that needed doing but it's not going to happen in my world.

On teaching rounds, you walk into a fully formed class. Maintaining discipline is easier than creating it from a rabble of kids who have never met you before. My kids are a bit different in that it may take me a lot longer to get through to them but I am not the only new teacher experiencing this. I love my gorgeous, demonic (at times – and don't think because they are cute and disabled that they don't know what they are doing either!) and demanding students but sometimes I really want to throttle them. Maintaining and teaching discipline, both rules and self discipline is a crap job when parents won't reinforce and I need to build the line between home and school behaviour. I thought it was cool on teaching rounds when my supervising teacher wasn't there and I was the authority in the room. I now realise that this would not have been possible without a lot of hard work by them earlier in the year. I was just reaping the benefits.

Administrivia. How many trees had to die to tell me shit I don't give a rat's a*** about? Can't they send me emails I can archive or delete and leave the trees alone? Oh, yeah. That's right, no one would look at it. Do they look at their bits of paper? I understand we have to be told, to shift responsibility but really... Don't print it if it's on the school network – send me an email with a link. Then there's reports... When you are on teaching rounds you plan and teach. When you teach you plan, you teach, you fill out lots of forms and read lots of memos only a few of which will really have any effect on your students or your teaching of them. It's a pain in the but and leave you with less time for good planning because you always feel like you are behind in the paper chase and other responsibilities. Some days I feel like I need a secretary to tell me what is due when and where I am supposed to be next – oh, yard duty/team meeting/staff meeting, you say?

When you are on teaching rounds the school politics doesn't really touch you. You may be aware of some of it, but in the end it doesn't matter. Working in a school is different. At the moment I am vaguely aware of several sets (or subsets) of political workings going on. I am trying not to take sides as I don't really know what's going on, but already I am aware that it affects the relationships I form with other teachers. As the principal is fairly new to the school there is a power shift going on as she takes full leadership of the school. Things are changing and it's hard to know where you stand. One of the APs is retiring soon, so it will be interesting to see if her replacement comes from within the school. Some of the teachers seem to think it may create waves if the expected choice from within the school isn't appointed. Apparently the principal has a different style that a lot of the staff welcome, and who wouldn't welcome the chance to say what you think and have it taken into consideration instead of being shouted down or stepped on. How does this effect me? I am being mentored by the head of primary, who is considered to be very old school and the staff adoption of a confrontational relationship with management might make things very interesting. I am not used to being quiet about issues that I think are important but being on anyone's side at the moment would not be a good thing for me. So, I will do what I have always tried to do when confronted with work politics, be on good terms with everyone.

Relationships, friendships, mentoring... These I bundled up together coz they are all about getting on with other people, I guess. My mentor is the head of primary. She is sweet but very serious and under a lot of stress. I like her and respect her but it's not as if we click. I can't make her laugh and sometimes she looks at me like she's not really sure how to take me – I hope that in time she will realise that seriously is not the best way to take me most of the time. I am quite happy to share the professional issues I have with my teaching with her but not so much the emotional ones. Luckily I have found other teachers who I feel more comfortable with in that area who are a great support. In some ways I am lucky to be the youngest on the teaching staff amongst women who have kids my age. I am looked after and helped. I wish they could see more of that need in each other. The only people my age are the therapist and teachers and therapists don't generally tend to hang out much. I think that's just an age and stage of life thing and I'll be able to get to know them better as the year progresses. I would like to have a close friend at school but I am not feeling particularly isolated either socially or professionally. One of the best things on teaching rounds was other student teachers who were going through the same thing. That mutual support at morning tea, lunch or in a shared office was great and I miss that relationship of equals that I can't have with anyone here. At least compared to teaching rounds I am not tied to one person for advice and I have more personalities to sift through to find people I can relate to.

On teaching rounds you have someone watching your class and giving feedback. Where it was good, what worked well, where you could improve, suggestions on how to improve. Now I am on my own, teaching in a unfamiliar area. Great! The support I get now is rarely direct unless I ask someone to come into my class to have a look and give me some ideas. I have to ask for any specific help or suggestions I need. I get provided with general info and support but my mentor a) doesn't want to cramp my style with too much 'this is the way we do it' type thing b) doesn't know what help I need until I work it out for myself. She is teaching her own class, not watching over my shoulder. Some self sufficiency is necessary even to be able to work out that you need help. I would like some constructive feedback on my lessons but people just tell me I'm doing a good job, I tell them about a concern with the students during that lesson and they say 'Oh, that's normal for this school. It will be trial and error for a while'. No easy answers here, but I'm probably happier being frustrated whilst working it out for myself than if I were being told what I should be doing all the time.

Imagine having half a teaching load and the rest of the time for planning and reflection! Ah, teaching rounds – I almost miss them now I am really thinking about it... I went into this job with little idea of what would be expected of me and no idea what my students would be like. Imagine the luxury of watching another teacher with the same class for a time before starting to find out what works with them and who's who in the zoo. Actually being the teacher I haven't had such luxury of teaching rounds and have been flying by the seat of my pants for 6 weeks. I now have time to stop, recover and plan out some ideas and directions for next term (not to mention go through all the bits of paper people have been handing me since day one. I really hope there wasn't anything too important in there!). I feel bad when I haven't really thought things through, as if I'm letting the kids down. There is a lot of trial and error but I feel I'm not being systematic enough about it. I couldn't have a CRT in for a sick day as I haven't written hardly anything down yet! I am glad it's a short term and I can get on top of things now and get my head together for next term.

The last thing I want to mention, unless I think of anything else to add to this epic ramble reflection, is the fact that I was unaware of the amount that emotion is a factor in teaching. Perhaps on rounds you have a lack of ownership of the class, but I am surprised on a regular basis by my emotions for my kids and how much of the inner part of me is a large part of my teaching. I expected I'd teach science and math (or health) to teenagers and nothing on rounds prepared me for the emotional journey that teaching is taking me on. Be ye warned!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hey hg
It's the evening before i start my 3rd year teaching rounds. I have just finished exams, have had a weekend to soak in the joy of having completed my science degree and now it's time to focus and prepare for the three weeks ahead. I tried to go to sleep early but i can't sleep. I'm thinking about whether i should keep a straight face or smile, whether i should say more than hello my name is N. K. on the first day, if i should even say my surname cause nobody gets it right anyway. I'm glad you have put it in perspective for me. Thanks for pointing out all the good bits and for reminding me i'm not alone in this.
I hope the new semester went well.