Sunday, June 27, 2010


There has been a lot of talk recently about how best to prepare new teachers for the classroom, and today I read a blog post on this subject from Edna Sackson.  When I trained to be a teacher, back in the early 80s, there was not a lot of preparation and not a lot of support for new teachers.  Following my degree, I did a PGCE (Post Graduate Certificate of Education) which was a one year course.  In the first term all trainee teachers had to follow 4 courses - one was on the history of education, one was on psychology and I can't remember what the other two were on.  Looking back I really don't think any of these were any use to me at all in a practical sense during my first year of teaching - though if I was doing this course again I think I would definitely pay more attention to the psychology lectures.  In addition we had to attend seminars about our subject (mine was Geography) and have a weekly tutor group meeting with other students, none of whom were studying the same subject as myself.  We also had a couple of sessions where we were supposed to learn how to project our voices.  During the first term I went with a small group of trainee Geography teachers to visit a local school for 3 afternoons.  In the final session of these our group had to plan an activity to do with the boys that involved some Geography fieldwork.

The entire second term - Christmas to Easter - was spent in a school.  This was known as "teaching practice".  During these 10 weeks or so, I had to teach two subjects - Geography and History.  I was assigned to 2 teachers who started off with me observing their lessons and then after a week or so of observation I had to teach some of the lessons with them observing me and finally after another week or so they left me alone in the class to plan and teach the lessons myself.  During this term my university tutor dropped by twice to observe how I was doing, and we spent every Wednesday afternoon back at the university working on creating resources for our subjects.

The third term was spent back in the university again, and the only activity I remember from that time was having to produce an essay about some aspect of teaching.  I wrote something about creating resources to use with students with special needs.  Did this year prepare me to be a teacher?  Definitely not!

Fresh out of university I then got a job in a very tough comprehensive school in a depressed area of England.  The school had 1200 students aged 12 - 16 with just a few staying on after that to do A'levels.  Probably less than 1% of the students went on to any further education after the age of 18.  The school was in a mining community - the aim of most of the boys was to go down the local pit.  Salaries with bonuses as a miner were higher than I was earning as a teacher.  The girls had very little ambition other than to get married.  I started at the school in 1983, and within a few months the miners went out on strike, a strike that was to last for a year and which would result in the total decimation of the community and the closure of the local mine (which meant unemployment for almost all the boys leaving school).  I think it's fair to say that nobody at the school was very motivated to learn anything at all in the years that I was there.

Nowadays this probably wouldn't happen, but in those days I think new teachers who were just a few years older than the students they were teaching were seen as being enthusiastic, idealistic and ready to take on challenges and able to connect with the students, therefore we were given some of the toughest classes - probably the ones nobody else wanted.  The school was interested in the fact that I had written an essay about resources for teaching students with special needs, and I was appointed to teach a remedial class of 14-15 year olds (with absolutely no training or experience in special needs at all!)  I was to teach them for all their English, Religious Studies (neither subjects I had studied myself), Geography and History which covered 1/3rd of their time in school.  My first year was pure survival.  Some of the children couldn't read very well, so I remember reading novels aloud to them - their favourite was Roald Dahl's Danny Champion of the World, which was probably more suitable as a book for primary aged children.  This probably wasn't the best way to teach them English, but they did enjoy being read to, and they did stay quiet and listen.  Other lessons were not so orderly!  However in that first year I do remember teaching the students how to read a bus and train timetable so that they could plan a trip to the coast, and later in the year we also did a little bit about the Geography of Europe as they seemed to be interested in places that they could go on on holiday.  Perhaps some of that was useful for them - I hope so!  As this was in the days before the national curriculum in England there was no pressure to teach them anything at all that would be assessed.  In fact the school did Mode 3 CSE exams, which we wrote ourselves and moderated locally with other teachers.  Looking back I'm grateful that I started teaching at a time when there were no standardised tests or league tables of schools - my students would certainly not have been able to pass them and this would probably have reflected badly on me as a teacher.

I started teaching with 5 other new teachers - we stuck together and supported each other and gave each other suggestions of what might work.  The school was a rough school, but it was also a strict one, and there were always people in the senior management who we could turn to to sort out behaviour problems when they arose.  Of the other 5 newly qualified teachers who started with me, only 1 is still in full-time teaching, which I feel is a terrible waste as all of us started off being pretty keen and enthusiastic and all of us were actually good at what we did.  Possibly if we had been given easier classes and some mentoring more of us would have stuck to it.

After 6 years of teaching in the UK, I moved into international education.  Now from that day to this I have never looked back and that move is probably the reason why after 28 years I am still a teacher and still loving what I do.

While I was teaching in Amsterdam I became part of a European-wide group of teachers who were studying pedagogy in our various countries.  We met regularly and discussed such issues as how we pass on our knowledge of teaching to others.  We asked:  can you really teach someone how to teach?  We talked about techniques that worked for us and realised that what works for one teacher doesn't necessarily work for another.  One important thing we discussed, however was mentoring.

We questioned how anyone ever really learns to do anything.  For example we looked at simple things like learning how to drive a car, or learning how to cook.  We came up with 4 statements that today still hang on the wall of my room.

I do, You watch
I do, You help
You do, I help
You do, I watch

As an IT teacher, one of the things I'm responsible for is also developing the IT skills of the teachers, as well as the students.  In my previous schools I did this by giving the homeroom teachers the responsibility for leading the IT in one unit of inquiry per year, with me supporting them in this.  Once they had taken on one unit, the following year they could take on another one.  Sometimes all the teachers in one grade decided to lead the same unit, sometimes they decided to lead different units.  Next year, in my current school, we are starting a new model of mentoring using the SAMR model.

This year it has mostly been a case of attending the collaborative planning meetings and deciding what IT will support the unit, then me leading the lessons and the homeroom teacher watching and helping the students.  We've had a whole year of this and now we are definitely ready to move onto the second step of the teachers leading the lessons and me helping them.  We have decided that all teachers will lead the S (substitution) activities and that they will lead the A(augmentation) with our support.  We will still lead the M (modification) and R (redefinition).  This means that they will most likely be leading some IT in every unit of inquiry and the IT teachers will be leading the rest.  I'm thinking that this will be another way of mentoring the teachers and encouraging them all to move forward on their learning journeys.

Mentors in international schools are needed in another way too.  When you first arrive in a new and strange country feelings of helplessness can be overwhelming.  I remember that even simple things like opening a bank account or getting an internet connection can be exhausting if you don't know what you are doing or which are the right papers you have to have.  It's very depressing to go home to an empty apartment while you are waiting for your shipment to arrive.  It's really hard to wander around the supermarket looking for familiar ingredients and not being able to read what is in the tins.  Last year it took me 4 months to realise that I actually needed to get a TV licence - even though we don't have a TV - because I have a radio in my car.  Apparently the fine for not having this piece of paper in Switzerland is very large!  This year we are starting a mentor system for our new teachers too - and hopefully they will find their transition here much easier than we did when we arrived and perhaps avoid the very low dip into culture shock that we experienced.  We have discovered that it is hard to be a good "new " teacher - even if you are a very experienced teacher in your own country - if you are worried about child care, finding a doctor or how to pay your bills.  We have realised that our new teachers need mentors, not just to help them with the academics, but to get them through all the social issues they face as well.

Photo Credit:  Loose Ties by CharlesFred

No comments:

Post a Comment