Scrutiny!

As a trainee teacher I am pretty much constantly scrutinised. Most of the lessons I teach are observed, commented on and critiqued by the class teacher or my mentor (often the same person) and today I was observed by the ITE (trainee teachers) coordinator in my placement school. Tomorrow is the big one, a visit from a representative from the university to observe my teaching. No one has found these visits particularly onerous so far, but the pressure is still on and I’ll struggle to sleep tonight.

I just can’t wait until it’s over and I can relax.

Language teaching in the news

There’s no doubt that languages are a less popular option for a lot of pupils, yet I still hate reading stories like this one, telling me that the state sector’s rejection of languages in a hunt for the magic A* – C grade average that keeps them high up in the league tables is actually disadvantaging our less well off children, giving provately educated kiddies yet another leg up the ladder.

But what’s the point of teaching these kids a language when they don’t even speak English well, and besides, doesn’t everyone speak English now anyway?

I hate that too! No, the whole world does not speak English. There are more native Chinese speakers in the world than English speakers, and with China’s growing economy it would be stupid to ignore the possibilities of doing business with them. Spanish is probably the most widely spoken european language thanks to South America, and German is a very important business language. Language speakers in general, and German speakers are highly employable – there are jobs out there and not enough candidates to fill them. But it’s not just direct experience. Learning French, German or Spanish teaches you how to learn a language, so if later in life you need to pick up Mandarin, Russian or Arabic you know what a verb is and what it means to conjugate one.

If I had a pound for everyone who tells me that they regret not paying more attention in French/German/Spanish at school then I’d be rich – doubly so if I also had one for everyone who tells me that they envy me for my ability to speak another language. They wish they could do it, but the truth is that everyone can, and they should. All we need to do is move away from the fear and self consciousness that prevents Britons from embracing a new language!

Back to School Blues

Early one morning a mother went in to wake up her son. “Wake up, son. It’s time to go to school!”
“But why, Mum? I don’t want to go.”
“Give me two reasons why you don’t want to go”
“Well, first the kids hate me, and second, the teachers hate me, too!”
“Oh, that’s no reason not to go to school. Come on now and get ready.”
“Give me two reasons why I should go to school”
“Well, for one, you’re 52 years old. And for another, you’re the headmaster!”

It’s an old joke, and a familiar one – but I’ve never really understood it until today. Today was the first day back, a training day (and what a waste of time that was), and it was such an upheaval dragging myself out of bed to go to school. It brought back unpleasant memories!

As you can probably tell from my distinct lack of posts, I’ve had a lovely and reasonably relaxing Christmas break, but I do feel that I’d benefit from a couple more days off. Christmas is such a hectic time of year, you spend so much time running around getting things organised that it’s hard to get enough time to relax.

Never mind – I’m sure I’ll get used to it with time.

I saw this and thought of you!

I stumbled on this poem and loved it, I thought my readership here might feel the same. It sums up beautifully why teachers do what they do, and the attitudes of those who don’t understand.

What Teachers Make, or
Objection Overruled, or
If things don’t work out, you can always go to law school

By Taylor Mali
www.taylormali.com

He says the problem with teachers is, “What’s a kid going to learn
from someone who decided his best option in life was to become a teacher?”
He reminds the other dinner guests that it’s true what they say about
teachers:
Those who can, do; those who can’t, teach.

I decide to bite my tongue instead of his
and resist the temptation to remind the other dinner guests
that it’s also true what they say about lawyers.

Because we’re eating, after all, and this is polite company.

“I mean, you¹re a teacher, Taylor,” he says.
“Be honest. What do you make?”

And I wish he hadn’t done that
(asked me to be honest)
because, you see, I have a policy
about honesty and ass-kicking:
if you ask for it, I have to let you have it.

You want to know what I make?

I make kids work harder than they ever thought they could.
I can make a C+ feel like a Congressional medal of honor
and an A- feel like a slap in the face.
How dare you waste my time with anything less than your very best.

I make kids sit through 40 minutes of study hall
in absolute silence. No, you may not work in groups.
No, you may not ask a question.
Why won’t I let you get a drink of water?
Because you’re not thirsty, you’re bored, that’s why.

I make parents tremble in fear when I call home:
I hope I haven’t called at a bad time,
I just wanted to talk to you about something Billy said today.
Billy said, “Leave the kid alone. I still cry sometimes, don’t you?”
And it was the noblest act of courage I have ever seen.

I make parents see their children for who they are
and what they can be.

You want to know what I make?

I make kids wonder,
I make them question.
I make them criticize.
I make them apologize and mean it.
I make them write, write, write.
And then I make them read.
I make them spell definitely beautiful, definitely beautiful, definitely
beautiful
over and over and over again until they will never misspell
either one of those words again.
I make them show all their work in math.
And hide it on their final drafts in English.
I make them understand that if you got this (brains)
then you follow this (heart) and if someone ever tries to judge you
by what you make, you give them this (the finger).

Let me break it down for you, so you know what I say is true:
I make a goddamn difference! What about you?

Finally!

Well, it’s Monday morning, and I’m not at school, or at Uni. This is holiday is very much needed. The PGCE is not big on holidays you see. While teachers got half term we had lectures and an assigment to do. It’s Christmas, but there’s another assignment due in after the holidays, so I don’t get a proper, proper break. But I’ll take what I can get.

I’ve enjoyed myself immensely on my placement, and I’m looking forward to some more.

After all, I need to make the most of it before I move on to my second placement, which is guaranteed to be a much much rougher school. Then again, my second placement will probably be more representative of my career options in the future.

I’m back

Once again my PGCE has taken over my life and left me with no time to write, but since it’s Christmas, and all my lessons are planned up until Christmas (well, tomorrow) and it’s mostly videos until the end of the week and we finish early on Friday, I’ve finally got a little bit of time to breathe!

This week I finally had the lesson I’ve been dreading, the one where the boys were persistently, annoyingly and disgustingly rude and reduced me to tears (though, fortunately, I managed to hold it back until I got back to the staff room). I knew it would happen eventually, it’s inevitable. In this case I was knackered and ready for a break, they were behaving abominably, I shouted at them, nagged them and they just talked over me, spoke disrespectfully to me and teased me with factoids they’d gleaned from finding me on Facebook. They seemed to think it would bother me to hear that they knew the name of my fiancé, and though it shouldn’t bother me, it does because of what it represents, nosing into my private life looking for ammunition. They won’t find anything juicy, but their intentions are fairly malicious, and this is fairly intelligent misbehaviour. When I go back in January I’m going to really go for the ringleaders and see if I can’t sort out their behaviour down to a level where we can get some work done! I know that I’m otherwise fairly spoiled by my lovely classes, and that I’m more likely to have classes like this nightmare one, so I need this experience.

Otherwise it’s going quite well. My mentor generally has really positive comments for me and is still able to (tactfully) give me ways in which I could improve my practice. I think this is the ideal thing for me at the moment.

Still – bring on the holidays!

On teaching boys

When I heard I was being placed in a boys school I couldn’t believe it. As a linguist I spend a lot of university teaching time thinking about how to engage and enthuse boys in what is essentially a feminine subject, so you can imagine that I went in the first day with a fair amount of trepidation. However, I have to admit to having been very pleasantly surprised with how much I’ve enjoyed the process of teaching just boys.

For a start, I’m teaching German. Boys seem to very much prefer German to French, but I haven’t yet reached a definite conclusion on why that could be. Theories include the fact that German is more logical (these boys are quite geeky and love maths), that French is a more feminine language or that there’s something about the teaching of the two subjects that makes the difference. Anyway, the boys do seem to enjoy it and (so far) will go along with most of what I tell them to do.

For another thing, the wonderful thing about teaching boys is that they don’t hold a grudge. Even if you give them the bollocking of a lifetime they forgive you for it, even going so far as to still like you half an hour later.

I also like the fact that uniform misdemeanors are easy to correct. Do up your top button, tie your tie properly, tuck in your shirt – these are easy and straightforward commands to follow. There’s no dithering about what it an ‘acceptable’ length for a teenage girl’s skirt or how much make up is too much. This is good, from a purely practical standpoint of course.

But what I like the most is the pure joy of being around boys. They are straightforward creatures, they’ll tell you the truth if you’re daft enough to ask, they get stuck in to what ever you put in front of them and all they need to create settled lessons is a good run around at break and luch time.

At the moment I’m loving it – but I’m seeing a less well behaved class tomorrow, so I might feel differently after this.

A proper teacher

Well, ok, not really. But I did teach my very first whole lesson today – from beginning to end, entering the room until being dismissed, they were my class. I enjoyed it very much. I think they did too, and more importantly, I’m pretty sure they learned something. We played with flashcards. I love flashcards. Perhaps that’s a sign I’m in the right job. 🙂 Just being cautious though, you must remember that this is a particularly nice year 7 group, and I also saw the year nines today (though I didn’t have to attempt to teach them anything at least) and they gave me the biggest headache. They call me stupid names, they won’t shut up and seem to have no concept of what’s appropriate. They aren’t the hardened hooligans you see in other schools, they are smart, energetic boys in need of an attitude adjustment.

I can’t help but feel critical of the teacher, who is very relaxed with them. I don’t want to, because I’m not the experienced one. I worry that my adopting a more authoritarian style will be seen as an insult to this teacher. I think that the thing is that the teacher’s style works well for her, but it blatantly won’t work for me. I can’t have casual lessons, I think they need boundaries, and when it’s my turn I’ll just have to do the best I can to deal with them. The problem is that I take them over very soon (next week even) and I haven’t thought of a solution yet. Bill Rogers calls it the establishment phase – the time in which you make sure the class knows what you will and what you won’t stand for. I’ll just have to try it and see.

And at least I’m seeing the year sevens again tomorrow.

Sorry

As has been pointed out to me a few times I haven’t updated very much recently. I have been astonishingly busy however (everyone who’s experience the dreaded PGCE will understand) and that will have to be my excuse. I’ve also started up another blog on behalf of my course mates, so that has been occupying a lot of my time.

I’m actually having a lovely time though. Teaching is really appealing to me, the high of teaching them something successfully is just unbeatable, and I’m quickly developing thick skin when dealing with the nightmare pupils, I have to keep reminding myself that it’s nothing personal and that it’s a good thing that they’ve already given me a nickname! It doesn’t stop me from repeating frequently that I could cheerfully throttle each and every one of the little brats though!

Next week I go in full time, as opposed to only 2 days a week, so this will be when I learn to manage my time properly. The frequency of posts on this blog should a fairly accurate guide to how well I’m doing that.

On a slightly more cheerful note, Chapati has recently added me to a very interesting looking blogging project. The current theme is teachers, so I’ll be keeping an eye on it, as I’m always interested in adding to my teacher blogroll.