Back to the classroom

From spilling coffee down myself on day one, to falling asleep on a train on day eighteen. From losing control of a class, to having a student tell me that ‘I sounded more like a teacher’ as I was telling off one of the boys in the class. I’ve had hours of conversations with my mentor teacher and taken away a lot of lessons. An early observation was however hard my mentor teacher seemingly was with her class they all appeared to love her at the end of the day. We had a discussion about this a few days ago and she said as long as the students think you are being just and fair they won’t hold it against you, which I thought was a nice piece of advice.

The students have frustrated me, tried my patience, amazed me and made me proud. For every lesson I thought didn’t go well, another did. On the penultimate day I asked my class what they thought of the personal timeline project I’d set them. They started with ‘100% fun’ and then ‘120% fun’. This might suggest I failed in my maths teaching!

I’ve dealt with children with a variety of learning difficulties and done all this whilst embracing a teaching method that could be seen as a little unusual. Self-directed learning and three-hour lessons may sound the stuff of nightmares for some teachers and would probably keep others awake at night, but the more I got used to it the more I saw its benefits, especially with children on the margins.

Saying all this I had a wise experienced mentor who told it straight all the time and I took on board everything I was told, despite that response you sometimes get when you are given ‘feedback’. What I’m talking about is that natural urge to ignore it or hide away from it and not face it. The teaching assistant was also invaluable; from rescuing me on day one when a teacher I can only assume misheard that this was my first day put me 1:1 with the most disruptive student in the class, to providing the materials for my increasingly practical and material heavy lessons.

I was worried before I began. I thought, I’m nearly half way through, what if I don’t like it? What if I decide it isn’t for me? There is always that possibility, at least in my mind. But instead I thrived. I experimented with what worked and what didn’t. I changed my opinion on discipline and I taught some lessons that captured the attention of my class.

I’ve done lots of non-teaching duties as well; gate duty, attended staff and department meetings, watched my class prepare for the school play and learnt how to deal with situations that frankly would have freaked me out six weeks ago. I’ve laughed and almost cried at the things that have gone on and the way the children have reacted.

There was one thing that took me time to get used to. Before I started my mentor teacher warned me that the children like to touch you. Despite being told, I wasn’t ready for such an invasion of my personal space. But after a while the hugs, the way the children push themselves into you, became a nice part of the job. As did the cards they made for me. I guessed something was happening when a few of them came up to me after they’d finished making mother’s day cards and asking how to spell my name.

It’s been a pleasure to work with such young and open minds. To put some of the theory that I’ve studied into practice and to understand that theory is one thing but getting out there and standing in front of a class calls for a lot more than thinking about your teaching ‘pedagogy’ and theorising about how children learn. Decisions are made on the hop, lessons can turn in seconds and unusual random events happen all the time. Perhaps the ability to be dynamic and move outside of a structured way of thinking is the greatest lesson the class has taught me. And I’ve embraced that, just as they have embraced learning from me.

Those who know me well will know that I find it hard to stop and appreciate an achievement before moving on to the next challenge. It’s been ingrained in me to always think I could have done a better job, to look for what I’ve done wrong, instead of what I’ve done right. But this time, as I sat on the train home on one of my final days, the emotion washed over me, and a voice said that I should be proud of the job I’ve done. I should be giving myself a pat on the back. I should let that feeling linger a while and enjoy it. I sat there on the penultimate day as my mentor teacher filled in my end of placement report and spent thirty minutes complimenting me on the job I’d done, the feedback she’d given me that I’d enacted, my willingness to step in and the way I cared for the children in her class. It’s always nice to be told that you’ve done a good job, but in my experience it’s rare for people to actually tell you.

There have been other signs too. Claire has commented on how I come home of an evening and enjoy talking about work. I can’t remember the last time I’ve done that. I had a policy for many years that I wouldn’t talk about work at home.  I felt as though it had invaded the majority of my day and I wouldn’t let it invade any more. Maybe that’s the difference between a job and a career. A career is something you live, a job is something you do.

So I get to sit at home and study for a couple of months, but the break from the classroom is short which is actually nice. Part of me doesn’t want to have an alarm go off at 6.15 am in the morning and have to drag myself out of bed, but part of me does as well. Part of me likes getting my coffee from Coles (they’re only $2 for a large), likes doing my admin on the train and enjoys walking into the classroom waiting for the children to come in for the day. I head back to the classroom in August, this time to teach grades 5&6 in a different school, but I have a feeling I will return to this first one. Many of the children have asked if I’ll come back and see them and I will. My first placement and teaching experience is special, it’ll be forever etched on my memory.

Teaching hey? I’m not saying this is for everyone, but it seems like it might be for me.

IJS 25/05/2018

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