Category Archives: Teaching

3000 Public Transport Stories (How I learnt to stop worrying and love the tram)

I sat on the tram yesterday, the first time I had for a very long time. I tend to train it or walk nowadays but I thought for a change I’d catch the 57 up through North Melbourne and to home, even though it is a much longer journey than the train. I sat opposite a woman who got on at the start of the line like me and was still there when I got off. Her actions, demonstrated to me how much my attitudes have changed over the last couple of years.

Within a few minutes of getting on, she had the song ‘My Prerogative’ playing on YouTube without any headphones so the whole tram could hear. Previously this might of annoyed me and in some circumstances I may have spoken up and questioned what she was doing. But, in some ways this brought some vibrancy to my journey home. However, she played it three more times, stopping the YouTube clip after it had finished and replaying it. Then she phoned someone after the third play and I couldn’t tell whether she was arranging a date or setting up musicians to meet. The pretext definitely sounded like the second but I think she was trying to arrange the first. After the call had finished, she put the phone down, ate some carrot and dip and then played the song again until I got off.

It made me think that at some level, the song meant something to her. And particularly the words ‘everybody’s talking all this stuff about me, why don’t they just let me live’ and I wondered whether her playing of the song was either meant to prompt interaction with the people around her or maybe the song on some level was a comfort to her. I think at times in our lives we have all associated with the lyrics of a particular song, a song that has spoken about our own situation and perhaps we haven’t played it obsessively to an audience on public transport, but maybe in the privacy of our own homes, we have. This women managed to nudge me about three or four times but apologised every time so I didn’t once question her niceness or that she was deliberately trying to antagonise people.

About a week ago I attended a school play for the school I’d taught at for my first placement. As I walked into the venue and up towards a seat at the front, I heard a chorus from one side of the auditorium shout ‘Ian’ and then a group of students ran towards me and hugged me. If I ever wondered what appreciation for the job I’ve done was, it was there in those few moments. To see that I’d made an impression on a few young minds and that I’d done something that they would remember and hence they remembered me. As my class walked off stage after their part was over, one of the boys in grade 1 must have known I was seated where I was and looked over and waved at me with a big smile of his face. A smile of how proud he was of the job he’d done and how glad he was I was there to see it. That is powerful stuff and a few seconds demonstrated an appreciation I haven’t felt in years in other jobs. And that’s a shame. I’ve too easily settled for comfortable positions where I could easily do the roles without much of a challenge, but with that comfort came a feeling of emptiness and I never really appreciated a job well done or felt I was adding value in the way I wanted to.

Today I reached 3000 different beers in the last 6 years. An achievement eh? A numerical one maybe, but not really an achievement in any other sense. At 2000 beers I made a claim that, that was it and I would just enjoy my beers instead of this constant search for new ones. Perhaps though the times just weren’t right for that and I wasn’t ready. It’s a very human characteristic to be constantly searching for something new, to seek happiness from external sources instead of internal ones. But perhaps I’m in a better space on many levels; I feel I’ve returned to me. The true me. The one that does things because I enjoy them rather than because they may impress others. I’m sure that feeling for many of us comes out of a lack of security, and however many people seem full of confidence; my experience is the most seemingly confident tend to be the most insecure.

To err, after all is to be human. I’m very much in transition internally, I’m returning to the things I love because I love them and they bring me genuine joy, not because of what they look like from outside. A great example is my love of horse racing, which I’m indulging more, and more at the moment. I understand that people may object to horse racing and indeed gambling for many reasons, but they are their objections and not mine. I don’t force my advocacy of my pastimes on my friends and I appreciate that they don’t enforce their objections on me. I shouldn’t feel that I need to defend my enjoyment of it and why. We shouldn’t be shamed into not liking the things we like because of other peoples opinions. I feel that my individual opinion is as valid as anyone else’s and differences should be respected. A long time ago, I was vegetarian for 5 years and I remember that everyone had an opinion and in the end I became such a moralistic vegetarian just to defend why I was vegetarian in the first place. The truth was at the time I just didn’t like the texture of meat but this reason didn’t seem to be enough for people.

Life changes at such a pace and our attitudes to it. Friends come and go through our lives, some remain constant, and some leave and some just drift away. At times we choose to listen to our friend’s counsel and at times we ignore it. That maybe justified, that may not be. All these relationships on some level are transactional, we give and we take. Although that balance can be temporarily skewed, in the long run these relationships provide us with something valuable and them with something valuable too.

We should be grateful for those that share our journey, that light the dark corners and remember that they like us because of what we are and not what we think they want us to be.

IJS 20/06/2018

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