Sunday, 26 November 2017

Musings from one month of teaching


It's just like being back at school. Though you have no option but to do the work, but at least you don't have any exams. I've realised that it would be easier to just do my GCSEs again.

I've only ever worked in offices, and working in a school is different - strange, actually. It's impossible not to feel infantilised, being given a timetable, exact timings of when you need to do this and that, and being told when you're allowed to have your lunch or go for a wee (and in my case, asking another teaching if I can go for a wee because I don't have a staff pass and therefore cannot access the toilets). A teaching timetable means that the day is weirdly divided up for you, so you can't conveniently pace your work throughout the day (as you would in a lot of jobs), instead it's hours of full-on performing, followed by a bit of peaceful printing and guillotining time. If you're lucky (if the printer hasn't run out of paper/toner, you've run out of printing credit, you're seventeenth in the queue of teachers wanting to print). You realise the end of the school day is not the end of your day, and it's worse than homework. In fact, the feeling that there's something you should, could or have forgotten to do is always there, and you just kind of get used to the fear and try not to let it become guilt. And that's only for 8 lessons a week, ask me how I feel when I'm teaching 25. 

I think everyone goes through times when they don't know what they're doing, or at least they think they don't, and they're perpetually terrified that someone's going to find out. Even though you know you've got a degree in the subject, and the kids you're teaching don't, and maybe can't identify the UK on a world map, some ask questions which require you to search for answers in the very depths of your brain...whether they're accurate answers or just made up. And then you have to praise them for asking those questions, even if and when they've made you terrified and panicked. A personal favourite is "excellent question, we're going to be touching on that in another lesson so I don't want to ruin the surprise" (i.e. I have time to Google it before next lesson). When you're starting out, you have to make assumptions about what you think your students will know; you don't want to patronise them but you don't want to ask them the impossible. What I'm starting to realise is that everything you think they'll definitely know, they won't - and the things you think might really challenge them sometimes don't. You can't prepare for all eventualities, but you hope that by preparing for some of them, you and they will find some means of cruising or crawling through that lesson, and next time you might know better. 

When I told people I was going to train as a secondary school teacher, my favourite response was "Why? You know kids have knives now..." The preconceptions about the kids you teach are far worse than the reality. The most aggressive incident I've seen in a lesson so far is someone swipe a glue stick off another student's desk in a fit of rage. Some kids are frankly a pain in the bum, but they're rarely horrible people - usually just bored or frustrated or just can't help but talk to everyone around them and do nothing you've asked them to (because they're children). On the other hand, some are wonderful. This week I had a year 7 tell me that houses should be more expensive in towns than villages, but they might not be because houses in villages are often bigger and more exclusive and people pay a premium for the peace and quiet. That's pretty impressive for an 11 year old, huh? And they love to please. They want to show you they know the answer, sometimes so much so that they can barely stay in their seat and it looks like their arm is levitating from their body because they're stretching it so high. 

After being in school for one month, I have to say that I'm enjoying it a lot more than I thought I would. I love not having to spend all day, every day sitting at a desk and sending a lot of emails. I like meeting the kids, even if I do have to spend most of the hour I spend with them a week telling them to turn round, get on with their work, stop talking; and because there are some which amaze me and air grab when they find out that I'm teaching them. Although it's still fairly early days, I'm so glad I'm doing this and I've not learnt so much since being at school myself. Every week feels like another huge learning curve, but that's what I love - and that's what makes having to spend my Sunday afternoons plan lessons not entirely depressing. I'm four weeks down and I've got four weeks 'til Christmas - let's see how I'm getting on then when I'm inevitably shattered and I've probably had eight different colds. 
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