Archive for the ‘PGDE’ Category

A Change of Direction

Sunday, September 23rd, 2012

I had moments during both my first and second placements when I was stressed and unhappy. One of the things that helped make me feel better was to surf the net looking for jobs in humanitarian work (development and relief) abroad. A desire to get into this field had been part of my motivation for doing my teaching degree in the first place.

A good friend of mine asked me if I spent any of my time whilst in Sri Lanka and India surfing the net for classroom teaching jobs in the UK. I said no. He asked whether I thought that told me anything. It did.

I love teaching. I love teaching maths. I love the UK. But I love travelling and teaching in the developing world more. I know that working with kids in UK classrooms makes a difference. But working with kids and teachers in other places makes more of a difference. I know that the volunteering work I do already is valuable. But I also feel that I could do more. And spending a second year in Scotland doing my probation year would not get me closer to the sort of work I ultimately want to be doing.

I went to a course run by RedRUK in London about becoming a relief worker. I realised that this is the direction I want to head in. Finishing my PGDE was an essential stepping stone in that process. Trying to get a job in the field or getting more volunteering experience in the field was next on the list.

I am notoriously fickle. So we shall see which direction(s) I end up moving in. But for now the goal is relief work with an education focus. We shall see where the wind blows me.

Classroom Management In Retrospect

Sunday, September 23rd, 2012

In our final session of the behaviour extension, we each had to give a presentation that reflected on our journey during our teacher training year and that looked forward to our probation year and our career in classrooms.

The class was split into two groups and we had to attend our session. I attended the other session too because I was interested in what all of my colleagues had to say. I think that learning from one’s own mistakes is an effective way of learning; learning from the mistakes of others is an intelligent way of learning.

Mostly I was saddened by what I heard, including what I myself had said. Very many of my colleagues said that they had learnt to be stricter from day one (not in itself a bad thing) and that they believed that not smiling until Christmas was a plan worth pursuing, in fact one person said that not only would they not smile till Christmas, this teacher wasn’t planning on smiling at all during the first year.

I think this made our tutor sad too (though I may be just projecting). She had told us numerous times that the mantra “don’t smile until Christmas” was misguided and counter-productive.

[Note for people not in the UK: the teaching year starts in September and the first term ends at Christmas, not smiling until Christmas is advice that has been given to teachers in the past – almost tongue-in-cheek – to help create and maintain discipline.]

So why do I think that many of my colleagues said such things? I think it is because classroom management is hard. Positive classroom management requires a lot of energy and sometimes appears to be more disruptive than strict, authoritarian fear. Life as a student teacher (or a probationer) is hard. We are put in classrooms with a supervising teacher making a page of notes in a red pen (I am now convinced that marking in red pen is a bad idea, I had heard it was a bad idea but hadn’t appreciated just how horrible it is until I was subjected to it myself). We have lesson plans to prepare that need to be approved. We have a classroom full of students we don’t know very well. We are coming to terms with the curriculum and the textbooks and the departmentally approved way of teaching a particular topic. We have expectations of ourselves that are very high. We worry about whether we are doing the right thing. When disruptions occur in our classrooms we want them to go away quickly. We get defensive and feel cornered. And we often retaliate. We learn that yelling at students makes them quiet (at least in the short term). So we learn that reactive, defensive behaviour is effective in the moment. Planning ahead to build relationships is too hard. Planning ahead to minimise the likelihood of disruption occurring in the first place is too hard. We do not have the time, emotional energy or space to be able to think proactively and positively.

As some of us progress through our teaching careers I think we will find the space and the time to be able to focus more on positive behaviour. But with very few role models I think it will be hard.

I hope I am being overly negative. I hope the situation in classrooms and for my cohort is much better than I have painted it.

After everything I have experienced over the year, what I have read, what I have seen, what I have done and conversations I have had, I am convinced that positive classroom management is the single most important thing required for good teaching. I believe it is possible. I believe it is valuable. I believe it is effective. But I know that it is difficult and that it requires a lot of hard work and practice.

Classroom Management In Practice

Sunday, September 23rd, 2012

Classroom management in practice, like most other things, is very different from classroom management in theory. I saw very little practice that related to the theory I’d been reading about. I saw some teachers who were engaging (and had fewer issues). I saw some teachers who were authoritarian to the point of instilling not just fear, but often contempt in their students. I saw teachers who were blind to some of the disruption in their classes. I saw teachers who picked on particular students and overreacted to the behaviour in order to show that they were dealing with disruption and to set an example for the rest of the class. I saw teachers raise their voice to students (sometimes for reasons which I could not discern). I sat in classrooms that were so unpleasant I was watching the clock and counting down the minutes (and I’m a maths teacher who loves maths and loves learning and loves classrooms). I saw teachers send students out of the classroom so often it seemed as if they were getting a monthly bonus for the number of students not in the room.

One thing that bothered me somewhat was that most of the practicing teachers I spoke to seemed to think that theory was a thing you put up with (or avoided) during your teacher training year, and that there was no reason to read any more once you started actually teaching, you learn the rest from teaching not from reading about teaching. I do agree that there is a gap between theory and practice but I believe that as teachers we have a responsibility to close that gap. We should work hard at synthesising theory and practice. An openness to theory allows us to look at our teaching from a different perspective and to make improvements that we wouldn’t be able to make on our own.

I did see some teachers who managed behaviour positively and successfully. But I did not see many of them.

I was in these classes to learn. I was working with these teachers so that I could benefit from their experience. Here are some of the things that I was told to do/not do in class in order to get better at classroom management.

  • you need to develop your “stern and pissed-off” tone of voice
  • don’t ask students to do something (can you please look at the board), tell them (look at the board), if you want to be polite say thanks at the end since that implies compliance (look at the board, thanks)
  • when you ask a student to do something, stand over him and wait until he has done it, don’t walk off
  • if you tell someone off in the same tone of voice twice then you’re only telling them off once, you must escalate your tone of voice
  • you need to show them that you’re top dog

You may have guessed that I disagree with some of this advice. And after trying these things out in practice, I can tell you that I disagree because I don’t like the philosophy of the approach and because these things just do not work for me. In fact, I believe that the reason why I had such trouble during my first placement was because I tried to follow these bits of advice and in doing so I completely broke the relationships I was attempting to form with the students.

I did get advice on classroom management that I did think was valuable and that I did try to implement.

  • wait for quiet before speaking, if you talk when they are you are teaching them that it is ok for them to talk over you
  • think about transitions between different phases of the lesson, think about materials distribution (e.g. give out rulers while the students are working on the starter)

I did have some conversations with teachers who I didn’t see teach. I got some advice from them that I liked (but, as I said, I didn’t actually see them teach so I don’t know how well it worked for them – I suspect well since they had good reputations in the school, amongst the staff and the students).

  • spend the first week or so of each year on community building in your classroom – it may take longer before you start covering the syllabus, but you will be able to move faster if your class works well together as a team
  • ask students to reflect on group work and other activities and share their reflections with the class
  • make students accountable for their work
  • give students the opportunity to make decisions in class that affect how and what they learn
  • de-escalate at the earliest possible opportunity
  • fill your classroom with positivity – you have to sit in it for 7 hours a day, make sure it is a pleasant place for you to be in

I would like to observe a lot more teachers teach. I’d like to see classrooms where teachers are implementing some of the positive behaviour techniques that I’ve read about. I’d like to see teachers building respectful communities in their classrooms.

I still have a lot to learn. I had students and staff in my second and third placements tell me that I was too nice (this didn’t happen during placement one because I was not nice during that placement). I need to get better at laying down clear boundaries and sticking to them. I need to get better at ensuring students treat each other well and that they do not behave in a way that will negatively impact upon the learning of other students.

Classroom Management In Theory

Sunday, September 23rd, 2012

I read some interesting theory with regard to classroom management. A lot of the theory talks about being neither authoritarian nor permissive. It talks about being a democratic teacher. It talks about building respect and social skills explicitly in the classroom. It talks about separating behaviour from the student, not nagging the student, looking for the good that students do, praising students, engaging students, differentiating the content of lessons so as not to alienate students. The theory says that shouting at students is counter productive. It says that punishing them inconsistently or excessively is counter productive. It talks about praising students for effort (rather than intelligence). It talks about giving students responsibility for what happens in their classroom and ownership over what happens. There are mixed thoughts on whether it is better to give the students the rules for the classroom or whether they should be negotiated with the students. The theory talks about consistency, fairness, clear boundaries, clear sanctions, logical and natural consequences (rather than punishments). It talks about behaviour being student choice. It talks about de-escalating at the earliest possible opportunity. It talks about giving clear instructions and setting clear expectations for how students should be working.

One of my favourite ideas is positive behaviour narration. (That is narrating positive behaviour rather than positively narrating behaviour – the English language has far too few sets of brackets and scope is often unclear.) This is something that is called different things by different people and is characterised slightly differently by different authors but it is common in the literature. Gerard Gordon, Bill Rogers and Lee Canter being some of the authors who I’ve read who write about this sort of technique.

When teachers want something done we often start by asking (or telling) our students what we want them to do. “Get your pens out.” Some students comply. Others don’t. What usually happens next is that the teacher starts to get a bit annoyed that there are not 30 pens out. “Come on, get your pens out.” One particular student may be particularly recalcitrant. “John, I’ve already asked twice, get your pen out.” With every utterance the teacher gets more annoyed, they nag. The students get annoyed because being in a room with someone nagging at you isn’t very pleasant. The teacher may now start on a sanction routine. “John, this is your last warning, if you don’t get your pen out in the next 10 seconds then you’ll have to stay back after class (or have a time out, or get a detention, or get a letter home to parents, or whatever the next step on the sanction scale is appropriate)”

Positive behaviour narration works a little differently. We start by asking (or telling) our students what we want them to do. “Get your pens out.” Again, some students comply and others don’t. At this point we don’t start to nag. We just start to narrate the positive behaviour we see happening. “The back table have their pens out.” This narration can include praise but it doesn’t have to. “Well done back table for getting your pens out.” Some more students will comply. But there will almost certainly still be at least one recalcitrant student. So what we do next is to pick a student sitting near to John and narrate his positive behaviour. “Peter has his pen out.” John hears Peter getting attention for doing the right thing and hears the request again (sometimes students just don’t hear the teacher the first time). John now gets his pen out.

Many students misbehave because they crave attention. This technique gives attention to the students who are behaving. Some students don’t hear the request the first time. This technique allows repetition of the request in a way that isn’t nagging. The environment of the room is much more pleasant and it is effective.

I liked the idea of this and tried it a few times. It was a bit tricky and felt a bit artificial, and it can be very difficult if the whole class is rather chaotic. But I did have great success with it with regard to a particularly stubborn 12 year old who could take a good 30 mins to get his pen out of his bag. When I used this, he had it out and ready as soon as I mentioned the person sitting next to him. Amazing.

I still have a very long way to go and an awful lot more to read. But what I have read so far does give me hope that positive classroom management is something that I can do.

Classroom Management At University

Sunday, September 23rd, 2012

During my time at Edinburgh I did a module called Making Sense of Behaviour. There were only about 20 of us who did it. Not everyone had access to it (scientists spent that time doing general science, aesthetic subjects spent that time doing primary placements, design and technology students spent that time doing more design and technology, etc). Of those who were able to choose a curriculum extension not everyone wanted to do this one and not everyone was able to. The other choices were English as an Additional Language, Outdoor Learning and Representations of Young People in the Media.

But I did Making Sense of Behaviour. So once a week I had a two hour seminar discussing classroom management. I had a book list and did lots of reading on the topic too.

During our maths sessions we talked about classroom management in passing a few times but we didn’t really spend much time on it. During the Professional Studies sessions we also touched upon it in various ways but it wasn’t a major focus. There was one lecture from the lecture programme devoted to Classroom Management. As such there was also one Professional Studies session devoted to it. The lecture, unfortunately, was cancelled and was never rescheduled and the professional studies session was based on a lecture that none of us had seen.

When I mentioned to the powers that be that I didn’t think there was enough coverage of classroom management throughout the course, I was told that this was something better done in school whilst on placement. There is a subsequent post about classroom management in practice and how (in)effective I found it. But whether it is effective or not, it seems to me to be of concern that the teacher educators are devolving this most important of skills to practicing teachers. Granted, many practicing teachers are good at classroom management. Many practicing teachers are good at teaching. Some (but perhaps not many) practicing teachers are good teacher educators. In the same way that being a good mathematician does not necessarily make you a good maths teacher, being a good teacher does not necessarily make you a good teacher educator. Also, very few practicing teachers keep up to date with the cutting edge of teaching theory. That is what teacher educators should be doing. Added to all of that, the teachers in the school are trying to help us with our implementation of all of the subskills that teachers need. In my opinion, their job should be to monitor and feedback on our integration of these skills, it should not be to teach them to us.

Classroom management was an issue I had identified before I did the course as something I knew I needed to work on. Because I did the behaviour extension and because I did a lot of reading I did learn quite a bit about classroom management. Not as much as I was expecting and not nearly as much as I had hoped. But I did learn enough to get me started. My question is: what is the future of those teachers who did not do the extension, did not do the reading and did not identify classroom management as a skill to be developed. I fear that some of them will leave the profession because they feel ill-equipped to manage behaviour, some will become more and more disillusioned and resentful and some will learn a lot from their own reflections on their practice and will observe good practitioners and will develop their skills to become excellent classroom managers. I fear that very few will fall into that last category.

The Importance of Classroom Management

Sunday, September 23rd, 2012

Classroom management (and behaviour management as a subset of that) is a difficult issue for any teacher. Even experienced teachers can find it difficult. It is a very large cause of teachers leaving the profession. It is a very large reason for teachers feeling resentment towards their students and their job. It is challenging.

It is also something that students identify as a key component of good teaching and learning. So it matters if you’re good at it. It matters because if you’re not good at it you won’t enjoy your job, you’ll get stressed and resentful. It matters because if you’re not good at it you don’t create a positive environment for your students and this may mean they hate you and your classes (depending on the way in which you are not good at it – too hard, too soft). It matters because if you’re not good at it, the learning environment in your classroom suffers (if you are too terrifying the students can’t learn, if you’re too permissive the room descends into chaos and the students can’t learn). These are extreme cases and most teachers lie somewhere on the spectrum. But the examples do serve to highlight just how important classroom management is.

Classroom management is hard. It’s hard because every class is different. And each class is different each day too. What works once for one class may never work again for them, never mind for any other class. It’s difficult because you are trying to juggle 30 personalities in one room. Many of the people in your room have different aims for the lesson. Your aim may be for the class to learn about Pythagoras, theirs may be to catch up on what happened on the weekend, or to get the attention of someone they fancy, or to make life difficult for someone that they are having a fight with, etc. It’s difficult because not everyone thinks that stem and leaf diagrams are important (I love maths, I love teaching maths and I think stem and leaf diagrams are not important; cryptography on the other hand …). It’s difficult because for many students classrooms are unpleasant places. Even if your classroom is nice and enjoyable and positive for them, they may have such bad associations with classrooms that you are at a distinct disadvantage even before they’ve walked into the room. It is difficult because every person who walks into your classroom (yourself included) brings in the history of the day. What happens outside your classroom has an effect on what happens inside (whether you know about what happened or not). It’s hard because as teachers we have to be the adults in the room. We have to put aside our stresses, irritations and exhaustion and give those students and that class the energy and positivity that they deserve. Regardless of how bad the last lesson was, how much sleep we didn’t get because we were up late marking essays, or how annoyed we are with our head of department / head teacher / education minister for the fact that there is yet another initiative that we have to implement. As the adult in the room we have to rise above the childishness that our students sometimes display, even if what we most want to do is to throw our own tantrum and storm out of the room. Classroom management is hard.

Everyone knows classroom management is hard. Good teachers know it. Bad teachers know it. Mediocre teachers know it. The teaching textbooks know it. The newspapers know it. The average person on the street knows it. Students know it. Teacher education centres know it. Or rather they should know it. And if they do know it, they should acknowledge it. They should do something about it. Something big. Something constructive. Teacher education should (if it does nothing else) prepare teachers for dealing with classroom management.

Because this is important. This is more important than knowing the definition of a prime number. This is more important than being able to draw the water cycle. This is more important than knowing the difference between an adjective and an adverb. This is more important than knowing the underlying philosophy behind whichever education policy is in fashion at the moment. This is the most important skill that teachers should have.

And if teacher education is not acknowledging this and is not doing something about it then they are failing not only the newest generation of teachers, but they are also failing the next 40 years of students.

Personal Responsibility

Sunday, December 18th, 2011

During this course I am being a ridiculous girly swot (yes I watched a lot of Young Ones as a teenager). I am doing a lot of work for this course. I am making myself aware of the requirements of the course. I am keeping on top of the admin. I am doing as much of the preparatory reading as possible. I am doing extra reading when possible. I am hassling my tutors for extra help, guidance and clarity on the work being done.

This must be both irritating and reassuring for my colleagues and for the tutoring staff. My colleagues probably do get annoyed with me for being a ridiculous girly swot but then on the other hand they know they can ask me if they have a question or confusion. And I like to think that staff are relieved that I am putting in the effort, even though they probably do get somewhat fed up with me. (One of my colleagues thinks that one of my tutors is quite scared of me and reads all my emails because he’s too frightened not to (I don’t think this is true, I think he reads my emails because he’s diligent and fundamentally interested in doing his job well).) 🙂

Basically, I am here so that I can be a better teacher. This course is structured so that I can become a better teacher. But the course structure can only help me and guide me. I have to do all the hard work myself. Having a strong desire to become a better teacher is a sufficient, though not necessary condition for passing this course.

As I do things that make me better, I pass various parts of the course. Some others on the course are only thinking about passing the course components. They see each task as a hoop to jump through. They see the course work as being completely separate from the practice of teaching. And the more they do this, the less effort they put in to the course components and the less value they derive from them. This further reinforces their view that the course components are valueless hoops to jump through.

There are others on this course who are working as hard or harder than I am. And the amount of work that we are each putting in is not necessarily an indication of how suited we each are to working in a classroom or to how successful we will ultimately become as secondary teachers.

But one thing that has struck me is that there is only so much that the tutoring staff can do for us. The rest we have to do for ourselves. It is up to us to take responsibility for our own learning and our own professional development. This is true not just for my colleagues on this course. It is also true for my students as well. And perhaps the greatest thing that we as educators can do, is to teach our students how to take responsibility for their own learning.

My PST Topic

Sunday, December 18th, 2011

After starting with a short list of 15 topics, narrowing it down to 4 and then going for one of the original 15 that wasn’t in the top four, I’ve finally decided on a topic. And it wasn’t in the shortlist at all.

After placement, my professional studies tutor gave us a series of reflective questions about our experiences on placement. I dutifully thought a lot about these and answered them. And as a result of this I realised what I should be doing my PST on. Respect.

So I did a quick plan of attack. I went to see my tutor and he agreed. I’ve spoken to several of my colleagues who think it is a good idea.

My plan for these three weeks of holidays is to get as much background reading done as I can and try to formulate a bit more precisely my question and my data collection methodology.

But my main focus is things that I can do to engender respect in the classroom and the effect these strategies have on behaviour. I’m really excited about this topic. I think one of the reasons why there is such a lot of low-level disruption in classrooms is that many of the people in classrooms do not have sufficient respect for themselves, the room, the others in the room and the learning that is taking place there. And when I say ‘people in classrooms’, I don’t just mean the students. For many of these students respect is not something that their home environments are filled with. Which makes it even more crucial that we as teachers are treating each other and our students with respect. If our students don’t see it modelled and don’t feel the force of our respect for them, it will be difficult if not impossible for them to show respect for themselves, their peers, their teachers, their classrooms and their learning.

Placement Overview

Sunday, December 18th, 2011

My first placement was one hell of a learning experience. It was intense.

Each lesson was either 50 or 55 minutes long. I was teaching 12 lessons (4 lessons a week for three classes) and I was observing 4 more each week. Though by the end I was teaching those four as well.

I was writing lesson plans and lesson evaluations. I was observing other teachers in the department and in other departments. I was getting feedback from the class teachers after every lesson I taught. I stayed back after school for departmental meetings and to help with study support (a few maths teachers hang around for an hour and a half two nights a week and any student who fancies can come along to get help with the work that they are doing – it’s relaxed, informal, useful and great fun). I went to a CPD course one Friday afternoon. I stayed for a Parents’ Evening. I went to assemblies. I met with the other student teachers in the school.

It was a lot of work. I say a lot of work. I mean I was working 60 or 70 hours a week. And that’s a lot of work.

One class was a bottom set first year (12 year olds) class of 14 students. I had another first year class (2nd set) of 25 students. My third class was a top set of 22 second years (13 year olds). I had several ups and downs with all three classes. Behaviour was an issue. Nothing too major. I heard stories that were much worse from others, but persistent low-level disruption in some classes made teaching difficult. I’m in the teaching business to teach people, not to do crowd control.

I’m not good at crowd control. I don’t enjoy crowd control. So that meant that behaviour management was my major focus throughout my six weeks and that large parts of it were not particularly enjoyable.

The other class I was teaching (the one that started as observation) was a group of 4th years (15 year olds) who were doing higher maths over two years (A level equivalent). Those classes were a lot of fun. Firstly, because there were no behaviour issues and secondly because I think I’m better at relating to kids of that age than to the younger ones.

My supervising teachers were incredibly supportive and gave me good feedback (by which I mean useful, not overwhelmingly positive) and advice for how I could improve.

I found it tough. I think I decided to quit teaching about 5 times during placement. I burst into tears only twice at school and only about 3 other times. My aim for next placement is no crying on school property. I have high hopes! 🙂

After I finished placement I had a chance to really think about and assimilate my experiences from placement. I realised that my issue wasn’t so much dealing with behaviour, but it was dealing with behaviour in the way in which my supervising teachers were suggesting that I do it. This was what I was finding difficult.

They were talking a lot about a tone of voice that I needed to practice and use. It is not the encouraging tone (I’m good at that). It’s not the raging tone (I never got to that one). But it is the one in the middle: “stern and pissed off”. I was not good at it. And when I thought I had done it, I got told that that would have been a great opportunity to use it. I think I managed it twice. And I absolutely hated doing it. I was also being told not to ask students “Can you look at the board?” but to tell them “Look at the board.”. And I found this very difficult to do too.

And I realised that students know when you’re being inauthentic (as I was for much of my time on placement). They notice it and they don’t respond well to it. They resented it and they resented me.

I have been doing a lot of reading on positive behaviour management. And I will do my action research project for my Professional Studies Task on engendering respect in the classroom. I have a list of strategies that I want to try in my next placement.

My supervising teachers were all correct when they said that I wasn’t dealing with low-level disruption as effectively as I could have done. And their methods of dealing with the behaviour seem to be methods that they are comfortable with and that work for them. They were, however, methods that I was neither comfortable with nor good at.

I’m hoping to find methods that are effective and that I feel comfortable with. And I’m hoping that means that my next placement will be as much of a learning experience, but will be a lot more enjoyable.

Being a Mature Student

Sunday, December 18th, 2011

I’m really enjoying being a mature student. I’m here because I really want to be here. Which is not to say that I didn’t enjoy my undergrad degrees – I did. But I am enjoying and am committed to this degree to a much greater extent.

And being a mature student comes with all the perks of being a mature student. I get to be a nerdy swot and actually do the reading (before the lectures). I ask a lot of questions. I answer a lot of questions. I send emails to my tutors to ask them about things. I arrange extra sessions with some of the other students so I can go over stuff with them. And like all of the other mature students I’ve met throughout my various courses of education, I don’t care!

It’s great!

It’s nice to be in a position where I can be totally selfish about my education. I’m here to learn to be a better teacher. Doing the reading helps. Talking to people helps. Asking questions in tutorials helps. Answering questions in tutorials helps. And I try not to dominate at the expense of others, but if a tutor asks a question and the rest of the room is quiet I will answer.

I know that I am the one who has responsibility for my education. All Moray House can do is give me the opportunities to develop. And I want to grab those opportunities and make the most of them. 🙂