Sunday, 28 April 2013

Removing the blinkers

The end of my first two years as a teacher in a school (as opposed to University) is approaching, and with it my PRT/BT status. While I know I have grown professionally and personally; developing learning relationships with my students, trying out pedagogical approaches and reflecting on my practice; I realise that I have been running a horse race with blinkers on, with a main focus on one thing that is important to me - academic achievement, in particular academic excellence. This is a good thing, but it means that I have been less focussed on how I get to the finish line, and all the exciting things that the run has to offer.

This is not an undesirable thing in itself – it is of course one of the main reasons that young people stay at school, to get qualifications, to show to the world they are capable of learning and assimilating content and context. My students have done well, and I have put many hours beyond the school day into helping them do their best and achieve at a high level.

But I now ask myself – have I been challenging them to think for themselves? Have I helped them develop into resilient and resourceful young adults that can make educated judgments for themselves; young people that will go on to do well at University or wherever they choose, even when they are not being spoon-fed with the hows and whys and whats, and even when they fail and life is not easy?

Have I been challenging my own thinking and the thinking of the colleagues around me, and asking why do we do things a certain way, other than it’s the way things have always been done, the way that such high academic achievements are produced year after year.

Which brings me to the teaching ‘crisis’ I’ve been having this last term. Part of it was the increased workload (incredible the difference between 0.8, 0.9 and 1.0 FT teaching load!), the 4 out of 6 early starts with 2 young kids including a temperamental 2 year old (chaos at best!), the spectre of 4-nearly-5 year old starting school this year, and the nightmare that is the motorway in the mornings. The rest of it was about feeling like I was being somewhat limited in terms of my teaching approaches – the don’t rock the boat mentality, that all teachers teaching the same course must generally do the same things to provide students with a similar experience and exposure to content, regardless of who was teaching them. There is of course still scope for slight variations and different activites and experiments, and at certain year levels there is much more freedom, but overall the teaching approach is encouraged to be the same. There is good reason for this – with multiple classes at each level and parents taking a proactive stance in their children’s education (which is of course fantastic), there has historically been issues when one class does something radically different from the others.

So, how do I meld the reality of incorporating what can feel like token efforts at changing my teaching practice with what I really want to do, which is completely transform it? How do I give my students more voice in the what and how of their learning?

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