Thursday, March 24, 2011

A Term's Worth of English

I adore English, and I especially adore teaching it. That doesn't mean that I haven't struggled sometimes over the previous ten weeks.

I teach grades 8 to 10 and the differences between each class are very marked. Not just ability, but overall work ethic, attitude and personality too. Another little ingredient to add to the mix is that I don't have my own classroom and so I move around the school for most lessons - except for my 10s who I see in the same room just about every day... but I'll come to the implications of this later...

The first hurdle I had to get over right at the beginning of the year was trying to work out what, when and how I was going to be teaching. This might not seem like a terribly daunting task as there is a grade planner for each grade who will then hand out a single A4 sheet containing what must be done for the term. On the sheet some dates are set and others are not, meaning that it's up to the teacher when most of what's done is done. Initially I thought that having my work prescribed to me would be a massive burden (I like doing my own thing, you see), but in hindsight I can say without hesitation that having just that little bit of guidance is so vital.

The solution I came up with to make sure I fit all the crucial stuff in was to make each class an Excel spreadsheet that has 5 columns:

1. Week - Just so I can keep track of where I am in the term. Bridge House also runs on a Week A & B system, so it helps knowing which week is which.

2. Day - Obviously I need to know on what day I'm teaching what. This column also indicates in which period I will be seeing the particular class.

3. Topic - This column highlights what I'm going to be doing and is more of a reference for my own purposes. E.g. 'Lord of the Flies Chapter 8 - Foreshadowing. This just helps to get my head into the right space when I come to planning the lesson in detail later.

4. Class - This indicates what the students will be doing in class. My teaching style has the class doing some form of work during every period. I do not subscribe to 'chalk and talk' lessons at all, and having this column helps me with planning too.

5. Assessment - Much to my chagrin, this is a necessary component of teaching, and so it is important for me to have a record of what I'm using. As I said, I have the students working every period, so I generally have something to mark for them. In the assessment column I indicate when I've handed things out, when I've given a task with a due date that isn't the next day and I bold items that are compulsory in terms of what my grade planner has given me. Part of the hassle of being in a different class all of the time is not really having anywhere to put reminders for myself and my students, so having this assessment column also has reminders for me. E.g. 1st draft of essay due || Complete final for 5th Feb. When I write this entry, I will simultaneously head to the entry on the 5th of Feb and make sure I have Final draft due written there.

That covers the planning aspect, but it still doesn't begin to enter into the actual teaching part. I am, however, done for the day. More tomorrow...

Actually, I must just add quickly - because it fits in with this post, sort of - that having supportive friends and colleagues is one of the most important and necessary parts to keeping your head above water. The English department at my school is very supportive and helpful and have been very understanding of the fact that I'm a first time teacher. I also have some very good friends who are teachers at the school. We've had some good times out and today we're all going rock climbing. Might not seem all that significant to you, but it really makes more difference than you can imagine.

Cool, how do I switch this thing off...

Reflection the first

Having managed successfully to post a blog, I'm going to follow up on this great success by adding another. This one is more in the direction of where I actually want this to go, so it's going to be a lot more full of teachery type stuff.

Now that I've finished teaching my first term as a full-time teacher with classes who are my sole responsibility, I feel the need to look back at term one and reflect on what has happened to me. In my head this is going to be something that takes me several posts to do, but perhaps I will be more concise than that.

The first few days of any teaching year are dominated by inordinate amounts of administration. You have to sort out timetables and clashes, class teachers, where students who have registered late are going to go, who has what duty when, what the big events for the term are, term plans, year plans -- LUNCH -- subject meetings, orientation for new teachers (this year it was basically only me in the college, so I just spent some time with the deputy head going over school policy and procedures.) Thus concludes day one. Day two was a little less intense with most of the time being dedicated to finishing staff meetings. I live in the boarding house at the school, so I had to go for the pre-boarder arrival meeting and then had to help when the boys started arriving at 16:00.

After my first dinner in the cafeteria--which was delicious despite all the warnings I'd had about boarding house food--I went back to my room to plan lessons. Now, this is the first thing I'm going to gush about when it comes to my school. Most schools I've worked with or at generally spend the first few days of the year getting admin sorted out with students. Each teacher has to help their homeroom with when they have which lesson and where, they have to help get textbooks sorted out etc. At Bridge House, the students arrive and are handed their timetables. Each grade is divided into random sets and these sets are assigned teachers. To cut a long story short, I was teaching on the first day of school. Add to this the fact that we started two weeks earlier than most other schools, and you get the idea that this school is focused on getting academics done properly.

I was right, this is going to take several posts. I do fear that this one might be a tad long-in-the-tooth, but as it is primarily for my recording purposes, I'm not worried anymore. Either later or tomorrow, depending on how I feel, I shall take time to reflect on my first term of English teaching. Till then...

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Getting stuff down...

So, here goes

I have on several occasions attempted to write a blog, but it never comes to fruition because of a number of different reasons, none of which are particulary important right now. What is important, is that I've begun to write at last. Perhaps, actually, I should start with what normally hinders my progress, because looking at the barriers might provide insights (or not, but at least it means I've published something onto the net)

1. Titles

Every blog must have a title and a URL to go along with the title. Now, I've tried to come up with titles, but generally they are either taken, or when I do get one that works, it's really lame. The title I've chosen for my blog now is CLERPS, which is a concept that I got from my friend and mentor Nigel Bakker. It works thus:

C = Colour
L = Laughter
E = Exaggeration
R = Rhythm
P = Pattern
S = Symbol

All of these different concepts form what helps to make lessons interesting and conducive to learning. This makes an apt title for my blog because firstly, I'm a teacher and things concerning education are of interest to me and will most likely dominate what I write about; secondly, I am currently on a bit of a journey to include more of these things in my life and this will also filter into my writing, I imagine and thirdly, it wasn't already taken.

2. Faffing

I'm quite prone to this. I tend to fixate my attention on what is not entirely important. Fixate is a good word, but obsess is even better. I will spend hours tweaking the column sizes and font colours until they are perfect and after subjecting myself to this, I become bored or too tired to write and consequently lose my motivation to write at all. With this blog I've changed the background (to a picture taken by my very talented cousin) and that's it. I'm getting down to putting words down. Granted, this will probably never be read by anyone, but it's serving as a kind of catharsis for me. That being said, if you are reading this, then be warned... there will be a lot of venting and philosophising... which leads me to my third and final barrier:

3. What do I write about?

So, I've already told you what I plan to write about, but I've always found that to be problematic, because while I find it terribly interesting, I find it unlikely that others will. Recently, however, I've come to the conclusion that I'm going to write this for me and even if no one else reads it, then it doesn't matter. When I was studying to be a teacher, we had to keep a journal during our practice sessions and I found the process to be very rewarding. After TP, though, I stopped doing it. Now that I've taught for a term, I can't help but feel that having a journal would have been tremendously beneficial. I guess I'll turn this into a journal which will compell me to keep writing and also to keeping my thoughts brief (I waffle and faff, you see).

So that's enough for now. I've put some text on a page in cyberspace. This may or may not be the start of great new things.