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...

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