Friday, 28 December 2012

Glorious Fridays

Most of my teaching has been on Fridays Semester 1 academic year 2012-2013. I’ve been taken even further out of my box because I’ve been teaching on a different campus and in a building where I’ve never had a regular class before. The building is modern and pleasant and in the corridors we frequently bump into porters wheeling along models of interesting body parts. Yes, I’m teaching creative writing in the School of Nursing. No school owns rooms anymore. So, actually, anything can happen.
Some interesting routines
I don’t have to get up early when I’m teaching there. This campus is the right side of the dreaded congestion on the A6. If I left the house at my old time and I’d arrive at this campus a little earlier than I used to arrive on the other one. It’s actually a little closer to home anyway.
There’s a handy Costa outlet at the bottom of the building. That was a good excuse to buy a coffee and a bottle of water to keep my voice lubricated through four hours of teaching. More often than not I’d meet a colleague from our School, similarly marooned here. We’d often have a good chat before her class started at nine.
I found that I had this teaching room to myself all day, so I’d spend the first hour and sometimes lunch times catching up on emails.
At about 9.45 I’d make sure I was ready for my first class, a first year creative writing one, checking over notes and making sure I’d got all the files open I wanted to show them on the data screen. The first students to arrive would help me get the room ready – we’d arrange the tables to form a huge square. Later when this group filled in an evaluation for the module, several students said they liked the layout of the room. In the afternoon my third years grumbled about having to put them back but even they admitted they would much rather not stare at each other’s backs.
Lunchtimes were spent either with a colleague who had a similar two classes, chatting to people I know who are permanently in this building or even using the opportunity to see some of my personal tutees, all of whom had a class one to two or two to three with me or two of my colleagues. The building next to this one, a couple of minutes’ walk away, has the advantage of a decent canteen serving real food on real plates and providing real cutlery with which to eat it. It also has a very good salad bar.                  
More often than not, after the second class was finished, I would go straight home and carry on working form there, maybe just stopping to chase up any non-attenders via email first.
Nobody can touch you in the classroom
Whilst you’re teaching you can’t be worrying about the emails that accumulate in your inbox. You are there, in the classroom, absolutely focused on the knowledge you are sharing and the people with whom you are sharing it. This is one of the main points of what we do.  
My two classes on a Friday were totally different. The first one was a first year class for creative writing. These students had done little before. The first half of the semester we concentrated on poetry.  For the second half it was script-writing. They had had a lecture earlier in the week.
The second class was a third year workshop with students emailing each other work two days before which we would then critique in class together. It could be quite intense but I was pleased that my students were so professional about it.   
That Friday feeling
Fridays were tiring but very satisfying. They went by quickly. A lot happened whist I was away from my desk. But then a lot of it couldn’t be dealt with until the following Monday and by then some distance was gained. The students seemed as well to have this relaxed Friday feeling. They still worked hard but didn’t seem to be as hung up on the details as they did earlier in the week.
Yes, I really enjoyed my Fridays last semester.    

Friday, 14 December 2012

Coping with the dog in the classroom

The real dog in the classroom

It really did happen to me once, during my former existence as high school teacher. It was actually what every teacher dreads. It was particularly bad this time as I and the local teacher advisor / inspector were watching my licensed teacher teach with a view to confirming her status as a qualified teacher. And she had Year 9 Set 3 for French at a time when it was not compulsory for students to carry on with a foreign language beyond Year 9.
To their great delight, and no doubt encouraged by them – mainly boys - the dog, also enjoying the lark, followed Set 3 into the classroom.
“Where did he come from?” said the teacher.
“Just followed us miss,” replied the loudest.
“Well take him along to reception and see if they can find his owner. Then get back here as quickly as possible. You can catch up for a few minutes at the end of the lesson.”
So, she did it. Handles the situation firmly and got the students back on track with minimum disruption. She was probably less fazed by it all than I or the inspector would have been.
This particular teacher always used a degree of common sense. She was a mother of teen boys and a scouting leader so had a heap of experience to draw on.  
Teachers need that. They must always be able to deal with the stray dog that comes into the classroom.

Other forms of dog

We really need to assume that our lesson will never go entirely to plan.  Most of the time, though, we are fortunate in that we deliver a close approximation of what we intended. We should note though that even when we repeat what we think will be a class identical to another it probably will not turn out exactly the same.
Different times of day, different personalities, the teacher’s own experience or boredom with the material and the atmosphere created by the physical space all affect what happens. These are all within the scope of what a teacher might normally expect.    
Then there are the surprises:
They’ve heard in the lecture what you were going to do in the workshop.
A student argues against one of your most dearly held principles.
The students insist on talking about the assignment when you actually want to teach them some more before they do the assignment.
The IT lets you down.
The students have not read what was required for the seminar.
The students have produced no work for the workshop.
A good teacher has to react to all of this positively and remain in control. You can’t let the dog win. You actually have to create a win-win solution.
Getting the ego out of the way
I’ve actually noticed that I often teach better when I’m less focussed on getting my lesson across. More learning sometimes takes place when the teacher focuses on the needs of the people in the room. I know I’ve taught better some days when I’ve been ill, when I’ve had to abandon my PowerPoint, and often when I’ve changed the lesson at the last minute.
I’ve seen an award-winning teacher just talk to a group. Technically, you could say he talked for too long, that he did not use enough visuals and he certainly didn’t project his voice. He did, however, speak softly and kept us engaged for a good hour. He understood what we needed and responded to real time feedback. He was interacting with us in a genuine way.
So, I go back to the dog. The students needed a little fun out of the situation.  They got it. But it wasn’t allowed to interrupt for too long. In fact, it then became the focus of the lesson: “Un chien est arrivĂ©.” I’m pleased to say that my licensed teacher gained her qualified status.