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.           

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