All entries for Saturday 28 May 2016

May 28, 2016

Trainee teacher blog: What the books don’t tell you…

What the books don’t tell you…

My life has always been happily entangled with books. As a bookseller I charmed my customers into buying stacks of glossy new novels, biographies and special editions. As a Librarian I suspiciously eyed up students daring to annotate upon their precious pages. In September, as a trainee teacher on the School Direct Salaried route, I clung to them in the desperate hope of deliverance.

This first year in teaching has been a learning curve of steep proportions. I don’t doubt that many a secondary trainee never fully realises the pitiful state of their own resilience and stamina until thrust into the bustling circus of energy, hormones and defiance that is the average British secondary school. To navigate the shiny new ideas of differentiation, challenging behaviour and positive management, I eagerly devoured “how to” teaching guides, googled behaviour gurus and sought out pedagogical theory with the firm belief that if I learnt enough, I would be a good teacher. In short, I attempted to give my brain a sponge-like absorbency that is, simply, unrealistic.

The immediate result of this self-education was a bombardment of my poor KS3 classes with new behaviour management techniques run a-mock. Lollipop stick questioning collided with raffle ticket incentives and over-resourcing bull-dozed through the lesson plan to successfully baffle my students: and all this when I still struggled to wait for silence. It was a mess. In my feedback session for the lesson in question I was praised for my enthusiasm and engagement with the pedagogy but the implementation of this learning was definitely categorised “even better if”!

Upon reflection (there’s that word again!), and a much embittered struggle (“but it said it in the book?!”), it began to dawn on me that, (shocker), books can’t teach you everything. This was unusual to an academic minded, book-loving historian like me, and something I am still grappling with. Just because Vygotsky theorised that peer discussion is the way forward does not equate to a successful class debate with my, shall we say, “spirited” Year 8 class. They may easily allow debate to slide into argument, into squabble, into a brawl. In the same manner, my enthusiasm for “how to” guides by the likes of Phil Beadle and Sue Cowley is not a negative feature of my learning but, rather, a lesson in pertinence.

I have learnt so much already these past few months of teaching and one of the more important aspects of this has been learning about my own learning as well as that of my students. I am beginning to involve the theories I have engaged with, steadily, and only as appropriate depending on the class, the subject matter and also taking into account my own developing teaching style. This focused and individual approach is gradually allowing me, through trial and error, to discover which techniques work, which don’t and how they can evolve and be developed to suit me and my students. Some teachers have their desks in rows, some in groups. Some teachers focus on written work while others spend more time on active learning tasks. Through observation and my own sweat and tears I am learning that the books, enlightening as they can be, can only take you so far. Much like in History, a piece of evidence is only as good as the analysis and argument to which it is put. So far, from what I am gleaning from both my maniacal and miraculous days in school, pedagogical theory should always be subject to individual criticality and individual teaching style; and that is something the books don’t tell you.

Libby Gill

May 2016

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