Archive for the ‘Teaching and Education’ Category

I have a tendency to enjoy (that’s a little strong but it’ll do) intense work for short periods of time.  So there is some perverse inner excitement when I get 200 essays to mark all in the same fortnight.  Perhaps it’s the anticipation of the feeling of satisfaction I get when it’s done.  But it’s still perverse.  And more than a little sad.  However, this approach has allowed me to get on fairly well in my job as a teacher.  I get things done.

But as of Christmas Eve, I’m off on a sabbatical that I’m desperately hoping will claw me from my current over-worked regime and allow me to see other ways of being.  So when I caught myself thinking ‘Oh, I’ll just work really hard through January (the CELTA – English Language Teaching – course) and then I’ll take a break and see some of Australia (I’m flying to Australia and taking the course in Brisbane),’ alarm bells started to ring.  When, three days ago, I found myself thinking ‘Well, I’ll just get through the six months in Australia and then I’ll relax and do something I want to do,’ I felt the brakes well and truly clamp on and I took one almighty step back.

I’d come to thinking this way after resigning myself to the fact I don’t have enough money to just ‘do what I want’ and I’d better make the most of my new (hopefully) CELTA qualification and get a job! But I’ve been assuming the contracts (if you’re lucky enough to secure one) are a substantial length and, given the complexity of the some of the grammar work I’ve started to dip into, the preparation for each class is going to be substantial too.  So I’m left back where I am: doing nothing but teaching, preparing, teaching, go to the gym, marking, teaching, preparing…work, work, work.  And I’m fairly keen to avoid this mere displacement of workload from the UK to Australia.

What I’d love to know is whether anyone has had any experience of CELTA teaching, especially in Australia and/or other ways people have found of making money in Australia.  At the moment, although I love teaching (for the long-term!), I’d rather work a city bar than just find myself doing a very similar job just in a slightly more tropical climate.  Suggestions well and truly welcome…

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A month or so ago, I found myself stumbling absentmindedly through a patch of nigh-on debilitating apathy and general contempt for the world at large.  From the minute I returned to teaching after our summer break, it appeared I was performing a daily wade through a cesspool of irritations and idiots.  I’m not fond of people who moan and make the worst of everything so I tried to keep it low key but am not sure how successful this proved.

In my vague defence, the day before we returned to work, a friend who was really quite young died of alcoholism.  It was very strange as I’d only known him a short while but he was a very important person.  Like most people in my town, the response to death (I’ve seen four people die in the four years I’ve been here: all lifestyle, primarily drinking-orientated) was to…drink.  You know it’s the worst possible thing to do, you know it’s the very thing you should be shocked out of doing…but it’s the very thing you are going to do, no doubt about it.

From there, I didn’t really curb the drinking as I typically would when returning to work (nor the smoking) and I had one too many Monday mornings arriving not hung-over as such, but grumpy.  Very grumpy.  And not enjoying my job at all.  There were other factors – the morale at my school is slowly deteriorating, some would say plummeting.  My Head of Department (a fantastic person!) has just got a job at a different school.  She and I were talking about how many people are sidling up to us and congratulating us both on our timely departures.  Not a good sign.

Anyway, we’ve just had our half term break and I delivered to myself a stern talking-to which saw me return to school this half term in a much more positive frame of mind.  My natural ‘let’s-get-healthy-stop-all-that-drinking-and-hanging-out-in-pubs-with-drunks’ frame of mind finally kicked in and I had that (previous blog) lesson observation to plan for which gave me a bit of a push.  Consequently, this whole week has been a relative delight: recapturing some of the gems of working with good old British teenagers.  A highlight…after a lengthy discussion detailing (and detailing again…and again…and again) the arrangements for some coursework re-take sessions with a group of ‘disengaged’ and often quite disgruntled teenage boys, I inhaled deeply to mark the imminent end of the conversation and completed with ‘See you next Tuesday’.  Not intentionally meaning to brandish them the insult that some like to disguise as the phrase ‘see you next Tuesday’, one lad – particularly fond of the ‘I know my rights, you can’t speak to me like that’ routine, said ‘You just called me a c#!*  to which his mate (who hasn’t always been on my side) replied, ‘Oh pipe down, you know Miss didn’t mean it like that…now stop talking so I can learn something!’.  Job done.

 

My final lesson of today was rudely usurped by a ‘careers’ lesson, an annual (more often if we’re unlucky) chore bestowed upon the English teachers to make up for an apparent lack of time/money/resources for the Careers team to deliver the material themselves.  No disrespect to the Careers team whatsoever – I imagine they are equally disgruntled to have been granted such measly windows of opportunity to educate our 1600 strong cohort about the joys of the working world.  But to steal a full hour of teaching time with my challenging but lovely class of Y8 students and instead send me (actually I had to pick it up) an old box of half-finished worksheets, a class of students I’ve never worked with before, and a lesson plan – allegedly designed to fill a whole hour – that includes completing a tick box activity and a group discussion of three questions – leaves me somewhat cold.

We made the most of it.  Once the five minute tick box extravaganza was over (and forgotten), we had a brief chat about careers, fuelled a little by my mention of Ken Robinson’s book ‘The Element’ I finished reading at the weekend (a happy coincidence) (see previous blog).  Then, being the final fifteen minutes of the school day, we turned to my trusty ‘Learning Habits Activities’ powerpoint – a eighteen month collection of games, activities and learning approaches which foster a number of different ‘learning habits’.  One of my favourites with regard to student enjoyment is ‘Fruit Bowl’, a game whereby each student is assigned one of three fruit names, all students sit on chairs in a circle bar one student standing in the centre ready to shout one of the fruit names out loud.  All students with that assigned fruit name jump out of their chair and launch themselves across the room to find another vacant chair with the aim of not becoming the one person left standing.  I rarely join in the jostle due to a fond attachment to my limbs but the enjoyment of seeing such excitement in their eyes, such energy in their movement, such determination and alertness is something that never fails to amuse and delight me.

But also make me feel a little sad.  I hurried from this final lesson straight to a member of our senior management team to receive a little feedback about a lesson observation I’d had earlier in the week (one with parents invited to come and observe which has proved understandably controversial…but that’s another story).  I’ve had a number of formal observations in the past year, mainly to exhibit the use of learning habits (as a newish school initiative) and feedback is generally similar: good feedback about behaviour management and learning progress, about fostering the learning habits and about my calm, respectful demeanour (I’d like to dampen what could be read here as a touch of arrogance by assuring you these are ‘pull out all the stops’ lessons and I, like everyone, juggle my fair share of tempers lost and lessons ‘winged’).  But it is this ‘calm, respectful demeanour’ which is making me a bit uncertain.  Yes, the lessons are well controlled and students are typically respectful and sometimes engage with what I’m saying.  On a good day, they even seem reasonably happy to appear at my door! But never in all my teaching of English have I seen that look in their eye that I smiled at earlier today as they tore across the classroom searching for that empty chair.  Maybe it’s ok for play and ‘learning’ (work) to be different; maybe it’s alright for learning to be calm and focused but not especially motivating…but maybe not.  I’m not supposing each and every lesson could inspire those gleaming-with-excitement-eyes but some…surely some?!! How important is that sensational experience of joy, excitement and inspiration in the classroom? And how on earth do I move from safe to sensational?

Firstly (short aside) I’m very much a newcomer to blogging and have spent much of my 27 years actively avoiding technological advances.  Afraid so, I’m one of them.  If anyone ever indulges in the 80s brilliance that was ‘The Young Ones’ and recalls Neil’s bewildered cries of technophobia…well, I’m pretty close to that.  So…I’m not entirely sure I’m even ‘publishing’ these here ‘posts’ accurately or whether there are additional things I should be doing – any advice (if anyone can even read this!) would be great.

I have read a bit about targeting a clear audience – something I really should know as an English teacher who speaks about purpose and audience an irritating minimum of at least twice a day. And indeed an English teacher that teaches lessons on blogging believe it or not! I’m not sure I’ve really made my ‘point’ of blogging clear as of yet – probably as it isn’t too clear.  It’s a sort of mixture between keeping a record, and hopefully getting a bit of a conversation going, about my current situation of being a teacher and living in Devon and my prospects come 2013 when I travel to Brisbane to study a CELTA (English language teaching course) and then try out CELTA teaching as well as try to find some tiiiiimmme to read and write (a little known luxury) and travel about the world a little more.

For the next six weeks, as I draw together my time at my current school, I’d like really to be able to converse about education in England at the moment – with its many changes and controversies – as well as hear from teachers elsewhere and perhaps those who have studied CELTA themselves or travelled abroad as a teacher.

And, whilst I’m outlining the plans, I’d also love to learn Spanish, walk the Camino de Santiago through France and Spain, walk in the mountains and hills of England to get a little closer to gaining my Mountain Leader qualification and much, much more…hopefully an exciting time and I figured it was time to seek the advice and company of the international online community.  Here’s hoping… x

So I’ve embarked on this blog 51 (now) days before I embark on my adventures so I can recall and share with suitable truth the realities of my existence here in Devon.  Both my work as a secondary school teacher and my social life in my much-loved ‘dirty old town’ of Dartmouth have both engaged and inspired me on numerous, often extended, occasions.  But there are two gripes I have at the moment, and both (quite usefully I suppose, given my imminent departure) are steadily blossoming at present: namely, my work as a secondary school teacher and my social life in my much-loved ‘dirty old town’ of Dartmouth.  You’ll see my predicament.

Despite last night’s brief delve into the dark underbelly of Dartmouth’s pubs offering ample fodder for the social life gripe, this afternoon’s reading material has brought my concerns about teaching to the fore.  For the first time in my six year teaching career, I haven’t enjoyed my job very much since returning this September.  I have been variously attributing this to an internal acknowledgement that I’m about to go on sabbatical and so am not as engaged, having a particularly difficult collection of lower set classes and, at times, to the dwindling staff morale evidenced all around me.

I have just this moment finished reading Ken Robinson’s ‘The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything’, a book in which ‘world renowned creativity expert’ (Amazon) details, amongst an array of successful stories of individual’s finding their true passion, how the current education system – worldwide – is a decaying relic of industrialism, set up and suited to a now outdated model.  Moreover, much of the assessment and, in some cases, pedagogy evident in schools today stamps out, rather than fuels, creativity.  Sadly, I couldn’t agree more and despite the admirable efforts of our Head teacher to foster creative and student-centred pedagogy and a host of superb colleagues working just about as hard as I think is possible, I am left feeling deeply inadequate each time a brow-beaten bunch of teenagers traipse out of my classroom – not desperately unhappy or demotivated (I hope!) but certainly not inspired or fired up by the creativity and excitement of my lesson.

As I am reading Robinson’s book, which finishes with a section (a little too short of suggestions and advice for my lagging professional pride at this point) about education and how it needs to better foster creativity and avoid the pigeon-holing of subjects and devaluing of the creative subjects, I am simultaneously scanning my mind for how on earth to make Monday’s lessons more creative; how to somehow inspire that handful of students in each class that loathes the quiet reading time at the start of each lesson; how to make ‘learning […]more experiential and contextual’ (Robinson) when I have six lessons until my bottom set Y10s will enter the school hall and for two hours (they manage 40 minutes tops) write a review of a TV programme which will be judged on a very specific set of written word criteria.

And on that note, that’ll be my plea for the day…any suggestions?  Or any further thoughts on either Robinson’s work or suggestions of other authors to read? Right, now I’m going to read something lighter…and have a beer.