Sunday, 18 September 2011

Back to School and Ready to Leap into the Unknown

In less than 12 hours, I will (probably) be back in class for the first time in too long ready to start a new school year. It will be a different challenge this year as I teach 5th grade for the first time ever and also 6th grade for the first time in seven years!

Beyond that, I know nothing - yes, less than 12 hours to go and I don’t know which class I will be in at 8.30am tomorrow (or even if I have a class at that time at all)! The problem stems from the fact that 5th grade is part of Primary school and 6th grade is part of Middle school - the two buildings are at opposite ends of the campus and as of yet, a schedule that allows me enough time to move between classes has not been devised.

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Taking a brave leap or acting like lemmings? Image by Roo Reynolds

And yet I feel strangely calm. A few years ago, I would have been stressing about it, wondering how I could be sufficiently prepared when I didn’t even know which class I would be in at what time. That would have been even worse if it was in a grade I hadn’t taught before.

If I’m honest, the night before school started used to be stressful even when I knew exactly what my timetable was. I would go over my lesson plan again and again, running through each stage of the lesson in my head. I would think about exactly what I would write on the board, even what colours I would use! I would check all my materials, books, photocopies, etc. several times. In short, I would be over-prepared and yet still stressed about it….

So, what has changed? Greater experience? More self-confidence as a teacher? Not really caring anymore? (Only joking about that last one, of course, but keep it in mind - we’ll return there momentarily.) Having sat on it for the last couple of hours, I think it is another of the benefits to come from embracing the principles of dogme. I now realise that I’m not helping anyone by being so prepared. Knowing exactly how my first day back at work will pan out to the minute detail of what will be said, written, handed out and when limits learning rather than facilitating it. Instead, I embrace the unknown and go to class ready to learn about my students and explore whichever of the infinite paths our first day journey could take comes up (the ‘space’ I was exploring earlier today). I know we will focus on rules and classroom management at some point but even that will be as student-centred as possible.

All of which brought me back to one of the things that bugs me about ELT and education in general. Many of us as teachers feel the need to be busy, to be prepared and to plan ahead without ever questioning why. We spent the period before school opens revising the syllabus, reviewing the materials, making new hand-outs, decorating classrooms and finding out who the ‘problem’ students are from the previous teacher. Part of this (in my opinion at least) stems from fear of ‘losing control’ of the class on day one and part of it stems from the desire to be seen to be a hard-working, committed, caring teacher. Many teachers feel, as I used to, that we should be doing something in order to be ready (perhaps a lingering feeling that I should be doing something is what has driven me to write this post….)

But, as I set out above, not filling my days in the run up to school opening with ‘busy work’ does not mean I care any less. Rather, it means that I go into class with an open mind ready to involve the students as much as possible. They will help me make a list of simple class rules and any decorating will be done by them. All the while, I’ll be getting to know the new kids and catching up with the ones who’ve been in my classes before.

So, whatever 8.30am tomorrow brings, I feel ready. Ready but not over-prepared….

5 comments:

  1. We feel that most of the time the best activities are not the one's you've planned out, but the ones done on the spot, when you feel the group's flow, mood...We think is a matter of being aware of your students, surroundings and always creating opportunities for spontaneous ideas! We love your post, and we wish you a great class tomorrow!

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  2. Have a great day tomorrow! One point (of many actually) that caught my eye was how you emphasised that fact that you overprepared for classes before and mentioning planning which colours to use on the board was used as an hyperbolic example of this extreme fussiness. In fact, I think colour usage on the board is quite important as is boardwork in general--something many teachers put little attention to in their plans, unfortunately.

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  3. Have a great one, Dave! For the trek over to Middle School - roller blades :-) T..

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  4. Dogme mogme as we say in Turkey. You got over the '10 year pain barrier' and you finally feel like a real teacher :-)

    Actually, I've only really felt more relaxed about it over the last couple of years since approaching teaching as more of a partnership between myself and the students than me delivering information to their heads. Some might say that were bordering on dogme...


    Have a good year, Dave. I've another week skulking about in my office.

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  5. Thanks for the comments, as always :)

    Tyson - I agree that use of colours is an important factor in effective boardwork. I just no longer think it's something that should be fussed over or written into plans. ;)

    Adam - I wouldn't put my new approach down to the '10 year pain barrier' as I was still the same just 2 years ago, right before I started the MA, which in turn led me towards the dogme path. It was only then that I realised over-planning was more restrictive than helpful (at least from a student's point of view.

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