This is the second part of my Reflection Series for 2017 – a self-reflection of my teaching this year.
What is something you tried in your classroom this year for the first time? How did it go?
As educators, I believe it is so important to not get stuck in a pedagogy rut. We need to be continually trying new things – implementing them further when they work, and letting them go when they don’t.
This year I did something I’ve wanted to do for a couple of years – host a pre-service (or student) teacher.
I love seeing how other people teach, I love getting ideas from them and seeing how the students react to different situations and teachers. It can be so eye-opening to experience, as long as you are willing to learn something new and accept the fact that each teacher is different and may do things differently to how you would.
I ended up supervising three pre-service teachers this year, one during each term after I left the private school. Each one was a completely different experience! I won’t go into personal details about any of the pre-service teachers, as I believe that would be unprofessional, but I will let you know how it all went!
The First – A Steep Learning Curve
I really didn’t have much clue what I was doing with this whole mentoring-in-my-classroom thing, let’s be honest. I’d unofficially mentored a couple of teachers while in England, but they were teachers in their own rights, with their own classes.
I had expected him to come with almost like a list of things I needed to do and he needed to do, but even after some prompting I didn’t get anything like that. I asked around subtly while he wasn’t there to make sure I was doing what I needed to, and did my best to lead a man who was old enough to by my father and well established in his career.
As I had come back to the school at the beginning of term 2, my students had already had a change in teacher. By the time my first student teacher came along, I had built up a bit of rapport with all my classes and we’d all settled quite nicely. They were curious about this new person in our lessons, but were also open to the experience.
I didn’t ‘prime’ them in any way for a pre-service teacher, knowing they would have experienced them in the past. Rather, for the first one I asked him to spend some time observing the lessons but also to go around and talk to the students while they were working, give them some help etc. I knew that if I could get them used to this new person, start building up that rapport before he began taking some of their lessons, we would all have an easier time. The students at my school absolutely thrive when they have a good rapport with their teacher, so I worked really hard to build him up to the students and get them on his side.
Some students never took to him of course (there are always students who don’t deal well with change, and others who will be obtuse for the sake of it), but overall it went well. He had a thick Indian accent, which made it difficult for some of my students, but we worked with them as best we could, and I was always on hand to give them guidance when they struggled. I enjoyed watching their interactions with another teacher on a daily basis, learning for myself different things about the students and how they responded to this new teachers’ approaches.
It can be quite difficult to watch someone else interact with your class in a way you wouldn’t – it’s hard to keep back and let them teach to their own style and learn things for themselves instead of stepping in every single time. He was used to dealing with university students, and his lessons reflected that. Unfortunately, my classes don’t do too well with that sort of lesson all the time (every now and then is fine, but not every lesson), so some problems did arise. I also had some personal difficulties with him, of which I won’t go into detail, but they did make working with him somewhat difficult. I took it all in stride though, and ended up with this post about how to be helpful to your pre-service teachers. When you read that article, you will see I learnt a lot from the experience!
When this first teacher left, I had my classes for a time to myself. It was lovely to get control again, and to do things without having someone else always tailing me and watching. I didn’t really realise how much I missed teaching them myself, and lets be honest, I missed the control. They welcomed me back as their ‘proper’ teacher with open arms, which was the nicest feeling.
The Second – Like A Teaching Sister
When the next term started and we had another pre-service teacher, the students were a bit more apprehensive. This new one was younger and female (which mattered to some students), and some were concerned they might have problems like they did with the last one.
She came to me much better prepared than the first one, knowing exactly what she needed to do and what I needed to do for her.
After the first day together it was clear our teaching styles were quite similar, and we just got on like a house on fire. I really had found a teaching-sister!
I encouraged her to interact with the students during her observations, as I had the first pre-service teacher. She tried to emulate my relationships a little, taking cues from how I interacted with them (teasing them, getting them to solve their own problems, having a laugh and a chat, being stern or disappointed when needed). She added in her own flair, and the students generally took to her quite well.
Watching her teach the lessons was easier for me, because of our similar teaching styles. I didn’t feel like I needed to step in as much, which was nice and odd at the same time. After her teaching for a week or so, I would have been completely comfortable leaving my classes in her hands.
I learned a lot from her too – different ways to present content mostly, but also different ways to handle conflict. Being in her final year of a dual degree, she came with a whole host of pedagogy I had kind of forgotten about, and also an enthusiasm to try it all out and put a lot of effort into her lesson plans. The students responded quite positively to her approaches, so I kept them on file for my own use.
By the end of her time with us, she was teaching all of my classes and taking as full of a teaching load as I had (slightly reduced to normal). It made my time at school quite odd, because I didn’t have to do any planning or actual teaching. I took on a few small projects to keep myself occupied, and revelled in the spare time I now had. The students and I were both sad to see her go, but she left such a positive impression that I signed up for yet another pre-service teacher for the next term.
The Third – A Behaviour Management Natural
Our third and last pre-service teacher was earlier on in his degree than the last, and even younger. I was worried his age might have a negative impact, but it didn’t in the end.
He was a math specialist, which was a bit of a bummer because I only had the one math class. I knew it would be a fantastic class for him to take though, because it was quite a difficult one. It was a low-level year 9 math class, with one of our three lessons being last thing on a Friday afternoon. I knew his content knowledge wouldn’t be a problem (and it wasn’t – he was more than capable of teaching himself the bits he’d forgotten, like we all do), so I was interested to see his behaviour management skills develop.
Once again, the students in all the classes were a bit apprehensive, but this time it lasted all of 5 minutes before they took it in stride as just a thing we do. They were curious to see whether this new guy was like our first one or our second one, and it was fun to watch them realise he was something else entirely.
To be completely honest, he physically looked like he’d be a bit of a pushover for the students, so it surprised us all (the students especially) when he took my advice on board from word go and was engaging in some serious behaviour management in his very first lesson. He had a way of going completely disapproving – his tone dropped, his face changed, his whole demeanour changed when students were misbehaving. He had no problems at all telling them exactly what they were doing wrong, and dishing out consequences appropriately. Those poor year 9 boys learned quite quickly that this was not someone they could walk over or try to alpha-male. It was a joy to watch, and I even learned a thing or two from his interactions.
He wasn’t as enthusiastic at trying out different pedagogy styles as our second pre-service teacher, which he did well enough. His time with us was the shortest out of all three, so I had my classes back again after a few weeks. They all fully expected and would have welcomed another one, but that was it for the year.
Overall I really enjoyed my experiences with hosting pre-service teachers. I learned a lot, including the fact that I find it difficult to relinquish control of ‘my’ classes. I don’t know that I’ll take one every term next time (when I return from maternity leave), but I definitely would like to continue hosting them. Maybe 2 a year, if I return full time, would be a good amount.
Have you hosted pre-service (or student) teachers? How were your experiences? Or are you not long out of your degree yourself and have a story to share about your supervising teacher? Get in touch – we’d love to share your stories!
About the Author:
Emily is a secondary science and math teacher in Australia. She enjoys blogging about her experiences, facilitating the ‘light bulb’ moment in her students, and drinking tea and wine. Emily is currently on maternity leave with her first child. You can read more teaching articles from Emily here, or about her life as a new mum over at Actual Mums.