Freitag, 16. März 2012

practice makes perfect

Being a student teacher is not easy. You have to teach from the first semester on. You’re in class almost immediately after enrolling. Within the first month, you get to sit in on classes for a whole week, while trying to figure out, if you are made to be surrounded by kids all the time without losing your cool. No later than the second semester, you begin to teach classes, at first you only have to teach half a lesson, but two weeks in, you're supposed to prepare and teach a full lesson.
From the third semester on, you teach with one of your colleagues, and you’re the ones who have to prepare lessons each and every week. In your last year at teacher training, you get the full dose of living the teacher-life. Each semester, you’re in school for two weeks straight. By this time, you should be able to deal with the stress that comes with it - preparing for classes every day, being in school four to five hours and teaching up to four consecutive lessons.

At the same time, teaching is still the smallest part of your week. You have classes to attend yourself and if you think about it, the whole 'teaching-thing' takes up, only about six to eight hours a week (including two lessons, the reflecting-sessions and the preparation).
Now with this little time focusing on the actual teaching experience, you finish teacher training after six semesters. After you are done, you go straight into teaching full time.

In previous posts, I already mentioned the problems with the framework and the logistical issues of practical training. It’s basically impossible to provide student teachers with more opportunities for practical training, maybe it’s different in other countries, but unfortunately, I have no experience with other teacher training courses around the world. 
But being a student teacher is easy. You get to be in class and teach right from the start. For six semesters, you experience what it takes to be teacher full-on. You get to teach with one of your colleagues and prepare and teach each and every week. It is one of best opportunities you can get!
Since I’ve been working as a coach for a few years, before I started teacher training, I couldn’t wait for practical training to begin. I enjoy every minute of lesson preparation and being in class teaching. But somehow I feel it's not enough.

There is no denying that didactics, methodological approach and reflection is a key and a major part of teacher development, but in my experience, actual practical training is simply invaluable.
So last week, I started my new job as an English trainer for a project called “Bildungswege 2012”. This project runs from march to the end of july and I get to teach young migrants between the ages 18 and 22 for five to ten hours a week.
At first I didn’t really know how to start with everything, I’m used to preparing for one lesson at a time, now I have to prepare for two four-hour courses.
But the great thing is, as soon as I step into a classroom, I instantly get into a zone. No matter how excited and nervous I was before and how the preparation went, a flip get’s switched and I’m in teaching mode. Teaching those two days was amazing. Somehow I feel that I've learned more during the four day preparing-and-teaching-stretch, than I've
learned during my first year at teacher training. And this kind of makes sense actually; during my first year, I prepared and taught four and half lessons in school, and in my first week with this project, I basically prepared and taught twice as much. And the circumstances were different too, in practical training my teacher suggested what I need to teach, but for these English courses, I was on my own the whole way.
It’s interesting to note that one of the benefits that practical training offers, namely the ‘safety net’ of a teacher you always have in the classroom, is also a restrictions for personal development. Without this ‘safety net’, you get to experience hands-on how the class reacts to different methods and you can adjust your lesson on the fly, which requires a lot of skill. But this ‘learning by doing’, only works if you are on your own, without someone, who swoops in if you stumble during one of the exercises (not that every teacher does that, but you just know there is someone who will help you out, if it doesn't go smoothly).
What I’m trying to say is that it is vital for student teachers to get as much practical experience they can get. 
One one hand, don’t discount the practical training at the University! You get constant feedback, you can share your experience with colleagues and you get to see different teacher-types.
But on the other hand, if you like teaching, and you want to be good at it, try to get out and jump right in: no ‘safety net’ and all by yourself.
If you combine both, you get the maximum potential of your personal development.

Donnerstag, 8. März 2012

group work - do you know if they fit?

This is a topic I’ve been wanting to write about for a long time. It is not only good to know for beginner student teachers, but also a good reminder for veteran teachers, who get a new class with kids they don’t know.
At some point during our classes, we all will use some kind of group work with the kids. If it's planned well, it can be very fruitful for kids. They learn to collaborate, they learn to give and deal with feedback, and they get confronted with opinions that differ from their own.
But there is one key aspect to it that I experienced in almost every class I’ve been in. The composition of the group is essential to its success and also to the pleasure and fun for the kids involved.
Now, since all the kids are different, and we all know that every one of them has ‘friends’, but also ‘I just don’t like them'-type colleagues, it is still important to find the best possible fit. I’ve been with teachers, who where first-timers in a class, and they wanted to try group work with their class. Of course we had to talk about the didactical variations in which we could divide the kids in different groups (i.e. counting them from one to four; picking numbers out of a hat or randomly assigning them together). But after we were done with that, the teacher admitted that it’s really exciting to see how they are going to deal with it. We both had no idea how the kids would get along, who are the ‘can’t-match’ pairs and so on.

Since it was the first time for this class too, it went pretty well, but mostly because it was a kind of a new environment for them too. After the class, we talked about our thoughts and experiences and if we saw some kind of combination that won’t work next time. There were one or two kids, who could be trouble when put together in the future, so it's good to take notes the first time out.
Even tough it seems like you can’t to do much, if you get a bad combination the first time, it's important to stay calm and either sit it out, or you pick one of the kids you know for sure can work with anybody and switch them. But it's better to keep the first few times a little shorter and just put in some sequences that feature group work, rather than going all-in without knowing how they are going to react.
So the thing to keep in mind, for either student teachers and veterans is that there always needs to be a first time, and for that - you can’t possibly predict how it's going to go. After a while, you will get to know the kids anyway and you get more sense of how they fit together in groups.