I’m now at the six month mark, and a short placement at another neighbouring – but very different – school has very much shaken my confidence. I have realised that so much of what makes a good teacher comes from getting to know your pupils. In order to discipline or encourage participation, you need to know students’ names. In order to ensure children progress and achieve their potential, you need to know what they are capable of, know when to push them and know when to give them extra support. In order to provide a safe environment where they feel they can experiment, you need to understand childrens’ backgrounds and personalities. Having been in my school for so long, I know my students inside out, and we have a strong relationship because of it. Planning lessons is easy, because I know at what pace my students work, what they enjoy doing, and what will challenge them. In lessons, we have enormous amounts of fun because we can all laugh at each other and our quirky personality traits. Arriving into my new classes, I have been confronted with a sea of unknown faces whose backgrounds and personalities are completely alien to me. I feel totally out of my depth, and that I’ve regressed to the uncertain and inexperienced teacher I was in September all over again.
This hasn’t necessarily been a negative experience, however. It has shown me that I can’t afford to be complacent. Yes, I feel confident in teaching a particular set of students of a particular ability level, but I will not always be in that environment and I need to develop strategies to enable me to provide good teaching to a huge range of children, many of whom will struggle with my subject. I have felt myself feeling incredibly impatient and even angry at times over the past week when students have been relentlessly difficult, and I have had to bite my tongue to prevent myself from screaming or saying something I would regret. It’s unbelievably frustrating to spend hours on planning something, only to have it all go to complete waste. I am not used to children shouting over me, talking back to me or just point blank refusing to do any work. However, I have learned that actually, it’s not all the children’s fault that they behave the way they do. I have planned what I want to teach, and I have tried to create something fun and interesting, but a child’s definition of fun and interesting is very different to mine. During last period on a Friday, all children want to do is go home. Expecting them to sit and concentrate for an hour when they’re not in the right frame of mind to do so is entirely unreasonable. They’re not adults. They can’t control their emotions or reactions. To them, I am just another person who gets in the way of them being able to do what they want. I came to this realisation after shouting myself hoarse by the end of Friday afternoon. Something wasn’t working, and I couldn’t blame it entirely on the 11 year olds sitting in front of me.
After the worst lesson I have ever taught, I kept two of the most disruptive students behind to speak to them. Calmly, I asked them if they understood why I was annoyed. They frankly admitted that they were fully aware of what they had done. I explained that I had spent a lot of time on planning the lesson and that I felt upset that they had not been interested in anything I had to say. I asked how they would feel if the tables had been turned and I’d spent all lesson ignoring them. I saw a light go on. We parted on good terms, with promises of a better lesson next time. However, after they left, I realised that I had spent all lesson ignoring them, just as they had me. I hadn’t bothered to make any attempt to get to know them. I hadn’t stopped to ask why they were behaving so badly. I hadn’t given them an opportunity to tell me what they needed or wanted from the lesson. I had just imposed my way of working on them, and expected them to get on with it. Was it ok for them to be rude and disrespectful? No. But was it ok for me to lose my temper and spend all lesson shouting at them without making any attempt to find out some middle ground? No. I thought I was getting so good at building relationships with students and developing lessons that excited and enthused them, but this lesson showed me that I still have a long way to go when it comes to understanding the children I teach. It’s certainly been an eye opener.
So, every cloud has a silver lining, I suppose. I’ve never been the most patient person in the world, and this experience is proving extremely beneficial in teaching me to step back and see things from other people’s perspective before giving in to my gut reaction. No one wants to be taught by someone who shouts at them. Most disruptive children are disruptive because they have horrible home lives and the last thing they need is another angry adult giving them a hard time. So much of teaching is about relationships rather than academics; you can be the cleverest person in the world, but if you can’t find the time to actually relate to the people sitting in front of you, they’ll learn nothing. Next week, I’m going to walk back into the classroom with a smile on my face and I am not going to raise my voice. If I’m doing my job properly, I won’t need to. We’ll see how I get on!