Tuesday, July 13, 2010

What I learned from Teachers' College and my practicums

From Teachers' College:
- Busywork is the cornerstone of education. If you need to keep the students in the classroom for four hours because the regulations say so, giving them useless busy work is essential.
- Reflective exercises and assignments are a life-saver when you don't really have anything to talk about/assign.
- It is possible to reflect on a reflection assignment. No, there is no irony or circle-jerking tautology in this.
- While the student teachers might get outraged at the notion that teachers are not allowed to fail students anymore, they will not blink an eye at the mutual understanding that all student teachers will receive As and will graduate Teachers' College. (unless they fuck up their practicums)
- If there is absolutely no filler left (not even reflection), put on some YouTube video somehow related to education and talk about that.
- While student teachers are required to affirm that they're in the profession because they like to teach/they want to give back to the community/they want to be inspirational figures, it is understood by everyone that the vast majority are in it for the salary and the benefits.
- A corollary to the point immediately above: a student teacher should never ever admit that she/he went to Teachers' College because she/he didn't have any other options after receiving a bachelor or master's.
- You will remember why you've hated groupwork back in high school.
- You will learn that the saying "those who can't, teach" has many additional layers of meaning in Teachers' College.
- The best instructors in Teachers' College are the ones who are the most cynical about the profession.

So as not to leave on an entirely gloomy note, here's what I learned about teaching, myself, and children from my practicums:
- The first time you walk to the board and start a lesson you will feel sick.
- They (the students) can see, hear, and smell fear.
- You might feel like a fraud in front of the board, but as long as you wear a shirt and tie (skirt and blouse, etc.) and don't show fear they will take you seriously.
- Learn their names ASAP (at least first names, preferably last names) - it will be your greatest weapon.
- There are two things that students love, from age 12 to age 18: a good story, and candy. NEVER underestimate the motivating power of candy.
- Develop a sense of humour. Learn to laugh at yourself first and foremost, learn that it's ok to poke fun at your students from time to time as well. Figure out who the class joker is and use him/her to best advantage!
- Another powerful weapon in the teacher's arsenal is the seating plan. Even the merest threat of moving the students around is enough to shush them up for a lesson.
- Group work is heaven-sent for teachers! Even if nothing productive comes out of it, you still managed to waste a whole class.
- Be prepared to change your plan for the day on the spot. Maybe it'll take the whole lesson to cover what you thought should take only 5 minutes. Maybe there's an assembly that you completely forgot about. Maybe someone was sick in the class. Maybe you forgot about some religious holiday and now half the class is absent.
- Learn to talk loudly without shouting. Learn when to talk, and when to shut up.
- Learn to respect your students. They might be functionally illiterate, flighty, surly, opinionated, easily distracted, dense, slow, and a host of other things, but they're still people, and they still have potential and self-worth. Plus it will make your job easier too!