Can you ever ‘be’ a teacher? Aren’t you always ‘becoming’ a teacher?

The title of this blog post is inspired by a reflection piece that I wrote for a university assessment after my first teaching prac. (Aside: I did a DipEd after reaslising, like many that my BA with a major in Philosophy wasn’t a ticket to a career. As part of my DipEd I was required to do two 4 week practicums – the first was 1/2 observation, whilst the second was teaching 1/2 of my supervisor’s load.) I stumbled across this reflection piece whilst tidying my desk, and fell to reading it – almost immediately being captivated by my own spark and vivacity. Not really, lol. What struck me was my honesty and the overall tone of confession – I had found teaching very, very difficult. I had been forced to teach a topic I did not know well and that, surprisingly I did not like in high school or uni – poetry. I also had to teach a senior class how to write essays, a skill that I had not ever been explicitly taught and which I felt I had barely (if at all) managed to master myself. The conclusion of my reflection was that it is impossible to ever ‘be’ an English teacher, that one is always learning and therefore one is always in a constant state of development, never actually being a teacher – just becoming one. I know this idea was pinched from someone else, as back then I was good at referencing and I acknowledged my source. Today I am still becoming an English teacher and this means I have no idea where that reflection piece is, and that I’m too exhausted to find it anyway.

Whilst I can’t name my source, I will acknowledge that he/she was correct in their assessment of teaching. I really believe the title of ‘teacher’ is flawed. I only feel that title fits me when I am finally broken by a student and I yell – voice raising, blood pressure too. This is a very, very rare occurrence – maybe once a term, so it should give you an indication of how rarely I feel like I truly am a ‘teacher’. The title ‘teacher’ conjures up images of cruel masters and matrons wielding long rulers and pointing long fingers at small children. It makes me think of someone who always has an answer, who is always right, who is organised and carries a red pen – armed and ready to deliver a fat ‘F’ or ‘A’. It just doesn’t conjure images of me fiddling with a OneNote notebook in front of a room of thirty laughing teens, handing over my whiteboard marker to a 13 year old to lead the class, chatting to Yr 12 students via email, blogs or edmodo about the purpose of literature, letting Year 10 students shoot scenes for a short film inside my aging Kombi or singing along to Aussie hip-hop to demonstrate the everyday usage of poetic devices. Is that your image of ‘teacher’?

Since day one of this term I have struggled to garner the enthusiasm necessary to engage and inspire my classes. I didn’t resort to textbook lessons like last year when the netbooks didn’t magically turn my ratty Year 9s into tech-savy engaged learners. I have plowed through the negativity that surrounds me daily – from my internal monologue and the external ones of others. I’m tired and downcast following an edmodo debacle that involved students registering as teachers to create ‘chat’ groups, resulting in cruel cyber-bullying. I am maintaining my stance that education institutions must change their response to poor student behaviour – it is no longer good enough to cancel an activity or block something that has lead to problems. I am trying to defend my choice to introduce edmodo as a teaching platform and aim to show staff and the executive that students must be shown how to use technology effectively to enhance their learning. These kids need to be ‘taught’ how to be responsible digital citizens. If we respond by blocking their path, they will dig around us and find a new way – they are kids of the 21st century, we should not underestimate them.

However, I have a feeling it is not just the students that need to be educated. It is the ‘teachers’. Professional development must focus on the changing nature of teaching. The old method just simply isn’t good enough anymore.  It was fine when access to information was limited, but now it’s not. I am hoping to organise some after-school workshops that show how technology can be embedded into the pre-existing teacher-centred method, but emphasise the fact that these little netbooks (and really all technology) enables and requires a student-centred method.

I find the netbooks frustrating at times and fall prey to thoughts of ditching them and returning to pens and paper. I never had issues with that method, so why should I change now? But then I remember that teaching is not about me – it’s about the kids. I don’t want students expecting that I have the answers – I don’t, and it’s arrogant to think I could. One thing I do advocate when it comes to DER is that we don’t give up, that we work together and that we embrace/advocate a culture of sharing and learning – it’ll be better for us, as teachers and learners in the long run. I was told by a teacher today that the worst thing that could happen would be for me to become cynical – people look to me as a source of motivation, thinking ‘Well, if Bianca thinks it’ll work, then I’ll just keep trying’. It was a flattering comment, and something I’ll keep in mind when I’m frustrated next time.

There is a world of ideas out there, and a world of unmade things waiting to be created. I just have to figure out how I’m going to get the kids (and my colleagues) to want to go out there and explore it.

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9 thoughts on “Can you ever ‘be’ a teacher? Aren’t you always ‘becoming’ a teacher?

  1. I see, or try to see, myself as a learner. My programs are called learning and teaching programs. I hope I am learning all the time, I think I work best when learning with the students…I think this can transfer to colleagues…

    • Yes, I agree Troy. I think the staff at my school love to learn, they always enjoy PD and are thankful to have something new to use. I would like this to be more ongoing and something encouraged in our students. I suppose it will just take time … I’m hopeful things will change for the better.
      Sometimes we must just stick our necks out, do what we feel is right and suffer the political consequences 🙂

  2. As I read your post my head was nodding vigorously in agreement with everything you mentioned. Although technology failing is just part of technology, it is difficult not to get a little infuriated when we have spend long hours preparing a fantastic creative & challenging lesson using ‘the latest that technology has to offer in meaningful ways’, and at the start of said lesson we hear a student call out “Miss ….it’s blocked” in a tone inferring that they always knew it would be blocked/not working anyway!

    I’m an HSIE teacher currently doing a bit of consultancy work with DER, and from my brief experience of this I think that finally risk taking teachers like yourself are becoming leaders in their schools as other teachers are realising that this stuff is not going away. In fact you are even turning some of the technology ‘nay’ sayers into technology ‘well maybe..’ sayers.

    It’s fantastic that you use Edmodo in the classroom. Not all experiments are going to work perfectly first time and other people need to accept the fact the we live and learn as we take these risks with new platforms. Once we learn however, we can streamline and create memorable experiences for the kids (and ourselves)

    Apart from being an obvious motivator for your students, it sounds like you have a lot of fun which I reckon is incredibly important. I’d love to hear if you think it’s worth perusing with Edmodo in your class and why?

    • Thanks so much for your comments. In response to your last question, I would say definitely YES, the staff have had such success with it, and as I type this I have Year 11 students posting homework tasks and questions on our edmodo group.
      Edmodo has so much going for it, the best thing being it’s user-friendly nature. Yeah, there are some security issues, but these can be overcome with some common sense and an honest an open approach to technology and student use.
      I’ll keep using edmodo at home if it is banned at school. I don’t think it will be banned however, as there will be an outcry from students and staff who are familiar with it and have success with it.
      Check it out and recommend it to other schools who are anxious about ‘moodle’ which is quite time consuming.
      Thanks again for your kind words 🙂

  3. Hi Bianca

    Edmodo and @zemote, I’ve been pushing this for a year or so in PD – but sadly not in NSW. It is, buy any standard a great Learning Management Tool.

    I am amazed at the in-ability public education has to effect quality, sustained professional learning and the extra-ordinary measures it goes to make it in-accessible. Cost – Time and Opportunity. All we hear is’ as Freddie says ‘Radio-Ga-Ga, Ministerial announcements about size, cost and ‘what parents want’. No mention of student outcomes or teacher skills.

    If you get frustrated inside – there are plenty outside who cannot get though the bubble-headed mentality that is HR policy. I can work with a teacher in Montana, but not 1km down the road in a DET school.

    How people outside (that want to help) get inside to help … remains a mystery.

    Dan Mayer said “it doesn’t matter really if you take the easy route or hard route in class. What matters is that every time you choose … that choice itself becomes easier and easier to make next time”.

    Dean

  4. These problems are not new to us tech-heads, but I hear in this post a real sense of despondancy 😦

    Take heart! The antidote to Term 1 tech-blues will come when your classes for this year start engaging in your online learning spaces, and the satisfaction of watching them connect and be motivated will warm the cockles of your heart once more!

    I had the task in the first week of this term of setting up my faculty Moodle and trying to get 100% staff involvement. I did a lot of work for other people in this time just to slash through their newbie-phobia. I too am SOOOOO over teachers who are resisting technology. Yes, learning it can be daunting, be we ask our students to learn new things every day. And when they flat out refuse, we are really mean to them.

    I wish I could put some of my teachers on afternoon detention. Of send a letter home to their Mums.

    The latest excuse this week is that teachers with children at home cannot be expected to do work outside of school hours. Far out. If you’re scared of computers, just say so eh?

    Chin up Bianca…IT IS WORTH IT 🙂

    • Yep, you’re spot on with the tone. It’s hard at this point to beat the ‘just back and not ready blues’.

      I certainly don’t want to (and don’t think it’s possible for me to) resist technology. I think it’s about trying, failing, trying, half-working, trying, success, trying, failing, trying again. For many this pattern just stops at ‘trying, failing’.

      My 7s, 8s, 11s and 12s are really engaging in the learning spaces I’ve created for them online. I think I’ve just forgotten Year 10 in the rush to get them on the netbooks every lesson. I’ve realised my mistake, but am working around that 🙂

      Thanks Kelli for your comment!

  5. Hi,
    I have a netbook class as well,and agree that it can be challenging. However, this applies to any technology. And this year has been particularly challenging. However, when technology works, the engagment of students can be fantastic and the learning amplified – if the technology is used effectively.Technology can transform learning but this does not happen overnight. Sometimes, traditional strategies can be the most effective choice for some outcomes, so technology is not always the best option. Introducing netbook activities through learning teams, with manageable aims, such as one netbook activity per unit, as a starting aim, is one way of encouraging technology acceptance and transformation. I liked your admission that things don’t always work. Technology can be frustrating and failure happens.And you are right, netbooks can facilitate a learner centered approach. There is a joke that says schools are places where young people go to watch old people work. I want a classroom where this older person can watch younger people working and engaged in their learning.

    • Hi Anne,
      I agree with the issues with technology. Every year for a while now I’ve had kids make short films – our equipment is shocking, it’s always difficult to get the films edited etc and there’s always lots of stress and dramas. But I still do it every year and the kids love the activity, learn from it and are proud of what they create. I just need to see the netbooks in the same way, yeah?

      I like what you said about kids watching old people, so true! Thanks for your comment 🙂

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