This afternoon I was a bad teacher. A very bad teacher. I knew it and my students knew it. It was like some horrible stench lingering in the air that no-one wanted to mention, not event the really obnoxious students. Urgh. So what went wrong? Well basically, I planned really boring lessons. Like REALLY boring lessons. And what’s worse than a boring lesson? A boring lesson after lunch! I mean, duh! I’m a very experienced teacher … how could I let that happen?!
Well, the thing is, I’ve been lying to myself and my students for three weeks. I’ve been pretending that what we’re doing in class is new and interesting, that it’s project-learning – when really it’s not. It’s just working in the traditional teacher-centred way but heading towards some final ‘product’ and ‘presentation’. The kids are even calling it an assignment! What?? I don’t know what’s happened to me. I’ve turned into some kind of crap arse robot teacher who thinks she knows everything but really is just B.O.R.I.N.G.
I go into class, I write up ‘Tasks’ on the board, list some seriously mediocre activities (ending of course with a learning reflection) and then lead them through the tasks for the rest of the lesson, ticking them off as we go – from the front of the classroom! I was all proud of myself for being structured – I’ve even recorded each lesson in my teacher-book and marked the roll each lesson! Each student has a project calendar that we’ve filled in together and I’ve pretended that this means they’re being self-directed learners. But really, I’m just limiting my students. They is no student autonomy in lessons where the teacher has already predetermined what is going to happen every minute and what learning will occur and why. Every lesson I have been in control. EVERY LESSON!!! What monster have I become???
Standing in front of the class today, raging on the inside with boiling blood and racing mind, I couldn’t understand why my students wouldn’t listen to me. Why was I having to wait for their attention? Shouldn’t this project be SO engaging that they’re hanging on my every word?! They certainly weren’t and I was torn between the desire to scream at them all for being evil little humans (which they are not) and collapsing into a sobbing heap on the ground because I am such a terrible teacher (which I am not). With Year 10 I learnt my lesson after 20 minutes – I stopped talking and took them outside. By the time I had allowed my temper to cool, I was sitting on the grass having a very deep conversation about cyborgs, ethics and humanity with one of my lovely students. I laughed and smiled and felt like a good teacher.
Another incident late last week forced me to the realisation that I’m duping myself and my kids with my faux project-learning. I sat with one of my students as he wrote in his learning journal. He said to me, ‘Miss, I can’t give myself a medal cos I didn’t learn anything today.’ I was like, ‘What? Don’t be silly! You’ve been in class for 50 minutes. Surely you’ve learned something.’ But he was adamant … and honest. Oh dear. Is 50 minutes long enough to truly learn something new? Is there a flaw in my ‘learning reflection’ structure?
One thing I’ve learnt from the last three weeks … projects have to be short. Very short. 3 weeks max. Learning is iterative. Multiple projects need to address the same outcomes. They’ll get it eventually. Skills and knowledge need to be rediscovered in new contexts and applied in new ways. First time you might not get it, second or third time you probably will. That’s normal. I’ve been too keen to squeeze traditional learning into a non-traditional approach. Duh. It makes PBL really bad. REALLY bad. More to come on this peeps. For now, writing this post has made me feel better about myself. I hope tomorrow I rediscover my ability to be responsive to my students and to give them more respect as learners. I gotta stop making neat patterns for messy learning.