Writing whilst my blood is still bubbling …

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.

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11 thoughts on “Writing whilst my blood is still bubbling …

  1. I love your honesty with your readers, but also your ability to be so brutally honest with yourself – far easier to justify what we do and why than to think critically about where we’re headed and how it could be different, more meaningful, better for our kids. You consistently take ‘the road less travelled’, and that makes all the difference – for you and your students…Also love your last line ‘stop making neat patterns for messy learning.’ I can relate as I Iike to feel like I’m in control of where we’re headed in a general sense in a classroom, and even whilst I say I want my classroom to be student-centred, to be truthful I am often fearful of where it will all head if I do – will it be complete chaos? Will we still cover our outcomes? Thanks again for another honest and thought-provoking piece Bianca…

  2. First of all, I hope you are feeling better. I think all teachers have one of these days. I know I do for sure.

    Like you I have been exploring project based learning and it has been a bumpy ride. I agree that projects need to be short. Last year I had a project running for 8 weeks. While the students enjoyed it and said they learnt a lot, a lot of other students were lost in the process.

    I don’t know your students. I found that when I get a class at the start of the year, I can’t launch them straight into “pure” PBL if they are used to a traditional approach. I have do some kind of pseudo PBL and ease them into it. Like you said, it depends on the students’ needs. As teachers we need to be responsive to these needs, whatever they might be.

  3. I’m sure you’ll turn this completely around and do something so truly inspiring that we all get inspired to make the most from our mistakes (and I think at the start of the year we all have to use the faux PBL as a crutch sometimes until we find our mojo with new classes). The great thing is that students are so forgiving of our hiccups. I can’t wait to see what you conjure next as a result of this!

  4. Another great read.
    I love the way you can make me (and other teachers) think about my/our teaching. Have I been a boring teacher?… OMG my projects are too long…
    You are modelling self reflection and adaptability to your students.
    BTW thanks I feel better
    🙂

  5. Hey Bianca
    What would you say to the child who says I am just not happy with what I am presenting you? You’d ask good questions, help them plan their improvement to get it right for them and then you’d give them 100% support in their efforts to achieve their goals. Your inner child needs your help not your chastisement. Go easy on yourself :-). The pure fact that you know this doesn’t feel right indicates your determination and dedication. How lucky those kids are for having a teacher who cares enough to take time and reflect on how to improve. Go get ’em!

  6. Great post B! Full of honesty and, dare I say it, authentic learning reflection!

    So many of us have been there but rarely do people actually work out why there was a problem – usually just blaming the students for disengagement and off-task behaviour rather than examining the lesson itself in both content, delivery and plain old potential interest level. Always a good yardstick – am I going to be bored in this lesson?

    Love that you changed scene this afternoon too. A massive circuit-breaker for you and the class and what a great outcome 🙂

    Hope tomorrow is better!

  7. Excellent interrogation of your practice here. Reminds me of your class at USYD last year when I learnt from you that #PL is a pedagogy rather than a “neat set of patterns” as you clearly put it. I am also intrigued to your other investigation as to how formative assessment can lead to a more responsive pedagogy in PL.

  8. You are always worth reading regardless of what you write, but occasionally you just blow me away.

    This is one of the best examples of modeling professional calibration I have ever read. No, it is the very best, because in it you describe the depth of disgust with one’s practice one needs to genuinely feel to make real change happen. Self-loathing is so very powerful, but only when one knows how to climb out of it, and you clearly do. It’s not about you, it’s about your practice and the consequence of your choices. I am especially moved by your sensitivity to your students’ feelings and products for informing your self-evaluation.

    Don’t stop writing about this process, Bianca. Not that I want you regularly cycling through self-loathing, it’s just that our profession is loaded with people who remain impressed with themselves irrespective of their product, and it is how we get into such trouble with our students and the public.

  9. Pingback: The glorious admission of bad teaching « Bill Storm on Ed Tech

  10. Pingback: Reflection Week 5: Boredom in the Classroom | Miss Haley Field

  11. Pingback: » Reflection Week 4: Writing Whilst My Blood Is Still Boiling… Erica Twiss

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