Starting to feel at home in my (not so) new school…

I started at my current school at the beginning of 2015 – so that means I’ve been there for 7 terms now. I feel like that time has gone by super fast, as it has been pretty much non-stop for the whole time. Having been at my previous school for 10 years, the change to a new education space – with new colleagues, new students, new expectations, a new culture – was really confronting, and , if I’m honest, really hard, but it’s also taught me a lot about myself, and my education philosophy.

Yesterday was my last ever lesson with my year 12 class, and whilst I didn’t think to tell them this when we were together for our last hour, these kids have been there with me for the whole ‘new school’ ride… and I feel that my experience with them is a nice metaphor for my transition into a new role, a new school, a new me. I remember being terrified for our first lesson, because I knew that their class was the ‘second bottom’ (we scale English classes at my school) and that they probably already had a bad taste in their mouth discovering this for themselves. I did my best to be a combination of funny, and knowledgeable, but mostly they just thought I was weird. Their expressions told me, ‘Oh man, we got the new teacher, we’re screwed.’ and because my main focus when beginning with a class is to build a culture of awesome, I had them write me letters of introduction, as well as letters to their future self, to be opened when they completed year 12 (which they did this week, and loved!). Both of these tasks were met with stupefied looks – some were amused, some eager, some far from impressed.

I distinctly remember their response to our journey analogy task, where I took photos of them holding up a picture symbolising their analogy for a journey, which I turned into a YouTube video – once again, they were gently amused by my weirdness, but always compliant. It was around this time I started hearing rumblings of things like, ‘They didn’t do this in the other classes’, ‘We haven’t got the same resources as the other classes’, ‘I wonder if she’s going to give us that draft task the other teachers handed out’… to which my response was often something akin to a stunned mullet – mouth gaping, eyes wide, thinking, ‘I didn’t know about that task/resource etc… oops’. I mean, maybe I had been told, but my mind was up in ‘teacher PL land’, and I frequently forgot things, swept up in my own ways of approaching lessons.

I remember our study of The Kite Runner, where I used my Frames approach to Critical Study (‘but Miss, the other classes aren’t using them’), and we held a Socratic seminar based on critical readings students were expected to have completed (‘but Miss, I thought you’d go through them with us’ or ‘where is the PPT summary?’)… some kids rose to the challenge, and others sat their squirming in their seats, unable to contribute to the dialogue. However, I also remember their speeches, and how their personal voices came through strong and clear, critiquing Hosseini’s ‘happy ever after’ ending to what is essentially a brutally confronting narrative.

I laugh as I remember our study of Othello and O – as I sniggered through the film, adding critically snide remarks about the film’s poor direction, and misunderstanding of the play’s characters. My students weren’t impressed by my satirical narration (‘you’re ruining it for us’) but many came to appreciate the film’s lack of integrity when compared to Shakespeare’s ‘timeless’ play. Another frustration for them was my critical narration of PPTs that I had found online… where I would correct or challenge the information being presented, which left them unsure what to write down in their workbooks. In the end I told them to look through the slides themselves if they were keen, and I instead handed out critical responses to the play and the film… no summarised dot points = irritated students.

I remember, sadly, when over half of my class left me to join the ‘top stream’ because they had performed so well in the prelim course (I discovered yesterday that one of these students ended up coming 3rd in the year for the HSC course). I’ll never forget that first lesson with my new year 12 class – 13 new sets of eyes, all critical and wary, having heard (I assume) of my unconventional methods… and annoyed at themselves for having underperformed in year 11. I was scared too, as I was about to teach a text I’d never taught before, under the umbrella of a concept I’d never taught before, at a school I knew got exceptional HSC English results every year. Terrified. This didn’t stop me from using slabs of coloured paper and textas for our first task  (a colourful timeline of the Motorcycle Diaries), or forcing them to work in teams to collaborate on YouTube videos deconstructing sections of the memoir. Yes, the new kids’ eyes rolled so much they nearly fell out of their heads (OK, not all, some of the girls were visibly stoked to be doing hands-on stuff), but I persisted with my method… I had to trust it, and try my best to help them trust me.

Whilst there were definitely times during our time together that I flipped between ‘I will teach via PPT’, ‘I’m bored of teaching like this’ and ‘Let’s get crazy with this’, I can say that in the end we found a rhythm… I think for them they got used to everything (and I mean EVERYTHING) being on Google Drive, to working collaboratively with their peers, to hearing my silly anecdotes interspersed with serious discussions of complex texts, with my mood swings, and with my literal obsession with Medals and Missions. The latter was most apparent when yesterday they surprised me with the most gorgeous thank you present – two 5 week old chicks who they named ‘Medal’ and ‘Mission’, haha! I cried… the thought was so genuine, and it was affirming to know that after our time together they got me. I had written them all goodbye cards, with personal medals and missions based on their characters, lol… it was a sweet shared moment. We got each other. Late last night my head teacher emailed me to see how I liked my present (the English faculty had hidden the chicks away from me all day, helping keep my students’ surprise a secret), and she told me that the present was evidence that my class had always valued me, but that at our school kids just have a different way of showing it. This was an important message for me, a reminder that this is a new culture, with new social norms, and ways of doing things (like showing thanks)… and that right now I’m totally feeling at home, because I think it’s not my ‘new school’ anymore, it’s simply my school… my edu home.

Thank you, year 12 2016… you helped me find my place! xx

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8 thoughts on “Starting to feel at home in my (not so) new school…

  1. Beautiful, Bianca! You continue to demonstrate the key characteristics of a great teacher – self-awareness, courage, passion, honesty and a genuine commitment to the students as people and learners. And you stay true to yourself. How incredibly fortunate your students are. 🙂

  2. I have a fear of teaching in an academically selective school for all the reasons you mentioned. The need for facts and spoon feeding of relevant information rather than critical and creative thinking makes me feel I won’t be able to give them what they want! Good on you for persevering. It must have been a massive challenge.

  3. Thank you…once again, you’ve challenged me to be a better teacher. We started at our new schools at the same time in similar roles…but I haven’t necessarily stuck to my own convictions…perhaps they weren’t really convictions if I morphed to easily into their expectations..students expected more notes, etc…but after end of prelims as we move towards yr 12 with my current group, I can see the value of encouraging and pushing them to have their own voice , their own opinions…congrats on a great year…so lovely to see when kids appreciate their teachers. Well done, you! And thank you again …

    • Well there’s been lots of times where I’ve taught in ways I wasn’t certain about, but those ways have taught my more about teaching & learning, so it’s all part of the experience. Good luck with your new 12s – I’m looking forward to working with mine! ☺️

  4. Such a great post and who was learning from whom! Congrats Bianca! You are not the newbie any more! The gift was the most awesome & thoughtful one ever! You do “rock” this teaching gig my love!!

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