The challenge of teaching is to decide who you want to be as a teacher, what you care about and what you value, and how you will conduct yourself in classrooms with students (Ayers, 2001, p. 23).
In September, I spent four weeks on my first prac, working in a kindergarten class. I was challenged in so many ways that I wanted to capture some of the experience in writing. Having never worked with kindergarten before, and never met the class before, I didn’t really have expectations going into it. It was such a pleasure getting to know the students and staff, and a very introspective experience as I grappled with what sort of a teacher I wanted to become.
Here were some of my observations over the four weeks:
Teachers work their butts off
Teaching is a lot of work. I mean, A LOT. The quality of a classroom and the learning environment that is established comes down to one person. For an early career teacher, that depends on how much work they put into, and for the later career teacher comes down to their expertise and continued passion. I had to be so immersed in the experience – I was at school all day and then planning all night. And that is just to teach one lesson a day!
I think one of the strengths that I developed in my time on prac was to structure student-centered learning experiences. But, these are precisely the experiences that take a long time to develop as they are effortful. Also, to differentiate lessons requires a lot of additional work for the teacher to build three or four tiered activities around one lesson. How do I know that these will all take roughly the same time? How do I make sure each activity is pitched at the right level?
Don’t assume that kindergarten know what you mean. Be explicit. Explain activities more than once, or have students explain the activity to each other.
Think through how you are going to move the class from their whole group into smaller working groups. I can’t believe how much this needed thinking through. I realised early on that transitions are a key part of behaviour management. If they were handled chaotically, the class would become chaotic. How will you get them moving between tasks? How will they know which group they are in? Logistics!
Have additional activities ready, some things do not take a long as you think they will. I didn’t know many short games or activities before prac, but I made it my job to find 5-minute tasks in case I was ever caught out.
Who am I? Who do I want to be?
From the quiet and gentle, the cool, calm and authoritative, to the screamy – there were so many teaching styles that I observed on prac. What is mine? What would I like it to be? My supervising teacher told me that I had a very nice way of speaking to the students that was respectful. I also know that I didn’t have a full handle on classroom management and still need to develop some strategies for cutting through noise and misbehaviour. I’d like to maintain a respectful style but tighten things up a bit to eliminate ‘lost moments’ in the classroom. I came to realise that I don’t have a very high tolerance for the chaotic, where some teachers do.
I also truly realised on prac that I can have an impact on students, and that teacher encouragement really is important. I saw faces light up when I would select some of their work to show the class, and it was great to be able to celebrate the different sorts of achievements amongst students.
The environment is important
I had not thought about this one before, but it makes a lot of sense. The set up of a classroom is important. Some teachers are able to use the room to their advantage. In my classroom, the students were able to touch a lot of things, like books and teacher resources while sitting on the floor. This created a lot of distractions. There were also a lot of toys in the room, which students could play with when they’d finished their work. This created a lack of focus when some students had finished and others hadn’t. In other kindergarten rooms, the teacher put a carpet down for students to sit on that meant they weren’t within reach of distractions. There were also soft benches around the carpet, so some students could sit elevated. This completely eliminated the issue of having kids on the periphery fiddling or playing.
I also observed in another classroom the value of teaching students to be self-sufficient with their time. What should you do when you’re finished your work? Write a clear list out on the board and explain what students can work on. This works as well if the teacher is occupied for some reason, say if someone comes to speak to them. Have your students know that if there’s a five-minute lag at the start of a lesson that one of them needs to read a book to the class.
Well that is all for now! My next prac is not for another seven months or so, so I have some time to prepare. Accumulating good classroom resources, getting my head around syllabi and building my repertoire of strategies for classroom management 🙂