A Student Teacher Perspective

“Our planning (or worrying about) what’s happening next gives us little opportunity or inclination to examine what has just passed” Wallace (2005)

Writing from a student teacher perspective I thought it was very apt to start with the quote above. I believe I, like many student teacher colleagues, spend so much time worrying about what I have to do next, that sometimes I need to have a gentle prod or reminder that I need to be critically reflective of my actions in order to improve my future teaching performance. Sometimes if a session goes wrong I would rather not dwell on it and re-examine why it went wrong as it hurts my pride. However, this would be the easy option and how many times in future situations could I close my eyes and pretend bad experiences hadn’t happened? So regardless of how painful the experience it is vital that we critically reflect on everything we do as teachers, after all we reflect automatically on events in our personal life that we do or don’t want to happen again yet we find it harder to do it in our professional lives.

The idea of the need for reflection goes back to the time of Socrates who claimed that the unexamined life was not worth living. More recently however, the idea of reflection in learning was radical in the times of traditional educational institutions. John Dewey as early as the 1930’s wrote and advocated the need for reflection in learning. Dewey, the father of experiential learning was the first to put forward the idea that education was concerned with experience rather than abstract knowledge. Fawbert (2003) discusses Dewey’s work in contrasting routine action with reflective action. Routine day to day action was seen as relatively static and thus unresponsive to changing priorities and circumstances where as reflective action involves a willingness to engage in constant self appraisal and development. Dewey felt the importance in any experience lay in the relationships and connections within the experience ‘it is not sufficient simply to have an experience in order to learn because without reflection it may be forgotten and its learning potential lost’ Fawbert (2003)

Not only does reflective practice encourage us as teachers to reflect upon the principles and practice of our work but also to be prepared to change or modify our teaching in response to the feedback we are given, or that we give ourselves (Mitchell) When I first started to write reflective journals I found it quite difficult to articulate my feelings as this excerpt from my week one journal shows I found it surprisingly difficult to write my learning autobiography as I was conscious of it just being descriptions of what I had done but not really being able to explain why I did them. It’s all too easy when asked ‘why did you do that?’ to answer ‘I just did’ or ‘I don’t know’ and there are definitely events in my life that I have put into ‘it seemed like a good idea at the time’ category. I found it difficult to praise my achievements for fear of sounding big headed, it may have been hard to praise but after numerous rethinks and rewrites I was content that I had conveyed how proud I was of my learning curve and achievements to date” (journal entry week 1)

I had come from an academic background of IT and History and it was the first time I had found myself in the position of having to evaluate myself. I agree with Mitchell’s point that feedback is invaluable in our development and not just the feedback we give ourselves. I have found the feedback I’ve been given on my reflective skills wonderful in that it has made me become a more reflective writer. The next quote is part of the feedback I received for that first journal I have mentioned and it was crucial in reassuring me that I could critically reflect, even in those early days A fascinating reflection on the process of writing your learning autobiography – you will need this meta awareness that some of our reflections are in fact descriptions – also it’s really important that you are articulating your struggle with actually voicing your considerable acheivements” (Tutor feedback on Journal entry week 1)

I do find it difficult to receive praise for the work I do sometimes as I never want to sound big headed. I have been pleased with my planning since starting the couse. I have spent a lot of time getting prepared for my lessons and have criticised my own lesson planning as an area I wanted to continually improve. In an early journal I noted my apprehension at doing lesson plans as I had never done one before “the clarity of lesson planning is becoming a bit less daunting, I might even be able to know how at start one soon” (journalentry week 3)My apprehension of lesson planning has lessened over time but I still have two points from my current action plan that refer to lesson planning and still hold it it as something I want to perfect in semester two. Although I am critical personally of my lesson planning I have received good feedback from both of my teaching observations and so I may be being over critical in wanting to ‘perfect’ something that is going to grow with me as I develop as a teacher.

I think during my placement I have used Schon’s (1987) model of reflection, Schon belives that professionals can ‘reflect in action’ Reflecting in action requires practitioners to think on their feet, be able to work instinctively by drawing on similar experinces to solve problems or make necessary decisions. One particular incident where I had to use the ‘reflect in action’ model was in my second week of observations. Let me paint the picture for you. The Keyskills IT group that I was observing was split into two groups. Each group had a tutor, however the layout of the computer suite meant that only one group could see the interactive whiteboard at the front of the classroom, the other group could see a regualr whiteboard. On the day in question I arrived to observe the lesson to find that one of the tutors was away. I was then asked if I  would I mind taking their group. Due to this request ‘reflecting in action’ had to take place, I had to think on my feet. I tried to find out what the group were supposed to be doing that week. By the time I’d found out I then had to try to stop them from all reading their e-mail and playing games. When I tried to engage the class in any activity I was met with the response ‘we’ve done that’ I tried to think on my feet but all I could think about was wishing that the hour would be over more quickly. I was simply not prepared. I needed to reflect to ensure this didn’t happen again.

Boud (1996) theory of reflection that occurs after the event that is what has or hasn’t been learned is a major element in the learning process itself. Here is an excerpt from my week 5 journal that shows how I actually reflected on the session, I will use this as a basis of comparison as to how well I followed Boud’s model “went to help in my keyskills class, they asked me to look after and teach one half of the group, where as I had just helped the group the week before, I had nothing prepared, but I thought , positive mental attitude that I could do this, how hard could it be? OH MY GOD! they were sharing a classroom with the other group in the half of the classroom with no computer to show them what they were doing, and to say they thought they had better things to do would be an understatement! I have never felt so under prepared in my life, how I got through the hour I have no idea and still the students said that they didn’t normally have to work so hard! I am not going to let that happen next week, I’m going to prepare and ask to take the session again and hope I’ve still got time to make the organised impression on the students I want to make” (Journal week 5) If I reflect now on this journal entry and was to write it again there would be some changes. The three aspects to Boud’s model of reflection involve intially the experience itself and its description. Secondly, returning to the experience and attending to or connecting with my feelings. I had done this, no matter how painful it was, I had however been quite descriptive and negative. I should have put my hurt pride of feeling I had not done a good job aside and been more objective. Brookfield (1995) states that “we think that resistance to learning displayed by students is caused by our own insensitivity or unpreparedeness…and by taking a critically reflective stance towards our teaching helps us to avoid these traps of demorilisation and self laceration” I had fallen into both of these traps, I had not been critically reflective in what had happened, I was just demoralised that I couldn’t do it. Boud (1996) also implies that sometimes in reflection we may get so fixed in one perspective of what was going on that we are not able to recollect the events clearly. It may be then that you give up reflecting anymore as you think you understand or accept what had happened. I think this may have happened as I was so stressed that I hadn’t had a good lesson I couldn’t focus on anything other than feeling sorry for myself. Finally, Evaluating the experience, I had decided that I was not going to let the same thing happen again and I knew I wanted the chance to teach the session again and make a better impression. I think I fall short in this reflective episode of remaining student focused. I think in hindsight that I was just worried about looking unprepared. I should have been more worried about what learning had taken place and what was going to happen in the future.

My growth in being able to critically reflect is shown in one of my later journals in week 8. The journal entry is referring to the same class of students that I have already discussed. Boud (1996) states “reflection may also be prompted by more positive states, for example, by an experience of successfully completing a task which previously was thought impossible” I think I showed this sort of reflection here as I had approached my session differently, I had given sweets out as a reward for work they had done so far and had designed individual learning plans for each student, here’s my reflection “the fact that they had some structure as to what they needed to do next in their project meant that they actually got down and started to work on their projects. I had struggled for a few weeks trying to instruct them what to do when it turned out they worked well by following individual development plans. This will teach me about making assumptions, I had been told that keyskills students had to be pushed, forced and watched at every turn, not so! My group are great” (journal entry week 8)I had  reflected on the event, what I had done to change my teaching and challenged my assumptions. I was growing in my reflective skills.

Even though we have discussed how I challenged stereotyping in the last example of my reflective writing Brookfield encourages us to challenge all our assumptions about teaching and learning methods. I have often adopted groupwork as a learning method. Mitchell (1997) encourages group work as a means of teaching through social ineteraction. Working collaboratively and collectively can promote interpersonal relationships and team work. Although I have found these all to be true Brookfield (1995) gets us to look at all sides and potential downfalls, a way of thinking that all critically reflective teachers should think but perhaps until recently I didn’t. On one side of groupwork Brookfield (1995) illustrates the teachers role in groupwork as “it’s common sense to visit small groups after you have set them a task, since this demonstrates your commitment to helping them learn. Visiting groups is an example of respectful, attentive, student centred teaching” I have to agree that this is the vision of my teachers role in groupwork. Conversly, Brookfield (1995) explains that this form of teaching can seem like an assessment to students, they may feel that you are checking up on them. Also they may behave differnetly when they know you are watching them and when you approach their group.

In my teaching I had always been disappointed that I couldn’t use the ‘circle’ method when talking to students. The nature of IT suites means that people sit in more traditional rows than be able to face each other. From a teaching point of view it allows all students to be seen and heard. However, Gore (1993) points out that for confident students this may not be a problem but it may cause problems for shy and less confident students that may find the situation embarassing. In terms of challenging assumptions when it comes to providing equal opportunities in learning I have found that there may have been one style of teaching that I use, that I now look at differently and will re-evaluate the way I use it in the future. Petty (2004) states that many teachers assume that if they set the same learning activities for the class and provide help for anyone who asks for help that they are providing equal oppurtunites. I have used this method myself in some of my classes. Petty (2004) has reminded me that the quiet students often need more help than they ask for and the more confident outspoken students often need less.  From both of these examples of challenging assumptions I have seen that there are always pro’s and con’s for different types of teaching. The art to being a good teacher is being fluid and being able to crtiically evaluate which to use, when and why.

Throughout this first semester I have been supported and helped an unquantifiable amount by my peers and my personal tutor. The communication between us as a group has been a fundamantal part in my growth as a teacher. We have shared fun and fears and above all else we have shared unconditional encouragement throughout. It is conversations with my peers and tutor that have given me confidence to be more critically refelctive and to be happy to receive critical appraisals. At my placement college my mentors and colleauges have provided all the help and more than I could ever need. I am aware now that I am starting to sound like I am giving an Oscars speech but it is important to mention that my partner and family have supported me throughout this most demanding 3 months of my academic and professional life.

Historically, teachers were ‘responsible and accountable’ for student learning, teachers dictated the how, what, when and if of learning, with a teachers role being that of primarily transmitting information. Rogers (in Armitage et al 1999) feels that this role is long outdated and the teacher facilitator role should be much more prevalent.

On a personal level, as a teacher, I hope I’ve managed to be a teacher-facilitator some of the time. I also strived to encourage self esteem within my students and be the motivating teacher described by Wlodkowski (in Armitage et al 1999) I wanted to offer expertise, have empathy, show enthusiasm and display clarity and by doing all of this I wanted to motivate the group to want to learn. Above all I want to go into next semester and be an effective teacher, I want to be able to continue to be able to reflect on my abilities honestly and un-defensively, regardless of how painful it may be.

“Research shows that there is no personality type that makes a good teacher. Whether you are a shy introvert or an enthusiastic extrovert you can teach effectively, but only if you know how to learn from your mistakes and your successes” Petty (2004)