Saturday, 17 November 2012

Surf's up

There are numerous analogies to describe teaching, one of them, as these anecdotes may well demonstrate, is like surfing. When it goes well it is like the moment the surfer stands on the board, feet planted firmly and steadily on his steed; his balance is assured and he catches the wave. Whilst the surfer must literally think on his feet, adjust his balance to keep riding the wave and maintain momentum it is a sensation that cannot be bettered.

At other times, it is like a surfer having a bad day at the office.  You paddle like fury, trying to catch the wave, you leap onto the board, your balance is never quite right and you just cannot catch the wave.  But just when you're about to give up, you have one last try and you catch the last wave before the sea returns to calm.  It is a small victory, but a victory nonetheless. 

A potential custard pie moment turns into a victory or the peaks and troughs of being brave. 

Often what teaching feels like

On a Monday morning, lessons 1 -3, I have my Year 12 Media Studies class: I cannot tell a lie, it's a pleasant way to start the week. I have twelve students in total.  Ten from my school and two girls from a neighbouring Academy who don't offer the subject. They are an amiable bunch and seem to have taken to me like ducks to water.  

We have been studying and analysing Chris Morris' rather excellent 'Four Lions', focusing on the representation of Muslims. We had already looked at the predominantly negative representation of Muslims in the British Press (using the Daily Mail; it wasn't hard to find evidence of that, I can tell you). 

Sunday night, I planned their lesson, and feeling a little brave, I decided to use @LearningSpy's 'ultimate teaching method' of 'Home' and 'Expert' groups. I am always honest with the pupils if I am trying something new with them. I tell them I've not done it before and that it could all go horribly wrong. Again, taking a leaf out of @LearningSpy's Samuel Beckett quote, I tell them, 'This might go horribly wrong, if it does, we'll work out how to do it better next time.' 

The pupils were placed into 4 expert groups and assigned to a main character in 'Four Lions' with a structured note sheet to focus them. It had a hexagon in the middle with prompt questions in the centre and around the outside the methods of representation were noted against the side of the hexagon: Action, Reaction, Dialogue, Mise-en-scene, Camera shots and Movement, Editing. We watched the middle section of the film, pausing to discuss their findings once in a while and allowing them to discuss and make notes on their sheets. (I will try and find a picture of it to insert here).

During the last section of the lesson they were placed in their 'home' groups. Each 'home' group now contains an 'expert' on a main character of 'Four Lions' and how they are represented in the text.  They are now responsible for teaching each other how their character is represented and why?  Some groups are more comfortable with this than others, but they eventually warm up to it and busily teach each other what they have learned, whilst I move around the group playing devil's advocate to extend their thinking. I confess, this was also because I seemed and felt largely redundant and needed to 'do' something. 

At the end of the lesson, one of the boys, who only joined the group a couple of weeks ago, walked out and thanked me for the lesson. I enthusiastically respond with, "Thank you for the ''Thank you"; we don't get it that often." 

Wrestling hatchlings or catching and riding the wave

I am lucky enough to have a top set Year 7 on my timetable; I say that but the class contains what can best be described as the three naughtiest and most difficult boys in the year group. However, according to their Schonnell and GLA reading test, they are able, so should be there. 

One of them comes from a local clan who has a history of producing problematic children to teach. You see the surname on your register, remember the sibling you attempted to teach a few years ago and grimace. This boy is also, from what I can gather, the shortest pupil in the year group. He makes up for his small stature with his personality in large spadefuls.  You can translate that to demanding and attention seeking behaviour patterns in class. I often have to send him out of the lesson so I can at least deliver instructions, without being interrupted, and get the rest of the class on task. 

It was their last lesson of the week, Thursday Period 6. The class are in and settled and the pupil, again, interrupts me while I'm speaking to the whole class.

Pupil, "Hi Miss! Did you miss me?"
Me, "Do you miss a verruca when it is not there anymore?"
Pupil, "Eh?"
Me, "Nevermind."

A few of the girls, who are fed up with his one man mission to destroy lessons, smiled at me. One in particular, whom he is often unpleasant to, looks up at me with a knowing smile. I look down; we exchange glances. I move on to explain their task. (Dead simple, a table of prefixes, roots and suffixes and they have to work in teams to produce the most compound and complex words). 

As I'm putting the class into groups, I take a gamble and let the three naughty boys work together. One of them is particularly good handing out dictionaries and he is the one to point out they can make compound words as well as complex.  I feel apprehensive but optimistic at the same time. It was a gamble, but it might just work. 

As I sit next to them to keep them on task, another lad strikes up a conversation with me.  This pupil, along with his naughty friends, often make inappropriate and mostly negative comments about girls, and women in general, in class; it would not be hyperbole to say it is verging on the misogynistic.  He also displays an arrogance I have rarely, if ever, seen in an eleven year old boy. 

Catching the last wave

Pupil, "Miss, do you have a boyfriend?"
Me, and I have to say this is pretty much my default answer since I've been teaching, "No."
Pupil, his tone being quite serious (if only he were joking), "Do you want one? Do you want to go out with me?" 
I say this as calmly and as gently as I can manage, because I am rather astonished that he should say this and mean it, "What? Go out with an eleven year old? I'm not that desperate, thank you."

His two mates chuckle and inform him he has been 'had' by a teacher.  He is somewhat quieter for the rest of the lesson. 

The rest of the lesson goes well as I take down word totals for each group and write them on the board, which makes the teams even more competitive and eager to work. The lesson, including the naughty gang, becomes a hive of enthusiastic, competitive activity. 

It has been a few weeks since that lesson has taken place.  The naughtiest boy in the class is now in our Learning Support Unit; the lad who asked me out is now trying really hard in lessons and his work is improving as a result; his friend still pushes his luck but is now able to have 'good' lessons on occasion.  

Surf's up

Teaching is one huge balancing act (imagine the analogies you can form from this metaphor!).  We are on a constantly moving waters, pulled in and out by the moon, whipped up by the wind or it is as eerily still as a glass mirror.  Often we don't know which is it is going to be on any given day (or lesson for that matter).

Sometimes the waves are huge, terrifying even, but you still leap on the board, find your balance and catch the wave.  Sometimes, no matter how hard you try, you cannot catch the wave, but it doesn't stop you trying because you remember how darn GREAT it feels when you eventually do. 

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