Learning to write a narrative of my teaching is proving to be harder than I thought. It is a whole new genre for me and requires me to be consciously mindful of things that I may have only subconsciously monitored in the past, or deliberately not wanted to face because of what it revealed to me as a teacher and as a person. nb’s link to her narrative in English Teaching: Practice and Critique is a great model, but I’m not sure how to do it myself. I guess that what’s this blog is for, to try to learn how to do this. The teacher as learner.
What is it that a teacher does? Teaching is not telling; that much we know, although students often still expect us to tell them the answers. Teaching is not presenting a worksheet and going through it with the class, although my student teacher overused this method. One of my students, G, when she was preparing for a SAC that she needed to do before the other students, as she would be overseas when they did it, told me accusingly that she had had to teach herself the skills of language analysis, as if she had expected something else from me. For me to provide her with the resources to learn what she needed to know before she was assessed was all I could do in the short time G gave herself. With the rest of the class, there were lots of opportunities to discuss, to learn annotation of persuasive articles in order to recognise how language positioned readers in certain ways, to read models of analysis, to practice analysing articles. In the end G decided she had been too ambitious in trying to do the SAC before she went and will complete it later. But her complaint that she had to teach herself still rings in my ears.
I like this definition of teaching: “Teaching is providing students with experiences that have the express purpose of bringing about planned changes in their capabilities” from the Centre for Learning and Teaching Support at Monash University. Unless our students say something, write something, make something, calculate something, do something, we will not be able to infer that any change in their learned capabilities has occurred.
What should an accomplished teacher know and be able to do? The Standards for Teachers of English Language and Literacy in Australia (STELLA) have something to say about this. The Standards have been developed by teacher members of Australian Association for the Teaching of English (AATE) and ALEA around Australia and are supported by national and state English Teaching Associations Councils in all states and territories. These bodies recognise that “professional standards only have validity when grounded in teachers’ own knowledge, experience, skills and values.” The standards are illustrated by keywords and questions related to the keywords, plus narratives by teachers who demonstrate the standards with reference to their own classrooms. An example of something that recently happened in my Year 11 English classroom that may be illustrative of the keyword: “Significance” and the question which asks: In what ways does the teacher provide all students with opportunities to participate in literacy learning that is personally and culturally meaningful to them? are the parent interviews done by the Year 11 students. This came about as a result of our study of the text One True Thing by Anna Quindlen. In this novel one of the themes is the developing of the relationship of the narrator with her mother, and the alteration of her relationship with her father as she comes to see more clearly the relationship between her parents. The question posed to my students was “How well does any child understand their parents?” In order to investigate this, the students had to interview one of their parents over the holidays, preferably the one they interacted with least. The students were to make up the questions and attempt to predict what the answer would be on aspects of the parent’s life: background, ambitions, fears, and hopes. The students would then write a one-page reflection on their interview. These were very moving in many cases. Some were so thoughtful and interesting to read that I have asked the students if they would be prepared to have them published in the school anthology of exemplary writing. This was one activity that I really had no idea would produce writing and reflection of such a high standard, but I believe that it is because that this activity was so personally meaningful to these students.