This is a journal of my experiences on teaching internship. Its two things: firstly, a tool for reflection, and secondly, the written equivalent of a nice, soothing dose of red wine at the end of the day. I hope some of my experiences will be useful to some other teachers in training, too. Best luck, everyone! And remember: no bad day at school can ever take your cab sav away from you.

Friday, July 23, 2004

ooh! excitement!

I just realised - I got a comment from someone I don't actually know!

Us newbies find stuff like that extremely cool. (Hi, Dee in the UK!)

Tomorrow, incidentally, I am trekking all the way out to La Trobe Uni to attend an english teachers' conference. There's a workshop on using blogs for literacy - I'll let you know how it goes.

On a non-educational but extra exciting note, after that I am going to belle and sebastien. (fyi, Rubes - nyah, nyah, nyah.)

Thursday, July 22, 2004

insight from the pros

Another thing worth documenting -

I had drinks (read: got slaughtered) with Chris & Allan on the weekend. Both (they're father & son, btw) are a kind of "corporate philosopher" - they introduce different groups to philosophical/ethical/empathic discourse, and talk about things like e.q. and spiral dynamics and lots of things that involve the word "integrated".

Nice work if you can get it...

Anyhow. Several very useful things I picked up, especially on questioning. Compare these questions:

"Why do you think that?"
"What's the reason for that?"

Insinctively, I would use the first one. But consider this: most of the times when "why" and "you" get used together, its negative/confrontational ("Why do you always do that?" "Why didn't you call?" etc.) Also: that question is not about the idea, its about YOU. When you speak, you commit to the idea - you can't modify it or change your mind, its about YOU.

"What's the reason for that", alternatively, takes "you" out. Its a much safer question to answer, and the speaker isn't committed to it (a pro and a con depending on context). It also forces the logic/motive/kernel out of the thing - you have to justify, not just faff about. "Why" can involve lots of sideways, unjustified answers, "what" requires a condensed justification.

Another thing - they gave me feedback on the year nine bloodbath.  I'm not sure I agree (in fact, I don't) but another take is always interesting in situcations like this. According to allan and Chris, taking them on was the right thing to do - and the fact that it was painful and horrible is fine, that's exactly what it should have been. They analogised it to popping a boil - hurts like hell, and is red raw for a long time afterwards, but it won't heal until you crack it open and scoop out the nasties.

There's something else - and this is a spiral dynamics thing (google it, I dare you) about hitting people where they're at - basically, the idea being that you can't reason with a charging bull. Sure, I could model reasonable and empathic behaviour at the charging bull, but the bull a) isn't likely to recognise it and b) wouldn't be able to do anything useful with it if it did. Until, that is, the bull ascends above the aggerssion level and develops more sophisticated reasoning and conflict resolution abilities. How? Well, that's the bit my beer soaked noggin didn't quite work out... but I will.


busy, busy, busy...

Well, there's lots going on - I have just been given not one but two extra classes! Actually, three. I am now in charge of the philosophy forum (year ten gifteds), the year 8 SOSE/ESL class (I meet them next period), and the philosophy unit three students (all two of them. REally.) So - a bit busier than before.

An interesting thing has happened in year eight english - I have a new student. His name is J, and he is nine. NINE.

J is a great kid - very enthusiastic, very sharp (obviously). He comes in for english and maths, and apart from that learns by distance ed. He is also nine.


Here's the thing - the book we are reading, Northern Lights, is about puberty. Puberty is at its absolute core. Its dark, its about morality, its about loyalty, and its about the brink of adulthood. How can a nine year old get into this stuff? Part of me really hopes he doesn't get it - he's already cognitively ahead of his group, presuring him into a level of physical/social development that he's just not at (and cannot be at, and should not be at) is an awful prospect. This book could, to all intents, be a very damaging read for him.

Today's 8S English, by the way, was beautiful - we had our first community of enquiry, and right away they were bouncing ideas off each other rather than just sending them through me. Super. My toy monkey gleek (go the wonder twins!) got quite a work out being tossed around the circle. Poor thing.

Friday, July 16, 2004

thank god #2

Well, our first post-trauma year nine class went fine. We did like W suggested - as structured as the sydney harbour bridge, and no direct mention of wednesday's drama. Nice achievable grammar excercise, quick debrief on the unit to come, and a space-related crossword to get us in the sci-fi mindset.
Here's the shock: the behaviour. the girls:
1) asked more questions in class
2) spoke cheerfully to each other and collaborated
the boys:
1) sat broken up across both the front and back rows (centre being the girls' zone)
2) kept their language in check for the whole lesson
3) some of the most macho ones collaborated (effectively) with some of the girls on the crossword.
We've got a long way to go - getting shush was still tricky, and they haven't learned to speak in turns. But we've got a nice starting place.
(I told my mum about the class and she, being a Mum and therefore omnipotent, hit the nail on the head. She asked if they had a standard curriculum. I said no. She said "So you mean they don't have any goals, and they won't know when they've achieved them."
Mums. Honestly.)

oh, thank god.

Wendesday's year nine class was horrific.
What I noticed on the first day - a significant difference between boy and girl contributrions - showed its true face. The boys (and they are marvellous, sparky boys), are prone to sexist jokes. Jokes, put-downs, attacks, you name it. I heard a couple during group work out of the side of my ear, and just as I was stopping the class, a new one came out - at me.
("guys, can I have your attention!"
"you can have my attention any day miss!" (insert pelvic thrusts).)
Did I crack it? Yes I did.
Cracking it was fine - Angry Face Zoe did her "its not just offensive, its ILLEGAL (kindof)" routine with aplomb. But then the boys got Interested. Interested and defensive - a bad, bad mix. They wanted to know - if the girls were offended, how come they didn't say anything before? They can speak up in class if they want to, miss, can't they? Its just a joke miss - don't they know that? and my fave - "but sexism is something the government does, miss!"
In retrospect, I should have dropped the whole thing and gone in more subtly (like I'd planned on day one) later. But they were trying to dominate me, and the button in my head turned over to "if you stop this argument, they'll think they've won." Maybe so, but in with 20-20 hindsight, that would have been better.
So it just kept going. The further it got, the quieter the girls were. I didn't want to push them into defending themselves (ie. I don't want them to turn into toughnuts, I just want an environment where they can have a go), so I let them - end result, girls still have no say. Then the boys (interested/defensive) started to ask them questions directly. And I am ashamed to say A started to cry.
So: we were out of control. And getting no-where. In our second class ever.
Here's where the "oh thank god" factor comes in.
B just saw me outside (she busted me smoking, actually - there WILL be repercussions). She wanted to know what we were going to be doing in English for her English tutor (fair question - it was a "setting up" week, which means we have neglected, say, content.) Then she looked at me and told me this:
"Its good that we had that talk the other day, miss. Cos we had science today and the boys were heaps nicer. They used to say stuff, like, to A all the time like pimple-face and stuff but today they were nice. Its good."
I told her quickly that all I wanted was for everyone to have a fair go - the boys aren't my favourites and the girls aren't either, just that everyone should get a say.
The look of relief I got back was like a little piece of gold.

Tuesday, July 13, 2004

...and now, year eight.

Walking into the year eight class was a bit different. They are very, very competent, but a bit rowdy. Admittedly, I met them on period five of the first day back, which makes it all a bit more challenging. But they were ROWDY.

I was warned by their pe teacher that they were a good group going through a sticky patch. My reading on gifted ed makes me think they're a bit antsy from being a bit bored, not moving fast enough. I'm sure though that they've been moving at quicte a clip in English - W is an excellent teacher, and the work she showed me of theirs is of a very high quality (which backs up my impression of her as an excellent teacher).

I'm not sure if I was a bit too straight with them yesterday - when I couldn't catch their attention after the name-plate excercise, we had Very Firm Words about what the teachers' job is, and why it is NOT behaviour management. Its funny - right on walking in, but not before, I settled on the idea of fostering (or demanding, as it happened in this class) responsibility. I'm not sure why that urge struck so strongly - I wish I could peg it to one stimulus or another. Either way, I have - and have communicated that I have - very high expectations of this class. I suprised myself by how honest I was with them off the bat about how I operate, what I expect, and what they'll need to do. Maybe too much, actually - too much honesty can look either contrived or self indulgent. I was "demanding" the minute I walked in the door, especially when they went rowdy, and I feel now that I was putting too much focus on myself/maintain control even when I was talking about their needs. I'm going to have to do some careful, obvious listening to gain trust and still maintain that honest, fast-moving, everyone-responsible-for-themselves energy I walked in with. If I back off on that energy, then I'll look (or rather, be) inauthentic.

Still, its better to start off a bit harder and then back down... and I really do want to foster personal responsibility in this class. I can't put my finger on why, but they seem to be itching for it.

The year eights also did the three questions (best/worst thing ever done in english, and what makes a good english teacher. Bless their socks - they are excellent reflectors. Stand out comments include:

first day - year nine

well, day one went pretty nicely. I've already told at least six people all about what happened, so I'll do some more specific stuff here.

Initial impressions... the year nines were great. Pretty rowdy, but easy to snap back into line, too. Unbelieveably, I managed to squeeze a written, an oral, and a reading-based diagnostic into the double, and I explained that they were diagnostic without sounding too condescending. I said it was all about getting to know them and where they're up too, and it is.

We did four activites: The first one was my old fave icebreaker, the "write your name and favourite movies on this piece of paper so I can read it", with fun textas and so forth, and we had some discussion about the value of different interests. That got noisy, so we pulled it back with a silent writing activity/diagnostic (silent "because I want your opinions, not your friends'). I used three questions, and they worked very nicely:

1) Whats the best thing you've ever done in english? Why?
2) What's the worst thing you've ever done in English? Why?
3) What makes a good English teacher?

The best thing was universally "watching the sixth sense because we didn't have to do any work", and the worst was "bridge to wiseman's cove". Figures.

Next we played "tell two lies and one truth", a great game that was also the oral ability diagnostic. Each class members twlls two lies and a truth, and the others have to guess which is which. They were champs at it - we've got a lot of confident, competent speakers in the room. Next we had a loose chat about what they like to do and what they don't - "make it up as you go along", "talk to each other" and "no question booklets" came up as the key ones (no suprises there...). Finally, a second silent diagnostic (reading comprehension), by which time they were pretty exhausted but still knuckled down beautifully. Actually, I think they might have been trying to impress... always a good start. (The vice principal walked in while they were doing it, and some didn't put their pens down they were writing so hard... rude, but it looked kind of impressive, too. I love it when they make you look good at the right time... hee hee hee.)

All in all, I'm thrilled (or more honestly, perhaps a little overconfident) about the precedent we set - I was pretty tough but we still had fun, everything moved nice and fast with good clear changeovers, and it was messy at the right times. They appreciated being asked their opinions, and although I laid down the law pretty strongly we had some good laughs. They also seemed pretty happy that I didn't like "two-stroke shane" (aka. "dick and jane take smack") either.

Student expectations are funny things. When we taked about what we liked to do, one boy said "yeah, but you're not actually going to DO that fun stuff, are you miss?"

Little does he know...

One thing that bothered me was this. There are five girls and eight boys, and the boys dominate VERY BADLY. They were noisy, domineering, and took personal shots at the girls when they got up to speak. The girls were quiet as mice - they were kind of numb, or blocked off, not like they didn't want to participate but as if they couldn't. I'm not sure how to tackle this - I'm tempted to actaully talk about gender, but I know that will make the boys feel victimised and the girls feel self-conscious (and probably the subject of more attacks). One girl, H, flat refused to play the lies/truth game, until I whispered to her that I thought the boys were a bit "bossy" and I want the girls to have a shot but I can't actually play the game for her. The small triumph was that she did get up and have a go, the loss was that she got badly heckled when she did. There's a lot of work to do here.

That brings me to curriculum... there is no rigid curriculum, its all more or less up to me. S (the KLA coordinator) wants me to do horror, but having been in the class, I think that will really hinder any efforts to get the girls involved - its a very male genre to start with, and although the boys will love it, they'll probably continue to dominate the hell out of the girls just through their enthusiasm for gore. I'm thinking now I'll gear it towards science fiction, for two reasons:

1) There's room in scifi for feminine and masculine thinking, because there's a lot of philosophy involved

2) (way trickier) Scifi is perceived as very masculine, and as dominated by male authors and readers. If I can establish a female presence and role in scifi (and it IS there), I can help the girls see other boy-dominated areas where they have a role too.

2.5 ...and it wouldn't hurt to talk about gender relations in an abstract, non-real and therefore non-threatening (but still relevant as all hell) type of context, either.

Also if we do scifi, we can design aliens. I LOVE making aliens.

girl aliens, that is...

Sunday, July 11, 2004

great expectations... and not.

So it all starts tomorrow.

The funny thing is, even though I have been to all the meetings (and I know not everyone has), and have read the texts (same), and I know the school (again, same), I feel unprepared. Its funny - the more I prepare, the less prepared I feel... I guess the more preparation you do, the higher you raise your own personal bar, and all of a sudden you're measuring yourself against a standard that no-one else expects you to hit. Its a tricky trap.

(I even have seven spag bol dinners in the freezer for nights when I'm too busy to cook. THAT'S how prepared I am.)

My expectations of myself today kind of lock in with beginning teacher expectations in general. A lot of my dip ed friends from last year have said this about their first year - that in order to teach effectively, you have to let the standards set by uni slip a bit. The standards set for us were pretty high - absolute engagement of every single student all the time, in real-world, student-centred, multiple-intelligence-supportive environments... pretty daunting. Useful ideas, beautiful ideas, ideas worth aspirinf to, but maybe ideas which are not useful right now.

The student-centred utopia... that's the goal, and its a good goal. "Goal", however, is a pretty big word - its what I'm aspiring to, sure, but if I'm going to keep my sanity I can't pretend that I'll walk into a classroom and there it is. R and I have been telling ourselves this for ages - we are, at the end of the day, still at the beginning of the day. Its great to know where we're headed, but we're sure as hell not there yet and, more to the point, we couldn't possibly be.

And as far as I'm concerned, that's a good thing. Where would the challenge be if I was the best teacher I possibly could be right now? I'd be bored and moving into the public service inside of five years.

I haven't walked a mile in a teacher's shoes yet, so I can't know. The best I can do now is start on the right foot - even if I'm wearing the metaphorical equivalent of k-mart sneakers. These sneakers will give me blisters, and the sole will come unglued, but I have seen my nine-inch heeled oroton slingbacks in the distance, and I'm saving up for them.

(How's THAT for a metaphor? I love being an English teacher.)

Saturday, July 10, 2004

for the record...

It might be a good idea to put up some background on where I'll be working, and how. I have two English classes for these ten weeks, one year 9 (regular stream) and one year 8 (gifted stream). I'll also be taking a philosophy class in conjunction with Monash, although I'm not sure how that's going to work - its not timetabled, so we'll see what happens. That's what "seven cups of coffee" ( is for - I'm trying to get all those crazy year tens out into the blogosphere too...

The school is an inner city one, and I have to say - its cool. Very cool. I mentioned it to one of my lecturers, and he responded "oh, THAT school! That place is like heartbreak high!"

And I think he might be right.

No, I haven't started teaching there yet and no, I haven't spent that much time there but it feels right - not a good fit for everyone, but a potentially excellent fit for me. I think (hope) I'll fit in there pretty well - it looks like the type of school I always hoped I'd wind up in, but for a long time I wasn't convinced that that type of school actually existed. My initial impressions were of a school with a lot of pride, a lot of heart, and busy - lots of great things going on all over the place. The staff I've met have been bright and enthusiastic, too. I have to admit - finding so many engaged, welcoming teachers was not so much a "nice suprise" as a "complete shock". After normal teaching rounds, having staff walk up and introduce themselves to me was a bit of a blindsider.

Back to my classes. Year 8 has 21 students in the class, and we're reading "Northern Lights". I cannot recommend this book highly enough - it is EXCELLENT. Very fast paced, sometimes disorientingly so, but full of the dark, nasty, and true things that harry potter is edging towards. Year 9 has 13 students (yes, you heard me - THIRTEEN, how good is that?), and we're doing a dodgy little book called two-stroke shane before starting a unit on horror. That, I think, will be extremely good fun.

And in philosophy? Well, who knows what will happen there - it'll be sweet, though. Very sweet.

the nice stuff or the dirt?

Well, I have two days till I start my internship. Its exciting. There a couple of things I just haven't done yet, but I will... once I've finished having fun with my new blog, that is...

The blog is already posing a couple of problems. I know I don't want my students reading it, but what about my supervisor and other staff members? On the one hand, it might be nice to know if my reflection is on the money or not, but on the other, what if I see something at school that I DON'T like, and I want to comment on it? What if I want to submit this as part of my assessment?

You know, I think I might actually move the blog a bit so its a teeny bit more anonymous... or rather, a bit harder to find. And I think I might keep the name of my school secret, too. What's the point of reflecting if you can't reflect on the dark, dirty, teacher-centred (little pedagogy joke there)underside of the profession? Besides, if I was reading this, that's what I'd want to hear about...

I'm expecting this to change shape quite a bit, but for the meantime I'll keep it open.