When did I 'become’ a teacher? I’m so tempted to tell my own story of being a passionate graduate of English literature and wax lyrical about the trials and tribulations of teacher training college (which for me was a British university), my trepidation and subsequent elation having taught my first lesson, my mortification at not scoring 100% when my supervisor observed me teach, all the way to 12 months later when she ticked all the boxes on the observation sheet on her clipboard and I was subsequently presented with a certificate proving I had 'become’ a teacher. However, I’m sure I wouldn’t be able to capture the excitement and joy as well as Jessica has in her article, and besides, it was over a decade ago!
The concept and process of 'becoming a teacher’ is fascinating, especially if one considers that what constitutes 'being’ a teacher – at least according to some definitions existing in teacher training colleges and schools – potentially undermines or hinders the efficacy of a teacher. The 'tick boxes’ which we’ve all had 'ticked’ in order to qualify as teachers may add up to 'being a teacher’, but do not necessarily add up to the teacher facilitating progress in student learning, i.e., the role of a teacher.
I expect we’ve all experienced the typical lesson observation whereby the observer/supervisor watches the teacher throughout the lesson to check that they have identified the lesson objective, seated students in an orderly fashion, began the lesson promptly, provided resources, kept students on task, followed a detailed lesson plan, showed evidence of graded work and dismissed the class accordingly, and uses this evidence to judge or rate the lesson on a scale of unsatisfactory through to outstanding, and more often than not attributing a grade or a score to the teacher’s performance.
Last week whilst on a visit to one of our sister schools, my colleagues and I reflected with amusement that as trainee teachers one supervisor would praise them for creatively moving away from the lesson plan to accommodate students’ interests, whilst another would mark them down for the same thing.
This begs the question of why the goal posts of becoming a teacher move according to the actions of the teacher, rather than the effect the teacher has on learning - by this I’m not suggesting that this effect can be measured by test scores alone as this is only one measure of student learning.
So, since ‘becoming a teacher’ I have learned that the further away I get from being what I was taught constituted being a teacher, the closer I get to facilitating the learning of each individual student I teach and increasing the amount of learning in my classroom lesson by lesson, hour by hour.
Within our network of schools, one way in which we develop our teachers professionally and improve student learning is by visiting lessons and instead of focusing on watching what the teacher is doing, we focus on what learning is taking place: we look for evidence of learning by talking with the students and ascertaining whether learning is appropriate, engaging, easy, difficult or ‘just right’, where it fits into past and future learning, what is helping or hindering learning. These questions help us get to the core of what is important in the classroom: are our students busy or are they busy learning? Of course, the role of the teacher is fully considered, but only in so far as identifying whether learning is taking place because of (or in spite of) what the teacher is doing! Since being part of this process, I’ve come to understand that a teacher can ‘tick all the boxes’ in a classroom where there is no learning taking place, or can ‘tick none of the boxes’ where learning is taking place.
The hardest lesson I’ve learned in the last four years of teaching is that at certain moments the most profound learning can take place in my classroom when I step back (sometimes for several minutes) and allow my students to learn for themselves or to teach each other – something counter intuitive to most teachers I expect and which I would not have had the courage to do when being observed as a trainee teacher.
I believe I started 'becoming’ a teacher from the moment I became aware that my efficacy as a teacher should be judged on how much learning is taking place in my classroom and when subsequently I allowed my daily practice to be entirely influenced by this awareness. With this realization came a feeling of liberation and validation as I finally felt that I could teach intuitively, creatively and freely, incorporating my own personality and idiosyncrasies into my teaching. If I wanted to veer away from my lesson plan in the direction of the students’ interests to help ensure that learning was engaging, then I could do so without fear of ‘Failure’. Once I learned to let go of the tick boxes in my head and instead fully focus on the learning of each of my students, I began the privileged and exciting process of 'becoming’.
Kate Foy, World Class Learning Academy, NY email@example.com