Lately, I’ve been chewing over ideas about teaching and authority. Experiences as a student, volunteer, teacher and mentor have all linked together in my mind. Some reading this week about the development of teacher expertise has helped to bring it together a bit. There’s still more to ponder, but here are a few snippets.
A music teacher friend and I had a conversation about group work, its potential for poor behaviour/limited learning and how it can be hard to evidence teacher planning. We discussed how so much effective planning is not the planning that happens on a computer screen, but musical and organisational activities. Checking that there are enough plectrums and that the guitar leads still work, that worksheets have been properly collected in from practice rooms after the last class (hopefully not covered in willy drawings) so that lessons are about making music, not mending things. Ensuring that pupils have the relevant musical and social skills in order to work confidently together. Internalising the musical material yourself, or being sure that you have the musical skills needed to help pupils who are using their own sources. Above all, sensing when to change from the intended lesson plan in order to avoid a ‘disaster’ lesson, such as the days when it’s windy, there’s been an unplanned fire drill, and half the class are in PE kit because of a fixture after school. In those circumstances, it’s often much better to do some whole-class singing instead of battling on regardless!
Lots of this comes with experience, although that does not always equal expertise. Being sufficiently confident in one’s situation makes it possible to focus more on the pupils’ actions and needs than the actual processes of teaching and behaviour management. Status within, and knowledge of, a community is also important. Student teachers, and to a lesser extent any teachers who are new to a particular environment, do not have cumulative (often unofficial) knowledge of their communities in which they teach. Knowing that Sarah’s older brother is in Year 11, that Year 8 get early lunch on Wednesdays, that staff turn a blind eye to tie length but not chewing gum…details such as these make it far easier to be confident in the classroom, to communicate easily with pupils and colleagues, to avoid unnecessary battles. And we should never underestimate the positive impact of addressing people by name!
Last weekend I attended a free yoga class delivered by student teachers. Purely in terms of physical achievement, it wasn’t the ‘best’ yoga class I’ve ever taken – but I left feeling exercised, and energised both by the poses and the friendly atmosphere that was created within this temporary community. The student teachers were genuinely interested in us, and therefore interesting to learn with. It contrasted greatly with a class I’d taken a few weeks previously: The teacher then also seemed fairly inexperienced, apparently following a pre-determined script rather than engaging with the participants in front of her. I was bored, and resentful that I’d paid for a class that provided neither physical challenge or mental growth. Similarly, a friend sometimes sounds like she believes she is not capable of doing well in her own yoga class because she finds the poses hard and is not receiving any help to modify them. Again, I wonder if that teacher is sufficiently expert to look at the learning of those in the class, rather than concentrating primarily on her teaching.
Teaching is easier, and more effective, once you’ve developed eyes in the back of your head to see what is happening beyond your actions. And extra ears too, to hear what is not being said out loud. May we use these expert skills to engage with our pupils, but also to support newer colleagues who are still growing their extra eyes and ears.