Friday, 31 August 2012

Learning to be a teacher

Today is the last day of a three-week stint I've had supervising a student teacher. My student is in her second year of a four-year degree at a university in Victoria. She has been very impressive. During these three weeks, I've had a couple of reflections back to my own days as a student teacher, which are getting further and further away now!!
You often hear teachers [and student teachers] complain about the 'relevance' and usefulness of their teaching degrees. An oft-quoted comment is something along the lines of, "I learnt heaps on my teaching rounds, but I didn't learn anything at the Uni... "
Practising teachers will often bemoan the relative 'quality' of newly-graduated teachers, too - "what do they teach them these days..?" "they have no idea about x, y, z... " [x, y, z often referring to 'behaviour management', 'grammar' and 'explicit teaching'... ]

Why might this be the case? 

In the case of the dissatisfied / under-prepared student, is it the quality of the leaning that occurs at universities, the quantity / quality of practical experiences provided, or a combination of both..?
Universities are often criticised for a heavy reliance on outdated teaching approaches [exhibit a - the 'lecture']. I'm sure many teaching courses are moving away from a heavy emphasis on this model, but perhaps this is a change that needs to be accelerated! 

Many of today's university students were born post-1990 and have grown up in the internet age. They access information, learn and communicate in a much more technology 'heavy' way than earlier generations, as a result of this. 

What about experienced, practising teachers who shake their heads and tut-tut about newly-graduated teachers..? Does the problem always lie with the low 'quality' of the young teacher, or is part of the problem in this scenario the experienced teacher's desire for old ways / methods / approaches to be maintained and reinforced..? I think I've seen the latter a few times... 

As for my own teaching degrees [squinting in the rear-vision mirror now... ], I had a very positive experience and felt like I was well-prepared to have a go at life as a 'real' teacher. 
Yes, my courses had lots of lectures and, yes, I probably didn't learn much during these times! However, there were lots of opportunities for discussion-based learning in smaller tutorial groups and, importantly, I had some lecturers / tutors that were excellent models for how to go about being a teacher in a primary school setting. 
Another important aspect of my time at university was the content of the learning - a lot of the theories of learning and teaching approaches we focused upon were modern and moving forward from traditional approaches. Since I began my career as a fully-fledged teacher, I have certainly found schools to [generally] be a lot more conservative and slow to recognise the need for change in teaching and learning approaches.

Earlier, I mentioned that a commonly-cited student teacher's notion was that they learn the most from their practicums / teaching rounds. Even though I enjoyed and got a lot out of my learning at the university, I think I am in the same boat as the majority here - I really valued and am appreciative of the practical, first-hand experiences I had in schools working with 'real' students and teachers. The diversity of experiences I had over the course [get it..?!? 'course'... ] of my under-graduate years was a key element in my feeling of preparedness upon graduating and readying myself for the 'real thing'. 

We often cite research about and promote the value of experiential, student-centred learning for young people - I think this needs to extend to us as adult learners, too. We learn best by experiencing concepts first-hand and discussing our experiences with peers and colleagues. A the moment, this is a shift that seems to have greater traction in the classroom, than it does in universities and professional development experiences.