Friday, 6 September 2013

Myth #3 "Those Lazy Teachers"


No matter what your job, when you do it well, you work hard. You make sure everything is on track, that all the i's are dotted and t's crossed.

I don't pretend that I can understand what it is that a doctor does, or an architect, or a bank teller. They aren't jobs that I have had personal experience in.

What do I know? I know what it's like to be a teacher.

This week's myth (and apologies that it is a couple of days late - things have been a bit hectic) is about the attitude that exists that teachers are just lazy.

"Teachers don't do anything...they just stand at the front of the class and talk".

Where does this come from? It comes from a perception with the media and society that all at teacher does is stand in front of a class and talk; maybe ask a questions and then have a students say something; and then it's back to talking again.

Yeah right!

That in no way resembles what happens...and even if you're what has so politely been described as a 'chalk and talk' teacher (although we may need to rethink that with the number of blackboards in schools disappearing) there is still a lot more that you do.

Let's think about this sensibly for a minute. Let me give you a window into what a teacher may be doing while there standing at the front of the room just 'talking' and being lazy-like.

A new unit has started and with the changes to the curriculum coming again and you've been up late at night reading to make sure you're on top of everything that has changed before your class. It's straight after morning tea (yay, you had 5 minutes to go to the bathroom) and you have already had to address an issue as students have lined up outside. A quick look at one of the students you have been keeping a close eye on shows that once again, they don't have a school bag with them, but they've bought their tattered book. You smile as the student beside them passes takes it upon themselves to lend a pen to them. While there are some up the front of the room - paid for by you - you've been encouraging students to share with their peers when needed and it's rewarding to see that happen. You will need to chase it up with the Office again to make sure that everything at home is OK.

The unit is about the media. You start the lesson by asking students to work as a class and brainstorm the different types of media that may get the news from. Hands fly up; examples are called out. You remind the students, that in this class we respect each other and raise hands; and ask for a student who has sat with their hand raised for the first example. "Twitter" you're told and you write it on the board. "Do many of you get your news from Twitter?" you ask. Lots of hands go up. "What's another example of where we can find media?". "The Internet" another student who has their hand up states when asked. And it goes on until the board is filled with ideas. You consider what it means that older versions of mainstream media 'television' or 'newspapers' were the last to be raised. While asking students for contributions to the discussion you have asked students with their hands up, students who aren't contributing and students who look a bit off task to get more engagement in the room and make sure everyone understands what is going on.

So far, so good. Then it comes. The knock on the door. You're 10 minutes into the lesson and a member of the Administration is at the door. You ask students to begin to write up the list from the board in their books as you walk over. You are asked if a student is in your class. When you nod in the affirmative, the Deputy Principal asks to speak to them. You go over to the student and ask them quietly to go out to speak to the Deputy Principal. The class starts to chatter. You hear words from them like 'what did they do now' and quickly pull the students back to their task by talking to them about the different types of media that they have identified from the board. The Deputy knocks on the door again and you make your way over. The student is struggling not to cry and the Deputy simply tells you that they will be fine and can go back into class. You acknowledge the Deputy's words but stay blocking the door so that other students can's see what is going on. You quietly ask the student if they are OK and they shake their head. You ask them to go over to get a drink, take a few deep breaths and then to come back into the room when they're ready. 

Your lesson needs to move forward. The data projector is set up, and you are planning to show the students a YouTube clip about how teenagers engage with media. As you press play the data projector doesn't turn on. It was working earlier. You check the cords and they all seem to be where they are. You go back and check the cable to the computer and unplug it an replug it. The students are starting to get restless. What started off well is quickly going off the rails because of interruptions. You notice two students who are shoulder-bumping and ask them to stop. You unplug the cable again. The data projector comes to life. You quickly press play on the clip asking the students to watch it through the first time. You go back the door as the clip plays, noticing that the students are settling down again. The student who has gone to collect themselves is standing by the door. You smile and they re-enter the room and take a seat. 

The clip ends and you ask for some thoughts about what was seen. One student raises their hand and says "Miss why are we learning about this? Doesn't the media lie about things?". And there it was, the question that just threw your lesson plan out the window. Quick thinking and a new activity to come...and it's only been 20 minutes.

Is it physically exhausting like what I would expect a builder would be doing on a work site? In most cases no, although I'd like to point out that there are teachers on hot ovals with students...

But it is exhausting. The specific focus that needs to be paid to what is happening, the quick change in activity when there is a change in circumstances. That is exhausting. And the whole time you need to have a smile on your face. You need to be aware of what every child is doing. Class sizes at 25/28 still mean that there are a lot of bodies in a small space that need to be supported. The example above doesn't even begin to look at what goes into the differentiation so that all student learning needs are catered for in the lesson. It's just a very 'normal' start to the lesson. The rewards are the students. Their support of each other and their curiousity to find out more.

A teacher is on show. A teacher has to always be alert and focused about what is happening in their classroom. That includes what happened at lunch, what you need to be aware of with students and what's happening at home. 

Do you know how to manage more than 20 people in a small setting at a single time? Do you know how to keep them interested and engaged in the lesson? Do you know how to support their individual learning and social needs?

It's not easy. That's OK because we're there for the students. We're not there for anything else. 

But some respect for the genuine complexity of the role; the many facets that make up a teacher's role need to be acknowledged.

And for those who simply sprout up with the line, "Teachers just stand there" I say this to you. 

If it is so easy...why don't you do it?

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