Currently under construction

I’ve had some interesting responses to my post about the persona of perfectionism and yet again, those responses have got me thinking. A friend sent me an email saying that perhaps the reason teachers apologise for lessons where PSTs ‘won’t see much’ is because they know that their lessons are underprepared, or crappy, or boring and they feel guilty about that. That got me thinking again, and for a couple of reasons, partly it is because in some cases I know it can be true – like any profession there are those who don’t seem to care so much and don’t seem to work hard at preparing and teaching, those who just go through the motions (but even then I want to know why, what has led them to this point where they are just going through the motions?).

The other reason, though, is because I’m a hopeless optimist at heart and I like to believe that most of us who work in schools, do so because we want to create lessons that are engaging and which help students grow and develop (hmmm I really must do some unpacking of that word one day soon- what is engagement? When does it get confused with entertainment?). If we feel guilty though for not delivering a ‘great’ lesson, (and Hargreaves explores teacher guilt in his 1994 book too), maybe it’s because we know as teachers that perhaps our students aren’t getting the ‘best’ of us and the ‘best’ learning experience they could. So what is it that prevents us from showing and giving our ‘best’ on a daily basis?

 If teachers can ‘turn it on’ for model lessons or programs of observation by department heads for example, what is it that prevents them from doing that day in and day out? I keep coming back to an the old argument that the conditions of school life make it challenging for teachers – there is never enough time to do all the things we need to do, we wish for a few more moments to plan the perfect lesson, we hope for no interruptions, we wonder which students will be upset or angry or worn out with the world when they enter our classroom today.

We walk into the school day each morning to see the worlds of hundreds of young people clash around us and we try as best we can to give something to each of them. There are quotes from teachers I interviewed as part of my doctoral work that loom large in my brain, imprinted on my memory forever and one of them said about her work, ‘It’s about giving kids what they need’. Each day, teachers try and work out what it is kids need and how best to give it to them. Lesson after lesson, as 28 more people pile into the room, we look at them, read their faces, their body language, their voices and we try and work out what it is they need that day. In doing that our own lives collide with theirs, sometimes they will get the best of us as teachers, sometimes they might just get a shadow of that.

Another teacher commented on my facebook post that his ideal day was one where ‘in one out of six lessons I get close to Dead Poets. Sill working on that’. I read that comment and it made me smile. It reaffirmed my belief that most of us are in a constant state of being under construction – we keep working, planning, teaching, reflecting, hoping- we keep looking for the moments that are those when we walk of out our classrooms knowing that this is why we teach. I remember as a graduate teacher writing a piece for a national newspaper where I too pondered on the likelihood of having a Dead Poet’s moment – maybe no students have ever got up on desks and proclaimed ‘Oh captain, my captain’, but sometimes in the interactions and relationships formed with students I get enough reward anyway.

Enough for this morning, I need to get in the car and get to school. There are young people waiting.

PS. A case of semantics.

So in the hustle and bustle of yesterday I didn’t have time to post this on the blog and came home to read an email from a friend about the blog post – and in our usual ESP way she had started thinking about ideas that were starting to circulate in my brain about semantics and what we each mean when we speak or write about our understandings of teaching. I highlighted in this post when I wrote it that I wanted to unpack more about the notion of engagement – what does it mean? What kinds of understandings do I have about engagement and how might they differ to someone else’s? When I write about students getting the ‘best’ of us I’ve got it in quotation marks as I need to think more about what this actually means. What is the best of a teacher, does it not, therefore, imply a worst? How do we move beyond the simple categorisations to something more meaningful? This, like my work as a teacher, is all currently under construction….

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