Reflections on my pre-service teacher days

I started this post while I was sitting in a meeting room at the private school which my sister attends as a student. It reminded me of something…

I am generally at home in schools. I have worked in a number of them and visited even more, but all have the same feel to them, teachers generally know the way things work. Instinctively they know that there is going to be a sign in the staffroom about cleaning up after themselves (there is here too), the students are going to be loud and the teachers are all busy. The school I am in at the moment is not unlike the one which I work in – we deliver the same curriculum and we are all trying to do the best for our students. But it is a different kind of place.

In my teacher training I spent time in two different schools at opposite ends of the socio-economic spectrum – a mysteriously large public high school and the most prestigious private school in that part of the state.

Teacher training is difficult. You are not a fully formed teacher ~ the knowledge is developing, the skills are beginning to sink in, and the “who you are” as a concept of teacher self is starting to take shape. Being a ‘pre-service teacher’ in an environment which is hostile to the presence of beginning educators leaves scars.

Today I am having flash-backs just sitting in this room. On my first day at the school I was told that if I stayed ‘out of the way’, offered support to the students when they required it under the direction of the classroom teacher, my final report “would be glowing”. And it was. Even though I forgot to wear my hat on two occasions. There were a number of things which came out of that experience, mostly that being in a school which really doesn’t match either my teaching or personal philosophies on education (or life for that matter) is a challenge which I don’t want to go through again.

It was the easiest prac ever – I didn’t have to prepare anything as it was all dusted off and given to me the day before I was to teach it. I was able to add my own touches from time to time (I knew how to work the IT in the room, so I converted some of the lessons to use that – teaching my mentor teacher how to use it at the same time) but for the most part I was unable to actually ‘do’ anything. I participated in the school cultural activities, I was amazed at the academic procession at the formal assembly (teachers in full academic robes – they looked very important), and was astounded at the disconnect between what they said and what they did when it came to the relationship between student care and curriculum outcomes.

Let me explain…

The school had made the front page of the paper when a student overdosed on drugs, it was thought that the senior kids were taking drugs as a way of escaping the pressure of exams, one had died, two had been hospitalised and six had been expelled. I was there for the lead up to exams the year following this. Teachers were asked to keep an eye on the students looking for signs of drug taking and that needed to be reported to management immediately so that the parents could be contacted. In the next breath they were told to remind students that these exams were the ‘most important’ thing they would do all year and to remind them of the consequences of failure. They were the mid-semester practice exams.

I didn’t fit in the school culture of the elite school. I saw it as a place which was play-acting at creating an inclusive school culture because you can’t have all of the lovely curriculum outcomes and ignore the whole student at the same time. They are linked. And I am doing the research to prove it.

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