"It's Only Love", Bryan Adams
Back from prac! I have been thinking about this particular update for the last few days. Summarizing a month of in-school experiences can result in either a very brief account or a very long one. Neither one would be appropriate so I thought I would take you, my readers, through a given day at MLC from when I wake up to when I get home again.
Methodist Ladies College is located in the suburb of Kew, approximately 45 minutes by bus and tram from where I live. Having to rely on public transit to get from point A to Point B means my days tend to start a little earlier than other teachers' days. This early morning is compounded by the fact that students from about half a dozen different high schools cram into public transit like eight cats through a doggy door. You can understand why as a student teacher I might want to avoid that. This means that I would wake up around 6 to catch the 6:40 bus to Cotham Road. Needless to say I became accustomed to missing most of the daylight hours since the sun does not really rise here until just after 7am. So, I would crawl out of bed, still half clinging to the covers, and drag myself into the cold morning to get to school around 7:45. The school day begins at 8:30 which leaves me a nice period of time wherein I would have a cup of tea, settle myself on one of the comfortable couches in the Staff Centre, and prepare my material for the day. The Staff Centre at the college is a large building that houses the staff lounge, offices, the library, and the canteen (cafeteria). It is a private school and the presence of money is fairly apparent, from the new furniture and kitchen inside the lounge, to the spread of tea, coffee, and biscuits that comes out twice a day for all to enjoy. I made sure to enjoy it whenever possible. There were as many as twelve other student teachers from different universities doing their practicum at MLC when I was there. This is understandable as the school has nearly 2200 students from kindergarten to Year 12. It's a big place. It's also a very busy place.
On my first day a fellow student teacher named Bob from Melbourne Uni was also starting his practicum. We talked between classes and he would often give me a lift home. He was a good friend to have. We had many a good discussion on learning theories and other teacher shop-talk which made me appreciate how often new teachers talk about teaching. The effect of this constant pedagogical buzz on experienced educators probably enhances their professional pride or irritates the bejesus out of them. I'm not always sure which. In any case I would sit with my tea and my name badge waiting for the bell to chime and then it was off to class with my mentor. In History my mentor was a woman in her mid forties who migrated from Austria years ago. The result is that despite her excellent command of the English language, her accent has become an unusual combination of both German and Australian speech. She was a pleasant mentor to have because she did not take herself too seriously. My Year 8 History class was quite a bundle of energy. I'm hesitant to write any substantial details about my classes on this forum since it is public and could be accessed by my former students or mentors (not to mention the vast array of internet undesirables), and while I have only positive things to say about them it would be inappropriate for me list them here. My lessons in this class were really well received. The students seemed to like me and they worked well to earn my admiration. It may not come as a surprise that I have no butterflies about teaching in front of a group of students. Confidence is something that comes naturally to me when I am in that environment.
We are taught to be self-supplying when it comes to providing for lessons and for student learning, so I have a collection of markers, scissors, pens, erasers, etc, that I keep with me at all times. I always write a breakdown of the class on the board before getting started. It tends to centre the students who might otherwise be thinking about things going on outside the class. I taught three English classes but I enjoyed my Year 9 class the most. I was given the most opportunity to develop my own material here and we did a unit on poetry that I designed myself. The girls at the school come from a variety of different backgrounds and their academic abilities also fall across a wide range. There were very strong, intuitive students, and there were decidedly struggling students as well. As a teacher it made me feel needed, and that at the end of the lesson something has been achieved. Clever students will need little monitoring but there are girls who actually needed my presence to achieve their goals. I get a great deal of enjoyment from what I do in the classroom, and when the light goes on in the mind of a student who has often experienced darkness it is an added bonus. It certainly counters the old saying, that Primary teachers love children, Secondary teachers love their subjects, and University teachers love themselves!
Aside from classes I took on a whole host of other duties like monitoring students getting on and off the tram, which is a kind of organized mayhem, sitting in on staff and departmental meetings, and observing performing arts and national testing. They have a state administered test in Victoria called NAPLAN which is given in years 3, 5, 7, and 9, and measures both literacy and numeracy abilities in these years. It is very controversial because the compiled test data is used on a public website called My Schools, where league tables displaying poor student performance can effectively kill schools. Worse still is the practice many schools have adopted of asking troubled or struggling students to sit out the NAPLAN test since their presence will only serve to bring down the school average. The idea itself is appalling. Educators have their jobs, and governments have their agendas. I doubt this will change.
I was a good boy and brought my lunch every day, saving loads of money in the process. I tended to spend lunchtimes chatting with colleagues or furiously revising lessons for the day. I don't think I've mentioned so far but MLC is a laptop school. This means that every student above year 7 I think has a personal school laptop. Teachers and non teachers alike will immediately see benefits and drawbacks to this practice. One benefit is that it obviously saves money on paper. One drawback is that it was often a pain in the ass. For the younger students I believe the drawbacks far outweigh the benefits at the moment, but the upper year students tend to make better use of the laptops. There is Wi-Fi in every classroom and so the biggest classroom management challenge (and really the only classroom management challenge) I dealt with was the laptop issue. I had to be very clear when it was time to use the laptop and when it was time to put down the screens and pay attention. Even the very best students made their way to Facebook on a daily basis and as a teacher it is really important to go around often to see that students are staying on task.
The end of the day comes at 3:30 but it would be unprofessional to leave before 4 or 4:30. In the course of my 20 school days at MLC I taught 30 lessons (2250 minutes) and observed 27 lessons (2025 minutes) across a variety of methods. I wrote 57 lesson reflections. I attended 2 general staff meetings, 4 department meetings, and 3 staff birthday luncheons. I pulled tram duty, yard duty, test supervision duty, and homeroom roll call. I marked 44 tests, 21 presentations, 50 thematic assessments, 24 poems, and 10 poetry evaluations. I handed out 25 pencils (got 17 back), 14 pens, 2 glue sticks (missing in action), and 2 pairs of scissors. I made 72 photocopies, 22 lesson plans, 20 packed lunches, caught 30 buses and 40 trams, drank 50 cups of tea, and managed to successfully memorize 92 different students' names.
Deal me in. I'm ready.