As I look back on my pre-internship, I am almost at a loss for words about what I have learned. I feel this way, because I feel like at almost every moment that I was teaching I was learning something new. Every sentence I spoke showed me if I was on the right track with the students or not, every demo or example, every game, and every video taught me something about my students, what they were learning, and how I needed to proceed. Every conversation I had with a student allowed me to learn more about them, their learning needs, and how I needed to teach them. So how is it possible to even begin trying to put those thousands of little moments into words?
Well, I’m going to try to put it into just two main ideas…ok, maybe three.
The most important lesson that I learned through the process of my pre-internship is FLEXIBILITY. Now, as gymnastics coach, you might think I understand the concept of flexibility pretty well, but, when it comes to teaching in the classroom, it was a concept that I had a difficult time adjusting to. When I’m coaching my gymnasts my flexibility and adaptability seems to come naturally to me. Didn’t finish a routine in the timeline I wanted to? No big deal, we’ll do it next class. Didn’t finish a lesson, a worksheet, or a project in the timeline I wanted to? I freaked out, cried, and thought I was an awful teacher. (Don’t worry, this was not in front of students, or anyone but my husband.) So what made this concept so difficult for me to grasp? Why was it that I could just let things roll of in an easy flow as a coach, and not as a teacher?
I think it comes down to my own perfectionist tendencies. I wanted my lessons to be perfect, and I wanted my unit to go smoothly, making sure to get in all of the fun lessons that I had planned. The problem is that students are not perfect, and neither is the classroom environment. Things come up that you can’t control! Students are away for various reasons, kids get into disagreements outside the classroom that migrate into the classroom, technology is sometimes not the friendliest of friends, students sometimes don’t “get” what you think is pretty straight forward, and your great ideas are not always that great in reality. I had a difficult time adjusting to this. I wanted my lesson plan to go as I planned it, and not have to somehow find a way to stop in the middle and pick up again next day. Having another teacher coming in right after me to teach (as we had to go teach another class usually), also meant that I had no option to even take a few extra minutes from the next period to finish something. At first, this was really devastating to me. I was so frustrated that the students just weren’t getting what I needed them to get or being able to finish what I needed them to finish, which meant having to find ways to add in more lessons, shuffle things around, and make the unit plan work somehow. My flexibility skills were being put to the test every day.
In addition to my own lessons, I also saw the need for flexibility in many other ways each day. Things just tended to “pop up”. There was the surprise arts workshop that de-railed the plan for the day for our classes outside of our grade 7/8 room and interrupted a super great lesson at the end of the day. There were times we forgot to book the laptops or iPads and had to make plans to share with another class. There were demos that didn’t go as planned, sound systems that didn’t work, photocopiers out of toner, computers that locked, accounts that crashed, fights between students, teaching guides misplaced, major power outages, and many more things that just meant that we, as teachers, had to always have a Plan B (or C or D!) ready to go. As the days went by, I definitely got better at this. I became less stressed about the “perfect” lesson, because I understood that it wasn’t real, or at least not in the way I had originally imagined it to be. The perfect lesson is not getting through what you planned out. I now understand the perfect lesson to be one in which you really connect with the students, and they connect with you, and you all are on the same page, and you are all learning together, are all engaged in what is going on, and all come away with some newly learned concept, even if it is learning more about each other.
The next most important thing that I learned is that CLARITY is crucial. If nothing else, you have to be so clear in your instructions to students that there’s no question about what you need them to do. And you need to give these instructions to students in many ways; telling them is not enough. Say it, give them a copy, have them write it down, post it on the board, write it in the sky, and even then you still have a chance that they will ask you, “What are we supposed to do?” When explaining what to do it’s also key to give an example of what you’re looking for from students. Don’t just expect students to be able to read or listen to something and then go and do it. I learned this the hard way a few times during my pre-internship, and then the next day had to back it up and re-explain how to do the activity. One great moment though, was when a pair of boys really listened to the re-explanation, realized they had done the activity incorrectly the first time, tried it again, and got 100% on the assignment!
This lesson also became very important when outlining expectations of students during a lesson. Sometimes you want students to discuss things, and it’s ok for them to just talk, but other times you need them to raise their hand. Sometimes it is ok for students to work in partners, but other times they need to work alone. Sometimes it’s ok for students to work in their own space in or just outside the classroom, but sometimes you need them in their desks. If you don’t outline these expectations at the start of the lesson, then students will just assume whatever they want, which can quickly turn classroom management into a living nightmare.
This concept snuck up on me multiple times during my pre-internship, and I think it’s one important area that I feel I still need to work on a lot. I certainly got better at outlining expectations and providing instructions the more I taught, but there were still many times where I could look back and go, “Right…that’s why things went as they did. I should have fixed that.” This is definitely an area that I hope I’ll get much better with during my internship.
I just learned so much during my time in the classroom, and I cannot wait to learn so much more during my internship! I had an uphill battle going into a classroom that I didn’t get the chance to work with during my first 7-week experience in the fall, but I am so grateful for all that this experience taught me. I learned so much from the students, the staff, my partner, and especially from my co-operating teacher. I’m not quite sure how I’m going to be able to go back to university next week, and stick it out for nearly three more weeks, but I’m hoping that the next three weeks will allow me to get even more excited about going back out to the classroom, and that I’ll be able to go and visit my class again soon!