We’ve all heard that internship teaches you a lot. We’ve all heard that interns make mistakes and learn from them. We’ve all heard that there can be a lot of stress, and even tears, during internship. We’ve all heard that internship is challenging and some days you feel like you hit a wall. We’ve all heard that it can be a tough four months, but we don’t always hear the rest of the story.
What we don’t hear about is HOW interns learn, and what that process looks like.
Let me start out by saying that I’ve been really enjoying my internship. I have a great class, a wonderful co-operating teacher, and have been having a lot of fun. Sure, some nights I’m up quite late (or is it early…) planning things and making sure my lessons for the next day are just right, and sometimes I’ve stressed about getting the curriculum covered the way I think it should be, but overall it’s been great.
Now to the story…
Last Tuesday my advisor visited my class to do an observation of my teaching. I was beginning a brand new unit in subject I’d never taught before, social studies. I had worked with my co-op to make a great outline of the unit and I had a great concept for my first lesson. It was going to get the students excited about the unit, introduce the concept and be a lot of fun. Now, my class schedule is a little funny and on this particular day I had all of my students for half an hour and then the grade 6s went to band while the 7s stayed for more of the same subject. I thought the first part of the lesson went great. I did a bit of a modified think-pair-share concept as we explored the topic of our unit of inquiry, and all of the students were so engaged in the conversation. It was maybe a little noisy, but I don’t mind a kind of excited topic-related noise in the room. After the first half though, when I just had my 10 grade 7 students is where things started to go sideways.
I’ve struggled with management of my 7s before. They are just a loud and rowdy group; always blurting things out (subject related or not), and keeping them in check can be an issue. I moved them to a central point (which is usually a must with them), and we carried on with a deeper conversation that we had started with the whole class. For some reason though, my 7s thought that this period was one where they could just be silly and blurty and disrespectful to everyone in the room. I tried all my usual tricks – moving students, removing distractions, re-setting the focus of the class, and nothing worked. But hey, my advisor was there, what was I to do? So I tried to push on with the discussion, continually battling with a few students who were struggling to stay focused and on topic, and what should have been a 15 minute discussion took the entire 30 minute period. I was exhausted. I knew I should have stopped, really addressed the issues, and then tried again to re-set the lesson. But I didn’t, and I felt so terrible.
Following my lesson, as it was the end of the day, my co-op and I sat down to de-brief. I knew I could have and should have done better. I tried to be strong, and explain why I did what I did, but I knew there was more I wanted to do. I tried to be brave and hold back my tears of frustration, but they came anyhow. I let it all out. Through it all though, my co-op and my advisor reminded me that I have the power in my class; I’m in control. I can stop things. I can start again. I can require my students to listen. I think the tears came more because I knew this was totally true.
Ironically, my unit and my lesson are all about power. Who has it in different situations and how we must work within a system of power and navigate amongst the good and the bad sources of it. I have the power in my classroom, and I need to use it. My students know that teachers have power and the authority to use it, I just have to have the courage to show it.
So, after 90 minutes of tears and realizations I tried to regroup and make a plan for action. Should I have used more power? Yes. But were my students still acting irresponsibly? Yes! So I made a plan for my next lesson to be about social obligations to others, about respecting those who have rightful power and authority, and taking ownership for their actions. I took a cue from my good friend, Amie, who had a very similar experience a few weeks earlier. She had her students write apology letters and explain their behaviour, and I tried the same with my students.
The next class was a VERY different one for sure. We discussed the previous class, why the behaviour they exhibited was not acceptable, considered what could have gone better, and establish an understanding of expectations. We even took a “field trip” to view the banner hanging in the front of the school that showcases the values that we are to uphold: I am responsible, I belong, I want to know, I respect. Students were very sombre, realizing that they were not upholding any of these values in the previous lesson. Upon our return, students wrote formal letters outlining what happened and how they hoped to adjust their actions for future classes. I applauded students for being able to reflect on their actions, and shared some of my own reflections also. This hour long class went by quickly, and really helped set the tone with my students.
Now, the next class, that’s where things really changed. Just this Tuesday I had another shot with my grade 7s all on their own, again after a half hour period with the entire class. This time though, was great. I took the time to totally re-set the lesson, outline the expectations again, did a fun dance break, and got into a topic that was a little different than what we’d been doing with the whole class. Was it the most exciting thing? Nope, not even a little. We were looking at some sources of power, had some really good discussions about what they would look like, and recorded some student-created definitions of some terms. The class was very respectful, engaged in the discussion, and we got done what needed to be accomplished for the period. I was very proud of them, and of myself, for the turn around in attitude and outcome.
When I started writing this post after my lesson on Tuesday, and now it’s Thursday, and I’ve had another hour long class with my 7s. I thought that 3rd class with them was something pretty great, but today was even better! Today’s lesson was a look into some organizational power and the levels of government in Canada. We played games, worked as a team, watched videos, answered questions, had discussions, had some disagreements, looked up answers, played more games, learned new things, and ALL of it in a very respectful, calm, yet totally engaging setting! It was a wonderful way to end out the day. I was so pleased with today’s class and am so proud of both my students and myself for really coming full circle on the issues we had been experiencing.
I start my 3-week solo teaching block on Monday, and after today’s lessons I definitely am going into things feeling more confident in my ability to get things done, and not only done well, but done with the cooperation and engagement of my students. I thought the third time was the charm, but today really showed me that sometimes the fourth can be even better.