Wednesday, 17 September 2014

You're 'The Tough Love' teacher...

"You are harsh and intense, but only because you know you have to be if your students are ever going to really learn. Your students may hate you in the moment, but will be grateful for your teachings later on in life."... The Tough Love Teacher

It's hard to resist a Buzzfeed quiz when it comes up in your social network feed. The "What kind of teacher are you?" one particularly slow, especially at this stage of the year.

I am always return to Tom Bennett's guide to returning to school at the end of August (find it <here>) as every teacher needs to remember that there is a real need to re-establish with new classes, whoever you are. Even established members of SLT need to show classes that they are 'good enough' (and ultimately this is why classes do push boundaries... they need to know you are good enough to teach them).

Entering my 4th year at my current school, I am reasonably well-established. As part of the RE department and leading assemblies, as well as now Head of Y10, I am also quite a visible member of staff who many students fell they know, even if I have not taught them. However, this counts for very little come September.

I always do a seating plan, except for 6th form. I always print off photos and try to learn names as soon as possible. I always spend at least one lesson giving out my classroom rules (this year, we're using <this>, my expectations (respect yourself, respect others, respect all staff, respect he environment and respect faith) and other basics' about how we are going to get along. 

Timothy Taylor and Jon Brunskill have recently written about training in slightly different ways (<here> and <here> respectively).

Tim focus' on the idea of tracking as a listening skill, as demonstrated in an accompanying video. He explores his thoughts on it and concludes (abbreviated):

"Children cannot be free in the same way adults are. They can’t just decide to leave school and do what they like. We can’t allow them the same liberties and opportunities we give to grown ups. But we can treat them with just as much respect and dignity... We all have to operate within limits – legal, social, financial, environmental – and children are just the same. Only they have more limits than adults.

I believe we should teach this to children. Being free is not about doing what you like, when you like, it is about thinking about what you are doing, why you are doing it, and having opportunities to affect your environment.

The problem I have with the strategy used in the video is that it is imposed, uncritically, upon the children in the class, without genuine discussion or understanding. It is not about learning or what the students themselves need, it is about adult control and compliance. It is teacher-centred pedagogy, where the adults know best and children are treated as people without the same rights as other human beings."

This raises may questions about the start of the year. I want to train my classes (although not explicitly in tracking, but I can see why you would, likewise for clicking - see <here>).

Jon gives a response that would be more in keeping with my thinking when he talks about the training of class room routines:

"This is not stuff that we would normally call learning, they are the things that have to happen for learning to take place. The better the children are trained, the more effective learning can be."

I expect my classes to enter the room, stand quietly behind their desk, get their equipment out and then go silent when I ask. We then pray (RE in a Catholic school), sit down, copy down the title, not the Objective, write the date and get going on with the learning ASAP. Someone is trained in GCSE classes to give out paper. Someone is trained in KS3 classes to go and get the textbooks to distribute them. I make no apologies for any of this.

As Jon points out, "We wouldn’t train children during an observation, but reap the benefits of being congratulated on children being well trained."

Like Jon, I agree that it is easy to slip in to the trap of not explicitly going through these things. Teachers sometimes want to be liked, want to be perceived as 'cool' or 'down with the kids'. However, I want to be clear here that I don't think this approach is what Tim is putting forward, some kind of 'kids know best free for all'; he just thinks maybe students should be allowed to consider certain learning behaviour.

Part of this training does come down to expectations, I expect excellent behavior. I do not expect certain things to happen in my classroom and if they do, I make it very clear that it won't be happening again. Likewise, there are many things that I do insist on, and dedicate time to it. For example, I expect GCSE folders to be neat and tidy... sometimes we need to spend 20 minutes of class time to get that in place. By Y11, generally speaking the folders are in good condition.

This all comes a lot quicker if it is done at the beginning. I am reestablishing myself as The Tough Love Teacher again. I have high expectations, I will tell you exactly what I want you to do, and you better do it! I don't see this as adult control taking away the rights of the child. I want to create an environment where learning can start as soon as possible in my room, and when it gets started it doesn't get interrupted by poor behaviour or silly distraction. 

"Do or do not do. There is no try." when it comes to some behaviour.

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