Honing the Craft

We had a post-practicum forum for all the English Language teachers today where we had three educators come and share their experiences with us on English language teaching and teaching in general.

Besides the question which I asked, the other question which really had personal resonance for me was the question asked about how teachers continue to improve their personal pedagogy and teaching methods amidst the administrative demands of school.

Of all the comments shared by the panel, the one that made the most sense to me was the one shared by a HOD  about professional development and how she ensures that PD time is spent less on administrative matters and more on really developing teachers professionally through sharing sessions where they sit down and come up with Socratic questions and lesson plan studies. This is what can be done on a department level.

Much was mentioned about keeping in touch and sharing of resources and lessons plan. I believe in that ad I think there is a value in that, though I think the sharing of resources only helps to a certain extent.

What can we do on a more personal level to ensure that our teaching methods really improve?

By personal, I don’t just mean individual, but I mean on a smaller scale within the classroom. 

The effectiveness of your “teaching” is determined not by the resources you use, not the plans you come up with, but how you – your very presence – facilitates knowledge learning in the classroom. Like what the HOD also mentioned, if all we rely on in teaching are detailed lesson plans, then even the gardener can be a teacher.

The most important factor in teaching is how the teacher responds to the students and engages with situations that happen in a very dynamic classroom.

I believe the key in improving comes from this notion of community.

A few months before I entered NIE, I read Parker J. Palmer’s Courage to Teach, an extremely inspiring book which presents an extremely idealistic view of teaching, breaking it down in such a practical and appealing manner that makes that ideal seem achievable.

He writes that although we teach in front of students, we almost always teach solo, out of collegial sight. This is on contrast to surgeons or lawyers, who work in the presence of others who know their craft well. He speaks of this so-called ‘privatization’ of teaching. And this is the passage that struck me the most:

There is only one honest way to evaluate the many varieties of good teaching with the subtlety required: it is called being there. We must observe each other teach, at least occasionally – and we must spend more time talking to each other about teaching…

I really believe in the merits of being observed by a peer or a more senior teacher occasionally – one who is geuninely experienced enough to give you feedback and more importantly, is genuinely interested in helping you improved as a teacher.

Practicum was a good opportunity for that and there were moments where a post-lesson conferencing session really just brought a whole new light to teaching and the way I was doing things in the classroom. I remember leaving one of my post-lesson conferencing feeling a whole new level of excitement about teaching and what I could do with my students in the classroom.

I know lesson observations is one of the most dreaded thing for most teachers, but I feel that a lesson observation which isn’t an assessment can potentially help you in your craft so much more. As far as I know, such observations no longer happen after practicum and if they do, they are usually for ‘assessment’ and ‘checking’ purposes, which means that they become largely staged events.

I really hope I can find a peer in my school, a fellow teacher or a teacher more senior, who is willing to sit in my class to observe and give me alternative suggestions on topics I could have raised, how I could have steered a discussion differently, on certain areas in my ‘blind angle’ which I was teaching. And I hope too, once I start teaching, I will have that same desire and heartbeat to help my peers in the department advance in our skills as teachers, and not simply come together for administrative tasks.