I excelled in my academic studies at university; however, as a result of my youthful inexperience, I always felt vulnerable and unprepared during my practical teaching experiences. While I had some excellent mentor teachers, on several occasions I found myself working with unsupportive, and in one case, overly critical teachers. One almost drove me to quit my teaching degree.
Now, many years later, I have come to love working with student teachers at various stages of their teacher-preparation courses.
I may be “just” a graduate teacher, but my diverse relief experience and engagement in professional learning has enabled me to meaningfully mentor several future teachers in the areas of classroom management, planning and instructional strategies.
Working with “Terry”
While I’ve worked with many student teachers over the past two years, one really sticks in my mind. I met “Terry” (not his real name), earlier this year, when he was about halfway through his 10 week second year teaching experience. To be honest, he resembled me on my final year school experience. This was not a pleasant memory.
Through our discussions, it became clear that Terry lacked confidence in his teaching ability, and seriously struggled with lesson preparation and behaviour management. Watching him teach, I could understand his supervisor’s critical performance assessment; however, I was not particularly impressed that no-one had taken the time to teach him practical strategies for improvement.
Through the course of the day, I explained some behaviour management strategies for gaining student attention and managing the who, what and when of lesson transitions. I was pleased to see Terry experimenting with a few strategies, although he needed to work on his consistency.
I also went through the stages of effective lesson planning; stressing the need for an explicit learning purpose and observable assessment criteria. While I don’t bide much by the excessively prescriptive lesson planning preformats student teachers are expected to use, I have learnt, through painful experience, that a clear lesson purpose and explicit criteria are key to effective teaching.
After school, I spent an hour helping Terry plan a maths lesson on fractions, painstakingly persuading him to halt his rush into calculating improper fractions with numbers. I taught him how to plan using the First Steps Number resources, and suggested ways to introduce and conclude his lesson.
While Terry seemed much more prepared for his ‘model’ lesson, I was unable to return to the school to see how he went. I would have appreciated some feedback; however, this experience helped me to clarify and translate my First Steps professional learning into real-world practice.
Professional Learning: A Two Way Street
I find these informal mentoring experiences personally and professionally rewarding, as I find myself becoming more confident in my own abilities and instructional practice as a result of sharing my professional knowledge with other teachers.
I once read that learning is enhanced when we teach someone else, and this has certainly proved true in my case. Teaching and learning is a two-way street. I learn from my more experienced colleagues, swap teaching resources, and support student teachers in areas of need. Now, I benefit professionally from sharing my learning journey with my Australian and international audience via A Relief Teacher’s Journey. It has been a truly empowering experience.