They say that one of the best ways to learn something at a deeper level is to teach it to someone else. Over my first three years I have been doing exactly that, learning through teaching. Through my four year teaching degree, I learnt a lot about the different contexts that my students may come from and the cultural backgrounds they may bring. Many of my peers would talk about the most rich learning occurring during their teaching practicums. I couldn’t agree with them more. It’s not, however, until two (and a bit) years after my degree that I feel I have understood what I was taught at university.
Education students learn about many important aspects of teaching and learning. The experiences they can relate the content they are learning to, however, is extremely limited to their own schooling as a student. For me, it was not until the third and fourth year of my degree when I felt that the readings (journal articles) and the assignments we were completing were actually relevant to our future practice as educators. Looking back now, I can be thankful that the first important lesson I learnt was “relationships for learning”.
Understanding the importance and need for working relationships between the teacher and the student allowed me to interact authentically with my classes and make the connections between the theory and practice.
My first semester of teaching was a strange mix between doing what I thought was usually done in a classroom by a teacher and learning first hand about the profession I spent four years studying about. I felt personally unsatisfied with the job that I was doing, but somehow still felt that I was fulfilling the expectations of me as a classroom teacher. It wasn’t until my first “decent” professional learning day that I realised my actual role in the classroom. I wasn’t there to pass on knowledge to the students, as it had been passed on to me by my teachers, I was there to get to know them as learners, challenge their thoughts and understandings, and present them with problems to think about and solve. My role was to facilitate their development as learners, promote growth, and create a safe environment to for students to feel comfortable to take risks with their learning.
If I were to “rate” my experience as a Flinders University Education student now and compare it to my “rating” at my graduation ceremony, I am sure that it would be completely different. In hindsight, I can see the relevance, purpose, and importance of the topics I studied, lectures I was supposed to attend, and readings that I said I read. Perhaps realising this earlier may have made me a better student, maybe even a better teacher. The most critical aspect of it all, however, is that I was able to have such an enriching start to teaching and be able to realise it at all.
Along with learning the reason behind having a teaching degree, I have also learned some other things “on the job” that a university education alone will never be able to provide:
Students attend a lot of lessons every week.
Imagine attending a week of professional learning, for ten weeks at a time, and sometimes about subjects that are totally unrelated to your career path. We’ve all done it, but now we’re in charge to make it more engaging, relative, and challenging.
The three R’s
Relationships, relationships, and relationships. There are some things that most teachers do very well – eg. teaching curriculum, understanding how students learn… One thing all great teachers do is establish, develop, and maintain relationships with their students. Without it, doing anything at all is far from easy and ineffective.
Teaching all vs. Teaching each
I’ve learnt that there’s a significant difference between teaching all of the students and teaching each student. At times, it is quite easy to assume that if the students look engaged, they are understanding what is being taught. Although we don’t expect our students to listen to every word we say, we don’t naturally assume that they don’t understand what we are talking about. Asking open-ended questions help elicit students’ understanding, and although it may be a different student every time, each one matters just as much as the last.
Something known cannot be learnt
Solving a problem that a student doesn’t understand denies them from developing the necessary problem solving skills to get them unstuck the next time. A coach doesn’t play the sport for the player and a chef doesn’t cook the food for the apprentice. The teacher doesn’t do the learning for the learner. When a student faces a problem, that problem has to be problematic. Otherwise, it is routine and being practiced rather than learnt.
Along with these things, I have also learnt what underpins my practice in the classroom. During job interviews at the cusp of graduation I would speak at length about my teaching philosophy, believing that it laid the foundation for my practice as an educator. Since then, I have learnt that it is, in fact, my theory of learning that defines everything I do as a teacher.
Two and a bit years gone and I’m excited to explore what is yet to be discovered for me as a teacher.