Where to start? Well, first off I am aware that I am still muddling through all of this and I doubt that I will find the “right” solution until I am actually teaching full-time…..and even then I am sure my thoughts will change due to different class dynamics and external pressures such as testing, accountability measures, policies etc.
I have just completed another 3-week practical experience at an Australian High School. My teaching areas are in ICT (computer technologies) and Business. This was the BEST prac experience so far for me; my mentor teachers were awesome and the school (approx. 1500 students from Year 8 to 12) was diverse and interesting to teach.
One of the things I struggled with (yet somewhat enjoyed, lol) was the disruptive behaviours of some students and figuring out how to deal with them. I was told by my mentors to “set your expectations” right at the beginning and I attempted this but I really didn’t know exactly what they meant until half way through the prac. What my mentors were suggesting was to explicitly outline my expectations in regards to being on task, behaviours etc.
I guess I came in “soft” and just expected that students would act as “young adults” – so the question is, how should a “young adult” act? Do I really want to teach students that are ALWAYS on task, ALWAYS polite, that do not “have a bit of fun” in class etc? That’s not how I experienced my High School years. Yes, I got most of my work done and sometimes I questioned my teachers and mucked around in class when I didn’t find the content interesting. I definitely wasn’t the “perfect” student and I would not wish that for my own children. Why? I believe classrooms should be a place of learning about content but also about questioning norms & expectations and also about making mistakes.
After 3 weeks I learned that I had to give consequences (such as staying behind at lunch break) if I wanted students to complete home-work and in-class-work. Consequences was the MAIN way that I dealt with disruptive behaviours too, this was usually after trying to talk to the student/s. I heard a lot of teachers at this school talk about having to be “strict” and have good behaviour management strategies in place to be able to handle the diverse students. This all makes sense BUT……..
There was not a lot of talk about understanding the students as individuals. Yes, students were labeled with specific differentiation labels such as ESL, learning difficulties, emotional issues etc but this did not go further in any type of special help for the student. I didn’t see a lot of differentiation or personal discussion to help individual students. I’m guessing that I missed a lot of this purely because it would be impossible to deal with all of that in the span of 3 weeks. So the easiest thing to do in the short term is to simply enforce good behaviour by using consequences (basically threats: “if you don’t do X, then you will have to stay back or see the principal”). My concerns with this are 1) I don’t personally like this style of behaviour mgmt but I could see that it worked and 2) this “quick” style of behaviour mgmt was ignoring any possible personal issues that the student may be dealing with.
1) If you’ve kept up with my blogging you’ll know that I don’t believe that a rewards system is beneficial to children or young adults, although I do accept and acknowledge that this is a common practice in our families, schools, workplaces and communities. I’d like to avoid this type of strategy if possible. I don’t think I can avoid this in the short (somewhat artificial, unrealistic) setting of a practical experience.
2) The thing that worries me the most is the possibility that a student’s disruptive behaviour is merely a symptom of something bigger (marginalisation, learning difficulties, emotional issues, abusive relationships etc). The only way that I could know what a student is going through personally would be to get to know them better, through the continual practice of an ethics of care and by fostering a caring community in the classroom (Noddings, 2005). If I was teaching full-time, how would I do this? I would involve students in the creation of classroom rules and expectations; we would approach this as stakeholders with possibly our own version of a dialogue circle (Queensland Studies Authority, 2010). OK, so that’s what I would do, but could I do it? Something that struck me as a major barrier to getting to know students on my practical experience was the continuous pressure of simply not having enough time to fulfill all the curriculum assessment requirements. To help each student individually requires that teachers build relationships with each student and differentiates the curriculum. However with increased societal and government pressure on teacher performance accountability and student assessments, it is argued that the time and focus required to build such relationships are diminished (Harris, 2008). Harris (2008) proposes that teachers identify how assessment accountability has changed the nature of their teaching and then to reclaim “…the relationships as the ‘organising principle’ of schools” (p. 368). How to do this and still tick all the boxes is a vexing question and I am sure to be thinking about this again!
Harris, B. (2008, November). Befriending the two-headed monster: personal, social and emotional development in schools in challenging times. British Journal of Guidance & Counselling, 36(4), 367-383.
Noddings, N. (2005). Caring in education. Retrieved from infEd: http://www.infed.org/biblio/noddings_caring_in_education.htm
Queensland Studies Authority. (2010, January). Dialogue circles: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander perspectives – resources. Retrieved from http://www.qsa.qld.edu.au/downloads/approach/indigenous_res_dialogue_circ.pdf