So that was it then, was it? The school year has slid down the slope to the summer (at least that’s what we call it though you’d hardly know it was summer!) and it’s time to take stock of the past year and set the scene for the new. I am exhausted – two jobs has certainly taken it’s toll on me both physically and mentally but that’s not an appropriate way of looking back. Why don’t we start afresh?
Let’s start by setting the scene
I started the year at secondary school with three first year classes from three different levels (Holland has a system of streaming at the gate) and at university I still had my group which had completed the first six months and a new group of would-be/soon to be/budding teachers (circle your preferred term) joined us in September. I ended the secondary school year with the same three classes, waved out one cohort at university and welcomed in a new one (the course lasts a year and there are two starting points each year…).
I’ve learnt a lot this past year. I’ve learnt about myself through the questions, comments and feedback from my classes and colleagues. I’ve learnt some new ways of teaching by reflecting on classes taught, by observing colleagues, by reading and by trawling the internet. I hope I’ve also taught the kids something or, better still, assisted them in their own learning and opened their eyes to their own ability.
I have to say, my secondary classes have been growing before my very eyes. The little girls arriving from primary are now sitting in the back row deftly applying mascara. The little boys are getting creaky voices which are never entirely high nor low. And content-wise? Well, they are now able to ask questions using ‘do’ and the ‘wh-‘ words, they can use the present simple, present continuous and past simple. They know where to put an adverb. They are ploughing through the weird and wonderful world of adjectives and prepositions. They can tell the time and know to put a hyphen between numbers such as twenty-four and forty-two. They have learnt the incredibly useful word ‘-ish’. They know how to deal with a/an, some, much, many, countable and uncountable nouns…..my goodness, they have worked so hard this past year!
One of my classes (25 kids) had a talent show in the last week of school – they had to sing or read a piece of English. This was a ‘lower ability’ class (though I really hate that type of sticker as they are simply streamed in general without looking per subject) and they gave some fantastic renditions. One boy (dyslexic, low grades) stood on his own and sang a beautiful pop song (sorry, can’t remember the title – must be old age) with brilliant intonation and pronunciation! Another boy read out a very complex, highly literary beautiful poem. A couple of boys read a short story together and a group of girls performed a song by Beyonce. Wow – the talent these kids have (12-14 years) is breathtaking. And all of this was in English after being at secondary school for only one year. Of course not everyone was brilliant and not everyone was thrilled at the idea of getting up in public but they did enjoy the voting system afterwards (based on rubrics) and the fact that the best talent won a prize. For me, as a teacher, it was an opportunity to ‘assess’ their oral skills and allow the pupils who are perhaps weaker in traditional tests (we have lots of grammar and reading tests) to show what they can do – and indeed in many cases the tables were turned.
Next year I’m on the role for all sorts of different classes – pre-exam year, 2nd year project-based, 1st year top stream etc. I guess I’ll have a lot of prep to do this summer?
And my teacher trainees? Well actually pretty ‘normal’ i.e. I’ve lost a few on the way who discover that teaching English is not what they hoped or expected or that quite simply the combination of placement and MA study, both in a new ‘culture’, is too demanding. A couple have also just failed some re-sits so are also obliged to stop – not to say they can’t re-apply at some later stage. Our curriculum and system of examinations has changed again which is challenging for the staff (we need to know when someone started in order to be able to tell them what the requirements are for each exam) and for the students who now have to get used to writing essays combining theory with practice rather than just learning things off by heart from a book (which is how many university exams are done here).
I think I can safely say that my graduates will become pretty damn good teachers insofar as they’re not already. Their English is good and they are just as capable at teaching grammar and vocab as they are with pronunciation and Shakespeare. Many started the year with a lot to learn about classroom management but almost all have ended the year with a clear idea of how to deal with unruly teens. What am I most proud of? I think it would be the fact that they see their classes as 32 individuals and not as classes. They are passionate about their subject (English) but just as passionate about the kids they are helping.
Gosh I really have a pretty cool job don’t I?
It has to be said that it’s not all positive. There are students, as I mentioned above, who just don’t make it. Some get re-sits – don’t you just hate re-sits? It always means you’re going to have to re-read and re-assess their work – but the time the students put into their work deserves an appropriate serious response from me as assessor. Some students fail their re-sits (they get 2 chances in total) and then I have to let them know that they have to leave. I never enjoy these conversations – the students have paid a lot of money to be here, they have often had to re-organise their entire lives to do this, they have become attached to the kids in their classes, they have worked hard but it simply isn’t meant to be (at this time). In the Netherlands, our teacher trainees arrive with a Masters and do an MEd with us so they are not daft. But simply not everyone is cut out to be a teacher and, though I hate telling students they have to leave, I do believe in “the cause”. Our students have to be good in their subject, be excellent classroom managers, be pedagogically brilliant but also be educational researchers. We don’t yet have an admissions policy like in Finland but I would not be averse to it – I feel that our kids, our future, has the right to the best possible teachers.
So how do you feel now at the end of the school year?
How did your year go? How did your students do?
How do you feel about who should be allowed to teach?