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Can I cut it as a teacher?


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#1 Andrew W

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Posted 16 August 2011 - 01:59 AM

I've been considering a career change into teaching for some time now but I have never had the confidence to make the move before and obstacles, probably of my own making, have always stood in the way. I have also been unsure of a career as a History teacher in a comprehensive school because I fear that the subject is undervalued by the public and misunderstood by politicians (however, I am pleased that they included History in Jamie's Dream School!). Sometimes I think that the subject must be better promoted, then I come here and see so many talented people and realise the enormity of such a task!

However, my circumstances have now changed. I am now a resident of Australia and this makes a huge difference (I'm in Oz but would still choose this site over any other for advice). The standards vary state to state, but in New South Wales History is mandatory until 16 and whilst they do lump History teachers into the HSIE category, they teach the subject separately in schools. They do tend to expect all teachers to have a second subject, but this is no issue for me as I am spoilt for choice deciding whether I enjoy Economics or English Literature more! The disparity in pay between teachers and my current field (finance) is also much closer, at least after a few years of experience and, whilst I don't like to think I am motivated by money lifestyle does have a habit of being quite entrenched.

So, in short, the circumstances work for me, but am I good enough for the students? I've recently been asked, for example, what is the purpose of studying History and gave a garbled answer. My inclination is to give an answer incorporating the Historical philosophy of E.H. Carr and once I've started talking I realise the enormity of the task when they need a simple answer. My fear is that I can't connect academia to young people; that ability teachers have of getting across complex information with such clarity is not something I can claim to be inate in me.

My question is whether these skills can ever be truly learned, or whether I would be more suited to graduate study to teach undergraduates?

#2 Ed Podesta

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Posted 16 August 2011 - 04:29 AM

I've been considering a career change into teaching for some time now but I have never had the confidence to make the move before and obstacles, probably of my own making, have always stood in the way. I have also been unsure of a career as a History teacher in a comprehensive school because I fear that the subject is undervalued by the public and misunderstood by politicians (however, I am pleased that they included History in Jamie's Dream School!). Sometimes I think that the subject must be better promoted, then I come here and see so many talented people and realise the enormity of such a task!

However, my circumstances have now changed. I am now a resident of Australia and this makes a huge difference (I'm in Oz but would still choose this site over any other for advice). The standards vary state to state, but in New South Wales History is mandatory until 16 and whilst they do lump History teachers into the HSIE category, they teach the subject separately in schools. They do tend to expect all teachers to have a second subject, but this is no issue for me as I am spoilt for choice deciding whether I enjoy Economics or English Literature more! The disparity in pay between teachers and my current field (finance) is also much closer, at least after a few years of experience and, whilst I don't like to think I am motivated by money lifestyle does have a habit of being quite entrenched.

So, in short, the circumstances work for me, but am I good enough for the students? I've recently been asked, for example, what is the purpose of studying History and gave a garbled answer. My inclination is to give an answer incorporating the Historical philosophy of E.H. Carr and once I've started talking I realise the enormity of the task when they need a simple answer. My fear is that I can't connect academia to young people; that ability teachers have of getting across complex information with such clarity is not something I can claim to be inate in me.

My question is whether these skills can ever be truly learned, or whether I would be more suited to graduate study to teach undergraduates?


My short answer is - go into schools where you live and observe or volunteer, for an extended period, say a week, and see if you like it. We can't know if you'll cut it - only you will be able to answer that question once you know what it's like in school.

"In the past, philosophers have sought only to understand the world. The point is also to change it." - K. Marx
"Classification is exceedingly tedious" - I. Berlin

 

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#3 Andrew W

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Posted 16 August 2011 - 05:07 AM

Fair point. Luckily my company partners with a school and I've been able to do some mentoring with Year 12s and will hopefully be participating in the Year 7s reading program soon. I think I will try and work the network a bit to get some time observing classes. It's a disadvantaged school but the kids I've met are great and have strong ambitions (realistic ones too, no Jade Goody wannabes!).

#4 JohnDClare

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Posted 16 August 2011 - 08:54 AM

Do you LIKE children?
Do you doing anything with them now, on a voluntary or professional basis - e.g. Sunday School, football coach, etc.?

Being a teacher is nothing to do with the subject, and up to A-level you can fairly much swot any subject up the night before.
Being a teacher is being surrounded by children all day every day (including weekends when you leave the house).
If you're not 'at home' in the company of children, I would suggest you give it a miss.
Teaching is a relationship, not a presentation.

There's loads of people who idly think - usually because they can't think of anything else they might like to do - that they will 'go into teaching', as though it's like choosing a trade; a fitter or a welder.
Teaching is not a learned trade (though you do have to learn the trade), it's a calling.

If you 'rattle down' easily and often with young people, enjoy their company, then teaching will be a doddle; if you rarely see a child from one day to the next, and struggle to communicate when you meet one, PLEASE stay well clear of the teaching profession.

#5 Andrew W

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Posted 16 August 2011 - 11:48 PM

I can see from my original post that I do come across as more engrossed in my subject than young people but I can assure you it is a given. The time constraints of a corporate job that demands long hours, along with a recent emigration, have restricted my work with young people of late but I am involved in a mentoring programme for Year 12s and a reading programme for Years 7-8 that my company supports. We work with a school whose students are largely from ethnic minority backgrounds (many of whom do not speak English as their first language) which presents an additional angle to the reading programme. I've also spent many years supporting an internet forum teaching 15-18 year olds about British politics (often in Historical settings) in the form of a game simulation, although the lack of direct contact and the freewill of the participants changes the dynamics from the classroom somewhat.

And I think you're absolutely right that teaching is a calling, though I disagree that any subject can be revised the night before up to A-Level. I would certainly pity the poor student whose understanding of quantum theory or colloids depended upon my teaching! I don't know whether I have the true calling but the recent riots in London and the ridiculous comments of David Starkey who should really know better have gone a long way to entrench my view that modern society doesn't understand young people. The idealist in me says I want to teach History at a secondary level because I want to play my part in giving young people a chance and because I firmly believe History is the best subject to do that. I spent years trying to articulate why people should study History and it was a quote from a student of about 15 years of age that got it absolutely right. "History stops you believing rubbish." Brilliant!

I also appreciate that academics don't always make great teachers (of children at least) and back again we go to my old nemesis David Starkey! He had no role to play in the dream school and the series as a whole probably justifies your point that the key skill is not an expertise in the field but an ability to build relationships. His lesson was all over the place (I'm not talking about the editors cut but the full version on YouTube) because he tried to cover too much and he adopted a Victorian approach to education with him at the front being the patroniser looking down on the children on their rows of desks. He didn't bother to seek any common ground, instead he made the obvious mistake of establishing a me versus you culture by calling them all failures! Admittedly he had a hard audience but the kids were obviously bright, they were just disengaged. He needed to do much better to prove the subject's relevance to them, in the way that Alastair Campbell was able to do in the Politics class.

All that said, I do love the subject too and it would be a high priority for me to be able to teach it to A-Level standard (NSW do a Higher School Certificate which I'm still trying to work out - English is the only mandatory course but History and Economics are also popular choices). Also, in Australia, I would probably choose to work in a senior school where the age range can be 14-18. I would also be interested in teaching adults as well as children and I could see myself dipping into both worlds.

#6 Seb Phillips

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Posted 17 August 2011 - 12:34 AM

Hi Andrew,

for me it comes down to two things:

Do you love your subject - can you think of anything you would rather do than make other people love it as well? and:

Do you enjoy finding interesting and creative ways of getting the point across?

What I mean by that is - if someone gave you a bucket, a ladder, three newspapers and a football, would you be able to use those to explain the slide into WW1? If the answer is 'no, I'd get them to read about it from a really good history book' then you'll struggle. If the answer is 'No - but I'd really like to give that a try!' then you're made for the classroom.

regards,

Seb

#7 Andrew W

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Posted 17 August 2011 - 02:40 AM

A bucket, a ladder, three newspapers and a football.... well, it's still better than what Simon Schama used! I think I would be more inclined to use the kids rather than the props; much as I am meant to deride the 'great man' theory of History I would probably utilise my interest in improvised theatre and role play to teach them how World War I began (although I appreciate you need a really well behaved class for this to work).

I'm quite a fan of AJP Taylor's 'War by Timetable' theory of the First World War and think this could be quite well played out with role play. The theory is arguably a convoluted version of the prisoner's dilemma and therefore there is a chance of getting it across. I'd split the class into each belligerent country, give them the bare facts (it might work better if they'd done a nuclear deterrent exercise first because they'd be able to compare the ability to push a button to the ability to mobilise rapidly) and see what happens!

However, if I had a class that I really wanted to stay in their seats, then I guess the ladder is my train tracks, the bucket in the middle of the 'track' is the supposed meeting point for mobilsation, the newspapers are the belligerent countries (single pages for dictatorships and multiple pages for oligarchies (I can't call any country a democracy), carefully ensuring each major alliance is represented by the same newspaper) and the football, symbol of gamesmanship and supposedly outside of the sphere of war, is innocent Belgium..... :-)

#8 JohnDClare

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Posted 17 August 2011 - 08:39 AM

I am involved in a mentoring programme for Year 12s and a reading programme for Years 7-8 that my company supports. We work with a school whose students are largely from ethnic minority backgrounds (many of whom do not speak English as their first language) which presents an additional angle to the reading programme. I've also spent many years supporting an internet forum teaching 15-18 year olds about British politics (often in Historical settings) in the form of a game simulation, although the lack of direct contact and the freewill of the participants changes the dynamics from the classroom somewhat.

This is looking good.

I disagree that any subject can be revised the night before up to A-Level. I would certainly pity the poor student whose understanding of quantum theory or colloids depended upon my teaching!

I think you have an exalted view of what your students will be able to cope with. I once ended up teaching Science for a term to Years 7 and 8. One of them was little more than facts-about-the-planets, and the other was facts-about-rocks-and-erosion. A doddle. I agree with you that A-level is perhaps a step too far, but most subjects up to and including GCSE are little more than general knowledge.
I think you are perhaps correct to think that your problem will be 'getting down to the puipls' level', but I wouldn't worry too much about that. Getting the level right is just one of the techniques of teaching, there are things you can do to assess if you are getting it right, and you will learn those on your GCSE course (or by starting a discussion on this forum). As long as you are aware that it might be a problem, it won;t be a problem.

I don't know whether I have the true calling

I'm beginning to suspect you do! Enthusiasm covers a multitude of sins.

the ridiculous comments of David Starkey

Poor Mr Starkey. He merely made the mistake of thinking he could do something that turned out to be a lot harder than he thought it was. Apart from being a lesson for everyone who would meddle in education, I felt a little sorry for him. he came across as a deeply needy, almost emotionally disturbed little man. If you are going into teaching, you need to be aware of this and ready for it. Pupils have no power, so they develop other strategies to attack - one is they develop the ability to 'get to you', to hone in on those little inadequacies and insecurities and make you feel small.
Coping with it is a major issue of being a good teacher.

#9 Seb Phillips

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Posted 17 August 2011 - 10:32 AM

To be honest, your instincts seem to be pretty good - it's not about what WE know, it's about what THEY do.

Or - know what the lesson is about, and use the most creative means you dare to make sure the students know it too.

The following link is another way of approaching the slide into WW1 - you could get kids to act this out, but I'm not sure I would....

http://www.tentimeso...as-a-bar-fight/

The other big thing - be prepared to ask other teachers how THEY do it, and give it a go. Even if it goes pear shaped - and which among us hasn't had a classroom on fire or an escaped Seal loose in the corridor at some point? - it's only one lesson...

#10 Andrew W

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Posted 18 August 2011 - 06:18 AM

I think you have an exalted view of what your students will be able to cope with. I once ended up teaching Science for a term to Years 7 and 8. One of them was little more than facts-about-the-planets, and the other was facts-about-rocks-and-erosion. A doddle. I agree with you that A-level is perhaps a step too far, but most subjects up to and including GCSE are little more than general knowledge.


Maybe. I still pity the child who had me as a science teacher! My physics teacher used to use my exam scripts as an example to the rest of the class on how not to answer his papers! (All done lightheartedly you understand, we got on quite well on the understanding that I would far rather be reading Mack-Smith's biography of Mussolini or discussing Educating Rita than learning about acceleration. I remember when I went to an A-Level options night and he had a dual role as careers master. "Well, Andrew, presumably you are not here to talk about physics....")

On a more serious note, I've been going through some of the articles on your site and it's quite an eye opener and has really got me thinking. There are things I just wouldn't even have thought about but which are so important. I really liked the project you did on making History relevant to people's career aspirations too. I think the risk with History and a trap I could certainly fall into myself is academic chauvinism so it's great to see the subject expressed in such a practical form that students will understand. I remember when I'd just made my options at GCSE (Latin, Classical Civilisation and History) and one of my classmates decided to say 'wow, you'll never get a job!"

I've just been accepted onto another reading program through work so that's another hour a fortnight where I get to work with Year 7s and 8s. In addition to reading, it's also a mentoring program so I'm really looking forward to it. Back in my school days I was a prefect for a Year 8 tutor group and they were great fun to work with.

#11 JohnDClare

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Posted 18 August 2011 - 06:58 AM

I hope everything goes smoothly for you.
You will be a welcome addition to the profession,and I wish you well.

#12 debra g

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Posted 18 August 2011 - 11:10 AM

I actually 'fell into' teaching, and luckily for me I completely and utterly love it! I remember filling in my 'record of achievement' back in year 11 - I wanted to be ateacher of English and History. Come VI form and uni I decided that no way would 'shy little me' cope with teaching teenagers. 10 years on I'm Head of History at a school for boys with Specific Educational Needs - Dyslexia, ADHD, ASD - and I absolutely love it! It wasn't a traditional route into teaching ('tester year' = fell in love with teaching, GTP then NQT) but I was lucky to get it and it worked for me.

I agree that a huge amount is based on relationships you have with your students - firm boundaries but showing that you respect them as well, apologising when you occasionally get it wrong etc, laughing at yourself.

Best of luck!

Debs

#13 Andrew W

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Posted 25 August 2011 - 03:46 AM

Iíve just returned from my introductory session of the ASBN reading program for Years 7 and 8. This is a program that my company supports in partnership with a school with high needs. Approximately 40% of the year groups do not meet the minimum standard for literacy in Australia and will be attending the program.
We were taught some basics (Patience, Prompt, Praise) and we were also told that whilst reading is the main focus of the program the school hopes that through working with us they will tackle behavioural problems in later years at the school.

The principalís theory is that the poor behaviour in the school is the eventual result of frustration at being unable to do the work because of reading difficulties that his students wonít admit to. He says it tends to begin with them not doing homework in Year 7 and gets progressively worse until they leave in Year 11.
Another interesting thing he said was that students will be willing to work with us on their reading in a way that they wouldnít with parents or teachers (he also mentioned teachers donít have the resources for one on ones which is understandable).

Iíd be interested in getting feedback from the experts here on his theories, especially those with expertise in remedial teaching. Do you think inability is the cause of most behavioural issues? Also, do you think it makes a difference to work with business people (the perks include getting to travel to the city once a fortnight and our office has views of the Bridge and the Opera House plus we give them morning tea etc)

Also, if I can make a difference, do you have any tips on how to put 110% in? Weíve been told the teachers will always be present and we just need to sit and read with them but as I want to get into the profession Iím obviously eager to use this as a learning experience! I know the age group reasonably well (I ran a tutor group of Year 8s when I was a sixth former and whilst this was less involved than a teacher I was left alone to run groups quite often, probably because it was obvious I enjoyed it). However, I've had less experience of high needs.




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