If I am ever asked about what I love about being a teacher, one of the many things that will come gushing, enthusiastically out, is the fact that being a teacher means I am a learner. I have always loved the fact that my job, my profession, has ensured that I always develop, move forwards, grow and learn.
I remember when I first qualified as a teacher, my main concern was always that I would get bored. That I would end up repeating teaching activities over and over – always teaching the same texts, poems and plays. Teaching them to the point that I would learn to hate the literature I LOVE. What I discovered as I progressed through my career however, was that, although I might be using the same texts from time to time, every class was different, every set of students unique and I had to keep learning to keep them (and probably myself) interested and meet their needs as learners. They evolve with me. They teach me as much as I teach them. It is wonderful!
I’ve always loved to study. I am one of those strange beings who actually enjoys being put in a quiet exam hall with an unseen text, a tricky question and 3 hours to answer it. I could have done a master when I finished my degree but, in the UK, you have to pass your NQT year within a short time frame from completing your degree. If you don’t, you have to start your training again. I decided to take my learning into the classroom with me. I love reading, writing, absorbing the ideas of others and re-purposing them (if they need to be) to fit the needs of my students. I love connections to and through learning, and I love the feeling that I am growing personally and professionally as a result.
If I were to pop back in time and observe the 18 year old me, teaching her first High School English class. I’d be amused by myself, I know I would! If I was to pop back 4 years later when I had qualified as an Newly Qualified Teacher (NQT) i would see a young, aspiring teacher who still had a lot to learn but who had some potential that needed to be nurtured. In fact, I reckon it probably took at least 4 years (or one complete cohort in our Secondary School Yr 7-11 – UK) before I felt like I knew a bit about what I was doing! Having said that, the team I was working with made a massive difference to my development. In some schools i worked in I was nurtured and I grew. In others, I was squashed and I moved on before they did too much damage.
After just over 10 years what do I see? Have I decided that I know it all now? That I am everything I will ever be as a teacher? NO! How awful if I did! That would imply that I was ‘cooked’, that the rest of my career would become stagnent, that I would do the same things for the next 30 years, in the same way, without reflection, connection or growth. That doesn’t appeal to me at all. Not a bit! I would leave teaching if that was what it was like. I hope that I never sit back and decide that I am not learning anymore… that, ridiculously, I don’t need to. That I’ve been doing ‘it’ this way for years and I don’t care what others think. Please (future employees) FIRE ME instantly if I ever utter words like that.
Just like my students, I need to be challenged, to grow to connect. I need find new ways to do things, different approaches to old problems and I need to use my skills as a professional to evaluate their worth, make decisions and re-purpose them if they need to be. That goes for government remits too! I’ve written before about how I’ve spent most of my career in the UK dealing with documents that are handed down from above…
@mulh0015 tweeted a link to this AITSL video and it got me thinking – again! It starts by asking the question “What makes great teachers or school leaders?”. Have a watch… Which key phrases stick in your mind? What connects with you?
My heart skipped a little beat (i know get a life Selena) when this came up:
I instantly saw flash backs of George Couros asking teachers at the CEGSA conference to look at their digital footprint, to evaluate how they appeared as learners, to consider what they are learning as educators and why.
I saw workshops I had run in which I have (i hope) inspired others to connect with other learners.
I heard and saw phrases I have read such as “there are no such thing as teachers and learners. We’re all learners” ( can anyone help me out with who said that? I can’t remember but it’s SO TRUE)
What also interested me was the focus, from Aitsl, on the idea that schools need to employ “great learners“. That makes you think about your application form a bit doesn’t it. How do you show yourself as a part of a vibrant learning culture?
I am so excited about the focus on schools providing teachers with opportunities to grow, to develop, to progress through their career in a “system that is built on people” and puts “people first”. During my relatively short career (thus far), I have already had the opportunity to work with people who have inspired, encouraged and challenged me. Working at Shenley Academy (or High School) was one of the best things I ever did. That school has a strong culture of learning brought about by the fact it was a school under “special measures”. I the past, it had been measured by inspectors to be under achieving, new teachers were brought in to help the current staff turn it around and we did! TOGETHER. Collaborating, learning from each other, sharing good practice. It worked! Shenley, 5 years later, is now an “outstanding” school.
I want that opportunity to exist for every teacher, everywhere. That is why I love twitter and blogging and all collaborative platforms. 5 years ago my support network was made up of small number of colleagues and uni mates, now I have over 600 connections in Twitter alone – all happy to help me explore my learning and guide me when I need it. How wonderful!
Sadly, sometimes I come across teachers who tell me that their senior management is not supportive of their desire to learn. Particularly in the area of ICT in their subject. They won’t help them find a budget for new equipment, don’t give them time to learn what they need etc. They feel their barriers, created by others, to their own progression. What we need to remember is that the national professional standards are there to guide and to measure. We have a right as a professional to the opportunity to demonstrate that we can fulfil them. Senior management have the responsibility to ensure that that can happen. They need to be mindful that their own fear, or lack of knowledge should not provide others from growing. We, as teachers/learners need to remember that to be a ‘school leader’ you don’t need to have a fancy title like ‘principal’. Leadership can – and should – come from all levels within an institution.
Budgets can be tight and it is not always possible to spend money if you don’t have it… but… there are always ways to provide opportunities for staff to connect with and learn with those technologies. Networking, sharing, collaboration. They are powerful things.
Let’s make Australia’s Education system one of the best in the world by listening and connecting to best practice from all around the world. Lets all grow together. Help each other and always remember that one of the best bit about being a teacher is being a learner.