There is a lot of information in the Twittersphere/blogging world on mindsets and expectations. I urge you to search it. Today’s blog is triggered by a great one by @learningspy (psst… There are some theories in his… Great starting point for your essays!). However, this blog will hopefully just be a reassuring foundation to help you on your way.
When I first started the year, I was shocked at how weak the students in my classes were. Their expected progress targets seemed ridiculous compared to what they were producing in their books. I remember speaking to colleagues and asking how getting them to reach their targets was possible and I was met by shrugged shoulders and “We’ve all got to do it” with an empathetic smile. As an unqualified, inexperienced, teacher, I felt I had only a few options:
A) See how it goes. Maybe it’s normal for kids in disadvantaged areas to have unobtainable targets so it’s not an issue if they don’t succeed.
B) Play the “I’m only a trainee” card and whack out every excuse possible (he misbehaves, she’s EAL, he’s statemented so, as a newbie, it’s too much).
C) Run. The mountain is impassable. Bye.
The truth is, none of these options seemed fair to the kids. It is not their fault that they’ve been given the trainee teacher. It is not their fault that for whatever reason they did not reach their target last year. I have a duty to help them succeed. Moreover, before entering the classroom and seeing these targets, I had envisioned that ALL of my kids would succeed so why should I change that just because it won’t be easy? I shouldn’t lower my expectations because the kids are weak, I just need to work out how to help them scale the “impassable” mountain.
If you want kids to do well, make it happen.
It is very easy to put student failures down to extenuating circumstances. Maybe Jimmy broke his arm so couldn’t write…maybe he is too chatty… Maybe he is a total beginner at speaking English….maybe he has special needs. In your first few weeks of teaching, this may be too much to cope with. However, once you get past that view, step back and re-jig your strategy, you can find that you are one of only a few teachers who doesn’t write off Bobby because he doesn’t speak English or Jimmy because he can be a “nightmare”.
I have classes with a high number of weak EAL students. In a region where EAL students are only now beginning to increase, my school is playing catchup. However, if I don’t adapt my teaching for the EAL students in my class, I don’t have a lesson. Also, think about how they feel, trapped in lessons where they can barely keep up with what is being said, let alone produce anything on paper. It is not the EAL coordinator’s problem, they are not even a problem, they are another child in your class and they can do well…if you believe they can.
The hypothetical “Jimmy” has featured a lot in my blogs and he is an accumulation of a number of poorly behaved students. Do I expect less of him because he can be a nightmare? No. It is my job to apply every behaviour technique, reward technique and forward thinking piece of pedagogy to make him succeed. The Jimmys of your school can do well… If you believe they can.
I could go on… I could list various other factors that challenge teachers but the ending will be the same. If you believe they can do well and take the time to read a blog of two on techniques to help, pick up that education book to guide you or take the time to go and talk to the “experts” in your school, your children will succeed.
But they don’t want to try…
If you kept getting low grades and everyone told you that you were underachieving, would that motivate you? Probably not. However, the moment a teacher takes the time to break it all down into a step by step process, lathers on the praise and you find that you actually get a half decent grade/enjoy a piece of work… Ding… We’re in business.
I swear by a teaching cycle* based on Genre Theory (praised by @LearningSpy in his literacy book and most recently developed/adapted by @PieCorbett in “Talk for Writing”). Breaking a task down into a cycle of: show them what I want them to produce, work out its key ingredients, chat about it to create new ideas, plan with a writing frame and then write independently has meant that nearly all of my students (inc SEND, EAL, behaviour) are currently at or above (some hugely above) their expected progress for the year with 1 assessment to go. This is not due to me doing anything magical… it is just because I refused to write off the kids and took the time to research the best ways to help each kid.
Mix some good pedagogy with a load of praise (see my behaviour blog series for what I do) and an expectation that students act on my feedback and engage fully in peer assessment and the students actually start questioning whether I underestimated them by setting their targets so low (this is incorrect as they are computer calculated targets based on their SATs etc… But still… They know they can do well… They believe they can do well).
This is why I teach. To see the students succeed. Not just in terms of grades but in terms of their own self confidence…Attacking tasks they would have shied away from and said “it’s too hard!” to previously… This is what it’s all for. Instilling self belief and self improvement can transform a student’s school journey… Therefore, don’t look at your class lists and say “it’s too hard!”… Give them a shot.
Please drop me a comment below or follow me on Twitter @miss_trainee 🙂
*Whole blog on this coming up soon!