With shameful honesty and an admission of my most deplorable arrogance and misplaced scepticism, my opinion on the apparent difficulty of training to be a teacher was initially fraught with doubts. Having spent three years from the age of 18 working in the Inclusion department of a secondary school, dealing daily with pupils suffering often severe emotional and behavioural problems, I am ashamed to admit that a recurring thought at the application stage of my new career was “how difficult can teaching really be?” Well…nothing could have been further from the truth.
I could not have been more than a few days into my training when the realisation of how wildly and laughably unprepared I was to enter a classroom on my own and expect to educate teenagers came crashing over me and my confidence hit the floor like a hefty bag of vegetable soup.
From Behaviour Management to Classroom Management
As part of my training route, the timetable assigned to me includes a combination of lessons where I am accompanied by the main classroom teacher and lessons where I am the sole teacher, and thus unaccompanied. When asked to focus on the behaviour management techniques of the main teachers, I was surprised to find myself largely incapable of spotting anything beyond the exceptionally obvious. I became pursued by a preoccupation that the students were simply exhibiting the behaviours that were expected from the classroom teacher, and I was, therefore, only benefitting from the pre-existing expectations and relationships already established within the classroom. Reflecting on this with my mentor, I began to notice patterns in my own practice.
It was not until I began research into my first assignment, exploring the use of praise, rewards and sanctions on behaviour for learning, that I realised what I had been observing from the teachers was effective classroom management all along. Everything from the style of their teaching, to the content and structure was deliberate and professionally crafted by the teacher in a way that did not espouse the need for the management of unacceptable behaviour. My focus was immediately shifted away from viewing negative behaviour as a problem that needed to be tackled in lessons, and towards tailoring lessons that, instead, encouraged a positive learning environment.
The Daily Review
This new way of thinking provided clarity for the Principles of Instructions proposed by Rosenshine which, although we had been introduced to at the beginning of our training, I confess had been using as mere suggestions, incorporating a few into my lessons where I could. A renewed sense of optimism in my abilities, I began structuring my lessons according to the principles. At the beginning of each lesson, I am sure to provide a review of the previous lesson. This small (but often overlooked) technique has become a staple part of each of my lessons and, for a trainee teacher, is truly invaluable. Primarily, the daily review is integral for the reason Rosenshine intended: to strengthen the connections among the material previously learned. It has further applications for trainee teachers, however, owing to the fact that we may only see the class once or twice a week and therefore miss large chunks of their learning. And although we are likely briefed by the main teacher on the topics covered during our absence, it still remains a fundamental method for assessing how much the pupils understood or can remember of the previously taught material, which, for me, is often a source of influence or directly linked to the lesson I am about to teach. Nothing can prepare for you for the feeling of delivering an introduction to the lesson and suddenly hearing “sir, we already did this last lesson.” A daily review allows me to quickly assess the learning that has taken place and, if necessary, mentally edit my lesson plan and go in a different direction.
The daily review serving as just one in an arsenal of instruction principles, this framework has started me on the long road to perfecting the art of lesson planning. And although I have a way to go, I can see changes to my practice happening every day, and I am filled with a sense of relief and delight that I made the right choice to become a teacher.