Learning to teach: making sense of learning to teach
Learning to teach: making sense of learning to teach

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Learning to teach: making sense of learning to teach

1 Views of learning to teach

Activity 1: Reasons to become a teacher

Listen to the clip of Jonny Saunders explaining why he decided to become a teacher.

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My name is Jonny Saunders and I am a teacher. Before I was a teacher – which I’ve been for 18 months – one academic year-and-a-half – I was a sports reporter for the BBC for 12 years. And I knew that at some stage in my career that I would go and become a teacher, it just so happened that I’d worked on the radio and, I suppose, reasonably successfully (I’d worked with Chris Evans for six years)... but I felt towards the end of it – and I'm sure that getting up at 3:45 every morning wasn’t helping my mental state at all – I felt that towards the end of it that I was getting tired and that the challenges of broadcasting were not quite as great as they had been, and I felt that in a sense I’d achieved everything I wanted to achieve in radio, and I’m of a volition that you only live your life once and you try and experience as many things as possible. And because I wanted to be a teacher and because I had those beliefs I felt that I wanted to perhaps try something different, and it made a bit of a news story at the time because it was this idea of somebody giving up a perceived glitzy and glamorous lifestyle to go and do a job that is not perceived as glitzy and glamorous. I suppose another way that I’d look at it: it was that for 12 years I had in a sense fuelled my own ego by being on the radio and talking on the radio and being listened to by nine million people every day; to go and do something not fuelling my own ego in a sense. And it’s kind of a pious way of looking at it… but being selfless rather than selfish is another way of looking at it.

I was sort of two thirds of the way through my Open University degree in English literature. So, I already had a degree before that from Durham University, but I felt that if I was going to be a credible candidate as an English teacher I needed to prove that I was really in love with English. And then it was a question of applying for jobs and I managed to get a job here at St. Edward’s School in Oxford. And immediately this year now I’m getting my PGCE, so on the job whilst I’m teaching.

Teaching is wonderful. It is fantastic because there’s just so much sheer variety. You have to be mega organised, however much you want to instill a love of your subject into people – and I think that is hugely, hugely important – the idea that exam results are very important is without question. So I took over, in my first year, a group of 12 pupils who were predicted C grades, most of them, for their GCSE English and when their results came out, five of them got A grades, five of them got B grades and two of them got C grades. And that day of those results... And I did a lot during my broadcasting career, I had some incredible highs. I remember broadcasting on the first day when we took over from Terry Wogan on the breakfast show and we had an estimated… well, I don't know how many people were listening to that show, but obviously it was big news when Chris Evans took over for that. But that moment of these 12 students achieving something... Now, it was down to them, don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t me who took the exam! But I had hopefully helped them along the way: that was a comparable, if not a better, feeling – the results they got that day – than perhaps it was being on the radio show January 11th 2010.

I think as well, at the end, anecdotal things... At the end of a lesson when you see children get up and they’re still discussing something that they’ve been discussing during the lesson, and being really engaged in the subject that you’ve been talking about. I get a real buzz from that as well. And you can see them improving in terms of the way that they’re writing and the way they’re engaging with a particular text that they’ve been taught.

The most important thing when I came into teaching was that I had to have the attention of the pupils, and that I think you have to lay down the guidelines. So that was a challenge. I think just the day-to-day planning a lesson – education had changed hugely since I’d left school. So, I had a gap of 19 years between leaving school myself and coming back into education as a teacher. And the transformation in education and pedagogy and how people teach and the focus on what children learn as opposed to... when I was at school it was just a teacher, usually standing up at the front of a classroom: if you choose to engage, you engaged; if you didn’t, well you were kind lost for the rest of the lesson. It’s much more interactive now, the teaching; the focus is on what the pupils are learning during the course of the lesson, rather than how much the teacher actually knows.

A good teacher – I don’t even begin to assume that I would fall into this category, but I’ve seen a lot of other good teachers – I think it’s about striking the right relationship with your pupils. So that you can communicate with them, so that you can know what makes them tick, but at the same time they’ve got to have that mutual respect for you so that they will work and they will get down to it – you can’t be too chummy, you can't be too distant. You have to hit the right area in terms of the relationship, and I think that that is hugely important. The material you’re working with is also very important: I've taught some poems which some pupils don’t enjoy, if they don’t enjoy it they’re not going to engage in the lesson. Alternatively, I’ve taught some texts which the pupils really enjoy and when they’re enjoying it they learn more. So, the material is down to it. Your organisation – you’ve got to be completely organised so that you’re moving from one place to the next so that you’ve got a coherent narrative going through your lesson, so that you’re moving to an end point so that all the learning is taking place as well. So, organisation, striking the right relationship – really, really important factors.

Learning to teach, the most valuable thing you can do is reflect on the lessons you have taught, and that’s part of the process I’m going through at the moment in terms of getting my qualification. We are actively asked, quite rightly, to reflect on our teaching practice – what was good about that lesson? What could have been improved? And it’s quite hard, I suppose, being your own critic and saying ‘well, they didn’t quite learn what they should have done there. Why was that? Probably because I hadn’t made it clear enough.’ It’s generally the teacher’s lack of focus and preparation that will lead to that learning not occurring. Pupils generally are very willing to do it and they are very able to be led, but they’ve got to be led in the right direction.

My advice to other student teachers would be: be organised. Be prepared, so that you’ve got a lot of material. Also, be prepared not to use all of that material: be prepared to go off-piste if you have to go off-piste. Be prepared for the unexpected – you never know what’s going to happen in a classroom. Be prepared to laugh at yourself, take the Mickey out of yourself on occasions. Don’t be too rigid, but at the same time don’t let the children trample all over you. It’s a fine line. And I think a lot of it comes down to instinct. But I think organisation’s absolutely vital.

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Reflect on the reasons why you decided to become a teacher, and what you had to or will need to learn.

Key to understanding the different routes into ITE is to understand how different providers consider the role and nature of teacher education. Although this discussion draws on research to provide an introduction to thinking about this area, many of the ideas are contested and it is difficult to portray particular approaches as black and white, with many courses occupying a position somewhere in between. Therefore, the following discussion will provide an introduction to considering these perspectives.

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