The teacher as a learner

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I naively thought when I started this journey that I could read a grammar book and nail some teaching methodologies and I’d know what I was supposed to be doing. I’m not going to lie, I feel teaching has been, and is, a massive learning curve for me.

In literacy teaching, I’ve found it difficult to find a good teaching methodology to follow. In ESOL, so much research has been conducted into how we acquire language. Whether it’s the CLT method, grammar translation, dogme or the lexical approach. Each one offers a staging that’s comfortable to the novice. In literacy, it took me a while to realise that the comfort of staging is slightly different. I’ve figured out that each skill has research conducted into it and it’s down to the skills of the teacher to develop integrated activities. It’s taken me a while to get out of my ESOL brain and develop my literacy brain.

Through this blog, I aim to take a methodology, apply it, and reflect on them. The best way to learn, is to do it, or so they say.

Another aspect of the teacher as a learner is from the point of view that through teaching and reflection, your own knowledge is improved. An example of this is when I started to teach phonics. I know it probably sounds stupid, but I was slightly hazed by it to start off with. I had questions about whether certain letters were meant to be taught first, whether it was too babyish for adults, and how sounds worked on a phonic level as opposed to a phonetics level. I had a bit of experience with phonetics, but not so much with phonics or understanding the pedagogy.

I bought a few different phonics schemes, before I found one I was happy with, and happy to let volunteers loose with. Even with the plethora of information, I often find I have little time to wade through and get to the important bits. So, I started out by actually doing it myself, and imagining I was the learner. Just by doing this, I realised that by adding ‘uh’ on to /k/ wasn’t in the slightest bit helpful. I had observed learners having difficulty with blending, yet rhymed off ‘kuh’, ‘huh’, muh’…you get the picture. Trying to ‘fix’ these small problems takes time once they’re fossilised, and sharpened my understanding of phonics as a consequence of teaching. However small, it has made me more confident in my own abilities. I had a win that day.

There have been so many times, especially with teaching ESOL, that I thought I knew something before I went into the classroom, and actually learnt a lot more from the learners about actual usage than I did from the grammar book before hand. I hate that feeling of ‘so this book says this is when we use this aspect’, only to draw up a list of vocab, then realise that in our region people actually prefer to say something different (usually functional phrases).

The point that teaching changed a bit for me was when I realised:

  • I didn’t have to reinvent the wheel
  • Teachers are, surprisingly, bad at helping each other out. I wasn’t getting answers I needed because;
    • they didn’t know
    • they had their own agendas
    • they were past caring, or didn’t really in the first place
  • It’s OK not to know something
  • It’s OK to be on your own journey, and if it takes you 10 years, it takes you 10 years

I am a Conscious Incompetent. And I’m proud of it.

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