Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Alive and Kicking

Today was thankfully a much better day than yesterday, but too full in my weak opinion! (It seems that most teachers have at least five lessons a day, so I better get used to my timetable).

I observed three maths lessons today; an English lesson (set 3); Biology and History too. First the non-maths lessons. Biology was so and so, and the last lesson of the day. They had a quiz and I joined the team with only three members. We named ourselves CO (Carbon Monoxide!) i.e. deadly and poisonous.. which wasn't my bright idea by the way. They were year 10s and thankfully my team seemed to be full of nice members (for a change). I did my best to tell them about the wonders of mathematics, but that failing, I left my trust in my deteriorating biology knowledge. Our group won the quiz by the way... (WOOHOO--I couldn't erm... celebrate as a student you see), but according to my standards, I have become very dumb in biology. The only point I noted was that the teacher seemed to mention exam technique in the last five minutes, after the students were hyper from the quiz and obviously not paying any attention.

History was interesting (content wise) but it was a revision lesson for year 11s, so I mused myself by reading a history book. (Fascinating subject, history is.) The history teacher is very nice though and told me that she's something to do with PGCE student mentors, and if I need anything to give her a shout. (I will probably take her up on this offer!)

Yes, I'm rushing through this because I'm borderline shattered and can't wait to eat and then sleep. So English remains from the non-maths lesson, and boy was this lesson amazing. The teacher got the lesson spot on and the students responded fantastically. I even found myself responding and taking part too! (It was to do with creative writing you see, which is the only part of English that I used to enjoy at school. Well I enjoyed anthology lessons sometimes too..)

Anyway, I told the teacher afterwards, that I felt her lesson was brilliant. It was a set 3 class, which is why the teacher kept the pace quite fast (as I was told later on), but the students were very much engaged and participating. Great.

Now onto the maths lesson.

My first maths lesson this morning was with year 9 set 1, and they were doing relative frequency and probability. I don't know if today was a one off, but I was delighted to see that a majority of students were actually writing sentences!! I was honestly amazed.

At the start the teacher had mentioned that the work was "grade C" which seemed to have a negative effect on the students. They felt that they should be doing work at a higher grade and perhaps the lesson was a bit unchallenging for them. I did feel that when they were given "A3 paper to do the exercise on and show it to the class", it could have been used in a better way. Overall though, it was a nice class and the lesson went without any glitches.

The second maths lesson I went to though, was a complete and utter nightmare. Not because of the students attitude towards me, but because of the structure of the lesson. As an observer, I found myself building up a small rage, so what can we expect of the students? The lesson was on the volume of prism (I think). Unfortunately the whiteboard seemed to not want to work, which I realised later on, as I wondered why the teacher wasn't using it. This was the lowest set, but the teacher made the mistake of not challenging them. The students all expressed their disinterest in the topic, and desire to do something more interesting at the start of the lesson.

I would have started the lesson with the "definition" of volume, and the specialised it to cylinders etc, followed by many examples. (Actually upon further thought, don't we generally specialise and then generalise?) Whatever the case, many weren't paying attention. (I think the teacher felt threatened by my presence, which is unfortunate. I always try to explain to the teachers before hand, that my observations are for my own personal benefit, but on this occasion I happened to be a minute late due to a mistake in my timetable).

This lesson was saddening because of a certain thing that happened. The teacher told the students that those who finished the set questions would get "extension work". One lucky student got such extension work, and I found myself curiously walking towards him, enquiring about the nature of the work. The first question was about surface area, but I saw the student calculating volume all over again. "So, what's surface area?" I had asked and then tried to discuss the solution with the student. However, he was quick to point out to me that the teacher told him to work out the volume again! I was flabbergasted and left that student alone for he was eager to get on with it.

Another student happened to get the extension sheet, and once again I tried to discuss surface area with this student. We were getting somewhere nice, but then the teacher spotted me and told me to get lost. Well that is my interpretation, for she made me move to help the group she was helping! Perhaps they were going to do surface area in the next lesson, but come on, isn't the point of extension work to make the students working at a higher level to think further? I was very annoyed at this point, and was grateful for the end of the lesson.

In my annoyance, I happened to bump into the English teacher from my earlier observation, and it transpired that she had actually started a maths degree but not completed it. I had a heated discussion with her (during my 30 minute lunch!) about how the creativity of mathematics was being drowned. We discussed a great many things and how schools actually prepare student robots to sit exams. The teacher advised me to run as fast as I could, for the school system would drain my enthusiasm to inspire students about maths! The restrictions on teachers is annoying in one sense, but now that the exams are mostly over, shouldn't they use this opportunity to explore areas of next years syllabus with more imagination? You have to sit in the students place sometimes and ponder on what the lesson will seem like. Sigh.

Is that teacher right--do I want to start running now?

The last maths lesson was year 7 set 3, and once again they were a friendly and nosey bunch! One kid actually put her hand up to ask me my age?! Since a few had already guessed it, I shocked them all with how old I am. (The student seemed to have a lot of questions though, and her hand did constantly go up. I wondered whether she was deliberately acting like she couldn't answer the question, so she could grill me!)

Anyway, I had a run in with the head teacher today! I was meant to give my CRB clearance form to them yesterday, but they hadn't asked and I had forgotten. So today, they hunted me down and invaded my bag for it. During this time the headmaster contradicted the English teacher and told me to go for teaching, and that I could do my masters any time. (Like that's ever going to happen!) The woman who photocopied my form also had a friendly conversation with me too. She told me to do a PhD and do university teaching--stay away from the secondary schools, was the message she gave me! (I told her I wasn't clever enough to do that, upon which she suggested colleges).

These suggestions had me laughing at the end of the day! My future is blimmin unpredictable which makes me very annoyed. I always used to have an idea what I wanted to do, which was to be a maths teacher. I blame maths at university and my PTs (in a nice way of course) for throwing me of course! My luck got better as I bumped into the schools career advisor who told me to go into University and check their career service out. I can do a great many things with a maths degree, which I probably aren't aware off, she continued. Now is my time to see what's out there and decide if teaching is it.

I did say the staff at the school were great, but I was overwhelmed with buckets of advice! Yesterday I had a shock to my system you see, but today I think I handled it better. I was better prepared of what to expect from the students you see, but still can improve. I am a new face in the school, so there is obviously going to be some unrest as to who the heck I am. I just have to get used to that. Two days down and another 13 to go!

If I finish my article by tomorrow I am hoping to go into University on Friday (fingers crossed). (Bah--this wasn't meant to be long, but what can I say--I type too fast?!) Let us hope that tomorrow I come home alive too.

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