New for 2018/19, this will be the space where PD North members and some special guest Bloggers will share ideas and experiences. Watch this space and, if you would like to write a Blog for us, on the topic of further / adult community education and skills, please contact us:
WORD: 300 – 1,000 words. Keep it short and engaging. Something folks can read in their break, on the bus or in the staffroom when they have a spare moment.
STYLE: Flexible. We’re interested in: Voices from the classroom/staffroom. Resource explorations. Reviews of books, blogs and events. Think pieces. Descriptions of PDNorth exchange activity. Critical thoughts.
REFERENCES: If you choose to reference other people’s work, events, videos, resources etc please reference them and give them the kudos they deserve.
When I was 25 I was adamant I was leaving the teaching profession. I was working in a large secondary school where I taught over 300 different young people each week. The pace was intense and my entire day was mapped out, from who I taught and when, to the time I ate my dinner. Building relationships was also difficult, I felt like I didn’t know my learners and that they didn’t know me. I saw other staff members fleetingly in the staffroom, but most of the time I felt isolated and alone, watching the world from my classroom door as an endless sea of people passed by me.
Many people I’ve met and worked with tell me that school wasn’t for them. They tell me they hated school because of its rigidity, its rules, its routines. They tell me that they ‘didn’t get’ their learning or that their teachers ‘didn’t get’ them. Over the years I’ve come to accept that school isn’t for everyone, and that includes its teachers too!
I fell into community learning by chance. I had left secondary teaching and begun working for the local authority as their Healthy Schools lead. When my role was made redundant, I was offered an opportunity to become a community youth justice teacher, supporting young people who offend to re-engage with learning. Additionally, I was asked to teach an evening course in criminology for Access to Higher Education students. Suddenly I was in a whole new world, a world where building relationships was everything, a world where an hour a week with a young person really mattered, a world where supporting adults to grow in confidence and achieve their dreams of university study was a core aspect of the job. I loved this new world!
Instead of churning young people through a system, working in community learning has enabled me to help people become excited about their learning, to help people enjoy their learning, to help people realise they are capable of learning and that they can achieve great things. When I work with young people who offend we structure our time together, we have cups of tea when we want, we take a break when we need it. These seemingly small things have made a huge difference, to my learners and to me. Working this way has allowed me to work collaboratively with my learners towards shared goals. As a result, each teaching moment feels as though it has both point and purpose.
When I was 25, I thought I hated teaching. I thought I was a rubbish teacher, that I wasn’t cut out for the job. Ten years on I’ve realised that it was the school system that wasn’t cut out for me, not me who wasn’t cut out for teaching. Hundreds of highly qualified, deeply passionate people leave the teaching profession every year. For some they will have left because teaching wasn’t the right job for them. I wonder however, how many excellent teachers leave because they haven’t yet found their fit? Community learning carries with it an ethos that aligns with my values and my personality. I work at a place where I feel inspired by what unfolds around me, where there is always hope and where nobody is forgotten about. Community learning is my fit and I’ve met many other square pegs along the way who tell me community learning is their fit too. Teaching is such an amazing career, but only if you’re in the right place for you.
This article is dedicated to Grace. Grace began her learning journey on our Study Programme, completed her Access to HE diploma, finished undergraduate study at Teesside University and is now in the process of applying for her Master’s degree. Grace is just starting to realise she might not be that rubbish at learning after all! The determination, growth and achievement of community learners such as Grace continually reminds me why I love teaching in this sector.
Why is teaching English in the community so important?
As a teacher of English to members of the Muslim community, I deem teaching the English language within the community to be exceptionally important. If students are unable to communicate by using the English language in the UK, this becomes a barrier to their inclusion within the social environment. The students value being included in a British setting and being informed of our British values and customs.
So, if it’s not all about grammar, what is it about? Most of my students are mothers of children who have been born here in Manchester. Their children go to nursery and school in Manchester. Their children therefore speak English to their friends and teachers but at home they speak the native tongue of their parents. If there is a problem at school, these mothers do not have the confidence to speak to their children’s teachers. If they have a health problem, they often ask their children to translate at the doctors or dentist. These mothers therefore need to overcome the barriers of exclusion within their society.
Teaching in the community is not simply about building grammar techniques and structuring language correctly; it is about building confidence. Not only confidence in speaking and listening skills, reading and writing but also in their ability to jump on a bus, speak to a doctor, buy something in a shop and help their children with their homework. All this, without their husband or their child translating for them. All this, on their own. Finding their confidence, autonomy and independence is just as important as gaining an entry level qualification in English.
The students work together to improve their spoken and written English. As their teacher, I would like to allow them to become more integrated into the society they and their children live in. I build their confidence by employing activities so they understand the importance of communication, whether it is by sight, sound or touch.
The group have been out on a trip to the Manchester Museum where they had great fun looking at the poisonous frogs and exhibits from their home countries. We then took the bus into Rusholme and they ordered their own food in a highly recommended kebab house. Across the road was a sweet shop where they all showed me their favourite desserts.
The students in my community group are of a variety of ages. They all speak the same language and most have children. They have varying abilities. Some have never been to school before and some have high level qualifications from their own country. However, in this country, my students are confined to their homes because they are relied upon to look after the house, the husband and the children. They are so committed to their family they feel uncomfortable when leaving the house. For these students, this session is the highlight of their week.
We are currently planning a cookery day. I will be showing them how to make a Victoria sponge and they will be showing me how to make samosas and biryani.
So, it’s not all about grammar, but it is about confidence building, having fun and doing things the students have probably never done before.
I have recently joined a North West Professional Exchange Network for Teaching, Learning and Assessment. Our first meeting was fascinating as we discussed the common issues and challenges of working in FE. One of our topics of conversation focused on how important it is to look after teachers working in FE and help them maintain their professional confidence as they work long hours with a large groups of learners and ever decreasing budgets. Retaining and recruiting FE teachers is a huge challenge.
Since that meeting I’ve been reflecting on my own career, with many years spent in FE. My teacher career has been fascinating and diverse; I’ve taught in primary schools in Manchester, a secondary school in Ghana, many years in prisons, I’ve taught unemployed adults, teenage FE students and trainee teachers. A wide range of different and fascinating settings, but in all of this rich experience there have been commonalities of ‘when it’s worked’ and ‘when it hasn’t. This of some of the key learning over my career that might just be of interest to teachers in their own practice.
Be authentic – When I first started teaching I observed and worked with loads of great teachers. I thought if I did exactly what they did then that would be the key to success. It wasn’t. I learned that you have to be ‘you’ in your classroom and you can only really find your teaching ‘you’ through practice. Some days were howlers; I got frustrated and demotivated. With practice and experience came confidence and the beginnings of my professional identity.
Enjoy it – This life is precious and too short to spend time wishing you were somewhere else. I’ll fully admit there have been times in the classroom where I’ve wanted to be lying on a beach miles away, but the best part of the job (and there’s a lot to the job) is the classroom teaching. The learners in your class of any age have stories to tell and potential waiting to be unleashed. To teach is a privilege and it’s easy to forget this. Find the fun; it is contagious.
Get rest – This is said often but it couldn’t be more true. There is always something else to do when you are a teacher, you never get to the end of your list. You need to stop, go home, go to the pub, get exercise, go dancing, spend time in the outdoors. It really is time well spent and ensures that you are healthy and well. One of my questions to myself when work is piling up is ‘Will the place burn down and anybody die if I don’t get that finished today?’ If the answer is no, then it’s probably something you can leave for a while.
See other people – At one stage of my life I lived with teachers, worked with teachers, spent my social life with teachers. This can be great; it provides you with a supportive network of friends who understand your job. But it can also become all-consuming and perhaps make you a little insular with a very teacher focused view of the world. Spending time with people who do other jobs gives you a sense of perspective on your own world and gives you some new, refreshing topics of conversation.
Know what you’re talking about – but you don’t need to know it all – I’m a big believer in evidence based teaching and being credible as a teacher has a very high effect size according to Hattie (2012). I get this, learners get this. I get frustrated when I’m in a training session feeling the trainer doesn’t know what they are talking about. Learners need to feel confident in you. They are wanting something out of the class or course, whether it’s a qualification or the stepping stone to the next stage. But you don’t need to be an expert in everything, it’s impossible. One of the keys roles of a teacher is to facilitate learning. Some of my best lessons have been the ones in which I’ve done least. Show the learners where the information is and then let them rummage around in it for themselves. They’ll make their own meanings from this and you can help them process and discuss this.
‘Get your teaching pants on’ – sometimes, you just don’t feel like it. You’re tired, you’re not motivated, you’re worried or distracted. The learners are there, they’ve turned up with some expectation and so you need to ‘turn up’. I like the metaphor of getting your ‘teacher pants’ on. There are a bit like WonderWomans or Supermans – they give you strength and presence, they help you to go in there and generate some energy and enthusiasm. My colleague and I use to work with a trainee teacher who we likened to the character ‘Sadness’ from the film ‘Inside Out’. This teacher had so little enthusiasm or motivation we felt depressed within five minutes of observing their lesson. Breaking news: the learners didn’t enjoy it either. Teach like you mean it, you can take your teaching pants off later and lie on the couch.
Do smile before Christmas – In fact smile a lot, it is not a sign of weakness. Learning and teaching are great; they are what makes us who we are. I am a parent as well as a teacher and my kids have had some brilliant teachers who smile, laugh, are interested in them and are helping them to become who they are. They’ve also had some grumpy, tired, demotivated ones too. It may be cheesy, but the teachers who inspired, and continue to inspire, me are the ones who made it fun, let me explore, knew their stuff and had some passion for life.
I’ve worked with trainee teachers and experienced teachers who have some brilliant ideas and energy, but many get worn down with the relentless pressure of the environment they are in. Teaching is a brilliant job but too many people are leaving. It’s a crisis for our children. New and aspiring teachers – look after yourselves, you are valuable and precious. Wear those teaching pants with pride but make sure they go in the wash at weekends.