Ofsted is over at the university and I returned to school on Thursday. It was quite difficult to get back into the mindset of the classroom especially as quite a few things had happened since I was away. Working part time in school has both its advantages and its disadvantages. My partner teacher and I get on really well. We text and e-mail each other a lot and write copious notes in a shared record book. It is probably true that more is recorded than if I were the sole teacher of the class. There are several things that I find difficult though.
Firstly, the physical arrangement of the classroom and the resources used and stored in the classroom. At the end of the week I was feeling irritated that the classroom was getting messy so I stayed quite late and did a big clear up. I am sure my partner will not mind but I felt bad about doing it as we have shared ownership of the classroom. That’s a minor point but one that impacts on how the classroom works.
Secondly, the consistency of how the classroom works – relationships, teaching styles, behaviour management and expectations. Despite constant conversations and sharing of thoughts and ideas, it is almost inevitable that there will be nuances of difference. Wenger (1998) talked about ‘communities of practice’ and defined them as, ‘groups of people who share a concern or a passion for something they do and learn how to do it better as they interact regularly.’ In my classroom there are several who are there to learn and to learn how better to learn: the two teachers, the teaching assistants, the children and the other teachers in the school, including the head teacher. All those are part of a community within the wider community of the school which is seeking to inspire and extend learning. There is no doubt in my mind that we are all working together with the same aim in mind but I do think there are some differences in how we approach this? Does that matter?
I am trying very hard in this ‘return to the classroom’ experience not to keep thinking, let alone saying, that ‘in the olden days we used to…’. Sometimes it is difficult to keep to this resolve! I remember when I would spend all day every day with my class; we would follow lines of enquiry or interest as they evolved and would explore our environment or interests. I remember one day when there was tumultuous rain and we spent the whole day reading about rain, finding out what makes rain happen, writing about it, measuring the amount of rainfall, designing umbrellas and even jumping in puddles! This took a whole day even though none of it had been planned in advance and it certainly challenged and extended knowledge and understanding across a range of curriculum areas. However, there were no learning objectives or steps to success although the children’s responses and achievements were recorded and built on in future lessons. Some of you reading this will think how wonderful and some will think how awful! The truth is probably somewhere in between. The success of the day’s activities came from my knowledge of the curriculum and of how children learn, but in particular from the strong relationship as learning partners which existed between me and my class.
Back to the present. We were starting a unit on traditional tales, based on the book The Jolly Postman. I had wrapped the book in brown paper with a stamp which had been ‘franked’ and the parcel had been addressed to the class at the school. Inside the book was a letter to the class from the jolly postman himself. I was disappointed that I was not there to open the lesson and start the unit off because I had to leave for Ofsted. The TA took over the class and did a brilliant job but it was not the same and although she followed my plan completely, there were things I would have picked up on which were not because I had not written them in my plan. The learning objective was addressed but the learning experience was not as rich as I would have liked.
One day last week I had to leave the class in the afternoon to meet with an educational psychologist to create a behaviour plan for a child in my class. An HLTA took over the class. Again she followed my plans and did exactly what I had written but did not challenge thinking as I would have done. That is not a criticism of her – I would not expect her to do that. She does not work in the class regularly and so does not know the children or the way I work with them well. I found it ironic that one of the things suggested in the meeting was consistency within the class! In the olden days (here I go!) such meetings would have been held after the children had gone home and very little would have been allowed to take a teacher out of ‘her’ class.
Teachers have PPA time and are out of the classroom for various reasons – all very important and no doubt supporting the recording of every detail for which teachers today are accountable. I return though to the title of this entry – whose class is it? The strong relationship between a teacher and her class lacks the continuity there once was and so perhaps the strength and subsequent opportunities for learning are decreased. Learning is restricted to what is planned rather than what happens. Lessons are delivered – planned by teachers but delivered by a range of different people; children are assessed according to pre-determined criteria or definitions of learning. Learning that arises from experiences, questions, conversations, interactions with resources etc. is often unrecognised.
I am sure many who read this will think I am talking rubbish – please tell me if you do. The key question is how learning is defined and I will return to that big question next week – it has been dominating my thinking for several weeks now.