Dealing with Supervising Teachers

Another long post…

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Throughout our placement courses, we are often reminded of how important it is to get along with our cooperating teachers (teacher supervisors/mentors) during placement. This is because they are the ones solely responsible for writing our placement reports. They decide whether we’ve met each standard, put in a decent effort or deserve to pass. Alongside this, however and whatever is written in that report is seen by the Department of Education during the recruitment interviews. CTs ultimately hold our teaching fate in their hands for three, four or even ten weeks; so an unhappy CT does not make for a happy placement life.

Now, most people assume that if a teacher has signed up to be a supervisor they should be understanding and keen to help out the new pre-service teacher. More often than not, this is true. My third year prac was amazing because my CT and all of the secondary staffroom endeavoured to make it that way. They let me be a creeper observing their classes, talked to me about why they chose to do a lesson a certain way, and were generally friendly. However, my first year placement was a little worse for wear.  The supervisor sat down with me at the end of observation week to “help” develop goals for my placement; in actuality the result was less than helpful. I was yelled at, belittled and left with next to no confidence in my ability to teach over the next three weeks.

What I experienced was not an isolated incident for a teaching degree. For the university staff overseeing teaching students, it would have been a red flag. Questionably, I chose not to contact the university about the situation. This was partially due to an unwillingness to “snitch” and mostly to gain experience with colleagues who didn’t ‘float my boat.’

So what did I learn from dealing with my CT?

1. Give the benefit of the doubt

Even though I felt disregarded at times, I learnt to give my CT the benefit of the doubt in most situations. They have rubbish days and hectic lives too. It is better to believe that your CT actually cares about your success as a teacher rather than wanting you to fail, otherwise you simply start to begrudge everything that peeves you. Like poor days in the classroom, next period and tomorrow is a fresh start with students, it’s the same with your CT.

2. Listen well

During placement, I find that my emotions are heightened with words, inflections and gestures becoming a touchy battlefield for constructive conversation. In the haze of tiredness, difficult classes and planning it can be hard to actually listen to what someone is trying to tell you. Focus on what feedback is being given and how it applies to your teaching. Don’t be afraid to clarify points, even if you feel the feedback has highly critical undertones. Look for practical applications and remember that some suggestions will not suit your beliefs about education or teaching style. You will need to make a decision to ride that feedback wave, or to stick it out (especially if your CT brings the same point up again).

3. Patience

I learnt to extend the same patience that I gave the year seven boys to my CT (that was appropriate for our professional relationship, so no “you’re not talking while I’m talking” and waiting till she settled down). It took three weeks (out of four) for me to finally feel my CT respected me as an individual who listened to what I said. We built mutuality and reciprocity, without pushing each other under the bus.

4. Fake it until you make it

Placement is tough and so are difficult relationships. As teachers, we perform a highly organised routine with the classroom as our stage, everyday! We know how to look like we are calm, when we really just want to tear out our hair. My CT just reminded me, that alongside an amazing learning experience, the performance sometimes needs to leave the classroom and flash mob the staffroom.

One final point… if you are constantly left feeling terrible about yourself due to a CT’s remarks, contact the appropriate person immediately. Once criticism turns nasty and personal, it is not alright to remain in that placement for an extended period of time.

Remember, CTs are people with different personalities, lifestyles and tastes; but they are people none-the-less.

Existential Crisis: Part One

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It’s less than a month till internship begins, and I’ve already had my first pre-term freak out. Last Friday, I came home from meeting with my CTs (cooperating teachers), aka the people who control my placement fate with the click of their mouse, and spent the twenty minutes in traffic as well as the two days following worrying that I was in the wrong degree.

Now after nearly four years of “fun” university times and a growing HECS debt you would think I’d be sure. However, last year, I was sitting in one of my education classes googling a social work transfer because I was certain I would screw up some poor kid’s education. In second year, I cried the first weekend of placement thinking I was going to be a terrible teacher. The first day of teaching in third year, I nearly broke down when my CT gave me mostly positive feedback because I was so sure I’d have blank stares from pubescent teens.

Most of my worry is borne from fear that I’m academically gifted at “knowing” education, rather than able to practically apply those skills. The fancy education terms for that is theory versus pedagogy, with the combination of the two being called praxis (see what I mean?). And the spacing between bouts of placement is so large that regardless of how poor or well I performed, I begin to doubt my ability to actually teach.

So how do I deal with such huge doubts about a massive milestone such as lifetime career?

..Prayer and perspective..

Firstly, no matter whether I’m being a stress head over an assignment, work, eating well or placement; I try and put all those anxieties onto Christ:

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.

~Philippians 4:6

 Don’t get me wrong, this is hard, and sometimes it’s not until I’m laying awake at 3 am with my brain churning that I actually do this. This is why I have this passage written above my planner on my door, I’m reminded that in every situation God has power–to comfort, to take away and to teach in the face of anxieties. Through His son we’ve been given this amazing relationship where our Father in heaven will listen (Romans 5:1-9; 1 Chronicles 5:20; Psalm 102:17) . He’s the perfect shoulder to cry on, and I know he will always be listening.

Secondly, PERSPECTIVE. God has predestined a life for me. He knew me before I was formed in my mother’s womb (Jeremiah 1:5). This guy knows what He is going to use me for whether it be a teacher, or a pauper on the street. Not only this, but He’s already given me a future, so much bigger than any career I end up in (SPOILER ALERT: eternal life). The crux of knowing this, is it requires a deep trust, which is hard when you’ve spent years focusing on “what I’m going to be when I grow up.” This is why praying is essential. It’s hard to trust when you aren’t willing to share.

It’s safe to say I’m over the “existential crisis” of last weekend after sitting down and being reminded of this (again) in Ecclesiastes (Chapter 1-12) where God is ever present but forever trustworthy in the face of worldly pursuits like my degree and career as a teacher. I’m hoping that I can latch on and continue embracing perspective during internship especially when the craziness reaches its roller-coaster lows.

Education in Living Water

Hi there!

My name is Emma, and I’ve seemingly managed to listen to a late night brain fart and join the blogging trend. Now what was I thinking, joining the hipster fad of social media story telling?

In just under a month I’ll be embarking on the wonderful (if slightly scary) journey of my final year internship for high school teaching. In the past, I’ve struggled to focus on the sovereignty of Christ in my teaching career. I tend to treat placements as an okay time to slack off from my relationship with Jesus, as long as I ‘show’ him in my classroom. Not only is this pretty immature, there is a great risk as I jump into an entire school term rather than a measly few weeks. I hope by documenting the ins and outs over the next few months will encourage me to contemplate Christ more in the midst of stress, planning and tears.

So why the name “Education in Living Water”?

Well, I hope that my teaching career will always be rooted in the response to Jesus’s sacrifice on the cross, however, I feel that internship will offer new (terrifying), and exciting chances to engage and grow in my relationship with Christ; provided I don’t take the lazy path away, but rather the one God calls us to in Romans 12:2:

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.

~Romans 12:2

Here’s to that.