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.

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