Never Make Assumptions

My Teaching Was Rubbish

I think that I am a pretty good teacher, and I do my best to always cater for my students individual needs.  But last Monday afternoon, I was nowhere near the top of my teaching game.  I made an assumption about my students, and the resulting lesson was rubbish.  Let me explain …

Just before the holidays, I had joined my students up to the Student Blogging Challenge.  This is a fantastic challenge run twice a year by the fantastic Miss W.  Students and classes from across the globe join up to the challenge run over ten weeks.  Personally I can’t think of a better way for kids to learn about global literacy.

Anyway, unfortunately, when the challenged kicked off, our whole school was in Auckland on our school camp and then for two weeks after that we had school holidays which means that we were three weeks behind on the challenge.  That’s ok, I said to myself, we are already half-way through the year and we had already completed many of the tasks required in the first two weeks.

My Chickens Arent So Pretty
My Chickens Aren't So Pretty

Now just as a side note for those of you who don’t know anything about my school: I am the Principal of a Sole Charge Isolated Rural School – translation: I have ten students ranging from New Entrant (kindergarten) to Year Eight (13 years old).  I am the ‘sole’ full time teacher.  We are very lucky because our Board of Trustees employs an additional teacher to teach literacy to the junior students in the morning from 9am – 10.30am.  As there are only three juniors, they are getting a pretty good deal.  After 10.30am I am on my own with all ten students, therefore I must teach Numeracy (maths) and other subjects to all age levels.  I also get one and a half days in the week in my office to manage the school in the Principals role.  My school is part of an isolated community, which means we are over 27 kilometres away from the nearest town/shop/MacDonalds/Library/petrol station/decent coffee (sigh).  But that’s ok, my community is fantastic and I get to keep chickens 🙂

What Was I Thinking?
What Was I Thinking?

So on Monday afternoon, after half a day in the office, I needed to take my three juniors for Maths.  I said to the senior students that the student blogging challenge had started, we were a little bit behind, can you please go on to the challenge website, read the post about challenge one and complete the five tasks (just to let you know I have some very capable readers, reading well above their age).  Can you spot my fatal mistake yet?  If you follow my twitter account, you may remember my tweet about it.

Yes, I had assumed that my students could read and comprehend a blog post.

They can write posts, insert photos, add comments, colour/bold/centre text, stick in annoying widgets, change their theme, add pages, and embed sound gadgets, Youtube movies and Flickr slideshows.  But they didn’t actually understand how to read a blog post, unassisted.  Now that I think back, when ever I had asked them to make a comment on the school blog I had always discussed it with them and written the requirements on the board.  They had never actually gone in cold turkey!

Arg! Can you imagine the chorus of seven eager voices all chiming “I don’t get, Marama!” with three squirming junior kiddy winkles in front of me fighting over who got to hand out the counters. Double Arg!!  Mayhem!

Now here is a piece of advice for any new teachers out there … sometimes your class will be a total mere, usually in the afternoon, and there is nothing you can do about it.  Don’t worry this is normal, but I can here you asking – “but what can I do about?”  Well sometimes all you can do is cut your losses.  In my situation, I could feel my eyeballs bulging and my palms sweeting so I knew that I was past the point of no return.  I called the school to attention, and explained that if they managed to pack up the classroom in 3 minutes we would go outside for a game.  Five minutes later we were all (myself included) charging up and down the field in a fantastic game of Farmer Farmer.

Me Pleased As Punch!
Me Pleased As Punch!

Now here’s the clincher, the fine line between me being a good teacher and a crap teacher.  While I was tearing around on the field sabotaging the older children so that the younger ones could score, I was analysing exactly what went wrong and how I was going to allow my students to achieve next time.  So today during literacy with my students, instead of using a journal for guided reading, we used the student blogging challenge post and we read it off the computer screen.  And now I am pretty proud to say that it was some of the best teaching I had done in a while 😀

I really believe in this life long learning business.  As an experienced teacher, sometimes you can get complacent and you do start making assumptions about your students because you think you know them so well.  But the reality is that the moment you start taking your students for granted, it is the moment you start doing them a mis-service. Though we are only human, and I am proud to say that I learnt my lesson and made it good.

All images were sourced and used under Creative Commons Licence.

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