Control yourself, (hu)man!
On Friday at about 7.30pm, I suddenly realised that I had managed it…without actually dying/fainting/having a panic attack/jumping out the window/going (completely) mad… What had I managed? Well, to complete my first Celta course as a tutor. And I think it all went ok, despite the odd uncomfortable moment in feedback and the fact that my life admin. had been totally neglected for four weeks, but hey – I was alive. And so, more importantly, were my trainees.
Looking back at the four weeks, I have a few things that have continued to revolve around in my mind from the feedback sessions I gave.
The Being at the Front of the Room.
In the first week the trainees were just beginning to find their feet in front of the class, and some of them needed reminding that, despite the fact that they were now a “teacher”, they should also do their best to remember to be a “human being” as well.
Are we just teachers? I would argue, no.
Lecturers? Certainly not.
We are humans. Human beings. Human beings who happen to also be teachers.
One of the trainees wrote to me at the end of the course and said:
“This whole course [...] has taught me a lot, not only about teaching, but also myself, and most importantly, myself as a teacher.”
And this is exactly the concept that I wanted the trainees to grasp. We are humans who happen to be teachers, and by keeping that in mind, we can better serve the needs of the other human beings in the room who happen to be students. I find the Celta teaches us as much about ourselves as it does how to be a teacher.
Rein Them In, Hold Them Tight
Nearer the end of the course, once we all knew we were humans, I changed my tune and found myself repeating the metaphor “let go of the reins”, both to myself whilst watching some of the lessons (“Let go, let go, get out of it, let go….”), and also within feedback sessions.
“Control” is an interesting concept. It would take too long to define here, but as Anthony Gaughan recently spoke about on his blog, lesson plans (or at least the anticipating problems part) can give a false sense of security to trainee teachers as they can feel that they will be in control of whatever happens if they have anticipated accurately and some feel that having control is the marker of a successful lesson. To a certain extent, this is correct – we don’t want a class that refuses to listen or to do the work which we set. However neither do we want a trainee to be so rigidly in control that they won’t stray from the plan for one single moment, or to get so involved in every part of the lesson and micro-manage all the interaction and conversation.
Now, I can understand why trainee teachers feel the need to have this control – they want to know what is happening next and that they will be able to cope with it. Or they know that, in their last lesson, they were picked up on the way a specific part of the lesson went, so this time they are going to fix that by being so tightly involved that nothing can possibly go wrong.
But, unfortunately, that’s not how it works. By holding on too tightly to those reins, the trainees don’t allow that space to come into the classroom that makes for comfortable, natural conversation.
Productivity is heightened by space to move into, not by being stifled.
Head Cowboy’s Back in Town?
The Celta course I work on does not expect the trainees to use coursebook material, we want to see them coming up with their own original ideas. But does this mean they are less likely to assume the position of Head Cowboy or not? I’m not sure…
On the one hand, coursebook material is already controlled and requires the trainee to manipulate their teaching style to fit it, potentially resulting in a clash of principles/beliefs/opinions and thereby propelling the trainee into control-overdrive in order to deliver the lesson the way the coursebook seems to envisage it.
On the other hand, when we create something ourselves, we have a vision of it and we want that vision to be realised. This could also mean that the trainees have such a fixed view of their lesson, they aren’t willing to “let go” for fear of it not being what they picture.
So how do we get out of this Mad-Cowboy cycle? Well, it all comes back to my first point in this post. Part of being human means we expect things to go awry/differently to how we imagined they would. Even the optimists amongst us can see that holding on to that glass-half-full whilst traversing a lesson means we are likely to end up with a glass-full-of-nothing.
So, by being human and remembering that we can’t control all aspects of everything – from the weather at the weekend to how our students decide to organise themselves in a task – we will be much calmer and happier teachers people.