What Was The Most Important Thing You Learnt During Your Training?

Laura SmithThe most important thing I’ve learnt from my teacher training is that, when faced with a sea of blank, uncomprehending faces, it is okay – and in fact sometimes very, very necessary – to give up on your beautifully prepared lesson plan, with all its clever animations, and go back a lesson or several and start again. 

It’s incredibly scary the first time you look at your class and realise you might as well be speaking Klingon for all the good it’s doing. You glance at your mentor, sat at the back of the room scribbling away on your lesson evaluation, and your every instinct screams that you have to keep going, that you’ve been up all night working on this and you want your mentor to see all the thought you’ve put into it. When we think like this, we are seeing our teaching as a performance, where if we get our lines perfect and all our props work, then we’ve done well, but then you look at the faces of the students in front of you and you remember that being a teacher isn’t about you; its about them. You can give a Shakespeare-level performance every lesson, but if your students leave that classroom knowing no more or, God forbid, less about histograms than when they entered, you have failed and no glitzy PowerPoint is going to change that. So, this is where you have to be brave, take a deep breath, reach for the board rubber or the off button on the interactive whiteboard, grab your whiteboard pen and say, ‘Okay, so we’re going to back up a bit and try a different approach’. 

What I’ve learnt from the multiple times this has happened to me throughout my training is that a set of mini whiteboards is invaluable at this point; if nothing else, it wakes the students up a bit as they get excited about passing them around. Then it's time to go backwards: putting questions on the board starting from something you're confident they’ll all get, and then moving them along until you can diagnose – from the ‘interesting’ answers on their boards – exactly where you lost them. 

And finally, whatever you do, do not just repeat exactly what you said last time: I promise you the result will be the same. If I can think of a different way of explaining the topic right there on the spot, I’ll give it a try; otherwise, I find the best approach is to ask a lot of questions: ‘Explain to me what this represents’, ‘can you draw it for me’, etc., so I can shore up their base understanding for my second attempt next lesson.

By Laura Smith