I have been asked to ‘lecture’ at the University of Wollongong this year. This position gives me the privilege of working with tertiary students preparing to become English teachers. This is an exciting opportunity and while preparing, thinking about the idealistic and the pragmatic, it became evident to me that the experience of organising to teach at the university might make for a useful introductory anecdote about the mixture of traditional and new tools/resources we use daily.
Like those who will commence teaching careers in a school next year, I am starting in a new environment, uncertain of the spaces and technologies, abilities and interests of my students. I am not familiar with the University’s systems or infrastructure. How am I preparing? What will my students do to prepare for their classes?
Here’s a list of what I have been doing in the last few weeks since accepting the position:
- contacted – via Twitter, Facebook, Skype and email – colleagues and friends who work in universities teaching teachers, especially ‘English Method’, to ask for advice
- contacted – via Twitter, Facebook, Skype and email – colleagues and friends who are the most knowledgeable practitioners of English I know, seeking advice
- read the previous outline of the course I am to teach and looked at the text list; found what I already had on my bookshelves
- brainstormed and researched texts, websites, tools and resources to be be considered for the course
- asked questions of my contact/subject co-ordinator at the university via email and phone, especially about the space where sessions take place and the technology available
- jotted down all of the changes that I believe need to be made to the course and importantly, listed what I wanted to achieve
- I then tried ‘to see’ or imagine from one of new students’ POV what they wanted/needed from the course to prepare them for their careers. What will their first experiences teaching English be when newly appointed to a school? I made an incomplete list of scenarios of what may happen
- NB I have also made a few written points about being ‘realistically idealistic’ (trying to find the right balance) that may be fodder for reflection in later posts
- I asked on Twitter, “what’s the best poem you know about being a good or bad teacher?” and ‘favourited’ the most interesting responses for later reference
- I thought about my Year 10 program and ideas as an opportunity to share with my tertiary students
- I sought support from our professional association, the NSW English Teachers, who have a deserved reputation for ‘sharing the expertise’
As a result of the above preparations I had a range of resources I wanted to read, reread or buy. Some were as far away as my bookshelf or Kindle. Of course, I used booko.com.au to find the best prices, which, for textbooks, were still ludicrously high. As you know, I love the freedom and flexibility my Kindle – with Macbook, iPhone and iPad apps – offers. James Gee and Elisabeth Hayes’ latest, Language and Learning in the Digital Age (2011) was available for S2.39, rather less than at a local bookstore. I started reading immediately and tweeted a quote from Gee via my iPad that seemed particularly sage. I believe that James Gee sees very clearly the rewards and challenges of our digital era and highly recommend his work.
Student teachers have a particularly challenging but very rewarding road to travel, especially considering that the vast changes taking place, as a result of ICT, have to be balanced with the realities of potentially working in a classroom that has a blackboard and chalk. Even in the most well-equipped school, it is unlikely that every student will have a laptop, iPad, wireless connectivity and an Interactive Whiteboard. Teachers, all of us, live in a world that is ‘digital’ and ‘analogue’. Of course, there are very practical time management issues for all of us as well.
Having said that, we need to make sure that students have opportunities appropriate to the era they are growing up in and that we do not use the reality that “the future is already here – it’s just not evenly distributed” (William Gibson) as an excuse or barrier that slows change. Teachers needs an ever-growing repertoire of skills.
I asked myself this question, how would someone have prepared, in the immediate weeks/months before commencing, to teach ‘English Method’ or their high school classes twenty years ago? What tools and resources would they use? Are they any better off today due to technology?
I obviously used books from my shelf, like any good academic but the benefits of being able to access a quality, relevant tome, like Gee’s book, so inexpensively electronically (where I can make notes, highlights and share) is very convenient and practical. Tools – Skype, Facebook, Twitter and humble email – really allow for excellent access to expert colleagues.
How will student teachers prepare for their lessons? What tools? Are they connected?
It seems that the best classrooms would have the kind of access and flexibility discussed in this post. Students should be able to have the best of both worlds. It seems very obvious that highly professional teachers are collaborative, seek ongoing professional development and to be connected. They like to share.
I hope to model, in my ‘lectures’, methods for being a connected, highly professional English teacher. I intend to share my experiences with you in 2012.
I meet with new colleagues at the university tomorrow to discuss my role and the above. I will send them this post…