Thursday, 19 March 2015

Being a Beginning Teacher in NZ

I was lucky enough recently to have a wonderful evening catching up with a group of teacher friends from university. We had all graduated from the Grad Dip programme at AU and all come from an amazingly diverse array of backgrounds. We were all taking advantage of the beginning of term and the 'last free time' we expected to have for a while. 

After the congenial chatter died away we moved onto the inevitable topic of being a PRT and what that meant for our year ahead. We reflected on the stark reality of being a beginning teacher and trying to maintain the balance of workload and expectations with any form of a social life. We all know that it is necessary to have a good 'work/life balance' but trying to achieve that balance is a mighty challenge.

I will admit that sometimes feel that I am not cut out to be a teacher. I spend so much time preparing lessons, creating resources, planning, reporting etc. that I come to the conclusion that maybe I'm just not cut out to be a teacher, let alone the kind of teacher I want to be.  I understand that as a new teacher, it is going to be harder, take longer, and be more challenging. Learning any new skill or role takes time and of course is going to be more 'full on'. I love learning, reflecting and improving my practice but at some point you have to stop and think does it really have to be this hard? 

I am fortunate enough to be working in a school with an amazing mentor teacher, in a newly formed learning hub this year. We collaborate and co-construct planning and lessons, either face to face or using the ever convenient Google Docs.  Upon further discussion with my peers I realise how truly fortunate I am to be in a genuinely collaborative and supportive environment. In my first year I reached out for help and advice from my Mentor, Senior Management and peers to help me cope with the workload, behaviour, and classroom management, and they were all willing to give it.

My friends have had varied experiences in their respective schools but the common theme is one of doing it largely alone. Yes they have Mentor teachers who support/advise them to varying degrees but when it comes down to the day to day, they are in their classroom on their own.  One of the biggest benefits I have found from my experiences as a PRT in a team-teaching environment is the feedback and reflective practices inherent within. I am able to unpack my lessons if necessary, review my classroom management techniques and reflect on my teaching practice regularly and constructively with the guidance and opinion of a peer. 

Self reflection is an important part of any profession (I would go as far to say it is a necessity in life) but to do so with an expert other is the true meaning of social learning and Vygotsky's ZPD. 

It would be fantastic if some kind of apprenticeship programme could be developed for beginning teachers, providing the opportunities for PRTs to learn and develop with the aid of an expert other. Experiencing the day to day realities of being in the classroom and what the role of a teacher really involves alongside co-construction of resources and planning would set new teachers up to succeed. Current university placements don't even come close to the real thing. John Hattie mentioned in his talk at last year's Festival of Education that there is an alarming retention rate for new teachers and that many leave the profession within their first 5 years. 

I am thankful for the support and mentoring I receive but it makes me wonder if I am struggling, how are PRT's coping in less than supportive environments?