In amongst all the pressures, problems, difficulties, workload and aspirations, I feel it’s time to take a moment to reflect on two key aspects of being an effective teacher – patience and balance.
Effective teachers have a burning desire within them – to see each and every student they have in their charge succeed. Now this idea of success looks very different for each student. With so many students in our charge, it’s very difficult to balance their ranges of ability, motivation, engagement, well-being and day to day stresses and strains of being a youngster in the digital age with the demands for standards and self-evaluation procedures. An effective teacher will always strive, in my opinion, to shield the students from the cognitive load demanded by the continuous drive for academic improvement but not neglect the most important fact that the best gift we can give to our students is the best possible set of examination results that we can.
On the other hand, without some pressure and element of demanding academic growth, whatever that looks like in our subject areas, students can become lazy and lose focus on attention to detail and accuracy. Getting the balance right is a constant weighing up of many factors and often leads to lots of frustration and sometimes conflict with the student’s attitudes, aspirations and their value of learning. All in all, the learning zone is a multi faceted place where the student and teacher dance around in pursuit of the goal – growth in learning, confidence and outcomes. In addition to this, getting the lessons in the stretch zone where the growth is made involves delicately balancing the challenge against the skill acquisition of the students.
My desire is to see lasting and meaningful growth and there is a danger that this desire can lead to over balancing the level of challenge and desired outcome without a focus on developing the skills needed to meet the challenge. Pushing too hard and too fast can be counterproductive and even create a negative rather than positive tension within lessons.
Like many things, learning a language is difficult – fact! To be lasting and meaningful, learning a language is a long journey and by its very nature – time. Repetition and recycling of acquired language in a strategic approach is difficult to manage and even more so where the range of literacy standards within individual classes is often very wide. Breaking the language items down to the most effective level to drive acquisition for each individual student and going slow enough to allow time for the acquisition to occur does not balance well with the demands of examination performance and assessment demands.
In conclusion, the key is patience! Patience with ourselves and not feeling like we’re failing as teachers when the outcomes do not reach the level of our desires. Patience with the students who always want to do well but are constantly fighting with their own self-esteem and difficulties in staying focussed for long periods of time where the cognitive demand is very high. Patience with our managers who need to demonstrate they are responding to the demands of an ever demanding system for data, progress and outcomes. Patience with our workload and being confident in prioritising the most important aspects of our work – planning, teaching, two-way feedback and responding to the outcomes for individual students.
Yes – Patience and balance are the keys.