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The school in which I undertook my observations was a primary school located 3 kilometres from one village and 5 kilometres from another village. There are 4 private minibuses catering for students in the school which shows the variety of areas students travel from. The church which is involved with the school is approximately 2 kilometres away. The school is located in the countryside with most of the community's facilities located within driving distance.
The school was built in 1973 but has since been renovated. The building has 4 large classrooms, 2 small classrooms for one-to-one teaching with the Special Needs Assistants and a staff room. One of the large classrooms now goes unused due to budget cuts and one teacher being moved to another school. The school has sports facilities such as 2 recreational fields, a basketball court and changing facilities. It has a Green Flag for environmental awareness and practice.
There are 80 students enrolled in the school, employing 3 full time teachers. The school also employs 2 full time Special Needs Assistants and 1 part-time Special Needs Assistant. There are 2 substitute teachers which are regularly asked to work during busy periods.
The school also has written a detailed code of behaviour, which included a Mission Statement, an Anti-Bullying and Harassment policy, and a Discipline Policy. The mission statement is what the school aims to do and to provide for students and staff in the school at all times. "The school commits itself to creating an inclusive, caring and disciplined environment, promoting a respect for diversity of culture and fostering a spirit of mutual respect among students and staff." The school hopes to provide this environment with the cooperation of the Parents and the wider community by challenging its students to achieve their full potential.
In the school, I noted that bullying was specifically condemned by the Code of Behaviour. The school aimed to "create an ethos within the school to encourage students to disclose and discuss incidences of bullying behaviour". The school created steps and procedures to deal with alleged cases of bullying. These steps are outlined in the policy but vary depending on the bully and victim. The procedures are different for 'student to student', 'staff member to student' or indeed 'staff member to staff member'. This policy was revisited and approved by the Board of Management in May 2011.
The discipline policy sets out the roles and responsibilities of staff members in relation to behaviour and describes the purpose of school rules. It defines what is considered serious misbehaviour in the school environment and disciplinary procedures. These procedures are split into 7 stages starting with 'Reasoning with the student' and if a compromise is not reached, it may result in Expulsion. This policy was altered and approved by Board of Management on 30th of March 2009.
After partaking in observations in a primary school, I have learned that being a teacher is complex, they need to be versatile to have the skills to adapt to different situations. Teachers should have the capacity to identify students that are struggling and when some students need visual aids or demonstrations. The complexities of teaching include being able to adapt to a variety of student abilities and the ability to facilitate different types of learners.
There are complexities in being a teacher such as socio-economic issues in the area for instance poverty. This was not evident to me during my observation but the teacher made me aware of the importance of sensitivity in such cases. There are other intricacies in being a teacher for example a language barrier between teachers and students (Petty, G 2009). This has become more prevalent in the recent years due to an increase in people moving for work etc. While on my observation I noticed that the teacher had to use very simple English to explain a concept to a child as English was not his first language and only had few words.
The learning process can be complex which became clear to me during my observations. These were explained to me by the teacher during the day and while not all these were present on the day, it was important for me to be aware of them. Some difficulties in learning for students could include learning styles not being facilitated by teachers in the classroom. As many students learn using visual, audio or kinaesthetic methods (Cohen, 2004), or a combination of these methods, it can be difficult for students to learn unless some of these needs are met.
Special needs are a complexity for learners in any learning environment but with more awareness in schools it has become less of a struggle. I feel teachers should be more aware of the student's needs. In the case of a dyslexia student, the teacher may need to organise more time for them during any assessments. A student with impaired sight or hearing may have to be seated near the front of the classroom and may need special equipment, or classrooms may need to be changed to suit a student with mobility problems (Petty, G 2009). All these considerations could make a students learning easier.
It became clear to me that a teacher has many roles within a school; an educator, an assessor, an assistant and a role model (Harden R M, 2000). First and foremost, a teacher's role is to educate their students but it is also important for a teacher to assess a students learning. I noticed that assessment is part of a teacher's day. When class first began, assessment took place by students doing a spelling test on words they learned throughout the past week. Evaluation and assessment should be on-going to help identify when learning is ineffective (Petty G, 2009). Teachers will often find that they are needed to assist colleagues in activities such as lunch-time supervision, sports trips or perhaps after-school study. Most importantly, a teacher is a role model to students. In primary schools this is more evident when students learn to write by copying a teacher. But this trend can continue on to second level, when students never turning up to class on time because the teacher is regularly late. "Do as I say, not as I do" does not suffice in these circumstances.
This observation was to discover the skills I will need to develop in order to become an effective teacher. Although there are such a large number of skills needed to teach effectively, some are more obvious than others.
It is vital for a teacher to have planning skills to plan a lesson on a daily basis (Kyriacou, 2007). A lesson plan gives the teacher a target to reach with each class and a time frame to complete each section of the course. It becomes easier for the teacher to analyse how far along the course they have progressed. It would be considered long-term planning to decide at the beginning of the year when each topic in a syllabus is going to be taught (Cohen, 2004). This can be very useful in assessing how much detail has to be covered in each class. Overall, I would believe that planning is a large part of being an effective teacher and is something I feel I need to develop.
A skill that is necessary for a teacher to have is time management (Kyriacou, 2007). This can be split into 2 parts, short term and long term. In short term, it is important for a teacher to complete all that was planned for each lesson within the time constraint. Except for special circumstances, a lesson should never end late as it could suggest a teacher does not have the skills to organise the lesson efficiently (Kyriacou, 2007). Long-term time management can be as simple as having a folder of lesson plans, timetables and a calendar with dates of homework to be submitted and tests organised in advance (Petty, G 2009). It is important for teachers to use their time wisely, it ensures that the workload is evenly spread throughout the year and it provides peace of mind to students to know that their teacher has everything planned. For these reasons time management is a skill I will need to develop.
The skill of questioning is pertinent to a teacher's job. Asking questions of a student can have many different reasons, which can include introducing a new topic to the class, to discover what students are struggling without any embarrassment, trying to see what students already know on the topic, refreshing previous information with the class or simply introducing new language to the students (Cohen, 2004). It is important that when a teacher is asking a question, they are open to different interpretations from students and are able to rephrase a question if a student is struggling. It is also important for a teacher to be able to make a question more leading to aid a student in finding an answer themselves and not give the answer away in the question (Kyriacou, 2007). Personally I feel that this is the skill I will need to develop most during my time as a student teacher. It is a skill which has never been developed through my time in second level education.
In my final observation, it was important to identify the importance of planning and preparation for me as a student teacher to ensure professionalism. Although I knew it was important to be prepared as a student teacher, I did not quite realise the extent of planning that should go into getting ready for teaching practice. To act professionally in a host school, there are many appropriate actions which will be discussed below.
Before beginning work in the school, it is advised to visit the school to get a feel for what the atmosphere is like between staff and students. This visit will also aid the student teacher in understanding the layout of the school and to meet teachers. It is advisable that the student teacher would research the school and any of its policies which would usually be on the school website. During my observations I noted that it is vital that any teacher would have an idea of the abilities of their students, and a student teacher should get this information before beginning their work. This information should be available from the permanent teacher (Cohen, 2004).
To ensure that a student teacher is professional, it is important that they communicate with the permanent teacher on topics covered and to ask any questions they may have. It may be a good idea to ask what teaching methods they use and find useful as they know their class's abilities (Petty, G. 2009). The teacher will be able to discuss any students that need a special needs assistant, or daily problems such as students feeling ill during class or protocol on students going to the toilet (Cohen, 2004). This information is often referred to as the hidden curriculum of the school, which is what makes the running of the school run smoothly.
While on teacher practice, professional courtesy is very important. If you are unable to attend work for any reason, it is important to notify the school promptly and any lateness to work should have an explanation. It is important to be dressed appropriately and maintain a neat appearance while on teaching practice to appear to be professional, and out of courtesy to senior colleagues a classroom should always be left tidy with a clean blackboard (Cohen, 2004).
While most student teachers feel it is most important to be professional with colleagues, from my observations I find that it is more-so students who need a professional teacher. To be considered professional, it is important to have lessons planned, to know what textbooks are used and what sanctions are used within the school (Cohen, 2004). When a teacher is not organised and is only working 'on-the-spot', it is the student who will know and suffer from this. A professional teacher will know what punishment is correct for different levels of incorrect behaviour. I think that a student teacher shouldn't shy away from punishment as students will take advantage of this and they will not consider it professional teacher behaviour.