Thursday, December 2, 2010

Being a Teacher

People seem to underestimate the work involved in being a teacher. I can say this, without conviction, because I have been doing some of the work of a teacher. If you think it's just standing up in front of a class and talking for the day, you're wrong. At primary level, which I've been getting lessons together for, there's a lot of creative thought necessary.


Because children don't want to listen to someone drone on about everything day-in, day-out for eight years. They need activities, stimulation, colour, videos, music, and time away from being spoken at about all the subjects they don't care for.

So what does a teacher have to do?

Let's put this into context: I have three classes to teach in January - 2 Religion and 1 English, every day for two weeks. For each of these three classes and for each of the weeks, I need to prepare what's called a Scheme of Work. I normally like scheming. This involves so much more than just minute preparation and a lot of winging it, though. Each scheme needs to cover the AIMS of the week's lessons, CONCEPTS & DEFINITIONS involved in the lessons, RESOURCES that were used to prepare the lesson and a DESCRIPTION of each of the five lessons per class per week.

After that, there then has to be a Lesson Plan for each of the lessons in each of the classes for both weeks. For me, with only a fraction of the work of a fully-qualified primary school teacher, this is still a huge amount of work: 15 lesson plans per week! New teachers would use lesson plans for a while until they had everything more or less prepared for the duration of their time teaching a particular school year, only tweaking things when necessary. However, this means an estimated 8-9 lesson plans per day, which amounts to 40-45 per week, for 37 weeks of the year (I'm told). That's 1,480-1665 per year. Bare in mind that many teachers stay with the same class group for two years, so they don't repeat a year until after they've done the same workload again.

That's a LOT of preparation...

And it's only the beginning! Teachers still have to prepare worksheets and resources for all of these lessons, and... yes, you guessed it: they have to teach the lessons. But it's not over after that. There's also this thing children hate called HOMEWORK and it has to be collected. Fun times, yeah?

And this is what I've signed up for, only with secondary schools instead. This means less freedom for lessons, but less subjects to cover. That doesn't make it easier, it just means that I'd have to teach up to six years worth of material. Yeah, that's more lesson plans the first time around. And with the way the curriculum is in English, it'd mean having to change the plans every year for fifth and sixth class, based on what texts are on for their Leaving Cert exams.

That doesn't sound like fun... why are you doing this again?

I ask myself that every time I have to do the preparatory work. I guess I just want to teach. I want to pass on knowledge, maybe make a generation of people excited about books and reading and, if I'm lucky and good enough, half-way decent citizens. Religion teaching isn't just "Yay God and all that"; it's about encouraging pupils to make an educated choice about religion; it's about teaching morals and values that have real importance in the world; it's about promoting equality and understanding and removing all the presumptions about other religious faiths, which I find to be of high importance given South Park's attacks on Judaism and Islam, even they're meant to just be funny; and it's about helping pupils to progress in their faith development.


Faith development; it's part of Robert Fowler's study of what he calls the stages of faith. They're not specific to Christianity, though a lot of the work was done in a Christian context. The stages of faith present a stage of someone's life, allowing them to understand the world in different ways to others of different stages. It's generally accepted that there are very few stage six people who ever lived... one of them is Jesus, another is Mahatma Ghandi. See? Universal! And Religion in schools is about helping people with their faith development so that they can understand the world in new lights. It's all very fascinating, really.

And this is what being a teacher is about?

Well, this is an idea of what being a teacher is about. Contextually, this is really what being an English and Religion teacher is about. Maths and Science teachers wouldn't be as concerned with faith development, I wouldn't imagine! But the workload is the same. It's a lot to do and a lot to teach, and while it's not as easy as people think, so far it's been as fulfilling. And I haven't even taught my lessons, yet!

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