Thursday, January 15, 2015

Teaching Without the Paperwork

Any regular readers - or people who actually know me in real life - know that I'm a qualified teacher. I graduated in 2013 with a degree in Education, Religion and English. I've done my teaching hours. I've passed my exams.

But I haven't gotten a teaching job. I haven't registered to be a teacher - and that was a strategic decision, made on the basis of having to reach a certain amount of teaching hours within a couple of years...which I knew wasn't going to happen unless I started teaching immediately. Truth be told, I haven't actively pursued teaching as a career since finishing college, because I knew that I was going to be doing a Masters. I knew I wouldn't have time to teach and study, particularly not when I didn't even know what I would be studying.

In November, I was offered an assistant position in a web design course in college. It's a bit of a change from English and Religion, but more importantly, it came without a ridiculous amount of paperwork.

When I was on teaching placement, I didn't just have to teach. I also had to produce lesson plans every week - one for every class, each one unique, even if I was teaching the same material to different class groups. To add to the fun, I also had to send my Schemes of Work to my supervisors by Monday afternoon each week, for the week ahead. And each Sunday evening, my Reflective Statements for the previous week's lessons had to be uploaded for them to see, too.

Typically, a teacher should spend at least as much time preparing a lesson as they spend teaching it. That's an impractical demand, particularly for newly qualified teachers or teachers in training, but it ends up being something that has to be done - no complaining about it, because there's no one to listen.

Thankfully, this time around things are easier. No lesson plans. No schemes of work. No reflective statements. I don't have to spend six hours a day preparing the class for the next day.

This is, for all intents and purposes, teaching without the paperwork. This is liberating.

Web design is a funny ol' thing to teach, because in a few years it's incredibly likely that most of what we've taught the students will be obsolete, or at least less important. Heck, the only reason knowing how to code a website is important for the general user these days is if they want to set up their own website and edit the templates provided by Wordpress or Blogger. Just knowing what goes where, really.

See, unless you really understand the languages behind web design, you can't do much with them. If you don't understand the tags used in HTML, you almost certainly can't create a website that looks anything like a website. Trust me, I've been a student of the very same course I'm teaching and even though
tags existed back when I did it, we didn't use them. Even though CSS existed, we didn't use it. We had webpages that looked awful, and we didn't understand why.

The difficulty in teaching this sort of stuff in a week is that we need to teach the students what the tags do, why they're important, and how to use them. The last part is the most difficult one. With a little bit of time and playing around, students begin to understand that they need to close tags to make sure the page looks the way it's supposed to. They understand which tags they need to change. They just aren't sure how to start it from scratch. At least, I'm not sure they'd want to try.

And who can blame them? If I were on teaching placement, I'd have to come up with a reason for not teaching them to use everything all by themselves. The problem is, they only have a week. They have a week to learn something that's entirely new to them, and it seems that some the students don't even use computers at home. It's all mobile technology, these days.

Without a lesson plan to encourage teaching them everything from scratch, to have them create everything without a template (they've tried, then they were given a template to edit), and without the time to really let them at it, it's difficult to ensure that the students have learned anything.

The best we can do with a week - yes, a week - is to teach them to understand, and to try get them interested in web design. Some of them really have an eye for the design side of things, too, which was nice to discover. We can give them the tools to go and learn more. We can show them resources to use to create websites of their own. Sure, we can't ensure they'll actually continue. And we can't ensure they'll actually remember anything. But we can do an awful lot towards making sure they can come out of the class with a greater understanding of web design.

And all without the paperwork.

Monday, January 5, 2015

The Marvel Reset Switch IRL

Comic books are fond of time travel the way I'm fond of rum; it happens every now and then, and usually it gets a bit of attention. Marvel Comics are especially prone to stories involving time travel of some distinction, whether it's someone coming from the future to prevent a doom the X-Men have yet to face, a hero coming to the present day to join a team of young heroes, or Wolverine going back in time to play the role of Marvel's Reset Switch. The seemingly immortal (ha!) hero is ideally suited to make all the bad things go away how and when it suits him.

And that's what we seem to consider New Year's Resolutions to be. A Reset Switch, in real life. Don't want to smoke? New Year's. Want to lose weight? New Year's. Want to travel more? New Year's. I could keep going, but I can be prone to repetition in the same way Marvel are prone to repeatedly sending Wolverine back in time.

The point is this: sometimes, the Reset Switch works out for the best, and sometimes it doesn't. Sometimes, Wolverine pulls through and saves the day, and other times he only ends up causing a different kind of apocalyptic nightmare, because apparently that's the power of time travel. (Age of Ultron anybody?)

The real question is, how can we make sure we stick to our resolutions? How do make sure our personal Wolverine's actually succeed in the mission without needing to go back and do it all over again because he messed up the first time?

I had planned on recording a video for this, but I'm not sure I could sustain the Wolverine analogy long enough face-to-camera without looking like a mad man. Instead, I'll use bullet points. That's almost the same thing, right?

  • If you choose the way of the Reset Switch IRL, choose to change something that's important to you. You're more likely to stick to it if it actually matters; "go to the gym more often" is not as important as "live a healthier, more active lifestyle", because it doesn't specify what's so God-damn Reset-Switch-important about the gym itself.
  • Set positive goals, not negative ones, if it can be phrased in that way. Don't "give up junk food", when you can "eat healthier food". Don't say you'll "stop being so lazy" when you can say you'll "be more active".
  • Be specific in your goals. It's easy to say you'll go for a run twice a week, but it's better to say you'll run a specific amount each time, and increase upon that amount over the course of the year.
  • Declare your intentions in writing, in public or in private. Phrasing your New Year's Resolution the right way - a positive, specific goal - means you'll be more likely to stick to it. Saying it publicly is an even bigger motivation not to fail. (That's why you see so many people saying on Facebook that they're going to give up smoking. It's the mindset behind the Reset Switch.)
I happen to be a fan of the ol' annual Reset Switch, particularly because New Year's is about the time that I have a few days to myself, and I'll have just gotten over the rush of Christmas retail. The difference between this year and every other year is that I'm not going to aim to write every day, or publish something every day, because inevitably that falls on its face before the end of June or July. This year, I decided I would do something more for me, and less for my social media sites and various blogging sites. I decided I would attempt to do something significant every day, something I can talk about.

Already this year I've gotten to meet up with different groups of friends for dinner, and work on a screenplay that I've been wanting to write. They count towards my goal, and I write them down in a year planner as a record of what I've done, and to encourage myself to do something to include.

Added to this, I'm setting myself goals for each month. These include the number of videos, blog posts and short stories I want to write in a given calendar month, as well as a number of other goals. This month's list includes the writing of my screenplay, because I know that once college starts back, the time I'll have to do something like that will be more difficult to come across.

Here's the big question: what's your Reset Switch about this year?