Reflective Essay on Different Aspects of Teaching Practice
Number of words: 2351
There are numerous areas of teaching which I need to improve upon, yet I have chosen to focus this essay on some of the fundamental factors to becoming a successful teacher: behaviour management and acting on feedback.
On placement I had to be careful to ensure that I had the correct level of formality in my relationships with pupils. This seems to be particularly apt in Mathematics where a significant amount of concentration and effort are needed. Haggerty (2002) suggests that a mathematics teacher needs to be relatively formal, in part due to the subject’s complex properties.
Being overfamiliar with pupils can diminish a teacher’s authority. Initially, in the first few weeks of the placement I was too informal with pupils and failed to progress from a teaching assistant-pupil to a teacher-pupil relationship adequately which requires a formal rather than informal, consultative register (Joos, 1972). However, my good relationship with pupils allowed me to contribute to their learning informally such as regularly helping pupils with maths homework outside of lessons and doing intervention and group work. Pupils seemed to thrive on the support I gave them. The informal, incidental learning (Marsick and Watkins, 1990) that took place clearly supplemented their formal lessons well.
Pupils gained a relational understanding (Skemp, 1977) of the topics they were learning due to my detailed explanations of how and why the maths worked. A great example of this was a colleague informing me of a Y11 student’s progress I had been working closely with: she was now achieving a C in Maths having only being at a grade D/E before, thus making her a candidate to sit the GCSE Higher Maths paper.
However, the rapport I had with pupils sometimes negatively impacted on my experiences in the classroom: particularly in my Year 9 class, where pupils misbehaved as they saw me as more of a student than a proper teacher. After consulting with the regular class teacher, I tried to remedy this by being stricter and tolerating disruption less. Capel and Gervis (2005) suggest that teachers who have high expectations of behaviour from their class tend to get their students to behave well. I found this to be true.
I tried to model the standard of behaviour I expected from the pupils, always being smart and punctual. I greeted pupils at the door at the beginning of the lesson and treated them fairly in the hope they would see me as a role model and copy my behaviour and thought processes (Bandura, 1977). This technique only partially solved the problem. My Year 7 and 8 classes behaved quite well but my Year 9 class was still disruptive, though they behaved better than at the start of my placement. I was teaching more lessons by my third week on placement and this naturally helped me gain some authority as pupils became more used to me as a teacher.
To try and improve the behaviour of my Year 9 group, I tried an alternative approach with them. I raised the volume of my voice, had zero-tolerance on misbehaviour and enforced heavy sanctions such as after-school detentions towards those who did misbehave. Interestingly, this worked on some students and not on others. This is perhaps explained by a University of New Hampshire report (2012) which stated that although some students who have a dearth of discipline at home will respond to this method, pupils who have controlling parents are less likely to respond to this strategy well. This is validated by my own experiences. I become more authoritarian instead of my intended authoritative manner (Ferlazzo, 2012) and damaged the rapport I had with students, creating conflict. Kearney et al. (1991) explain that students who dislike their teacher do not perform to their full potential in lessons, which was certainly true in my Year 9 class.
One approach that I did observe in an NQT’s lesson was to use formal register at the start of the lesson in teacher exposition before gradually using more informal language to assist students through activities and build a rapport with pupils. I found this to be successful in lessons when I trialled this approach. I also noticed that I was a lot more informal and relaxed when working with smaller groups of students as a teaching assistant. Pascarella and Terenzini (1991) explain that small group sizes are effective when a teacher has a large amount of interaction with students and motivates them which is something I always tried to do in my practice.
Gates (2001) highlights a lack of relevance to real life in Mathematics lessons as being a factor in misbehaviour in students. To try and engage students more, I provided more situations where pupils could see the content in a real-life context. Examples included having interesting facts at the start of the lesson such as why there are 360 degrees in a circle and having worded, practical questions on worksheets. As well as establishing strong cross-curricular links with Literacy, this allowed pupils to see the practical uses of mathematics which could motivate them more (Chambers, 2008) and add authenticity to their learning. Cockcroft (1982) suggests that it is hard to implement situations like this in every maths lesson. This is one of the limitations of this method. For example, algebraic topics are harder to link to real life than richer geometry modules. One target I got from my tutor was to have more purpose and meaning in my lessons, which I tried to achieve by chunking lessons into fast-paced activities with links to the real world. This worked for some pupils, but not all: less confident pupils preferred a slower-paced lesson where they had time to understand concepts.
Overall, I was quite a confident and recognisable figure to pupils, which had advantages and disadvantages. Ollerton (2004) argues that an informal teacher-pupil relationship can stimulate negative and disrespectful behaviour from students. This was partially true, particularly in my Year 9 class. This was because many pupils viewed me as a visitor or substitute, a common problem for student teachers on placement (Pope and Shivlock, 2008). However, after increased interaction with students in and out the classroom, they started to respect me more which is crucial to successful learning (Comer, 1995). It seems that the correct balance of being formal, yet approachable is required to be a successful teacher.
Acting on Feedback
Throughout placement I constantly reflected on my practice. I acted on and listened to feedback from experienced teachers. I did so as then they could give me the benefit of their expertise, thus increasing my Zone of Proximal Development (Vygotsky, 1978) by getting closer to their level of teaching capability.
Constant reflection is something that is needed to be an effective teacher. Ofsted (2012) established that the most successful mathematics teachers constantly strived to develop their practice. I kept a daily diary but this was not a sophisticated enough tool to use in my reflections. Schon (1991) states that, in order to become a reflective practitioner, you have to critically analyse your own strengths and weaknesses. My own interpretation of this was to relate theory to practice. From studying feedback given to me, I concluded that my biggest shortfall was in behaviour management. In order to try and overcome this barrier, I applied Honey and Mumford’s (2006) model of learning to a particular scenario involving my Year 9 class who often misbehaved in my lessons:
- Activist- The initial experience/stimuli of misbehaviour that happened in a Year 9 class I was teaching. Although not malicious in any way, students were loud and off task.
- Reflector- This is where I reviewed the experience and sought to understand why they were behaving like that by considering the internal/external conditions which affected their behaviour. I concluded that it was partially because of my teaching style, not having a clear and consistent routine and the school’s weak behaviour policy. It was also due to external factors like it being the last period on a Friday, meaning the students were desperate to get home and not in the mood to listen to me.
- Theorist- When contemplating the situation, I realised that it was not actually all my fault and that there were other factors causing their misbehaviour such as the time of day and the day of the week.
- Pragmatist- When I thought about how I was going to change this, I addressed each set of factors in turn. In terms of the internal factors, I set out clear expectations of behaviour of my class as well as a fixed classroom routine which calmed them down. For the external factors, I made it clear to the class that it was irrelevant that my lesson was last period on a Friday.
Going through this cycle of reflection enabled me to enhance my practice and learn experientially (Kolb, 1976) by reflecting on what I had made mistakes on and how to correct it. In this situation, I did note that the class started to behave better though I need to improve more in this area. However, there are limitations to this style of reflection. Davies (2012) states that it is quite elaborate and may distract from teaching practice. In addition, Price (2004) states that this model of reflection doesn’t really address any major issues. The amount of time spent reflecting on the problem did hinder me in my teaching practice.
To improve further, I needed to look at alternative models of reflection and learning through enactment and getting more voluntary experience in schools. Whilst on placement, I only taught lower school pupils and I need to gain experience teaching KS4 pupils. Observing and assisting experienced teachers will only increase my learning of the teaching profession. I will observe how to manage different classes to improve my performance and consistency in the classroom (Collinson, 1994; Bobek, 2004).
The placement I undertook really developed me as a teacher. I feel a lot more confident leading a class and have more of a teacher presence, particularly when dealing with younger students. I have started to control classes better and feel comfortable dealing with misbehaviour in the lower school. Conversely, I feel I need more practice at handling older students. Future actions I will take to improve my practice is to teach more challenging classes and older year groups in my summer placement to try and become more confident at leading a class.
I feel I have established a solid and reliable model of reflection which allowed me to change my practice and respond well to challenging incidents (see earlier example with my Year 9 class) and establish a plan of action. However, I do need to make sure that I continually reflect and amend my teaching style to suit different types of classes. I have always got on well with pupils and my varied abilities allow me to contribute a lot more to a school than just being a maths teacher.
Ofsted (2008) identify ‘subject expertise’, pedagogical knowledge and strong classroom management as the triumvirate of attributes needed to be a successful mathematics teacher. I feel I can demonstrate these skills well at an individual or group level. If I am comfortable displaying these skills at a whole class level I feel I will become a successful teacher.
Bandura, A. (1977) Social Learning Theory. New York: General Learning Press.
Bobek, B. L. (2002) ‘Teacher Longevity- A key to career longevity’, The Clearing House, 75 (4), pp. 202-205.
Capel, S. and Gervis, M. (2005) ‘Motivating pupils’ in Capel, S., Leask, M. and Turner, T. (eds.) Learning to Teach in the Secondary School: A companion to school experience. 4th edn.
Carroll, H. (1950) ‘A scale of measuring teacher-pupil attributes and teacher-pupil rapport’, Psychological Monographs- General and Applied, 64 (6), pp. 24-27.
Chambers, P. (2008) Teaching Mathematics: Developing as a Reflective Secondary Teacher. London: Sage.
Cockcroft, W. (1982) The Report of the Committee of Inquiry into the Teaching of Mathematics in Schools.
Collinson, V. (1994) Teachers as Learners: Exemplary teachers’ perceptions of personal and professional renewal. Bethesda, MD: Austin and Winfield.
Comer, J. (1995) Lecture given at Education Service Center, Houston.
Davies, S. (2012) ‘Embracing reflective practice’, Education for Primary Care, 23, pp. 9-12.
Ferlazzo, L. (2012) ‘Students who challenge us: Eight things skilled teachers think, say and do.’, Educational Leadership, 70 (2), pp. 100-105.
Gates, P. (2001) Issues in the Teaching of Mathematics. London: Routledge.
Great Britain. Ofsted (2008) Mathematics: Understanding the Score. London: Department for Education.
Great Britain. DfE (2012) Standards for Meeting Qualified Teacher Status. London: Department for Education.
Great Britain. Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (2009) The White Paper: Learning Revolution. London: Department for Business, Innovation and Skills.
Honey, P. and Mumford, A. (2006) The Learning Styles Questionnaire, 80-item version. Maidenhead: Peter Honey Publications.
Joos, M. (1972) Language and cultural diversity in American Education. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.
Kearney, P., Plax, T. G., Hayes, E. R. and Ivey, M. J. (1991) ‘College teacher misbehaviours: what students don’t like about what teachers say and do.’, Communication Quarterly, 39 (4), pp. 325-340.
Kolb, D. A. (1976) The Learning Style Inventory: Technical Manual. Boston: McBer.
Ollerton, M. (2004) Getting the Buggers to Add Up. London: Continuum.
Pascarella, E. and Terenzini, P. (1991) How College affects students. San Francisco: Jossey Bass.
Pope, M. and Shivlock, K. (2008) Successful Teaching Placements in Secondary Schools. Learning Matters: Exeter.
Price, A. (2004) ‘Encouraging reflection and critical thinking in practice’, Nursing Standard, 18 (47), pp. 123-129.
Schon, D. A. (1991) The Reflective Turn: Case Studies In and On Educational Practice. New York: Teachers Press, Columbia University.
Skemp, R. (1977), ‘Relational Understanding and Instrumental Understanding’, Mathematics Teaching, 77, pp. 20-26.
University of New Hampshire (2012) Controlling parents more likely to have delinquent children. Massachusetts: Science Daily.
Watkins, K. and Marsick, V. (1990) Informal and Incidental Learning in the Workplace. London.
Vygostky, L. S. (1978) Mind in Society: the development of higher psychological processes. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.