First Encounters;Talkback

19th June 1998 at 01:00
It's not enough that you have 30 essays to mark every night. It's not enough to be providing supportive, yet critically constructive feedback. It's not enough to encourage three drafts of every essay. Even when that means correcting the same one three times because Year 10 hasn't clicked that "redraft" doesn't mean: "Copy out again, ignoring Ms Warren's full, supportive, yet critically constructive feedback."

It seems that apart from learning to assess your classes, as a student teacher you also need to assess yourself. Every de-briefing session after an observation turns into a bout of searching self-analysis that would put American TV talkshow hostess Ricki Lake to shame.

Teachers love targets. Maybe it's because they're so used to being one. They feel they ought to continue the process in a sort of "better the devil you know" approach.

I spend every day setting targets, receiving targets, analysing targets, hating targets. I feel like a contestant in a never-ending game of Bull's Eye. I thought darts was supposed to be fun, but even the most committed masochist would disapprove of this flagellatory fervour.

The reason why self-help gurus are so wealthy is because targets are never-ending - they are doomed to failure. It's a self-perpetuating cycle of guilt.

Targets are a self-righteous epidemic. Like a drug, once you start you can't stop. I'm in target trauma. My next target is to remember what my last target was. My next target is to avoid making any more targets. And underneath it all I have a nagging feeling that maybe targets are just a kind way of saying: "You're a useless teacher." Or: "That was a great lesson, Gemma, but let's set 20 million targets for next time."

Don't get me wrong. I'm not saying I'm a perfect teacher. But when I teach, all I can think about is targets. Each of my students represents another self-improving acronym (the first cousin of targets). What kind of a person thinks it's SMART to set targets? GETALIFE - that's my acronym for them. STOPBEINGSOHARDON-ME. I'm sick of always improving in time for the next target, I want some praise now. Let's talk about me for a change.

So now my targets are an invitation to facetiousness. Have sex - that was my last target. Conditions for completion: give up PGCE. You get the general idea.

Apparently, though, all this self-examination is about getting ready to become a reflexive practitioner. I thought that meant learning how to dodge the Tipp-Ex that's always being thrown around my classroom. What's so special about that?

I was explaining this brilliant theory to my colleagues in a recent target-setting in-service training session, when I was politely informed I was supposed to be reflective, not reflexive. But who has time in a PGCE to look in the mirror? Anyway, I'm open to advice. Target: take more care of appearance.

You know what targets are? They're time fillers, talking points. If reflecting is so important, why do we never have enough time to do it? I can't spontaneously self-reflect. By writing it down, I just kid myself I'm doing it.

Targets are the fast food version of self-improvement, all calories and no substance. You end up even hungrier afterwards, so you go back for more.

But they sound impressive when you're busy. They also absolve you of responsibility when you're running out of ideas. "Let's think about how we can improve our coursework, Year 10. How do we set targets? Let me introduce you to a handy acronym . . ." I'm learning fast. Target: improve attitude towards targets.

* Gemma Warren is a PGCE student at London University's Institute of Education. She graduated in English from Leeds last summer.

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