First step - Fantastic five

18th September 2009 at 01:00
Experts are in agreement that there are key stages to learning and becoming a 'real' teacher. Knowing which one you're at is crucial

You know how you want to teach, the pupils are hanging on your every word, you're even managing to maintain discipline. You've got the feeling that everything is possible. But how is it really going?

Your first year will be rewarding and stimulating, but never underestimate how nervous you will be. You will go through lots of different stages and it is important to look at where you are, where you want to be and by when and who can help you.

Academics John Furlong and Trisha Maynard identified Five Stages of Learning in the development of student teachers from "early idealism" and "personal survival" to "dealing with difficulties" and eventually "moving on" to understanding the role and responsibility of being a professional educator.

James Williams, lecturer in education at Sussex University, believes a good understanding of these five stages of development - whether you're a student or you've started your teaching induction year - is crucial. It's also a process you may go through at other points in your career, such as starting a new job. "If students and their mentors understand the stages they go through it can make the whole training process much more meaningful," he says.

Saadia Ali, 25, has recently begun her NQT year at Langdon School in east London. During her PGCE course at the Institute of Education she began to realise that her development corresponded to the five stages of learning.

At the beginning of her course, Ms Ali was asked to describe what makes a good teacher. When her tutors asked her to review her answer towards the end of the academic year, she realised how much her opinions had changed. "It is in this moment that you realise how idealistic you were," she says. "You recognise how difficult it is to put your ideals into practice against the pressures of targets, behaviour and the social and cultural elements specific to a London class."

The first period in the classroom is, for most students, primarily focused on developing their own performance as teachers - this is part of the personal survival stage. They concentrate on acting like a teacher - copying and refining those overt aspects of teaching behaviour that they see more experienced teachers using.

"During the practice you observe teachers and quickly pick and choose which aspects of their teaching you want to incorporate in to your own," says Ms Ali. "Initially, the teacher you become is an amalgamation of all the teachers you've observed."

Student teachers then begin to be able to distance themselves from the classroom - they see problems more clearly. "Once I got into the classroom all the theory I had dealt with at university went out the window and I began to question its relevance," says Ms Ali. "However, once I had time to breathe again, theory and practice came together."

Most trainees will plateau after this. Some don't recognise this stage and feel that the plateau is in fact when they have got it and know how to teach. They feel secure as they plough through the routines that are successful, but which may not be inspirational.

"Trainees should be encouraged to know the plateau when they reach it and seek to experiment and push the boundaries of their teaching," says Mr Williams.

He adds that there are no set times that students should enter each stage. "Just as children progress at different rates, so too will student teachers," he says. It is quite possible that students will hit stage four late in their first teaching experience and then find that they regress and go through stages one to three again during the NQT year.

"This is natural," he says. "Knowing about these stages and understanding what they are about shortens the time taken to progress to stage five, which is where you should be in order to truly call yourself a teacher."

Five stages of learning

STAGE 1: Early idealism

- Strong ideas about what you want to do.

- Feeling that everything is possible.

- Belief that relationship with pupils will determine effectiveness as a teacher.

STAGE 2: Personal survival

- Detecting and fitting in with routines and expectations.

- Wanting to be "seen" as a teacher.

- Establishing classroom control.

STAGE 3: Dealing with difficulties

- Beginning to make sense of what is happening in the classroom and identifying solutions.

- Concern shifts from personal survival to survival "as a teacher".

STAGE 4: Hitting a plateau

- Solving problems such as behaviour management and organisation.

- Feeling that you are mastering teaching and beginning to enjoy it.

- Enthusiasm for new teaching styles wanes.

STAGE 5: Moving on

- Understanding the role and responsibility of being a professional educator.

- Willing to try out new teaching styles and take on more responsibilities.

- Willing to move if your school doesn't offer you these opportunities.

Source: Mentoring Student Teachers by John Furlong and Trisha Maynard.

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