Go that extra mile

12th January 1996 at 00:00
Do something beyond the classroom and you won't regret it, says Nicholas Wong.

Coming out of probably the least restful Christmas ever, the trainee teacher faces the profound question: what am I, student or teacher? And instead of finding it a game of two halves the trainee realises he or she is leading a double-life with twice the burden.

Just as one thinks one has begun to balance planning, marking, disciplining on the one hand, and reading, writing, presenting for seminars on the other, the stakes appear to rise. Teaching loads increase, reports need writing, and parent evenings demand preparation. On top of that, the college will have its own new year agenda.

I will never forget that during this winter congestion a mysterious boil appeared on my neck. The doctor took one look at it and said the hateful word: stress. I can't go on, I thought.

However, just as you grind the last of your teeth away and pronounce "Thus far and no further", dare I recommend you do one thing: go the extra mile. That is, do something more beyond the classroom. The idea sounds absurd, yes, but it will be worth the second boil. All kinds of unforeseen benefits will befall you: at teaching practice, at job interviews and at the school where you ultimately find yourself working next September.

Of course your time is worth its weight in gold. But by investing the extra time here and there your run-in to June might receive a bit of ease and even some enjoyment. Here are some suggestions: * Offer help sessions. Your disruptive students are often those who are not comfortable with their learning. By giving them the chance to come and see you in private they can avoid embarrassment in front of friends.

Make it known again and again that you can be found at a given place at certain times in the week, or arrange things on an appointment basis. The idea is that once a student can get past the "I don't get it, Sir, so I don't like it" stage they will at least begin to feel in control of their learning. It would be surprising if their behaviour in class got worse. They may even begin to not hate your class - or you.

Likewise, those who want to get ahead in your subject will appreciate the extra few minutes spent with them. Just in the little time spent on a one-to-one basis or with a small group most student-teacher relationships cannot help but brighten.

* Be a show-off. Trainee teachers often worry that their classes don't regard them as "real" teachers. That may be because they are hesitant in treating those classes as "real" classes. Regardless of age or ability students love attention. So, be bold. Habitually reading out an example of a good piece of work (or even better a good effort from someone who's struggled) at the start or end of a class adds a personal touch to the structure of a lesson and always gains a group's attention. And all that marking of homework and projects. Pin it up on the display board for a week or two. You'll win over the most obstinate hearts and minds .

Mentioning how impressed you've been with certain students to their form tutors is a casual and subtle form of praise as well. Through these small illustrations of raising esteem, for individuals or whole classes, you become that much more important to them.

* Arrange an activity out of class. Pupils love going out, and there's nothing that stipulates that trainees can't take them. Museums, galleries, theatres and cinemas, and historical sites, are all there to be visited and many make provisions and give special discounts for school trips.

* During my training year I ended up planning a trip to the National Theatre with my Year 10 class to see Macbeth simply as a result of a lunchtime chat in the staffroom. Not only did the students enjoy the experience (some never having stepped into a theatre before), they behaved like a dream - "Is this my class I see before me?" me thought - and sang on the bus all the way home.

After a few administrative blunders, these are the steps I took to make the trip happen: I aired the idea with the class's regular teacher and gained her approval and support; I took down all the details relating to the excursion such as possible dates, times and costs, and checked the school calendar so as to avoid any scheduling conflicts.

I went to the head of department and the deputy head for permission to proceed and then and only then was the idea put to the class and any members of staff to see who was interested.

Having done a per-child costing, including transportation, I then reserved a quantity of tickets and hired a coach. Working with the school office I drafted a standard letter to parents with consent forms and distributed them to the class. Forms and cheques were collected and all accounts and names of participants finalised.

This is, of course, just a skeleton of how to proceed. Protocol will vary with each school but getting your facts and dates right is a must. And remember, apart from going through the proper motions with the school hierarchy, your best friend in the venture - in most ventures, as you've probably discovered - is the school office. Keep them abreast every step of the way.

A successful outing will have the immediate effect of creating a solidarity between everyone who went on it. Somehow, for me, this translated into an extra "peace dividend" in class. I could ask them for more and they were prepared to do more. Our rapport grew stronger and this gave my confidence and teaching a real boost.

Most "extra miles" begin as hurried afterthoughts and end up lining that famous road along with other good intentions. But the one or two taken can have very positive knock-on effects. They find their way into references, conversations at interview, and into one's ideas about what is possible amid a heavy workload. But the immediate reward is to your students and they won't forget it.

Spring and summer, once miles out of reach, will seem to come quickly after that.

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