Thursday, 8 April 2010

Live Plenary Session: Tessa Woodward - Harrogate Online IATEFL 2010

This morning from the comfort of my own home and with a cuppa and bikkies to hand, I watched a live streaming of Tessa Woodward's Plenary session called The Professional Life Cycles of Teachers. The talk was a fantastic one and it truly made me reflect on how I have developed as a teacher through the different cycles that Tessa mentioned so insightfully. I haven't quite reached the last cycle yet, (31-40 years of service), but I hope to! I would like to outline the main points from what I understood and this is for me to remember what I heard and saw for posterity, I hope. I have not mentioned everything and I would like to stress that this is a very personal precis of what I heard. You can find the recorded talk here on the IATEFL Online website. I recommend that you watch it and see for yourself.

Cycles, phases and rhythms
The talk introduced 4 main people who have influenced Tessa's research into this subject. Jennifer Jarvis, Mikel Huberman, Patricia J Sykes and Eric Ericcson, all at one stage or another, leading luminaries in the field of educational research and teacher training. Teachers were followed and observed from probationary status to retirement stage. Other teachers falling into different categories according to length of service were interviewed extensively for up to 5 hours each, and this combined research came up with some very interesting trends. The following trends regarding the number of years of service are descriptive rather than normative.

Years of Teaching: 1-3 years
Survival and discovery were the key points for this particular group. Some NQTs (Newly Qualified Teachers) were interviewed and what they said brought back memories of how it was for me too. Yes, spending 3 hours on a 20-minute observed lesson plan is something I did in my early years. Being in school spending time preparing and then taking books home with me and doing more prep til the early hours is something I did and I have to add, very gladly. I wanted to do things right. The pressure to do well was great. Young teachers have a big shock when the classroom control tips and procedures they have read about in books don't really physically help you out when you are faced with 20-30 lively and maybe unruly teenagers!! These early years can be very exciting but also stressful, when you are "learning the ropes".

Years of Teaching: 4-6 years
During these years, the freedom from constant direct supervision leads to a feeling of relief. Teachers tend to settle down in their roles. A period of stabilisation ensues. "Finding your feet", "trying out new techniques" were cited.

Years of Teaching: 7-18 years
This period in a teacher's life can lead to experimentation and possibly activism born out of stagnation. A desire to use different materials, a desire to increase one's own impact, a desire to branch out with one's own ideas is a common thread, which researchers found out about. The interesting term "pedagogical tinkering" was mentioned by Tessa Woodward. Teachers become more interested in HOW to do their work. This leads to teachers wanting to learn more, becoming interested in professional development, and also becoming more ambitious. I can say that this is true for me. I remember after many years of teaching at the chalkface, I started to think about how to further my knowledge. I think back to my appraisals and I remember saying I wanted to push myself. I wanted to teach teachers. I wanted to go on courses. I wanted to write materials. A whole list of things. I was lucky enough to have wonderful and supportive directors, who allowed me to develop professionally over the years. I guess I simply didn't want to burn out or stagnate, which is a danger that could be faced by teachers in this category. The feeling of "stagnation" or things being over-routinised can surface, leading to a mid-career crisis. Generativity is important at this stage. What is a resolution for this difficult phase in a teacher's life? Tessa gave her audience one minute to think about possible resolutions or non-resolutions for this phase.

My personal resolutions for a solution to "burn out" phase as jotted down in my rather bling and extravagantly bejewelled teaching notebook were the following:
  • personal development
  • go on a course
  • join a teacher's club
  • branch out
  • talk and talk and some more
  • get things off your chest
  • mentor less experienced teachers
The dulcit jingle of Tessa's bells heralded the end of the minute. I didn't have time to jot the Non-resolutions which are the following:

  • stay in job, feeling miserable
  • procrastinate
  • blame the system
Years of Teaching: 19-30 years
Serenity and possibly conservatism mark these years. I would hope that the word "serene" sums up exactly how I feel about teaching after more than 30 years (and a half, to be very precise!) Tessa explained that a veteran teacher is one who has been teaching for more than 24 years. I can now proudly call myself a "veteran" of teaching. Serene, more relaxed, more self-accepting sum up teachers in this category of years of service. I used to get very upset if a lesson didn't go too well and I remember taking things very personally. Now I don't. I calmly accept that I have done my best and I try to learn from the experience. Every teacher has a "bad hair day". Just move on and get on with more important things rather than wasting your very own valuable and precious time berating yourself.!! That's my way of seeing things, anyway.

According to the research undertaken by the four educationalists mentioned at the beginning, conservatism in teachers can creep in during this stage. Tessa gave us some interesting quotes taken from teachers interviewed, who were reluctant to accept innovations.

Years of Teaching: 31 - 40 years
Do I fall into this category as I'm in my 31st year? I'm not sure. Anyway, the key words which mark this cycle are serenity or disengagement. Some teachers are already mentally retired when they reach this high number of years. There is a theory of disengagement whereby ageing individuals tend to withdraw, as they may feel a bit squeezed out by the younger, more energetic teachers.

The Secret to Reaching 40 years of Teaching?
What keeps some people in teaching for up to 40 years? This is a fascinating question. What is going to keep me going for another nine and a half years? Well, Tessa suggested we should be kind to ourselves. I agree entirely! We should also "tinker" with change. That's exactly what I am doing! I guess I am "tinkering" with new technology. I don't understand half of it, but I am having great fun opening up my previous very limited knowledge and great fear of the unknown. "Tinkering" with changes, new materials, new groups, all lead to a more satisfied teacher. Such changes however small, lead to a greater feeling of serenity.

Here is a link to Anne Hodgson's very informative "The Island Weekly" blog which features a great post on "Pedagogical tinkering". It offers another perspective to this very intriguing "buzz" phrase of the day.

To Sum Up
Tessa stressed that as a professional group of teachers, we all have a responsibility to help younger teachers to set off in the right path. We need compassion. I wholeheartedly agree with this sentiment. We must never forget that we all started off in the same boat. Just imagine if we had all had a "mentor" to guide us at the beginning and the middle stages of our chosen career path? We all need a mentor. This is why I love mentoring newer teachers. It's the most satisfying feeling in the whole world. To instil the enthusiasm that I still have in my profession after all these years is something that I truly enjoy.

Tessa Woodward's plenary talk was fantastic in every sense of the word. It was a fine opening to what is going to be a brilliant IATEFL conference over the next few days. Please join me in the Learning Technologies Forum or the many other exciting online forums.

In the interview below, Tessa talks about the different stages in her professional career..


Anne Hodgson said...

Dear Janet,

I really liked it too. So much better than last year's keynote - no comparison! She's an excellent speaker and humorously and sensitively touched on the essential issues!

"Paedagogical tinkering"
What a brilliant term!
It totally hits the spot for that "mid-career crisis" period. I need to get a bit more structure into my "tinkering", so I, too, blogged about her talk today.
Can also recommend the interviews on Harrogate Online - really enjoyed them as a kind of synopsis.

Have a great virtual conference day tomorrow :)

Anne Hodgson said...

PS: Sorry, the plenary I was slurring was Marc Prensky's on using technology. I defended it wholeheartedly at the time.

But looking at individual professional development in global perspective as TW does is an inside view and much more conducive to a fruitful debate, I think.

Janet Bianchini said...

Hi Anne

Many thanks for your comments. I love the phrase "pedagocical tinkering" as well. It means so many different things, really. I do feel I'm in a "tinkering" stage and it's wonderful as it means I'm interested in learning more. I think the day we stop wanting to tinker, might not possibly be a good one!

I have read your fab post and enjoyed it very much.

Have a great virtual day, today. See you at the Pecha Kucha tonight?

Martin Sketchley said...

This talk was something that I could relate to. There are many teachers in South Korea that suffer burnout and I would like to thank you for posting this.

I have shared your post on my blog.

Marisa said...

Dear Jane,

Thanks for sharing this insightful post. It's great to read about these categories. I love the terms "Paedagogical Tinkering". I think that as teachers we should be examples as life-long learners. I love innovation and I think it's self-nurturing. Like you, I've been struggling to introduce technnology but it's been essential so as to avoid stagnation.
Regards from Argentina!

Janet Bianchini said...

Hi Marisa

Thank you for reading this post and for your comments today. I feel that you have embraced technology very well, and you use it in a great way with your students.

I agree that immersing oneself in something new is good to avoid teacher burnout. Writing this blog, joining Twitter, being surrounded by a like-minded PLN, all these things have opened up a new universe and it's as if I have been reborn - a "Born again teacher".

All these new things have released a new ray of energy in my life, which is unbelievable after over 30 years in the profession.

Regards from Abruzzo


Natasa said...

Wow, every word is true. I have been teaching for 22 years now. Two more years and I am officially a veteran:)

Janet Bianchini said...

That will be great to be "veterans" together, Natasa (lol)!!

It is indeed something to be proud of, but I hasten to add, each day / week / month /year of teaching that brings you fulfillment and satisfaction is an achievement to be proud of.

Teaching is one of the most difficult professions to get "right", as there are so many factors involved. This leads on to the interesting discussion on Leahn's blog "Born or Made?"

PS I still don't know how to create a live link in the comments section on Blogger! It'll have to be one of my new year resolutions:)

Debbie said...

Dear Janet,
Thank you so much for sharing this interview and your summary of her keynote.
As everyone here, I also love this "pedagogical tinkering"
This topic reminded me of a discussion we had with Chuck Sandy about getting stuck and getting unstuck. What do we as teachers do to get unstuck.
Tessa suggests talking to someone, connecting, I would add mentoring.
What makes teachers stay in the profession for 40 years? I think it has to do with passion, and also learning to "listen to our body", I know some teachers will think this is not possible as we all have to struggle with the bills somehow, but as for me, I pay attention to my body words, and give up for some time, and return energised.
However, the truth is that as time goes by I feel more connected and happy to be a teacher.
"Why do you teach?" "Because it makes me happy"

Janet Bianchini said...

Hi Debbie

Thanks so much for popping by and commenting on this post. Listening to Tessa Woodward speak about this topic was so fascinating, because everything she said about the teaching cycles was and is, so true.

If you are doing something that makes you happy, ie teaching, then going to work every day is such a pleasure, and I can associate with this feeling, too :-)

I love moderating the EVO Crafting the ePerfect Texbooks with you and the team, as I am learning so much from passionate teachers, who obviously love their job!

All the best,