My head sizzles, but luckily on the inside. I didn’t get lice from the Propedagogy-seminar, but tons of new ideas. Since the spring of 2014 and throughout my maternity and later parental leave I’ve closely followed the still ongoing conversation about individualized learning and the new national core curriculum. At first, I resisted change and had an allergic reaction of sorts when someone mentioned the term “ownership of learning”. “Totally stupid!” I cried. “That all’s been done forever!” I sulked. “Mother tongue teachers have already got this,” I whined. But the more I began to think about my own teachership and my experiences in the classroom, the more I began to convert and to believe that a “one-pace-for-all” -kind of learning really doesn’t serve everybody – in fact, it might serve nobody but the teacher herself.
I’ve always been the teacher who is distressed about inclusion, integration, and differentiation. I don’t know how to differentiate, I don’t remember to differentiate, and I don’t notice myself differentiating; I feel as though I am not equipped to encounter different learners in a class. I don’t notice that a student is unable to keep up before I do in an exam. It saddens me. Student welfare, upbringing, encountering a child or a youth takes much more of my time than mastery of my own subject, and I love teaching Finnish and Literature.
I was very excited in 2013 when I got to return to work, and very glad to notice that I still knew how to be, or finally got to be, a grown-up and a teacher. I felt superior mastery; I felt like I was a real teacher. I’m not going to lie: I am slow to grow and develop, and also slow to internalize things. I went on another maternity leave in 2014, and already then I was pained by my own role as a teacher (I give instructions, I give more specific instructions, I give a pen and put it in the student’s hand, I open the book on the appropriate page, I dictate the first sentences, I give even clearer instructions, I write the schedule in Wilma, on the blackboard, and the student’s notebook, I take a photo of the homework assignments, the schedule, and the reminder of an upcoming exam with the student’s own phone, I force, blackmail, threaten and bribe…) and pained by the constant assessments, corrections, tests, and the schedules set by the GPA of high schools’ and my inner critic, and I forced these schedules on my students with unbelievable determination and stamina. As a result, there were a lot of frustrated students and one tired teacher. There were satisfied students, too, and wonderful moments, but pulling that sled of stones didn’t inspire me anymore. I didn’t feel or see the joy of discovery.
Now I’m back to work, full of excitement, and I’m going to strike while the iron is hot. We have a newly renovated school. We have the best possible technology. We have GAFE. We finally have enough computers. We have an unbelievable group of teachers. We have a new curriculum! We have social media, which is the best channel for shared teachership I have ever seen. It beats a lot of shared teachers’ rooms, teachers’ meetings, and get-togethers, any day of the week. If we don’t change our course now, we never will.
Thank goodness a few colleagues and I got into this training. We found out that among us, there are several quiet ones, but also a few louder individuals, and we all ponder about the same things. Working on sharing, but doing it alone, is still a lonely endeavor. Shared teachership interests us, and we now have a feeling that it might just succeed.
The best thing of all in this school year has been that I’ve managed to get the students to pay attention to their own way of working and also to get them to consider why they are studying certain specific skills. Young people grow up to become very self-regulating, if you only give them space. There are, of course, those who need a lot of support, but now I have more time for them. After the first training in September I jumped right in, head first, and began to work on the moods of verbs with year eight students. Since then, I’ve developed the system a lot. I’ve guided the mode of working towards a more teamwork-based system. I give the students fairly clear perimeters and a schedule, and so far I rely fairly heavily on the textbook, but I think it’s important to let the students practice doing, too. The book is familiar and safe.
I got especially excited about the material I got for guiding the students’ self-assessment and evaluating one’s own learning. For my own, dear subject I’ve already created several individualized paths and guided them, I feel, toward extensive skills. From the students I’ve received lots of good, excited feedback. Once again I feel as though what I do makes sense.
At some point I plan on experimenting not giving grades for any of the tasks performed during the course itself, but only giving out written feedback and a goals-form, filled out together with the student, as well as the criteria for different grades and the criteria for different level performances. For grammar-related things my colleague and I are planning a task that the student could perform at his or her own pace. At the end of the period the student and I would together ponder about the grade. Yikes! Super-scary!
Mari Uusitalo and the Peda Big Bang- team, Tapiola school, Espoo