chocolate in the fruit bowl (karenhealey) wrote,
chocolate in the fruit bowl

Hey, Karen Elizabeth, how was your 2013?

Hi, Internets!

At the end of a year, I like to write about things I did during that year. I sure did some things this year, yup.

HAHA lies, I basically did one thing, and learning how to be a teacher was the hardest, most exhausting thing I have ever done. The school I went to has a reputation, and that reputation is "our graduates will be competent teachers, and you can trust them to walk into a classroom and be functional immediately, but also we will break them."

As in, we came in and the class before us did all these skits at the welcoming ceremony about how we would never sleep again and the tutors wouldn't let us graduate until we cried, and I giggled nervously with the rest of my classmates because it couldn't be THAT bad. Six weeks later I looked hollow-eyed at the clock and tried to make the decision between finishing a lesson plan and getting more than four hours sleep. Was a tutor going to turn up in my tough class the next day? And oh no, I hadn't done the new seating arrangement to separate those talkers in the back row!

It was exactly that bad. There is definitely crying at grad school*.

But can I teach? Yes, I can.

Grad school turns out much fewer teachers than most teacher training schools in New Zealand, but has notably higher employment rates. I think that's largely down to three things: selective application procedures; giving us a lot more classroom exposure; and normalising the incredibly stressful working conditions. They warned us it would be hard, and Internets, they were not kidding.

At most NZ teaching programmes, you arrange with your tutor to come in and observe you on a day when you have prepared a lesson plan and will be taking the whole class. At grad school, we told the tutors when and where we were teaching each class (and if we weren't doing full classes by the end of week two of our placements, it was time to get worried). The tutors might not turn up, but also they might. Without telling us they were coming.

This had the salutary and absolutely terrifying effect of making us exhaustively prepare for every single minute of every class, which is why I racked up massive sleep debt every week and would be out by 7pm each Friday. I used to put in at least two or three hours of prep for every class hour - now it's more like one and a quarter, which feels a bit more like Real Teacher time.

The tutors watched us so often so that they could give us feedback and I love this feedback model so very much. They asked us to articulate the things we did well (positives) and the things we wanted to do better next time (advice), and they told us what they thought in each of those categories. No one interrupted. No argument. No defense. Just me, and them, and what we both thought of my performance.

I did well with the feedback model, partly because at the age of 32 I have finally realised I don't need to be perfect to be worthy, but mostly because I am used to editing and I know exactly how I respond to critique:

Stage 2: Oh, yeah! *edits*.

But I wasn't great at everything aha oh no. We had academic presentations - self-directed research, presented to a tutor, who would then skewer exactly the point I had neglected to investigate. And at the end of every term we had to write a lengthy and detailed reflective report on what we'd done, and we had a week to do that, and I was so terrible at this you do not know. But Karen, fellow students said, you write books. I DO NOT WRITE BOOKS ABOUT MYSELF. IN ONE WEEK. I inevitably reached toxic levels of boredom by Tuesday. I would have done anything other than write that report but I had to do it, so I did. It felt like dripping acid into my brain.

I knew I had a chance of getting out in term three, and I very deliberately cut almost everything out of my life but work and sleep. I went to weekly game night twice. I looked at my budget for the potential term four and then I stopped cooking. I used the remnants of my savings to buy prepared food every day for nine weeks. It was ruinously expensive, but it meant I had an extra 40 minutes or so every day, and I needed that time.

It paid off. By the end of term three, I was getting long lists of positives and very little or no advice, which meant that I was ready to graduate. A friend helped drag me through my final academic presentations, and I wrote that final report (a third of it I wrote TWICE, because that is how bad I was at that aspect of my training), and I was done. I have a job starting in late January.

Teaching: I started out terrible, and I got better, and now I am good. I aim for excellent within the decade.

Learning how to be a teacher was what I did this year. It was worth it.


** Dear critique partners and editors: you are not idiots.

This entry was originally posted at You can comment here, at Dreamwidth using OpenID, or at my website,

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