Teaching and On Being a New Teacher!

My First Day at School!

It was the first week at school for millions of children around the world this week, and not just children, but also teachers, including myself! I have to admit to being a little freaked out, full of excitement, confidence, curiosity, and eagerness, just as much, if not more than the children were.

This week we had open days for the pre school children, so they could settle in a little before school starts properly. They eyed me up, and I tried to look teachery and confident. Now, I am obviously not completely incompetent, and I am a good teacher, but the first day in any new job is always a little nerve wracking, and even more so when you have three languages going on in every conversation (Georgian, Russian, and English) and you are also getting to grips with the cultural differences, different laws, etiquettes, policies, and the usual things of finding your way around and learning new names.

Having taught in the public school with grades 3 to 12 the past year, the bar has really been raised this year, and my head is just full of plans, so it will interesting to trial new things this year, learn some lessons, and find out what things work and dont work with Georgian children compared to British children.

Pre-School Teaching

For three hours a day, I will be teaching a group of pre school children aged 2 to 5 years old, using the British developed curriculum of the EYFS (Early Years Foundation System). This curriculum has 6 core parts:

– personal, social, and emotional development
– communications, language, and literacy
– problem solving, reasoning, and numeracy
– knowledge and understanding of the world
– physical development
– creative development

A British/Georgian Fusion and the best of Both Worlds!

The real beauty and passion for me is that I can use the British curriculum, but don’t have to follow the rather formal and cold practices of British child rearing or teaching culture and box ticking and don’t have to go through stressful ofsted inspections. Instead, I can really fuse together the British curriculum with the warmth and individuality which is typical of Georgian people, and actually put the children’s needs and personalities first, adapting my teaching style or methods to suit their personal needs and developmental levels. This is really exciting, especially with my background in developmental psychology.

When I started my primary school teacher training way back when, I always felt very torn between the theories we were learning, and the actual practices we had to follow. We learnt all about development, and Piaget and children developing at their own pace, yet we would label children as soon as they couldn’t do things that we wanted them to do. Everything just conflicted, and I felt like I had to go against the instinct of what was right for the child, and really lost my enjoyment of pushing children who were emotionally just not ready.

I remember my own time in Primary school very clearly, and I am certain that a lot of my problems as an adult as due to being pushed or chastised during that time. For example, I had no idea what we were doing half of the time, and I just didn’t have that awareness of what was going on, instead I just copied my neighbours and what they were doing. One day we were supposed to be making boxes from paper, and I really had no idea what was going on, and suddenly I was being shouted at by my teacher. It was always the same with maths, everything was always just beyond my level, and I grew up thinking I couldn’t do maths. I actually discovered as an adult that I loved doing maths, but I continue to believe I am bad at it, and that mental block leads me to just give up when faced with any mathematical or numerical problem. I am certain that had I received tuition from a teacher who didn’t tell me off for getting it wrong, I would never have had such an issue with numbers. I hated primary school because I always seemed to be in trouble, and the harder I tried to impress, the more I seemed to get told off.

Another time, we had been painting in class, and then Mrs Dingle, a lady we rather kindly named ‘parrot nose’ on account of her very large nose (the only feature I remember of her funnily enough) called some of us to go to the assembly hall because we had choir practice. My hands were covered in paint, and I knew that we would be in trouble if she saw them, so I took the initiative to clean them myself, and I guess it goes to show how differently children perceive the world and how differently they think to adults. I decided that to clean my hands I needed water, but I didn’t have any, so I spat on them instead and rubbed them together, thinking that the paint would come off. Obviously I ended up with a horrible painty mess, and I had no choice but to ask if I could go to the toilet and wash my hands.

At this point, I got the biggest rollicking of my life. The irony being, that in my child’s head, I thought she would praise me for my ingenuity and the idea to spit on them. But instead, she shouted at me, in front of the whole choir, manhandled me into the corridor, and I had to go and wash my hands with cold water and primary school soap, and then had to go and see Mrs Bird the headmistress. It was awful!!! Mrs Bird, was a thin, hard featured woman, witha reputation for having a slipper that she would hit you with if you were in trouble. I have no idea whether or not that was true, but to me it was true because how would anyone know otherwise, and she was very scary. BUt worse than the slipper, was that she had a black book and if your name was put in the black book, you were branded for life. I was totally mortified, because my crimes were trivial compared to the really naughty boys who did awful things like break light bulbs with footballs. And now everyone would know I had my name in the Blackbook, and if my parents found out, I would be in big trouble at home too. I had never been in trouble before, but I was sure it would be ugly! And Mrs Dingle had told me that maybe I wouldn’t be allowed to be in the choir anymore. My whole world had collapsed, and all because we were taken out of class with no prior notice. And to this day, I always freak out when I am not prepared for something or am thrown in the deep end.

I had forgotten about all my experiences and the funny things I did as a little child, until meeting the pre-schoolers, which somehow took me back to my childhood, and remembering that children see the world so differently to adults, and I hope that I can keep them in mind with my lessons.

Great to have Support.

Luckily, I have an amazing boss, and she is the best School principal a teacher could ask for, and is very supportive and open to new ideas. Especially important for teaching children who don’t yet know English. One little girl was actually terrified of us because she couldn’t understand us, but others actually made allowances and tried to help us, some were curious, and it was fascinating, particularly as the children are really at the same level with English as we are with Georgian and Russian, and already I feel like I have learnt more Georgian from the children this week, than in many adult type lessons.

Georgian children are just so cute too, and they are so well behaved compared to British children, yet to a foreigner, they would probably seem really naughty because children are allowed to be noisy and active, and to be children and and to experiment, and I absolutely love that.

Over the summer I gave a lot of thought to different teaching approaches and methods, and I think I would like to blend together the best of everything now, and to see how it works with the language and cultural differences. Before I go on to my ideas, I’ll add a few pictures of my first days at school, to give you an idea:

Circle Time

I’ve decided to start every lesson with circle time! Sat on the floor with my class. Firstly doing some introductions to give them a routine and chance to practice English. Repetition being the key here, as we will meet every day for three hours, and then hopefully at the end of the year we can put on a little show of what we have learnt.

To start off, we will do my own hello song, firstly sitting and waving at each person, and the second time around running around the outside of the circle.

Once we are all stood up, we will do lots of different tunes, including:

the good morning song:

The open/shut song

I love the go/stop song:

and the ‘how’s the weather song:

Heads, shoulders, knees, and toes:

Numbers 1 to 10

no, yes, thank you

How are you?

If your happy and your know it:

Days of the Week

Row row row your boat and incy winsy winsy spider, two of my favourites, because they already know these two.

Then the goodbye song:

Part two of the Lesson!!

The next part is related to a theme, which we will change each week. This might be a story book, or we will go downstairs and do something arty, using play dough, but it will be very tactile. Perhaps making a sunshine, or putting the parts of a face together.

Part Three of the Lesson

This part will involve physical fitness, such as throwing bean bags into a hoop, throwing and catching, or maybe a treasure hunt in the garden.

Primary School Teaching

My primary and secondary school children already have a good level of English, and are already attuned to school life, so the plan is slightly different for them, but I plan to prepare my pre school class ready for this too. I recently came across a teaching methodology called Whole Brain Teaching and as a neuropsychologist and someone who went to both British state school and Steiner schools, there is something about it which just makes sense as it uses the whole brain and relies on neurolinguistics to form memory and learning. I am not sure if I will stick to every single bit of it religiously, but I think it could actually work really well with Georgian children, who are generally more actively involved, and who really feed off positive reinforcement, but sometimes (especially in public schools) lack the discipline and structure necessary to focus on teaching, and it can make life here more tiring. This approach may be a good way of overcoming this and keeping learning fun.

The thing that I really like about whole brain training is that it links both left and right hemispheres of the brain, and also works with the amygdala and limbic system which are directly connecting emotion and learning. This should theoretically help children to learn to control their emotions and behaviour, and this in turn will help them with the cognitive space to learn and to concentrate. I’m perhaps very biased about this approach, because it really resonates with me as it is the way that I learn the best, and is one reason why I disliked the forced and one style teaching of medical school, and how they wouldn’t let us learn through doing or through practice. I actually got away with this a little, by visiting places like Cambridge University and taking part in their dissection and anatomy courses, as books were just too flat for me, especially for anatomy and molecules, and I always found that I remembered course material best, when I was learning through doing. I was constantly in trouble with my tutors at medical school, because I used to ‘work’ in a hospital at the weekend and on study days. They didn’t like it because I should have been home studying books, but it suited me perfectly, firstly because it enabled me to earn a little money so I could eat and pay bills, and secondly because, I got to work with the surgeons and doctors and was able to assist them. Instead of looking at pictures of a broken leg in a book or on a poorly photographed, badly copied picture on one of the lecture hand ou slides, I spent time in theatre, helping to put nails in bones, suturing, and actually getting to touch and smell, and see what bones and broken legs really look like, and I got to practice my bedside manner and put the newly learned terminology into practice, pronouncing words properly rather than guessing what they might sound like.

And this is pretty much the approach I want to use in my lessons, focusing on little pieces of information, teaching the students, and getting them to teach each other so that they actively learn the material and in a more fun way. I’ll give you an example here, and I wish that my medical school lectures had been more like this!!!

At the start of every class, I want the children to do this song as I love it, and it will hopefully establish a format for classroom behaviour:

Fitting in nicely with this, I will follow the whole brain teaching general structure, but using this method to break down material for the children to learn, whether that is for science, from our text books, for geography or whatever.

Third Grade Science and Fourth Grade to GCSE Geography

I hope to use the same technique for teaching science and geography, little chunks of information that they will teach each other:

Youtube Videos

Over my summer project at my former public school, I really became interested and impressed by the Georgian children, and over the school year had been really inspired by the attention that children gave to youtube videos about topics from our text books, not formal videos, or videos with adults talking, but videos made by children. EVen the naughtiest and most disinterested children in my classes were suddenly paying attention, were involved, curious, and participating in the lessons. They just couldn’t help themselves. It seems like common sense, but I had never thought about it before, and that set a seed in me really. Why not have children teaching children rather than listening to boring old adults?? Children speak the same language, even if they are from different cultures or countries or languages, they just get each other somehow, they can relate to them more. And that was one of the appeals of the whole brain teaching.

I know myself how little attention I paid in med school lectures especially. It was a total waste of my time, sat in the lecture all day, trying to not fall asleep and trying to give the impression I was interested and paying attention. Our medical school was frustrating in this way as we had to sign in for every lecture, and if we hadn’t signed in within the first fifteen minutes, we received an email and had to explain our absence, even so far as getting called in front of an academic progress board and fitness to practice board! I never really understood it to be honest. Surely we were all adults and had all worked in hospitals and had mortgages, some had children, and were all paying to be on this course and wanted to pass our exams, yet we were given no freedom to adapt the materials to our own styles of learning. So, it was that every day between 8am and 8pm, I would sit in a lecture hall learning nothing, and would then have to go home and teach myself the material in half the time. We already had the handouts and recordings from the lectures and most of what they gave us from robbed from wikipedia and we basically had a syllabus and had to teach ourselves. So why were we not allowed to study in our own ways?? Regardless of the reason, the point I am making is that I learnt nothing by being passive, and I learn best by being active and through doing.

The best kind of learning is when you can meet the needs of all types of learners, visual, active, auditory, kinetic, and so on. I don’t want to be just teaching through a text book or having them just read it from the book, so I have been trying to come up with my own ways and I hope that over the year I can become really good at teaching in a way which most benefits the children, especially my students planning to sit their GCSE Geography exams.

One idea is to incorporate the whole brain teaching into my classes, to chunk material, teach them, and then get them to teach each other, using perhaps the crazy professor techniques (see video below), doing some experiments in class, using the CPG revision books, and I also want to one more thing…make my own video clips of each chunk of information, that I can put up on Youtube.

The idea of the youtube video is that it is less threatening. That it is like having a teacher and knowing that your material is correct and necessary, but you don’t have the teacher breathing down your neck. You can also watch it over and over again, and the more you watch and understand it, the more chance you have of remembering it and recalling it during exams. I plan to make lots of videos, including revision ones that they can follow prior to exams. I also want the children to make their own videos that we can put up on youtube so they can watch each other, and those children on the oceans project will also be involved with this. Some of the Oceans Project children will be from the public school and won’t have the added bonus of geography lessons specifically for GCSE, so the videos and CPG books should benefit them the most, as well as getting them used to English language and using the internet.

But just for fun, this is the Crazy Professor Game, and I plan to get the children doing this with our text books in class:

My new classroom has the added benefit of a smart board, something I have never even seen before, and I wish to incorporate this with a teaching package from a friend of mine and fellow explorer Antony Jinman who runs Education through Expeditions. For most Georgian children, they have never left the country and have had little interaction with the outside world, and television channels such as National Geographic and Animal Planet are really very recent additions. But, I plan to make the lessons more interactive and have them asking real scientists and explorers questions, live from the field so that we can bring things to life a bit more:

well, lots of videos today and all a bit of melting pot and muddle of thoughts, but I want to share one last video with you, that I hope will get you as excited as I am about Geography:


About Sarah Rows Solo

British YouTuber and Founder of Environmental and STEM education charity Oceans Project, preparing for a solo row around the coast of Great Britain.
This entry was posted in Teaching and Geography, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

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