Monday, September 25, 2006



So what are the fruits of my idealism/realism combo? And why do I find teaching an effective vehicle for these realistic ideals? I recognise that the quest to become an expert teacher does not happen in a vacuum. The personal challenges and tasks facing the individual need to be confronted, the experiences learnt from and used for growth. It’s as if the teacher has to become a student of life and assume the mantle of an alchemist of old, and learn the art of turning the lead of everyday experience in the classroom into the gold of the wisdom of an expert teacher. In other words, Know thy self.

As my wife so sagely offers, that’s all well and good, but how do you truly feel?

Ok, one reason for the lateness of this journal entry is that my HSC Design and Technology students have just reached critical mass with the finishing of their major works. This has been a work in progress since October 2005. The students, like myself, have experienced the whole gamut of human experience from the heights of inspired confidence to complete disillusionment. With regard to my effectiveness as their teacher, I have spoken to mentor teachers, read about other teacher’s experiences, talked to peer teachers and done much soul searching and still I wrestle with uncertainty.

The writings of Margaret Wheatley(1999) have cast light on my dilemma and illuminate my way somewhat with their perspectives on uncertainty, the constant of change and the ever present challenge to embrace my fears. In my daily ruminations and reflections I try and apply them to the reality of my experience in the classroom and workshop. Needless to say some days are more “enlightened” than others. I endeavour to build effective working relationships with students and this tends to work well in a workshop with its informal and creative setting. Even within this context it is a constant juggling act, as it is in any relationship, where awareness, care, sensitivity and feedback (Hattie 2003) continually challenge me personally especially when that occupational hazard of fatigue sets in.

So far,so good. Recently, as stated earlier, the reality of dealing with fatigue, and 8pm finishes each night with yr.12 students and their major works for two weeks prior to their completion deadline and trying to provide an effective classroom climate for eighteen year olds who are often tired, disinterested, over it and despondent due to personal problems can prove overwhelming at times. I realise that this is probably a common lament of teachers throughout the ages.

One strategy that I have adopted is endeavouring to capture the enthusiasm (from the Greek, entheos- inspired by god) of my students and encouraging them to base an idea for designing their major work on a product that they are passionate about. This generally provides impetus to varying degrees throughout the year for the students to self regulate and self motivate the completion of their usually significantly difficult design tasks. (appropriate challenging tasks and goals for students.(Hattie 2003) . This combined with regular feedback and encouragement with individual interviews regarding the state of their major works help build this working relationship.

One personal issue that I have found coming home to roost this year was the profound disappointment I found myself experiencing when students appeared to not really care about the subject and completion of the assessment tasks due to 1. Lack of commitment. 2.Poor time management skills and 3. Lazyness. I recognize several roles that I play in these situations. Firstly is my attachment to their perceived lack of interest and repeatedly fall into the trap of taking it personally. I find I have to consciously take stock of my own passion for the subject and realise that most students at some time are not going to share my enthusiasm and that they have many other subjects and are not always going to be inspired by me or the subject matter. The three issues I outlined above can easily be understood when I reflect that the students are only seventeen or eighteen years old and respond accordingly.

These times lead me to re evaluate my approach to becoming an expert teacher. I do tend to become intense about the importance of the subjects I teach and the need for the students to achieve the best that they and I can. This approach works well usually but sometimes my single mindedness can lead to my losing objectivity and becoming despondent at the thought of the students lack of interest. Of course the students do care and after talking to the students, other teachers and usually a good sleep, objectivity returns and I adjust my approach and “pace myself” and my passion and develop a better understanding of myself and my students. I recognize that I need to become more professionally objective and be more conscious of my personal and professional boundaries and develop a “wider scope of anticipation and more selective information gathering (Cellier et al., 1997) Because of their responsiveness to students, experts can detect when students lose interest and are not understanding. (Hattie 2003)

References: Hattie,J. Building Teacher Quality. Australian Council for Educational Research Annual Conference. University of Auckland. 2003.

16 Sept 2006
The BOS Itinerant Markers visited the school today to assess the Major Works and Design Folios of my HSC Design and Technology students and whilst they are tight lipped about their thoughts and marks they did inform me that three of my students Major Works have been short listed to be considered as exhibits at the Powerhouse Museum in Sydney for Design Week later this year because of the students commitment to excellence in the complexity of their design, innovation and originality. YEE HAA!

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