A libertarian inclined blog for teachers and learners of all ages. Comments, emails and links to other educational stuff welcome.

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Next entry: Teaching practice was the only worthwhile thing (especially if it was at Eton)
Previous entry: "Raffles Education will continue to buy educational institutes across Asia especially in China ..."
Tuesday January 22 2008

Another Tuesday, another evening helping out at Kings Cross Supplementary.  I came away from this evening’s efforts very content.

One of the things that got me down about the previous school I helped (or tried to help) out at, which I used to call Paradise Primary (mostly because of the lavish physical surroundings), was that the longer it went on, the worse it got.  Basically, the children I was teaching gradually worked out that I had no power over them, and that they could do as they pleased.  At first, things went well, for as long as the fear of the unknown pertained, but gradually it became futile.  Plus, being on my own in the common area of the school, while the real teachers operated in their own classrooms behind closed doors, I never got a chance to discover what decent teaching looked like, or, perhaps more fundamentally, how much teacher stroppiness was regarded as okay, and how much was too much, which meant that I probably erred on the side of not enough.  Not enough, that is to say, to get any teaching done.

At Kings Cross Supplementary, I can feel myself becoming a better teacher.  But it’s not just me getting better, it’s the rules of the place.  All the children at Kings Cross Supplementary are there because their parents have chosen and paid for them to be there.  So, if a child refuses to do what we reasonably demand, assuming that it is reasonable, he will be in trouble at home as well as getting into a fight with us.  Maybe I’m deluding myself, but I get the feeling that, in this regime, I might one day become so good at teaching that I might even become the kind of teacher that a child might choose to be taught by, might actually want to be taught by.  What I am sure of is that I am already becoming better at being the kind of teacher that parents want their children to be taught by.  They want me to cajole, urge, intimidate, charm, frighten, coax, their basically defenceless progeny into becoming better educated.  And I’m getting better at that.

This evening, for instance, I did the same thing as I did the week before.  First hour: Small Boy.  Second hour: helping Mr Vora with his maths class.  Setting aside Mr Vora (which is disrespectful but it will keep this posting to a manageable length), I found myself doing better than usual with Small Boy.  I don’t think it was any one thing, more a whole range of things, working in combination with each other.  Including ...

The Butterfly Book.  Sorry to keep going on about this, but it really is very good.  Just about foolproof, in fact.  Just do what it says.  I do.  It works, at any rate on Small Boy.  I also followed, more than previously, Irina Tyk’s advice about not digressing from how it sounds to what it means.  See the end of paragraph two of this posting.  This meant we made speedier progress, and kept things simple and unconfusing.  In fact, Small Boy got really into it, and seemed to be quite enjoying himself.  Nothing like understanding everything and knowing all the answers to make you content.  Last week we went from Lesson One to Lesson Three.  This week: Four to Nine.

At Paradise Primary I was sent in to the school armed with an utterly defective and in some parts just plain wrong doctrine of how to teach reading and writing.  These Supplementary Schools, on the other hand, have a doctrine about how to teach reading and writing that seems wholly correct, and in which I have complete confidence.

I took my own advice (see my thoughts at the end of this posting) about being more of a confident man.

Now, I know what you’re thinking, or if not what you should be thinking.  If I can’t do Alpha Male body language and assertiveness to one six year old, then I really must be some kind of an idiot wimp.  Indeed.  I’m just saying, I was more Alpha Male this time than hitherto.  And this also seemed to work.  After all, Small Boy had to be there.  It was compulsion either way.  Was it straight take-it-for-granted compulsion or do-anything-you-want-except-what-you-actually-want-which-is-run-about compulsion, compulsion-with-apologies, and this time I tried straight compulsion.  He seemed happier, or at any rate no more unhappy.  (There’s at least an entire blog posting in that conundrum.)

The compulsion was tempered with praise.  I made Small Boy do what I wanted, but when he’d done it, I said well done.  All that I see and all that I hear and all that I read tells me that the human animal (unlike the dog animal) responds best to and learns best from praise rather than criticism and punishment.  Correct all errors in a deadpan, matter-of-fact way.  (That’s wrong.  It’s no big deal, but it is wrong.  Don’t worry, you’ll soon get it.) But, tell them what they did right with great enthusiasm and warmth.

In between bouts of demanding obedience, and geeing along with praise, I allowed short breaks, during which Small Boy could tell me anything he wanted to (today it was a discussion about the baleful effect of large class sizes at his regular school), and which I ended by resuming the lesson after what I considered to be a proper interval of time.

I daresay an informed observer with a video camera could have spotted several other things I did right, and several other things I’m still doing very wrong.  Which I trust I will learn about and work out in the weeks and months to come.

Two things strike me about this resumed blog, so far.  First, not many other people are reading it, as yet.  But second, the writing of it, and then the re-reading of it, is doing me a power of good.