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Here is a debut ProtoBlog by Australian teacher Ciaran. Ciaran is currently working in the UK as a Secondary Teacher through Protocol Education. He registered with Mitch in our NSW office before he left and is now working through our Chelmsford branch.

Making It Relevant

So you have devoted an inordinate amount of your life to socially unacceptable pursuits. Perhaps you spent close to a month playing Playstation in the last year. Or maybe you spend an embarrassingly large portion of your income on comic books. You may devote large amounts of time to searching the internet for information on fringe players at your favourite football team- Wikipedia is perfectly suited to the task. You could have even found a way to combine two or more of your ‘socially unacceptable’ interests to create a veritable time-consuming juggernaut, such as Championship Manager, the computer game which allows you to manage a football team.

And yet, I have found that all of these things have proven useful in my three years as a teacher. I remember discussing the development of a Playstation game with a group of gamers in an economics class, as a way to get them thinking about how the factors of production contribute to create products. And I kept some of the most challenging students at one school entranced and impeccably well behaved by drawing a picture of Spider-Man for them and promising I would draw Wolverine for them in another half-hour. I even recall name-dropping Commins Menapi (A Solomons Island international who briefly played for a team in Australia) to great effect in a discussion with some students from the Solomons.

None of this mattered when it came to completing my Masters of Teaching. Yet all of these things matter to teenagers. When it comes to keeping students engaged, connecting with students in this way is invaluable. This works on several different levels. Firstly, if a student sees you in three-dimensions, they are far more likely to treat you with respect, and that little bit less likely to make life difficult for you. Secondly, if your interests just so happen to align with those of the class you are teaching, such an approach can help strengthen your relationship with the class- I would be very surprised if those Solomon Islander students had ever met an Australian who had heard of Commins Menapi, especially in the AFL and Basketball-obsessed Kimberley region of Western Australia. Finally, even if the students do not have a particular interest in say, Iron Man 2, they will nevertheless appreciate you for doing something slightly different.

Of course it is important that you constantly remember not to get self-indulgent. Ultimately you are a teacher, and your end-goal must be the lesson outcomes, even if you are throwing in a red-herring or two to spice things up. Also, like any good presenter, constantly think about your audience- if you are talking with a smaller group of students with whom you share a common interest, by all means take advantage of this. But when addressing a class, consider the interests of the group as a whole. I have recently been teaching at an independent girls’ school. During a lesson on internet sources, to make a point about the reliability of web sites, I altered the school’s Wikipedia page, changing the names of the school’s houses to those of the houses in Harry Potter- Gryffindor etc. This went down very well, as it referenced something which just about the entire class was very familiar with.

I suppose there are two main points I would like to emphasise here- making a lesson engaging, and connecting to students. As I look at the outcomes for a specific lesson, I immediately start trying to connect it to something I find interesting, and that will engage the students. This is not always possible- there have been many instances when time constraints prevented me from implementing a terrific idea. Nor is it always necessary- for instance if the topic is already engaging the extra effort is probably unnecessary. But ultimately most lessons will benefit from something unexpected. It is just important that you balance things out- of course something unexpected makes a lesson more interesting and memorable, just do not allow the class to get sidetracked- if it does, make sure you redirect them to the topic at hand.

The second point- connecting to students, is not something you can consciously incorporate into a lesson plan. This occurs as you interact with students while on duty, or as you assist students one-on-one in the classroom. All manner of knowledge can be invaluable here. I studied Indigenous Studies as a part of my first (non-teaching) degree- which I greatly enjoyed, but did not expect to draw upon much in my working life. Four years later, when I found myself in a predominantly Indigenous school in Western Australia, it suddenly became relevant. I remember on one occasion as I was helping a student complete his resume, we were talking about his family- thinking about people who might be able to help him get a job. I remember saying ‘where are the rest of your family- back in NSW?’ and, surprised, he said ‘how did you know I was from NSW?’. I explained that I remembered him saying he was a Koori, and that Koori people were traditionally from the east coast of Australia.

The usually rather mouthy student didn’t quite know how to respond to this. I suppose it was two things- not only did I know something he didn’t expect me to know, but also that I knew something small about his heritage that many people wouldn’t know. And, a minute later as I turned to help another student, I swear I saw something in that student’s eyes I had never seen for the two years I had been teaching him- respect.

As a teacher it is not always easy to identify the exact moment when you have finally won over a challenging student. But from the way that particular student reacted, I would like to think that this was it.

~by Ciaran, an Australian teacher currently teaching in the UK through Protocol Education. Click here to read more by Ciaran.

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Tags: australian teachers, ciaran, facebook, overseas trained teachers, protocol education, supply teaching jobs, teach in london, teach in the uk, teacher, twitter

Category: Teach in the UK

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