More than just teaching

Stuart Cockbain explains how theory departs from experience in the classroom.

Primary Teacher, Glasgow

"You want to be a teacher? They'll eat you alive. Better you than me, boss."

I still remember that comment as I left my work for the last time.

Well, one year on, I can now confirm that I do indeed want to be a teacher, now more than ever. Whilst some challenging pupils have probably considered putting me in a cauldron, I haven't yet been eaten alive.

But I've learned through experiences in the classroom that we're more than just teachers, we're also social workers, referees, entertainers and surrogate parents, and that's just before lunch!

Bringing theory to the classroom

Over the course of my PGCE studies, I learned how best to bring my knowledge and skills into the classroom. Surely the most important ingredient of being a fully qualified teacher is experience? Yes, we can study differentiation, child development and discipline. But I don't think any resource can teach us what it's truly like to look into a pupil's crying eyes , or how to cope with the spinning plates of differentiation. While theorists may well inform us about child development, Piaget never predicted that "Bobby" could be so badly behaved!

Valuable lessons

The most valuable lessons are learned in the classroom. The old adage, "You only get out what you put in" is appropriate to both teaching as a profession and student placements. I have been fortunate in going on a school trip to London, participating in three parents' evening and also organising a school outing. But luck is always augmented by enthusiasm and a willingness to learn.

Reflecting on your classroom strategies

As a teacher, I view my role in the classroom as a "co-educator/learner". It's important to reflect upon the strategies that you've used and, in recognising my own role as co-learner, it would be wrong to devalue a pupil's method simply because it is different from the norm.

The simplest of tasks encourage pupils to devise their own approaches. For example, I see no point in doing a class register and compiling dinner slips when I have a class full of mathematicians; so, I let them do it! I have found that a P2 class is more than capable of compiling such information and while I do check the data, it is rarely incorrect.

Empowering pupils to do such tasks lets them see the value of their learning and brings traditional subjects out of textbooks and into reality.

Spoon-feeding learning outcomes

As EM Forster said, "Spoon-feeding in the long run teaches nothing but the shape of the spoon". If this is true, we are simply reinforcing concepts without actively teaching their true value.

However, it's important to remember that, no matter how hard we try, sometimes pupils just do not understand learning outcomes. Only very recently, I taught the story of Easter. I thought the pupils had grasped the subject well because we'd had some great discussions. That was until the bell rang and one pupil waited behind to say, "Mr Cockbain, I have been to the burial site of Jesus Christ". Wow, I thought, what a great link for my next lesson. But then he continues, "Yip, just outside East Kilbride, next to some shopping centre".