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Inside Out

04 February 2019

  • Inside Out

As a finance person the perception of my personality is that I like to sit in my office all day and wherever possible avoid human contact.  Whilst sometimes this is true, I was recently offered the opportunity of ‘shadowing’ a teacher within our school for a full working day.  I thought this was a great idea and as a team member on the administration side of the school, it would give me useful insight into the working day of a teacher.  I know from our Executive Principal that a similar programme was followed in the UK around 20 years ago and having done various ‘back to the shop floor’ exercises in various roles prior to this one, it is always a good idea for all members of staff to understand what their colleagues in other areas of the organisation do.  In a school environment it cannot be more ‘front line’ than being in the classroom with the students and seeing what the teachers do each day in order to provide a quality education.

The teacher selected was a Secondary maths teacher which was ideal because I thought that there would be something that I might be able to add and therefore make this a mutually beneficial experience rather than me being a hinderance in the classroom. 

The day started with a staff briefing for the Secondary Team and I was taken aback by the amount of information imparted in a ten-minute session prior to 7am in the morning.  No one seemed to be taking notes and I was worried that some of the messages would be forgotten but this was not the case.  Information about uniforms, when and where certain year groups needed to be during the day, and some other minor notices was all passed on to the Year 10 Form Group that I joined for morning registration.

It has been around 17 years since I finished my A Levels and last encountered the classroom in anything other than a fleeting visit.  So, my first thought was: “Where’s the blackboard and piles of text books to copy from?”  It seemed that things might have changed in the second half of my life in terms of how students are taught; it was a far cry from my UK comprehensive school at the turn of the millennium.  I was impressed with the interactive touchscreen in the classrooms and the (relatively) tidy workspaces that the students had.  The teacher now had a laptop that contained all the learning materials required, and it worked perfectly with the touchscreen.

There were other departmental members in and out of the classroom for the next ten minutes asking questions about learning approaches for the day ahead and sharing knowledge to help each other out, which was refreshing to see. 

The students started to arrive and looked slightly confused about who this extra person was in their classroom.  There was a friendly manner between the teacher and the students as well as the reminders around uniform and footwear from morning briefing.  Again, comparing the class to my school experience, it seemed that only half of the students had turned up.  Where were the rest of the class? Actually, nearly everyone was present with a 95% attendance rate.  It must be great for students (and staff) to enjoy such low student numbers within the class. 

When it came to the next lesson, I met International Baccalaureate (IB) students from Year 12.  Little did I realise how far over my head that the advanced level of mathematical equations and formulae would fly!  I kept up for around five minutes and was soon out of my depth finding myself amazed at the students’ knowledge in some very complex areas of maths.  Throughout the class, I was captivated at the level of interaction between the students and teacher. It was a learning process where students were actively engaged and encouraged to challenge the teacher. This, in my view, is what sets the IB apart from A Levels and why they are now preferred by many university admissions teams. From a personal point of view, I was able to help the students in some of the equations and formulae after some searching in the deepest recesses of my brain.

The second lesson was Year 8 and, again, there was some surprise at the stranger in the classroom; however, the students were well behaved and attentive to their teacher.  This was obviously a more structured lesson than the IB lesson with the students looking to the teacher for new knowledge and guidance.  This was done with a method that was new to me with the teacher setting a question on the screen and the students, armed with a small whiteboard and marker, writing their answer and all holding them up together.  This promoted a lot of thinking by the students, challenging them all to put forward their solution rather than just sitting passively, allowing others to give the answer and then just going with the flow.  I was really impressed with the participation by the students as well as the lack of incorrect answers.  The final part of the lesson involved the students engaging in a game of ‘Quiz, Quiz, Trade’.  This tested the understanding of the new topic as they had to quiz a classmate with an explanation required if their classmate came up with the incorrect answer.  This process was then repeated, and a trade of questions was made before moving onto another student.  I thought this was a far better way to learn than the ‘chalk and talk’ that I remember from many school lessons of my youth.

There was a short breaktime during which a Year 13 student required some mentoring, which the teacher was more than happy to give after a quick break to make a coffee.  This showed great maturity from the student (a high level IB maths student) and the willingness to help from the teacher, both of which were gratifying to see.

Period 3 was an enjoyable Praise Assembly, where the Head of Secondary, Mr Tom Douch, led an assembly to celebrate the achievements both in and out of school of many of the Secondary school students.  These varied from academic achievements, to sporting success as well as recognising the highly impressive Duke of Edinburgh’s International Award in which over 100 students are now participating at Compass International School Doha.  The assembly was a true demonstration of our ‘Be Ambitious’ philosophy that is held in high esteem within our school and amongst our family of schools within Nord Anglia Education.

After the inspiring assembly, it was straight into fourth period.  This was a Year 13, Higher Level mathematics lesson and I must admit the whole lesson went completely over my head in terms of content.  What did amaze me though was the way in which the teacher handled the barrage of questions from students related to the intricacies of the problems they were working on.  It made me think of the episode of The Simpsons where Bart decides to steal the teachers’ books and as a result renders them quivering wrecks in the classroom.  This was not the case at all with the maths teacher who seemed to have a store of knowledge committed to memory ready for these questions and was able to answer as well as advise the students on the best way to understand the problems on their own.

In what seemed like five minutes since the start of the day, it was time for a lunch break.  This was a well-earned and short break in which the teachers can recharge and prepare for the final lesson of the day.

That final lesson was a Year 9 class where they had recently completed an assessment and were working on the areas that were identified as weaknesses in their assessment.  This was largely a student led activity with the teacher (and me) assisting the students with specific issues that they were having with the tasks they were working through.  As the class was mixed ability, it was encouraging to see that some of the high achieving students were being challenged and were also paired with those that were struggling.  This helped the more able students embed their learning whilst supporting their partner to complete their tasks. The teacher’s time in this lesson was spent explaining different tings to small groups who were doing different activities.  It showed a good cross section of knowledge without a ’Teacher’s Guide to Maths’ in evidence.

This was the end of a thoroughly enjoyable, exhausting but eye-opening day for me.  However, for the teacher, this was not the end.  He had to do an Extra-Curricular Activity after school to cover for another teacher who was undertaking a Professional Development course. After that, there was all the marking to do and then preparing for the next series of lessons.

The main things I learned from this day were:

  • Classrooms have changed since I was a student
  • Contrary to The Simpsons, teachers do not rely on books to get them through the day
  • The teacher is very much a facilitator of learning and acts as a guide for the students rather than dictating to them
  • The students were a credit to themselves, their parents and the school
  • I would not willingly go back and study IB maths
  • Teachers work extremely hard and I have a new-found respect for them and how they conduct themselves in the classroom
  • A school day goes by in the blink of an eye with very little rest
  • The teacher’s job does not end when school ends

As a representative of Compass International School Doha, it may seem vacuous to say that I firmly believe that the ‘Be Ambitious’ ethos is something which resonates throughout our teaching and now, having spent a day in the classroom, I can confidently say that this is certainly the case.

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