Keeping my teaching fresh after all these years

Jane Basnett

Jane Basnett is head of MFL at Downe House, a successful Independent Girls School in Berkshire. She has been teaching for almost 20 years and is still learning. She achieved an MA in Digital Technology for Language Teaching at Nottingham University.

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I have just finished my 22nd year of teaching. By rights, as a teacher, I should be pretty stale now. Most classes should groan when they realise that they will have me as a teacher. They might imagine that I am one of those teachers who goes back to a folder of worksheets, digs out the most appropriate one for the class, wipes off the dust and makes enough copies of it for my students to let them complete it and so on. After all these years my students might think that I should know how to teach everything and that teaching grammar topics is something I have mastered and can do off the top of my head. Surely, they imagine, I have mastered the job and do it the same old way as I have always done - the job is easy for me and perhaps my students might think that I am a little boring.

Well, they might imagine all sorts of things - I do not doubt it, but for me, only one thing is sure. After all these years I can honestly say that I have only mastered one thing - an idea: as a teacher I am still "In teaching you have to keep moving, transforming, improving and learning."(and will always be) learning. It may have been that when I first started I simply thought that a few years of classroom practice might see me perfecting my role as a teacher. However, I quickly learnt that this is not the case. I understood that in teaching you have to keep moving, transforming, improving and learning.

So how how do I keep moving, transforming, improving and learning? There have been numerous ways I have kept my teaching fresh.

One of the highlights of my role as a head of department is that I get to observe others. What a joy and pleasure this is and how much I learn from it. I pick up so many new ideas from my colleagues, not just from the lesson observation, but also from the discussion that ensues. The ideas are not restricted to a particular point but can range from classroom management through to how to tackle getting anxious students to speak. Of equal importance to me as a teacher is when I get my colleagues come to watch me. I learn here too; my colleagues have a wealth of ideas, and tell me how they would improve what they saw or how they would do it differently. The important thing in observation is to be open to ideas, to be ready to reflect and learn.

It is important as head of department to use meeting time to discuss new specifications but it is just as important to use this valuable time to discuss and share good practice. As a department we often choose a particular area on which to focus over a term (for example, AFL, differentiation, speaking activities and so on). We then individually feedback to each other. What a great learning opportunity this affords us all. As a team we listen and learn from each other's findings and we contribute further ideas. Similarly, I have trusted colleagues with whom I talk openly about my classroom experiences and I turn to them for advice. Just because I have many years teaching experience does not mean I know all the answers. What my experience gives me is the ability to know to whom I should turn.

"Twitter is the best staff room ever.”

I can not deny that Twitter has kept me on my toes. It has broadened my horizons and given me access to the best staff room ever. I am now part of a massive group of like-minded individuals who constantly want to improve what they are doing and look to each other for help and guidance. The links to blogs, books, articles and ideas are, it seems, almost limitless. The connections I have made to people who show me that there are better or other ways to approach a topic are vital in my drive to keep my teaching fresh. My advice to a new teacher would be to join Twitter. Equally, to a teacher who has been at it for a few years my advice to them would also be - if you have not already done so, join Twitter.

Clearly Twitter leads me to reconsider methodologies I have overlooked and to explore new methods too. The study of books, articles, blogs, vlogs and so on are vital for me if I do wish to stay ahead of the game and keep my teaching fresh. Via Twitter I have revisited old books that have been previously ignored and new ones that allow me to think about how I approach my teaching, how students approach their learning and how I can impact on the latter."Students simply like doing different activities.” It was Twitter that lead me to my MA course in Digital Technology for Language Learning at the University of Nottingham, and this intense period of study totally reinvigorated my teaching and made me think about the impact of what I do in the classroom. It made me ravenous for more ideas, more readings and more opportunities to apply my learning. I can thoroughly recommend a formal course of study as a way to become revitalised and transformational in the classroom.

Clearly, my MA course is an indication of the high regard in which I hold technology as a tool for classroom use. I have learnt the importance of harnessing technology and aligning it with a chosen methodology. The methodology comes first, of course. Yes, students do enjoy using technology for socialising, but we should not make the mistake of believing, as some claim, that because of this they are digital natives. I do not use technology because it makes the lesson ‘fun’, I employ technology so that I am better able to provide students rapid feedback, or to check that they are on track with their learning, or so that they can communicate with foreign language students via online tools, or so that they can collaborate more effectively. In the process I can see that the students are engaged and they like the different methods employed. It is worth pointing out that students simply like doing different activities, and these can be game-based, paper-based or technology-based (to name but a few ideas). Variety is key, and technology provides this variety in many and effective ways.

The 2016/17 year will be my 23rd year of teaching. Once the obligatory start of term processes are over and the Inset is complete, I will be just as nervous about entering the classroom. I will still plan my lessons with the same, if not more intensity and focus than my first lessons all those years ago. I want my students to study my subject and succeed at it. I want them to go on to study my subject at University and beyond and to do this I know I need to be a good teacher. It is this desire that keeps me on my toes and keeps me searching for ways to ensure that I deliver lessons that inspire and enthuse.

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