20 years on: How education has changed

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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Website: janeebasnett.blogspot.co.uk Email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

In 1994 I started my teaching career. I am a modern languages teacher. I love languages, and I love inspiring my pupils to learn about other languages and cultures. When I first entered the classroom all those years ago, my main aim was to be a good teacher. I had not given much thought to how I was going to achieve my aim, or indeed what it even meant to be a good teacher. I was young, enthusiastic, full of energy and positive. Surely, with these attributes, I would achieve my goal, no matter how idealistic it may have seemed?

I think to start with that youth and the aforementioned characteristics were on my side. My pupils liked me and I liked them - that is always a good starting point, and ensured that we had a good working atmosphere. I had listened well on my PGCE and was able to bring some good techniques with me and apply them in the classroom. And what about that classroom? How different was it from the one I teach in today? Back then, I was lucky to have a variety of coloured chalks, a whiteboard and felt pens to use. I used flashcards to introduce new vocabulary and photocopied pictures from books for my worksheets, or even drew my own (poor quality) pictures. Worksheets were handwritten and photocopied (although at some point in my career I did use a Banda machine) and stored away in folders. The ability to update such resources was limited - generally you had to start again and I can remember using a lot of tippex.

As for technology - what technology? Listening exercises did play a part in lessons, of course, but these were played on tape machines and it was not unheard of for the tape in the cassette to break on occasion. I do recall going through tapes before public examinations to make sure there was sound on them - not something we have to do nowadays with sound files delivered over computers. Videos, too, were played on old VHS machines, and pinpointing a particular section of a film or documentary proved quite tricky. This was an area that I steered clear of - why use something that might not work? It was risky and I did not enjoy technological breakdowns.

Reading this now makes me wonder how I ever managed. However, I did cope - in fact, teachers coped. This was the classroom teaching reality at the time; although teaching was different then in terms of technology, I do believe that we had the best intentions and the best interests of the pupils at heart, and we used the best methods to ensure pupils made progress. That element of teaching and teachers remains the same.

Nonetheless, the introduction of technology has had an impact - for the better - on what I do and what many others are doing in the classroom. As a linguist, I have enjoyed being able to play short clips from the news, from foreign channels, or even simply from YouTube. Students can hear up-to-the-minute information from young people their age who understand their issues. In addition, my students are able to record their oral work in a way that simply was not possible when I first started, and I am able to record messages back for them. These technological advances seem very focused on the Modern Languages classroom. However, just as technology has had a huge impact on daily life in general then inevitably changes to teaching have opened up the whole process in ways that seemed unimaginable twenty or even ten years ago. Changes are occurring by the day almost and it sometimes seems hard to keep abreast of what is happening.

So, with all this change, how do we teachers keep afloat and ensure that we continue to do the best for our students? For me, at the core of what I do in the classroom, is the methodology. Is what I do in the classroom going to impact positively on the teaching and learning? Can technology enhance what I am doing? Or, used in this situation, will it merely be a gimmick? These are important considerations. Used contextually technology can enable greater progression but it should not be used simply for the sake of it.

Twenty years on, I am happy to use technology to enhance my language lessons and do so with the aid of one iPad (or, on occasion, a whole class set) or with a whole room full of computers. I can see how technology can play a part in every classroom process from assigning work to collecting it in. Technology allows me to assess my students in ways that simply was not possible formerly. I can see at the tap of a screen or a click of a button what level each student has attained and I can then plan accordingly. Differentiated instruction really becomes achievable with such technology, not only in the level of tasks set, but in the way in which students can tackle their work.

Such changes represent great progress. We can do more to ensure the individuality of our students' needs remains at the heart of our teaching, and put processes in place to make certain that these individuals work at a pace and in a way that enables them to both make the most progress and achieve the greatest success. This is at the heart of what we do as teachers.

So, back to my original desire: to be a good teacher. I am not sure I am the person to judge whether, after twenty years in the classroom, I am a good teacher. Obviously, I have my opinion on this and there are plenty of signs that seem to validate my success, such as pupil take-up and interest, but it is not really for me to say. Maybe when I first started, I was not fully aware of what I needed to do to be a good teacher. However, I remain excited at what is happening in classrooms today, and am still enthusiastic and keen to stand in front of a class of students and help them to discover the joys of other languages and cultures. As a teacher, I am want to learn new techniques and think through how best to encourage my students to learn. What is more, the advent of technology has played a part in maintaining my enthusiasm and will ensure that I continue to grow and develop as a teacher.

It is 2014, twenty years after I started my teaching career. I am a modern languages teacher. I love languages and I love inspiring my pupils to learn about other languages and cultures. My main aim is still to be a good teacher. I may not be young anymore, but I am enthusiastic, full of energy and positive. Twenty years on, I still love my job.

How has education changed during your career? Let us know in the comments.

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