Monday, March 23, 2015

What? No curriculum? Teaching back in the day.

Nineteen-seventy-nine. Big year for me. My first real year of teaching English. 'Seventy-eight didn't count given my first posting was as a 'teacher-librarian' - something that didn't 'take' in my case. That year I also did a little remedial English teaching with a small group of Form 1 girls - it was an all girls school. Gave me a bit of practice in teaching so in '79 I wasn't quite a novice.

There was no curriculum in English except at Higher School Certificate; year 12. No one handed me a course outline. There were no common assessment tasks apart from exams in the senior years.

So how did I know what to teach?

Suppose there was a trickle down from HSC. That was ultimately where the academic students were heading. This determined what we taught.

At 22 I knew a bit about how kids learned but it was based on my own experiences. Played at being a teacher from the time I started school. My mother then kindly produced a sister upon whom I could practise. (Janey, you didn't stand a chance of escaping education as a career. It was inculcated into you from about your second year.)

Oh, and I'd completed a four year Bachelor of Education. That probably helped in my knowing what to teach. 

But still, no curriculum. Seems we made it up. We'd done our academic studies, were expected to be at a particular level and were trusted to do our job. (Didn't know at the time that they were the good old days. Does one ever?)

In English we taught reading, writing, speaking and listening as we do today but sans computers and photocopiers in my first few years. Our lessons were inspired by our passion for the subject and the novels and text books on the course. We had a selection of 'class set' novels and text books from which to choose. We added new texts as we discovered them.

In my first year of real teaching I taught forms 2 and 4 - 30 students per class - and form 5 - slightly fewer students.

To teach my form 5s, without a curriculum, I unearthed my own form 5 texts and used them as a guide to what to do. There was also amazing wisdom and mentoring from more experienced teachers who shared and guided. 

Did you notice something there? In my first year of teaching I only taught three full classes of English. That is, fifteen periods out of a possible thirty. I also spent two periods a week teaching remedial English to two year 8 kids. Seventeen periods a week. Wow. That's about the same as I'm teaching now and I only work three days a week.

The following year I taught four English classes as my full load. 

The thing is we worked those kids hard. Heaps of reading, writing and discussion and loads of marking outside school hours, despite all that extra time in our teaching day. Was always preparing and correcting.

Today's younger teachers would perhaps also marvel at the lack of meetings. We had staff meetings after school on Tuesdays and occasional year level meetings. Had an English meeting about once a term - three terms a year back then. Nothing like the bombardment of meetings these days, forcing teachers to complete even more work outside regular hours - that is, 8.30 to 4.30; not the easy hours that the general public think we enjoy.