Expectations vs. Reality: The Ultimate Teacher Struggle

This was the third week of my ECS 300 field experience! Unfortunately, my grade 6s were away on a field trip. I missed seeing my students, and I missed out on an opportunity to teach another lesson plan; however, I was fortunate to spend the afternoon observing and helping out in a different grade 5 classroom. I was a little nervous to be in a new classroom, as I’ve just started to feel comfortable in my regular classroom where I am familiar with the teacher and students and am accustom to the class rules and procedures. That said, the grade 5 teacher, Mrs. Kerr, was very welcoming, and she had the whole afternoon planned for me.

Right away I took notice to Mrs. Kerr’s classroom management technique. After lunch and after recess, she had her students line up outside the classroom door, and she said to them, “When you’re ready to be quiet, to be focused, and ready to learn, you may come into the classroom. If you’re not ready yet, take some time in the hallway until you are”. I had not experienced this classroom management strategy before, but I thought it was a positive and student-focused technique. Instead of reprimanding those students who were still excited and full of energy after recess, she gave all students a choice making each of them accountable for their own behaviour.

First, the students had math. Although I am interested in math, I have never had the opportunity to teach it, so I was excited to take part in the lesson. The students were working on the multiplication and division technique, halving and doubling. Mrs. Kerr instructed me to circulate the room and help students if they had questions, but I ended up working one-on-one with a student for the entire math period. It was apparent that this student was having a lot of trouble––when I went over to help him, he was staring blankly at his worksheet, and as we worked together, he would get into his own head, struggling to comprehend what each question was asking. Even when I asked him, for instance, what 3 multiplied by 4 was, the terminology confused him. In addition, this student lacked basic math skills––even simple two-digit addition proved to be a challenge. I learned a lot from my interaction with his young student. Since he struggled working with numbers, and since he didn’t understand some of the mathematical terminology, I had to re-evaluate my teaching strategy and take a whole new approach. Instead, I had the student draw circles to represent numbers. This visual approach seemed to work better for him as he was able to see his final answer as he counted it. In this sense, I was differentiating instruction on the fly.

During recess, Mrs. Kerr informed me that the boy that I had been working with during math had autism and that she was extremely grateful for my help. In addition to this young boy, there are two hard-of-hearing children in the class as well. While the class has a full-time interpreter to assist with the hearing-disabled students, Mrs. Kerr said that she very rarely has help for the autistic student. In fact, there is only one educational assistant for the entire school. I was discouraged by this. As I continue toward my degree and gain more in-class experience, it is apparent that there is a conflict between what teachers are expected to do, and what they really can do. In every one of my ECS classes thus far, it has been stressed how crucial it is to differentiate and adapt instruction, assessment, teaching materials, the physical classroom environment, etc. to meet the needs of every single learner in the class. However, it was obvious from my experience this week that educators, and their students in turn, are not always provided with the resources they need to be successful. So, while I am committed to my students’ learning whole-heartedly, this expectation puts a lot of pressure on teachers. How can I possibly meet every student’s learning needs without adequate resources?  This seems to be a major systemic conflict in our education system today.

All in all, although I missed my students, I was glad to have the opportunity to make new connections in the school and to experience a different classroom environment. Next week, I will be back with my grade 6s and tackling another Phys. Ed lesson.

Stay tuned!

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