WIL Teaching Placement ACEN Scholarship Reflection

I had the pleasure of completing a five week primary teaching placement in J_______, a remote town in the Northern Territory. I was placed in a 4/5/6 composite class, where I had a wonderful time getting to know the students, challenging my beliefs, developing my skills and immersing myself into the enriching community.

Identify the personal growth and skill development as a result of the WIL

Personal growth:

The work integrated learning (WIL) placement took me outside my comfort zone, as the day to day lifestyle and challenges were vastly different from anything I have experienced before. Social expectations and ‘normality’ inside and outside of the classroom were all foreign for me, and at times I felt as though I was in a different country. Over the five weeks I had an immense amount of personal growth which I am still identifying as I transition back into my life in Melbourne.

My confidence is something that has undoubtedly grown through this experience. Being able to step outside my comfort zone and get positive feedback on my ability to integrate into a classroom, assess the situation and meet the students at their own level has instilled within me that I do have the ability to make a positive difference in a classroom environment and my skill set, although very much still developing, is headed in the right direction.

Throughout this placement I was able to build my understanding and knowledge of Indigenous culture, developing the respect I have for their histories, traditions and languages and the impact that these have within the classroom. I was able to work towards the ATSIL teaching standards and Deakin graduate standards particularly:

  • Demonstrate a broad knowledge and understanding of the impact of culture, cultural identify and linguistic background on the education of students from Aboriginal and Torres Straight Islander backgrounds. (Deakin graduate standard 1.4)
  • Demonstrate broad knowledge of understanding of and respect for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander histories, cultures and language (Deakin graduate standard 2.4)

I feel a lot more content with my ability to meet these standards as my understanding stems from a genuine experience and connection with Aboriginal culture. The relationships I have been able to foster whilst on placements are connections I intend to maintain for the rest of my life. I have still been in regular contact with my placement class, sending emails and photos to the students and replying to their personal emails and questions.

What I did learn, however, was how to get the class’s attention and establish control without needing to rely on my volume.

Skill development:

My class was loud and often rowdy. My mentor teacher (MT) and our assistant teacher (AT) had many skills for gaining classroom control with being able to be louder then the students often coming into play. Unfortunately projecting my voice louder then the 19 students to gain their attention was not a skill I possessed nor developed during my placement. What I did learn, however, was how to get the class’s attention and establish control without needing to rely on my volume. Beginning my lessons the same way by writing my learning intentions on the board for the students to read and communicate to them that my lesson was starting, body language such as hands on lips or hands on heads, points systems awarded to behaving students, and even speaking softly to make them need to be quiet to listen all became part of my repertoire. The fact that I needed to find something that worked within my limitations, actually challenged me to come up with new skills that worked for me and this particular group of students.

Learning Standard English as a second language is an ongoing challenge for these students whose native dialects of Munaggari and Kriol are not written or read. Communication was a challenge and I found learning key words in Kriol really helped to engage the students. I found using visual cues, and putting new words into sentences and context they could understand became a valuable way that they could connect meaning to the new word. Explaining something in more then one way, rather then just repeating the same explanation or instructions over and over again was another valuable skill I was able to develop.

The students live very chaotic lives and are often tired and stressed when they enter the school gates. Being calm, consistent and fair within my reactions to situations helped the students to feel safe in my class room. ‘When students know that the teacher is in control and able to manage any situation fairly and do not fear loss of face, then students feel safe and secure in their relationships and have little need or desire to act out or misbehave – which results in far less disruption to the flow of teaching and learning’ (Churchill et al. 2016, P. 367).

I found it challenging on placement as I did not always agree ethically with every decision made within the classroom.

How the ACEN scholarship supported the recipient’s career aspirations:

Without the financial support of the ACEN scholarship I would not have been able to participate in the GEP program offered by Deakin University. Living out of home and studying full time I would not have been able to stretch my finances to cover the expenses involved in participating in a program such as this. Being able to complete my primary placement in a remote Indigenous community supports my career aspirations because having an authentic base for my understanding of Aboriginal and Torres Straight Islander histories and culture is imperative for my ability to being able to integrate intercultural perspectives and understanding into whichever classroom I find myself teaching. Authentic and genuine intercultural understanding within the classroom is a pedagogical priority for me within the way that I teach and conduct myself as an educator.

The experience of teaching in a remote environment with limited resources, and with students who come from vary different linguistic and socio-economic backgrounds to me also allowed me to develop my skill set as a teacher. I was able to test and develop very different teaching techniques to those required during my first placement in Melbourne as the needs of the students were vastly different. As Deakin’s graduate standards specify that I demonstrate knowledge of teaching strategies that are responsive to the learning strengths and needs of students from diverse linguistic, cultural, religious and socioeconomic backgrounds (Deakin graduate standard 1.3) the GEP experience will work towards improving my teaching ability and employability as a teacher who has been able to test and develop these skills in real life situations.

Evidence of the ability to think critically and question biases and assumptions:

Critical reflection of your own teaching is imperative to one’s ongoing development as a teacher. Throughout my placement my mentor teacher and I would sit down and reflect on any lessons that I took as the lead teacher. He would kindly provide me with written constructive feedback (appendix a) and I would also critically assess my own performance (appendix b). I found critically assessing myself on a numeric scale to be challenging and I found I was often a lot harder in my assessment of my abilities than my mentor. As a pre-service teacher and even going forward as a teacher, it is imperative that I am able to identify areas that need improvement and critically asses my performance as my ability and awareness of these improvements is essential to the ongoing development of my teaching practice.

I found it challenging on placement as I did not always agree ethically with every decision made within the classroom. This left me conflicted as I could often understand why my mentor teacher was making the decision that he was making based on over 7 years experience teaching in a remote environment. It left me to question my bias and assumptions around the validity of his decision making, and how, if I was the lead teacher would I actually do things differently to align with my ethics but still maintain the discipline, classroom control and the behaviour improvements required. I reflected casually on these challenges in my daily journal (appendix c) and discussed these in depth with the other student teacher who was on placement in J_______ with me. Although my thoughts on some of these matters are still being processed and resolved with the more time and perspective I get from my GEP, it reminds me of a quote that one of our university lecturers said in my first semester: ‘The type of teacher you “want” to be, isn’t always going to be the type of teacher that your students “need” on that day.’ This rings true throughout the placements I have had both in Melbourne, and in J_______, and it is an ongoing challenge to put the students needs first whilst staying true to my ethical and pedagogical beliefs.

References Churchill, R, Godinho, S, Johnson, N, Keddie, A, Letts, W, Lowe, K, Mackay, J, McGill, M, Moss, J, Nagel, M, Shaw, K, Ferguson, P, Nicholson, P & Vick, M 2016, Teaching making a difference, 3rd edn, John Wiley & Sons Australia, Milton, Qld. Deakin University 2017, Master of Teaching – Dual Strand, Placement Expectations and Report Guide, Deakin University, Burwood.