Your personal journey as a teacher
Teaching is a rewarding and fulfilling profession and this is especially so for teaching in the Foundation Phase. It is the Phase in which learners will develop and grow exponentially in learning how to read, write, communicate and develop problem solving skills in mathematics. You have studied hard and you have your diploma/ degree in your bag. You are apprehensive but mostly excited and motivated to start your new career and then... Practice meets theory once you enter your new classroom and you realise you are not prepared as much as you have anticipated. But don’t despair, your love and passion for teaching will carry you as well as the following strategies and tips recommended by experienced teachers.
Know yourself know your learners
Teachers need to create a safe, positive and productive learning environment to be able to build trusting relationships with your learners. However, this can only be achieved when you know yourself, your strengths and weaknesses and what this means for your classroom practice. Build on your strengths and follow up on your weaknesses by doing research. Never be afraid to ask for help from your fellow teachers or department head. Get resource material to help you fill the gaps of your training. For example, if you are more the cultural type but now have to teach Physical Education and come up with ideas of how to develop non-locomotor, co-ordination or balancing activities, Macmillan Education have an amazing resource book, ‘Teaching Physical Education in the Foundation Phase’. This book covers the PE curriculum, is filled with tips, activities and teaching strategies. Other excellent books by Macmillan Education are, ‘Step into Science’ with fun activities that will make your learners love science. Also know your learners strengths, weaknesses and interests. This will help you to develop strategies for teaching and learning that will benefit their learning, help you to connect with their real life experiences and give extra support when and where needed. Get to know your learners as people. Get to know their backgrounds. You will soon realise this is easy in the Foundation Phase, especially on Monday mornings when they can’t wait to tell you about their weekend experiences. Get to know their different personalities and how they interact with one another. Talk to them; show them that you care, this way you also build trust. Talk to their parents, get them involved. Parents play a huge role in shaping and supporting learners.
Many teachers confuse classroom management with learner discipline. Classroom management is all about your class procedures and how to do things while discipline is to control behaviour. Good classroom management is proactive; it is all about what the teacher does. When your classroom procedures are in place you will very seldom have behaviour problems.
Have a set routine of doing things.
Be at your class when school starts or after a break. Greet your learners at the door. Model ideal behaviour by being polite, making eye contact, letting someone else speak uninterrupted, be respectful when there is a difference of opinion. Have a set procedure of how and when you give out homework or hand out books or handout readers. Routines and procedures are essential in classes with a large number of learners.
Have clear rules
Have clear rules that protect your right to teach and every learner’s right to learn. Let the learners help to establish the rules and the consequences for breaking them. Don’t have too many rules. Make sure that the rules are defined and understood and that breaking them have consequences. In the Foundation Phase it will be helpful to model your exact words and body language you will use when someone misbehaves. Be consistent and follow through when a learner misbehaves. It is interesting that learners will misbehave in one teacher’s class and not in another’s. The latter teacher will be the one that has well set procedures, routines and structure, is respected and every learner knows the expectations the teacher has for them as they walk through the door. Praise inspires and reinforces rules and values you want to see in your classroom. Positive behaviour should be reinforced with praise or other rewards. Praise should be specific and sincere and focus on the behaviour rather than the individual.
Communicating in the classroom
Use a voice that is calm, neutral and assertive. Never ever shout! Use body language and facial expression to convey emotion and feelings. Use hands signals to silence learners, for example hold your hand up until everybody is silent, or clap three times and as soon as the learners hear you clap they have to respond by clapping twice. Practice this with your learners.
Time management and planning
Many teachers complain about work overload and time management. Effective time management can only be achieved by careful planning and prioritising. Plan and structure your lessons well. This is very time consuming but can be shared between fellow teachers. There are also plenty of lesson materials freely available online for teachers to print out and use. Be fully prepared and set clear goals for each lesson. Be smart about setting assignments and homework for marking. Stick to the important stuff and don’t waste your time on little details. Plan ahead and make sure you also have personal time.
Make learning and teaching fun
If you enjoy your teaching your learners will enjoy learning. Using well thought out and appropriate resources in the classroom reinforce and consolidate concepts and skills. It relieves boredom and motivates learners by presenting information or concepts in new and exciting ways. The learning experiences of the learners will be more effective and permanent, the more the five senses are targeted within an activity. Macmillan Education has excellent books on the making of Foundation Phase and ECD resources for maths; Life skills and language.
In the end just be yourself. You are on a very rewarding life long journey. You will make mistakes and learn from them. You will have successes and failures but like your learners you will grow. Enjoy!