What have I learnt about teaching in the U.S? My self-study summary!

The journey of every teacher is so unique and personal. I thought as a teacher from England you might like to hear how transitioning to the United States from England changed me as an individual. I left my position at an inner London school with students aged 12-19 years old where I was teaching athletics, rugby, football, outdoor and adventurous activities, dance, gymnastics, volleyball, health education and much more! To teaching the University of Alabama undergraduates (aged 17+). I taught a variety of lecture and activity classes along with physical education majors methods courses. I had no experience teaching at the collegiate level and in honesty I was petrified the students would hate me and my accent! 

I linked with a well esteemed faculty member at the University of Alabama, Dr Kevin Richards who taught me about ‘self-study’. Kevin is really well informed on self-study and I was SO lucky to be able to learn from him. Here is a little information on Kevin http://karichards.people.ua.edu. Self-study is an action oriented type of research where the teacher aims to improve their practice as they are teaching. There are many different ways this can be done, here are some of the methods I used to improve my pedagogy that any teacher could implement to track their own teaching.

– I used a weekly journal where each week I would write down any reflections on teaching, my successes along with my failures < yes, there were some!

– Myself and Kevin met once a month for ‘critical friend discussions’. Kevin provoked my thinking and would ask me questions related to what was changing in my teaching.

– After each lesson I gave out exit slips to my students. I asked what they understood/what they didn’t and asked what I could do to help them become successful. These were anonymous so students could be open and honest (it’s much better that way!)

– I used mid and end-of-semester surveys to ask for student opinions on my teaching. These were all anonymous.

– I collected documents and artifacts to substantiate any claims I was making, lessons plans, syllabi etc.

– My colleague in my department, Colin Pennington did focus groups with my students where they were able to tell him about me as a teacher. These were recorded and then transcribed. I read the transcripts when the students were no longer in my class so I couldn’t guess who said what, this was part of my agreement with the university for me to do this research. 

Importantly throughout all these methods I recognized noticeable differences in my teaching and without reflecting on it I am not sure I would have recognized how much I have changed (and still am changing). When I first came to the US, I think I still taught like a high school teacher. I still planned every lesson down to the minute and expected progress of every student, each lesson. I think I perhaps lost sight that the students in front of me were different and I needed to recognize that. That was honestly my biggest finding. Before I could teach my students, it was imperative that I got to know them. I think back to how this occurred in high school when I was teaching and I realize the school systems I came from set me up to make relationships with my students for example:- being a tutor – seeing your students every morning before class, academic counseling, break/lunch time duty, guest assemblies and running extracurricular clubs outside of my own department. This is completely different to teaching on a university campus with some 40,000 students. I couldn’t possibly stand on the quad and wave and say good morning to every single student and still see them all! It’s also far too hot in Alabama for me to do this.. I did consider it but I would cook!

Lesson time had to become more flexible, less rigid, fun and collaborative in order for me to get to know students and still teach the content required. I did everything I could to get to know my students. I kept a grade book with a photograph of every student that our online system provided! Before day one of class I’d try and memorize their names (I am still HOPELESS at this). I would write little notes to myself such as X student was at an interview yesterday and when I took attendance I would see the note and ask the student how the interview went. Remembering everything about all the different classes and each student was hard to keep up with! I made a conscious effort to send out personal, positive, and encouraging emails to students telling them how much I noticed their determination in beginning swimming for example. I’m not quite sure how I did all this, writing it down now I know that first year I slept very little! But it paid off! Students must have recognized I was interested in them and they were more open with me. I found ways to engage with them and teach the material that suited my learners. I held myself accountable and that (to me) is so important when teaching at any level.  

Many of you reading this are probably thinking, okay so you built student rapport, we all know you are supposed to do that. But when moving to a different country the rapport is different, it’s harder to access and get right. I had to understand myself culturally and my students. I needed to have this experience to respect and appreciate diversity. It is through sharing differences my students were able to see me as an individual. Throughout this journey I have personally grown as an individual and I acknowledge that through tracking it, self-study has been instrumental to that growth.

So my question to everyone, not just teachers is what do you do to track your personal growth, cultural awareness, and how do you appreciate difference? To my teachers (we are all teachers in some ways!) what could you do tomorrow in your classroom to support you in your personal journey? Not sure? Drop me a message and we can figure it out together 

Thanks for reading!  

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3 thoughts on “What have I learnt about teaching in the U.S? My self-study summary!”

  1. Great to read what you are thinking and how you are using these to impact student learning. I find myself trying new things to engage and record student growth and learning as well as anecdotal ideas and evidence about my students to see the ‘whole’ of them, not just the things that I have to tick off based on curricula skills etc. Looking forward to reading more!

    Liked by 1 person

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