Nairika teaches English at Papatoetoe High School. Here are some reflections from her leadership journey so far.
For those of you who have taught before, you’ll know that separating pride from teaching can be a difficult thing to do, because as a teacher, so much of yourself is invested in the work you do for your students’ benefit. For this very reason, I felt offended and defeated upon my early interactions with a particular Year 11 English student, who seemed determined to make and follow his own rules. Despite completing the set work in class, his written responses were often rushed and clumsy, which he admittedly failed to recognise and correct whenever I brought it to his attention. The fact that I was the teacher and the one advice should be taken from was something he completely disregarded. The lack of willingness to change his ways and my inadvertent frustration with his attitude problem placed an unnecessary strain on the teacher-student dynamic, which made me realise that I too might have to make changes in the way I was approaching the situation.
Re-shape your thoughts about the student and the problem. This is the first thing I learned to do to turn things around. Rather than focusing on how his attitude needed fixing, I dealt with mine and what I needed to do differently when putting forth suggestions and feedback to him about his work. I realised that perhaps his bad attitude was partly due to me always noticing where he was going wrong instead of what he has done well and what his next steps might be to further improve. Once this shift in conversations had been made, his initial attitude problem towards me and the work minimised. He began to put in a more conscious effort in class, contributing to discussions and willingly seeking my advice on his writing, which he was previously reluctant to do.
Don’t underestimate your potential to inspire. I learned this next. I was content with the improved attitude and effort of my student, but I failed to imagine that English could ever hook him the way it did when I introduced Blackout Poetry; a form of creative writing that is produced from subtracting words with a permanent marker from an original text, leaving behind specific words to create your own poem. The student I had once believed would never possibly respond well to myself or the work began to stay in class at lunchtimes, inviting friends from other classes to hang out with him whilst he completed these Blackout Poems. I was pleasantly surprised by this turn of events. On days we did not have class, he would pop in to ask for more texts that he could take home to work on. I eventually gave him an old novel of mine and told him that he might like to try writing a connecting series of poems. He ended up filling about a quarter of the book with his own work. I can’t say whether he continues to create these poems, but I know that for about a month, this boy was truly inspired.
Remind yourself and students to never settle. Too many of our students are satisfied with simply gaining ‘Achieved’ grades, with doing the bare minimum that is required to pass an assessment. I remember returning the first two internal assessments back to my Year Eleven class and the same student expressed his happiness towards receiving ‘Achieved’ grades. When I asked why he was pleased, his reply was that he just wanted to do well enough to pass the course. This disappointed me because it was clear that from his previous commitment to the Blackout Poetry, he was not exercising his potential fully. So we started to have more discussions around what his writing needed in order to gain higher marks. He listened carefully to my advice and persisted with his work, which finally resulted in him gaining a Merit in the next internal and an Excellence in the external English exam. The end of the year saw him as a changed student in regards to attitude, classroom presence and achievement. His outcome reminded me that as a teacher I must never lose hope of a student’s capabilities or my own potential to make a difference. Settling is definitely NOT an option!
Nairika's student's initial 'blackout' poem.