Ch-Ch-Changes: Challenging professional moves

In early 2018 I came across a job opportunity that looked really interesting! However, it also meant moving out of my comfort zone… 

Written by Vicky Saumell

I decided to go in for the interview. The new position involved working with all the groups in a bilingual primary school. That meant 21 groups of children aged 6 to 12. I would become the ‘ICT lab’ teacher, which meant I would be in charge of the computer lab and would work with the students on ICT-mediated projects related to what they were working on with their classroom teacher. The teaching schedule would be on a rotation basis so that I would see each group once every 20 days or so.

‘I can do this!,’ I told myself, ‘I have been an advocate for meaningful technology integration for years. This should be the right job for me!’

The initial big difference was that I had been teaching general English in a private secondary school for 25 years and this position was for primary. Although I had experience working with primary learners, both as a teacher and as a coordinator, going back to teaching primary aged learners was a big move. My teaching style and classroom management strategies would have to be revisited and worked on. 

I also felt a huge change in terms of responsibility from having ‘my’ own groups for 4 hours a week to having ‘all’ the groups for one hour every 20 days or so. Being the main teacher of your own groups means that you are ultimately responsible for most of the things they do at school: planning, teaching, assessing, managing…. Now this would be quite different. I would have to work together with their classroom teacher and subordinate to what they were working on in class. I would have to design the best possible ICT-mediated learning experience for each and every topic their teacher chose.

The change of focus from general English to ICT-mediated project work was also a challenge. Although, as I said before, I had a lot of experience integrating technology with my general English learners, this would now have to happen every single class with all the learners.

Another change associated with the new job was the teaching and learning space, from a traditional classroom to a computer lab. In my previous job, although I was usually in a classroom, I could freely change spaces depending on what I was planning to do. So I would sometimes use the playground, or the gym, or the library, or the computer lab, or the big hall with the projector. Now I would be ‘confined’ to the computer lab at all times.

So I decided to take all these challenges and take the opportunity to grow professionally. 

Regarding age-group issues, I learnt about more appropriate classroom management strategies for younger learners, and also about ways to organize the class in order to deal with their shorter attention spans, breaking the class into different moments. I worked on my instruction giving skills and ways to support these with visual cues. I discovered that 6 and 7 year olds these days are not familiar with the use of the mouse and typing on a desktop computer as at home they mostly use touchscreen mobile devices. This has resulted in an adaptation process for the existing equipment in the lab.

As for working together with the classroom teacher, I really enjoyed the teamwork involved. I thought it would be difficult for me, but I have learnt a lot and it has really stretched my creativity to adapt to what the other teachers have in mind.

Despite my initial concerns, doing ICT work all the time has been really rewarding. I have had to learn more about different tools and strategies to make the most of the available equipment. I used to rely a lot on mobile devices when I taught at secondary school. This has necessarily changed since primary students do not have their mobiles in class. We only have desktop computers and a projector in the lab and that has meant a shift in the kind of tasks that can be done.

And working in the same space every day has also forced me to find ways to break up the space into sections so that it can be seen as more diverse. Sometimes, usually at the beginning of the class, students sit on the floor near the board to do a group activity with the projector and to hear the instructions for the day’s tasks. Then they move to the computers to work in pairs or small groups. If necessary, we have a final moment sitting on the floor again, to go over the day’s work. Having the students move a little, instead of being sitting at the computers all the class, has been a positive strategy.

So a year and half on, I am delighted to have made that move. I have learnt a lot and I enjoyed the process of being pushed to become better. Of course, there are still many things to be learned, and that’s what life is about: adapting to change. 

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