The 'team experience'
(BISTA Polixeni, KAMBANI Elisavet, KOUMADARI Panagiota, LOGIOTIS Georgios, PALEOPOULOU Rea, PAPADAKI Eirini, VAGER Aikaterini, Vantaraki Heleni, VLACHODIMOU Miranda )
In the beginning of 2001 an announcement in a Sunday paper attracted our attention. It was an invitation for teachers of secondary education to participate in a Training-research programme on "Class management difficulties". The "socio-psychological" approach of the subject triggered our curiosity. Class management is an issue that constantly concerns and intrigues teachers.
Previous seminars as well as books and articles on the subject did not provide satisfactory answers to our constant search for the improvement of the relationships with our pupils and with everybody else involved in the process of education (colleagues, parents, headmasters e.t.c.). In addition, we consider good interpersonal relations a prerequisite for a rewarding and effective teaching and learning process. An issue, which was not tackled in our previous training.
The first step we had to take in order to get accepted in the training course was to admit that as educators, we sometimes face difficulties in the school environment or in class management. We all acknowledged this fact. Our primary concern was the following: "In the given framework, within a society that faces constant change, where everything is flowing, and the changes are tremendous, what does the educator do in order to respond to the demands of his role?" Each one of us knew that we could not change the framework. However, we were looking to redefine our identities as teachers within this framework.
The training programme was based on an "experimental" approach - the term "experimental" denotes the approach of topics through the participants' personal narrations and experience.
The seminar would last for three years. We were twelve teachers of different subjects (2 philologists, 2 mathematicians, 1 biologist, 1 sociologist, 1 french and 1 german language teacher, 1 physics teacher, 1 chemistry teacher, 1 law teacher, and 1 primary school teacher - 3 men and 9 women). In the process, three of the participants left. This heterogeneous team was coordinated by Dr. Despina Tsakiri, a researcher at the Educational Research Centre, assisted by Ms Helen Vandaraki.
The seminar consisted of two parts. The first part was divided in two sections. In the first section we were asked to narrate our personal paths starting from our childhood and reaching our professional entrance in education. A required condition in order to achieve the goals of the seminar was to establish active listening among the members of the group and also an atmosphere of trust, respect, and of acceptance of the different. In the second part, we discussed problems we encounter in our everyday practice.
An this point one could wonder: 'How is my personal path in life related to the various difficulties I face in the classroom or in the school environment?' For example, what is the relation between the fact that I grew up in the province, that my father was a teacher or that my math's teacher was very strict and terrified me, with the limits I try to establish in my class, with the marks I give to the pupils, or with the way I respond to a conflict I may have with a pupil?
In the process we realised that all these facts were interrelated. At first we became aware of the factors that contributed to the choice of our profession. The coordinator's and the participants' questions to the narrator lead to the rethinking and denotation of feelings and behaviours. This process helped us interpret our reactions, our practices and our beliefs, by looking at them through a new perspective.
Thus, we realised that as individuals we have the power to change some things by changing our outlook and modifying our attitude. From a distance, we are able to face difficulties with less intensity. We must not forget that behind every behaviour disorder there is often a call for help that is not expressed clearly. Many of the difficulties that we encounter derive from our inability to put the real reasons for our behaviour into words.
The central idea of the seminar is expressed in George Mocau' s words: "We teach what we are, with what we don't know we are". There are some inherent traits in our personalities that are revealed in all our everyday roles - our role as teachers included. The solutions to the problems that a teacher faces today cannot be found in a book; there are no recipes for solving these problems. There is only the individual factor. Our relationship with the students are an open system.
The path to identity realisation is sometimes painful. Feelings of anger, guilt and self-defense emerged. Our emotions often led us to tears, departures, silence....
This seminar offered us a chance for inward liberation and gave us the ability to recognize our feelings, thus, enabling us to 'decode' the conflicts that disrupt the educational process.
We were forced to realize and accept publicly our weaknesses. How do we defend our role as teachers when we feel threatened? Do we express our anger? Is there a "right way" for expressing anger?
With the coordinator's and the members' psychological support we managed to sort out problems with great confidence.
At this point we would like to mention the most interesting topics that came up for discussion regarding the problems teachers frequently face.
These topics comprised the second section of the first part. They are as follows:
Marking - exercising authority - punishment and reward
The limitations in the relationship between teachers and pupils. The gender and age factor in these relationships.
Anger management for teachers.
Expression of the narcissistic reassurance/satisfaction.
Relationships with colleagues and the rest of the educational community.
In the second part we were called to communicate the principals of the programme to other teachers that were also selected by the Educational Research Centre for this programme. We divided them into four groups that were coordinated by us. We faced those meetings as a challenge. Although we felt insecure, we had to prove to ourselves that we were capable of fulfilling our role as coordinators successfully.
The goal we set to ourselves as coordinators, was to create an atmosphere of trust, to enable the new members to feel free to talk about topics related to their educational practice; their personal involvement and their experiences. We often interrupted their narrations with questions that intended to help them interpret and denote their actions and their feelings. Our aim was to develop an awareness of the educator's role in today's school; to make them realise that it depends on a combination of social and individual factors and that it is their responsibility to improve their school image.
After each one of these meetings, we had a meeting with Dr. Tsakiri to discuss the difficulties we faced as coordinators and to express our feelings from the meeting.
In the second part we focused on the problems we encounter at school. The only difference between these groups and the first one was that we did not discuss each new member's personal path in life.
Having completed this training programme, we hope that the colleagues who participated in the groups of the second part were introduced to its main principles and that they were given the chance to share their common experiences and express their difficulties at school, in an environment of trust.
Today, at the end of this three year programme, having realised that something we consider very personal can be common place, we feel more fulfilled. We have confirmed through our narrations that "we teach what we are" and we can now re-examine our choices and our identities as educators. Only people who act as responsible individuals in their relationships can see a solution to the urgent problems of modern education.