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Inducting new TOK teachers
TOK can be as challenging for teachers coming to it for the first time as it can be for students. It’s therefore necessary to be ready to offer a lot of support to new TOK teachers, and head-off any problems before they occur.
If you have helped drive the process of recruitment, and you have focused on finding new teachers who possess the six characteristics of an excellent TOK educator, then you’re off to a flying start. Additionally, it’s worth having prepared the ground in terms of how challenging TOK can be - again, see our advice on the recruitment process in TOK.
Your excellent new TOK teacher/s should be matched by an excellent TOK curriculum. It should be well planned, well resourced, with clear objectives for each unit and individual lesson, and everything ready to run before your teachers step into the lesson. Of course, they should be allowed and encouraged to adapt lesson plans, but they should also have the option to just follow what you’ve already established and test-driven.
New teachers should be encouraged to spend time in your TOK classes, and watch you teach TOK. Ensure that they are familiar with the mechanics of an effective TOK lesson, and that they realise the key differences between TOK classes and ordinary classes. These include:
- Lessons being driven by contemporary events (the more recent, the better) - meaning that lessons will need to be updated on a regular basis
- Students encouraged to draw on personal experiences to help support and produce their arguments
- An emphasis on second-order knowledge - how we know, rather than what we know
- An acceptance that there may be multiple ways of understanding the same issue, topic, or question
If you are able to timetable a whole year-group ‘plenary’ lesson once a week or fortnight, this would give you the perfect opportunity for team teaching, which is a great way to help your new teacher understand and overcome the demands of TOK.
Be available to accompany new teachers when they teach TOK for the first time (if they wish), and run a formal lesson observation during the first month or so of them teaching, offering positive feedback on their teaching techniques. Open-door teaching should be the norm in TOK, not just amongst department members, but also for teachers from other departments - not just a way of ensuring good teaching practice, but also to demystify the subject.
Unless your TOK team is clear about what the aims of TOK are, and why you’re doing the course, then there is little hope your students will understand the point of it, and, in turn, be enfranchised by it. Make sure your course has a clear set of objectives (for a suggestion, see ours in the first part of our TOK Coordinator’s Guide), and your team is able to explain its role within the context of the IB Learner Profile and the IB Approaches to Learning. Keeping your aims in mind - always - is vital as an effective TOK eductor.
In addition to clarity of purpose, your teachers obviously need to be completely clear about the content of the course they are delivering. They should be able to explain the nature and role of the following aspects of the course:
- Knowledge questions
- Real-life situations
- Core and optional themes, and areas of knowledge
- How to consider the different perspectives of knowers
- How to assess the implications of arguments
They should also know the assessment tasks inside out, and be able to link what they are teaching to the skills that will ultimately be assessed.
New students should be acclimatized to TOK slowly, over a period of at least a few weeks, and this gives new TOK teachers a breathing space in which they, too, can get used to this strange new course. We outline how this can be done in ‘Acclimatizing students to TOK’; basically this involves reviewing the structure of TOK, its aims, how it is assessed, and providing a first consideration of the nature of knowledge and how we acquire it.
Given that the prescribed essay titles appear very soon after the academic year begins, it’s advisable to allocate new teachers a first year group of students when they initially come to TOK, allowing them to move on to guiding students through the assessment tasks in their second year. However, if, for timetabling reasons this can’t be organised, follow our advice in the Overseeing the assessment tasks section, make full use of ManageBac to monitor students’ progress, and have regular meetings to ensure that your new teacher/s are following the right assessment procedure.
What should you do when it all goes wrong? When your new TOK teacher says they simply don’t get it, and find it impossible to engage the students in their class?
- 1.Talk it through, referring in detail to the course structure and lesson resources, and basing your discussion on the assumption that a solution can - and will - be found
- 2.Get the teacher to self-identify issues that they want to resolve
- 3.Organise a lesson observation, during which you focus on those specific problems
- 4.In the follow-up discussion, work together to put a plan in place, focusing on the issues identified in stage 2, (and possibly one or two additional issues that might have manifested themselves) and offering advice on how to overcome these issues
- 5.Organise a second lesson observation to take place several weeks afterwards
- 6.Discuss progress made, and whether the teacher now believes that implementing the suggestions from stage 4, and if they are on the right track