Wednesday, 31 December 2014

#Nurture1415 and #teacher5aday

I have seen both of these hashtags appear over the past few days and wanted to join in.  Not wanting to choose between the two but equally not wanting to repeat myself I have tried to combine the two.  I will do my 5 positives from 2014 a la #Nurture1415 and then make my 5 wishes using the #teacher5aday categories.


1) I felt like I was blogging for a reason.  Previously my blog had felt like me talking to myself but in the latter part of this year I got more responses.  I realised there were actually people reading my blog, and what's more they were telling me that they were feeling the same way.  My post about 'Getting my teaching mojo back' seemed to really strike a chord with not just NQTs but some more experienced teachers too.  This gave me more confidence in myself and what I was blogging for.

2) I stepped out of my comfort zone and tried to get more involved.  In the summer I met a group of other bloggers for the first time, it was really good to put faces to twitter handles and get to have a conversation and not worry about a 140 character limit.  It was even better to spot these faces and have people to talk to at ResearchEd.

3) I started my first proper job and, despite a wobble in October, I enjoy it.  It's not been easy, everyone knows that and wouldn't expect the NQT year to be any other way.  I'm lucky to be in a department with really helpful, experienced staff but also two more NQTs.  There are a lot of NQTs in school but having 3 in our department has been really good - even if it's for a therapeutic rant at the end of the week or quickly exchanging resources at the start of the day.

4) I've kept time for myself.  The hardest balance for a teacher but I was determined that I would do it from day one.  I love my 'No Work Wednesdays' when I go to the local adult music school at my old school where I play alongside my ex-head teacher (which was strange at first) and led by my saxophone teacher from school.  On Wednesdays I have to leave school at a decent time and whilst I'm there I can't think about work - I'm too busy trying to catch up with all the black dots that are flying past me on the page!

5) I have applied to volunteer at the Olympics in Rio 2016.  This has meant taking language tests in Spanish and French and committing myself to learning a basic level of Portuguese.  So far so good, I've passed each stage of the application process.  This opens up the door to me doing more travelling like I keep saying I will.  Watch this space on this one!


#connect - I want to blog more, on relevant issues not just what is going on in my world and get involved in the debate.  I want to take a more active part in twitter, I've taken a back seat to observe but it's about time I got braver and spoke up.

#exercise - How to write this one without it being a generic 'I must go to the gym more often' resolution?  The fact is that has to be it.  I need to realise that walking up two flights of stairs with all my school bags does not count as exercise.  Neither does the amount of walking to and from the printer I do, or walking round the classroom.  I keep saying that I don't have time to go to the gym/swim but I shall just have to make it.

#notice - What is going on outside the teaching 'bubble'.  It's very easy to get wrapped up in these things, especially with teaching taking over my twitter and slowly but surely my Facebook too.

#learn - I'm applying to do an MA in Education.  I know it's going to be hard work and a lot to juggle but I feel it's the next thing for me to do.  Whilst I've got the enthusiasm and interest for it I want to give it a go.  I don't necessarily know where it is going to take me but I think it'll be worth it.  Part and parcel of this is reading more, I don't do it enough and if nothing else this will force me to do that.

#volunteer - I said to myself that I'd get involved outside of my department at school.  I set the wheels in motion and then other things took hold.  I am determined though that this is something I will do this year.  I remember how much music meant to me at school, and as above still does.  Even if it's only in a small way I want to help with this and get involved.

Monday, 22 December 2014

NQT term one survived. Bring on term two.

It's been quite a while since I last blogged, I seem to only be posting about once a half term these days.  I'm just not reading as much as I was before and so don't necessarily feel I have as much to say.  My training posts and the ones from the start of this year were all about the trials and tribulations of starting out in teaching, maybe everything has been a little less dramatic of late?   Jokes aside though, I do wish I was writing more.  Reading, writing and getting involved shall have to be another one of those New Years' Resolutions that never get kept!

When I sit down to think about it now I'm not sure if this term has dragged or flown past.  It doesn't seem like that long ago I was in school putting up my displays and planning the first lessons for classes that I hadn't yet met.  On the other side however, when I think back over everything that has happened since the first week of September, it seems like I've been teaching in this school forever.  I finally feel like I know my classes, I'm getting the hang of school policies and I'm starting to know the names of some of the other staff (it's a huge school, I've got no chance!)

I'm not going to pretend that things haven't been difficult and that I haven't got a long way to go.  Anyone that has read my previous posts will know that's not true.  I'm still working on addressing the balance between working and having a life.  I know it's hard but I am now starting to think it's actually possible, seeing the light at the end of the tunnel so to speak.  I'm very lucky to be part of a really friendly and helpful department and even luckier, I feel, to have two other NQTs in the department to rant to at the end of the day or share last minute resources with in the mornings.  We share best practice as a department regularly and I'm feeling more able to integrate new ideas into my lessons.  Of late I've been reminded of the basics that I've put to the back of my mind.  It was all too easy in the middle of this term to forget things that were a natural part of lesson planning last year just to make planning quicker and easier.   That makes another thing to add to my list of resolutions!  All this aside I'm really pleased with my first term report, I've had positive observations from my mentor and the NQT tutor and there are plenty of things to celebrate.  As per usual I'm just highly critical of myself.

To address one of the forgotten basics I have created a progress and reflection board.  Inspired by a display shared by the MFL Resources forum I have a series of challenge cards that can be used to check progress and a progress line for students to put their names on and move during a lesson.  I've not begun to use it yet but I'm hoping once I've integrated it into routine and adapted some of my teaching (or returned to some of my old practice) it will start to have an impact.

My theory is that after the initial shock of this first term I can start to build things up again.  I know I need to take things a step at a time and not bite off more than I can chew - as I tend to do - but, in reference to an earlier post, I think it's another step to getting my teaching mojo back.

Talking of biting off more than I can chew... my current project is writing my personal statement for my MA application.  I'm hoping to study MA Education at the Institute of Education.  I have 60 Masters level credits from my PGCE already so I should be able to study 2 modules and a dissertation.  The MA is something I've been thinking about for a long time, and something I know will widen my opportunities for the future.  As well as this, the research parts of the PGCE, blogging, twitter and events like ResearchEd have really got me interested in education as an area of study.  I know that this isn't exactly going to help my attempt to readdress the balance between working and relaxing but for me I feel that it's a step in the right direction.

Sunday, 9 November 2014

Is the mojo making a comeback?

During the half term break I posted about feeling like I had lost my 'mojo' for teaching over the first 8 weeks of the year.  I had an immense response from NQTs, trainees and experienced teachers echoing my sentiments and giving words of support/advice.  The post was shared on the TES website (see link on 'My Writing Elsewhere' page) and got even more comments, this time from people I don't know at all.  I really appreciated it and am so pleased to see that something that I wrote for my own ends, to make myself feel better and get things straight in my own head has struck a chord with so many people.  That said, I'm not sure that in itself that is a good thing, should so many people be feeling this way about the profession?  Thats a whole debate in itself I'm sure.  Despite this, I still don't claim to write the views of all NQTs, maybe not even the majority.  This blog is, as it always has been, my space to let out my thoughts and if others read it and get something from it, that's all the better.

So, what did I do about the lack of mojo?  First I took some time off, I didn't touch anything related to school for the first weekend of the holiday and I made plans that would take me away from the computer from Friday night until Sunday afternoon of the weekend before the return to school.  This left me with the week days which I balanced between seeing friends and family and planning.  My aim was to plan all my lessons for the first week back and to have a clear picture of where I was heading for the rest of the half term, something I had struggled to do previously.  Moving to a new school with new schemes of work, classes, policies and procedures had meant that I wasn't able to be as prepared as I would have liked to have been before September.  Now that I've settled into the school and have half an idea of how things worked it was easier to plan for the half term.  I've not done this in spectacular detail, but enough to help me know where I'm headed.

When I was planning my lessons I reminded myself of the sorts of activities I used to include during my training, the sorts of things I enjoyed delivering and that the students were engaged with.  I spent quite some time taking templates for quizzes and other tools from the TES to replace the things I lost when I moved from using Notebook to PowerPoint.  Whilst taking lessons from the TES, why reinvent the wheel when there are excellent MFL lessons out there already?, I adapted them and added my own stamp to them.  The lessons that I planned felt like they were mine again and I was more enthusiastic to teach them.

I got things into perspective, thought about what had to be done and when.  I reminded myself of something I had learned during the last parts of my training year - you'll never do it all.  I will never be on top of a to-do list again, and I have to realise that it's ok!  I emailed a few people about things outside my department that I'd like to get involved in, things that whilst being work related would be enjoyable for me and remind me of the parts of school life that I went into teaching for in the first place.

Clearly I wasn't expecting a miracle cure. I knew that just getting it all off of my chest and changing the way I approached some things wasn't going to solve all my issues, but it certainly helped.  I didn't start the half term with thoughts of leaving and I've still not counted the teaching days left until Christmas (although I've been informed it's 20-something?).  I'm feeling better.  I wouldn't go as far as to say that the mojo is back and we're only a week in, I'm under no illusions, things will get hard again.  However, I've had a long week with a parents evening, some stressful days with behaviour and marking and the knowledge of a collection of data deadlines coming up and I'm not feeling like I want to jump ship.  That's an improvement, right?

I've got my next NQT observation coming up on the 19th, I don't imagine I'll blog before then but I'm sure I'll be turning to twitter for advice.  Looking forward to hearing from other NQTs about their mojo and how they're getting it back.

Monday, 27 October 2014

Getting my teaching 'mojo' back.

If I had been asked over the last few weeks if I loved my job I'd have said no.  If you'd have asked me if I was enjoying it I'd have said no.  If you'd have asked me if I saw myself staying in teaching past my NQT year I'd have almost certainly have said no.  Like many NQTs I was struggling my way through the last two weeks of a long half term and I just couldn't see the light at the end of the tunnel.  My worry wasn't that I couldn't do it all but more that I didn't have the motivation to want to do it.  I came into teaching because it was something I wanted to try, something I thought I might enjoy and not because it was all I'd ever wanted to do.  I'd lost my enthusiasm for teaching and all I was seeing were the piles of marking, the report data to be entered, the detention slips to fill out both in paper form and online and the emails to field about various members of my form group.

As an NQT it's very easy to get bogged down in everything that is expected of you and not see past it.    I set myself time limits in the evening and don't allow myself to work all weekend because I know that working myself into the ground isn't the way to go.  Maybe it's because of this that I haven't been able to feel on top of things, but even if I worked all the hours possible I'd still not be on top and added to that I'd feel awful too.  I can see how NQTs and more experienced teachers can run themselves into the ground with work, especially if teaching is all you can ever see yourself doing.  You want to feel like you're doing a good job, that you're achieving something and succeeding.  I'm gradually coming to the realisation that as a teacher that's not something I'm necessarily going to feel.  There isn't the feeling that I can work all evening but have something to show for it, the hours of work are put in just to get from day to day and that's something that I'll maybe have to accept.

For me, the major problem with this is that I have found that I don't have time to plan the sorts of lessons that I can be proud of.  I find that I am just getting by with planning lessons that are just OK most of the time so that I can get it all done.  This has a knock on effect as I don't enjoy teaching those lessons as much as I used to when I had planned something a little different, something with a variety of activities and something which the kids enjoyed more as well.  My classroom gives away the fact that I like to use lots of different resources and have things going on, my walls are covered with colourful displays and I like to experiment with different resources - I'm dangerous walking down the kids party aisle or going to a pound shop!  Any trace of these things had disappeared from my lessons of late and I was resorting to text book exercises and the like.  This isn't the teacher I saw myself being, and for my sake as much as the students I teach I wasn't willing to let this happen.

Over the last week or so I have taken some time to reflect on how I'm feeling about teaching and where I see myself in the future.  Right now I honestly don't know where I'm headed in the long term, I just know that for now I need my teaching 'mojo' back.  I need a kick start and another injection of enthusiasm.  I recognise that year 8 and 9 are my stumbling block and I need to find ways of enjoying these lessons more, this will probably start with being tougher on behaviour.  I've been given support with one particular class but I know I have a way to go with this.  Some of this is having new behaviour policies to get my head round and the accompanying paperwork which does nothing to help the situation and just makes setting detentions or removing students from class more of a hinderance than a help at times.  In contrast to this I know how much I enjoy teaching year 7 and year 10-13.  I know that these are the lessons where I can really experiment with activities and which give me something to stick my teeth into.  

This half term, as well as resting, I am going to use the opportunity to have a real think about what is coming up this half term and how I am going to balance the mediocre lessons with the ones that I can be more proud of.  

Added to this I aim to blog more.  Although this may not seem like a logical step for someone that is trying to cut down on work and use her time better I really enjoy writing and want to be able to get more involved in the ever expanding community online.  I think that continuing to blog will remind me of the things that I enjoy about teaching and why I find education so interesting.  Part of me regrets my decision to step back from NQT chat as this was a fantastic way in, but I wasn't able to give the time to it that I wanted to.  Once I get my hands on a project I like to make a real go of it, as much as this can be a great thing it's also dangerous for me as I'll dedicate everything I can to it.  

After attending ResearchEd in September and reminding myself of one of the things that I enjoy about teaching a Masters in Education is still on the horizon.  I've quizzed the Twitter community on how managable this is and with the opportunities for distance learning are around I don't see why I shouldn't give it a go come July/September.  I don't know where this Masters could take me but again, if it is something that continues to expand my ideas about teaching and education and remind me of the reasons I do what I do then it can't be a bad thing.

Excuse me whilst I open my planner, spread my schemes of work across the desk and leaf through a text book whilst I wait for amazon to deliver my latest education related book, I think it's time to get my teaching mojo back.

Saturday, 4 October 2014

Trying to keep all the plates spinning.

Teaching seems to me to be one big balancing act.  At the moment I'm trying to keep all the plates spinning and it's less a matter of if one is going to fall but when.  There's the planning, the marking, the following up on homework and behaviour, the new staff induction meetings, the NQT meetings, the tutor group and all the mini spinning plates they bring with them and then of course there is the endless amounts of paperwork and emails.   Oh and the data and reporting that has already started, don't forget that.  Before I continue, I want to make it very clear that I am being well supported by my school, department and mentor and this is not a reflection on them, just an observation on teaching in general.

At the end of my training and the very start of this year I'd convinced myself that 'it gets better' 'the workload will get smaller' 'you'll have your life back eventually' but I'm becoming quite aware that this probably isn't the case.

I'm an organised person, everything has it's place and time and I like to keep on top of things, but that's just not possible anymore.  I was talking to another NQT in my department the other day and we spoke about just trying to keep our heads above water.  It's no longer about being on top of things but just trying to do enough to get by.  This is with my 10% reduced NQT timetable, the free time is meant to be used for observation and development but at the moment I need that time to get everything else done.  I'd love to be out and about in school seeing and doing more, I'd like to feel like I'm teaching good lessons not ones that are just about good enough, I'd like to feel like I'm achieving something rather than just getting by.  Unfortunately all of these things require time, more time than it's possible to give.

I'm assuming that this is a common NQT feeling, but what concerns me more is that it may be something that teachers are feeling further down the line.  Is this something that goes away or do all teachers feel this inadequate?  

All through my training I was determined that I would never be part of that statistic, you know the one, the one that's always quoted about the amount of teachers leaving the profession within the first five years.  I was convinced that I would leave my training year fully prepared for this and the fact that I was so organised was going to help me.  It would seem that I was wrong, over-optimistic and perhaps naieve. I'd decided that the people forming that statistic weren't prepared, they didn't really want to teach, maybe they went into it for the wrong reasons.  It wouldn't happen to me.  

Don't get me wrong, I'm not ready to become part of that statistic yet.  I'm determined to see out my NQT year and see where things take me.  There are days that none of this matters because someone in my form has done something brilliant, or something really clicks in class, or I actually manage to leave school at a decent time and go home smiling.  I just wonder how sustainable this sort of workload is.  I don't know how people do it, being 23, single and living with my parents I don't have commitments outside of school.  I can give as much time to it as I need / want to.  How do other people do it?  Surely something has to give?

I realise that I'll just have to accept that this is the way things are, that I can't be on top of everything and that's the way things go.  It's the reality for thousands of people every day.  I just can't help but wonder if things have to be this way?  Everyone talks of reducing the workload and pressure on teachers, but how do we go about this?

(To confirm, before anyone makes comment, I know that this sort of work load is common across many professions, working long hours and trying to strike that balance and many people don't manage it, this post is just a reflection on my feelings on the situation in teaching.)

Sunday, 14 September 2014

NQT year resolutions

Typically New Years resolutions are made at the very beginning of the year but I've decided to make my NQT year resolutions a little bit into the term, only a week or so, to give me an idea of the sort of challenges I'm going to face. In true New Years resolution style they are unlikely to stick and probably unrealistic!

Having been in school and teaching for 7.5 days, my resolutions are as follows:

1) I WILL have a life! I will only do the work that I have to do, by which I mean if it doesn't actually need doing I won't be doing it.  Teachers are notorious for doing much more work than strictly necessary and losing all sense of a work/life balance. I am determined that I will be able to have some evenings/weekend days off without that guilty feeling.

2) I will socialise with people that aren't teachers and keep a sense of reality. We all know that if you spend too much time around people that have the same complaints and problems you can end up driving each other mad and making the situation worse.  It's important to have that outside perspective on the situation as well as talking about other things.

3) I will speak out when I need help. Be it in school or on twitter I won't let myself get bogged down with something that could probably be quickly solved by asking the right questions.

4) I won't panic about my lessons not being as thoroughly planned and detailed as they were during my training year.  I've heard enough times now that NQTs shouldn't expect their lessons to be the same as they were.  The timetable load is higher, I have a needy year 7 form, I have more meetings to go to, I have break duty to do, I'm teaching more exam classes - including sixth form. As long as I'm still planning lessons it doesn't matter that I've not got a sheet of paper that tells me exactly what AfL I'm doing and for how many minutes.

5) I will keep up my blog.  This blog gives me a chance to make sense of things that have happened and think about what comes next. I think it's important that I carry it on, whether or not people are reading it!

6) I will join in with #NQTChat. Even though I've given up my commitment to @NQTUK to prioritize other things I will join in with it where I can. It's a really good resource and a lot of fun.  Sharing with other NQTs has been really useful so far so I need to remember this and keep joining in.

I'll come back to these in July and see how they went.  Don't get me wrong, I realise they're not exactly realistic but I'm aiming high!

Thursday, 28 August 2014

So, apparently I'm an NQT now?

I'm sure I'm echoing the sentiments of many an NQT when I say that it hardly seems that long ago that I was starting my training, and gaining QTS was a distant goal. Somehow though it is the end of August and I'm on the brink of starting my first job as an actual proper grown-up that's expected to educate a fairly large number of 11 to 18 year olds. Why am I not panicking yet?! As I watch all the panic going on over twitter I wonder what is wrong with me, I'm not panicked about it all yet. I realise this is probably a good thing because I'm not losing sleep and still enjoying my lie ins but I can't help but feel it is going to hit me like a tonne on bricks on Monday night on the eve of my first day.  Note to self: make fun plans to take my mind off of the next day!

It's not that I've forgotten about it all. I've been getting myself ready, the classroom is done, seating plans are sorted, the first week of lessons are planned and I've been talking to colleagues that I'll be sharing classes with.  I think I've done almost everything I can before I go back but I can't help but have that feeling of having forgotten something.  I'm really pleased to be starting at a new school, totally fresh slate after my training, but I do long for the simplicity of going back to familiar surroundings.  Turning up for INSET knowing where everything is and who the important people are, where to go to get my resources for the week sorted and already sorted with email etc to keep me in the loop with what's going on. All of those things are outweighed by the excitement of what's to come. Next week, this term and this year bring with them a whole host of firsts, some of which are:

- My first form group.  I loved shadowing a group this year but I'm looking forward to having my own year 7 group. It's going to be extra work I know. They're new and I'm new, we'll have to be on this learning curve together, I'll just have to try and keep a step ahead.

- Teaching 6th form for the first time. This is going to be a tough one, year 12 and 13 are shared between myself and another NQT in the department. We're as prepared as we can be so far and the department seem to be on top of things, knowing we're going to need support with it.  This is a challenge I'm really looking forward to.  During my training I only observed post-16 and taught an activity or two as the school didn't offer my stronger language.  I've done my reading and have started to plan though and my mentor from my training gave me plenty of hints and tips.

- My own classroom.  During my training I carried round my laptop bag, stuffed full of goodness only knows what as well as wrestling a book box and fairly often a caddy with my other bits and pieces in it.  I really don't know how I managed it, I lost count of the times I dropped things in the corridors!  This year that problem is gone, no rushing between classrooms/floors and leaving things behind.  The room is mine.  I've rearranged the tables, decorated the walls and filled the units with all those things I'm used to carrying around. What a relief.

I think my training has prepared me for the challenges of this year as well as it could have.  I was discussing this with another School direct trainee and we agree that due to the nature of our course we feel well prepared.  We've tackled large timetables, taken parents evenings solo, entered report data and had to handle marking and assessment from fairly early on.  At some points last year this felt like being thrown in at the deep end but I appreciate it now.  I know this year is going to be even harder work in terms of timetable and mark load but it's not as big a step up as it could be.

There are other things that my training has prepared me for.   As an NQT I still have to prove myself against the standards and have regular observations, although nowhere near as regular as they were at the start of my training.

In the last month or so I've taken joint responsibility for @NQTuk and #NQTChat which has put me in contact with more NQTs than I've ever realised were on Twitter. This has been great for hearing everyone's stories and sharing problems/ideas around.  Also recently I was contacted by Sage the publishers about reading a book on the NQT induction if they sent me a copy, so of course I said yes - what teacher turns down a free book?!

So, the book is Successful Induction for New Teachers. A guide for NQTs and Induction Tutors, co-ordinations and mentors by Sara Bubb.  The first thing I'd say about the book is that your need for it really depends on the sort of training you've had and the people you've had the chance to spend time with. One of my closest colleagues at my school last year was an NQT and so I saw the sorts of things she was doing and she was always giving me help and advice.  Also, after our main training sessions had finished we had a session on the NQT year and what to expect and so I think the main bases were covered.

That said, for the person that feels clueless or needs something concrete to clutch hold of then the book is what you'd expect.  It starts with a chapter on looking after yourself and covers areas that I guess I'd not considered like bullying and the inevitable topic of stress.  It goes on to summarise what induction is and what is required of you and your school as well as any other involved parties.  There is a whole chapter on the standards that I feel is wasted if you trained under the current standards as they are the same. I understand that in recent years this has  not been the case and so this may have been more necessary.

One key thing I feel the author has missed out on is the power of Twitter.  She dedicates quite some time to talking about the message boards on the TES website and the support to be found there. I won't deny that it is a good resource but I don't think it's necessarily as active or as useful as twitter.

Without giving a chapter by chapter run down of the book there isn't a huge amount more I can say. To me I felt that I was reading things I already knew, either because my training had prepared me for it or through common sense. This book would serve as a good reference to make sure that all parties are singing from the same hym sheet so to speak and I can see that it would suit some people but I'd save the £23.99, find support in school and online, carry over everything you learned at training and if you still need something do your research online. Is this a good book? Yes. Is it well written and easy to read? Yes. Would I bother to buy it? Unfortunately, no.

Just a final plug for NQTChat.  This week we're talking about hopes and fears for the start of the year, please join us at 7.30 on Thursday - all welcome!

Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Bex-Trex into the NQT year with further study on the horizon...

After spending just one year at my training school I didn't anticipate finding the end of the year and the process of moving on to be too difficult.  It's been a roller coaster of a year with more ups and downs than any other, some provoked by the training and some more specific to the school but ever since my interview I've been looking forward to moving onto pastures new in September and saw that as the real start for me.  There are quite a few staff leaving the school this year and many of them have been at the school for a long time so I wasn't expecting much from the students by way of reaction, especially as I've only been teaching my current classes since February.  I'd not considered the impact I might've had on the students I taught but bearing in mind the short amount of time I'd been there and the fact that I was a trainee I thought I'd slip away fairly unnoticed.   So when a year 10 boy stayed behind at the end of the lesson on Monday to tell me that he felt he'd really improved whilst I'd been teaching him and that he wanted to wish me luck at my new school it came as a shock,  especially when I opened what I thought was a card that turned out to be a little wishbone charm on a chain for good luck.  Over the course of the week I was given a poem by a year 7, a cupcake from another and a card from brothers in year 7 and 9 one of whom is in my tutor group and the other I taught.  What meant the most to me though was when another year 10 boy tracked me down to give me a card and told me that he didn't care that people were laughing at him for it because he really wanted to give it to me.  In all this reflection we've been encouraged to do all year, even when we're told to think of the impact we're having on the students we teach this sort of impact was something I'd never really considered.

The process of leaving one school and starting at the next has overlapped in the last few weeks when I have had the chance to visit my new school, collect my timetable, see my classroom and meet all my new colleagues in my department, some of whom are new themselves, including my NQT mentor.  I have been lucky enough to be taking over from the nicest, most organised lady in the world who has tidied the classroom, prepared everything for me for September in terms of classes and as she is retiring she is leaving me with a lot of her resources.  I've got more resources now in terms of textbooks and teachers books than I have seen all year and feel like I'm ready to hit the ground running.  The novelty of having my own classroom has spurred me into action when it comes to displays and resources.  As much as the classroom is in a perfectly useable state I want to make my mark and the best way I can see of doing this is to take down all the current displays and replace them with my own, reorganise the tables and fill the shelves with the resources I have accumulated over the first year.

Moving into my NQT year I had intended to continue my studies by starting on a Masters course and using the 60 credits I have built up from my PGCE.  I thought that after juggling School Direct with the PGCE essays this year I should continue with the momentum and get straight into it.  Throughout the course I've been interested in the research side of things and have actually enjoyed some of the essays at times when my colleagues had been complaining about how pointless they were.    I can see that it's certainly a side of the course that you either love or hate and how useful you find it depends on what you intend to do later on.  Having studied a minor in Psychology in Education at university I was already interested in educational research so it suited me just fine.  This early on in my career I obviously don't have a clear picture of what I want to do, but there is certainly an appeal in heading into research or training or back into higher education later on so the Masters will be something I do, I just need the breathing space this year to work out the best way of going about it.  I'll be going to ResearchEd in September though to satisfy some of that need, I'm looking forward to it but just hoping I won't be out of my depth!  I've started myself on a reading list already...

I started this particular blog a year ago, unsure of quite where I was going with it, who would read it and if I'd even keep it up.  I was pretty sure that the only people that were going to read it were my parents and my grandparents and that it might not really be worth continuing.  A year down the line I'm pleased I stuck it out.  I've been really surprised with the sort of responses I've had and particularly happy with the messages I've had from other trainees and those going into their training this year that have been reading and contacted me to let me know that they've found it useful or enjoyable.  I also think that writing the blog has helped me do something that was drilled into us throughout training - reflection.  With this in mind, I'm hoping to continue the blog into my NQT year.  Now that my training is over and I won't have essays etc to be reflecting on I guess the content of the blog will take a slightly different angle but I don't want to give it up just yet.

Sunday, 8 June 2014

Hindsight, it's a wonderful thing.

This week finally saw the end of my training with my final assessment on Tuesday, I previously blogged about what that entailed.  With that over and done with I've taken the chance to think about all the things I would've done differently with hindsight, or more to the point the things that I am going to do differently from now on or from September.

1) Don't reinvent the wheel.  The first thing I've learned is something we've been told all year but that hasn't really taken effect until now. During training I've had to write up full lesson plans for all the lessons that I teach and so I've felt the need to really make them mine.  I've looked up ideas on the TES etc but only tended to use them for ideas.  My planning this weekend has been much much quicker because I've finally come to the realisation that I don't need to do all the work myself.  As long as I know what I want the students to learn then I can find resources that match what I'm looking for.  There is nothing to stop me adapting them, adding bits, removing bits etc but there is no need to do the whole thing from scratch.  I'm still putting in all the considerations I need to for AfL, differentiation etc but without needing to document this in minute detail on a plan that no one is going to read!

2) There actually is such a thing as being too organised.  You can't plan too far ahead of time, something will happen that is totally out of your control and it'll all go down the pan. There will be an assembly, students will be taken out of your lesson to revise for another, there will be an exam on, an interview candidate will be taking some of your lesson.  You name it, it'll happen.  Be organised and plan ahead but most importantly - go with the flow.  

3) Get into a routine with homework setting and book marking and stick to it.  This has been a tough one to start and stick with this year.  I only took up my classes gradually and by the time I had built up to my full timetable it was time to move onto my second placement.  I started back at my main school with great intentions, made myself a schedule of when I would set and mark homework.  It went out the window as quickly as it came.  With my training paperwork and essays to do it just wasn't possible to keep on top of it all and I'm making up for it now with a pile of books to get into.  I realise now that with the unpredictable nature of the training year with all the ups and downs this isn't surprising.  I'll start September with good intentions and hopefully stick to them!

4) Start as I mean to go on and set my expectations high.  No matter how much reading you do or how good your intentions are I don't think you can reasonably set high expectations from the beginning of the training year.  It's hard to do, especially when you begin by observing lessons then taking short sections before taking over the class yourself.  The class can be a bit confused with your role and why their teacher is sat at the back of the room.  You might want to do things slightly differently to the normal class teacher and this can be really hard to put in place.  When I returned to my school after my second placement I took over a totally new timetable from one teacher that had left on maternity leave.  I thought that this would be a good chance to start afresh and to an extent it was but I was still a trainee with a variety of adults in and out of my lessons.  In September I'll be in a new school where students don't see me as a trainee and the classes will be mine from day 1.

5) I'll never get to the end of a to-do list again, but that's ok.  It's as simple as that, I can make as many to-do lists as I want, and they're good, but I'll never get to the end of one again.  There are some tasks that will keep getting pushed to the bottom of the list as new priorities overtake, they'll get done eventually though.  I'm the sort of organisation freak that needs to be 110% on top of things but I realise now that in teaching - that's just not realistic!

6) Sometimes there are things that are just more important.  Does that job have to be done right now?  Will anything happen if I've not planned an extra day ahead? Will that class know that I had an awesome idea for that lesson that would've taken hours to plan but instead went for the quicker option that is just as effective? No, no and no.  So shut down the computer, put down the to-do list and do something else.  Take some time to myself, have a life, there is a balance to be struck between dedication and eating, sleeping, living and breathing teaching!

Can someone remind me about all this at the end of September?!

Monday, 26 May 2014

The light at the end of the tunnel... and the beginning of a new one?

I'm writing today, seven days away from my final essay deadline and eight days away from my final School Direct PGCE Assessment.  I realise it's been a long time since I last wrote anything, the blame for that partly comes down to being very busy and partly due to there not really being very much to write about.  The last half term has flown past (helped, of course, by only being 5 weeks long) and has been jam packed from start to finish.

Over the last term/half term I have taken on more hours of teaching and with that the responsibility for parents evenings, report data and everything else that comes with it.  The pressure on me has been raised higher than at any other point in the year as I've essentially been doing a maternity cover but whilst still being a PGCE student.  This has meant less regular feedback as I have not had a class teacher there or my mentor to observe me as frequently as she had been.  For all the negatives that this has brought with it in terms of pressure I am choosing to see the experience as fantastic preparation for September when my NQT workload would usually come as a shock to the system.

The last week or so has been a final rush to get my Record of Development finished.  Luckily for me I only have to compile one lever arch folder of evidence that I have met the teachers standards.  I know people on other programmes that have to hand in 5 and people in the past who had a lot lot more.  I can't help but feel like it's a box ticking exercise though, can I find a lesson plan that proves I used peer assessment?  Where is the evidence that I differentiate?  Can I prove that I allow students to work independently?  Where is my marking to NC Levels and GCSE grades?  When have students reflected on their own learning?  Clearly this list could go on forever.  This folder is meant to show how I have met all these standards 'regularly and holistically' (or a similar wording) so it is a chunky thing!  My final assessor only has about 30 minutes to go through this, meaning that much of what I am giving to her won't even be glanced at, a slightly depressing thought to say the least...  At least the stationery geek in me has made an appearance with all these tabs:

As well as making sure the RoD is up to scratch this week I need to plan my lessons for the first week back (including 20 minutes of observation for my final assessment), prepare for the final assessment interview, mark some homework, oh and write 4000 words of Curriculum Studies assignment!  Who said half term was time for a break?

My final assignment has to be on a topic related to teaching in my specialist area, so I have chosen to look into vocabulary learning.  Having got quite into the research behind my last assignment and receiving a mark I was really pleased with I have tried to put my all into this one.  The result is that I am drowning in paperwork and more data than I am possibly going to need for the essay.  Luckily, some of the data I've gathered is interesting and useful for me as the class teacher as I can see a lot about the students in the class and how they performed on vocabulary tests but it won't be a huge amount of use to me for the essay which is a shame.  I won't say too much about the essay now as I've not actually written it yet.  In summary though, I have been testing a range of vocabulary learning techniques in students homework and seeing which they prefer and why in terms of what they like and what helped them learn more.  I have also taken teachers perceptions of techniques, thanks to the #MFLTwitterati and compared this to my students' responses.  Now the task is to bring it all together...

I'd been interested in the research side of education for a while, I took a minor course in Psychology in Education in my first year at university and it's taken me from there.  Whilst most people around me have been saying how pointless they think the PGCE essays are I've been enjoying them...  I'd been considering continuing my studies to masters level part time for a while now and I've recently had an email about an information evening for a locally run masters group via my current university.  I'm certainly considering doing it.  At this moment in time I don't know exactly where it will lead me, but I've always been interested in higher education so if many many years in the future I end up back in universities in one way or another it really wouldn't surprise me.  Things are changing so rapidly in education that I don't think it can be anything other than positive for me to do it, other than the strain on my workload that is.  However, I'd rather continue now whilst I'm still in the habit of writing and researching rather than try and come back to it later on.

I've now had my last Wednesday training day (with the exception of a visit to a special school in a couple of weeks time), meaning that after half term I will be in school 5 days a week, on a teaching timetable very similar to that of an NQT.  Our last couple of training sessions have been on looking to next year and becoming NQTs and reflecting back over the year we've been through.  It seems very odd to think I only met these people last July/August and we're nearing the end of our time together.  Many of the trainees are remaining in schools in the area and so will be in regular contact but I am going to be teaching much closer to home which takes me out of the area I've trained in.  One thing I have learned this year though is that everyone in teaching seems to be connected in some way with each other and I'm sure our paths will cross again in the future.

At some point when the final assessment is done and this essay (that I am yet to write...) has gone I'll get around to summing up the year.  I guess I've got 8 weeks until the official end of the year to get that done though.  There is so much I want to start thinking about for next year!  Just need to keep myself restrained for another week or so.  For now I have 4000 words to write.

Saturday, 5 April 2014

Two terms in and a nice Easter holiday surprise.

Damn body clock, I was ready for my lie in today but instead I was awake on and off from 6.45.... Is this how the holidays will go from now on? I feel as if I have survived the longest most stressful term possible, but yet I know that's not true.

6 weeks ago I returned to my main placement school and immediately took over (with the exception of one class and 3 lessons on my Wednesday training day) the entire timetable of a colleague due to go on maternity leave. This was a shock to the system to say the least, but the way my training is set up the school were acting within the guidelines and agreement of the training partnership to do it so I've got on with it.  It's not been easy, that's for sure.  I've had absolutely all of the support my mentor has time to give me, but when report data is due and parents evening rolls around there really is no replacement for having the class teacher there to advise you and back you up.  I do feel as if I've been thrown in at the deep end, but I'm continuing to tread water and I can see the rescue boat that is Final Assessment coming in the distance (sorry, I couldn't resist that...).  I'm choosing to see this past term and the one that is coming as a learning curve and something that will no doubt be preparing me for September in a way that many others won't be.

My final assessment is due any time after the May half term and I think it will be pretty early on.  For me at this moment in time it's not a scary prospect but signals the end of my assignments and at least some of the endless reams of paperwork that this course entails.  I'm sure that nearer the time it will be a lot scarier, but for now it is the light at the end of the tunnel!  After the final assessment I think I'm due to stay at this school until the end of the year to cover the maternity leave but without the pressures of weekly learning journals to fill in and essays to write at least the pressure will ease off, even if only a little and only temporarily!

This Easter holiday is my 2 weeks of lie-ins and not working in the evenings but also my chance to really get everything on track. I have to compile a record of development with all sorts of things in it that someone can look though and some how make a judgement on my suitability to teach.  It's another paperwork exercise but as I hoard things I don't think it should be too much hassle to put together in the end.

Being the end of term I couldn't turn down the opportunity last night to head to the pub after school and for once got the opportunity to talk to people that you usually only see in passing.  One conversation with a teacher who has been at the school for more than 20 years was particularly interesting.  We were talking about all the things that trainees and NQTs have to do these days to qualify and he basically said to us this: when he entered teaching it was all about fun, (if the students got exam results from it that was a bonus) but that he thinks that with everything we have to do now we're going to be the better teachers.  I'm not going to discuss this now, I think that would be a whole new blog post for another day.  But I can't help but think that with the amount of people leaving teaching so early on, that he can't be right? 

Just one more quick note, and this was my Easter surprise.... I got a tweet last night telling me that this blog has been nominated for the UKedChat Top 100 education bloggers. I'm very surprised, and I'm sure the nomination has not come off of the back of posts like this one but thank you to whoever posted the nomination.  I'm very pleased.  If you want to have a look at the nominations and vote for your favourite (or me!) then just visit and all the details are there. You only have until the 9th of April.

Sunday, 9 March 2014

A year on, do I think School Direct was the right choice for me?

This week I have realised that it is only through talking to someone else, or more often than not in my case through writing, about your experiences that you really start to think things through.  Earlier in the week I found myself talking to someone that had some decisions to make about their route into teaching.  After listening to the decision he had to make and what he was thinking about it I told him everything about the course so far, warts and all.  We're told constantly that we have to be 'reflective practitioners' and the 40 minutes I spent talking to him about it certainly ticked that box.  A few days later and I realise it is something worth getting down in writing.

This time last year I'd applied, been selected for interview, taught my lesson and been offered a School Direct place for 2013-14.  I'd not yet graduated, I was still living up in Lancaster finishing off my degree and working part time for the Students' Union.  I'd applied for a million and one other jobs in other sectors from the Civil Service to British Airways, from Tesco to TUI.  It seems a million years ago from today...

I'm not ashamed to admit that I wasn't 110% convinced that teaching was going to be for me.  It was certainly something I'd considered on many occasions, and I was always pretty sure that teaching was something I could do well in and would enjoy, but for some reason I had never fully committed to the idea.  I  knew that I didn't want to do a university based PGCE, which, as far as I knew at the time, left me with Teach First (who had already turned me down) and School Direct.  I applied for School Direct on the basis that it was worth a try and I didn't have anything to lose other than the time it took to write the application.

Prior to my application I'd not had a huge amount of recent experience in school, I'd worked with 11-18 year olds on a Widening Participation programme in my first year, but the last time I'd spent an extended amount of time in a classroom was when I'd been there as a student myself.  This was actually one of the reasons I didn't apply for a university based PGCE, I was positive that they wouldn't accept me, the requirements always sounded pretty rigid.  I didn't have the free time to get this experience until later in the year, spending a week in a Boys Grammar school whilst I was still at university and another back at my old secondary school.

I came onto the course in August 2013 with the attitude that I would complete the year, no matter what, probably do my NQT year and then re-evaluate if teaching was for me.  The government bursary certainly made this a more appealing and possible idea than it would've been if I was in another subject area.  As I write this in March 2014 I realise that this 'no matter what' attitude was never realistic.  The first term was make or break.  I'm certain that someone who did not enjoy teaching and wasn't at least slightly good at it wouldn't make it through that term.  By the end of the first half term I'd already made up my mind that I'd made the right decision.  If you didn't truly see a future in teaching you wouldn't put yourself through this course, it's as simple as that.  Especially when the nature of School Direct is that the school dictates a lot of the programme and has a lot of flexibility in how your time is spent.  This has meant that their expectations of me have taken quite a jump since I left for my second placement.  It's a challenge to say the least, but one that I'm rising to and being supported with.

It's at this point that I realise how much better for me it has been to do School Direct as opposed to the 'traditional' PGCE.  I have to say though,this is a very personal choice and certainly wouldn't be for everyone.  For all the flaws that people can point out about School Direct I am certain of one thing - so far it has been fantastic preparation for my NQT year.  In fact, to roughly quote an NQT at my current school in a text to me recently: 'With all this going on you'll be able to cope with anything in your NQT year!'.  Some people might describe it is a baptism of fire, or being thrown in at the deep end.  Undeniably this year has been tough so far and isn't showing any signs of letting up until my final assessment is over sometime in June.  Balancing the PGCE assignments with the increasing teaching timetable is certainly the hardest part, something we have in common with those on Teach First at this time of year (although I acknowledge they have been on a higher timetable since day one).  There have definitely been days/weeks where I've been very jealous of PGCE students that are in and out of schools and have more time to focus on their essays, even if it's only a little more (I'm not sure of the numbers here).

There are still many question marks out there that hang over the future of Initial Teacher Education and teaching qualifications in general.  It is only now, a year on, that I really appreciate the variety out there.  All of these courses have their benefits for different people and I don't believe that any of them are turning out a different quality of teacher to the next.  It's a highly individual choice and you only get out of it what you put in.  Personally, I wouldn't have chosen a QTS only route as the academic side of things was important to me and still is as I am considering continuing my studies to Masters level at some point in the future.  One persons idea of their ideal route into teaching will vary wildly from the next and it takes a different type of person  to get through Teach First to that of a university  based PGCE.  I think School Direct, or a SCITT programme with PGCE award, falls somewhere roughly in-between the two.

Writing this blog this afternoon has been my 'break' from planning and assignment writing.  A social life hasn't been something I've had this year that's for sure!  I'm seeing the light at the end of the tunnel in June and cannot wait until September, as long as I get my summer first!

Tuesday, 11 February 2014

Nearly half a term has passed and no blog post...

I was doing so well with keeping up with my blog that sooner or later it was bound to go wrong. There has been so much going on since Christmas that I've not really had the time or the motivation to get around to writing. However, I couldn't let the entire half term go by without even a single post.

The 5/6 weeks since the Christmas holidays have ended have flown by and I think that's down to the fact that we've been all over the place.  The first 4 weeks were on placement in our second schools, these were selected so that we saw totally contrasting school.  This meant that I went from a mixed gender comprehensive to an all girls grammar. It really was a contrast and I wasn't sure what to expect from it. I enjoyed the experience and it was a really good school, but I'm not sure that a single sex grammar is where I'd like to be, not right now anyway.  There was just something I missed about teaching mixed classes.

Right now I'm on a research placement for my next assignment, two weeks in another school researching an area of school improvement. I'm still not 100% sure where I'm headed with it but I'm sure it'll come together in the writing, at least I hope it does. I'm enjoying the chance to be in another school and to be able to step back totally and observe. I'm missing teaching though, there is only so much observation someone can do before they want to get back up there and do something!

Whilst all this has been going on I've started to apply for positions for September and am pleased to say that I got an interview with the school I first applied to and will be starting with them in September. It is a school out of the area I have been training in and is much closer to home cutting my journey to school in half.

I'm looking forward to going back to my main school after half term, although I think I'll be having a lot more teaching hours and I'll be taking new classes so it'll be a shock to the system!