Good teachers don’t compete. Good teachers are curious, collaborative and constructive.

 

This time last week the nerves were a’ rumbling as I did a last minute run-through of my specialist paper for my teaching conference, in order to pass my PGCE. In hindsight (and at the time) I realised how daft it was to be nervous. If I can talk in front of twenty disengaged plastering students for three hours on a Monday morning, surely facing a small group of media and humanities teachers is hardly an issue.

But for some reason, discussing our practice in front of our peers is daunting. Personally, I think it is the element of competition. Competition in teaching is a slippery subject and one that I am still getting my head around, therefore I shall digress (maybe after a few more years’ experience I will feel a little more confident discussing this).

Anyway, I woke up on the morning of the conference feeling crabby and slightly short-tempered. I thought the whole thing was going to drag and I felt underprepared. Plus I’d have to navigate my way through a very bleak and dismal Huddersfield town centre (Huddersfieldians, I’m so sorry) in my rusty Ford who is on her last legs (wheels?).

After a brisk walk to the campus and a brew things started to seem a bit more cheery. My conference group were lovely, a mixture of Media, Dance, Games Design and English teachers from a variety of backgrounds. Each teacher delivered their paper over a two-day period while we gave feedback and asked relevant questions. The presentations were broken up with lectures during both days (which gave me a huge, nostalgic flashback to my BA).

It was silly to be nervous. The conference was supportive, helpful and interesting. It was fantastic to work together to see what key themes influenced our pedagogy, many of the issues we are facing stretched across each discipline, causing a range of intellectual debates and discussion. There was plenty of good practice to be observed and some fantastic teaching ideas to take away. Just one example would be the idea of using visual cues for deaf students who are learning dance. I do not teach dance (God forbid), nor do I have any learners who are deaf, but the idea of visual cues would work fantastically well with my learners who have ASD.

Our tutor facilitated the conference in a way that was exceptionally supportive. I was involved in the discussion on the first day but during the second I remained a little more reserved as I was keen to take a note of the fantastic example set in regards to questioning. It was thoughtful, constructive and brought very nervous students out of their shell. The day was rich with excellent practice: from the tutor, the student teachers and guest lecturers. I realised that my dubious attitude towards it beforehand was probably to do with the lack of good training in my own facility, which is a real shame but I am determined to take in and maintain the important information I took from the conference.

I have just been telling a former colleague about the conference and decided to reflect afterwards, as I realised this has been another critical incident in my teaching career so far. Although I have a mountain of marking to do, oodles of admin and two assignments to finish, I feel so much more motivated and ready to take it on in the final term. I feel lucky to have had the pleasure to work with other teachers who are enthusiastic and who have been so supportive. They have shown an interest and openness, shared experiences, teaching methods, given advice and questioned constructively. In a time where teachers are leaving the profession in drones, even newly qualified teachers, I think it is extremely important that teachers support each other and motivate each other to be the best teacher they can be.ASD conf

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My (not so) critical incident

DonutWhen I think of the term “critical incident” it makes me imagine that something quite frightening/exciting/crazy has happened. This year has been stressful and demanding, but I have not experienced anything “critical” just yet- nothing that has made me completely change my teaching methods and habits. Yes, I casually reflect in the car about what has gone horribly wrong and how I can change it (as well as what sometimes goes fantastically), but nothing has really stood out for me as “critical”.

Apart from this Friday.

What happened? I hear you ask. Unruly student behaviour? A clash with management? A bust up in the staffroom? A break through moment in which a student realised that reading is the key to all knowledge? No. I’ll tell you what happened…

Rewind to the rest of the week. Disengaged learners, piled on marking, covering the basics all over again, walkthroughs from senior management, if you work in FE you’ll be reading that list and nodding your head and agreeing like a true comrade. Or not, if you work in some wonder college. In that case, let me know where that is and if I can come work with you?

Anyway. I was drained beyond belief. Usually I plaster on a smile and keep going. Only not this time. Nothing particularly bad happened in this lesson. Just nothing good either. This was the first time I have not been at all fussed. Simply not bothered, this is what worries me.

This was critical moment because, for the whole of one of my lessons, I just stopped caring. Usually I push and pester the challenging learners until they at least attempt some of the work. Usually I support and encourage my learners who are actively trying so hard. I always do this, always make an effort to go around and around the classroom checking and observing and chatting to my learners. This lesson, I didn’t.

Afterwards I felt terrible and deflated. I wished I could have scraped some energy from somewhere. I wanted to forget about it and scurry away as quickly as possible as I felt cowardly and a bit frightened, like I wasn’t in control somehow.  

Writing in retrospect of this critical incident, I realise that this is not any fault of my learners. They weren’t any different to any other day. It was a result of fatigue, stress and boredom (on my part). I feel guilty that I couldn’t hide this in front of my students and I am worried my attitude will have rubbed off on them. Looking back on the things you’ve done wrong is always tricky, like remembering something totally humiliating that you’ve done and recalling it over and over until it whizzes about like a tornado in your head. My thinking has to change and become more positive, immediately; looking back on these difficult incidents seems to be the only way to do it.

McAteer et al state that as well as reflecting on your critical incident, you should attempt to learn from it too. To do this you should think about what you have learned about your practice through the incident. One thing that I have realised is that you must always remain professional and in control, never let the situation control you. This incident has made me realise more than ever that it is me who is the expert, the adult, the teacher, the one in control therefore I have to take responsibility for my own behaviour, responses, body language and attitude.

This week I plan to set about my prioritises and do what I can in order to keep myself sane and calm and ready to take on my classes in a professional manner.

It is hard to admit your mistakes, I’ve written this and cringed throughout. I know people will read this and empathise. I know people will read this and be heavily critical. But surely the fact that I am reflecting, (on essentially nothing) is the sign of someone who does care? Even though, last week, for at least forty five minutes, I could not give a flying doughnut.

A thought, more than a reflection…

 

Reflections have been a real problem for me lately. Whenever things have “gone wrong” in the classroom of late, I have wanted to put it on the back burner entirely. Not mull it over and think it through. I simply have no motivation to fix anything, evident by weeks of dull and prescribed lessons, a frustrated attitude and a lot of “oh no, this isn’t for me” moments.

Since the summer things have been utterly terrible at work. Every day is an uphill struggle against incompetent managers, blame culture, poor classrooms and resources, no CPD or adequate training and students who have been massively let down by education. If I were to jot down everything that was wrong with my current role in my current workplace, I’d be ready to jump in front of a bus.

So enough of that.

I have thought long and hard about the positives. Sadly so far I cannot say my learners are cheering me up and getting me through. I’m finding building rapport difficult with the lack of time and… (arghhhh, no more negatives!). I digress, the positives.

I’m a relatively sane and fair person. I can balance things well usually but thinking of a glowing positive in this mess is difficult. But then I remembered the other stretched members of staff in the GCSE team that are equally as stressed, tired and as angry as myself. I observed another teacher last Tuesday with a very low level group. Despite everything that’s going wrong, she was motivational, kind and facilitated learning in a way that was supportive, yet didn’t patronise.

All of the GCSE team are brilliant. And at the minute they are my motivation to try and better my teaching, to be just as good as them. For they are all fantastic teachers in different ways, whether they are more old school in their approaches….to more modern and madcap….to super organised and methodical…..to creative and nurturing. This includes our overworked admin staff too, who are stretched beyond belief and go above and beyond for our students.

So yes, I just need to remember, my tired and trusted team are my motivation, and a blindingly obvious positive that I overlook every day.

‘Private’ and ‘teacher’ identities

In my first ever essay during my initial teacher training I discussed the role of the teacher, describing it as becoming ‘the facilitator of learning’. Although this is true-a good teacher must create an environment in which learning takes place and where the students can take some ownership of their own learning-I have found this hard to put into practice in the classroom. Every student I teach struggles with my subject to a varying degree. Very few enjoy it. Why would they? Who in their right mind enjoys something that their no good at?

At the start of this academic year I thought teaching would be difficult. I knew engagement, behaviour and motivation would all be issues. I knew nine months was not a long time to lift a D grade to that ‘golden grade C’. I knew the paper work would be rigorous and the planning and marking would follow me home. I knew I’d have to act as a mentor, an actor, a comedian, a counsellor, an example as well as a teacher. But switching between these roles, as well as trying to bring across my own personality and values, has left me slightly confused at the end of my first year.

I do not know what type of teacher I am. Hopefully, a decent one.

Most of the time I feel like a crutch to my students. I do not want to be this. But massively poor levels of literacy, way below a D grade and the lack of confidence that young people have (not only with the subject, but in general) have led to this role. ‘I don’t know how to explain why I think that’, ‘I can’t do it’, ‘I’m no good’, ‘I just can’t read’, ‘can you do it for me?’ are phrases that have become the norm. Despite positive communication and encouragement and behaving like a cheerleader essentially, this negative attitude spreads like wild fire. If one student ‘can’t do it’, no one can.

So what to do? One to one sessions work splendidly, but having the time for these can be difficult. I’ve tried breaking things down, repeating myself, re-phrasing, giving the students distance to work independently, allowing them to work in groups, but I am still struggling to get across to students that learning is THEIR responsibility as well. Especially for their age group (16-19), in which students will be moving on to employment and higher education in which independence and initiative are integral and desirable skills.

I am still a student myself. The dual role of being a student and a teacher is a strange one. Finding a balance is tricky, I almost don’t believe I’m the one responsible and in control at times. I think to myself, “Oh no, who’s the adult here. Bugger, it’s me.” Although quite academic, I, like a fair few of my students, can be very unconfident. So maybe it’s okay to be their crutch, their support? Because who am I to talk, I struggle too sometimes.

Using my own education I can model what type of teacher I want to be. I don’t want to be the pompous university lecturer who would mock my Yorkshire accent, I don’t want to be my sixth form sociology teacher who taught didactically from a book she hadn’t written, I don’t want to be my year ten science teacher who thought it was okay to teach the same lesson (four weeks in a row!) because he couldn’t be bothered to plan.

Don’t get me wrong. For every unprepared, uncaring and inept teacher I have had at least two fantastic teachers and have met many great teachers on my PGCE course and on placement who evidently care and are passionate about what they do. I want to be like these teachers. I want my teacher identity to share similarities with theirs. I want to be the teacher that is encouraging, fair, firm, patient, understanding, engaging, creative and fun.

Teaching has developed my personality, even within such as short amount of time. It takes a lot more than it ever did before to get me stressed, I can multi-task, I have become more empathic, my patience has come on in leaps and bounds, I can improvise and adapt quickly and most importantly my confidence has improved massively. This is not to say that the ‘private me’, the ‘me’ at home, hasn’t affected my teaching as well. The same creativity, goofiness and love of English transfers across to the classroom, at least I hope so. If it doesn’t, then it might be time to take off the teaching cape-the teaching identity- and hang it up for a better time.

Reflection two, a follow up.

Well, I didn’t buy that diary.

The last term flew by. I have been given a range of classes to take over, so along with session planning, training, meetings, revision sessions, university, marking, keeping up with paper work, registers and writing essays, reflections have been on the back burner! Jeez, no wonder all these brand new squeaky clean teachers are leaving the profession, it is hard work!

I have been loving it though. I enjoy having some freedom and creativity with what I teach and building rapport with the students.

Although behaviour management is still a major struggle for myself, it is slowly improving the more I get to know my students. I have definitely stopped taking the behaviour personally. I find it very sad how desperate some of the young people are to get attention, so I am looking at ways to involve everyone and make them feel valued.

Since my last post my Functional Skills English classes have been completely reorganised. The groups how been mixed up and the sessions have doubled in time! So three hours with these demon groups (I know it’s bad, but that was my initial thought-terrible).

Due to the mix up and change: new teacher (me), new classroom (it’s actually a lovely room), new classmates and new style of lessons, the students were quite rightly distressed and annoyed. I can’t blame them for that at all, as I am quite adverse to change as well.

However they have settled really well and behaviour is slowly improving. Instead of two tricky groups, my afternoon group have settled down and are working well. Apart from being a bit giggly and loud they are working to a high standard and now have a lot of pride in their English work. When it comes to four o’clock they often take a while to leave! Which is a really lovely feeling.

The morning group are a slightly different story. It’s a larger group with some very disruptive students in it. I have found that nothing spreads faster than a negative attitude. Once one student says, ‘I can’t do it’, everyone seems to have suddenly decided they can’t do it either. It’s a real shame, I know I need to boost positivity in my classrooms. I go in with a positive attitude, but even find myself at times leaving feeling drained and miserable sometimes!

So to tackle this I have been adding competitive elements, I group my students in their tables and good behaviour, good contributions and work helps their group to become the winning team. It works really well and points can also be wiped away for bad behaviour. I have also learnt all my students’ names and got to know them a little as individuals, which is invaluable.

Short exercises have been used throughout the classes, which works really well and stops the students’ disengaging. It also provides an urge to move on and progress onto the next activity. Very slowly, student’s confidence is developing, especially in the afternoon group. One particularly disengaged pupil who is often tired and gets agitated at times has softened to the subject. She has started taking a lot of time and care into her work and I am confident she will pass.

So…..

Positives

  • Slow improvement in terms of behaviour.
  • Rapport developing with students.
  • Students’ confidence growing.
  • My confidence as a new teacher is developing with these students.

Negatives

  • Need to work on certain aspects, especially reading, in more detail.
  • Behaviour is still an issue.
  • Positivity needs to be boosted in the classroom.

Things to work on

  • Keeping up with marking and setting targets, complimenting students on what they are doing well on.
  • Embedding core subject into writing section of the course.
  • Develop behaviour management techniques and try new methods.

First Reflection

So here goes, my first reflection from my first term! This reflection is a very late one and I am learning the importance of keeping a record of thoughts/feelings/ideas as soon as the session has finished. (Think I’ll be investing in a diary this Christmas!). One particular session stood out for me this term and I’d like to explore the things that worked well and the things that did not.

This session took place during 19th of November. I was teaching the same session (Functional Skills English) to two classes, one in the morning which I have been observing and taking over slowly and one new class in the afternoon who I’ve only met once before. The session revolved around the blessed thing that is SPaG (Spelling, Punctuation and Grammar) which can be difficult to make engaging at the best of times.

From my time observing Functional Skills sessions and taking over a few of the classes I have noticed short exercises work the best for the learners. Longer exercises provide the students with too much time to become distracted and bored. My short activities included word searches, and adjective exercise to practice using dictionaries, an exercise to help students’ spot grammatical mistakes and then a recap of punctuation which involved moving around the classroom.

So the morning group first…The session went relatively well, although students spent a long while on the starter activities. I have noticed students in the morning session lack confidence in their abilities. There is one particular student who has some truly fantastic ideas, however often puts herself down. She finishes the work before others and finishes it to a high standard. There are a few other students like her in the class and they are a pleasure to teach (such a cliché teacher thing to say-but true!).

These students benefit from stretch and challenge, and can move onto new tasks and extension activities without any objection. However, a few members of the class are very difficult to engage and ask for a lot of help. There is a range of level 1 and 2 within the class, so differentiation can be so difficult. Any tips for differentiation besides having lots of extra activities available? It’d be nice to pair up advance learners with learners who are struggling, but due to the group dynamics and behavioural issues I feel this would be tricky.

Now for the afternoon group. I have only seen this group once before (I was covering for a colleague). They are a small group however they are exceptionally giggly and easily lose focus. This group’s behaviour was particular challenging. There is a lot of negativity towards the subject and to trying new things. Although in class I push on and tell them to have a go inside I am often feeling massively drained. For this group I hope to add more elements from their core course to help improve engagement.

Funnily enough however, this group completed the work much quicker. Possibly because they wanted it to be over with but after checking their work it was of a decent quality. I think this group needs a challenge to make the students realise their capabilities and potential. I think with time rapport with these students could also be built on and developed which could improve behavioural issues.

So some positives:

The students produced relevant and decent work, some better than others.

The aims were reached.

Learners were stretched and challenged as well as supported.

The negatives:

Low level disruption.

Lack of consolidation activities. I need ways to ensure students have learnt. This is something I find difficult in the FS sessions as I try to keep activities short to keep students engaged.

After the Christmas holidays I’m going to try change things up a bit. Unfortunately since this session the groups have mixed and merged. They have become bigger and the session time has doubled. Although this is daunting I am having a rethink of ways to use this as an opportunity to really get them on board with English.

Ways I will do this:

Read up on behaviour management and observe some challenging groups with teachers who are good at BH. Try some new techniques and stick to my expectations.

A range of recap and consolidation activities as well as just stretch and challenge activities.

Develop rapport over time, learn all student’s names and try keep a record of their abilities through marking and reading their work.

Reference to the real life application of the subject throughout sessions.

Embed the core subject when possible.

 

I will reflect on these improvements in the coming term!