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.

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.