Getting back in the saddle

priory geography logoSo, one week down in the new term and the start of the new regime for @priorygeography. Not that it will be a massive regime change, I liked the old regime too!

It’s always a shock to the system getting back into the swing of things at the start of term. I don’t know about you but I barely seem to know how to think like a teacher let alone actually teach by the end of 6 weeks switching off, and a pen feels totally alien in my hand! We kicked off the year with two days of inset, the first focussing on embedding reading and literacy which was useful as I’m a keen advocate of this. Not much to say about the second. But I really enjoyed having our extended department time during these days. @priorygeography now incorporates myself, the ever trusty Sam and new recruit Jeremy so I get to boss boys around all day which is always nice πŸ™‚ The atmosphere in the first week has been great and I’m really grateful to both for coming back with such enthusiasm and positive attitudes, as well as some great ideas for learning, and some hilarious ideas for department fun – see future posts on ‘Flag Food Fursdays’ when this kicks off πŸ˜‰

So what have we been thinking about? Well, the department saw it’s best GCSE results to date this summer which is a huge boost and relief after so much hard work but also necessitates a challenge! I’m sure Jeremy won’t mind me saying that the biggest challenge is for him; getting to grips not only with teaching in England, and being an NQT, but also immediately teaching Year10 in a subject that is only his minor (he’s really a musician). So big kudos to him for turning up happy each day so far!

As curriculum leader and an NQT mentor I’d like to share some advice for a few things when tackling the hurdle of this incredibly challenging year. Feel free to ignore or disagree!

1) Don’t expect to remember everything immediately so don’t be afraid to keep asking. I never wanted to look as if I was struggling, and I don’t like admitting I’ve forgotten something or want to look daft so I would tend to keep things inside and try to muddle through. This isn’t the kind of job for doing that. There are too many acronyms, too many different approaches, and you’ll just get bogged down if you try to keep on your own. So just ask. If your department or mentor do not or cannot help you, or if they seem too busy then find someone else to ask. It’s their job to support you but your job to show what you need. You should be given access to topic resources, schemes of work, department guides/handbooks, etc. but it is up to you to adapt these and to keep up your subject knowledge and awareness of any examination / assessment subjects you teach (what a GCSE exam looks like, what criteria students need to achieve…) – that is your responsibility and there is a wealth of information online and many experienced people to check with. So just ask!

2) Do get yourself a good support network. Whether that be in school, through your university/training cohort, through local area networks (such as subject networks / teachmeets) or virtually through Twitter. These networks are essential for keeping you going, for banter, for sharing ideas, and for letting you realise you are not alone and are probably struggling with similar things to every other NQT if not every other teacher! It takes a little time and some concentrated effort to get the Twitter thing going to a point where it is beneficial but then it suddenly blossoms. Follow some key people, and then start joining in conversations. Soon you’ll find you have a wealth of support and start sharing ideas or planning joint projects. If you are a Geography teacher / interested in techie or creative stuff, try some of these:

– @daviderogers – @geoblogs – @johnsayers

– @geocollective – @ianaddison – @mrlockyer

– @dawnhallybone – @fascinatingpics – @teachertoolkit

Also get yourself reading or participating in some of the hashtag conversations that happen each week, such as #ukedchat, #geography, #geoedchat, #edchat, etc,. You’ll soon see who is useful to follow and interact with.

If you’ve not heard of TeachMeet then look into these. Follow this link to find out about TeachMeets in your area. Basically they are informal CPD training sessions where teachers share ideas and resources. It usually involves cakes and drinks with time to network and mingle. Teachers can offer mini presentations of usually 2 or 7 minutes in order to chat about something they have tried, be that in primary or secondary school or whatever subject. Apart from anything it is just a way to meet other educators in your area.

3) Get reading some blogs, journals and education / pedagogy books. Not that you’ll have much spare time of course, but it’s easy enough to flick through and scan some blogs for a few mins. Just set aside half hour each week or ten mins a day when you will have a scan. If you get a reader account with something like Feedly then you can manage blogs in one place and then quick peek. I’d recommend the following as a starting point:

http://livinggeography.blogspot.com/

http://daviderogers.blogspot.co.uk/

http://dougbelshaw.com/blog/

http://ianaddison.net/

http://olliebray.typepad.com/olliebraycom/

http://www.theguardian.com/teacher-network

And lots more. Have a look at the Ted Talks as well, just try a couple of video clips every now and then.

*Possibly useful books when you are starting out could include:

‘Not Quite a Teacher’ Tom Bennett

‘A Guerilla Guide to Teaching’ Sue Cowley

‘How to Teach’ Phil Beadle

‘Pimp Your Lesson’ Isabella Wallace

‘Teach Like a Pirate’ Dave Burgess

I’m not saying read all of them, or all of each book, or even any of them – but sometimes it’s worth a quick flick through and your school probably has some of these kicking around somewhere – ask your mentor or NQT induction mentor.

4) Don’t think you have to crack it and try everything straight away. You need time to settle in. Don’t feel down if you can’t have that all creative inspirational tick-every-box lesson straight away, or day in day out. It’s not possible. Not every lesson will be able to be as amazing as you want it. And you will probably feel you aren’t doing as well as you thought you did in your PGCE but don’t feel disparaged. Chances are you are being too self critical but remember you have a bigger teaching commitment, more paperwork, probably tutor group responsibilities, more meetings, and you will exhaust yourself. Surviving that first term (and the first year!) comes down to carefully managing your time and managing your own expectations of yourself. Yes, always aim for the best – the best outcome for the students – but that doesn’t mean every lesson needs to have bells on, or have you running around like mad or acting like a performing seal.

You’ll be hearing about all these fantastic ideas from other people, and getting all inspired to try something new and this is great – but it doesn’t mean you need to do it all at once. Or that it will work for you. Just because something works for another teacher doesn’t mean it will do for you. This isn’t a failing or a sign of your inability, but it is because teaching is an intensely personalised thing – just like learning is. We personalise lessons to suit a range of children and sometimes forget to personalise our teaching style to suit ourselves as well. Likewise what worked for you at your last school on PGCE may not work in your current school, and what worked for 7a1 on a Monday lesson 1 may not work for 9b3 Friday lesson 5. It’s about picking and choosing carefully. That comes with time and experience, but it’s important to not beat yourself with a stick if you get it wrong. Just try a little now and then, accept the consequences if it goes wrong and learn from it so that next time you nail it.

It is ok to use DVDs occasionally, do some ICT presentations or make posters! You need to survive in terms of planning and marking, and students need a break sometimes from really high level thinking or ‘whizz bang’ lessons especially towards the end of term. Break things up for them as well as for you. Otherwise everyone burns out.

Think simple and effective. Aim for lesson activities that are student led and remember you should be making them do all the work. Then while they are on activity you can spend time speaking to individuals, target checking and setting, having a look through their books. Even try scaffold marking and get a selection of them done during the lesson. Peer and self mark as much as possible. Invest in stamps. Try to be time and energy efficient. I am the first to admit that I struggle with marking, massively. It still takes me a long time, but there are ways around this and things to focus on in particular. It’s about having a system and a process that works with you. Try to look at other teacher’s books and their marking system, pick their brains for advice then mould it to suit you. Obviously you have to stick to your school policy for frequency of marking and that kind of thing, but how you go about it and manage it can be down to you. Just argue the case, so long as good learning is happening and you can show this, and so long as learners know where they are at and how to get to the next stage, then the mechanics is kind of unimportant.

5) Don’t get hung up on Outstanding. Or Ofsted full stop. Ofsted are not in your classroom every day. They are not the consumer. They are not the most important measure of how you are and of what experience your students are getting. Getting Outstanding for a formal lesson evaluation once a term for your appraisal does not in itself make you an outstanding teacher, it doesn’t mean your lessons are always fantastic or that your students are making amazing progress. It’s a flash view. To be honest, getting outstanding is about applying a system and ticking a checklist – this doesn’t make you a great teacher, it makes you a scientist or a mathematician able to apply a formula. It’s not the same as being consistent. Your learners need a consistent experience not a flash of awesome once in a while. And when Ofsted do come in, don’t perform an act for the sake of it and be fake – your students will know! And it’s not fair on them to pull out something different just for a measurement of how good you are, you should be delivering quality because it’s what they need and deserve all year long. Sorry, rant over.

Hopefully some of this may prove useful. It is worth investing time in reading around and chatting to other educators, you never know how much time that may save you in future! And this is a great job, and one that is hugely rewarding so it’s worth getting excited by it from the outset so you can have a nice long career πŸ™‚

“Don’t wait for something big to occur. Start where you are, with what you have, and that will always lead you into something greater.”

Mary Manin Morrissey

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