14 for ’14

Rather than come up with New Years’ Resolutions – let’s be honest, by mid January we have usually failed at keeping them up and are feeling bad about ourselves – my sister decided to come up with 14 things that she would like to achieve in 2014. This is meant to keep the ethos of a positive start to the year, looking at what can be done, not making a list of all the things we shouldn’t be doing this year. Therefore, I have decided to steal her idea and adapt it to teaching because hey, that is what most of my 2014 will be spent doing. This blog post is going to be about the 14 things I would like to try/test/achieve in teaching in 2014.

1.       Qualify as outstanding/excellent this summer.

I imagine most trainee teachers want to achieve this and it is something I would be extremely proud of. Although I enjoyed my undergraduate degree, I often couldn’t help but see it as a means to an end – I had to get it in order to teach – and therefore I never felt wholly motivated to push myself to get a first. However, I am now doing what I wanted to do since I received my blackboard from Santa, aged 6, and therefore am motivated to push myself to do my best.

2.      Keep up to date with all of my paperwork.

Boring I know, however as a PGCE student, there is a whole lot of it that can easily get on top of you.

3.      Try something new in my practice each week.

During this year I have so many more opportunities for lesson observations, something I will not have the privilege of in the future, therefore I would like to make a conscious effort to incorporate the different ideas I get to see into my planning each week.

4.      Continue writing this blog.

I have found writing this blog quite daunting. I was always quite a secret writer and sharing it on such a big platform is rather petrifying. My first blog post was very well received and even gained me more followers which I was extremely happy about, however, I now feel as if I need to keep posting something of some sort of interest to others.

5.      Be active in using twitter for CPD.

Twitter has given me so many ideas and resources; I’d be silly not to keep using it. However, I would also like to try and give back a little more, rather than taking all the time.

6.      To attend as many CPD sessions as I can.

I want to be the best teacher I can be.

7.      Use an iPad somehow (still trying to get to grips with it) in my teaching.

A lot of these points involve aspects of digital learning. Although only 22, I have been known by my older sister as a technology dinosaur in the past, not understanding why it is important to carry your whole life, with 24 hour internet access, on a handheld device. However, after a very convincing seminar session on digital literacy at University, I would now like to think of myself as a technology whizz – perhaps pushing it slightly. My views on technology have changed massively and I now appreciate how many opportunities there are for digital learning in the classroom. After all, part of schooling is preparing students for life after school; therefore it is surely imperative that we incorporate technological advances into our teaching practice.

8.      Use Edmodo in at least one of my classes.

Last term I set up an account however was too intimidated to use it. In 2014 I will eradicate that fear.

9.      Share resources and good practice.

This is something I was never particularly good at whilst at school myself – my work was my work and therefore I deserved all credit. However, I think this is very closed minded and will not help my profession. I think using Twitter has highlighted how great it is to have a variety of platforms where resources and teaching ideas can be shared and this is something I strive to maintain in 2014.

10.  Not get down by all the bad press teaching gets.

The media are great at putting across false messages that many members of society wrongly absorb and come to believe. I have already had many people criticising my chosen profession of teaching since September 2013 and I am sure there will be many more – good job I enjoy a debate and love teaching.

11.   Not be afraid to ask for help.

Remembering that it is ok that I do not know everything about teaching, I am only a trainee after all.

12.  Maintain positive relationships with students.

I have read many articles that inform trainee teachers that in order to have any hope of gaining respect from pupils and managing behaviour, you must not smile until Christmas. For me this would not have worked. I am naturally a very smiley person – a big teethy grin kind of person – and therefore this would have been impossible for me. However, this has not impacted on my relationships with students. So far, I think I have created positive working relationships with my students, rooted in mutual respect, and I would like to maintain these.

13.   Continue to improve my subject knowledge.

An aspect of maintaining positive relationships with students is it being clear to them that I know what I am talking about and therefore I strive to learn more about my subject and to keep reading.

14.  Love teaching!

I want to be happy to go to work every morning…ok maybe not every morning but most mornings.

What a week! NQT interview Prep.

The week before last was quite a week for me – hence the reason why it has been a while since my last blog post, I apologise but I really needed last week to recover.

Last Monday, my application for a NQT position at my current school – starting in September – was due. As soon as I heard on the Friday afternoon that a position was available, I immediately knew I had to apply. I am a big believer in following your heart and doing what feels best for you. Although it is still very early on in my training and I have not yet been to my second placement school, I am thoroughly enjoying myself at my school and feel that it is somewhere I am (and hope will continue to be) very happy. Therefore, it felt right for me to apply and when asking myself in preparation for my interview why I wanted to work at the school, I was easily able to answer.

Last Wednesday I had both my University observation and an observation by our ITT Co (who is also the assistant head at the school). These both went well and I was happy that they were behind me. This was because I had my interview to prepare for the following day. So I thought I would write a post about my interview and the kind of questions I had to answer as this is something all trainee teachers will have to deal within the next year and will hopefully offer some helpful advice.

My interview was 30 minutes long (the time flew by) and was with the deputy head and the head of English. I felt very relaxed with the two teachers and they made me feel at ease as soon as I entered the interview room.

These are the sorts of questions I was asked:

Why do I want to teach?

Why do I want to teach at this school?

Do I support the English department’s notion of mixed ability groups? Do they help learning?

What challenges have I faced so far in my teaching?

How do I deal with failure? How do I approach this issue with students?

The school is extremely diverse; how do I approach this in my subject?

How would I deal with a controversial text? What if my head of department was against me teaching a text, how would I deal with this?

How would I deal with a safeguarding issue?

If offered the job, would I accept it?

Generally, you will also be asked to reflect on the lesson you taught. Remember to discuss the progress and don’t be afraid to admit if something didn’t go to plan – this will highlight that you are still learning but are keen to improve and develop as a teacher.

Many of the questions I had prepared, I was not actually asked. I had researched the school’s data, the importance of data, the elements of an outstanding lesson, my short term and long term goals etc. However, although I was not asked these, I feel they helped me have a better understanding of the school, why I wanted to be there and they really helped me to reflect on my teaching practise thus far. I took notes with me into the interview and although I did not consult these at all, they helped me feel prepared and feel more confident. My mentor also advised me prior to the interview, that when you are asked a question, you are allowed to ask for a moment to your compose yourself and your thoughts. Once again, in my interview I didn’t need to ask for this moment, however, it was reassuring to know that if I was asked a difficult question, I wouldn’t be frowned upon for requiring thinking time – after all, we give this (hopefully) to our students each time we question them. Another piece of advice that I was given that really helped me, was to walk into the interview believing that the job was already mine. Although this feels rather pretentious, it allowed me to feel relaxed and I actually enjoyed having the opportunity to talk to members of senior and middle management about my teaching experience so far.

A question you will always be asked and must be prepared for is regarding safeguarding. This is something you should have learnt about during your training anyway however the main points to get across are that you will deal with the issue immediately, you will not ask any probing questions, you will tell the student that whatever they tell you, you have to pass this message on and you will immediately report it to the head of year or pastoral director.

Similarly, you will be asked at the end of the interview whether you would accept the job, if it were to be offered to you. Hopefully, as you have stayed until this point, you will say yes. Remember, you are being interviewed by extremely busy people and therefore if you do stay through the whole interview day, you are implying that you are very interested and you are not wasting their time.

The good thing about teaching interviews is that you find out on the day whether or not you have the job. I was very fortunate to find out at the end of the day that I was being offered the job and I gladly accepted!

Good luck to everybody with applications and interviews. When invited to interview, remember to smile, make eye contact and show your passion for teaching – which hopefully at this early stage in your career is still very evident!

Logistics

Where to live? This is something of a quandary and my suggestion would be to build a granny flat in your parent’s back garden. Unfortunately, for many of us, this is not an option. Why do I suggest this though? Firstly, having the support of your family throughout this difficult year – I believe – can be imperative to your success. Knowing that if you have a busy evening of lesson planning and marking to complete but your mum/dad/aunt/uncle/sister/brother can cook dinner for you or make you a cup of tea can be really reassuring. Similarly, if you are having one of those overwhelming moments, having someone there to give you a hug and listen to your troubles is equally comforting. However, living with family also has its setbacks – sorry mum if you read this. Most people that are completing a PGCE are coming straight from their undergraduate degree and generally have lived away from home for at least three years. Therefore, having to move back home and suddenly tell your family where you are going, who you are going with, what you will be doing and, most importantly, when you are coming home can be quite a shock. Similarly, you have to observe family household rules. This may sound like I am just being self-centred – I am not the only one of my friends who have moved back home and have felt this way, trust me – but after living away it really is quite a shock. On the other hand, whilst living away from home can avert all these worries, for many on the PGCE year it is not a viable option financially. Similarly, sometimes you just need that hug or that cup of tea brought up to you – remember the importance of tea during this year. Therefore, if you have a granny flat, or maybe even a sturdy shed, I would consider moving into there for the foreseeable future.

I would bow down to anybody who can fit a part time job in whilst completing this year. This is something I have struggled with as I have had at least one part time job at a time since I was 14. This has meant that my erratic spending habits in Zara and H&M have always been justified as I have had money going into my account each week thus somehow balancing out my accounts. Therefore, I have had to reign in my spending considerably this year – which has been hard considering I have had to transform my student wardrobe from the last 4 years into a teacher/ young professional wardrobe. However, I just don’t see how I could give my all to my PGCE, keep going to the gym and seeing friends every so often (we have to fit in things we enjoy) whilst also juggling a part time job. I have already warned my family and friends that this year Christmas presents are likely come in the form of baked goods…

Finally, I am not really sure that this fits into the title of logistics but I really think it is important to ensure you have a comfortable bed – wherever you choose to live – and you make plenty of use of it. Seriously, you need to sleep. Each day you are presenting yourself in front of hundreds of students and a large number of colleagues. You need to look professional and huddling in a corner of your classroom yawning constantly will not be setting a very good example for your students. Each night, I try to stop work by 9pm latest and turn my laptop off. This gives me time to wash (also very important but hopefully you already know that), gets things ready for the following day and unwind before going into my comfortable bed to sleep.

And on that note, it’s time I turn my laptop off now. Night all.

Jenga? In the classroom? What about progress?

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Last week I went to a Teachmeet. I would recommend any other trainee teachers, or just any teachers in general, attend these whenever they come around your local area. And if you think you have a good resource that you have used in the classroom, then present. It is really informal and you can learn so many ideas from one another.

One idea I ‘stole’ from a teacher was the use of Jenga in the classroom. He reminded us that we are working with children and children like to play. Therefore, why not try and incorporate games in the classroom?

Tuesday, period 5, I teach a disruptive, unmotivated Year 10 group. Quick aside – I also teach this group on Wednesday period 1 and they are lovely; they just always seem to bring a lot of baggage into the classroom on a Tuesday. Now back to Jenga. We have been preparing for the spoken language controlled assessment and I had noticed that students were starting to muddle up all the new terminology they had been learning. So yesterday, I brought Jenga into the classroom. The class split into three groups and in their teams they had to write, in pencil of course, as many spoken language key words on to each block. They then built up their tower and the game began.

However they can’t just play Jenga of course, that would mean they were making no progress whatsoever, so each time they pulled a block out they had to provide the definition for their term. The extension task was to relate their key word to power and authority – our assessment focus.

When their time was up, I asked the students if they thought that the game had helped them. They immediately all replied by saying yes. I then asked if they just said that because they had fun or whether the game had actually helped to consolidate their knowledge on the key words. They assertively assured me that it had been useful and they felt a lot more confident with the key words and their definitions.  

So whatever your subject, I recommend that you occasionally (you don’t want to overkill the idea) bring some games into your classroom. It may be to introduce a new topic, construct a written response or consolidate learning. You never know, the kids might learn something, and if you’re really lucky, they might even have fun in the classroom.

First things first: Teaching will take over your life!

For this reason, you need to love it. It is not the kind of job you can leave at work. Believe me, you do not only work from 9am to 3pm – most days I am in school before 8am and do not leave until after 5pm, to then continue working at home. You may feel like having a weekend where you can leave school work at school, but unless you have everything ready on the Friday for Monday period 1, there is no way you can do this: unless of course you are happy to spend an hour feeling extremely awkward, underprepared and lacking any confidence in front of 30 fourteen year olds who will be judging you. Therefore if you do not enjoy what you are doing, I would probably be quite extreme and suggest you seriously think about whether teaching is the career for you.

Teaching should also take over your Twitter feed. There are so many amazing resources and ideas being shared constantly on Twitter – for free – that you would be silly not to use them. Once you start teaching, you will quickly learn that not many teachers have come up with their own teaching ideas; they are often things that they have adapted from somebody else. My advice would be, however, don’t be lazy and just steal what you see on social media. You need to adapt what you see to make it work for your students, however tempting it may be to print screen and reel copies off.

Work collaboratively with your mentor. Your mentor will become your saviour in your PGCE year and should offer you endless advice and assistance. I have been extremely lucky with my mentor. She is forever offering me advice, giving me resources and wanting to push me so that I will qualify as an outstanding teacher. The relationship with your mentor is all about give and take. Sometimes your mentor may ask you to go collect something from the printer that they need for their next lesson, which requires you running between buildings when the rain is hammering down and there is lightening in the sky. You may question why you should have to do that – after all, you are not there for work experience, you are there to be a teacher. But, if you are feeling this, remind yourself of all the time (which in school seems to be a precious commodity) that they are giving to you and think where you would be if you did not have them there for you.

Whilst you are away from University, try to keep in touch with your tutor. Ensuring there is some dialogue between you and your tutor means while you are at school they know what has been going on; this makes it seem a lot less scary when they come to observe (at least I think, for me that is happening this week). Also, they are fountains of knowledge so if you are stuck on a lesson plan, how to differentiate, you have an interview to prepare for, they will tend to go out of their way to help and support you.

There will be points where you feel overwhelmed – for me that has been this weekend and the coming week – and although everybody warns you about this before you start, it doesn’t make it any easier. Regardless, you need to sleep. You need to eat. You need to exercise. You need to make time for friends and family. And most importantly, you must drink tea; this I cannot stress enough.

 

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I don’t want to write my assignment…

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I am 12 weeks into my PGCE year and so far I have only had one cold – which of course arrived in time for the half term break – and am still loving being in school. Therefore, I decided I would try and start a blog to write down some of my ramblings thus relieve my family from having to listen, everyday, to my long winded discussions on school – none of them are teachers, want to be teachers or even particularly enjoyed their time at school so I am sure their feigned interest to keep me smiling will soon disappear.

I am unsure of how successful I will be with this blog. I am running the London Marathon in 2014 and am supposed to be keeping a running blog; I haven’t written an entry since sometime in September. However, I am feeling a lot more motivated by teaching at the moment than I am about running in the horrible, cold, dark weather therefore I may pay a slight bit more attention to this!

For a little intro, I am following the new School Direct PGCE route. This means that I have been in school from the first day of term. This came as a slight shock as I had landed from my summer holiday in Spain only 8 hours prior to this, needless to say the first day was all a bit of a surreal blur. I am attached to a University – the University of Reading – and up until half term we were spending two days a week at University and three days a week at school. However, now we are in school until some point in December – I really hope Santa brings me a calendar for Christmas! This means, like the traditional PGCE route, I still have to complete University tasks and the dreaded assignments. I am also on the non-salaried route which means it is fortunate really that I do not have much time for a social life as my debit card could not currently support one.

This blog will be for me to ramble. I will ramble about my experiences of school – of which there have already been so many interesting ones. I will ramble about what I think is important in your PGCE year (such as sleep, food and a smile no matter how busy you think you are). And I will ramble about the importance of remaining human – both in school and out.

I hope those if you who read my ramblings will enjoy them (asking for too much?) and may even, occasionally, find them useful!