One week to go!

So, unbelievably, I am now into my last week of school! I cannot quite get over what a whirlwind this past year has been. As I strongly believe making lists is partly responsible for getting me through it, I thought I would make another few lists to reflect on the year.

Things I have achieved:

  • I am qualifying as ‘excellent’
  • I still absolutely love teaching
  • I have got a job in a school and a department I love and cannot wait to join as a fully fledged member of staff rather than a trainee
  • I have had two fantastic mentors who have supported me throughout, allowed me to take risks in the classroom and one who has become a great friend

Things I have learnt (This list could be endless but for everybody’s sake I have limited myself to five points):

  • The importance of giving every child a clean state no matter how much they irritated me the previous lesson
  • The power of regular marking
  • The impact of welcoming my students at the door with a smile and a ‘good morning/afternoon’
  • The importance of building positive working relationships with my students – this makes my day so much brighter
  • The necessity to drink tea, eat chocolate and laugh at times when I just want to cry/scream/sleep

Things that petrify me for the following year:

  • Being wholly accountable for my classes
  • The five period day I will have on a Monday
  • Sleeping through my alarm on said Monday
  • Data, data, data!

Whilst I intend to enjoy every free moment of the summer, I am so excited for September to become fully settled in my department as a NQT – and even more excited for the end of September when I finally start getting paid for this teaching malarkey!

It’s been a while, I apologise.

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I am currently undertaking my teacher training through School Direct, the government’s new form of teacher training. This means I was recruited through my main placement and they were responsible for finding my second placement – with help from my University if required. My main placement is at an all girls, extremely ethnically diverse, high achieving comprehensive school. I have just completed my six week second placement which was at an all boys, predominantly white British, extremely high achieving grammar school in an affluent area. In this post, I will share a few of my experiences from these two contrasting environments.

I must admit, when I first arrived at the school I was really unhappy. I was beginning to feel like a real teacher at my main placement – I had secured my job there for next year, I loved the kids, loved the working environment – and all of a sudden, during the gloomiest time of the year, I was being thrown out of my comfort zone. I was suddenly surrounded by tall boys (a year 8 asked ‘Why are you so short, Miss? I almost got defensive, then I remembered he was 12…and he was shorter than me, ha!), small boys, young boys, old boys, lots and lots of boys…even the staff were majority male. This was a bit of a shock to the system. I had grown used to having girls cling on to my every word, wanting to become my friend and complimenting me on my work clothes to boys who couldn’t care less about me personally and were only interested in teacher Charlotte. I had to find my way around a new school. I had to explain to many people why I was there and where I had come from. I was once again the ‘newbie’ who had to find my feet. However, what surprised me about my experience was how easy this was to do. I believe this was for a number of reasons.

Firstly, I was surprised by how little my teaching style had to change. I thought that being in a completely contrasting environment, everything I had learnt and the teaching persona which I had started to build would have to be eradicated in order for me to succeed at this school. However, I soon realised that boys aren’t that different to girls: they do respond emotionally to literature and this can be drawn out in lessons, they enjoy working collaboratively and sharing ideas and, in both schools I have trained at, the majority of students really do want to learn.

Secondly, and most definitely my favourite thing about my second placement, was the amazingly supportive department I immediately became a part of. I was concerned – as it was such a short placement – as to how I would be accepted into the school community. I personally felt like I was only there to take; it was such a short placement that I wouldn’t really have time to give back. However, from my two days induction in the school prior to the Christmas holidays to the end of my time at the school, I was made to feel welcome. Members of the department willingly shared resources, listened to one another moan, moderate each other’s marking and were so supportive of me.  Not to say that the department at my main placement are not supportive of one another, friendly or helpful (quite the opposite) but the department is all female and I really noticed the difference of working in a mixed department. Without meaning to gender stereotype (but I am going to), there were many moments where female staff would talk of stress and feeling run down and all it would take was an inappropriate joke from a male member of staff and all of a sudden the atmosphere was lighter and happier. This made it a fantastic environment to work in.

However, there was one thing at my second placement which I really did not enjoy. This is something that I shared with my mentor at the school, the other members of staff, my university tutor, anybody who would listen really. There was one thing that I, both literally and figuratively, could not get around. This thing was that in every classroom I went into and in every classroom I taught in, the students were all seated in rows. I really struggled with this and it has made me realise that in the future when I go for interviews, one of my questions will have to be, ‘Am I allowed to move the tables in my classroom?’ I often get students to work in groups, to move around the room to find clues to aid their learning, we have competitions between table groups – I could go one – and with students in rows, as much as I tried, all of these sorts of tasks became more laborious and less natural.

I am not sure if my mentor from my main placement will be very happy when I return and say the main thing I learnt was that I hate teaching students in rows (sorry Sukh)! I think I have also learnt a bit more about stretching for the top of the class, I have seen (and photocopied) a number of high level pieces of work, I have understood the importance of modelling in order to enable students to reach my high expectations, and most importantly, I have learnt how much I enjoy teaching at such a diverse school (another thing I missed at my second placement, alongside the table groups).

All in all, I think I had a very successful second placement – I have hopefully grown as a teacher, I have learnt quite a bit and I have also confirmed to myself that I was right in following my heart and applying for the job at my main placement.

#ToughYoungTeachers

Whilst I was watching the programme last week, a PGCE student tweeted that watching this BBC documentary made them feel simultaneously aggravated and soothed. As soon as I saw this tweet, I thought, yes, I could not agree more! So I thought I would write on why Tough Young Teachers makes me feel this way.

I have to keep reminding myself that this programme is made for TV and therefore is primarily made for entertainment purposes. Therefore, each participant has been made into a character of sorts. We have Chloe, the second year Teach First participant, who is the blonde haired, bubbly shining light. She is there to motivate the others, show them where they could be and also sadden the first years by making it seem so effortless. We have Claudenia, the real ‘Tough Young Teacher’ who is not willing to put up with any bad behaviour and has sadly been presented, after the first term, as losing sight into the real reason she wanted to be a teacher. The guys are generally pictured as bright, well-mannered, affluent young men who don’t think their education will impact their teaching persona in these underprivileged schools – yet the students seem to think it impacts massively, with one student exclaiming, ‘I knew he was posh!’

Then we have Meryl, poor Meryl. Meryl has been classified as a cause for concern both my Teach First and by the BBC. The other day, I had a Meryl moment. I am 3 weeks into my second placement and am still trying to get used to the timings of the day – there are lots of 5 minute changeover times between lessons, there I think to confuse new teachers. Also, there is not a bell at the school, liberating in many ways but once again, increasing new teachers’ confusion over timings. I was teaching my Year 7 group and all was going well. We had ten minutes until what I thought was the end of the lesson and so I started the plenary. It then got to just before five past eleven so all the students packed away and were standing behind their desks. Fortunately, some were being rather noisy and my rule is that they cannot go until all are quiet. So at around six minutes past eleven I sent my little Year 7s off to their break time, feeling happy with how the lesson went. I then looked out the window and questioned why everybody else was still in their classrooms. It then dawned on me; period 2 doesn’t actually finish until ten past eleven. I swore, hoped that nobody else noticed my class had already gone to break, and then I laughed. I then also thought…I am Meryl. If BBC had been filming me, it’s likely it would have been edited to show that moment where I looked out of control.

So when I watched it this week, I was carefully thinking about the editing, the personas that have been created and the fact this programme is made to entertain.

Yes, I am grateful there is a programme highlighting how difficult and tough the profession is – I have some friends who have said if they can’t get a job after graduating, then they will ‘just become a teacher.’ I hope this will warn off these kinds of people. As Nicholas said, ‘You’ve got to care persistently about your kids’ and I also think you have to love what you do in order to get through and become Chloe, the shining light. However, I also worry that it may warn off too many and prevent people from wanting to enter the profession, particularly as the programme starts off each week by reminding you of the high number of people who leave teaching after only five years.