Why be a PGCE Student Teacher?

By Chris Hall @chrishall1204

 

contemplationWhy would you want to do a PGCE? It is often a question that gets put to me by many of my family and friends, as well as people I’ve just met, on an almost daily basis. Many people see the headlines in the newspapers and the media portrayal of the teaching career is one which may scare many potential student teachers out of teacher training. So why should people consider it?

Tutors and Mentors

Over the course of the PGCE you will assigned a university tutor who is responsible for the ‘university side’ of the course, such as delivering lectures, seminars and marking assignments. These wonderful individuals are experienced teachers in their own right and are there to support you over the year. The university tutors will also have the opportunity to come in and observe you at various points throughout the year and see the progress you have made since the previous observation.

During the time at school, a ‘mentor’ will be your point of contact at the school and will observe your lessons and from that, help you improve as a teacher. Approximately two thirds of your time spent on the PGCE course, will be within school and intertwined between these periods will be days spent at university which give you the opportunity to reflect upon your progress and practice as well as share ideas with your peers and experienced tutors. It’s safe to say the personal and professional skills you develop over the year is phenomenal!

Peers

imageAs touched upon earlier, other student teachers will play an important role in your year! The friendships and professional relationships you develop with each other is another exciting element to the course, and by supporting and helping each other, the time spent on the PGCE course will go by even faster, on a course in which the weeks already fly by! Another advantage of developing lasting friendships on the course is the sharing of good resources between each other. This will not only help build up a ‘bank of resources’ which you will find useful for your NQT year, but also help to reduce the time spent on creating resources, helping to create a better working-life balance.

The Children

The main reason why people decide to take on a career in teaching is to make a difference to the next and future generations and have the opportunity to share your passion for a subject which you love (and hopefully they students will love too!). It is safe to say that not one day of teacher training has been the same with each day offering a different combination of challenges and rewards. Some of the words students come out with are enough to make roll on the floor laughing out loud and the relationships you build with the students will ultimately determine how involved you get during your school placements.

Surviving

It feels a shame to have to mention ‘survival’ on a post which is littered with positive aspects about doing a PGCE but I feel it should be done, and may give some prospective teacher trainers a few tips!

  1. Leave work at work – try to get into a habit of leaving the majority of your work at school. As a PGCE student you will be on 60-70% of an NQT timetable. This will result in you having an hour or two a day at school as well as time after school in which you can mark, plan or maybe observe a few other teachers. Get a routine, a timetable if you will of work you need to do and make sure it is manageable!image
  2. Don’t try and re-create the world! As a PGCE you are bursting with ideas about how all your lessons are going to be revolutionary in the world of teaching, however, outstanding lessons take a long time to plan and resource and the fact of the matter is you will burn out rather quickly if you have other roles to do on top of that, so as I touched upon earlier, use your peers to come up with resources together, swap them, and make your life (and your friends) lives easier!

I am writing this blog for John after the last day of my PGCE course, and write it with both sadness and excitement! It has been an emotional, tiring and rewarding year in which I have come out the other end a better teacher and a much more resilient person!

So why do a PGCE course? Because there is no other job quite like teaching!

Tuesday period 7 -The importance of being earnest about Subject Knowledge.

This week I had the privilege of speaking to the PGCE mentors at Nottingham University about subject knowledge. We were trying to think about the importance of subject knowledge when training teachers compared to all the other pedagogical an

d classroom management that goes on in helping shiny new teacher trainees as they learn the craft of the classroom. The stuff that inevitably has to go on – behaviour management, question technique etc made me think about the importance of subject knowledge in learning to be a teacherimage. You need a big erudite quote talking to a load of PGCE mentors at a prestigious University so I went for a Cloughie quote. “Players lose you games not tactics. There is so much crap talked about tactics by people who barely know how to win at Dominoes.” This made me think because Clough’s point really is that there are all sorts of people with opinions and views telling him how to run his team but actually it is players that win games. As a head teacher I am acutely aware we get all sorts of advice, guidance and “this is how to” BUT  it is teachers that make a difference.

  • teachers not systems
  • teachers not policies
  • enthusiastic, inspiring and knowledgeable teachers.

Policies and systems are important but no one decides to become a teacher because of policies and systems, they decide to become a teacher because they were inspired by a teacher or by a subject or both; they love children and now they have a subject they wish to share. My audience were present as PGCE mentors because of a deep desire to help the next generation of teachers, to create more teachers and we head teachers like to find inspiring knowledgeable shiny new teachers.

Some Subject Knowledge Myths

Graduates know everything about their subject when they graduate as though the things they didn’t quite understand when they went into finals having got their 2:1 or even 1st somehow mysteriously drop into the brain. The 30% you got away without knowing is now “in the brain” Well it sure isn’t! After graduation I did one year of reseach and in my first day of lab work used  a chemical (Benzoyl Chloride for those interested] which was described as a powerful lachrymator, but me and my arrogance not wanting to check  at what lachrymator meant just assumed it was the word that meant you went to the toilet a lot. so I took care not to drink or taste it [not difficult] having completed my experiment threw my solution down a sink to find a whole lab of chemists with tears streaming down their faces having to leave the room and as we were evacuated me being totally embarrassed. No the gaps of knowledge are not filled in!

Graduates knowledge automatically updates as the world discovers more about that subject new gaps occur. Or maybe some part of history you have to teach wasn’t covered in HE. Or suddenly as an English teacher you have to understand the new 19th century novel thanks to Mr Gove designing the spec. This can be seen as nuisance or you can have the attitude of my brilliant English staff and see it as a chance to read stuff you haven’t read before.

IMG_2928The school curriculum, the school content never changes hey have in my subject I can tell you a topic like Solubility has come and gone and came back it. The Born Haber cycle was in then out then back in a new form then gone and I’ve not checked the new specs!

 

 

Some Subject Knowledge Truths

Graduates know more about their subject than school students. We hope that’s true after 3 years and £27,000 and all of us should be able to keep ahead on knowledge

Graduates worry about other aspects of the classroom. Shine new ITT people have other bothers:

  • Will the pupils behave
  • Will I cope with the marking, feedback, will I even be able to answer the exam question myself
  • Will their parents moan about me
  • Will my classroom turn into an example of chaos and riot
  • Agh should I be a teacher

It’s nimageot just about knowledge. Back in the day when I did a PGCE we had what we called books and if you were asked a question the answer was in a book so you found it there or bluffed. Now you can google it, so can pupils, but learning is much deeper matter and, it’s really all about

  • Understanding,
  • reasoning,
  • application,
  • synthesis …..maybe more

Knowledge has to fit into a curriculum. Whatever knowledge the graduate has or does not have the demand is in a curriculum be that for Y7 for Y9 top sets or for GCSE or Level and maybe when we get this wrong we underestimate our pupils and maybe there is truth in the Ousted chiefs criticisms of the way we work with bright pupils

Graduates should be able to make a subject “come to life”. OK there is a curriculum but get the  best bits of your subject, the exciting and interesting stuff into the lesson. Children love this and if we keep winning them over they will enjoy the lesson, learn and see they can progress. That is the virtuous circle of success

Stay in the mainstream of being a subject specialist. I am a reasonable Chemist ( hey Ive a degree and an FRSC) Im an OK Chemistry teacher- but when you give me KS3 biology I can kill it. I never did any Biology, in my day an all boys grammar didn’t do Biology.

image

Sir I don’t think you know how to use this microscope

I did a little in my degree and sure I can teach it BUT do I know if this lesson on photosynthesis is putting the right emphasis on the right foundations. Bet someone who taught KS4 or 5 would identify better the exact basics to grasp. One reason I think our Maths and English results are so good is because people teaching KS5/4 teach Y7 and Y8 – when they cover adverbs in Y7 they sure have an eye on what will be needed post16 or GCSE and make sure they start building it well. Drip feed complex ideas form an early age.

 

A few challenges

Pupil growth in understanding mirrors yours. There are always better ways to teach better ways to work out how to deliver your subject after a few years of working out that this be the topic doesn’t get a learnt very well in that particular way we is the subject experts can probably sit down and find a better way. in the 80’s I taught Chemistry the same way I had been taught and the same route as my degree. By the time of Salters I was teaching JUST the part needed at a particular stage, we revisited ideas, we did ideas in a circular way that genuinely held learning and it meant we revisited Chemical ideas. It worked and worked well and we  saw that in results in numbers carrying on in the subject and guess what – we saw it in their understanding. Avoid the errors of dropping really difficult concepts and ideas on pupils too early in their learning before they are mature enough to cope.

Importance of the story of the subject (even Maths). All subjects even Maths have a story to tell – a history, a set of characters, set of discoveries, a context, a baddie a discovery. I can name you all these in Chemistry. Have a fund of stores or look at my post on storytelling.

Importance of secuIMG_2943re understanding not teaching to test – PPS (past paper syndrome). No teacher reading this hasn’t had the frustration of a pupil asking “whats in the test?” or doing past papers sometime in January and not doing very well.  We need to use our own deep understanding of our subject to show pupils just how to grasp, understand, learn and progress.
No point doing exam papers (yet) be secure in your knowledge and understanding) and sure we might have to do some simple testing to see if you have and to see how we help.

Using new technologies. I love what I have in the toolbox for teaching so we must keep an eye on ICT or Activites to enhance BUT we use out subject knowledge. I’m reminded of some of the early software I was shown by enthusiastic software salesmen aiming  to show me how wonderful chemistry could appear  on the interactive whiteboard. Watch! You can pull a virtual bottle of acid from here and look you can pull across test tube and choose a bit of zinc or other metal to add. Now, drop it in and click here to open the bottle and look the equation is written underneath and there is the reaction: some bubbles of hydrogen the pupils can guess what it is and the little splint will come over and on imagethe screen appears the word “pop” what do you think of that? It’s quite nice but I’d rather g
et a bottle of acid out give it to my pupils and a test tube and let them do the pop test to see the delight in their faces and the motivation which will probably drive them to work out the equation ready for tomorrow when if they’ve worked it out they can do a few more themselves in real life. Use technology but use your subject common sense

Importance of the keepy uppy in your subject there is the obvious importance of keeping up in the subject and chemistry as in most subjects things has seen dramatic changes. Nanotechnology didn’t exist back in the 80’s. We need to keimageep up with our knowledge, we should enjoy that. It will get us excited: a new material anew discovery, scientist on the international space station. I teach my pupils about DNA and the structure and hydrogen bonding and it’s fascinating and actually give them the 1953 article (a single side of A4 paper) that was in nature and I remind them that in
1953 this won a Nobel Prize and in 2016 it might get them three marks in an exam.Surely there is nothing more important than us keeping up our frontier knowledge to excite and inspire the next generation – cos someone did that for us , a teacher a copy of New scientist a TV programme. Get in touch with your professional subject: ASE or RSC for me.

Delight of discussion of your subjectone of the best parts of the teacher’s job is spending time in the staffroom or on CPD opportunities OR with pupils, talking through some of the issues. How can we make this better? What does this mean? Did you know that? Have you seen this? Hey and if you can draw in other staff, the renaissaince people in te staffroom then the discussion makes the job richer, and all the better

Lifelong learning. You and I dream of creating lifelong learners, and we are lifelong learners of our sunbelt. Use the vehicle of your subject knowledge to sign the deal.


Some Questions

Q1 what importance does your ITT, NQT RQT or frankly your CPD programme place on Subject Knowledge?

Q2 Have we neglected subject knowledge at the expense of pedagogy and lost out

Q3 Should we try and wrestle subject knowledge back to being the “first love”?

Monday period 4 – Are you sitting comfortably? Then I’ll begin

This is blog to put storytelling back into the heart of outstanding work in school. However you wrap it up much of an attention grabbing, motivating, challenging moment is – a story.IMG_0640

I can see it being a challenge in Maths but beyond that storytelling should be at the heart of great lessons, great assemblies and purposeful conversations with pupils and parents. If I am honest it’s what I will miss most when I eventually retire – telling a story and engaging learners to start their journey of Education. In fact for some may even evoke memories ( hopefully good ones) of storytelling times.

And a big thank you for a tweet from Gareth Williams (@gwill72)
“Pratchett, Stewart and Cohen suggested our genus should be Pan Narrans, the Storytelling Ape

 

Why?reading

  • Stories hook pupils
  • Stores fascinate pupils
  • Stories stimulate curiosity
  • Stories grab attention
  • Stories motivate
  • Stories allow the teacher to light up the classroom

Stories underline challenging learning, introduce it, develop it, help with recall and stories can be short and brief and pointed, they generate curiosity

In the classroom
time for learning is precious, literally every minute is important so as a teacher you need to justify the storytelling. I think there are plenty of reasons (above) but a few minutes of a well told anecdote and gripping story grab attention, fascinate, drive up curiosity and frankly are at the heart of learning. I do apologise a little as I think my subject (Chemistry) has the very best stories! In fact since 1992 I have taught my lessons by stories. Those are highlighted separately but as part of my plenary, part of my conclusions or as the meaty part of the lesson are *stories* to help understand, build knowledge, motivate and synthesise. I want to say a very daring thing – we sort of know what makes a bad lesson turn out bad, we know what needs doing to turn the learning around from inadequate to satisfactory ( hey I know Ofsted use RI but this isn’t ofsted speak this is classroom speak). What I am not sure about is making good lessons become outstanding but I reckon decent storytelling sits at the heart. Not only grabbing attention, but hooks to help recall of knowledge and also to challenge pupils – if X really thought that back in the 21st Century – who is doing that now. If Y discovered that, then so might I. If this solved a problem of drug development, then I might be able to do that. To me it adds a moral purpose too.

Chlorine-LAnecdote > Chlorine- saved incalculable numbers of lives by purification of water; ridding us of cholera and other diseases but misused in WW1 cost many lives too. We have got a story worth telling and with some Wilfrid Owen poetry brings us to a position where pupils listen all the more carefully to my lesson on Chlorine “it’s properties and reactions” – and remember it and may even challenge them into their future career directions, or choices.

Assemblies
I guess this is more obviously where a good story tells the message. Elsewhere I have written of the disproportionate effort necessary for good assemblies but at their heart is brilliant storytelling

Here are two examples:

1 During the Football World Cup I saw an interview with Gary Linekar saying he practiced penalty taking 50 -60 times after yes after everyone completed training. So while others tired and exhausted went for their showers, he stayed out maybe on his own, and the secret = practice = hard work. Check the stats on his penalty taking too! Wow I thought we can help children understand greatness cannot be achieved overnight but needs hard work and with hard work -who knows?FullSizeRender

2 I once read of a Uruguayan rugby team who were lost in the Andes and had to consider eating the flesh of the dead to survive.  “Alive” is a great story full of drama and tears, with a continuous unfolding of the. Story from the 70’s to date. This became the basis for one of my very favourite post 16 assemblies ” when is it right to do something which is wrong?”

Pupils
As a long serving teachers, SLT ( and many others)  have all seen pupils “turn it round”. Pupils that are a bit like the pupil sat in front of you: yes the upset pupil, the bullied pupil, the bullying pupil, the “I’m not sure any more about A Levels” pupil. The poorly attending pupil, the one with special needs not being addressed, the one with stuff happening at home. So have a story to uplift, to bring hope, to challenge and to help. It’s not the main discourse with the pupil that’s much deeper but the view that there was someone like you who….got through, made good, turned it around, found an answer….might just be important to this pupil.

Parents
The same is true of discussions with parents. This is more challenging but knowing your parents and their story it might help to have an anecdote and a story to hand. I try never to conclude a fixed term exclusion meeting without sparing a separate word for the parents. I don’t try and engineer a story but I do need to help them – I might need to challenge them, to tell them a home truth, to put something up to date before them and a story might help.

picjumbo.com_HNCK3576

Cover
I’ve never been much good at cover lessons. I feel bad for the children that their teacher is missing and so I always try and teach them, especially as a senior leader I think it is really my duty and only rarely with other stuff pressing down have I said “sit down, shut up and do this work so that I can get on”. Of course I try and do the tasks set by any absent staff where that has been left, but peppering with stories can really help bring a lesson to life which might otherwise be dull.

Personal Stories? Maybe
Can we share personal anecdotes, stories from our own lives or families? Well I guess this is controversial and its up to colleagues to be comfortable but the occasional story can help with engagement. I have told of stuff that has happened relevant to the lesson.Perhaps mostly about incidents in my own journey with Chemistry – where I inadvertently made a few crystals of explosive Nitrogen Triodide, or where I met a Nobel winner and nearly embarrassed myself.image 2(3)

So here are some headings I drive around my brain finding for Chemistry Stories and watch for a post with some of these in more detail.

  • Origins of chemistry
  • History of chemistry
  • The story of an element
  • Characters  in chemistry
  • The obviously famous chemists
  • The less well known chemists
  • The bad chemists
  • The controversial chemists
  • Preset frontier chemists 
  • Events in chemistry
  • Discoveries in chemistry
  • Inventions in chemistry
  • New products from chemistry
  • Changed ideas in chemistry
  • Prize winning chemists
  • Daft chemists

Some Questions

Q1 If you are a teacher does your subject have great stories? And do those stories bring a magical enchantment to your pupils in your lessons?

Q2 If you are not a teacher, do you remember lessons, or school or teachers and is any of that memory from stories or anecdotes ?

If you work in a church school

Proverbs 1:6.  –for understanding proverbs and parables (stories) the sayings and riddles of the wise

Matthew 13:13     This is why I speak to them in parables: ‘ though seeing, they do not see; though hearing, they do not hear or understand.

Genesis 39:17 Then she told him this story

 

Great Teacher to successful Middle Leader

Teacher journey mindI have blogged elsewhere about why staff should consider being middle leaders this post is more about the move from great teacher to middle leader. Heads of department, heads of year, i/c of gifted and talented, SENCO, ITT coordinator – a host of roles and most are at the heart of the success (or otherwise) of a school. Successful middle leaders can become successful senior leaders and headteachers – and we need them because in so many aspects they run the school.

First of all I recognise not all great teachers want to be middle leaders – there is an important place for the great teacher who wants to try and stay just that “great”, who enjoys the work of the classroom teacher and should be valued at that -full stop. However schools do need middle leaders, and I want to encourage staff to consider those roles.

Early steps:

Know the job.
imageWork out from the job description what is expected but also talk to others about the role. Start with the head, heads should be willing to set out clearly what they hope from your appointment. Listen and take note and return often to discuss progress. This might be easier with a line manager or SLT but get yourself a mentor, a critical friend, a coach – these may sound like similar roles but they aren’t – they may be performed by the same person but these are all for quiet discussions over coffee or over lunch or after school. They allow you to tell your bothers, concerns, hopes but then to go home challenged and reassured and hopefully uplifted. Gather together the metaphorical tools for the job.

Know your people.
imageExactly who are you responsible for and to? This might be easier for a head of year (tutors) but my view is that all roles are fairly grey. For example as a head of year you are responsible for a year group but that involves tutors and clearly involves parents. You don’t need to announce your arrival, but think over with senior staff/heads how to introduce yourself. For the start, now much more important, learn about people ( staff parents, pupils) and the work they do with you. We have some great middle leaders, in my school, for example our ITT coordinator but at the heart is the ability to connect with key players in the team – the deputy who supports, the head of subject who embraces, champions and understands ITT. There will always be ‘problem people’ those who don’t respond, those who aren’t keen but in the early days don’t worry about them as much as those who will support you and encourage you and expect greatly of you.

Communicationimage
You don’t need posters, or video footage, staff will know via the usual channels and the last thing we all need is a meeting with you, but think about the most effective ways to communicate – email, presentations, notes on the school platform, letters etc My view in your early days is to talk to people. Never use “all staff” email, if you need a message to everyone talk to others or SLT how they do that effectively. They key word is effectively. Communication is vital in schools but often those who didn’t empty their pigeon holes don’t read their email – so don’t worry about them as much as those who do read, listen and act. Once you have them on board others will pick up and those who miss probably miss other stuff and that’s a job for SLT or headteachers to deal with, not you. Remember your aim is to ease everyone’s workload by your role, not to increase it.

Priorities.
e devicesTeaching is a never ending job. You will always have areas to develop, aspects frustrating you and ideas you never seem to get sorted. Stop worrying. You’ve been appointed because people believe in you. Just get on with the tasks and pick the tasks at the core of the job and do them to the very best and highest standards. Don’t duck any important issues and get the important routines up and running. It isn’t a bad place to start with the present systems and use them to deliver the role. Your reflective journal will be vital to help here – nothing better than a note that “this would be better done if …..everyone had the dates in advance” – so get that on the school calendar for next year.

Keep a reflective diary
picjumbo.com_HNCK3576I am very keen on this! Reflections help us to improve and help us note issues which need changing and yet so often we become “socialised to” – by which I mean early on in a job staff often wonder why does the school do stuff like that? And after a short while we become socialised and just say Oh OK let’s carry on in that routine. A reflective journal helps halt that and bring effective change. I once mentored a new SLT member and made him email me a paragraph every week. He was reluctant bu in the end it be an=me an effective and hugely humour out journal which saw much change and saw much “stay the same” on that reflective analysis.

Put on your imprint.
sparklerYou do need to make your imprint preferably within the first year. Don’t look for a hugely better way of doing things, jobs are just like schools, quite complex, but early on understand the role as we said and now make your imprint. Make it in simple ways, and make it simple – for example, a brief email at the end of term to colleagues thanking them; postcards home to pupils who succeeded, or maybe some celebration and invite SLT or the head – maybe a story for the school website. A short slot at INSET – trumpet our success or better use other colleagues to do so – especially if you have a colleague who has piloted your ideas with you, get them to share that effectively.

Feedback
I try and ask a question after a term and after a year in the job. “How is it going?” My bottom line would be – “no disasters and the role understood and being developed.” My top line would be ” pupils and staff are very pleased with the way this person is working because…” I would start with the views of those closest to the role eg the geography staff about the new Head of Geography or a sample of Y11 pupils and Y11 tutors for the new Head of Y11. BUT I am not expecting the finished article. Jobs take about 3 years to be fully understood assimilated and done routinely well and effectively. Are we on track?

Learn from others
You have a coach, or you found one, you have some line managers or SLT you are answerable to, but you need a ‘friend’. Dig out a colleague who you can confer in, and who you can let off steam to, and who can advise you from their experience. So if your middle leader role is head of year, find another head of year, you are a new head of dept, find another relatively new one. Ask them how they learnt, ask what CPD went well, what CPD they had, what else they wished they knew about. Don’t jump at the opportunity for the first course on middle leadership – best place to learn the initial stuff is….in school. However schools can be bad at telling you what is around the corner and may be just assume you know – for example “check exam entries” we all know that is coming but what does it really mean – ask this colleague or else ask the exams officer but seek…. done once it will be fine second time around and you’ll probably develop new aspects in year three. Hence my 3 years to get to be great.

Two warnings:

1) You are paid most of your salary for being a professional classroom teacher. You do have responsibilities (new ones) and they may well hijack you during the school day. However never lose sight of the day job: planning lessons delivering lessons, marking work, feedback and assessment. Just keep a vital perspective – if you have a team of staff relying on your prep or decision get that done first, then prep your lessons. Just don’t neglect classroom duties

2) I think there is a considerable difference between internal promotions and external ones. In the former case you already know the people around to help you, the potentially awkward ones and the children, you should be aware of your community. So your day to day work as above is relatively straightforward. However if you are moving school it’s pretty well back to square one. Learning a new set of systems, learning and contributing to a new ethos, learning about a lot of children, understanding a different community. However you should be able to bring your great teaching into operation so the big part of your role is, well should be OK. Nevertheless there will be expectations and you need to quickly find a colleague who will work alongside you, sharing with you in the role, helping you learn the new systems that operate. I have seen a few staff struggle badly when moving school, perfectly competent and sometimes outstanding classroom practitioners but the new school is just that: a new school, and needs time to understand the role, the people and policies. If you have a new colleague joining your school -look out for them, help them, and in due time they will be as good as those who appointed them thought but if you expect them up to speed in week one think again.

Saturday period 3 – Creating a silk purse from a pig’s ear of curriculum change

The old story goes of the man who asks the way to Liverpool and the bystander says, ‘if you want to get to Liverpool mate I wouldn’t start here.’It’s how I feel about curriculum design or lack of it, with the changes to A Levels. BTecs and GCSEs. At the last major revision of A Level in 2000 at least stuff hanged for everyone at the same time, but this time we have the proverbial ‘pig’s ear’. Some ALevels have changed and their AS count for less and need doing at the end of two years even if done after one. But hey shiny new Year 12 students it’s not all your subjects. So schools and colleges grapple with – shall we just do three now, shall we forget the AS for all, for some etc. Meanwhile some subjects have changed at GCSE, well two to be precise Maths and English who will see new grading of 9 to 1.Yes but reporting for the present y10 comes soon – we need to explain that carefully to pupils and to parents, oh and we aren’t really sure what really will happen to the grades. ( Check out the Ofqual postcards -they help)

INSET and training back in 1999 allowed all staff to look at their subjects, advise SLT, think about the best way ahead for the students and discuss together the best way to make decisions. So as I stare at this pig’s ear not of my making I am looking to create a silk purse from this. The big structural stuff is out of our hands but there are still important decisions to make about which courses for the best

Simplistic_Refined_11. Don’t pick for grades. We don’t know about the grades but we do know ofqual take charge.  Boards subjects apparently achieving higher numbers of A and A* isn’t “easier” it’s about the profile of those taking the subject with that board. At A Level the highest number of A* and A are from Maths – it doesn’t mean Maths is easy or your heads of sixth form recommend everyone does Maths as it’s the best way to get an A.

2 Look at content. Carefully examine the content, does it suit your pupils, does it suit your teachers. How does it compare to past content. My guess in most subjects is that its much the same – Science subjects especially but there are twists – do you like them. In Chemistry if we have a chunk of nanotechnology do we welcome that or not? In some subjects this may not be the case so do you welcome the content or gasp in horror. Think about delivering content by all your teachers and across all the abilities.

Autumnal fruits

Autumnal fruits

3 Look at assessment. It’s not the standard of specimen papers etc it’s the style, the type of questions. The assessment model should test the content but look carefully and think about your pupils. All the pupils the brightest and the weakest who will be studying. In the end, assessment models deliver the fruits, or not.

 

 

 

4 Look forward and backwards. How does this course prepare your pupils for what they do next. if this is KS4 how does it prepare well for Btec or A Level and then beyond into the worlds of work and further study. downloadLook back at your KS3 courses. Of course these may yet need a tweak but if you love the content and outcomes of your KS3 then how well does this dovetail. This is a bit more pig’s ear than silk purse at the moment as you are changing GCSE but not KS3 -however the decisions you make at KS4 will stay for several years and no one likes a change of spec-worth a careful think. To some extent the definitions of KS3 4 and 5 are artificial – think like that to help you decide. AND don’t forget the added complexities of post 16 funding as some BTec are weighted in different ways. [Paul Hanks @The_Data_Adonis is worth following at the least and worth contacting for advice on funding issues post 16 too.]


imageimage5 Resources
. It would be naive to ignore your bank of resources or the resources on offer from the Boards. I guess this means a default starter being the spec you study now. However your job is to teach, help the pupils  learn and a massive desire to inspire. Do those results or your creative juices excite you – do they make you want to teach this tomorrow?

6 People You probably aren’t making this decision on your own , you have to bring other staff in your dept along with you. So check the dept view, check the other networks you are in; maybe professional groups like the ASE or local networks or teaching alliances. Also think about using twitter; you can create a list and add those other ‘history teachers’ to it and get chatting. Perhaps you attend teachmeets and ask trusted people what they are choosing and why. Remember it’s your call so don’t decide because someone with 2400 followers says so, just pick a few brains and move from the foggy grey to a black and white conclusion.

Patron Saint of lost causes - St Jude

Patron Saint of lost causes – St Jude

Finally then jot down your reasons. Get ready to share with the dept with SLT, the Headteacher and possibly governors. You need two or three reasons why you chose them and two or three why rejecting the others. In fact not just for the dept for your conscience and for the pupils to be rocked and rolled.

In the end whatever “others” do to us as teachers, we must use the tools we have to do the very best for the children and young people we teach, and do you know what? We usually do.

part 4 – from good teaching to great teaching



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I am deliberately avoiding calling this “Good to Outstanding”. Ofsted can do what they wish but I want to see great teaching and learning and do very often. We teachers always try and produce good lessons and positive learning but we have bad days, pupils have bad days; whole school stuff disrupts, SLT disrupt! However we can consider moving from good to great with a sustainable manageable approach, bringing inspiration, inspiration, inspiration – that get’s pupils learning by definition! Here are my top ten:

 

1 Great teachers know their subject inside out

Not only do they have good knowledge of their specifications, they have a wide grasp of their subject. They understand it very well, they can apply ideas and synthesise them. This is not about pedagogy (yet) it’s about wisdom in the subject. It’s about keeping up to date, reading, identifying interesting stuff in the news or other media. It’s about maintaining a network of contacts to follow the latest developments. It might even be about visiting places of interest like museums or going to lectures, of picking up podcasts. It might even mean rereading text books. Always try to find time to read and expose yourself to new stuff in your subject.

 

imagesCA5QXQ852 Knowing the tough topics and lessons

It takes time to suss out what pupils find hard and of course it varies by ability and age but this is the next critical aspect to make a sustainable difference. What topics pupils find hard and challenging ; what skills they need that prove difficult to develop. Its about knowing the best introductions to topics, the best conclusions, the most effective assessments ( formal or informal) that help build confidence and show the teacher what needs to be done next. Our big duty as teachers of KS4 and KS5 exams is to ensure our pupils know what they have to do to achieve a given grade and then teach them to those standards. Be absolutely clear what they must do to get that A* or that E whatever is appropriate. Phrases like “they need to work harder” or “just understand more” are probably correct but of little value to the pupil who is willing and works hard. However knowing what they need to know and do, we work backwards to build that into the day to day week by week lesson plans. I’m not keen on lots of past papers and exam practice I’m very keen on my students understanding my subject. This is a big challenge when we all face new specs but hang it we all face that – so look out for blogs, read exam boards support stuff and  well much won’t change – if pupils find equilibrium difficult now in the GCSE spec, they probably will next year with the new spec.
3 Maintain enthusiasm, humour and jazz

imagePupils love a teacher who knows their stuff, they enjoy the relevant anecdote or story telling and they like a touch of humour. (Great teachers do not grow old they just lose their class) They like to try and distract you and …you know it. You have taught for a good while now, so you know what works, what goes down well and you should milk it for all it’s worth. Hone and refine the skills – you should feel like the conductor of the orchestra.

4 Know your pupils inside out

G0414677Some of the older pupils you taught when younger or came across in your football team or orchestra, maybe even had a run in as a head of year. You might well have taught an older sibling. So you understand the dynamics of the family and you know how they are likely to respond and for those you don’t know so well, you know your school community better. You also know how to handle the reactions. If you have to call home about homework there are after all only a few responses from parents: “thank you for telling us/so what/we don’t have any issues from other staff it must be you”. So you know what to say in response, you know who else to mention on the SLT if necessary. Exploit this to raise standards, to flush out more work and better quality work. All that investment in the craft of the classroom over recent years should after all bear fruit. It really isnt a blank canvas. You should know the G&T the SEND and more-so you should know what works and what doesn’t, so take it in your stride.

5 Systems

You know all ISS_Flight_Control_Room_2006of the school systems such as those for behaviour management and discipline those for reporting problems and those for reporting achievements and awards and merits etc. You know when reports are due and mocks or tests come along BUT by now you should be able to work a system which suits you and your subject. No whole school assessment system can suit every subject, so where do you need to branch out? When do you need your own mock, when do you need an extra assessment. You also know the rhythm of school and seasons, for example it’s not a good idea to leave a really difficult 3 week topic to mid winter; you know when illness is at its worst and can sort out work around it. You have a sense of the need for a really really outstanding lesson to lift spirits ( yours and theirs). You know what to do about ill pupils, about those who get stuck ( see me after the lesson? – not really going to work is it; what does work?). So within this class this group add a layer of your own systems to supplement the schools

6 Confidence and Resilience image

You can be confident in the classroom, a confident teacher, a confident behaviour manager, a confident leader. Ooze that confidence to your pupils and ooze it so much that your pupils pick it up. They need more confidence and resilience, make sure you pass that on to. How? Well by inspiring their progress and pointing out how far they have come -as much as the distance they still have to go. Help develop them as independent learners; it wont be easy and it definitely wont be less work but it will likely be a greater impact on their state of mind. Tell them -this topic is tricky and tell them when they’ve got it and of course when they have not got it. They need to go into your exam full knowing a) this subject is tricky b) I have to work hard but I have worked hard and c) I have been well prepared and can perform. It’s no different to the big football game or England vs Australia for the world cup ….oh hang on.

Then there is resilience, the ability to cope with stuff thrown at you and designed to throw you. You cope quite well with that, have a think how you do so, think what wisdom has brought you to the point of coping better now than the last time you faced that issue. You need to bottle this, not least for yourself ( see end of post) but also to start to work out how to pass this on to those pupils who need to develop it all too.

7 Activities and resources

You have plenty now, as above you know what works and what is still weak. Look ahead if that Powerpoint didn’t work last year it needs a tweak. That lesson which was rather boring and lost the pupils, does it need something extra. SOmetimes though, be frank the topic is boring the lesson can be boring and this bit of learning is boring that’s how it is but you should know this now.You alos know the subtle bits, you know sometimes that some content isn’t covered so well and needed more time but it’s now time for revision. OK you are the wise professional balance the time carefully for the pupils. When they say ” have we finished the spec yet?” reply confidently “not quite yet but we will and more importantly how do you feel your understanding of the spec is going?”

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8 Talk, converse, chat, discuss…..

I have taught for 34 years but I still love chatting Chemistry to my colleagues. Still asking what I might do to improve. Still observing an NQT or a student and thinking that is clever. Still talking about classes. I recently had a Y13 who were very quiet and so I spent much time with a colleague discussing what we might try to do, even discussed them with other subject staff. Talk to SENCO, talk to HoYr talk to parents and most important talk to the pupils. Check you spend as much time talking children and subjects as you do moaning about me (the head/SLT) or the government or the weather. However do have a moan. we all need that.

9 Data, pupils or surprises

imageYou must know by now there is a lot of data for you. FFT (new)  Sims, prior knowledge and especially exam board performance data on question level etc etc Use it but not without care or discrimination.  Your own analysis of previous pupils performance tells you a lot – do they do better on exams or coursework; this bit of this unit is really challenging. When you check how your pupils performed on Q3 of paper 1 last year that was to inform you as to what to do this year – the same or different. Yes maximise those marginal gains. Data should show no surprises. I had a conversation the other day ” We were disappointed not to get more A*”. Should some pupils have got A*? Did they get A* in other subjects? Were their various targets A*? If the answer was their prior performance  predicted no A*, like everyone be the optimist and sure “aim high” we all need that. However stop beating yourself up, be realistic, be of sober judgment, sure aspire, we heads love all that but the job needs to be sustainable and enjoyable as well as all the inflicted pressures – try not to add to that yourself or on your colleagues. However more important then being level 5b or blue ladder 6 or smiley face yellow is “you know this, understand that can do the other and NOW to improve you need to do this….” Knowing pupils not knowing data is critical. Data should avoid surprises – I had no idea she was that good/bad/struggling etc

10 Inspire, Reward and Challenge……and honesty

You teach a great subject, yes? You teach generally great pupils yes? You know how the classroom heart beats yes? Good, good, now capitalise on all that inspire them, praise them and when they slip challenge them or when they get it challenge them even further. Oh and you make a few mistakes, the odd idea doesn’t work – you are big enough now to admit it, share it and sort it, not under the table but on the table.

other responsibilities

My last point isn’t advice but challenge. My guess is you also have responsibilities three

1 Family – don’t neglect your rightful duties to families not just children but parents and grandparents too and friends who need you. It’s a challenge

2 Other responsibilities in school . After 4/5 years you might well have other responsibilities: pastoral as a heads of year or academic as a subject lead or other jobs like student mentor etc etc. You need to fulfil these duties swiftly, clearly and deftly but the key difference you make is as a classroom teacher and that is in the day to day in the classroom.

3 Yourself. I’ve seen too many people who end up burnt out, or cynical or the poorer in the job. It’s never simple to say why but make sure you look after yourself. Personally this is the one I find hardest. Getting to the gym, taking enough time off, reading for pleasure etc etc check out the #teacher5aday and enjoyreading what others are thinking about and doing and check yourself. Why not get a critical friend to help you? My previous head often emailed me at 10pm saying get off that **** computer and talk to the family.

imageAND be uplifted to be a GREAT teacher isnt even rocket science you can do it and be the great teacher you can be.

 

 

 

part 3 – from NQT to RQT

This is a bit new, even to me, the term RQT presumably a “Recently Qualified Teacher ( as opposed to retired, or rare, reformed, regular, revolutionary , and hopefully not yet a regretfully ..this could go on.

So with a full year (or maybe two) under the belt, what now?

1 Improve your teaching

You should be confident by now that you can sort out basic issues with learners. Like behaviour and background disruption. these are never going to go away but the mistakes of PGCE/training and even the odd error of judgment last year are put behind. By all means read, research, listen and then try new things but the basics of classroom craft should be learnt. Now ask yourself ” is there a better way to teach X or Y”. Relentlessly try to improve your teaching.

2 Improve the lot of learnerspareto_principle_improve

You have many resources, you might have a Y11 class following  their Y10 time with you and therefore new content but a majority will have been taught once. Get those reflective planners at the ready and where you put *** Must improve this if I ever do it again then…improve it. Oh you didn’t do that annotation, shame! Still revisit and re-edit and talk to experienced staff. You have tried one activity in the classroom to help learners on this unit/topic, so what else might work? Really work out what works in your classroom for different groups: SEND Gand T, PP, EAL after all you know the acronyms and know the children so sort out even better learning experiences for them. You are the true professional now…nearly.

Oh and another important matter, you have taught some of these youngsters before. You know their family a bit but you know them well, you know what they find hard or easy; a richer information than any data number – so really rock and roll in pushing their learning. It will not be easier, if anything it’s harder but it’s much much more effective teaching.

3 Keep even better records

Plan, annotate, add resourceIMG_2499s and spend a bit of time searching for new ones. Talk more with staff and pick their brains. think and plan ahead, ask around, join twitter or the TES forums and networks, get to a teachmeet. Hey throw that weight around and move from good to great!

 

 

4 Share

You felt like you were the end of the queue, and you were but you aint no more, so share your idesparkleras of what worked too. Do that in department meetings, tutor team meetings and mostly just in conversations in the staffroom. build some self confidence as a teacher professional in helping others. I had a great RQT colleague a few years ago and she showed me some new resources and ideas….yep teach the old dogs in school, new tricks.

5 Volunteer

You might have a label RQT but most pupils think you are a wise, experienced and knowledgeable member of staff. SO get stuck into some new things this year, take on a bit of responsibility that you are genuinely interested in. it could be extra curricular, sport drama music. It could be within the dept, there is plenty to do: use of data, work with EAL or SEND pupils. help with the planning of a new GCSE or a new  A Level. It might be within the pastoral work? are their seeds of your first promotion in getting to know much more about…..x, then get on with it.

6 Stimulation

The last two years had pressure now it’s you as an autonomous teacher ploughing ahead in the fields to plant in the minds of enthusiasm sat before you. What challenges do you need for yourself? Which classes have had a bit of a raw deal from you? tackle them. Check out the teacher standards, identify your weakest three areas and sort them.

7 TransparencyimageAll of us feel there were things we just about got away with, what were yours and what do you need to do about them? Did you not prepare for a parents evening but fortunately they were mainly pleasant. Did you let a pupil off but they didn’t bring any extra issues? Did the head ask for something and you forgot but heck so did she? What things must you do better?

8 Challengechallenge

Teachers can be professionally socialised by their schools. You have probably been in the same school for a this year and NQT year. There were things surprised you – the Y7 data collection came very early, you wondered why but obviously kept your mouth shut last year. Maybe you jot down a few questions like this to help improve the school. Share with an experienced colleague or even the SLT link you know best. Dont be afraid for a asking a sensible challenging question. there may be a good sensible answer but you might just have asked a really good one.

8 Keep talking

talk-clipart-RTAk5EqTLThe PGCE or training courses (remember them) have structures to support and help and encourage you. So too, NQT year BUT now you have made it to RQT and they all disappear. No more meetings about you it all becomes informal ( save number 9 below). So please keep talking to those you have found helpful or found as critical friends.

 

 

9 Performance Management

You now come under the appraisal umbrella. Chat to others about how it works, read the school documents. Do not see it as a threat, just find out what others do, prepare for you first meeting with an appraiser, who will hopefully know you well. Maybe look at what I said in 6 above and ask for some extra training in an area, or try and spend a lesson observing someone to fit the direction of travel you have set. Oh you haven’t set a direction? Shame cos in the rough and tumble of teaching if you don’t choose, the winds will blow you around.
storm

part 2 – from Teacher trainee to NQT

untitledL PlatesCongratulations and welcome to the profession. You’ve chosen a great job and hopefully you already know a good bit about your new school. There is a clue in the initials about this journey “new”.

First the Good news

You passed your PGCE, schools direct, teach first training with flying colours but you are not quite the finished article, in fact Ive 34 years I dont feel I am the finished article, this is teaching and learning and we never ever get there!. However you do now know how a classroom works, you have been observed and met required standards. In fact you might feel you survived – no one rioted, discipline wasnt as bad as you thought it might be and deep down you did experience the sheer delight of pupils learning in your classroom. You have had interviews and got a job and now you get paid too.

Now the challengeL Plates

1 Responsibilities

LAst year another teacher taught a class, and you “borrowed” them for a term or less. now you have them for a whole year or if Y10/Y12 maybe two years. You are responsible for their progress, achievement, and to an extent their behaviour and ambitions. You have to report stuff to your head of Dept, to a Head of year and to parents..oh and also to …pupils.

2. You are the star not the extradownload

Sometime last year, you were an ” extra pair of hands” for example with a tutor group. You are now in charge and…on your own. At least in the classroom, but certainly not in the school. So start acting like the Star not the extra.

3 Welcome to Houston – Systems

Your mentor or class teachISS_Flight_Control_Room_2006er helped out with questions that you had or issues that arose. Now you have to find them in other ways. There should still be a mentor and there should be a senior leader in charge of NQTs. Speak to them often. There should be a programme of support, get along, take notes listen, learn act. However systems can be complicated and schools have a habit of socialising them such that experienced teachers just seem to “know” what to do. So don’t be afraid to ask even the simplest of questions, however you might need to put aside time to get to grips with say ICT systems for management information, for reporting for taking registers. Just ask, ask, ask. Pay attention at all those sessions on child protection, health and safety, data protection dealing with…. the school knows what it is doing training you, make sure you learn.

4 Basics of preparation and practice

Teacher plannerDuring teaching placement you had time in school to prepare lessons and maybe try out the odd activity such as a practical. You will wonder how to fit that in but preparation is the key. You do have a few lessons from last year under your belt but these are different children-your children and now you have more classes and (see above) more responsibility. As quickly as possible find out where dept resources, schemes of work etc reside, how to access them and work with experienced teachers on planning. As for practice that’s after school now methinks. Remember this will get easier but take a deep breath just now.

5 Marking and feedback – you just knew they would be here

Oh for the luxury of teaching practice with maybe 1 set of workbooks to mark each evening, now it seimageems non stop. You must work out a sustainable way for marking and feeding back. Guess what, that is just like the rest of us, so again ask ask ask. Don’t think you can spend 4/5 mins on every book for every class. BUT do not get behind, if you letting it slip, talk to your mentor. What is the school policy, mark every week, what do they mean by mark, and what are they marking? A lot of judgment rests on the quality of what is in a pupil’s book – mentors will look, other assessors, in due time Ofsted but perhaps more importantly parents and children. You can have a big impact here. Personally I am not a  scary kind of teacher but I get good behaviour in part by what I put in books, odd comments about the written work but odd comments about behaviour, contribution: ” well done today Ash, loved your answers, keep it up – though I think the homework could have had more detail” and reinforce that verbally. Just occasionally you are sat at home finished prep for tomorrow and a bit overwhelmed with marking – then stop, get to bed and turn into school refreshed and be on top of classes, far better than everything marked but you tearful by lunch through lack of sleep.

6 Background disruption – please No

If your classes experience this, which some almost certainly will do, then do not despair, but so not ignore. You are not rubbish but you need to tackle the pupils and the situations. Discuss strategies, get ideas and maybe watch the group with more experienced staff and tease out what they do and therefore what you need to learn. You are after all an NQT and the new gives it away you have stuff to learn.

7. Workload

I do sometime say to our NQT pace yourself through the day. Maybe get a class to read silently for a while, maybe have a very straightforward activity. As a Chemist I wanted every lesson to be fairly spectacular and soon learned I would probably not be surviving the year. You can’t do a lesson like you prepared for your PGCE tutor to watch for every lesson. So learn to pace yourself but get a great lesson in every few days to ensure you remind yourself what a great job it is and that you can do it.

8. Extra curricular

I thin0913-23k these activities are vital ( see this post) but you are an NQT with lots of years ahead of you and so only do what you can manage. At one interview I was asked by the chair of governors if I would help on a ski trip and an overseas trip. I really wanted the job and as this next sentence came out my mouth I thought I was kissing good-bye to the job but I said. it seems to me the school needs  lessons well prepared, classes well taught, work marked and pupils prepared for public exams, and the labs tidied up to be interesting learning environments; as we have just had a baby i can’t see me getting away for skiing but once the day-to-day is sorted of course I will do my bit. In all honesty I got up ready tp  leave but I did get the job and the deputy said that was exactly right for the school. Do something , maybe the odd bus or dinner duty, show willing, maybe something you really wanted to do as you were thinking of teaching like playing your flute in the orchestra but just dip your toes in. No one will thank you for taking the football team but not marking books or forgetting to order equipment until late.

9 Other wonderful people in a school

I’ve mentioned staff but now learn to love the support staff, people who photocopy for you, caretakers, ICT wizards, office staff who will always try to help, if appropriate lab technicians too. They will have seen a lot of new teachers like you, and whilst not necessarily knowing how you are doing they do know the pitfalls and if you can pass the time of day with them, appreciate them you will get lots of support just where you need it.


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10 Rhythm

Schools have their own diary or calendar and it brings a rhythm to the school. of course this is based around holidays ( half terms start of year etc) , seasons (winter/exams) and then parents’ evenings and reporting. You need to try to watch out for this, many an NQT overlooked or wasn’t told that “next week we need the assessment data completing, so hope you have done the test”. You haven’t or there is a work audit due and the work you needed to do for that will hijack  something else you had planned. try to read beyond the dates and look over each year group and identify when the pressure points will be and work with others to minimise those pressures

11 Standards

Ive never been sure about the “don’t smile until Christmas” malarkey but you must set out from the word go your expectations. You must keep to rules, you must in a sense do as the “collective wisdom “ suggests – otherwise there is trouble around the corner. So set high expectations of behaviour, of work ethic in your classroom, of standards of work, of standards of dress – including your own. Pupils actually like all that and will conform, they like to know where the lines are but they will try and cross them – someone will definitely not do homework so what will you have planned?

12 Feedback and Self confidence

Get lots, the more the merrier. before you plan tomorrow reflect on today. My NQT notes I reread for this post and I discovered my plans were more brief than my reflections and I remember what a great resource that proved in my second and third year – ah yes that didn’t quite work, ah no that practical didn’t really illustrate the learning objective etc. However the most valuable is that from staff observing you AND you finding some time to observe them. These aspects should steadily build your confidence and you grow into the role and you will see next year looks possible and manageable and you know what you can do better. You will make it through and be even better next year.

New teachers bring bags of enthusiasm and new ideas and new ways of doing things, we really love people like you – if you can learn some of the traditions in your school to get the best out of children and marry the two you will be just fine – but exhausted.

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There is a lot of advice on blogs and in the TES and if on twitter via @Ukedchat animaged #NQTChat . The TES supplement  “new teachers” published September 18th is a good read too. Meanwhile make sure you join a teacher union they often have lots of very useful stuff for NQTs.  Here is a good article from the Guardian too.

Some blogs

From @theheadsoffice 

and @lisa7pettifer

and @teachaholicblog

Some books|

Making every lesson count: six principles to support great teaching and learning by  Shaun Allison and Andy Tharby

Classroom behaviour: a practical guide to effective teaching,behaviour management and colleague support by Bill Rogers

Teaching in UK Secondary Schools – a PGCE, School Direct and NQT Starter Guide for that Long Road Ahead  by Hari Indran

Teaching in UK Secondary Schools: Being Organised from September through till Christmas: by Hari Indran

There  is a very good guide from the NUT

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