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 even after 36 years I never felt I was 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 wasn’t as bad an issue 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 practicing those activities, well 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 please please please do 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

I’ve 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 do, exactly what will you do when that happens? You may not know but please don;’t say “Someone not doing homework, well that really was a massive surprise!”

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 help 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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Wednesday Period 4 – Data rich, information poor

Schools are data rich, but are we information poor? How do we balance the data, the numbers and dealing with real live children and helping them learn. Is data more of a dark art than a scientific methodology?

This is a dangerous blogpost because some people love data, and some hate data. I think politicians love us to have data. FFT Raiseonline, LAT and PANDA. Then there is the data we put into sims or other IMS systems for collecting school data, and I’m not even getting to life with or without levels. Then we have analytical tools such as 4matrix and ALPS. Hey and that’s just my school.

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There are other layers too – most teachers collect data, most departments collect data. I used to dread my HoD checking my mark book in case I had to explain all my codes ( late work due to illness and absence; late work due to lazy etc) then there were my inconsistencies such as a blob meaning I was worried about that pupil on that topic, then the gaps where I forgot for a few weeks to keep a register – nothing anarchic just had so much to do in lesson counted heads asked where X and Y were and cracked on. Whatever mess my mark book was in it was a data tool, it recorded data, in a limited way it analysed data.

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It could have been better, but it served my purpose I knew pretty well who progressed, who didn’t and my predictions were usually correct. I played a few games, telling some they were likely to get a D knowing my conversation would galvanise them into work for a C – others needed cajoling and constant encouragement but hey they made it. My classroom has always been all about relationships, me knowing them, them understanding my expectations, me knowing Chemistry and them learning it, with my help. My data telling me who was getting along OK and who wasn’t. Data, plus thinking, plus conversations plus educational nowse.

Now we are in an overwhelming data dominant world. If you ask me as an SLT member how X is getting on, well we can check attendance and compare it to others in classes/year/school/nation with all manner of codes and % stats. Shall we look at behaviour or achievement data across my lessons, across the year group the whole school. Progress data or attainment? Or marks, mine or my dept or what I consider my critical marks such as assessments and tests? Dealing with data for parents and pupils is a whole different blogpost.

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I recall back in the day we had an analysis of SATs called anSAT and a local subject adviser asked me to check out some new ( expensive software). It analysed skills and knowledge in the subject in huge detail for each pupil. He showed us ‘Petunia’ ( not her real name) she had a whole A4 chart showing lots of bars, her marks now apparently converted from her responses to show her understanding of topics compared to the class, the year, the nation probably the universe. It showed she really got this topic and really was lost on that one. The head of subject was getting very excited, he loved numbers. “So are you keen?” said the advisor. “One question” I said, “yes”said the advisor. “No, not to you but to the head of subject – thinking about Mrs Ordinaryteacher ( not her real name) who teaches your subject, if we went in her class could she tell you that information about Petunia?”- “yes, more or less, maybe not linked to the year group but to the class and to the national and to their targets etc”. So why bombard her with so much overwhelming data and with that data the added worry piled on a deeply conscientious outstanding teacher?

Data has immense power and value-we can pick out patterns and themes maybe a topic no one has really understood, maybe an area we need to make new resources. We can and should help each other with it, but not get obsessed by it. I am a teacher, I like creating resources and helping learners, much better than tiring over data and worrying I haven’t missed anything. You see the job is an art not a science. Let the good teacher get on and teach, ensure they have enough data but do not overwhelm them.

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In the 90’s I met a fairly senior History examiner whilst I was attending award meetings for A Level chemistry, I said to him that our award was challenging and complex but reasonably objective, how did he feel about the accuracy of History? Oh, he replied, we are good, I am confident, when we award a C grade for example it really is a C grade, or maybe a B or a D but it’s definitely around there. I often think just how scarey is our dependence on data and results with their massive consequences for pupils, and teachers and schools. Is it time to say exams are more of an art than a science and just plan (and judge) on that basis? Use data to help identify issues but tackling the issues is the challenge. SLT we need to make sure our teachers have enough of the right info.

no teacher ever

Well back after August it’s that hugely time consuming job – ploughing through results data and soon revisiting FFT etc Oh and then the surprise of an update, or the governors data dashboard showing something a bit different to what something else suggests. It’s back to pouring over Raise and remind myself which colour is which because in ALPs the colours are different. One of my favourites 4matrix with another upgrade and new tricks (check out their video intro) but giving me the feeling there is so much more hidden away-help you’ve intimidated me. I know that data analysis which is demanded by so many accountability measures is crucial to the job, and I know SLT need to know the data but really a we need to know our school and what information the data reveals and then make good decisions about our school.

All of this can suck out our time, and energy and then when I talk with colleagues and we discuss data there are further complexities. I hugely appreciate the contribution of data managers but occasionally I just need to check we have a balance. In all honesty I could spend all day doing data but the pupils will not benefit as much as they might if I sat and taught them or even listened to them or just took a bit of genuine interest in them to lift their self confidence and to encourage them to learn. Right that’s it shutting down my computer to go amd watch the year 9 boys football team.

imageSome questions to think about
Q1 What data is the critical crucial data needed by the teacher in the classroom to maintain and raise standards?
Q2 How do we ensure we do not overwhelm class teachers with data but that we so point out patterns and themes which need addressing?
Q3 Are we too driven by data, or is it the magicians wand to point out what has to be changed, kept the same, or transformed?
Q4 Those who want to get on with teaching and leave the data other than a mark book behind are being naive-discuss!

Q5 just how much of FFT Raise ALPS Panda does any given role need to understand?
There is an even more vexing question – just how good is the data. Have a read of this blog by @Jack_Marwood

Not much for us in church schools on data in the BIble but some on how we approach the job!

Matthew 22: 16

They sent their disciples to him along with the Herodians. “Teacher,” they said, “we know that you are a man of integrity and that you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. You aren’t swayed by others, because you pay no attention to who they are.”

Psalm 119:66
Teach me knowledge and good judgment, for I trust your commands.

Ezekiel 34:12

As a shepherd looks after his scattered flock when he is with them, so will I look after my sheep. I will rescue them from all the places where they were scattered on a day of clouds and darkness.

Friday Period 1 – Simple? Not really

Schools are not simple places

There is a cynical view amongst many teachers that there are many experts on education because “we all went to school once”. A particular and probably unfair criticism often made of Secretaries of State, after all they do get to visit schools, just maybe not enough and with a very specific view and not the view from the chalkface. I’m not sure it is true but there is an impression that some Governments and some politicians and maybe others think schools are simple places. Along the lines of:

  • Teachers prepare lessons (same year on year) deliver lessons (to a class) and mark the work produced.
  • Teachers teach to a specification or syllabus.
  • The children learn (or do not) and pass (or do not) exams.
  • The curriculum is clear
  • The best teaching methods are very well known and agreed
  • Assessment models are clear and effective ( oh hang on for all audiences: parents, employers, HE, schools themselves, teacher, Ofsted LA…)
  • The exams are clear ( well a bit too easy or hard here and there).
  • The governors will monitor.
  • Ofsted will double check and publicise but sum up the school in one or two words (Outstanding, Good, Requires Improvement, Inadequate).
  • Parents will support the school because they chose this school for their children.
  • Government can fund (I am talking maintained sector) fairly both revenue and capital works. The end

In the heady days of Bakers national curriculum the government thought a grade could be given to a pupil each year from year 0 to year 11 on a scale from 0 to 10, simple. It would allow parents to see their children progress ( or bring pressure if they didn’t). Anyone can teach, some think, don’t waste time with QTS, in fact a recent idea is to bring in retired people to teach English and Maths. Is it such a simple job?

I’ve just taught a lesson, I did prepare it, despite 30+ years and even several times teaching this lesson it needed preparation. Could I make it better, is there a video an animation , something which helps with this difficult concept? What did my notes from last year say? Can I make the practical work this year? should I do a demo before letting them loose? I’ve also got student work to hand back which, unsurprisingly I’ve marked, and I will go through the common errors and have added a few comments for others who struggled a bit more (this is called feedback). I am looking to see I make enough challenge – push the brightest, stimulate the G&T, support the weaker ones, differentiate, I’ve made sure the pupil premium peeps are getting a fair (or maybe extra fair) deal, oh and looked after those middle of the road pupils who are more tortoise than hare. So after the lesson did the students learn? MMmmm well that depends, some are better Chemists than others, some enjoy my lessons and get it, some enjoy them and don’t and well there are others who hate the lesson but at least try. Some will show they got it in problems they do and in the tests and in their exams. Some I think have grasped concepts today, lose them tomorrow or at least the day before the exam! Some don’t do their work well at home. Learning,it just isn’t linear, it’s just not simple.

Then the learner: some of my students don’t have English as a first language, some have had a difficult time at home, some have recently faced bereavement, and some are distracted, not bad behaviour just stuff on their mind. Some are preoccupied by another subject which has an important test next lesson. Some didn’t understand last weeks build up, some were away ill ….it’s just not simple. I’m not making excuses, I’m in a real world of dealing with learners, learning.

Then there is me, I have already taught this lesson to a different group and whilst I do much the same it goes better. Why? Oh: it’s the morning, oh: it’s a nicer day no wind blowing, Oh: I was more upbeat and smiley as the previous occasion I had a very difficult issue on my mind. Oh I praised them a bit more, no in fact I got cross with them today. [Parents have you tried that spectrum of reactions? Being nice, being mean, being harsh, allowing it, disallowing it and all to see if behaviour might improve –it worked, it didn’t work. Oh it’s complicated being a parent.]

So we come to exam results and those arguments about performance related pay. Great my class did really well. What do you mean? Their progress? Compared to whom? Their achievement? Compared to whom? Their new love of Chemistry? In any case you shared the class. Look at the data – well there is plenty to look at..results, Alps, 4matrix, Raise, FFT..if ever twas true there are lies damned lies and performance data. Hang it this is a person. ( and that rant from someone who tries to use data)

Well that little lad John , he did well in my subject compared to his other grades. Yes but that was his KS3 teacher , no in fact his primary teacher, no in fact the Head of Year who helped him, no his Mum who was keen he did well in Chemistry or damn, it was all down to the private tutor they got for John. No it was his mate in another class who helped him. In fact John hated school but back in Y7 he was in your football team, and he got to like you and because you picked him and gave him a chance he will do anything for you. Pity the other 10 didn’t react like that, I wonder why….oh it’s not simple. Anyway he did meet his target, what target? My target, his FFT target, his DfE target, his EFA target his funding target, our dept target his own target, his families target…… STOP. Wait. He is a person and a complicated little person growing up in a very complex world. I hope someone is keeping an eye on that and not just making him into a simple data point, meeting a target. Is he happy , healthy, outward looking, optimistic, unselfish, knows his moral duty etc ? WHAT? You can’t measure that it’s not simple. Hey and that is one of the 25 in my class! SO shall we discuss the next child along?

So can we measure teachers performance, we have those teacher standards but if I judge myself I hit some targets on some days and ….well it’s a bit complex, some I do but only with help from other people. I have read about what schools are doing since Mike Cladingbowl’s Ofsted article on the use of observations. People seem to be considering lots of factors (as many have written in blogs recently) we can make some judgments about teachers via observations, reputations, results, children’s responses, colleagues response’s but I’d like a lot of evidence because I think it’s complex this teaching and learning. Now don’t misunderstand I’m not arguing against accountability, not at all, nor ambition, nor driving aspiration – I will always do that, I am not comp[lacent< I came into the job to make a difference but please, please, please it’s a complex job.

Schools are complex communities. They aren’t a business, we don’t have clients or customers and a product, we have people. People with all their ups and downs, their hopes and fears, their bad days and good days. We have teachers who are great but human and get ill, or inspiring, or now again we teachers also have a lot to manage in our lives and despite this  I am working hard trying to develop curiosity. We have children who want to learn and some who don’t, we have some who have chaotic lives at home and school presents a consistency and hope. We have some pupils who have very,very difficult times at home – if you are a teacher reading this you know some or many – and we probably only know the half of it. Some pupils need lot of help from EAL staff, SEND staff, pastoral staff, senior staff, tutors and teachers. This is what makes the job a challenge and frankly makes it enjoyable, we can bring hope. Some pupils need to be watched because of their behaviour; some mature and learn some don’t. Yes the learning is not simple. I got cross: my lesson got hijacked by a concert rehearsal, the concert was wonderful. I got cross: my lesson got cancelled because of (competitive sports day) the day was wonderful – some pupils I teach I didn’t know that side of them, they are brilliant, their peers cheer them. I got cross: my lesson got cancelled whilst they set up to raise money for CAFOD – they raised £400 –it makes a difference in the world. AND tomorrow in my lesson they’ll have their heads up in the air and they will actually learn better, I couldn’t achieve that alone in my class. Mmm this taking part, contributing, this extra curricular, this paired reading, this charity fundraising, the time spent prepping our form assembly, hang on where was all that in my training. Ah well schools they aren’t simple they are a community…..of people.

I wonder is it the age? Let’s sum up the complex in a tweet, let’s make the pupil be a data point x on a graph. Let’s sum up in a sound bite, move on. 140 characters, then next? Let’s do it because we can measure, and those we cannot measure let’s give in because that’s complex. Let’s sum up the 80,000 odd formal lessons and maybe another 10,000 extra curricular, outside of lesson hours as…..”good” Ohps sorry “requires improvement”. I agree with Sir MW we make a difference we can bring hope, it’s why I was and still am a teacher but it’s just not simple. There are sometimes simple things some schools need to do and common sense isn’t so common and such changes make a difference, just recognise jobs are often complex.

I am happy to be made accountable, but I resent the media (including some politicians and Ofsted) summing up my work in one word, or summing up our children like that. Most of the time, most of my teaching and most of our children are ……………..sorry it’s a complex world and Iv’e got lessons to prep, staff to support and a school (a complicated living organisation ) to try and look after. BUT if you wish to know about my school, give me an hour and read about us on our website. It’s a little glimpse into our little community of 1200 pupils, and 120 adults, it might not be simple but I reckon it’s great.

Links
Here is a great article from Tom Sherrington (@Headguruteacher) which takes my very basic points into a much more serious arena, and hits the right tone.

Some questions to consider
Q1 What accountability measure should be used for schools?

Q2 How do we reflect the complexity of the job to help policy makers think about Education sensibly?

Q3 When the job in the classroom feels over complicated what are the simple things which keep us going?

Q4 Here is an INSET bug – give four things which would simplify the job>

From someone in a Faith Community:

Deuteronomy 4:9
Only be careful, and watch yourselves closely so that you do not forget the things your eyes have seen or let them fade from your heart as long as you live. Teach them to your children and to their children after them.

Thessalonians 1:3
We remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labour prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope