It’s now two days until school starts again so half of me is extremely excited about getting back to work and half of me is anxious about the craziness that is about to ensue! The holiday has been absolutely wonderful (a trip to Tanzania and Zanzibar being the highlight) but when the weather is rubbish and you’re at home on your own all day, the prospect of human interaction again becomes very appealing!
This summer was my first experience of a GCSE results day when I’d taught a Year 11 class. I now know what it must be like for parents awaiting their children’s results: petrifying! When I realised that I was still going to be in Africa on results day, I was secretly relieved as it meant I wouldn’t have to see the children’s disappointed faces when they hadn’t got the grades they wanted. Instead, I asked the Vice Principal (who’s also an English teacher) to text me. Thankfully my actual nightmare that they all got Ds didn’t come true and the results were as good as I could have hoped for.
This time last year I’d just found out that I was going to take a bottom set Y11 Literature class. Due to timetabling issues, their Language teacher couldn’t take them for Literature as well, so it was down to me. I was apprehensive about this task. Taking on a class at the start of Y11 is renowned for being difficult (usually teachers take their students all the way from Y10 to the end of their GCSE course). Adding to my apprehension was the fact I’d never taught the course before and to top it off, I knew there were some extremely tricky characters in 11D. Nevertheless, something I’ve learnt from working at my school is the importance of rising to challenges – you can surprise yourself by what you can achieve.
Despite fretting for most of the year that my students were going to fail, their results were brilliant. Out of a bottom set of fifteen students, nine passed with C grades and one achieved a B grade. Two students’ results stood out to me in particular. One girl, who was not expected to pass any of her subjects, scraped a C. In fact, Literature and Art were the only subjects she did pass. She is now my hero. Another girl I was over the moon for was a student who had spent her whole time answering Section B on paper 2 and left no time for Section A. As both sections are weighted equally, I thought her chance of a C was gone but having now seen a breakdown of their scores, it turns out her answer for Section B was A* quality…she obviously knew what she was doing all along!
She wasn’t the only one to write an A* response to Section B either, which I think shows just how important it is to believe in the potential of every child, even if they’re in the bottom set. In fact in most schools, bottom set students are written off (they’re not targeted to get Cs so not as much attention is given to them). At Charter it’s different. Most bottom set students are targeted to pass, which may account for our exceptional results (81% of students get 5 GCSEs at A*-C compared to a national average of 68%). I’m also chuffed to say that all three boys in that class who are in care passed with C grades, even if at certain points of the year they made me want to tear my hair out!
Looking forward, I’ve got lots to be excited about. As well as a bottom set Y7 class and a second set Y8 class, for the first time ever, I’ve been given a top set. What’s more, they’re all girls. I’m hoping it’s going to be a delight. I’ve got so much experience of teaching low ability groups that I think it’s going to be refreshing to work with high ability students. As it’s a Y10 class, I’ll have to get my head around the brand new GCSE specification as well.
I’ve also got another bottom set Y11 class but I’ll be taking them for Language as well as Literature so double the pressure! I’ve taught most of them since they were in Y9 so I know them very well. Unfortunately, most of them flunked their mock exam at the end of Y10, which left me in despair, however in light of the recent results, my faith in my ability to get bottom set students through has been restored.
On top of my teaching and tutoring responsibilities, I’m taking on some wider-school ones too. I’m going to be a mentor for an English NQT, which will mean doing a weekly observation of her teaching and then meeting to discuss the observation, but also anything else she needs support with. I always found my mentor meetings extremely helpful so I hope I can give the same support I received. It will be weird being the one observing rather than the one being observed!
I’ve also now got the unusual job title of Staff Social Event and Well-being Lead. As part of the academy’s effort to reduce staff turn-over, especially amongst newer members of staff, we want to start enhancing the social side of school life. It will be my job to make sure new members of staff are properly introduced and inducted into the city as well as organising social events for the whole staff. I’ll also be responsible for creating a strategy for improving staff well-being because, as in any business/organisation, the happier the staff, the better the results.
It’s fair to say it’s going to be a jam packed year juggling Y11, the new GCSE spec and the new responsibilities, not to mention my other classes and tutor group. I definitely won’t get bored.
Finally, I recently found this incredible TED Talk. Entitled ‘How to fix a broken school? Lead fearlessly, love hard’, it is by a principal of a school in Philadelphia once labelled ‘low-performing and persistently dangerous’. It had so many echoes of the journey that Charter has been on that I was completely gripped. One message from Linda Cliatt-Wayman that stood out to me was that if we are serious about addressing poverty, we MUST have good schools in our poorest neighbourhoods. I’m sure remembering that will make getting out of bed at 6am in the depths of winter that little bit easier!