I Passed!

One huge thing has happened since my last blog post…..I passed my training year! So apologies for not blogging sooner but I have been rather busy. A lot of preparation goes into your final assessment, with the bulk of it going towards making sure your portfolio of evidence is ready. As I’ve mentioned in the post Work/Life Balance, to qualify as a teacher you need to prove you’ve met the eight standards – that proof comes in the form of evidence such as lesson plans, powerpoints, copies of students’ work, photos of your classroom, copies of your marking and lesson observation reports. It also includes a learning journal that has been kept up to date throughout the year.

Whilst I always knew that I had all the evidence that was required, putting it all together was another matter. Finding the time to devote to compiling an A4 lever-arch file of evidence is difficult when you’re still teaching and marking every day, as well as finishing your final essay. In the end I had to take a whole weekend out to get the thing done….but it was definitely worth it.

The second part of the final assessment was a 30 minute lesson observation which, despite being extremely nervous, was absolutely fine. Hopefully the more experienced I get, the less nervous I will be in these situations. When I was younger and I was playing a lot of competitive tennis, I used to get more nervous when my family were watching, but as I got older I learnt to “get in the zone”, which is where you’re so focussed, you forget about who’s watching. Similarly, in lesson observations I’m looking to forget that anyone is watching and to relax into the lesson more: easier said than done I’m sure but that’s the goal.

Now that I have passed, I feel like a huge weight has been lifted from my shoulders. There are only two weeks left of term and then it’s the summer holidays; a chance for a well-deserved break but also a chance to get ready for the year ahead.

There is lots to look forward to next year. We are one of eight ARK Schools to pilot the new Mastery curriculum in Year 7 English, which is incredibly exciting. Depending on their reading age, students will follow one of two pathways, with those showing reading ages of approximately nine and below doing a phonics pathway to enable them to catch up and eventually reintegrate into the traditional pathway. The main changes to the curriculum include:

  • Explicit teaching of spelling and grammar for two hours a week;
  • A greater focus on the acquisition of knowledge as well as the development of skills;
  • Extended writing to be assessed three times a year, with more regular assessment to use multiple-choice style questions;
  • A reading for pleasure lesson once a week;
  • Levels to be replaced with grades.

A lot of the changes in the Mastery course address the issues I have with the current curriculum such as pupils leaving primary school without basic literacy skills and ambiguous level descriptors on the Assessing Pupil Progress (APP) grids for reading and writing, therefore I’m very excited to see how much progress can be made by pupils under this new design.

I’m also looking forward to taking on new classes and having the chance to start with a clean slate. When I think about how little I knew last September compared to what I now know about teaching, learning and behaviour management, I feel like I’ll be in a much stronger position to make a real difference to the outcomes of my students. Add to that the opening of our Sixth Form and my Creative Writing club going from strength to strength and 2014/15 could be one heck of a year! Happy summer everyone!

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From the newsroom to the classroom…

Welcome to my blog, I’m extremely excited to be writing my first post! As this is my maiden attempt, I thought I’d take it as an opportunity to introduce myself and explain why I’ve chosen to start ‘Notes on a Whiteboard’.

As an English and Philosophy graduate, I always knew I wanted a career that satisfied my love of language. Teaching had always appealed to me, as coming from a family of teachers, I had grown up hearing their fascinating tales from the classroom. However, journalism had caught my eye too. Having immersed myself in student journalism at the University of York, I decided to pursue the path to Fleet Street after graduation.

In 2009 I found myself in London at City University on their prestigious Masters programme. I was surrounded by highly driven, intelligent wannabe hacks and inspired by the course’s illustrious alumni: James Harding, Will Lewis and Decca Aitkenhead to name but a few. The programme was intense (basically a three year newspaper journalism course condensed into one) but I was sure it would lead me to where I wanted to be: writing for a broadsheet newspaper…

However, I hadn’t accounted for the explosion of online news and the bite of the recession. Newspaper circulations started to drop rapidly as people began consuming their news for free online and companies couldn’t afford the big buck, double-page spread adverts any more. As a result, newspaper jobs, which involve spending time forging relationships with contacts, conducting original investigations and travelling the lengths of the country (or world) are now few and far between. Money is tight in the land of newspapers and consequently, desk-based journalism has prevailed.

Nevertheless, I was willing to give online journalism a go and am proud to say I worked for two global brands in their digital media departments: the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) and the BBC. It was through these roles that I learnt all about the power of social media and how to use Facebook, Twitter and YouTube to promote your brand and attract fans. It was incredible to be at the forefront of the digital media revolution but I knew something was missing; I had an itch that constantly needed scratching…

People. That was it. I wasn’t communicating with real people. I was living in this virtual world where I communicated with millions of people online but who were all faceless. I did get a buzz from my tweets being retweeted thousands of times and videos getting thousands of views but I also imagined how much more of a buzz I’d get if I had a job where I was constantly interacting face-to-face with people. A voice in my head kept telling me that I should be a teacher. Eventually, I listened to it.

As someone who had been working for three years, I decided to explore what train-on-the-job routes there were into teaching. I discovered School Direct which I thought sounded perfect. It provides the opportunity to train in the classroom and earn a salary at the same time, as well as tuition fees being covered. The eligibility criteria for this route is to have already been working for three years so it was the perfect match. Hungry to get into the classroom, I knew this was the route I wanted to follow.

Thankfully, I discovered the ARK Teacher Training programme. ARK (Absolute Return for Kids) is an international charity that focuses on three key areas: education, health and child protection. Its aim in Britain is to establish a network of outstanding schools in some of the most deprived parts of the country. By training their own graduates, ARK hopes to nurture future outstanding teachers. In total there are 27 primary and secondary schools located across London, Birmingham, Hastings and Portsmouth. It’s the latter city where I managed to secure a role as a trainee English teacher.

My home town is Southampton, so Portsmouth is just a 40 minute commute down the M27 (nothing considering I used to do a daily 2-hour-each-way commute to London!) I teach at a school called Charter Academy, which has transformed itself from one of the worst in the country to the second most improved nationally. Before becoming an ARK academy in 2009, it was called St Luke’s Church of England School. Its GCSE pass rate a decade ago was 3%; now it’s 68%. The school really is changing lives.

Working at Charter Academy is something I am immensely proud of but it is also very challenging. If you watched the BBC Three series ‘Tough Young Teachers’ (to which I was addicted!) you will have an idea of the challenges trainee teachers face in inner-city schools. Low literacy levels, apathy and turbulent home lives are all factors that produce obstacles to learning. But the more I practise, the more I learn how to overcome these barriers. I’m surrounded by inspirational teachers who are role models not only to me, but to the students. My aim is to emulate them and, one day, have people looking up to me for guidance.

When ARK asked their trainees if any of us would like to blog about our journey from novice to qualified teacher, I jumped at the chance. Writing a blog seems the perfect way to combine my love of writing, with my passion for education as well as showing my students that I practise what I preach! The life of a trainee teacher is a roller coaster: huge highs and tough lows. It has completely challenged my expectations. Rather than pouring out my opinions, experiences and thoughts to my long-suffering husband (ok it’s only been since September but I think he now knows my students as well as me!) I want to share them on here. This will be an honest account of my journey so far – I hope it’s informative, interesting and a little bit inspirational.