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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Work/Life Balance

My blog post this week is going to be fairly short as I was on a very tight deadline with one of my university assignments over the weekend. On Monday I had to submit 4000 words – eek!

I will, however, take this opportunity to explain a little bit about what it’s like to balance the academic side of my qualification with the practical side.

In order to be awarded my PGCE in July, there are several things I need to do. Firstly, I need to prove I’ve met the ‘Teacher’s Standards’. There are eight standards in total and I need to submit evidence that I’ve adhered to them sufficiently. This might include examples of my marking, or lesson plans that show I’ve implemented differentiation.

On top of this I need to complete three 4000 word essays during the year. My first assignment was a ‘Professional Studies’ essay, which I chose to base on behaviour and the effectiveness of detentions as a sanction.

The assignment that was due on Monday was a case study on an element of my school’s Improvement Plan. The area I focussed on was assessment and how regularly it should be used to improve student outcomes.

While it is difficult to find time to complete these assignments to the standard I would ideally like, it is a great way to get new teachers to reflect on their practice and also critically engage with the systems in place at school. Through the reading I’ve done for the literature review sections of the assignments, I’ve definitely strengthened my professional knowledge.

During term time, it’s almost impossible to get much substantial essay writing done. Your time is consumed with school: planning lessons, marking books, preparing assemblies, organising trips, attending meetings, doing admin and running detentions! Instead, I’ve tended to use the holidays to make serious inroads into my university work, so that busts the myth that teachers’ holidays are overly long – we still work during them! It’s not to say the holidays aren’t great, they are, but they’re needed; I honestly think teachers would burn out without them.

Which brings me onto working hours. I think it’s fair to say that if you want to be an effective teacher, you’ve got to be prepared to put in the hours. I had no idea how long the hours would be before I started. I think I had the notion that I’d be leaving at 4pm every day. Not so! I get to school at 7.45am and usually leave at some point between 6 and 7pm. The reason I leave so late is because I like to get all of my marking done at school so that I don’t have to bring it home, then when I’m home for the evening, I’m done (apart from the odd sneaky email).

I have had to accept that, during term time, I’ll only have a one day weekend, so I’ll either spend all of Saturday or all of Sunday planning the week ahead’s lessons. I have tried planning the night before during the week, but found my brain didn’t work well enough in the evenings to plan engaging lessons. I’d much rather plan them at the weekend when I’m fresh.

Last weekend was tough as I had all of this week’s lessons to plan as well as my assignment to complete. However, it’s only a few days until Easter when I’ll get two whole weeks off, one of which will be spent on a beach! I don’t plan to take a single exercise book with me.

Even though the hours are long, it is worth it. There is a quote by the American writer Nicholas Sparks that reads: “Nothing that’s worthwhile is ever easy. Remember that.” I think this directly relates to teaching: it is a challenging job but the rewards are immeasurable. You’re investing in young people and their futures.

“Education is the most powerful weapon you can use to change the world.” – Nelson Mandela.