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.

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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.