So before embarking on this GTP course I decided that I was going to throw myself whole-heartedly into this blogging malarkey. It's not something I've ever done before but I realised, perhaps rather optimistically, that this was going to be one of the most enjoyable and eye-opening years of my life and I did not want to forget a minute of it. I also write this blog in the hope that, should I become a succesful teacher, I will be able to say "here, read this..." to anybody wishing to enter the teaching profession and they will get an honest account of what life is like on a GTP course.
Last week, term started at my training school. I turned up, bright and early on Monday morning, with my map of the school, a packed lunch and all my shiny new stationery, looking not a fat lot unlike the year 7s standing nervously in the playground. The only difference between myself and them was that my mum wasn't kissing me on the cheek at the school gates, not that she wouldn't have tried if I'd given her half a chance. I'm not ashamed to admit that shopping for stationery was the highlight of my summer holidays. I had purchased a particularly snazzy turtle-shaped pencil sharpener and turtle-shaped eraser which I was certain would win me credit with the kids at school, or else 'disappear' before I'd even managed to get them out my bag. You will be pleased to know that a week later they are still holed up nice and snug in my pencil case. As i entered the classroom for the staff meeting I was faced with a sea of people all wearing jeans and t-shirts and, quite frankly, making me look like Will out of The Inbetweeners (i.e. massively overdressed for a teacher training day). I had been going into the school once a week since the previous September for work experience so recognised a few friendly faces, but it's only when you've got the entire staff of one (not particularly large) school all in one room that you realise how many people it takes to keep a school running smoothly and, more importantly, how many people you've got to keep sweet if you want your training year to be just that little bit easier! There were teaching staff, cover staff, office staff, kitchen staff, senior management staff, laboratory technicians, reprographics, special educational needs (SEN) staff, teaching assistants, maintenance and grounds staff.................
I knew that there some people I wouldn't exactly see eye-to-eye with (literally and metaphorically). The previous year I had been observing a NQTs lesson when a member of the senior management team (who has a chronic case of Small Man Syndrome) walked in, overtook the lesson and completely undermined all the work the NQT had been doing in that lesson. The NQT went home that day feeling utterly disheartenened due to no fault of her own and, unfortunately, I later learned that this wasn't the first time this senior teacher had done this to trainee and newly qualified teachers. That day I realised that getting to know the kids would only be half the battle.
So, I was over the moon when I was handed my teacher planner; a great, hefty diary which, although cumbersome and pretty defunct for the first week, I just liked to carry round as it has Ms J Roberts emblazoned in big blue letters on the front cover. This diary was proof that I was a teacher (in training), it was my badge of authority which I felt the need to carry round as I was certainly not feeling very authorative when faced with a class of 6ft year eleven boys, some complete with beards. My shiny new school staff card and code (yes, a code!) also served the purpose of making me feel like a teacher on the outside, if not entirely on the inside. I was so unbelievably excited to be given a code, despite it being fairly useless as I wasn't assigned any duties or written on the timetable to be taking classes; the very first words out my mouth when on the phone to my mum later that evening were "Mum, I have a code!".
Other than receiving my new teacher tags (i.e. planner, staff card and code) and having rhubarb crumble for puds in the canteen, the first day passed pretty uneventfully. It did not take me long to learn that you as an individual can be as organised as an organised thing on a really organised day, but unless your school and colleagues are organised, you'll be fighting a losing battle! Thankfully, that's what inset days are for at the start of term; to iron out IT glitches, update software that really should have been done the week before as it takes a day to update so no teachers can access their interactive whiteboards, to sort out timetables and class lists, to figure out where to put all the lab equipment out of the new lab which was supposed to built by the beginning of term but won't actually be finished until after half-term, to allocate new email adresses and SIMS passwords and countless login names, to become familiar with SIMS, to sort out student planners and new books and textbooks, to ensure that every single item with the school name on is changed to the new school academy name, and finally to scrape together a lesson plan for the following day which considers the fact that all the 'admin' will take up at least half of the lesson and the kids will be dead excited to use their new felt tip pens.
I was set the task for Friday to come up with a starter for a middle set year 8 group who were just about to start the topic 'Respiration'. I was offered the use of the resources that the school used such as worksheets which correspond with the scheme of work, but I wanted to start the year as I mean to go on and not just rely on worksheets. I decided to play a 'Connect 4' style game using letters which corresponded to clues that I would give so they could guess the word, e.g. "This B is the process of taking air into the lungs and removing air from the lungs...........................Breathing". I struggled to level the game correctly. In fact, whenI was preparing the starter I was sat with a friend and together we tried to think of 16 words related to respiration. My friend studied biology to GCSE level but was suggesting words like 'alveoli' and 'gaseous exchange'. I kept saying "no, they've only just started this topic, they don't know the structure of the lungs or the processes involved with respiration!". In the end, it was decided to switch the starter to a plenary so that throughout the course of the lesson we could give them the answers to the game! My mentor also helped me to simplify the language I used for the definitions, although I found it tricky to simplify the definitions so much without them becoming inaccurate. I remember being at school and being told one thing at lower school and then being told to forget what I'd been told at lower school when I entered key stages 4 and 5! So, back to the game, it started off fairly succesfully. As any of my friends will tell u, I can get a tad competitive, and it seems this is infectious! In fact, the kids employed some very sneaky tactics which proved to be the downfall to my game! I had assumed they would just race each other across the board, but instead they blocked each other off and were guessing the words before I'd even given any clues! Whereas the game started full of enthusiasm and competition, it finished in a rather disappointing way when both teams realised that neither had won and therefore their impressive effort had been futile (in their eyes), to say the least! My mentor simply said "....a good lesson to learn from this, always check it works!"
Finally, to conclude this first week, I just wanted to talk about a little moment that summed up my week for me and simply made me smile. I don't know why it was so important to me but I do know that I told anyone that would listen to me. The teacher I was observing had asked "what are mitochondria?" to a top set year 10 class. A girl in the front row turned to me and said "isn't that when a person thinks they're ill all the time but actually nothing is wrong with them?"
I didn't know what to say. The 'personal' Jenni wanted to laugh and say "no, you numpty!" and the 'professional' Jenni knew that if I let the 'personal' Jenni take over it would only discourage the girl from offering answers in class again. But she was so far from the actual answer that I wasn't entirely sure how was I going to say "well done for trying but actually you're completely wrong!". In the end I realised that this group of kids were a very bright bunch who obviously picked up snippets of information from all over the place. I also realised that they were a really fun group of kids who could you could afford to take a step back and let them work things out for themselves. They were a group that, potentially, I knew I could build up a strong rapport with. In the end I said that actually she'd got her words mixed up and it led to a nice little discussion about hypochondria. She wasn't the slightest bit bothered about being told she was wrong because she was confident in her own abilities. But I knew that a less-confident child or perhaps a student struggling with special needs would not have suited the approach I took with this particular child. So, this 30-second conversation really got the cogs in my braining turning and made me think that kids can be very bloody clever!