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April 30, 2012

The finish line appears

PPT1: Done

PPT2: Done

PPT3: Done

PPT4: Done

PPT5: Nearly done

MA1: Done

MA2: Done

AP1: Done

AP2: Done

Final observation: Upcoming

AP3: Upcoming

Standards: Referenced (almost)

The Easter holidays came and went, and what a well-timed joy they turned out to be. A week in St. Ives with my nearest and dearest followed by a week of planning, all the time making sure I was drinking as much wine and sleeping as much as possible. Also chance to touch base with wonderful old friends and remember what lovely people I'm going home to in July. The encouragement being passed to me by the super strong people who are doing their best to support me at this time is very much a 'light at the end of the tunnel' mentality which has become a fool proof coping mechanism for me in these later stages of the course. 'Ahhh but Rebecca, you can't think like that - the end of the course is only the beginning of your true journey to becoming an outstanding teacher'. I can hear the echoes of my course leaders bouncing around my brain, but I'm afraid all that matters to me right now is seeing this thing through and passing the course. I know where I'm going next (the glorious plains of Swindon), so I will reserve the real long term thinking for when I finally get there.

As I do a bit of looking back, I am amazed by just how far I have come since the start of the year. I don't want this to be an exercise in blowing my own trumpet but reflect I must so reflect I shall. Just a year ago I had never stood in front of a class and delivered a planned lesson. At least not in a scary National Curriculum, school policy, Warwick proforma, formal observation kind of way. I had only ever taught people who had chosen to be there or paid to be there, and compulsory education is a different ball game altogether. And a very competetive, challenging and rewarding ball game at that! So this has brought me to consider some of the defining moments of the year so far:

PP1 during an after school detention: ME 'Once you've caught up with the work you failed to complete in my lesson I'd like you to write me a statement about where you think you went wrong and reflect on how you can improve next lesson. Once you've done that, you can go' PUPIL 'Why? Are you even a real teacher?'

PP1 after an enjoyable Year 9 Victorian Workhouse lesson: PUPIL 'Miss, I think you are the best one of these we've ever had.' ME 'One of what?' PUPIL 'You know, a sort of half-teacher' ME 'Oh, well, thanks...'

PP1 after Year Seven Pantomime performance: 'Good Luck in the future Miss, we'll miss you' *Pupil is about to go in for a hug before checking herself and giving me an awkward smile instead*

After PP1 when my Subject Mentor sent me a text to inform me that they had started teaching my scheme of work across all classes in Year 9.

PP2 meeting my Subject Mentor for the first time: 'I have read your form from PP1, very impressive, your reputation proceeds you. I can't wait to see you teach... no pressure though'.

My MA2 handback. 77!? Are you having a laugh?

At my interview day after being offered my first ever teaching post: 'Your application was the strongest on paper and throughout the day you continued to widen the gap between you and the other candidates. Many of of the panel commented that your responses to some of the questions were suprisingly mature and insightful for someone at such an early stage in their career.'

During PP2: ME 'I wonder why he wasn't in my lesson Period 4 today, I saw him Period 3' COLLEAGUE 'No, don't worry, I heard something about him walking round school with a BB gun, I think he was probably with senior leadership during your lesson'. ME 'Oh... I see, fair enough'.

My Drama Subject Mentor during PP2: 'I really like that pit-stop thing you do in the middle of your lessons, I've started using that myself.'

Conquering my fear of teaching Year 13. Confirmation that I am older than them, and I have degree level knowledge, even if I dont always feel it.

Being left on my own with a class and realising I can actually handle behaviour, and therefore I can handle my NQT year.

Teaching two of my best English lessons on the last day of Spring Term, Period 4 and 5. And they told me I wouldn't get anything done on the last day of term...

The harsh reality that no matter how much progress you think you've made with certain individuals, every day is different and they might just decide to hate you for a day. And then love you the next day. Teenagers are brilliantly twisted.

March 22, 2012

Are you still a firm candidate?

So, as usual this blog will open with a statement about how I haven't been blogging enough. But this time I dont think I care. It turns out the world doesn't cease to exist if you happen to forget to blog for a couple of months. Much like all of the other things that I thought were essential to my PGCE year and have turned out to be hoop jumping, box ticking, monkey dancing exercises. A bit harsh, maybe, but I am getting to the point where I wonder if I have been using my time entirely wisely this year. I have got to thinking about the sacrifices I have made in order to spend time writing lengthy lesson plans, adding annotations to those lesson plans, putting those annotated lesson plans in plastic wallets and putting those plastic wallets in files. Paper work isn't what I'm here for. I spend more time with my files than with my pupils.

Since I last blogged I have met new pupils, taught some lessons, had some success, had a car crash and attended an interview.

On Monday, I was offered a job. When they asked me 'Are you stil a firm candidate?', I couldn't physically have been any firmer. It was a glorious day that allowed me to put the PGCE into perspective. I realised that this is all just procedure. One year of madness out of what should be a very long and sucessful career. Get the qualification and get into even more debt by doing so, then finally do what you came to do in the first place - teach and earn money. This year has made me a cynic, and I had always told myself it wouldn't. As I look ahead to my employment, I am chomping at the bit to leave this all behind and just teach. On the horizon I see sustainability, autonomy and wages. No I do not want a teacher in every lesson with me watching my every move. No I do not want to fill out three forms every time I want someone to observe me just to prove that I'm as good as everyone says I am. No I do NOT want to have to tell my fiance he cant see me this weekend because I need to reference some standards and tick some more bleedin' boxes.

Oh dear.

But seriously, I'm doing okay. PP2 is great, the kids are a joy, although the stress hurts my already tense shoulders. I still have lots to learn, but now I want to be learning and earning at the same time. In a place that isn't a two hour drive away from my family and fiance.

Oh, and these PP tasks are a waste of my time.

Yours grumpily,

Growing Payne

February 02, 2012

A fortnight of visits

The last two weeks have been crammed with all sorts of exciting visits to different schools and academies to do a bit of site-specific learning. I would like to share a few reflections on each of these visits.

EP school

Back at my EP school, the senior staff were very quick to tell us that Ofsted have just graded them 'Outstanding' across every grading criteria, which makes them the fifth school in three years to acheive this. As I spend more time at this school I am starting to understand just how complex the inner workings of an outsanding school really are. I am meeting people in charge of creativivty across the curriculum, I am meeting people in charge of connecting the curriculum areas, I am meeting people in charge of PSHE and Citizenship across the school, I am being introduced to pupil voice groups that I never knew existed, I am meeting heads of years who are non-teaching staff and are on hand all day everyday to support the teachers. I am meeting people in charge of managing staff relationships, leaders, not teachers. I am realising that the assumption that every techer makes a good leader is bobbins. SOME teachers make good leaders and some leaders make good teachers, but what's wrong with having actual, proper, good-at-their-jobs leaders in school leadership roles?

This has all got me thinking about what really makes a school 'Oustanding'. Who defines outstanding? Well... we know Ofsted do, but surely 'outstanding' means so much more than ticking the boxes already put in place by Ofsted. I think it's about thinking outside of those boxes, and God forbid, maybe even building new ones. With the dreaded visits from Ofsted, where is the room for innovators to make some necessary mistakes and, in learning from those mistakes, still be making 'outstanding' contributions to the field of education? Let's not get stuck in a rut just out of a desire to tick Ofsted's boxes and then be given a shiny 'outstanding' label to paste all around the school. Perhaps we can think of an incredible idea that Ofsted have never come across before... what then!? What if there isn't a box designed for such an idea... Well then we'd be building new boxes. And that's what education needs. For a school like my EP school, they absolutely need to build some new boxes because, as we know, they've already ticked all the others... what now Ofsted? They'll be running around like headless inspectors.

RSA Academy

In the morning, I was sold. The head was inspirational, I agreed with everything he said about education. I wanted to work for this man. The school system was like nothing I had ever seen before, 5 terms of 8 weeks, each with a two week holiday at the end. Two three-hour lessons each day, not defined by one specific subject but instead categorised into three different 'schools': 1) Arts, Humanities, Sport and Leisure; 2) Language and Communication 3) Maths, Science and Technology. This was closer to cross-curricular schooling than anything I had previously observed. My only issue at this point was that 'Arts' and 'Language' (incl. English) were in two seperate schools. Another ridiculous attempt to separate Drama from English. Shakespeare would be gutted.

I was sat in my chair in the gleaming, new, state of the art theatre thinking 'this is the fufutre of education' and then thinking 'GIVE ME A JOB! I'LL DO ANYTHING!" I even started making plans for moving my life to Birmingham permanently. But alas, as with many other things I show interest in, I got a bit carried away. My epiphany was quickly followed by a sense of sheer dissapointment when I actually went to observe one of these supposedly innovative three hour Opening Minds lessons. It was just three normal science lessons sewn together. It was like I was back studying KS4 Chemistry, only this time it was dragged out over half of a whole school day. This to me felt a long way from the innovation i had been sold in the morning. But a positive step in the right direction (I think...)

SEN conference

A Specialist School. A place of hope and possilibites and unimagined futures for those kids. A place that takes pupils who have been hurt or let down by mainstream education and allows them to flourish. A joyful place; the teachers actually enjoy their jobs!? I was so inspired by their 'can do' ethos. The challenges they face are different to mainstream schools but at least the pupils want to be there... Now lets work on the able-bodied pupils in mainstream schools who take their education completely for granted.

EAL conference

The day itself was fairly dissaponting, my highlights were being taught Polish by some lovely EAL pupils, having an hour of one-to-one support with a Polish Year 10 pupil and last but not least, the amazing lunch. The rest of the day I could have done without. For teachers who have already had one placement, most of the workshops were patronising and repetitive. These seminars would have been much more beneficial if they had happened before PP1. I wanted to observe pupils learning EAL intergrated into a mainstream lesson, as we only got to work with them in a withdrawal context. It is unlikely I will be doing much withdrawal when I'm teaching properly, so it would have been far more interesting to observe how other class teachers promote inclusion in their everyday lessons. However, it reminded me that inclusion is absolutely my responsibility.


The English language is SO complex.

"The ability to read s a greater predictor of prosperity that social class" O.E.C.D.

In talk-a-lot families (like mine) a child will have heard 33 million words by the age of three. They will have had over 1700 hours of stroy time.

In talk-a-little families (not at all like mine) a child will have heard only 9 million words by the age of three. They will have had just 25 hours of story time. My reflection: thank you Mum and Dad, you don't know how important our bed time story times have turned out to be!

In a recent survey, 60% of 18,000 teenagers said that texts were their most common reading. This is not good.

In the English language we have 26 letters (the Roman alphabet), 44 phonemes (the different sounds that these letters make), and more than 150 graphemes (the multiple different ways we write down the sounds that these letters make). For example, the letter 's' can make different sounds (phonemes) when placed in different words. But we make it harder for ourselves by writing the same sound in five different ways (five different graphemes): 's' 'ss' 'se' 'c' 'ce'. We take it for granted that we know which grapheme to use when spelling words, and which sound to use when reading spellings aloud. Our pupils cannot do this as effortlessly as us, so we need to make sure they really can access the writing we give them in class.

Isn't it amazing that an infant is able to learn such a complex language code? And doesn't make us realise what a tricky job older pupils have if they never learnt English by osmosis as a child, or didn't learn it well enough.

I am still learning. Thankfully.

January 24, 2012

New thoughts for a new year

So I have been somewhat neglecting the blog as other things seem to have taken priority in the last month or so. On reflection, I need to do more reflection.

2011 was massive. In 2011 I got accepted onto this PGCE course, graduated with a First, turned 21, went to Corfu with my friends, choreographed Carmina Burana, visited Canda for the first time, had my one year anniversary, was bridesmaid for my best friend, moved to Coventry and got engaged. Ridiculous.

My head seems to be constantly buzzing at the moment as I deal with being in a constant state of reorganising my priorities. Never before have I been so aware of the fine balance between my personal life and my professional life. The main reason for the increased difficulty of my juggling act is the lovely shiny ring on my finger, put there by my actual fiance! To say that my Christmas engagement has been a distraction is a massive under statement. At first it was a much needed distraction and became part of the best Christmas break I have ever had. But now my much needed distraction has turned into a general inability to think about much other than weddings.

I am yet to find the balance between the personal and the professional and as a result I feel all out of kilter and unable to get my head down during this phase of the course. I have been travelling home every weekend but I feel unsettled and tired. I am, however, thankful that the last few weeks seem to have had more 'space' in them and my evenings and weekends have been fairly free. I need to stop pining, take a deep breath and remind myself of why I am here. This PGCE course now means so much more, it is an exercise in opening doors and giving us the best foundation possible for our marriage. Above all, I know that I want a career that is sustainable and brings me joy. Teaching is still that career.

It is interesting to note that the very first piece of work I was asked to do for the course was a literature review covering some similar themes, particularly the tension between the personal and the professional, and how we allign ourselves as teachers. I am still alligning, and I fear that until I am back in Reading, underway with my NQT year, living wih my new husband I wont really feel fully alligned. Lots of things need to come together and it needs to happen soon. Until then, i shall grit my teeth and get through to July.

So here are couple of prominent experiences from the last couple of weeks:

I now walk around my EP school and feel like a teacher. PP1 has changed me. If you were to take a 'before' and 'after' shot of my self-efficacy levels, the differences would be glaringly obvious.

The contact improvisation workshop was my absolute highlight of our university-based sessions so far. Now I want to see this actually working in schools and colleges. Bring on post-16. The journey I went on during the workshop also rings very true with my overall journey through the course to date. Many parallels can be drawn between the following things:

During the workshop I felt like I was exercising muscles I didn’t even know I had. During PP1 I have been developing skills I wasn't aware I possessed. And I am ready to show off my new teaching 'muscles' in PP2.

During the workshop I was absolutely loving the movement tasks as we were doing them, but I was aching and exhausted by the morning. I have had similar experiences during the course, I have not yet built enough stamina to cope with the workload and as a result I sometimes push myself too hard. I really enjoy myself, but I dont pace myself! As a result, I spent most of Christmas trying to encourage my immune system not to shut down completely. I need to look after my body.

It was really evident during the workshop that the group was growing in confidence and trust. This is also true of my teaching journey so far.

As we explored principles of counter-balance, we worked in pairs to give and take weight, trying to find the most efficient ways of sharing body weight and trusting the support given to us. This is a real metaphor of the process I have undergone in order to lean on those around me. We have all had to give and take weight at various stages during the course.

Reflecting on counter-balance, I am remembering that each member of the partnership needed to be equally matched, and equally committed. I am recognising the same need for counter balance between the personal and the professional lives of a teacher. One cannot be supported without the other, it is a mutual relationship. Each side of this complex and ever-shifting relationship needs to be countered by the other side, thus finding a centre of gravity and offering stability. I am yet to find my centre of gravity.

The rich task we were asked to plan this week was a brilliant experience. I thought trying to tie so many subject areas together would be more difficult than it was. We seemed to really gel as a group and I really enjoyed expanding my thinking beyond English and Drama. I even remembered how much I used to enjoy German and Science! We had a lot of fun planning our task, and this is something I wish to replicate when working with future teams of teachers in schools. A thought: why do teachers spend so much time sat at computer planning in isolation? We don't expect our young people to learn in isolation. Please can we have time in school to plan in groups!? I think this is where great learning happens (Ken Robinson). I think planning can often seem like a grey cloud hanging over teachers as they crave more autonomy in their practice. However, if teachers can have fun planning then the pupils will certainly have fun learning. I want to inject the fun back into lessons right from the early planning stages through to the final assessment of projects. I refuse to stop enjoying myself.

Lastly, the RSA Academy... still mulling that one over. More on that next time.

January 11, 2012

Teaching is…

Teaching is explosive

Teaching is opening a door when all the others are locked

Teaching is climbing a mountain with an incredible view at the top

Teaching is cutting a precious diamond

Teaching is noticing the frown amongst a class of smiles

Teaching is hewing a rock to reveal a statue

Teaching is extending a hand to an enemy

Teaching is a work of art that will never be perfected

Teaching is swimming against the tide

Teaching is a stolen ly-in

December 07, 2011

The end of the beginning

MA1: done.

University observation: done.

AP1: done.

PP1: Nearly done.

Now that we are a few weeks in to PP1 I have come to realise what a positive impact the EP setting has had on my ability to get stuck in straight away here. The EP programme has made me so much more comfortable with all the school jargon and made me aware of the members of staff I have needed to make contact with (SENCo, CPO, pastoral managers, exams officers, data collection officers). Because of my lack of prior experience in schools before starting at Warwick I didn't even know these jobs existed! But EP provided a structured environment in which we were introduced to the ins and outs of the school system and this has allowed me to step into PP1 with my eyes wide open. I would have been at quite a disadvantage playing catch up if it weren't for EP. I felt generally positive about my EP experience before we went into PP1, but only now am I seeing the real benefit of it.

The last couple of weeks have felt like a time of real progress for me. I feel like my brain and my body are finally catching up with my daily routine. I have had two very enjoyable weeks with little to complain about other than the usual disruptive pupils, bags under my eyes and the general wintry gloom encroaching on our mornings and evenings. It is now completely dark when I leave the house and even darker when I return. I feel like I only see daylight through classroom windows but I have to say, there is nowhere else I would rather be. In all of this I have realised that this process is all about building stamina and working out how to be as efficient and skilful as I can. I am already so much quicker with lesson planning and much less precious about tiny details that don’t really matter. The OCD monster in me is slowly succumbing to the need to work quickly and confidently. Stressing out about sheets printing out with wonky margins is a thing of the past. I even handed out some resources that weren’t quite cut straight yesterday. Lo and behold, the pupils didn’t notice a thing. Like I said: a time of real progress for me.

So I now have six days of teaching left until Christmas... where on earth has it gone!? It still feels like yesterday that I was stood in reception signing in as a visitor on my initial observation day at my PP1 school. I can officially say I no longer feel like a visitor, even though senior staff members still insist that all PGCE students park in the visitor car park! I have loved getting stuck-in with school life and I will be extremely sad to leave. It has given me a taste for what my future might look like and I have to say, I am very excited. School musicals, bad talent shows, staff briefings, quiz championships, parents evenings, lunchtime rehearsals, detentions, CPD, department meetings... I think I love it all. I am realising what a teaching geek I have turned out to be. If you had asked me six weeks ago “Are you a teacher or a student?” I would have had to answer student. But now I feel like I have properly stepped into my shiny shoes and got into my teaching stride. Something has changed, for the first time in my education I don’t feel like a student anymore. Words like ‘educator’ and ‘practitioner’ now have real meaning to me, whereas before PP1 I think I was just pretending. PP1 has been a pivotal teaching experience and I will remain forever thankful for the support I have been given.

I am feeling dubious about going back to University because I just want to be teaching now, but I am going to use it as an opportunity to recharge my batteries, keep learning, and be hauled out to the next place! It is the end of the beginning but there is so much more to acheive. Onwards and upwards.

November 25, 2011

KFC and a cup of tea.

It is Friday. I love Fridays. I like all the other days too, but Friday is when I finally feel able to relax. A productive week has been had. Lessons have been taught with varying degrees of success. Today’s year seven Pantomime lessons have been a highlight. I deserve a cup of tea.

The weekend is mine. I get to decide how the next two days pan out, and although it’s most likely to be full of lesson planning and masters writing, at least I get to dictate when and where this happens. Autonomy is a wonderful thing. Something I want for my pupils in the classroom, but I have to question whether this is possible when I myself don’t feel the least bit autonomous right now. But then I suppose we all need a bit of structure... hmmm, structured autonomy - is there such a thing?

Schools are marvellous places. When they are full of pupils they make complete sense, we are working for them, and they complete our job description. But when the 3.30 bell goes and the pupils filter out, some more desperate to get through the gates than others, a school becomes a soulless shell of a place. Even the teachers who hang around for meetings or to get on with work are only there for the sake of the pupils. Ghosts of the day’s events wander the corridors and are then pushed into yesterday when the next school day begins. New day, new start. This is my motto and it has kept me going thus far.

So, teaching. It’s pretty darn good. Days fly by and I laugh, a lot. I also do the angry face a lot. I like to think I’ve got it perfected. The epitome of ‘unimpressed’ in one swift facial expression. The face that says “I’m not even going to tell you what you’ve done wrong because you and I both know”. Turns out that the angry face isn’t normally enough and detentions seem to work better. You waste my time, I’ll waste yours.

This brings me swiftly on to behaviour management. One word sums up what I have learnt about behaviour management strategies: consequences. Just telling a pupil off repeatedly is no good, there has to be a clear system: this is your first warning, you do that again and I’ll be seeing you after class. And if they do it again, flipping well follow through with it! The behaviourists among us would suggest that this is the best way to condition a pupil to behave better. I’m not sure if I completely agree but I do agree that actions need consequences, and as teachers, we are the ones who have to deliver those consequences. This includes praise. You do brilliant work, I give you stickers, credits, merits, postcards... I might even force a smile.

Anyway, these three weeks have taught me that pupils can spot an empty threat a mile off. And they can smell fear. Two things I have been trying to quash in my classroom practice. The gradient of the learning curve I am on is like nothing I have ever experienced before. It terrifies and excites me all at the same time.

But I love it. I actually love it. I’m shattered, I ache, my brain hurts, I sometimes don’t eat lunch because I still get so nervous before a Period 4 lesson. But I wouldn’t want to be doing anything else. This is my life. I teach, I drink tea, I eat KFC, I am happy.

October 31, 2011

A pleasant bottle of red with a fruity kick and some oaky undertones.

It has been a while since I last blogged. But that doesn’t been I have not been reflecting (reflection-in-action has been the flavour of the last fortnight, and rightly so). To be quite honest, I have had an exceedingly large volume of things to chew over in the last couple of weeks and I have only just got round to chewing everything into enough bite-sized chunks to finally swallow all the information and face the blog. Reflection for me can often feel like a right effort; any attempt to make coherent sense of my thoughts just makes my head hurt , so I prefer to let my ponderings rest and mature like a fine wine in the hope that they will eventually be pleasant to taste, with a fruity kick and a hint of oaky wisdom.

So here’s the pleasant, tasteful stuff:

I love learning. I have just spent Reading Week poring over intelligent articles written by intelligent people, and I have even momentarily let myself think I may be able to join the ‘clever club’ if I do well enough with this MA assignment. There is a sense that we are joining a real, living, ongoing discussion about the future of education, and that we might just stumble across something that makes a real difference to pupil’s progress. Exciting, huh? And I get to keep learning for the rest of my life. Huzzah for life-long learning!

I have also really enjoyed getting to know the pupils and staff at my PP1 school. There have only been three orientation days so far, but I have already got a good feel for the place and managed to get myself involved with the school musical (Beauty and the Beast). I now wish to be known as ‘Miss Payne, Choreographer Extraordinaire’. The staff are all extremely hard working and have done a lot in the last few years to improve the school. I join the school at a very interesting time, when they are looking to sustain the improvement that has been made and become an outstanding school. The teachers in the Performing Arts department are just brilliant and will be excellent models for me to learn from.

The fruity kick:

I am already in week eight of the most defining year of my life so far. I have learnt more about myself in this eight week period than I could possibly have hoped for. And it will only get more enlightening as I storm heart-first into PP1. This course is shining a big powerful torch on my passions, my prejudices, my priorities and my pitfalls. Admittedly, I am daunted. But when I take a step outside of myself and remove the critical parrot on my shoulder that squawks “You’ll never make a very good teacher”, I realise that I am really enjoying the process. I put this down to the fact that, all moaning aside, I love a challenge, and this PGCE course top trumps any challenge I have ever faced before.

The last couple of weeks have also marked the beginnings of my battle with data. The focus on progression and improvement at my PP1 school has meant the staff are extremely focussed on pupil data. This comes from a very rational place: they need to know they are meeting targets and ensuring progression for every pupil. All sounds good so far, but I take issue with an over-reliance on data: pupils are humans, not numbers to be crunched into a huge data base in year 7 and spat out in year 11 having achieved or not achieved FFT targets. This data then goes on to form the school’s GCSE pass rate percentage and turned into impressive bar charts, pie charts and scatter graphs to show Ofsted, parents, and future GCSE cohorts. Perhaps I take issue with the fact that I have seen the pupils’ data before I have had chance to properly meet the pupils. For me, this just turns young people into a list of levels. My quarrels with data aside, I want to know my pupils well enough to encourage each of them to develop a real passion for learning and to be the best they can be. If I can acheive such an ideal vision of teaching and learning, come data collection day, I'll be laughing.

The oaky wisdom:

I wish to finish my blog this week with an honest confession about how much I am missing home , especially the people there. Going home during Reading Week has only confirmed my desire to be closer to those people. I am happy to admit that coming to Warwick University has been about getting the best training possible, not about relocating my life. At the end of this year I’ll be packing my things into my car and driving home to a fabulous NQT job nearer to the people I love. This has caused me to think about the saying ‘home is where the heart is’. My heart is in teaching. During this phase of my life, teaching is to be found here, in Coventry, so I’m happy to call it home for now.

My heart is most definitely still in it. Power on Miss Payne.

October 11, 2011

With great power comes great responsibility

Some pupils have already experienced more trauma in their young lives than I will ever know.

Some pupils are our future leaders.

Some pupils have been in a wheelchair all their lives.

Some pupils will distrust me as soon as I walk through the door, simply because I’m an adult.

Some pupils make the room light up with one suggestion.

Some pupils don’t know a word of English when they join Secondary School.

Some pupils will blow you away with their contributions.

Some pupils have been badly let down by the very people who are supposed to be their role models.

Some pupils will reform our society.

Most pupils know the importance of learning and education.

Most pupils will respect you if you respect them.

Most pupils will make you laugh.

Most pupils love to learn if you engage them.

Most pupils enjoy school and are happy to be with their peers in a safe environment.

All pupils are full of life and energy.

All pupils are humans, not simply research specimens or pieces of data.

All pupils have opinions and need space to express these opinions.

All pupils need consistency, boundaries and support.

All pupils are precious and worth fighting for.

These are little lives we are dealing with, lives that have already experienced so much by the time they come into our classrooms. As teachers we have been put in an extremely powerful position, a position we can either use or abuse. It is our job to provide young people with an education. Education provides them with knowledge, knowledge provides them with choices, choices provide them with a future. It is a great responsibility and it needs to be taken seriously.

October 08, 2011

Observation Week – Friday

Lessons one to four today were spent shadowing a teacher. The school tried to make sure that we could see outside of our own department, and also that we were placed with teachers who were not very long out of training. I suppose the latter point was designed to give us another chance to talk to someone about what we are going through now and over the next year or two. I don't know about other people in my group, but I didn't really have a chance!

From the beginning of lesson one it was pretty much all go. The first period, incidentally, was Maths, being covered by the English teacher I was unceremoniously dumped on this morning. Although it was relatively basic prime factors, my general mathematical incompetency made me feel more than a little useless for the lesson, which was with a slightly troublesome year 11 class. It was still interesting to see a teacher cope with both behavioural problems and a lesson outside of their specialism. As a History teacher, I'm positive I'll be teaching many more subjects than History, no matter what the school.

The second lesson was also interesting, with a year 8 class who were really struggling with effective communication with each other. This was obviously a behavioural issue, because they often talked over each other and their teacher. At the same time it was detrimental to their learning, not only because they missed things, but because they would be having assessments on Speaking and Listening. Their teacher had decided to tackle the issue early, and devoted an entire lesson to an activity based around communication skills. I have to say that even with a difficult class, it seemed to work for the majority. They came up with ideas of what made up effective communication, which the teacher then pointed to whenever these 'rules' were broken.

Lessons 3 and 4 were a double devoted to Macbeth - yay, Shakespeare! - in particular, the scene where Macbeth has his doubts about killing Duncan and Lady Macbeth attacks his masculinity with manipulative and merciless efficiency. It's one of my favourite scenes from Shakespeare (you may have guessed I slightly idolise his work), so I really enjoyed those lessons. As with yesterday, I began to wonder if I was teaching the right subject...

Both today, and this whole week, has been extremely useful. Several people in my group have agreed that it's the most useful thing we've done so far. Most of all we all appreciated just how much the school has done for us. The effort involved in accommodating our needs has been fantastic and hasn't gone unnoticed! I have a feeling I'll keep coming back to this week over the next few seminars...

Observation Week – Thursday

This morning was spent shadowing a student. I know that some of us were a little apprehensive about it, thinking that it might be a little awkward to follow a student around all day while they were working or talking to their friends. Luckily we were given absolutely lovely students, which helped a lot! They were chosen from across the school, and my tour guide for the day was from year 10. I took the approach of treating the shadowing as an opportunity to see how the timetable worked and look in different departments. The latter didn't work out quite as well as I'd hoped; it turned out she had double history. I was interested to be seeing a science lesson, but it ended up being about the discovery of penecillin (more Medicine Through Time than I was hoping). But I also got to see English, which I really enjoyed. To be honest I'd really love to have a go at teaching it! I sat there reading through their GCSE poetry anthology while they worked on their presentations on Duffy's "Valentine" and realised just how much I miss my A-Level Literature days. I rarely have the brainpower or the time to sit and read these days, and I used to love it. Who knows, though? I've applied to be a tutor for a Looked-After Child and put English down as a possible subject, so it may not be the last I hear of Shakespeare!

As I went through the lessons, the same pupils kept cropping up. And it may not have been a fair representation of the year, but my god, what a year! Some of the teachers really struggled to keep them quiet and get them engaged, and excellent teachers at that. It certainly got me thinking. And being grateful for the time to sit back and see how they coped with it! I noticed that the older the pupils, the more prevalent the tactical ignoring technique was for managing behaviour. And sometimes it worked. Note to self: what never worked was shouting.

I had a lot of time today to sit back and watch and think. Taking extensive notes and working my way through the observation book, it really hit me exactly how much you have to think about when you're taking a lesson, from how you ask questions to the order you ask them in, from how you use your voice to how you check that the students are up to speed. We were told in one of our early lectures that teaching is a bit like learning to drive. At that, my ears metaphorically pricked up. I'd spent most of the summer learning and had passed my test about a week previously.

Just like with driving, there is a lot to think about. When you start teaching it will feel overwhelming, and you will forget things. Concentrate on learning to walk before you can run (i.e. learn changing gear before you try dual carriageways). The basics will become natural, and then you can work on everything else. I'll let you know...

October 06, 2011

Observation Week – Wednesday

Today was primary school day!

It started off being a lot more stressful than I had planned. Lesson learned - never rely purely on sat nav, you will get horribly lost if it plays up. The school was extremely lovely about it, however. Once I got there the first things that hit you about a primary school are a) how tiny everything is, b) how tiny the children are, and c) the amount of colour. Displays were everywhere and things were hanging on walls, dangling from the ceiling, taped to doors... everywhere you looked. The head teacher, who was a delight, took us on a tour of the school, and that's when the unexpected came.

I remember very little about my primary school, but I do know that it was a safe and happy haven - just like the school I was in this morning. But the children around me at my school were also safe and happy, everywhere. I was in for a bit of a shock. Walking around the school we heard some pretty horrible stories about the pupil's backgrounds, and the percentage of children on the At Risk register is very high. I'd be lying if I said I didn't find it an emotional wake-up call.

We sat in on some year 6 lessons, which were very interesting (I know that some of us certainly improved our maths skills!). The gap between year 6 and 7 is a matter of six weeks or so, but as we dicussed with a teacher, the children make a huge leap in maturity. This was later explained to us by the person in charge of transition at the secondary school. There is an extensive programme which a) attracts pupils to the school and b) prepares them for secondary life. Having talked to year 7s, who after just 3 weeks seem distinctly unfazed, I can say that it seems to do wonders. I won't go into detail about this programme, but I found it very interesting. It also highlighted just how competitive schools are!

The primary school, in short, was a valuable and interesting experience (not to mention the children are very sweet). All the more valuable, because I know that many people on our course were unable to visit a primary school at all. In the afternoon we made our way back to our Enhanced Partnership school and had a talk about transition, which was really illuminating. Afterwards a NQT came to talk to us, which was an extremely useful way to end the day. Talking to someone who was brutally honest about the year or so ahead was a little scary but also refreshing. It made me feel a little less lost and alone, and I could hear sighs of relief around the room. It turned out we had pretty much all the same questions.

All in all an extremely useful day, which was incidentally very long! Again... I'm tired. But I'm taking that as a good sign. Half way through the week!

October 05, 2011

Random Reflections, Marvellous Musings and Poetic Ponderings

The focus of last week’s Professional Studies was BfL (Behaviour for Learning) and AfL (Asessment for Learning). We discussed practical tips for assessing the pupil learning that has happened before, during and after a lesson. I now have a new exciting ‘AfL toolkit’... basically just a box brimming with crafty gimmicks that can be used in the classroom for formatively assessing pupil progress. So I’m stocked up on post-it notes, string, pegs, raffle tickets, stickers, mini white-boards and lolly pop sticks. This was my try-hard attempt to feel more like a teacher. Do I feel more like a teacher as a result? Not just yet.

I also bought myself a personal laminator and some laminating sleeves: potentially the single most invigorating way I could have spent my Saturday afternoon. One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind (or something along those lines).

But on a more serious note, I feel like more things are going in and staying in. I am absorbing information with much more efficiency whilst developing a strong sense of self-efficacy. I am constantly intrigued by the new things I am learning. Teaching is most certainly NOT mutually exclusive of learning.

During our Subject Studies sessions this week we have witnessed some priceless examples of good drama teaching by a certain Mr Jonothan Neelands (KS3 Hamlet) and Miss Rachel Dickinson (KS2 The Conquerers). These workshops were unforgettable examples of how to make learning experiential. This is something I have been constantly challenged by during the course so far: how do we make learning a memorable experience for our pupils, whilst also controlling behaviour, assessing progress and monitoring improvement? Food for thought.

But for now, a cheeky little poem:

I have a trendy jacket; I bought some shiny shoes,

I swotted up on APP, but still I’m left confused.

I’m happy with observing, I take notes like a pro,

But when it comes to teaching kids there’s so much more to know.

I know about assessment, I know about tool kits,

But just the thought of marking work gives me sweaty pits.

“She’s very well behaved”, my teachers always said,

But when it comes to BfL I’m filled with anxious dread.

I like to think I’m clever; I have a posh degree,

But neither helps when scary kids are shouting things at me.

I’d love to be outstanding, be great at what I teach,

But still my wish to be the best feels slightly out of reach. 

I don’t know why I’m rhyming, it doesn’t make much sense,

I find it helps me shape my thoughts when I’m feeling tense.

October 04, 2011

Observation Week – Tuesday

The second day gone, and I'm even more tired! I have a feeling this blog entry will be much shorter than yesterday's...

As we waited to start our day, my Professional Studies group stood and chatted about tomorrow morning - while most of us are in school, one brave member has volunteered to represent us on a panel which talks over the issues/positives of our Enhanced Partnership. We all seemed to agree that it was a valuable experience, and being back in school was brilliant. But we also said there was a definite (and frustrating) element of disorganisation.

Tomorrow we are going to be in a primary school for half a day (more about that in the next entry!) and we knew absolutely nothing about it until last period today. While that is not at all the school's fault - the primary schools have been a little lax with replying to emails - it's an illustration of the frustration we've all felt over the past few weeks.

Nevertheless, I'm excited for tomorrow! Living with three primary PGCE students has made me keen to spend some time with the really little people... we'll see whether I change my mind after tomorrow morning.

So... back to today! I preferred it to yesterday. There was less free time and things were more interactive. The students were often doing group work so we got to walk around and talk to them about their work and school generally. Talking to the year 7s about how they were finding secondary school after just a few weeks gave me some real insight, which I'm hoping I will add to tomorrow.

We also saw Geography today (very useful, seeing as I might end up teaching some of it!) but stuck mostly with History. Seeing three different teachers was really interesting for me, especially comparing things like behaviour management techniques, use of questioning and choice of resources. I took a lot of notes today! How much of it I've taken in is slightly a different issue... although writing this, I feel quite hopeful. I'm looking forward to tomorrow afternoon, when we will be reunited with our PS group and given time to reflect together. I have a feeling tomorrow may be the most useful day of this week, but you'll have to read tomorrow's entry to find out!

Observation Week – Monday

So today was the first day of my Observation Week. This is also my first blog entry, so I guess I should begin with some reflection about the course so far.

Well I moved to Coventry just over three weeks ago now (wow! Feels like ages), and I still haven't been into Coventry centre. That's probably a good illustration of just how busy I've been... it also shows how disorientated I still am. After three weeks I was hoping that I would feel settled, but I'm more overwhelmed than ever! There's a lot of information coming at us very fast, and we have very little time to actually sit and take it in. I'm ashamed to admit (although I know I'm not alone) that the 9-5 has been taking it's toll. Despite all that I am enjoying myself. I think I'm in the right place, Warwick seems to be inspirational and focused on development on a personal and professional level, and on the general progress of education. I've thought about things I'd never considered before and I feel like my mind is really being opened.

This is the first year of Enhanced Partnership and I have to say I'm really enjoying it. Personally it's been a good few months since I was last in a school and I've really missed it. A lot of theory has been thrown our way over the past three weeks and it was a relief to be able to see it in practice and relate it to something concrete. It might even stick!

Today was a subject day, the first chance I've had to see some history lessons. The history teacher was rather surprised to find the three of us stood eagerly in front of him, having just returned from a trip to France, and he did a great job of looking after us for the day. We saw a good variety of ages and class sizes, and also saw some other subjects (KS3 Values and A2 Politics, neither of which I'd ever seen before). At first I started taking notes in my notebook. I knew mostly what I was looking for, having had a good read of the Observation Booklet over the weekend. My notes were a little random (and possibly too detailed?) but when we had some spare time I transferred my thoughts into the actual booklet. To be honest both were helpful. It meant I went over my thoughts and observations twice. The teacher was extremely helpful, especially in answering our questions. I was also really glad to have two other History PGCE students so we could talk over what we'd seen. We looked at some resources and chatted to some of the students.

At the end of the school day I found myself surprisingly tired! It turns out real observation takes a lot of concentration. But the day had been definitely worthwhile. Even after one day I feel like all the theory has finally been grounded in something concrete, and I haven't actually done anything yet! I guess I'll finish with... roll on tomorrow.

October 03, 2011

Guided Obv Day 1

Day one of el guided observation week.

After a little admin and introductions, the day really began once I had met Carol, a lovely TA who was happy enough to put up with me being joined to her hip for the day. Having my guided observation handbook, notepad and pen at the ready, I was ready to wrangle as much as possible from my lesson experiences. Once I was in the classroom, however, I felt compelled to get in amongst the action as much as possible, whilst making a few key bullet points every so often; as such, the density of my notes aren't quite what I was hoping for, but I still feel like it’s been a very educational day.

Lesson one was science. For this lesson I decided to take some brief notes on the lesson outcome and structure. The LO was 'I can describe how energy is transferred in infrared radiation'. The lesson was roughly chunked into a starter, which recapped previous work on convection and conduction through a Q&A lesson, a development - which elicited why certain situations of heating couldn't be convection or conduction, and a main experiment - which concerned hot water in a black can and a foil wrapped can. The lesson was well broken down, but I would have looked for a little more feedback from some of the quieter students. On the whole I was able to participate and take feedback on work from students which helped me to understand how well they had followed the lesson. Carol described her role with one of the students who requires a little maintenance to stay on task. On the whole he had a very good lesson.

The second lesson was year 7 English, the first of several lessons in my subject field. The teacher was very enthusiastic and gave the class an energy that I would like to replicate once I get the opportunity. The students did some self-assessment and contextualised this (2 stars and a wish) within target objectives so that they could move up on the writing level scale. NB/ AFOREST techniques (handy)!

Principally, however, I did some close work with one lad who was level 3 for writing (with a target of 3plus) and warranted some closer attention. I helped him to organise some brilliantly imaginative ideas which he simply struggled to construct into coherent sentences. It was clear he was as creative as many of the other kids, but he just couldn't express it on paper; consequently he was very shy and withdrawn. With a little patience however, I was able to elicit some good work and give pointers for improving his writing. I was mindful not to throw too many corrections at him, so I focused on punctuation, word order and capital letters, letting some more complex spelling and paragraphing issues go, although I did ask him to check one or two words later in the dictionary. The experience was very useful as I'm sure I will meet many more kids just like him.

The third lesson was year 9 English, which was fantastic, if only for the behavioural theories for learning information it threw at me. This wasn't a lesson I was going to sit quietly in a corner and take notes in, so I went straight into the thick of it. The lesson was disrupted frequently by a small group of loud girls who appeared to be looking for attention as much as possible. The teacher was firm but fair, making early use of the 'choices' system but also rewarding one of the girls with a merit sticker when she did manage to produce some good work at the end of the lesson. I was able to help identify personification, alliteration, similes etc with the students and help them to develop their own use of these techniques in their writing. By making the subject matter creative and imaginative, some of the less focused students became quite excited by the potential to write descriptive, interesting pieces of work. This recalled the lecture where Jonothan Neelands talked about 'discipline' (behaviour) and 'discipline' (subject) - very apt!!

Overall this was a very challenging lesson because I got some personal comments from the girls who were looking for a little rise from me, either to get me feeling uncomfortable or to bring me down to their level. By a mixture of ignoring, stating their comments were inappropriate and bringing focus back to work, this was quickly dealt with. If they were testing me I think I passed. Lesson note - make sure I go round the quiet ones as well! I made a mental effort to do this and saw some brilliant work as a consequence. If I had one critique it was that the teacher gave c1's to the same students several times; although this was probably conscious, consistency would probably be better served by taking the appropriate students onto a c2. In my opinion.

The last lesson I'm going to write about was a year 8 English class. These students were as good as gold, a contrast from the lesson before. What I took most from this lesson was the clear AfL. The students were asked to write on whiteboards examples of similes, metaphors, complex sentences, compound sentences etc... feedback was then give using the 'roman thumb' method. It was clearly useful for the teacher who told me after the lesson that she would use it to inform her next lesson's group work - AfL in operation! A quick quiz starter is a great way to begin a lesson - take note! Further notes: SoW was on biographies, for which their was a long project homework which the students seemed to like - a 3 chapter personal biography. I also liked the teaching of grammar (in this case conjunctives) in context. In this lesson this was done through a class reading of 'Boy', by Roald Dahl.

Conclusion: much to take away from today. Carol was brilliant and gave me great insight into the work of a TA and how useful the support can be. Roll on Wednesday!

September 26, 2011

Remembering the unmemorable

During Subject Studies this week we have been encouraged to consider ‘what do you remember most about English lessons at school?’ As I ask myself this question, my fingers are poised in anticipation. I am staring thoughtfully into my past. My eyes blink willingly at the computer screen whilst I wait for enlightenment. But as I struggle to summon any distinct memories of English at school, I am brought to a disappointing conclusion: the way I was taught English at school was distinctly unmemorable. I love English, but I don’t accredit much of this love to my experience of English at school, particularly during my forgettable lower school years.

I used to groan at the thought of text analysis. Exciting, meaningful texts were lumped together into mass produced anthologies. Annotations were dictated to pupils and revised repeatedly until an exam came along. These exams were simple exercises in regurgitating annotations which had been taught to us as ‘correct’ interpretations. For the most part, creativity was only allowed in controlled doses. Sometimes, the most sophisticated task I was required to perform during Key Stage Three English lessons was deciding which colour highlighter I would be using to drearily copy the teacher’s tedious annotations into my anthology.

During my lower school years, suggesting alternative ideas or interpretations was something of a taboo, an underground activity which was only safe to do at home with the doors locked and the curtains shut. An exaggeration perhaps, but I find it makes me sound like more of a rebel when, in fact, I was just a bit of a geek.

It seemed that independent thought was strictly forbidden in English lessons until I finally reached Sixth Form. School felt a bit like a game in which you were required to work your way up the Key Stages, unlocking privileges as you went along; the ultimate being freedom to think for yourself. But Sixth Form was an exciting place where school uniform policies were a thing of the past and you were allowed to have actual meaningful discussions in English classes. This is where my experience of English was vastly improved and I felt more supported by my teachers.

One of my biggest teaching inspirations came not from school, but instead from the film Dead Poets Society. I am not ashamed to say that Robin Williams (or rather, the fictional English teacher Mr. Keating) had a profound effect on my desire to learn English. I wanted to be a member of The Dead Poets Society. I wanted a new perspective. I wanted to stand on tables and read literature in caves at midnight. There’s the geek getting involved again...

However, English at school was not all doom and gloom. I have one very vivid memory of the day I came across Robert Frost’s ‘The Road Not Taken’, and, yes, I found it in one of those anthologies I seem to have such an aversion to. Since that fateful day, Frost’s poem has been something of a personal motto. It has affected my approach to learning, teaching and life. All grumblings aside, with regards to my experience of English at school, it is true that ‘Two roads diverged in a wood, and I- / I took the one less travelled by, / And that has made all the difference’.

On reflection, I need to moan less about my experience of English at school and turn my grumblings into a resolve to be better and do better. I want to be Mr. Keating (but perhaps without the sex change). It is not acceptable to provide pupils with a shoddy impression of a subject like English. Why? Because it is literature, it is language, it is heritage, it is culture, it is meaning, it is expression, it is empathy, it is creativity, it is writers, it is readers, it is speakers, it is listeners, it is communication, it is important, it is an entitlement.

For me, it is a RESPONSIBILITY.

September 22, 2011

A little English monad

English Reflection

I certainly wasn’t born into a world of books. Don’t get me wrong, my parents did everything they could to encourage me to read, but the pull of the saga mega drive, of football and rugby, was simply too strong. At primary school teachers expressed concern that I wasn’t doing much to fulfil my potential, and there could have easily been a scenario very different to the one I now find myself in. I wasn’t a clever kid, nor did I find the work too hard – on reflection, I suppose I just cruised along without knowing the means to challenge myself, so I didn’t.

 It was some time during KS3 when I found a book that truly gripped me – Ian Fleming’s Thunderball. I couldn’t put it down; the story drew me into something far deeper than I had the capacity to understand as a boy of thirteen – a world of reading. If this was one monad, in Walter Benjamin’s sense of the word, then the next one occurred on the day I received my AS level results. By this time I had thrown myself into literature like a killer whale into an enclosed seal pen, and oh how I ate. It didn’t dawn on me that this growing passion could run full pelt into a crisis, but it did.

 By the end of year 12 I was getting ‘A’ grades every time I put pen to paper; sounds cocky, I know, but that’s just how it went. My teacher was fantastic. She was a fountain of knowledge, enthused about English (language and literature) and inspired me in nearly every lesson I attended. But for some reason on the day I took my AS exam, it all went wrong. Call it nerves, bad luck, call it rum and raisin ice cream if it helps (since I still don’t understand exactly how I managed to do so badly), I let myself down. I knew it on results day, I just didn’t want to believe it: four ‘As’ and a ‘C’. No prizes for guessing what the ‘C’ was in (and it was a low ‘C’)... yes, you’ve got it – English. Enter full blown crisis.

 I loved English (and for now I’m not going to unpack the subject as a concept, just run with me) but I couldn’t envisage how I could take it through to A level when it was my weakest grade by a long, long way. With a heavy heart, I decided I would take economics instead. It wasn’t a passion, but I was good at it, and the grades were what I needed if I was to get myself into a top university. But there was a metaphorical elephant in the room I hadn’t accounted for – my English teacher. There was no way she was giving up on me that easily, and I’m glad she didn’t. She put many hours in convincing me that I would nail a re-sit, and that I had too much invested in the subject to throw it away on one bad day. I was still disposed to a comforting, belligerent form of self-pity that pushed her away, but eventually I let reason speak to me and opted to choose English for A level. She put many more hours in, at lunch and after school, with those of us re-sitting the exam. Low and behold I did nail it, so much so, in fact, that I went on to get full marks in every module for my English A2.

 For me that event and the surrounding months were life changing. Ever since then the study of English has been fundamental to who I am, what I am interested in, and what I want to do for the rest of my life. It was a teacher who did that. There is no overstatement when I say she changed my life - for the better (I wasn’t really going to become an economist, was I?).

September 21, 2011

Reflection and choice

Follow-up to Fine Rain from A landscape unfurling in new colour

Reflection and choice.

I have just had a full day in Finham Park school as part of my 'base' / 'professional studies' placement. It was fantastic - such a thrill to be back in a school again, talking to students and teachers, observing classes and generally getting a 'feel' for the environment... but more on Finham in a minute.

It is with huge sadness that yesterday I was told that my school friend, David Fairbrother, was killed during his active service in Afghanistan. He was a Royal Marine with 42 Commando, and an exceptional one at that. But why am I putting this in my PGCE blog? Two reasons, really. Firstly, I feel compelled to keep this whole event alive for a little while longer, before I move towards a healthy (but far from permanent) forgetting (already the story is no longer on the front page of many news websites, due to the speed and ephemeral nature of modern information). Secondly, it got me thinking of my time at school with 'Fairy'; we were in the same year, had many of the same classes, enjoyed the same sort of craic that young lads do. We hadn't spoken properly in a while, our last words being much earlier on in the year (2011) just before I ran the infamous 'tough guy' race. Dave had done it twice, with his times being about half of what I managed to achieve. Still, it has brought home just how important school can be. Children can grow up to be whatever they want in life; 'Fairy' chose to become a marine, just as I chose to become a teacher. But with both of us, our choices were free because we were brought up to think.

For my friend, there are few words to describe the tragedy adequately, but he had the education (including a very good degree) to do whatever he wanted - he chose his path in life and so ended it doing what he loved. I suppose you never know what choices that lippy year 9 lad will have to make when he grows up; you can only hope they won't have the finality that 'Fairy's' did. But as a teacher, you can give them the tools, the mind and the heart to make those choices freely. On reflection, you owe them that much.

Anyway, back to Finham. With these thoughts in mind as I walked through the school gates, I felt both anxious and excited. The students were lively and bright, the staff warm and extremely knowledgeable. The first impressions were great. However, it was the afternoon which brought the most interesting aspect, the classroom, into focus. I was able to observe two lessons, and without specific detail on their content (to stay on the right side of professionalism), here are my general reflections:

  • Year 7 students responded very well to clear lesson objectives set at the start of the class.
  • They responded brilliantly to 5 minute plenaries following each 'chunk' of the lesson. The next stage could then be modelled with leading, open and closed, questions.
  • Students were allowed to elicit answers, which were then brought back to the LOs - very effective.
  • The language of questions and instructions was very precise. Students were 'to be able to' perform specific activities by the end of the lesson. General objectives such as 'to understand' were broken down into component parts.
  • Having a starter is important. One lesson took a while to come back under the teacher's authority due to the ICT taking too long to set up at the beginning of class. The students became restless when they had nothing to do during the opening 10mins.
  • Speaking clearly, slowly and pronouncing vowel sounds is effective.
  • No hands technique works, but only if you have several questions to ask, or quite open questions.
  • The girls and boys who appear not to care often do, but finding an 'in' is often required. Sometimes hard work, but worth it.
  • Video is predicated on the right equipment being ready.
  • The importance of good reinforcement specific to your class. Stickers work better with year 7 than 11, for example.

Overall, a brilliant day in school, even if it was framed through something as terrible as losing a friend. I realise 99% of people who read this will never have known Fairy, but I'm putting his picture up anyway. As student teachers we are being taught to educate, but school is so much more than that. You meet people you will never forget, some of whom even become heroes.


September 20, 2011

Fine Rain

Whilst sitting down in my living room and reflecting on week one, I felt prompted to look for a profound quotation to sum things up. Surely, looking over my books, a wiser man or woman than I could have started off this blog with a perfect slice of timeless wisdom? It is interesting then, that after a good 5 mins of looking though texts that are the pride and joy of my bookshelf, the most apt phrase which sprung to mind was not Plato or Neitzsche, nor Tolstoy or Keats, but that brilliant sage... Peter Kay:

"It's that fine rain that soaks you through!" (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dz_D-Q7aZJ4- about 6.25mins in).

Yes it is Peter, thanks.

Monday was the first raindrop, Tuesday a little more, but by mid week a quick reflection told me, that without me fully realising it, my mind was drenched with new information. There has been much to take in during week one, but the course has given me the wonderful impression that it is, simply, for me! A year of TA work confirmed it, but now the PGCE has started I am anxious to wade in ever further. Things will get tough this year, but I'm hoping the sense of vocation, alongside a calming drink or two with new friends (and those I've met so far are wonderful), I'll come out the other side the teacher I want to be. By that point I'll be underwater, but with the distinct advantage of having found the ability to swim.

September 17, 2011

Facing the PGCE Giant

‘Then David took his shepherd's staff, selected five smooth stones from the brook, and put them in the pocket of his shepherd's pack, and with his sling in his hand approached Goliath.’ 1 Samuel 17:40 (The Message)

I think I know something of how David felt when he was standing with just a sling and a stone, preparing to face Goliath. An over-statement, perhaps; but I feel uncomfortably ill-equipped to do battle with the challenges that are to face me this year. However, I find encouragement in the notion that David defeated Goliath with determination, faith and a measure of skilful accuracy.

‘The / readiness is all.’ (Hamlet, A5 S2, l.234-237)

If readiness really is all, then I feel I am in for a rough ride. What does it mean to be ready anyway? Do we talk about readiness with regards to subject knowledge, practical experience, and a specific set of skills? Or is it just a state of mind? Perhaps we are never really properly prepared for the task ahead, but we can still achieve great things by storming into situations with a sizable dose of hope, ambition and self belief, catalysed by adrenaline.

‘If I have seen further it is only by standing on the shoulders of giants.’ (Isaac Newton)

We have been encouraged during Professional Foundation Week to consider the question “Who or what has brought you to study a PGCE at Warwick?”. For me this is an exercise in identifying the giants in my life; the people who have inspired me, the places that have defined me, and the experiences that have changed me. I hope to eventually be able to stand on the shoulders of these giants so that I might be able to see a little further and become a teacher who is able to improve on what has already been acheived.

‘How are we, never more than the trees that bore the fruit, suddenly to become the gardeners? Just that seems to me the art you must learn, who are actors and workers at the same time.’ (Bertolt Brecht)

The PGCE for me is also a lesson in flying the nest. Here’s me thinking I did that three years ago when I began my undergraduate degree. Now, having graduated and started a new course en route to a career in teaching, it turns out there is a fair bit of growing and flying that still needs to be done. It is time to start cultivating my own future, giving thanks for the nourishment I have already received, but with a sight to take control of my own personal and professional growth here at Warwick.