November 05, 2011

Week 8 – Almost…

So, it’s been a while. No blog last week due the wonderful invention that is half term. Though, saying that, part of me thinks I would have preferred not to stop. As useful as half term was to have a bit of a rest and get the chance to do some reading for my masters, it also gave me a chance to stress myself out, which I very much did. One day back in school sorted that out however, I think I had just allowed myself too much time to think about what could go wrong, what I didn’t know, what I hadn’t prepared. But that all disappeared as soon as I got back into school and realised the only way to learn and improve is to just get stuck in. So I have now tried to find out all I can find out, done some lesson plans, read the schemes of work, met my groups and I am back to feeling like I can’t wait to give it a go.

A great thing happened to me at school this week too; I was left in control of a class. I didn’t teach them, but I was solely responsible for them. This I’m sure sounds very mundane and irrelevant, but the amazing thing was I coped perfectly well and it felt completely natural. This was a massive confidence boost; a worry I had been holding on to for a while was that classes just wouldn’t be ‘with me’.

So there we go- not a very long one this week, as next week will be a biggy- as next week is my first week of proper teaching. This week has really just been me learning as much as I can about my school, and I am starting to feel like a part of it. So I guess that’s a successful week really.

Do I feel like a teacher? I’m really nearly there actually. That may well all change after I have tried some lessons next week, but for the moment I’m good. I feel ready, and I feel confident in the things I’ve learnt.

Do I feel like a researcher? Definitely. My masters has come on leaps and bounds, in no small part thanks to continuous help from Rachel. Big shout out to Rachel. I need to do a lot more reading mind; I may feel like a researcher, but not a very thorough researcher.

What am I worried about? Timing. And differentiation. Trying to guess how long things are going to take when you’ve never even done them yourself, let alone tried to make a group of 30 children do them, is exceedingly difficult. Also, differentiating is tough when so much of drama relies on group-work. However I think this will get easier as I get to know my groups, hopefully I will just start to see how different students need to work.


October 25, 2011

Week 6 – Break Time!

Very odd week this week; two days in one school, one day in another and then two days at university - I’ve been a teacher, a ‘visiting professional’, and a student. However, it has also been a good week; I feel I’ve got to know my new school a bit better, I met some more of the staff and got used to the staff room and met some more students. I got to work with a really interesting drama group on Wednesday and learnt a lot about dealing with mixed groups. Got to teach a mini lesson at uni on Thursday which I must say seemed to come very naturally, and that can only be a good thing. Had some exceedingly useful sessions at uni which once again made me think about things I previously hadn’t even begun to consider, such as how to interact with parents and how we can ease the pressure of the transition up from primary. And on top of all that, I saw an absolutely incredible piece of theatre. I was going to write a review of it, but I just don’t think I have words in my lexicon that could go anywhere near doing it justice. So just go and see Frantic Assembly’s Lovesong, it IS worth it.

But let us not get ahead of ourselves, it wasn’t all good this week; I did feel a little lost in school. I don’t mean this to sound as if I was wondering around whimpering, not knowing where to put myself, because that was not the case. It’s just entering a school as a complete novice is a tough thing to do, and when you are always introduced with ‘this is our new teacher: Mr. Smith’ it almost makes you think they must be talking about someone else. I’m not really sure who Mr. Smith actually is... and this caused me to have a slight flip out this week. I’m sure it will be fine and I will get used to it and every new PGCE student feels like this and it takes a while to get into it etc etc etc, but I can’t help worrying about it just that little bit.

All in all I am definitely ready for my half term break. In fact I have already been much enjoying my half term break (hence this post appearing a little later than usual).

So-

Do I feel like a teacher? Again, I had the opportunity to interact with some classes again this week, and I am ready to have a go. But I also think I am more nervous about it than I have felt before. It is closer hence it is more real, and I am feeling the pressure of responsibility.

Do I feel like a researcher? I have continued my masters research this week and I think I am coming along quite nicely with it. So yes, I suppose I really do feel like a researcher.

What am I worried about? Like I said, I am more worried about teaching than I have been previously. I think the main thing for me right now is just worrying if I will be any good. I think deep down I know I will do okay, but getting going is going to be a tough task.


October 16, 2011

Week 5 – The Big Lull…

Bit of a lull this week, I think we were all feeling it. Something about going back to uni after a week in school felt very anti-climactic. Not that I don’t enjoy uni; in fact in a session this week it transpired I am one of only a small minority who seem to value the information shared in university sessions and lectures. I think it was something to do with the timing; just as I felt I was starting to understand the school and how it worked, my time was up, and now I have to learn a new school. However, this is a feeling I’m sure I will have to get used to, as over the next decade or so I’m likely to experience a myriad of different schools.

Talking about new schools, I got to see my first placement school this week, and already I think I might just adore it. Granted I have only been there for one day and not done any real teaching there, but it feels comfortable. For one the staff are lovely, which can only be a good thing; but the school buildings are also stunning and so well equipped. It just all seems to come together to create a nice atmosphere, and that is exactly the kind of environment I want for my first experiences of proper teaching.

Other than the excitement of all that, a few other important things happened to me this week. Thanks to Victoria’s crash course in grammar my English knowledge increased profusely. We had some sessions on assessment at KS4, and this really needs to be a focus area for me. At the moment I would feel so uncomfortable with marking work, so I need to a little practice. I made some progress with my masters assignment; I now have an area of enquiry and some books. Admittedly it did take a massive stress out to Rachel to get to this point, but no matter, I’m there. Also this week I had a bit of a ‘knock-back-down-to-earth’ moment. I can’t go into details as it is confidential to the school, but the school I was at deals with some students who have come from very difficult backgrounds. To be honest ‘difficult’ doesn’t even come close to describing what it must be like for some of these children. As we were talking about this I found myself thinking ‘it must be so awful for those kids’. But then I thought, ‘no; imagine how bad it would be if they didn’t have this school’. It really made me think about just how much responsibility we have as teachers; we really can make a big difference to people’s lives.

So-

Do I feel like a teacher? Well I had the opportunity to interact with some classes again this week, and I am definitely ready to do some teaching. More than that I am really looking forward to it. I must admit I was pretty anxious going into a school where I knew I would be teaching for the first time, but after being there I really am looking forward to teaching.

Do I feel like a researcher? After doing some reading around my masters idea I feel like I really am beginning a research project that means something. I definitely think it will improve my teaching, and hopefully it will allow me work with others in school to improve things together.

What am I worried about? As mentioned above, assessment I think is a weak point for me. I think it links into the responsibility issue; I have a responsibility to help students to do their best and I need to know I am judging them fairly.


October 15, 2011

REVIEW: Woyzeck on the Highveld

by Handspring Puppet Company, Warwick Arts Centre, 13/10.

Let me just start by saying that I am very picky with theatre and it takes a lot for me to like something. Consequently, I didn’t much like this piece. That said there were some absolutely stunning moments of it. The visuals were incredible; the animated projections of hand-drawn scenery were a fantastic way of tying the ‘sketchy’ puppets to their set. The set itself created some interesting ideas; its industrial brick-heavy construction contrasted with the animated views of rural South Africa, strengthening the contrast between scruffy African Woyzeck and his suited white middle-class boss. The choice to set the piece in South Africa rather than Buchner’s intended Germany was, for me, inspired. It gave a whole new take on the play’s themes of morals and social class. And all this without mentioning the puppets; which were, in a word, simply mesmerising. I lost count of the times I forgot I was watching puppets altogether; the performers made them truly come alive.

However, this is where Handspring should have stopped. Instead, they layered on lots of things which for me, didn’t work. For instance, the ‘ringleader’ character. I say ringleader, in actual fact he was just a slightly portly gentleman who shouted at the audience from time to time. For one, this broke the flow of the piece completely, but the bigger problem was that he played for laughs. His cheap gags and over-excited speech and movements were in complete disparity with the world of the puppets. A bigger problem though was the lack of development in the piece. Instead of watching a man descend into madness due to the loss of his lover and the pressures of his work, Handspring’s Woyzeck was crazy right from the get-go. He seemed to be already estranged from the other characters, rendering many of them pointless.

This was a fascinating piece with many wonderful moments that I thoroughly enjoyed, but its problems made it difficult to watch, and sad-to-say, difficult to like.


October 10, 2011

Week 4 – In a school and everything…

Blog entry a bit late this weekend due to a very busy and very lovely weekend (if you haven’t yet, check out the Herbert Gallery - c'est fantastique!).

Brilliant week this week: a whole week in school! It was great to experience what being a teacher is really like. Although I was only observing lessons, and occasionally helping out, I learnt so much about exactly what teachers have to deal with. As I learnt so much, I can’t really write about it all here, so here are some summary points:

  • Kids like stickers, no matter how old
  • Sometimes a bit of banter can save you from complete chaos
  • Being honest with students actually does work
  • Kids like fire
  • Just because kids behave in one lesson this by no means mean they will do so in others
  • If kids have phones, kids will use phones
  • Kids will listen 100 times better if you can relate your lesson to television
  • Always watch the ones at the back
  • Even the cockiest kids will get self-conscious about performing
  • Sometimes you will have to teach whole topics you don’t agree with
  • Year seven students will have next to no knowledge of drama

For me, one of the main things I learnt was not to worry so much about everything. Much of the good teaching I observed relied simply on a good relationship between teacher and student. I am sure this is by no means easy to create, but it would seem once this comes teaching can become more relaxed, and learning can happen almost without the students realising. Another big thing I realised was the importance of dealing with any misbehaviour quickly, without breaking the flow of your teaching. The amount of behaviour that was dealt with almost effortlessly with a few swift words from the teacher surprised me. I now just need to practice my ‘teacher voice’. I guess the other use of this week was that it reinforced everything I already thought would be important; things like questioning, variation, structure, a good plenary, ensemble and group work.

Do I feel like a teacher? Well I didn’t do a lot of teaching, but I definitely learnt a lot about what teachers have to do. Things like lesson planning, SOWs, middle-management roles and responsibilities, the curriculum, levels and marking now have more meaning to me. So no, I don’t feel like a teacher, but I do feel pretty ready to become one.

Do I feel like a researcher? Yes, I asked myself a lot of questions about my thoughts this week, trying to find an area of enquiry for my masters assignment that will actually matter for schools. I think I have one, the idea of cross-curriculum learning. To me it seems obvious that learning should happen across subjects, transferring skills and knowledge from one to another, strengthening learning by teaching from multiple perspectives. However this does not seem to happen in schools, so currently I think this is something I could write about.

What am I worried about? Not feeling experienced enough to teach. I think this is probably the worry that occupies most trainee teachers’ minds before entering their first placement, and it is definitely the one that is niggling at my noggin right now. I suppose all I can do is research and keep soaking up advice, and hope I can create that good teacher-student relationship sharpish!

Oh, and a big thank you to everyone who commented on last week’s debate. Watch this space for more debates coming soon.


October 02, 2011

Week 3 – Debate #1

Another week gone and another bundle of new knowledge gained. I have realised my beliefs are swaying me towards the constructivist model of teaching; creating a supportive environment where students can discover knowledge for themselves. I have learnt how much I value the idea of cross-curriculum learning. I passionately expressed my belief that all subjects are cross-curricular and teach skills that are essential and useful not only across the whole spectrum of education, but also in life outside of school. Until now I didn’t realise my strong feelings, but I really do think teachers should work together, cross-departmentally, to ensure the best for every student. I also now possess a much greater understanding of what an SOW looks like, thanks to Linda’s fantastic session in which we wrote one, without realising it, in about fifteen minutes. Big shout-out to Linda.

The two main focuses for this week were behaviour and assessment, so let us deal with them in turn. With behaviour I am very much about prevention. I want to aim for the idea that if you make your lesson interesting and varied enough you won’t have to deal with bad behaviour. Perhaps this is blinkered, but as much as I learn about behaviour, I think I will only know how to deal with it when I do actually have to deal with it. But as my lessons are all going to be so wonderfully interesting and extensively varied, I’m sure it won’t come to that...

Assessment was spoken about a lot this week, and I’ll be honest at first I didn’t understand why. I knew we had to do it, but it was just a quick test or an essay every now and then right? Not at all. After thinking about it I realised that assessment is almost everything we do as teachers. It helps our students learn, it helps us learn; and the ability to self assess, to assess others, and to be comfortable with others assessing you is perhaps the most important skill going. So I now understand the importance of AFL; I just need to think about how I can do it!

This week also presented the opportunity to watch two fantastic lessons; one from Mr. Neelands and one from Ms. Dickinson. It was great having examples of such fine teaching and such first-class lessons; I learnt so much by just being there. The variety of things you can do as a drama teacher is boundless; you can create so much from just a few lines from a play, or even a child’s story book!

Also had some instances of doing actual proper teacher things this week; a lesson plan, a speaking and listening activity, and an introduction to a text. They didn’t come easy, and there were definitely elements I’m not entirely sure would work, but according to others in the group my ideas were good. Talking things through with others certainly proved useful, suggesting improvements and alternatives and generally solving my problems. The point though is that I am doing these things, and that I can do them. I think my confidence in my teaching abilities is starting to build.

So-

Do I feel like a teacher? Again, not completely, but certainly more than last week. My confidence is really growing and I cannot wait to hopefully get some real classroom experience next week.

Do I feel like a researcher? Not so much this week actually; masters assignments kept getting mentioned and I have absolutely no idea what to look at for mine. I think this has slightly hindered my development as a researcher. SO this is definitely something I need to consider next week.

What am I worried about? Well, actually not much this week. Little things like coping with planning lessons and assessing work, but nothing major. Saying that I am worried about the responsibility of assessing students, but I have lots of time to practice this.

To end this week’s post, I’m going to set up a debate. The question is: do you point out every mistake? To explain; imagine you are an English teacher who has just given a lesson on punctuation. A student hands you his work to mark, and the punctuation is spotless, but it is littered with spelling mistakes. Do you point out all of the spelling mistakes? When we discussed this in a seminar there were some good arguments for both sides, and I’m not entirely sure what I think, so please comment with your thoughts and get involved. I look forward to hearing your thoughts.


September 25, 2011

Week 2 – a BIG week

Week 2 is done, and oh boy was it a long one-

I realised this week that learning is a lot more complicated than I had thought. I had never considered how we learn information; turns out many people have, and they all seem to have come up with something different. Obviously this is something I need to consider as a teacher; I do sort-of-a-bit want my students to learn something. Although I have only been introduced to these theories, I feel I have a better understanding of learning, and I see how it can impact teaching.

I also learnt about teaching approaches. When asked to think about it, I much prefer the collaborative approach, with lots of interactive activities. I would like to give my students the chance to have some control over their own learning, so we learn together as a group, discovering things together through a range of different activities. However, no teaching approach exists in isolation; different activities, students, topics, classes, lessons and timetable slots often warrant different approaches, and this is what really interested me. The skill is being able to utilise each approach, at the right time, to maximise learning. Or, as my tutor put it; “embrace the wonkiness”, which I think may be one of my favourite quotes ever!

As well as my teaching approach, I was asked to consider my ideal classroom, and to design it. Unfortunately, despite my best efforts, this did end up worryingly close to Mr. G’s room in Summer Heights High. But hey, what is so wrong with bean bags? [http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z_qh3urEOK8 - just in case you missed it-]

This week also provided us with a whistle-stop-tour of lesson planning, and I was certainly led into a minefield there. At the current moment terms like ‘SOW’, ‘outcome’, ‘APP’, ‘objective’, ‘AF’ and ‘plenary’ send me into a state of moderate panic. Assessment and marking were also added to the mix. Again: minefield. The same terms cropped up, and they caused the same panic. This is something I am really going to have to take some mulling time over; there is just so much to think about. However, and this is a big however, before this week I had never really even heard these terms, so I must have learnt something right?

Probably the most important thing that happened this week was my first day in a school as a trainee teacher. I did no teaching, and only observed two lessons, but this is not to downplay the day’s importance. I have been in schools observing lessons before, but it suddenly felt more real having my badge say ‘PGCE’ not just ‘visitor’. What did I learn? Well, going from a year 7 lesson straight into a sixth form lesson, I realised the huge amount of life I will be responsible for as a secondary teacher. I always knew I was training to teach children aged 11-18, but actually seeing the two extremes next to each other, and realising the vastness of that age gap, I must admit it shook me. Despite this, the day was a massive confidence boost. Although I didn’t actually do any teaching, I found myself sitting there thinking of things I would do if I were teaching the lesson; approaches, activities and exercises I would use, questions I would ask. I am beginning to think like a teacher!

So, for this second week:

Do I feel like a teacher?

More than last week certainly. In fact when I think about it, it’s amazing how much I’ve learnt in a week. I still don’t know all that much about the intricacies of lesson planning or marking work or assessing students’ progress, but that will come with practice. The important thing is that when I was in school I was able to think like a teacher, and I am just raring to have a bash at it.

Do I feel like a researcher?

Yep. And I love it. I seem to have found a new fascination with education theory; learning about learning theories and being taught about teaching approaches has been really interesting, and I look forward to keeping doing so.

What am I worried about?

Two main worries for this week; English knowledge (a little less than last week after a session on it, but it still is something I need to work on) and knowing enough to be able to judge students’ performance. I realised just how much you have to think about when marking work and charting progress, and I very much not prepared for this yet.

So that’s it; hopefully a slightly more relevant post this week, and I think a more positive one. I must admit I did flip-out a little on Friday, but I’m over it now. All in all a great week this week.

Oh, and hi mum.


September 19, 2011

Week 1 – Greetings

Well hello there-

(Whoever you may be, preferably not just my mum...)

I have been given a blog and I feel I need to make use of it. Never having ‘blogged’ before, in fact having never really even posted a status on facebook, I am at a bit of a loss for what to say. As I have been given this little electronic-virtual-thought-space as part of my PGCE, it should be a place for me to reflect on my training year, so let’s start with that.

Week 1: well I have rebranded myself almost successfully. Those of you who knew me before this whole teacher training shebang will notice the title of this blog is a name to which I was previously much averse. Please do not panic, I am simply preparing myself for the professional world, where introducing yourself with ‘aw reeght, I’m Smith’ is not really acceptable. So Christopher it is, and Mr. Smith it shall be. Highlights of this week; I was told by my fellow trainee Tim that my jacket, shirt and jeans complemented each other very pleasantly. In a week of being bombarded with information this little nugget of positivity cheered me up immensely, so a big shoutout to Tim, keep up the good work. My other, slightly more relevant highlight would be the fact that I have learnt a hell of a lot. Already I feel I have an infinitely better idea of what being a teacher means. I feel particularly inspired by the kind of teacher I am being encouraged to be; one who continues to learn, who teaches according to what he believes, who is involved in the wider teaching community, who is not only an expert craftsmen but an academic. As for what this means for me, well I have some questions:

Do I feel like a teacher? No. That is the short answer. The longer answer is, I suppose: no, not yet. This week has been great, it really has. I feel like I now have a clear idea of what I need to do to become a teacher. Unfortunately, none of it has happened yet.

Do I feel like a researcher? I suppose I do. That may be a bit naive considering I have only really done one-and-a-bit research tasks and read a few chapters of some teaching books, but it has only been a week. I have learnt a lot from the research I’ve done; about the importance of being reflective, about successful planning, about my beliefs and values, about the importance and relevance of the industry I am about to enter.

What am I worried about? Lots. More than lots. Almost everything. English grammar, discipline, remembering people’s names, sounding knowledgeable, sounding professional, looking professional, being too young, being too sarcastic, being too jovial, etc, etc, etc. As it has only been the one week, I am not going to let this get to me. In fact if I’m honest I am itching to get into a school. I feel like it’s school sports day and I’ve just been given a javelin for the first time; all I want to do is go and throw it. Besides, teachers never stop learning anyway right?

So that is my reflection on week 1. As this goes on I hope to gain more of a feel for this ‘blogging’ malarkey, and hopefully provide some more interesting and in depth reflections. But for now, thanks for reading, mum.


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