11. My Favourite Part of the School Day

I have two moments in the day which are my favourite. I love to get in early, and it’s a lovely quiet start to the day. Especially in winter, I like to go in and get a coffee whilst my computer boots up, then snuggle in my desk corner and catch up on emails and open presentations for the day. I also like it when my form group come in early and have little chats with me. I love these little 1:1s and I really feel like this had improved my relationship with my form no end.

My other favourite time is that moment when the last child in the the last lesson of your day leaves the room and you get that few seconds of silence before the meetings and the admin begins. I am fortunate enough to have a soundproof classroom door and the contrast of kids talking and utter silence is a beautiful thing at the end of a full day. I often had Y7 or Y8 at the end of a day too, which seems to make the maximum difference.

What’s your favourite moment of the school day? Thanks for stopping by!

6. What Does a Good Mentor Do?

I am going to come back to number 5 and my classroom makeover, as it is still a work in progress!

I have been a mentor to both adults and children this year, but I am going to focus on being a children’s mentor in this post. I don’t know whether it was because I was lucky in having a fabulous NQT, but I found being an NQT mentor a fairly straightforward and very rewarding job. Being a mentor to my form class has, on the other hand, been a much more rocky road.

I was a Year 7 mentor this year, and my form class were a mixed bag. There were plenty of model students, students who were academically excellent, students who tried their best and needed a little help academically (in a variety of contexts), and students with behavioural challenges. I started the year as a new teacher and it soon became apparent my form were going to make or break me. I am not saying for a second that I have cracked it, and we have a looong way to go, but if you have a class like this and are looking for something new to try then maybe some of this may help.

Treat them as individuals

My form is made up of 27 individuals, and without hesitation I could recite their names and talk about them for at least a few minutes each. I know some of them respond to a good shouting, and some need a gentle talk and a sense of disappointment from me for a punishment to hit home. I know favourite subjects, struggling subjects, context galore and friendship dramas. This is what most form teachers will know about their students. I have really found it invaluable to have this information, because it allows me to approach things from a new angle. I am also really fortunate to have fortnightly 1:1 sessions on my timetable, so once a fortnight I have an hour to make appointments with my form members. I usually work through the register, but if I know an incident has occurred I can call any significant individuals to see me too. This really fosters the relationship and has helped when dealing with any issues.

A great example from my lot is Welsh. Most of my students are EAL, so Welsh is a massive struggle as a subject. Lots try, but some would rather mess around than try and fail. It constantly crops up as a problem area on the class report and the same students get detentions all the time.

I am fortunate in that I speak Welsh, so when the notorious students attended their double up detentions (see below) I used that time to teach some conversational Welsh one to one and then get them to teach me something. Some taught me some conversational phrases in their own language. Some taught me some origami, or how to stand best when throwing a javelin. They then had the challenge of getting a merit in Welsh before I saw them for their 1:1 session again. This worked well in the short term and really built up the relationship between me and the students. Long term, they started to lose the focus again. But, with repetition, I think it could have some impact.

Aside from this, recognising the good students when the class get told off is really important. It hurts to be tarnished with the same brush as your classmates when you are always trying your best, so at every possible opportunity I make it clear I know lots of students are doing well and I am pleased with them.

Treat them as a team

Whilst treating them as individuals is essential and is what everyone will tell you is the key to teaching or mentoring, what I have found works just as well is treating them as a team. A dressing down is given extra impact when students are told they are letting each other down and they don’t respect their friends Realistically, they don’t care too much about upsetting you, but upsetting their mates can have far more disastrous consequences. Similarly, celebrating success as a team, even the smallest of things (like a merit in Welsh) brings the team together, so they want to let each other down even less.

There was a lovely moment where one of my students got his merit in Welsh. He really struggled with the subject and tried to hide rather than go to class on more than one occasion. I had told the whole class about his challenge, and said that they had to help him out as a team. When he got it, they all rushed to form to tell me, so excited for him as they were. We all waited for him to arrive and gave him a standing ovation. He was so happy he cried. He was mortified, of course, because it was totally not cool for something like that to happen, but he knew in that moment everyone was on his side. I have found, undoubtedly, mentoring my form as a team and a collective is as important as nurturing them individually.

Be real

I am strict with my form. We have rigid routine and a double up policy: They get a detention and they serve another with me. They get a praise card and they get a card or a call home from me. We are formal and almost military. But we also have a laugh. I tell them about my day and they tell me about theirs. I joke around with them. I dab behind some of them and then deny it vehemently, leaving a furious debate raging as to whether it actually happened. I talk about the big things: racism, sexism, terrorism. I am open when I don’t know things or make mistakes. I tell them when I learn from them. I tell them when I am tired or stressed, and say they should be mindful of other teachers or students who may feel the same. I don’t know if this would work with an older form, but they seemed to respect this a lot. It was really enjoyable to learn things from them about their cultures and beliefs, and I feel I have shown them genuine respect by doing so.

Next steps

They are not perfect. No way. But, in a way, I like that. I really do have a sense of responsibility and a sort of love towards them. We have the basics now, and they are fully aware of my expectations. In this academic year, I hope to continue all of the above and to now build some restorative justice into the mix. They really want to do well but struggle a lot, and relationships between them and classroom teachers are not all great. So, I am introducing ‘thank a teacher’ day and teacher praise postcards. We are going to set targets and track them as a class and make sure we thank other students and teachers whenever we can. Hopefully, by getting them to focus on the positive moments of the week, they can see how good they are and want more of them. It’s a gamble, but worth a try.

What strategies do you use as a mentor? Do you have any strategies to share? Let me know, and thanks for stopping by!

 

4. What I Love the Most About Teaching

This is a tricky question to concisely answer. My love for teaching did not stem from a desire to do the job; I spent a lot of my childhood wanting to be either a doctor, an artist or an astronaut. I realised in university I wanted to lecture or teach in some capacity, but I didn’t think I was particularly good with children or had the skills to do it. Lecturing it was.

I then moved to Oxford and worked in a bank for a little while. I’ll be honest – I hated it. It paid well and I got to travel with a fancy suit and stay in hotels, but it was just soul destroying. I didn’t realise until I did it how much I was not cut out for a job like that. I started looking for other ones that allowed me to go and see my family for Christmas, as my current position meant that was not a possibility. An opening was available at a local secondary school for a cover supervisor. It was only at the interview I realised how much I wanted the job and enjoyed the school atmosphere.

I got the job and worked doing cover for about three months. I loved it. It was hard at times, and there were some tricky students, but I loved every second. Within the first fortnight I was researching PGCE options, but it wasn’t looking good. I was considering going back to university and self funding a teaching qualification when I was asked to cover maternity for the second in English, teaching English and Film Studies. I jumped at the opportunity, even though I knew it was more because I was cheap than my skill that got me the position. Then a wonderful woman called Eluned worked magic and landed me an interview with School Direct. In return for covering maternity and taking on the extra planning and marking, I would be trained on the job and even sent on subject knowledge lectures to boost my employability and get me some masters credits.

Fast forward three years and I am fully qualified with a TLR for KS3, working in a fabulous school in Wales. I cannot think of a better job to be doing, and this is where my answer to the above question comes in after a rambling life history lesson.

I love teaching because it is different every day. I love watching a child ‘get it’. I love the constant stream of hilarious anecdotes you can share with colleagues. I love the genuine emotion when I hear a colleague talking about a lesson, good or bad. I love creating resources or trying out new ideas and having a conversation about learning with learners. I love honing my craft of teaching every day, using social media to gain new perspectives.

As for being an English teacher? I love the young people who knock on my door half an hour before school starts because they wrote the next chapter of their manuscript, or read a book they cannot wait to talk about. I love making inside jokes from The Hunger Games or Harry Potter and seeing the pride in the quiet kids’ faces that they get it. I love recommending a book to a student and watching them become immersed in it. I love the creativity they show and feel privileged to be in a position to nurture it. I love seeing the pride in a student’s face as they see the progress they have made. I love when my eyes are barely open during a ‘past my bedtime’ marking session and I see a student has spelled a word correctly, or edged into the next level, or just tried their absolute best. I love being someone a student feels comfortable talking to about issues or just about their weekend or hobby. I love sharing my subject with them and watching them laugh at my stupid voices or insane enthusiasm whenever YA books, apostrophes or sentence structures are mentioned.

Yes, the job is tough, the hours are long and the pressures are enormous. There are days I question why I do this. But them I think about everything above. That’s why I do this. Because I love teaching.

Apologies for the rambling answer! What do you love most about teaching? If you are not a teacher, what do you love about your job? Thanks for stopping by!

3. An ‘Observation’ Area to Improve on

I feel all areas of my practice could be improved upon, as I constantly need new methods to cater to new classes. Observations themselves, however, are something I really struggle with. I pull myself to pieces and work myself up until I am certain I am going to be fired as soon as my observer steps through the door. I want to work on this. Observations are meant to be constructive, and I’m fortunate enough to be in a department where they are definitely just that. I want to work on my mindset and use a more open door policy with my peers this year, and hopefully my mindset will shift and view observations as a positive thing.

What open door policies do you guys have in your departments? How do you deal with observations? Let me know, and thanks for stopping by!

2. Technology in the Classroom

Something I really want to utilise this year is the opportunities 1:1 technology in our school offers. It’s easy to brush technology to one side in English; after all, you don’t need a computer to learn reading and writing, right? But the thing is, we are training young people to go out and function effectively in the real world as working adults. And, in most jobs, communicating effectively with technology is an integral part of the day to day requirements.

Now, I’m not saying we should abandon pen and paper. I am a massive advocate of traditional methods, and am a proud owner of a paper planner and a guzzilllion Post-it notes in a paperless school. I do calligraphy, for crying out loud. But I also know the value of using online communication and the value of teaching with it. Our students use the internet to communicate every day. They use word processors, presentation software, email clients and social media to function. Tapping into this as a teacher is valuable for both parties.

So. This year I plan to get students blogging and vlogging. I plan to get them creating print and audio-visual media and considering how to make them effective. I even plan on doing a whole unit dedicated to generating an interactive e-magazine. I also plan to document it on Twitter and think about what works and what doesn’t when using the students’ iPad minis. Hopefully we will see an increase in creative writing engagement, an awareness of why correct grammar and syntax is important, and some enthusiasm for English which seems more vocational and tangible in terms of links to the workplace. I’ll keep you posted!

What are your technology based goals for this year? Are you thinking of setting up social media for your department? Are you using technology successfully? Share your ideas and links down below, and thanks for stopping by!

Day 1: Goals for the School Year

What a way to start a challenge! I have thought a lot about my teaching over the summer and have a few things I want to change for the new year. This is the first time I have been in a school for a second full year, so I know the systems well and what works for the students and for me.

Establishing Routines

I know my classes and know the systems and pressure points in the year, so establishing routines from the first day is really important for me. Last year, I worked with the goal of learning, reflecting and coping with the year’s demands. This worked, but it meant things were established in the classroom and dropped or neglected a couple of months down the line. Rather than trying to do everything, I am going to work on the basis of doing the basics really well. I will have a marking schedule (which I already know will never work out, but I can try!), a feedback system and a homework schedule. Spending some time setting these up over the summer should save me some headaches when we go back. I hate to admit it, but I know I neglected one or two homework deadlines last year, and that took its toll on my time when I was marking stragglers’ pieces rather than moving on.

I’m also going to be  using the awesome ‘5 a day’ starter idea  that has been circulating on Twitter. The routine really appeals to me, and for my lower set Y10s will hopefully build confidence and retention.

Extra Curricular

I set up the Creative Writing Group last year, and whilst it was a success in some respects, I feel some aspects of it could be refined further. I hope to introduce non-fiction writing and journalism into the group and hopefully have it as a more holistic writing group. I also hope to use blogs more to showcase the writing and publicise it on social media.

I am also aiming to run and hold a Media Excellence Awards (MEAs) ceremony at the end of the year. We are a technologically advanced school and using that technology for creative means is something I am really passionate about. Students will be able to create film scores, short films, music videos and film posters, entering them for acting, directing, cinematography and a whole host of other awards. I am hoping we can get the hall set up in true Hollywood style, and will be hoarding trophies and decorations all year. I will be posting more updates on how this pans out later this term, as I plan to launch it at the start of November.

Social Media

We have a Twitter account, Youtube channel and blog as a department, along with a Media Studies channel and blog I run solo. I want to utilise these even more this year and encourage students to create their own blogs we can then share via these channels. It’s tough to find the time to do this stuff, but by allocating some PPA time each week I hope to keep on top of all of them. Getting students to create blog content also aids with literacy and creativity, so everyone’s a winner.

Balance

I look in the mirror at the end of the summer holidays and see some one who is well rested, well fed and relaxed. I know I feel good in myself and have taken the time to exercise, to reflect and be mindful. I am cynical about some of this stuff, but I know I think and work better when I am like this. At the end of a school term I don’t look like this. I look more tired, older and less…well. In short, I look burnt out. I do find it very hard to switch off in the holidays and rarely do for more than a couple of days, but I really want to work on this in the new school year to ensure I can give my all to the job when it matters, ie. when I’m stood in front of my classes. I know my mind will drift to work if I don’t give it anything else to do, so I’m making sure that I maintain exercising in some form every day (yoga, boxercise and running) to give my mind a chance to switch off, even if only for 15 minutes or so. I’m also getting back into illustration after taking a little break. I find when I am painting my mind switches off, so it seems like something therapeutic I can do of an evening. I want to try out watercolour and botanical illustration specifically, so I’ve been looking at inspiration on Instagram and Pinterest to prepare for that. Hopefully this plus some long baths with meditation will help me maintain my balance.

 

So they are my goals for the new year! What are your goals? Is there something really new you want to try out? Let me know, and share your goals or posts below. Thanks for stopping by!

Reflective Teaching Blogging Challenge

To kick off the new year, I thought I would attempt a blogging challenge. I am notoriously bad at these, so don’t hold out too much hope, but if anyone wants to join in then link your posts down below or under the relevant post so we can share ideas!