Outstanding Confidence In A Week: Teach Yourself
I was called for interview at a boys' grammar school in another region, of course where I had applied with the vague fantasy that it would suit me to work in a school with a strong academic bias and traditional ethos. I think I made up my mind very quickly that I didn't want to work there: a dingy entrance hall and reception area looked onto an equally dark and musty school hall full of fidgety boys assembled before a droning headmaster. As I loitered in the entrance hall waiting to be met, a bunch of boys barged past me to sign in late before shuffling into assembly.
The whole place smelled of testosterone — not in an attractive way, but in an unbalanced, festering adolescent sort of a way.
Needless to say, I did not like the school and the school did not like me. I found the questioning very hostile — particularly from the head — and we were not given any opportunity to see the department although we met some of the English teachers who were perfectly friendly or to ask questions about the NQT year and how we would be supported.
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On that basis alone I would not have taken the job, so was relieved to be rejected at the last post. I was given the feedback that I seemed reserved, serious and humourless during the interview process and that they felt concerned at my ability to relate to children. I know that I don't come across as bubbling with enthusiasm if I don't feel comfortable, so I take their point that I did not give of my best on the day.
However, I do think there was a certain amount of projection going on psychologically speaking , because this runs counter to most of the feedback I have been given on all my teaching so far. It was quite hurtful to be given feedback in those terms by senior staff with such a glaring lack of emotional intelligence that I wondered at their ability to function in the adult world.
I was left saddened by a school that felt depressed, whose students seemed inert and passive, and was glad to get out. Another week of interviews led me to a very different environment for my next possible job. My second interview was at a school that has a radically different intake from the boys' grammar school. It is a large Roman Catholic comprehensive that serves the most deprived part of the city where I live. The pros: 15 minutes from my house; not such a results-driven school, so less exam stress and marking; a colourful and challenging environment.
The cons: challenging kids; iffy recent Ofsted report; very different atmosphere from my two placement schools. I've been talking extensively to friends and colleagues about the realities of working in tough, urban schools. The challenges presented by the students are enormous, but the rewards are also very different. Managing behaviour can be an almost insurmountable task; but, as one of my colleagues told me, in these schools there is a powerful sense of camaraderie among the staff, and you can build some life-changing relationships with students for whom school represents a safe haven in an otherwise chaotic life.
I am not a missionary, and I recognise that anything I can offer will only make the tiniest impact. When I was interviewed on Monday I was impressed by the down-to-earth friendliness of the staff that I encountered, and I was also taken by the rather idiosyncratic feeling of the whole place. I was called again for interview on Friday and met the head teacher, and I immediately warmed to her.
She seemed firm but compassionate, and I have to say that all the heads I have come across to date have seemed to me either business-like number crunchers or bullies. This was quite a refreshing contrast, and I was offered the job on the spot. I ruminated on the offer overnight, and decided to go for it.
I feel excited, but also apprehensive about exactly what I have let myself in for Now that the job's in the bag I've been able to concentrate once again on those teaching skills that seem to have so impressed my interviewers! Last weekend was spent deep in contemplation about the pros and cons of this job, but I decided to take it and now feel relieved and secure in the knowledge that as of July this year I will be a fully paid-up member of the non-student fraternity of tax payers.
This has been the most difficult part of the year by far: increased teaching load; endless assignments; interviews; general emotional stress several of our course couples are on the rocks During the last two weeks of the placement I was at last able to breathe a little and put my feet up for a day or two. I went to a different school for two weeks of Key Stage 5 practice, which comprised teaching English at A level and as part of the International Baccalaureate.
I taught a mixture o f English literature and English language, including a bit of Shakespeare, contemporary poetry and linguistics. Having studied to doctoral level all this stuff is like a dream to me, and I really felt that I could spread my wings and get stuck into some higher-level teaching. Many young teachers understandably feel somewhat insecure about the level of knowledge needed to teach A level, but for me it's the younger ones that present the biggest challenge. A couple of weeks of calm, discussion-based teaching was just what I needed by the end of the placement.
I now have a weekend in Norway and a couple of weeks pottering around my allotment to look forward to, so will fill you in on how the butternut squash seeds are doing next week. Our last placement finished long before Easter and we have been fortunate enough to enjoy one of those implausibly long university breaks involving little bits of work and lots of displacement activities. With another two weeks before our third and final placement it is now getting to the stage where I'm worried that I will have forgotten everything I learnt on the last placement, and that it will be back to square one with new classes and new challenges.
Still, at least my ski goggle marks will have faded enough for me to not look utterly ridiculous on my return to school. I've had plenty of time over the vacation to return to the earth, planting up a little herb garden in my new house and putting in potatoes, red onions, shallots, garlic and beans in my allotment. The only remote bit of action on the PGCE front apart from the assignments that are more boring still than news from the allotment is that we all had a visit to a special school this week.
We all went to different places — ranging from autism units within mainstream schools to pupil referral units for children with extreme behavioural difficulties, and schools for severely disabled children. A common theme running through our conversations afterwards was how relaxed and happy the teachers seemed compared to in mainstream schools. The main differences are that special schools have no pressure to produce good exam results, and that they deal with very small class sizes — sometimes on a basis with students.
This gave many of us food for thought in terms of our options later on in our careers, and reminded us that there are loads of different options for us all. This week is something of a transition for us on the PGCE course.
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We're just penning the finishing touches to our last assignment, due in on Friday, and today was our first day back in school on our third and final placement. For me and most of my colleagues, this means that we're back in the same school as last time.
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Some people have third placements in a different school, as the last one is meant to take into account your need to address the QTS standards that have to be met before you qualify as a teacher. In theory we're supposed to be placed in two or three very different schools, but the reality seems to be that matching placement schools to students with a means to transport themselves to them is a very difficult task. I got off lightly with a 45 minute drive to school — a number of students on the course have to travel more than an hour each way.
Some of us are dreading the prospect of six more weeks of long commutes, and at this point in the year people are counting down the weeks and looking forward to a 'proper' salary. Not much will be changing for me on this placement: I'll be acquiring a lively year 9 group and otherwise teaching the same timetable. More interesting for me this week was laying hands on my own school reports after fifteen years or so. It all reads rather like a horror story, and there are some parts where I wonder whether the teachers actually confused me with another pupil 'talent and commitment' in drama and 'flair and enthusiasm' in music strike me as particularly suspicious.
In English, alas, I was guilty of 'incessant chatter'. Still, it was interesting to get some insight into how it was to teach me, and to gain a little understanding of the stages some of my own students will go through on their way into the adult world. This week I have been truly thrown back into the lions' den with my classes. The teachers we're working with are, understandably, now expecting us to work completely autonomously and with a slightly bigger teaching load. I have taken on a year 9 class who find it very difficult to keep quiet, and I'm back with year 7 giving me grief on Wednesday afternoons.
There is a lot of talk around about how the weather and the time of day affect student behaviour, and from what I can work out it's all about extremes: snow, wind, heavy rain and hot sunshine are a recipe for excitement. Anything else means more or less subdued classes and perhaps a quieter working atmosphere. The response I've had from my classes has varied dramatically from open rudeness and hostility from year 11 boys to squeals of excitement from my lovely year 8 class and a friendly welcome back from year Despite the grind of the difficult classes, it has been truly rewarding to be able to build on the relationships gradually built over the course of the last placement.
It is now giving me a hint of how it feels to have worked hard to establish yourself with classes and to see them really flourish as a result.
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This term I'm able to do a whole unit of work on drama with year 8 with the students acting out scenes from a play in every lesson. This seems to really bring plays alive for students, and allows them to put into practice what they are supposed to comment on in their essays.
So there's at least one class that gives me a lift at the end of the day, which along with the sunshine is keeping me happy. If you teach a bad lesson, you feel like a rubbish teacher until you teach another good one. With only a week to go until our next half term it felt like this week would never end. An extra class has given me another headache in terms of managing planning and behaviour, but also an extra boost and feeling of achievement when things go well.
I have found that as a new teacher indeed a temporary one you have to be really black and white about rules and consequences in order to have a hope of keeping order in a classroom of lively adolescents. This week this has left me with very ambivalent feelings about the kind of teacher I want to be. It's not nice being so strict with children, when you would never dream of being as direct or downright hostile to adults.
I feel like I'm the nasty one and not the popular one, but I'm told that in the long run kids actually appreciate people who keep good order — as long as they know that you care. Another important lesson I learnt — as a year 10 lesson during which they were supposed to be doing a timed essay unravelled alarmingly on Friday — is that you must make sure that the students feel confident enough to do the task. I got this one wrong, and thought that they could just do a timed essay without too much help they had done one before. They practically refused to do it, and my handle on the class was almost lost completely.
I retrieved the situation by suggesting we work on how to plan an essay, and almost immediately the atmosphere was transformed. I realised then that a class going well depends so much on the level at which the task is set, and it has to be appropriate to the majority of students in that class. This week has been a nice period of winding down — finishing off projects and slotting in the odd fun lesson before half term.
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It's been the usual rollercoaster of feelings from buoyant delight when a lesson goes well or a class is won over, to depression and overwhelming exhaustion at the thought of how much we still have to learn. My mentors have started to be really picky and critical in their feedback on my lessons — constructively so, but the pressure is nevertheless moving up a gear once more.
We do need this kind of feedback at this stage, because if we are let loose on classes on our own without adequate preparation things could unravel very seriously, very fast. Year 7 seem finally to have settled into the routine of me being their teacher. The battle of following through with sanctions on behaviour seems to be paying dividends: because I went to the effort of giving detentions, following school procedures on discipline and phoning parents at home the children know now where my boundaries lie.
My best experience this term has been picking up where I left off with year 8, who squealed with delight when I came back to teach them unlike Years 7 and 10, who groaned. I really appreciate being able to build on the positive relationships that were established during my first placement at the school. I have unexpectedly discovered that I love teaching drama having never been a luvvie , and these days year 8 come bounding through the door each lesson eager to learn and fighting over who is going to perform scenes from this term's class play.
There will also a drama competition the first week back after half term, so I have told year 8 in no uncertain terms that we will be the winners The summer term in school has been a really pleasant experience so far. It's not exactly that the teachers and students don't take things seriously any more, but it is as though a lot of the stress is somehow lifted from the school environment. Most GCSE work is now entirely in the hands of the students: we have done all we can for them.
I have to say that the past four weeks in school plus a lovely half term week, of course! I really feel like I have got the wind in my sails, and everything is beginning to come a little easier. I have relaxed somewhat about starting so early in the morning, and I feel that I can now fall back on some of the good relationships I have established with my classes.
Today I was observed by my university tutor, and his assessment of my teaching bore out my feelings in a number of ways. He was pleased to see me teach the same class he had observed back in February, and commented on how good my relationship had become with a class of students who had initially been very hostile.
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I'm now counting down the final ten days to qualification and finally feeling confident about starting my job in July. There is also the added bonus of school actually being a great place to be when the sun is shining. Registered in England No.
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Built by. Diary of a PGCE student. Week 1 — First week back on the course Last week was our first back at university after a leisurely, month-long Christmas break. Week 2 — All about behaviour management This week began with a final session in university to prepare for our second school placement.