Well it’s really one week in, as Monday and Tuesday last week were insets. I’ve taught five lessons so far and had my first lesson observed today. As I tweeted the other day:
By any standard, I’ve done well so far. I’ve settled into my new school, got to grips with the computer systems and the printers. I’ve got more familiar with the routines of the school and the ‘one-way system’ of traffic (though I’m pretty sure I gave a year 7 the wrong directions to the DT rooms this morning). Positive relationships with colleagues have been cultivated, with some success. Croissants have been eaten everyday (major risk of waist line expansion). And the teaching…
That’s been ok. Actually, better than ok. First of all, I haven’t fallen victim to the dreaded nerves. I have in the past fallen prey to trembling hands syndrome when presenting in front of a room of people. Not a hint of that this week. I credit my experience as a teaching assistant in a very challenging school last year for this degree of confidence. That experience conquered any fear I might have. I know these kids. I mean, I don’t know them well personally yet. But in a general way, I know these kids, I’ve got a feel for them. If they kick up or say something rude to me, I know it’s not personal. Most importantly, I’ve learned that they’ll appreciate it all the more if I give them boundaries and hold them to high expectations. So yes, it’s going well so far. I would add, that from where I’m sitting, a year working as a TA should be compulsory for anybody going into teaching. I know some PGCE courses accept two weeks’ experience in schools, but that is nowhere near enough. Something for ITT providers to think about?
There have been some challenges of course. Behaviour, as ever, is an issue. Out of the five lessons I’ve taught, only one group has been excellently behaved, which explains why we are already much further ahead than the other two year 7 classes I have. I’ve noticed that the size of the classroom makes a big difference. I taught a lesson in a science lab last week and the distance was so great between me at the front and the children sitting at the back, that the temptation to chat was just too irresistible. Dealing with that challenge is going to be one of my targets, and possibly the theme of one of my ‘evidence bundles’. I also teach a bottom set year 8 class, and predictably there too, behaviour is a big issue. I’ve found that trying to manage behaviour zaps some of the energy and focus I can put into actual teaching. How much more effective could I be if behaviour were impeccable?
My first lesson observation was with this bottom set year 8 class today, and as luck would have it, it was also the last lesson of the day. Of course, behaviour was challenging. I think I dealt with it alright – ‘MW effectively challenges and corrects behaviour’, says the observation report – though a further piece of feedback was that I should think about how to ensure that students settle into the lesson more quickly. I also got a rap on the knuckles for not stating the lesson objective clearly.
On balance, I’m pleased with how it’s all gone so far, but yet I’m also aware of how far short I am from my own expectations. I can manage a class and cover the material in the scheme of work. That’s not the big issue. What I really really want to do though, is actually make a substantial impact on learning and progress. I know in my head where I want to get to, but putting it into practice is not so easy. Hopefully, that will begin to come together over the next few weeks and months. I guess it’s only because I have such high expectations of myself that I am a little disappointed with what is otherwise a perfectly creditable start to teaching.
Some final points. I know I go on about behaviour a lot, but that is because I’m more convinced than ever of how critical it is. I have experienced first-hand what a difference it makes to my teaching when behaviour is good. Why is it the bottom set are also the worst behaved? There is a correlation there. There are some students (though not all) in that bottom set I teach who are perfectly capable of achieving good grades. They are semi-literate because of their behaviour, not because they were born with some particular learning deficiency. If I were a school leader, I would put behaviour at the very top of my priorities. The schools that have prioritised behaviour are also, unsurprisingly, the ones achieving great results. So I cheered on Barry Smith this week, the new head of Great Yarmouth Academy, for laying down the behaviour gauntlet, just as I was disheartened to see the usual suspects lay in to him. If ever we were to move up to the eastern coast of England, I would join the line of teachers wanting to work for him.