Books you should buy before Summer Institute

In my bid to start organising my final portfolio this Easter holiday, I have uncovered my rather battered looking Subject Knowledge Audit. Written, in my salad days, prior to ever having written a PGCE essay, taught a lesson or generally having any idea what was in store for me, it is a bit of an embarrassing document. With this in mind I thought that it might be handy to pull together a list of books that are by no means definitive, but will definitely give you a good starting point for Summer Institute. Voila:

(In no particular order!)

1. Learning to Teach in the Primary School

Arthur and Cremin: Routledge (2010)

It’s recommended by the tutors of a reason folks. Don’t read it cover to cover but make a hit list. I’d say differentiation and AFL would be very good places to start.

2. Mindset: How You Can Fulfil Your Potential

Dweck: Robinson (2012)

A good book to get you thinking about your vision, values and creating a positive classroom environment. It will come in handy for the Reflective Journal Assignments (RJAs)

3. Teach Like a Champion

Lemov: Jossey Bass (2010)

Although, this book was a bit of a joke for poor Oliver in Tough Young Teachers, it actually contains a lot of bread and butter AFL techniques. It’s really good for getting a sense of how to apply a lot of the strategies you will be learning about at S.I. into your own classroom and there is a handy DVD with lots of clips of teachers in action.

4. Talk for Writing Across the Curriculum

Corbett & Strong: OUP (2011)

This is my favourite teaching book! The children love Talk for Writing and it’s probably the reason why I love teaching literacy so much. This particular book helps you get to grips with all the different text-types you’ll need to teach across the curriculum and includes handy banks of language features. Again, you get a lovely little DVD so you can watch the strategies in action. There are also lots of other Talk for Writing books which I wholeheartedly recommend!

5. The Behaviour Guru

Bennett: Continuum (2010)

Nothing is actually going to prepare you for children and their weird and wonderful sense of mischief. Tom Bennett does make me smile though. Go in with the knowledge that you are not the first and you won’t be the last teacher to deal with all kinds of bizarre behaviour!

6. Critical Incidents in Teaching

Tripp: Routledge (2011)

You are going to need a reflective model for your RJA assignments. This is my personal favourite. It’s easy to connect with your weekly journal musings and one of the more digestible models. A good investment.

7. Success Against the Odds

Wigdortz: Short Books (2012)

It’s good to get a little context about Teach First before you start. Will also help you to think up some questions incase you bump into Brett at Summer Institute.

I am sure I’ll think of a few more to add over the next couple of weeks. Signing up to the TES is also a good idea. As a student you’ll get a free introductory subscription so it’s definitely worth a look!

 

 

 

 

Are you going to stay in the classroom next year?

This week marks another check-point for many trainee teachers. We are half way through the year and one step closer to qualifying. Inevitably, people are starting to think about next year, and one question seemed to bounce around the corridors of the IOE at our last professional development day: are you going to stay in the classroom next year?

For the large majority the answer was a resounding yes.  However, I can’t help but worry about the years beyond that. This week the DfE told us that primary school teachers in state schools are working nearly 60 hour weeks, however, for myself, many of my colleagues and my peers this is definitely a conservative estimate and it is definitely taking its toll. Even working ridiculous hours we are time-poor, never having enough time to plan the lessons we wish we could teach, time to rest, time to spend with our families and time to continue to learn. Alongside this comes fear: fear that we are not modelling the right attitudes to our pupils and fear that our stress is to their detriment.

Already I have noticed how tired my cohort is looking after only six months on the job. One of the great advantages of classroom based initial teacher training is that much of your learning comes from observing experienced teachers in action. It is the advice and support of our colleagues that has given many of us the determination to succeed,  but with this privilege also comes experiences of the darker side of the profession. We also see teachers, who love their jobs, corroded by years of pressure, a poor work-life balance and ill health. The government asks new graduates why they are not attracted to careers in teaching but if they really want to elevate the status of the profession they first need to address the wellbeing of qualified teachers.

Hearing my friends talk about all that they want to achieve next year, I am confident that they have the motivation and passion to be brilliant teachers but the longevity of their careers depends largely on a shift in attitudes towards teaching. Burn-out is a very real possibility because quite simply primary teachers across the profession are working too much and nobody is stepping up to address the issue in the right way.

Politicians argue that in order to encourage bright people to stay in the profession incentives, such as performance pay and fast-tracked career progression, are key. However, from the floor this is just not the case. In the past weeks not once have I heard a trainee complain about these factors when considering whether to stay in the profession. Wellbeing, health and morale, however, are big factors for many of us.

Flash Back: Term 1

Having been M.I.A from the world of blogging for a couple of months and amusingly finding a blog today that I have been featured in, entitled, ‘Whatever happened to…’ (Cf. http://teachingbattleground.wordpress.com/2013/12/17/whatever-happened-to/) I feel that I should probably account for the past few months.

No,  I have not been abducted by Credite Suisse. PWC have not come knocking and I have no desire to find out what a management consult is, let alone become one.  I also haven’t been ejector-seated out of the classroom after facing the terrifying reality of the teaching profession in 2014. The reason for my absence is purely that I have been working, and when I haven’t been working I’ve been writing essays, reflections and review evidence. Unfortunately, all that reflection has made the prospect of blogging seem slightly less appealing. However, for posterity’s sake I do not want this chunk of my TF experience to pass undocumented, so I thought I would share a few things I have learned in my first term.

1. There will never be enough time

There are no neat to-do lists in the teaching profession. There will always be more work to mark, that display you’d like to put up, some reading you’d like to do and those resources you’d like to find. If you can do it in 5 minutes address it straight away but if you can’t, make sure you prioritise based on deadlines and impact. Allocate windows of time for different activities and stick to them. Remember that your priority is always feeling ready to teach.

2. Don’t spend unreasonable amounts of time on assignments

Give yourself a fixed number of days in which to write your assignments, preferably a few days during the holidays when you are feeling rested and your mind is clear. Help yourself by creating actions plans to breakdown components of the assignment into manageable chunks e.g. for WA2 teach plan your unit a month before the end of term, teach it the next week, collate your reflections, evaluations and evidence of pupil progress the next week and write it before Christmas. Don’t spend your whole holiday writing, it’s unlikely  it will lift your grade that much, and you’re teaching will suffer if you don’t get a break, which, at the end of the day, is what it’s all about.

3. Never underestimate your capacity to cope

I am not going to downplay this year. It has definitely been one of the toughest of my life. As a teacher you will find yourself dealing with situations you could never have imagined yourself in, from a child projectile vomiting in your face to giving a statement to the police. Some of these moments will become amusing anecdotes for your friends and family, others will test the bounds of your comprehension. Whatever happens, you will need to get up and teach the next morning and this motivation will see you through even the worst days.

4. Find the people that motivate you

There will be so many days when you say to yourself (or your significant other) that you are an awful teacher. Find the teachers in your school who inspire you, use your non-contact time to watch them teach. It will always give you the lift you need to persevere and improve. Make an effort to go to events both in school and out and meet new people, even the ones with less than inspiring titles. The most valuable CPD you’ll get is through conversations with other teachers.

 

Spring Term: let the placements commence

Perhaps it’s because another essay is in, perhaps it’s because a term has passed, it might even be down to the holiday haircuts that my class are sporting but I’m feeling relentlessly upbeat; after all, who can resist a five-year old with an awkward bob/bowl-cut? Even the onslaught of conversations about the posh lot on Tough Young Teachers can’t provoke me. Though the debate is fun to watch from the sidelines! 

Lots of things have happened over the holidays. The tooth-fairy has been busy, many furbies have found new homes and perhaps most remarkably my class have been writing, and prolifically at that! I arrived last Monday to a flurry of entries for our class writing competition, each thoughtfully scribed and full of all those wonderful sentence openers we have been practising with all singing, all dancing, Talk for Writing pomp. It has been lovely dipping into these over the past few days and I’m amazed at what the promise of some magic colour changing pens can do! Although, when it came to it I just couldn’t have one winner so I ended up giving everyone who had entered a prize as well. I was pleased to hear that some of the children have consequently decided they will now become authors. One child comforted me by saying, ‘I still think teachers are a nice job too’.  I was counting on this child joining the ranks but I’m holding in my sadness, an author would be pretty good too.

However, the shadow looming over my rainbow covered parade is of course the impending secondment to another school and the alternate key stage experience. I always find it tough leaving my class, even for the odd development day. During the Christmas holidays I couldn’t help wondering what they were up to, and even found myself looking for their little heads bobbing in the sea of Christmas shoppers. Twenty days seems a very long time to be away from them and a very short time in which to form that kind of relationship with thirty new people. 

First Half of Term: A Diary Entry

Today I had my first termly review. I have to say I felt the more tired than I have all term. Teaching is a profession in which it’s very tempting easy to run on empty for weeks and weeks and it’s always on the days when I am out of class that I realise how run-down I am both mentally and physically!

Looking through my journal and progress tracker I was surprised to realise that we are already nearly two-thirds of the way through our PGCE. I have now taught approximately 357.5 hours of teaching time, my class are already on their second topic books of the year and my journal binder has broken due to the wear and tear of 11 weeks of reflection. It was a strange feeling to look at the folders of evidence in front of me, the sheer volume of paper was surprising and far exceeds any of the folders I kept at university.

However, the reality of working full-time and studying is that you put a lot of pressure on yourself. I feel that I am in constant negotiation with myself, weighing up which tasks are a priority and which are not. The past weeks of essay deadlines, assessment weeks, parents’ evenings and open days have meant that my hours have become longer and longer. It is very hard to switch off at home and sometimes I even have dreams that I am teaching the next day of lessons!

What has surprised me most though is how much starting my working life has changed my outlook on life. At university I found it incredibly hard to motivate myself to wake up before 8:00 A.M. but knowing I need to be somewhere by 7:30 A.M. has made me appreciate the time I have each day. There are so many things I want to fit into each day. Now I just need to work out how to get that work life balance just right!

Conkers

On Monday a little girl in my class arrived with a pocket full of conkers and browned leaves which she wanted to share with the class. This was a big learning moment for many of the children, they listened fascinated as I explained that conkers were in fact the seeds of horse chestnut trees and could grow into trees. We then talked about other kinds of seeds and what they might grow into. I have never seen the children in my class so quiet or awe-struck, it was truly a teachers dream, as 30 five year olds hung off my ever word, and they did this while I was talking about science!

It’s lovely to be able to engage children with a topic that they have discovered themselves but I had not actually prepared any teaching on the Autumn or plants for this term! However, I felt a great sense of responsibility to bring this topic to life for them. So I set out to create a series of play based activities based around Autumn.  Unfortunately, it being a Monday night, and having about a hundred other things to do, I found in hard to summon the creativity to make my own resources for a week of play based learning. Instead I followed the advice of an older and wiser Teach Firster: don’t reinvent the wheel use existing resources and make them your own. I made use of my Twinkl Platinum membership and found some fantastic Autumn resources. Including:

Autumn animal role play masks

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http://www.twinkl.co.uk/resources/seasons/autumn/autumn-roleplay

Small world backdrops

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http://www.twinkl.co.uk/resource/t-t-446-small-world-background-autumn

(Because we didn’t have appropriate small world animals I got the children to make their own finger puppets for this using bits of felt and feathers)

Leaf hunt

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http://www.twinkl.co.uk/resource/t-t-7038-leaf-hunt-checklist

This saved me a lot of time and actually helped me to generate far more ideas that I already had.I supplemented these activities by creating a nature table, and I encouraged the children to put objects on this table that they had found on their walk to school. The children loved exploring the different seeds and leaves, although a word of warning, check for bugs!

I also borrowed an idea from the twinkle forum sending some of the class on a playground mini-beast hunt with my T.A. and they managed to find a surprising amount of creepy-crawlies, including spiders, worms and woodlice.

It’s been a fantastic week of work and the children have produced some lovely art for display such as leaf rubbings, drawings of mini-beasts and finger puppets.

It was surprising how little work it actually took to bring a topic that excited them to life. It has taken me a few week’s to realise that it is not possible to do everything yourself as a teacher. While I often feel tempted to make my own resources, it is just not sustainable if I am going  to plan quality activities for my class each week. Instead I am learning to strike a healthy balance. Twinkl provided me with some really high quality resources which I was able to use as stimuli for my own ideas and activities. It’s definitely a great resource if like me you struggle to draw squirrels! If you are on a school-based route of training you also get 15% student discount on premium membership or better still, check if your school subscribes or is willing to do a free trial. I’ve also discovered the power of child-led activities, giving the children ownership over a topic has meant they have thrown themselves into their learning this week and our classroom is really beginning to belong to them.

Week 4: Radiators and Drains

This week has been full of highs and lows. There have been red time outs and behaviour break-throughs, progressive meetings and pointless meetings,  well-planned lessons and lessons I didn’t even know I was going to be teaching. To surmise I have encountered the infamous hills and valleys that we were warned about at Summer Institute. One of the things I have noticed this week though is that there have been so many teachers on hand to offer support, these are the people that make the school a pleasure to work in, even on the bad days! However, Dame Julia Cleverdon was right when she warned us that you could be one of two kinds of people: radiators or drains. Here are some examples of radiators and drains I have witnessed in school this week:

The teacher who saved all her recycling for a week for an art project to help a colleague.

The teacher who cackled and said ‘as if I have time to recycle’.

The teacher who always asks if you need any help before a lesson observation and tells you how to put your feedback into action afterwards.

The teacher who wishes you luck and rolls their eyes.

The teacher who always brings chocolate to PPA.

The teacher who spends PPA complaining that they don’t get enough planning time.

The mentor that always gives you a strategy to try instead of a negative comment.

The mentor that gives you a to do list that takes you an hour to read.

The colleague that you’ve only had a couple of conversations with but always smiles at you in the hall and asks how things are going.

The colleague who you’ve introduced yourself to twice but still asks who you are when your name is mentioned in a staff meeting.

The teacher that will always lend their resources and bring yours back.

The teacher that always takes and never shares.

Lesson Observations

I have to admit that I was pretty terrified about my first lesson observation, the idea of a very experienced teacher watching my every move did not sound particularly appealing. However, as with most of the challenges I have faced in the world of education (including the Teach First assessment centre, doing what feels like a million phonics assessments and an OFSTED inspection) it wasn’t nearly as bad as I thought it was going to be. Here are some reflections on the process that I hope will be useful when you too are panicking about an observation:

Don’t worry about somebody watching you…

…because you probably won’t notice them. Yes my mentor was sitting in the room with a tiny laptop. Yes she was writing things down. Did I notice this after the children had come in from playtime? Not for a minute, I was busy asking/answering questions, pointing at stuff and writing on flipchart paper.

Remember the basics!

Did I differentiate? YES. Did I prepare AFL strategies. YES. Did I practise reading a kids picture book in front of the mirror. YES, I DID THAT! But did I read the learning intention…oops. My mentor suggested a post-it or two with a few reminders for next time!

Make sure you have prepared questions in child friendly language in advance

Coming up with meaningful questions and framing them in child-friendly language is very challenging. By planning questions in advance I can ensure that I have a good question for children of all abilities. It’s also a good chance to think about the vocabulary you will be modelling. Will the children understand all the words in the questions? What words will you need to define? Are you introducing too much/too little new vocabulary. In case of emergencies make sure you have inspiration- I have a laminated grid of Bloom’s taxonomy next to my desk so that if I am running short of time I can quickly frame a few questions before a lesson starts.

Address behaviour consistently, do not change anything because you have a visitor

Your mentor isn’t expecting you to be Mary Poppins. Mine told me this. What they are looking for is an appropriate response to behaviour. While it may be tempting to brush off minor disruptions in order to focus on your painstakingly prepared lesson script, the chances are that if you let a misdemeanour slide another will quickly follow. Instead it is important to show your class that the rules apply no matter who is visiting the classroom. Do not try to change behaviour strategies for the day of an observation. I witnessed an awful situation when I was a TA during an OFSTED visit when a well meaning teacher changed the carpet space of a disruptive pupil on the morning of the visit, the boy of course shouted out ‘Do I have to sit here because of the visitors?’ 

Observations are like therapy

It’s surprisingly theraputic talking to your mentor about your observation lesson. We both laughed about the moment I forgot to spell a VERY simple word. While at the time I was mortified my mentor had actually enjoyed my ‘silly teacher’ routine and told me that she forgot spellings all the time and did the exact same thing. It’s also a huge relief to get advice on what you can do to address your weaknesses, you probably already know what you are struggling with and an observation is a great time to be honest about that and talk through your problem.

Week 1: A Diary

Monday: INSET

I am not sure how much sleep I actually got before my first official day as a teacher. The night was a muddle of thoughts about school, lucid dreams and anxiety about how little I was sleeping. At six o’ clock, it was finally acceptable to get up and I forced myself to eat a good breakfast before making my way to school for our first INSET.

On Friday night I left my classroom in good spirits but over the weekend I had somehow squeezed out a ridiculously long to do list of jobs. One of my greatest weaknesses is the ability to create work from thin air. Luckily, just as I was considering swapping displays over and moving furniture around for the tenth time my mentor arrived. She told me I’d created so much light and space and brought a stream of teachers to confirm her verdict. I felt a huge sense of relief and support.

At 9 o’ clock, we gathered in the hall for a whistle-stop tour through the school’s many procedural documents. It was also a chance to meet colleagues and drink about a litre of tea before we met with our phase leaders to discuss the coming weeks.

In the afternoon, I was given time to finish preparations in my classroom. However, this time I was not alone. I had two TAs on hand to help me. One of the hardest things this week has been learning how to manage a team and I think this is the biggest challenge from moving from being a TA to a teacher. I had planned some jobs for my TAs, however, I had not considered how long they would take. These tasks were soon completed and I wasn’t sure how to best utilise their support without the children in the classroom.

Tuesday: INSET

Our second INSET day moved to a focus on pupil progress and data. This was a valuable opportunity to consolidate my understanding of how pupil progress is measured, analysed and recorded in the school. Once again my mentor and phase leader were extremely supportive, taking time ensure that I was able to navigate my way through a new vocabulary of acronyms and terminology. My mentor helped me to understand what systems I needed to set up in order to monitor each child’s progress and together we drew up focus groups for the establishment phase.

In the afternoon, it was time for some planning. I met with the other teachers in the year group to draw up activities for the first couple of weeks. This really helped to boost my confidence, as I was able to draw on the experience and advice of last year’s NQTs as well as some very experienced teachers. Everyone was encouraging and welcoming and I knew that everything was going to be ok!

I spent the remaining time before school closed setting up activities for the next day. I left at six o’ clock when the Janitor came to close the windows in my classroom!

Wednesday: The First Day

I woke up feeling surprisingly calm. I was nervous but more than anything I was excited. Out in the world 30 little people were getting ready for their first day in Year 1 with me as their teacher!

I arrived at school with plenty of time to get a cup of tea and check that everything was in place, before going up to the staff room for our daily briefing. In no time at all the Head has released us and we bolted out of the staffroom like race horses from the traps.

It was five minutes before the children arrived and there was nothing left to do. I sipped my tea. I greeted the first arrival from breakfast club and we watered the class plant together.

With one minute to go, I took a deep breath. My mentor arrived, and I opened the doors to a sea of parents, book bags, tears, smiles and SO MANY CHILDREN! They sat on the carpet before I even had to ask, while I was reminded by mums and and dads that Katie would need her asthma pump and that Sani always forgets to eat his lunch. By five past nine everyone was inside and we were ready to start.

The children were incredibly compliant to begin with. We told them about the classroom. We showed them around the school. We showed them how to do good lining up, listening and sitting. We talked about what would happen at lunchtime lunchtime. Then, we PLAYED!

This was my favourite part of the day. The uncomfortable silence evaporated and I was finally able to get to grips with 30 names, as they begin circulating around the classroom. I found out about each child’s summer holidays. I found out what they liked and what they didn’t like. The play dough was a huge success and the children were very impressed as I showed them how to mould it into shapes using a bright pink press. We made the most of the September sunshine by putting big troughs of water in the outdoor play area and the children were grateful for the opportunity to put their hands in the cool water as they told me the names of the plastic sea creatures.

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Everything felt very natural and while I know that there is still a lot I need to work on I  enjoyed myself and I don’t feel quite so nervous anymore!

I fell asleep at 10 o’clock.

Day 2

The children have settled in well and feel confident enough to go to the toilet without an adult, a fantastic step! However, this new-found independence has sparked some small acts of rebellion: today the children have rooted through my drawers, walked play dough into the carpet and they frequently forget to tell an adult before going to the toilet independently! My mentor suggested that it was time to draw up some class rules, which the children agreed to with solemnity, volunteering their ideas enthusiastically:  ‘It’s not kind to snatch dinosaurs from Ishmal’. The rules provided me with an excellent deterrent to any mischief makers as I was able to merely point to our flip-chart poster and their lips would curl over in embarrassment. I am not sure how long this phenomenon will last but for now, we’ve got things under control.

I’m was also delighted to discover that my class share my love of music! When, in my biggest slip up so far, I forgot to take the register, I decided to teach the class a song, while my TA dashed to the office to explain! By the time she returned we had mastered ‘London’s Burning’ with actions AND dynamics. Our TA was very impressed and the children were duly rewarded with two marbles for our rewards jar and a promise of a third on completion of a successful rendition to my mentor in the afternoon.

I am getting on well with my TAs but I am worried that I am not communicating very well and I don’t want them to feel confused or at a loose end. I want them to feel valued in my classroom, so I am going to use the weekend to think about what I can do to improve this.

Day 3: IOE

We were back at university for the day for some discussion, consolidation and to find out about expectations for the coming weeks. Everyone said that they feel tired but I was surprised at how fresh everyone looked after a few weeks away from Summer Institute. I was also surprised at how much easier it was to reflect now that we have some real teaching experience!

We left the IOE with a lot more paperwork but I’m not letting it worry me too much. I have a fantastic mentor and I’ve just discovered who my IOE tutor will be. The support system is in place. Now it’s up to me to put the hard work in!

Plan for the weekend: catch up on Educating Yorkshire and get as much sleep as possible!

My First Classroom: Diary Entry 1

The week before school starts:

On Tuesday 27th of August I was finally able to start work on my classroom. I knew that it was going to be a tough job, so taking the advice of experienced teachers I came prepared: rubber gloves, cleaning cloths and black sacks. While this is not strictly part of my remit as a teacher, I do feel that it was an important step. There is nothing worse than feeling like you are drowning in a sea of other people’s old stuff and I am definitely going to keep this in mind before bequeathing any of my classroom successors to  a collection of cassette tapes or a broken snow globe! One of my colleagues kindly dropped in to see how I was doing. After looking at a mountain of old puzzles and flashcards she advised me to bin the lot and get rid of at least 6 tables. I also made the decision to move furniture which was blocking light away from the windows. The result: a classroom that felt brighter, cleaner and spacious.

By Thursday I was ready to begin putting up displays, organising cupboards and creating signs and labels. While it was tempting to stick up everything available on Twinkl and Teacher’s Pet I resisted the urge and tried to think about what I wanted my classroom to feel like. Calm, creative and nurturing were the words that instantly sprung to mind. For this reason I opted for a cool pastel colour palette, matching display boards to create a sense of unity in the room and wall resources that were purposeful and age appropriate.  This meant sacrificing some beautifully laminated resources.  It will be easy enough to add to displays as the needs of the children change throughout the year. I also tried to think about how to make the classroom accessible to everyone by thinking about how high things were positioned, the size and clarity of fonts and using symbols and visual imagery to support understanding.

By Friday, many of my colleagues were in school and this was a great chance to visit other classrooms and ask for input on the learning environment that I wanted to create. This was a really useful day as I was able to draw on some really great experience, for example, one teacher suggested putting a number line above the board so that children could always use it as a resource and another pointed out that it was important to leave plenty of space between the door and the back of the carpet so that children could line up quickly and calmly.

I am really glad that my mentor gave me space to create my classroom environment and it has really helped me to feel a sense of ownership over the space. When she came in the following Monday, we were able to discuss my choices together and I was able to make adjustments based on constructive self-evaluation. This is something I am going to have to do throughout the year as I watch the children interact with the space I have created. I want my classroom to be a working space, so that means adapting things.