In Defence of Teenagers

Many people cannot bear the thought of working with teenagers and when they hear that I am working in a secondary school they shudder and wonder how on earth I could do that – and then they are quick to assure me that they certainly couldn’t work with teenagers. EVER.

But for me, working with teenagers is the greatest part of the job.

That isn’t to say that working with teenagers doesn’t present a list of challenges: stereotypes exist for a reason and it’s true that teenagers can be difficult. Sometimes they will refuse to engage in a lesson that you’ve spent precious time planning and preparing for as they’d rather talk about their friendship issues than explore how Arthur Conan Doyle creates a sense of mystery in The Sign of Four; they’d rather put their head on the desk and have a little nap than think about the use of superlatives in King George VI’s speech and they’d definitely prefer to wander across the room and have a chat with their mate than have a discussion with the person they’ve been forced to sit next to about the effect of alliteration on the reader (“what’s alliteration Miss?”).

But teenagers are also open, generous and forgiving; often in a way that many adults are not. Teenagers are able to recognise when you are having a tough day and they’ll adapt to help you in a natural and unassuming way. They’ll forgive a quick loss of temper and they readily accept an apology if you forget to do something for them. They can often do this  without question; a skill that many adults have forgotten.

Teenagers are capable of far more than we give them credit for. We often ignore their pleas for more independence, assuming they aren’t ready. And sometimes they aren’t ready, but how can they develop that independence if they aren’t given the chance? How do they become well-rounded individuals if we constantly tell them they aren’t allowed to do that, to try this, to say that or be like that? But sometimes they are ready: students at Notley High School had to deal with the unexpected and deeply tragic death of a friend and peer in year 7. The students responded to Emilia’s death with respect, maturity and grace; they supported each other and came up with fundraising ideas to honour her life and her contribution to the community.

Teenagers are often expected to behave better than adults too. They aren’t always allowed to defend themselves because this is seen as talking back and being rude. But as an adult I expect to be allowed to justify my actions and my behaviour, because how can anyone understand my choices if they don’t know the reasons behind them? We don’t always give teenagers that same respect.

I feel blessed to work with teenagers. It is a privilege to be a part of their lives; to spend time with them whilst they are figuring who they are and what is important to them. I won’t pretend it’s always easy because to be honest, it’s rarely easy. But I will say I’m lucky.

Vicki Weitz

The Importance of Planning

A recent study identified six common lesson planning pitfalls of novice educators (Jones, K. et al, 2011). The pitfalls are detailed as the following: unclear learning objectives, no assessment or assessments that are completed outside of class, no evidence of the development of student ideas, assessments that do not match learning objectives, starting activities that are a waste of time or do not prepare students for learning, and students being passive recipients of knowledge (Jones K. et al, 2011). The study, which examined more than 500 teaching episodes of teachers in training or in their first two years of teaching, was conducted in the United States, but the pitfalls researchers described were all too familiar — I have stumbled upon each one during the first term of my teacher training.

Each pitfall could be mitigated or avoided through thoughtful lesson planning; I have found that it is easy to mistake extensive planning for thoughtful, meaningful planning. Elaborate games and activities designed for learning episodes within a lesson may be enjoyable, but not actually lead to independent learning or firmly embedded knowledge (Didau, D., 2012). Furthermore, such planning can be time consuming and may prevent teachers from engaging in more useful activities, such as marking and giving targeted, specific feedback. Similarly, learning objectives may be lovingly crafted using Bloom’s Taxonomy, but not be usefully connected to a tangible skill or to previous knowledge or lessons. Meaningful planning is grounded in cognitive research, knowledge of students and their individual learning needs, and a long-term view that acknowledges that much of learning is invisible, requiring time and repeated practice, as Nuthall has written, “learning takes time and is not encapsulated in the visible here-and-now of classroom activities” (Nuthall, G., 2007).

After receiving some feedback from a lesson observation that I was engaging in ‘too much chalk and talk’ and lessons with too many activities and too little assessment, I stepped back to think more deeply about how I could structure and plan lessons more effectively. Firstly, I returned to my learning objectives. Teacher and blogger Zoe Elder suggests adding the connective ‘so that’ to learning objectives to provide ‘a concrete way to communicate the relevance of learning … making the reason for the lesson in the LO overt and explicit from the outset’ (2012). This seemingly simple tweak has helped me think in a more specific way about the skills that I am attempting to teach and has naturally lead to a more tangible connection between objectives and assessments.

Secondly, I have been spending more time marking and giving feedback, using my marking to plan more successfully. David Didau argues that marking is planning (2012) and it has been key in planning lessons that are modeled, scaffolded and differentiated more effectively, as well as more explicitly linked to previous lessons. Again, this seems obvious, but it is surprisingly easy to lose sight of the importance of marking under the daily pressures of preparing content for lessons. Broadly speaking, I am aiming to move away from abstraction towards precision and relevance.

 Heidi Bernhard-Bubb

What on Earth am I Doing?

In they come.

Straight after lunch, full of enthusiasm, questions and quite possibly a lot of sugar!

Putting on aprons is a task and a half, tying bows behind their backs is a skill we are working on. Someone squeals and appears to do a little dance on the spot waving their arms around.

The cause of this? ‘Some kind of hideous slime is on me!!!!’ ‘SNOT!’  ‘Someone’s sneezed all over you!’ ‘Oh, my God. That’s gross!’

‘It’s wallpaper paste, everyone calm down.’ Unfortunately, the paste saga would continue throughout the lesson. Year eight do not clear up well.

And so. Go big or go home.

Printmaking with year sev
en. Twenty-eight, year sevens who can’t tie their aprons.

Here we go anyway.

The explanation, the demonstration, the checking they understood the explanation, the any questions? The double checking that they understood the demonstration. The exaggerated pointing to the clearly labelled equipment stations and the A3 instruction sheet on each table (with diagrams) that we have just followed.

Sometime later…

Despite; re instructing, re explaining, re seating, I have become the Pied Piper and have a stream of students following me, it’s a large stream and is holding multiple ink covered papers. My apron is to protect me from my work, not effective if the work is attacking from the side. They don’t know who the Pied Piper is.

But.  They are proud.

Proud of their first print picture, smudged in places, faint in some and over loaded in others. We won’t mention the finger prints. Then they are off to try again.

We now have a surreal conga line as I walk around the classroom. An inky, slightly wallpaper pasty in places, conga line. They ask me if I’m claustrophobic, someone decides I’m kid-o-phobic.

Sometime slightly later…

Twenty-eight, year sevens learnt about printmaking, how do I know? Because they have all designed a print plate, made a print plate and printed their plate, except one, who borrowed my plate and wrote ‘TOP’ on the front, so now my Koi Carp has the word ‘qOT’ on its back.

The end is in sight. len They don’t want to stop. I sound more like Len Goodman on strictly every time I call ‘year SEVEN!’

They eventually stop, I suspect deploying my ink tube collectors first was a wise move.

The speed with which t
hey manage to untie their aprons is record breaking. They wash up at a snail’s pace.

I now have tables full of colourful images. The tiny drying rack is full. I’m going to need to construct a wool and paperclip style washing line, I should have thought of this sooner.

And we are done.

‘Can we do this next lesson!’

What, on earth, am I doing?

I’m doing exactly what I’m meant to be doing.

Dawn Anderson.

Art Trainee.


Life-saving Skills

Having settled in to school life, I thought it was time to try to become more involved in the non-academic side of the school. Ramsey Academy has a great spirit with teachers, staff and students being involved in a wide range of different activities. I knew it was definitely something I wanted to be a part of. It was at this time that I read about a campaign set up by the British Heart Foundation, to try to get young people trained with lifesaving skills such as CPR. I knew this was it, this is what I wanted to bring to Ramsey.

I had read of a story earlier in the year, in which a local primary school teacher had collapsed at school. Fortunately, there were brave teachers at the school that were trained in CPR and they managed to keep going until an ambulance arrive. It is most probable that without that treatment, she may not be here today. You are never too young to learn this invaluable skill, and you never know when you might be able to help save someone’sbritish-heart-foundation-logo-fw life. In some cases, CPR can double the chances of survival from cardiac arrest.

I want to be able to give students, staff, parents and people of the community the skills, ability and confidence to step in and help. As part of Restart a Heart day in October, The British Heart Foundation advertised the opportunity for schools to apply for a grant to get free CPR training kits and resources. Having previously owned a first aid training business and having been part of the emergency services, seeing first-hand the difference having these life-saving skills can make, I knew this was a chance not to be missed. With the support of the Headteacher, Mr James, I applied for a grant and fortunately it was accepted. We now have 35 brand new CPR kits ready to train students of Ramsey, giving them the opportunity to become potential life-savers in the community of Halstead, and beyond.

I am really excited about starting the training in the New Year and getting to know more students and staff. It feels great to be able to contribute to the wider life and ethos of the school, and it’s clear that it is a big part of becoming a teacher, after all Standard 8 is dedicated to it.

Lauren Vint