Reflecting on Cover Lessons

After spending my GPS and SPS sessions focused on Lesson Planning, I was keen to observe some more lessons so that I could peel them apart, slotting the activities into what I thought was; the Starter, the Main and the Plenary. However, as in real life, sometimes observations do not go to plan and one quickly discovers that their objectives are pushed aside because something else, a different learning opportunity, presents itself.

As I walked away from my first observation I overheard a music teacher explaining to a student how tricky it can be to learn to improvise when playing a musical instrument. Being a musician myself, I mused that improvising during ‘real life’ can also be ‘tricky’. If you want to change your tune in the beat of a breath this skill must be continually tested. In fact, the reality for many teachers is that lessons do not go exactly to plan, and whilst it can be unnerving, it also presents an important opportunity to develop a crucial skill – the ability to improvise.

I made my way to my next observation, a Geography lesson, expecting to pick it apart only to discover there was a supply teacher in situ. Instead of sneaking back to the safety of the English faculty, I stayed to watch the lesson. This proved to be a really valuable opportunity to reflect on what happens to student learning when a teacher is away from class.

I discovered that although a lesson plan had been prepared, there were many things that were missing from it. This meant the supply teacher could not ‘step into’ the teaching role as quickly as she would have liked and was forced to ‘improvise’.

Although the tasks were detailed, the learning objectives were missing and small specifics – such as page numbers for the various texts circulating around the room – were incorrect. Furthermore, the teacher could not use the planned power point as she did not have access to the school’s computer systems, nor was a hard copy of the slides left for her. No internet access meant websites and pictures from the web could not be accessed and ultimately, the supply teacher could not teach to the lesson plan. Although she improvised, the students missed not just valuable lesson time but also the continuity and expertise of their teacher.

In hindsight, this was a crucial lesson to have observed because I witnessed the lesson plan of another teacher rendered useless because of technology. Had the teacher included a memory stick in the cover pack the lesson could have been delivered seamlessly in their absence.

Shiela, English Trainee, Ormiston Sudbury Academy


Mastery Learning Starter Ideas

Mastery learning is the idea that students should be secure in their understanding of a topic before moving on to the next. In order to demonstrate this, here are some maths starter sentence stems (although many of them could be used in a number of other subjects) that might allow students to show their mastery!

Ready, set… GO!

Now into my third week of teacher training I am beginning to feel part of the department, school and part of the lessons I have been observing. Yes I’ve had the occasional “Hi miss” in the corridor, (which I will admit I was rather excited about!), but until you are standing in front of the classroom and you are the person who has the control of teaching, that is when it hits you that you really are the blood running through the veins of that lesson!

ready set go.jpg

Monday period 2 in my third week I delivered my first activity. A great class of year 10 GCSE business studies students. This was an introductory activity on the topic of risks and rewards. On the whole, I believe the activity went well; the students were engaged, responsive and most importantly, they did not even mumble whilst I was teaching. This 10 minute activity made me feel like I really was part of that classroom and the students respected me as a teacher. Later on in the same day, I supported a year 8 citizenship lesson (again, what a lovely bunch of students!). Just after half way through the lesson the teacher had to attend a meeting so a cover teacher was bought in. To my surprise, the year 8’s now saw me as their teacher, even though there was a cover teacher present. I was the one that they were familiar with, I was the one who knew the tasks set and what to do and essentially, I was in control of that lesson. Having only 30 minutes of sole teaching time in one day, it felt like I had gone from walking in the park, to running a marathon! Not only did I feel like I had achieved a rapport with the students in that class, I was able to try out my teaching style and also develop my confidence in teaching.

Then it was time to reflect upon my day. Did I over plan for my year 10 activity? Yes, probably. Did I think too much into it and aim for perfection? 100%. However, to all the trainees with Mid-Essex ITT (or any teacher training programme), it is OK to over think. This is the time to do it! Once the assignments start creeping in and we have 12-15 lessons a week to plan for, there will be no time or will-power for extra thinking! Take every opportunity to take a lead on an activity. By planning an activity/lesson you are able to really consider effective teaching strategies and if the task you have prepared would work well with that particular group of students. I consider myself lucky that I was able to be part of a class where it was myself and a cover teacher; it was my first opportunity to be considered as the ‘lead’ teacher. Be prepared for a question every 30 seconds and to run around the classroom backwards and forwards to attend to those hands waving in the air! Three words to sum up my third Monday into teacher training? Ready, set…GO!

 Mohini, Trainee Teacher in Business Studies at Shenfield High School.


Finding my Feet

As the end of my second week of teacher training draws to a close, I find myself for the first time with a free period, an empty work area and some time to reflect.feet

I have spent enough time around schools to know that teaching is definitely not boring. Each child (and each colleague for that matter) brings their own unique blend of strengths and challenges. Getting to know them has been one of my main aims for this first few weeks. Putting aside my self-consciousness and ignoring the snide remarks “you a new sixth-former miss?” (very flattering, at my age, I’m sure), I have tried to talk to as many pupils as possible, as I go about the school. I have made it my mission to learn their names, find out what they are interested in, what books they like reading, where they live, who their brothers and sisters are. There have been a few awkward moments, like when a boy I greeted in the playground tried to shake my hand for some reason. Very polite, you might think, but I was holding a laptop and a timetable and he was grasping a half-chewed wagon-wheel, so it took a fair few minutes of swapping things from hand to hand to complete the handshake. But on the whole, the interactions with pupils have gone smoothly; they seem to be friendly and responsive.

The group I am getting to know most quickly are, of course, my form group. My form group are a fantastic collection of wide-eyed, trepidatious year 7s, as bursting with enthusiasm at the start of their secondary career as their brand-new pencil cases are bursting with felt-tips. This has helped me ease in gently to teaching; to dip my toe in the water. Facilitating short activities with my form group at the start of the day, has helped to calm both their nerves and mine. It is hard to imagine how, in a few short years they will transform into the unruly, six-foot students in the upper years. It seems impossible to think that perhaps by then, I will have gained the confidence to teach them effectively too.

This morning, as I entered the school site, bleary eyed from a late night tidying up from my daughter’s birthday party, my efforts were rewarded. A group of boys hanging around near the cafeteria, turned towards me and, before I had had chance to say anything, one of them said cheerily: “Morning Miss”. I smiled to myself. I think it’s working!

Jenny, Trainee Teacher in English at Greensward Academy


Walls of Wonder

Wall displays are a wonderful, colourful opportunity to inspire students to achieve the sort of standards we’d like them to meet.

Here are some excellent examples of wall displays that have been created by some of our NQTS (Vicki Bailey and Dan Griffiths) who are enjoying the opportunity to make their classrooms their own.



septemberI’ve been teaching for a number of years now and since that time, each first day back in September begins in a similar way.

On that first CPD (Continued Professional Development) or INSET (In-Service Education and Training) day – the name varies from school to school – it usually begins with the whole collective of staff coming together in one room to discuss the school’s GCSE and A ‘level results. In our school this involves everyone from the catering team to our Learning Mentors (Learning Support Assistants or Teaching Assistants in other schools) as we realise the significant positive influence adults with a number of different backgrounds and experiences can have on a student’s experience whilst at school. This is one of the reasons why all staff who work here are a form tutor or co-tutor – including the Head Teacher’s secretary and the team who work in reprographics.

After the initial buzz that inevitably comes from colleagues seeing colleagues for the first time in six weeks dies down, the Senior Leadership Team present last year’s successes and the new school improvement plan – better results, more focus on student outcomes, improved student progress (!) The day is then broken into meeting after meeting. The first, a pastoral one, (usually involving discussions such as: who in the year group needs pushing, who’s new around the table, what’s changed regarding the sanctions and rewards, uniform, pastoral staffing – something always has!) and then a subject meeting (along the lines of: who’s teaching what and when, pleas of ‘could we please keep the office a bit tidier this year?’ from the Head of Department).

The day is full of questions: ‘how was your summer?’ and fuelled by cake and adrenaline. It’s always exhausting, regardless of your role within the school, and I always find myself with a to-do list at the end of it which never really gets any shorter until the final few days of the summer term in July. It’s a dash to get exercise books, text books, rulers, glue, planners, board pens and class lists and, of course, planning your first lessons that will (hopefully) enable students to be engaged, enthused and actually learn something. books

However, although I am one of those teachers who actually enjoys CPD/ INSET days, it is only when the students return that I am truly able to find my feet again. Ultimately, it’s why I chose to be a teacher: to have daily interactions with students and to help them learn about the subjects I love myself. The difference between the first day back when the students are here and the one that preceded it always strikes me. The teacher world is full of calm conversations, coffee and a wealth of experiences that, although useful, often make things significantly more complicated than they need to be. The student world is full of noise, colour, laughter and excitement which, as you have chosen to go into education too, you must find as infectious as I do. It’s only when all of our 1,000 + students are in the building that I remember why I chose to do this.

5th September 2017