Switching Off

Since we’re all teachers here, we know how tricky it can be to switch off during the holidays – especially when things move so quickly at work!

Here are some top tips for moving from 100 mph to a speed that is much more suited to the holidays…

Whatever you are doing this half-term, remember to take some time to doing something that is well away from work.

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Gardening for the mind

A friend asked me how the teacher training was working out so far.

“Great,” I said, “Really well.”

He looked at me quizzically, perhaps detecting a slight twitch in my eye.

“Must be tiring though?”

He’s right of course; it is exhausting. I’m not going to be the life and soul of any party for the foreseeable future. In fact, I struggle to stay up past 10 p.m. I fall into bed each night, my mind whirling with plans for the next morning, and critique of the day just gone. The hours in school are full-on and the evenings completely taken up with being a mum. Only when I finally lay my head on the pillow, do I get chance to catch up with my own thoughts.

Meticulously, I rake through all the memories of the day, trying to bring them into tidy piles, so that I can sleep. In one pile there are the things I should (or should not) have said. In another are the things I could have done differently. Next to them in a dark corner, the things I messed up. _45608624_flowers_istock_466.jpgI force myself to add to these piles some cheerier thoughts: a piece of positive feedback I’ve had, something I did which helped my pupils learn, or made them smile. In the dark stretches of the night, I turn each incident over, examine it, either cursorily or at length, before laying it down. I think it helps.It helps because reflection and self-criticism are at the heart of this year. In fact, I am beginning to realise that reflective practice is going to be essential for many, many years to come if I am to become the best teacher I can be. It is the cornerstone of the school-based course, where the cycle of reflection is iterative from the very start. Read, Listen, Observe, Teach, Reflect, Repeat.

The reflection part takes many guises, informed as it is by feedback from multiple sources. It is the insightful comments of my mentor, the targets in my TPF, the scribbles in the margin of a lesson plan, and the discussions in my weekly tutorials. It is the asterisk on my GPS handout which says *could this work with my top set year 9? and the moment in a lesson observation when I think I would have done that differently. It is comparing notes with other trainees, it is noting down thoughts for this blog, and, yes, it is my “mental gardening”, sweeping my jumbled thoughts into manageable heaps, as I wait for sleep to come.

I look at my friend and smile.

“Tiring, yes.” I say, “But worth it.”

Jenny, English trainee teacher, Greensward Academy

Building a sense of community

Last Thursday, after an intensive day of training at Notley, I attended my very first open evening, and by first I literally mean ‘first ever’. I do not remember having anything like that during my school years in Spain; you went to the school you were allocated to according to where you lived, and that was pretty much it, at least in terms of primary and secondary education.Image may contain: 2 peopleSo, when I arrived to the school on Thursday evening I did not have an accurate idea of what I was going to find. I took some time to wander around other departments and see what they were showing. It was lovely seeing some of the sixth formers who did their GCSE in Spanish last year and talk a bit with them about their experiences and the A-levels they were doing now, and I was honestly impressed about how involved they got with parents and visitors and how passionately they talked about the things they get the opportunity to do in school. Other pupils offered the parents a tour around the school and, I must say, they took their role very seriously! They explained all the displays in the corridors, talked about events, extra-curricular activities and introduced them and the kids to the staff in the departments. When they came to the languages classroom they were welcomed by some of our Y11 students, who assisted the kids in several interactive challenges and had the chance to try some typical food, from chorizo and olives to pain au chocolat or croissants (we languages people have a slight advantage when our classes smell that good…)

But what I definitely enjoyed the most was seeing some of my students out of the language lessons, doing things like tap dancing or trampolining. Most of the time we make a mental picture of our students by how they act during our lessons, since it’s very likely we don’t have that much contact with them outside that context. We can see some kids as apathetic, unmotivated, reluctant to take challenges and try something new… But being able to catch them doing something they love, they thrive at, being engaged and proud of their school, made me realise what a strong sense of community we have and how important it is to make the most of these moments and use them to build a relationship with our students (I may or may not have done that by singing a duet with a Y8 on the ukulele). It all comes down to gaining their trust and being able to get to them and help them become the best possible version of themselves.

The highlight of the evening was that I had the chance to have a little chat with a Y9 boy who is usually quite challenging during lessons (good things can happen when there’s food around). I was very surprised when I spotted him looking from the door and invited him in, he looked unconfident and I have the feeling that he was afraid of not being welcome there. When he talked to me about the things he enjoys, what he does in his free time and what he wants to achieve, I realised that I am determined to see that spark in his eyes during my lessons as well. I will try to choose my activities better, I will support him more, I will give him the space and time he needs to work best and I will definitely have for him as high expectations as I would have for anyone else; but our students need to know that we appreciate and respect them for how they are, not just how they do or perform in our lessons.

It was kind of a milestone for me and I came back home exhausted feeling that I am doing something meaningful, that I have an impact in their lives and what they will achieve in the future, and that thought is overwhelming –in a good way- at times. It made me realise that all the effort we are putting in this year and that we’ll put in the future, all the frustration at certain points, the struggle… it is all worth it, because we also are in one of the most rewarding professions possible.

Sara, MFL trainee teacher, Hylands School

Que sera sera…

It’s the start of the 4th week and I am prepared to the have plaster ripped off or in technical terms ‘The First observation’, to tell you the truth, I was very nervous. Even though it wasn’t the full lesson. But just having it at the back of my mind that 34 pairs of eyes, were bearing down into my soul, hoping that they would be able to understand, what it was I was about to teach them.

One would think being a drama graduate, I would be able to ‘fake it’. If only. I had my lesson efficiently planned, ensuring I filled in all the necessary boxes on the form. I had all my resources, carefully made and my PowerPoint was great. But I, the ‘teacher’ not so great.

I was shocked about how nervous, I was. I was over thinking, everything. I don’t know why, that is a part of myself to work on, self-reflection is required. I cannot fathom how in just 9 months I am expected to be an almost polished teacher, but it is constantly reiterated that it just takes practice. The days and weeks are flying by and I don’t see this happening at all.

During my feedback, I was asked, how I thought it went, I said ‘awful’. My mentor was shocked, she asked why? I then started to tell her everything that I did wrong, I started to list the things that I didn’t do. I was in total shock with was said next, I was told that it was a ‘good lesson’, but I just needed to RELAX. That my lack of confidence, made me feel that it wasn’t great. Due, to the lack of confidence, I must admit that I did forget some vital thing on my lesson plan but overall, the kids listened, participated in the activities and my subject knowledge was there. Why was I so worried? This shows that I CAN DO THIS. I just need to take it one step at a time and breathe. Why am I so hard on myself? We as humans, our own worst critics. It has been done now, I cannot go back to that observation, and I can only use this experience as a stepping stone, to better myself for next time.

For the trainees, who have not yet tackled their first lesson/activity etc…

Word of advice, I know it is easier said than done, but try to RELAX.

Even if it means practicing in front of a mirror, that’s fine.

This is what I will be doing in future.

Good luck everyone 🙂

Whitney, Drama Trainee, Shenfield High School

Que sera.jpg