Tag Archives: NQT

When it all goes wrong.

This blog has been in the making for a good few weeks now; it has been redrafted and edited and redrafted and edited. I always get my posts proof read by my long suffering wife, not for spelling or grammatical accuracy, but as my conscience – sometimes the blog becomes more of a rant and must be saved to file for another day. Anyway, I am in a good place, the initial despair and anger has now subsided and turned into positivity and drive and an endeavour to get it right.

Going into this academic year, I knew that it wasn’t going to be plain sailing (not that any year is). My amazing Teaching Assistant was experiencing some pretty horrific personal issues that prevented her from working from mid-September until December, and so I was left alone in class. I did have some support from my teaching partners, but all in all, I was left. I was at the start of my second year in teaching to manage a classroom with very little additional support. Furthermore, as a teacher out of my NQT year, I also had subject leadership responsibilities and was handed SMSC, a field I have great interest in but one that is of significance in our church school. To add to the challenge, my new Year 6 class came with some incredible challenges in both behaviour and attainment and of course, no longer an NQT and with no NQT time, I was on my own and teaching full-time without support – or so it seemed.

Many times during this period, my very supportive Senior Management Team would pop in, ask if I was ok and did I need anything, to which I would reply “I’m doing fine” and “No, I’m managing” which of course was man-speak for “Of course I’m not ok, in fact I’m struggling and really could do with a shovel to dig myself out of this black hole I’m in!” I wasn’t prepared to show weakness, I would survive!

My planning was sparse at best, marking was equally inadequate (‘survival marking’ was the feedback from a book scrutiny) and my enthusiasm had waned. I would sit at home thinking that I was a poor teacher, an awful role model, a grumpy daddy and a short-tempered useless husband (sadly most of the respective ‘victims’ would agree.)

Then came the aforementioned book scrutiny, the usual frenetic review of the books before taking them to the Co-Head’s office the night before took place: ticks here, comments there, a couple of stars, and a handful of wishes (which of course were not responded to) to show challenge. Of course the feedback was that my books were far from acceptable and that I was to meet with the rest of my team to agree a way forward. By this time, the only way to protect myself was to be offensive to those closest to me – my team made suggestions, I got grumpier, more apathetic and more defensive but most of all less effective.

As always, the follow-on from the book scrutiny was the dreaded lesson observation. The date was booked and the plan was in place, however, I had already started making my excuses. My observation was preceded by a week-long period of interrupted scheduling (extra assemblies, assessment days, subject release time) and exacerbated by losing three days (including the weekend) to the local stomach lurgy.

Monday morning came, I borrowed a TA from another class to support the children and I delivered one of the worst lessons ever; I knew that it had been a complete train crash. Despite my apologies to my head of year and the co-head, the feedback report had lots of development points and lacked any real positives. I had likened my feedback to one of the pieces of work where you struggle to find one star, let alone two and have to decide how you can incorporate the dozen wishes needed to reach the standard!

I had a chance to reprise myself a few weeks later, but in honesty, I was too deep in my troubles that I couldn’t get out.

As a result, I was promised support from a member of the SMT for a few weeks after the Christmas break. Whilst this was meant to be an offer for support and an opportunity for personal development, what I heard was “this is as close to the capability process as you can get, get out of teaching you imbecile!”

The mood got worse, the apathy got greater and so, like many others, I decided to get out.

Thankfully I didn’t and I’m almost completely back on track. Despite the many feelings of personal attack, I have received an astounding level of support from my SMT. I have had support in planning lessons, developing resources and of course delivering well-structured, engaging lessons.

As for my books?

I have a ‘sensible’ marking timetable that ensures that all books are being marked at a level above the expected standard of the school’s marking policy – I feel like I’m back on track.

In addition to the support from the SMT, my TA has returned, we have cried together, each for our own reasons but have laughed together even more and of course I have a very supportive wife and understanding children. It goes without saying that I am still a grumpy old git, but a lot less grumpy.

I’m yet to have a follow-up observation, but having had an assistant head in with me for some time now, her feedback and reports back to the co-head have been very positive and I now feel that I am in a good position to provide a lesson expected of me and that I am worthy again to call myself a teacher.

So, what’s the point of this rambling?

To teachers like me: You are probably a very capable teacher, your children love being in your class and you can provide engaging lessons. BUT, ask for help before it’s too late – get some time to plan with someone, ask for some guidance on your marking, tell people how you are feeling. If you are still new in the role, there are still mistakes to be made, don’t be afraid but do take advice and accept any support.

To senior management: Middle-aged men won’t ask for help – they aren’t “doing fine” and probably would appreciate a little bit of guidance (even if it is met with a little resistance).

I wrote some time ago about how not to do everything, it still stands but is balanced with the need to do something.

The Mystery of Moving Forward

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Please remind me of this post in ten/twenty years time!

This week was concluded, not by the frenetic end of the week finishing-off and catching up activities, but with an enlightening and engaging training session from @alanpeat. We had booked Alan in over 12 months ago, but due to unforeseen events we had to rearrange to Friday gone. Alan Peat is someone whom I take great delight in reading on Twitter and, unsurprisingly, was very excited that he was coming to my school to share his wealth of knowledge, experienced (not to mention his vociferous opinions on the education world!) – if ever you get a chance to see Alan, do it, he is worth every penny, offers lots of free, useful, resources whilst still promoting his publications.

Now, I’m not an Alan Peat stalker, but an NQT with a love of learning, a teacher who wishes to develop and progress, a teacher who wishes to keep on top of the changing world, or dare I say, one step ahead (if that’s remotely possible). I have been lucky enough to also have had a training day hosted by @ICT_MrP (Lee Parkinson), which has resulted in me taking a level of responsibility on our computing team and developing our computing hardware and software armament.

When sharing my excitement of the training sessions, or recalling my attendance at #pedagoolondon, I was chided with a “you’ll get over it” by at least two more experienced teachers. A comment that I chose to laugh off but one that has escaped my musing: why would anyone sneer at the opportunity to gain greater experience from those with specialism tested, and peer reviewed knowledge? Typically, this is not the voice of everyone: my wife, @hayleyearl, has been teaching for fifteen years, has developed a skill far superior to mine at blogging (themusingsofateacher.wordpress.com), and is starting to spend some time speaking at conferences and learning from her peers. Furthermore, both the musingsofateacher and my own blog are a direct result of and have been shaped by award winning blogger @ictevangelist, Mark Anderson, another source of pedagogical CPD. My deputy head was sharing his excitement about the number of key speakers we have had in the past eighteen months and we often have a catch up about items that have appeared on our Twitter feeds.

With the shortage of funding for the local authority to put on training courses, and the provision of private, offsite training being cost prohibitive, I rely on Twitter, attending teach-meets, conferences and the knowledge of my peers to shape my practice. It is experiential CPD which, in my opinion, is the most superior form of CPD. I know that often teach-meets are at the end of a long day or week and that it impinges on family and marking time or that I’m reviewing my Twitter feed when I should be heading off to bed but these opportunities are to be embraced, relished and utilised: after all, it’s for your own benefit.

So what turns a teacher from a pedagogy enthusiast into a disengaged, uninterested plodder? Is it an age thing (although I’m no spring chicken!)? Is it apathy for an ever changing industry? Nevertheless, whatever it may be, I don’t want it to happen to me!

Loaded to the Max

WorkloadSeven weeks into my NQT life and this is my first blog since the summer, I have a pile of My Plans to write and two piles of books to attack with a red pen but feel that a temporary interlude is necessary. A chance to regroup and refocus.

Before achieving QTS, I enjoyed joining my local ukulele group, bashing out some songs and having a good ‘sing song’, not to mention the occasional gigs I would perform at. Now, my week involves juggling marking, planning for class, intervention and writing club whilst trying to demonstrate that I am developing as a teacher: The only ukulele playing occurs when I am teaching it at school!

Admittedly this term has been crazy, as an NQT in year 6 I am desperately trying to ensure that I am challenging the children to an ‘appropriate level’ so as to prove that they will achieve the expected ‘levels’ of progress before the dreaded SATs arrive. We have had a week-long residential (which has rendered me completely exhausted), RWC 2015 theme week and requirements to support an international partnership week. Just to add to the pile, I discovered that I will be observed by an HMI inspector as part of my former university’s inspection on the same day as a presentation tea for external visitors and a 5-hour-long parents’ evening.

This is not a blog of complaint, nor one desiring sympathy from fellow, exhausted, teachers but a nod to all NQTs who feel that they are barely ‘treading water’ if not already on their knees. It is also an even greater nod to all those teachers who have experienced or continue to experience these feelings and continue to provide an exciting, engaging and positive environment. The blog is also a chance for anyone to share any successes in improving their work-life balance.

The good news is that I continue to love the job I do; I have 30 wonderful children who make all the challenges of life worth it. I work with an amazing team whom I have developed a strong and positive relationship with (especially since the residential) and have an amazing TA who brightens up the classroom every time she enters it (don’t tell her if you see her!). My SLT has been ultra-supportive and continue to provide positive feedback with regards to my practice; and so I feel that I continue to strive forward.

Finally, I acknowledge my wonderful family both my children and wife at home and my extended family who have all provided support throughout the term. I still manage to adhere to the house rules of ‘no school work whilst the children are awake’ and so get to spend the weekends and the evenings being a dad and a husband but wish I could offer more…

The holidays are upon us and, sooner than a wink, the year will pass by – assuming I have the privilege of receiving a permanent contract at my current school at the end of the year and remain in the same year group, I believe that I will be quicker at rattling through the workload and maybe even get the ukulele out (an accomplishment that my wife will no doubt look forward to!).

That’ll do! Won’t it?

I write this blog under the influence of cider given to me by the lady who cleans my classroom. I don’t drink during the weekdays but it is the penultimate week before the end of the year and we are starting to wind down – aren’t we? 

Just because we are winding down, doesn’t mean that we can give up doing what we do. Would you accept the fact that the decorator used a slightly different shade in the living room on the last day of a decorating job, or that a surgeon didn’t quite suture you up as cleanly as he would have done at the beginning of his shift? Of course we are easing of the pedal at this time of year, assessments are done, reports have been submitted and even the walls are starting to be ripped down ready for the new year. However, lessons (in whatever guise) continue to take place; I still have another four English and Mathematics lessons left to teach! 

In actual fact, one of the best pieces of sage advice that I received from my ATW was to “Keep the children on timetable for as long as possible; there are enough distractions [sports days, end of year productions and celebrations] to wind the children up!” I also accept that we are all exhausted (I have had two days where I have had over ten hours sleep as opposed to the usual five/six), but I still feel passionate about maintaining engagement and giving the children opportunities to learn. 

Meanwhile, there are some teachers who think it is ok to provide children with tasks that barely relate to taught subjects, let alone support the intended learning objective. We are all guilty, some more than others, of searching the internet for an activity relating to the unit of work we are teaching and then form the lesson around the activity, but does this always work? I have always found it tricky teaching from another person’s plan, but, if I didn’t support the team planning we have in school, I would be buried under inordinate amounts of unnecessary planning. When you plan as a team however, you can speak to your teaching partner, you can discuss the teaching and learning and, when you know them well, you can usually second guess their thoughts. When you teach from a plan that you have downloaded the previous night however, you are faced with a level of uncertainty and insufficient knowledge of previous learning, and so, are unable to provide quality first teaching. 

There are many great resources available from some fantastic free and fee paying websites, of which I have contributed to and drawn from, but it is most important that we make sure that we use them to support our teaching and not guide our teaching. In other words, don’t make the teaching fit the resource, make the resource fit the teaching.

The Mystery Superheroes (a.k.a Pastoral Workers)

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Image: CC Pixabay

In a term where the pressure on teachers is great, where the sand of time is running through your fingers and where the children are more tired than the staff, the collegial support gets you through the day. Sometimes though, the staffroom banter, the friendly, empathetic friend or even the glass of wine whilst sat proof-reading reports, just isn’t enough and so the tears of exhaustion and emotion arrive, flood your face, and continue to flow until you can’t cry anymore. Whilst I haven’t been overcome with tears (yet), the last few weeks have been quite stressful, completing PDPs for assessment, preparing for final observations and continuing to ‘act up’ as Class Teacher in a class where every child needs that ‘little bit extra’. Then, this week arrived, probably the most challenging in the six years I have been in education.

Anyone who works in education will have, at least twice in their life, considered and studied Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs but how many of us considered that we would be the main provider of the lower levels, providing love and safety, for some, even the basic physiological needs? Maybe even more so as a parent, I struggled (and continue to struggle) to understand why this does not happen in the homestead.

For obvious reasons, I cannot share details of individual cases, but this week, I have discovered that sometimes, as a Teacher, we experience the worst cases of human cruelty, of disregard for the needs of children and of failure of basic, human decency. In these darkest days, there are many people to turn to for support, but for me I have been blessed by an amazing, professional team of ladies who continue to drag teachers, parents, carers and children, especially the children, through these dark days. Enter the Pastoral Team!

Before joining my school, naively, I believed that the social care of children was, either the responsibility of the children’s’ parents or, failing that, the responsibility of the authorities. I was not that naïve that I did not think that Teachers had a key support role, but I had not really considered that our role could be so vital. “I’m an educator, not a Social Worker,” I would utter to colleagues, even mocking pastoral worker friends at university that I wanted to provide education, not the “happy-clappy stuff!” Now I stand corrected and apologise: the Pastoral Team play a pivotal role in enabling us to do our job effectively.

I cannot describe how grateful I feel for having such an amazing team, for the work they do with the children especially: were it not for them, I firmly believe that some children would no longer be with us.  Many would have escaped the radar, be in a life of squalor and crime, and not know any different. Although not the main priority, the team provide an amazing level of support to the teaching staff too, and as a newbie, they provide invaluable advice and the most incredible emotional support too. I know that I’m a bit of a softie; I can bawl like a baby at films, have to tell my ATW (amazing teacher wife) regularly how much I love her and can be melted by a simple act of kindness or humility, but the children in which I (don’t) speak about break my heart daily. A single smile of content from them or a moment of weakness will have the same effect: they can make the hardest of days light or the lightest of days become overshadowed with yet another disclosure of abuse.

So how do these super-humans do it? The Pastoral Team remain calm when challenged by staff over the decision not to give a child a consequence (knowing they can’t divulge the antecedent), or when a parent, whom they have provided some much support to, barges into their office with a tirade of profanities because the Pastoral Team can no longer collect their children from home. A home where mum is still ‘coming down’ from the late-night highs or nursing the injuries she sustained from her latest beau. I questioned one of the team this week how they keep their cool when faced with bureaucracy or the apparent reluctance to act by some outside agencies. Worst of all, when all is said and done, they go home to their families and cannot share their woes but must continue to play mum, wife, lover and normal human being. Notwithstanding baring all of these troubles, I can always guarantee a smile and a giggle from these incredible people.

Therefore, despite the many sleepless nights you suffer and the emotional, mental and occasionally physical pain you endure, on behalf of the entire teaching profession, the parents you support and most of all, from the children whose lives you change, thank you!

The Mystery of  How (not) to do everything.

                                                                     Image credit: MZMcBride

I’m sure I am not alone when I declare myself a victim of ‘student/NQT syndrome’, a highly contagious affliction where the patient tries to do everything he/she possibly can. The symptoms vary from patient to patient but often include excessive amounts of energy (comparable to a Springer Spaniel puppy) through to heightened emotions, often resulting in an eruption of tears, anger or both at the most inopportune moment. We deny it initially, “surely not me, I’m just doing my job!” but sooner or later, we realise that we are being consumed by this exhausting and occasionally career threatening affliction.

I have often tried to try to convince myself that I am just being conscientious, to prove that I really was the right person for the job (bearing in mind that the role is only for 12 months until completion of the NQT period) or that I am capable of using my own initiative and don’t want to be a burden to anyone (probably common amongst the more mature of us who have already enjoyed a career). Ultimately however, our unending levels of energy, willingness to take on everything (I now have someone holding my arm down in staff meetings to stop the volunteering) and our occasional lack of judgement creates greater problems: It can be perceived as arrogance, can cause upset and even create difficult situations for all involved especially for those who have to try and resolve any ‘mishaps’ as a result.

I’m not saying that having high levels of energy or lots of new ideas is a bad thing, it really isn’t but it is about judgement, about weighing up what and and when new ideas, styles and practices are appropriate, we must not forget that as students, NQTs or even as early professionals, we can learn our trade from those around us, those who do it day in and day out, those who have, for some time, lived, breathed and slept a scholastic life. It’s great that we know the pedagogical theories, but it is in school where we will learn the most, from teachers, SLT, support staff (don’t ever underestimate the knowledge of support staff!) children and parents. This learning process will, like in life, continue throughout our careers. Mark Anderson, @ictevangelist wrote in his Education Evangelist post Dealing with Difficult Conversations (19/05/15) “every day is a learning day. A day where I don’t learn something new is a pretty poor day.” As an aside, in my inaugural post I alluded to the fact I had been on the receiving end of a difficult conversation, if I’m honest not my first, where I was told to learn to walk before running – I was already in the grasps of this debilitating syndrome, was completely unaware but had already started displaying the irritating symptoms. Of course my Amazing Teacher Wife (ATW) had warned me about it but when do we listen to our partners when we are unwell?

The problem is, of course, that when we are training or observing teaching we gather copious quantities of ideas, advice and perceptions, we merge them, manipulate them and then try to find ways of putting every single element into our own practice. We also combine that with our desire to learn more and take on more responsibility and so offer to run extra clubs, attend additional training opportunities, take the lead in launching new ideas and given the chance, solve world peace! It seems that many of us fail to use any form of filter or even plain old common sense to realise that we can’t do it all nor to consider the consequences when we don’t achieve what we have committed to.

I’m hoping that this post rings true to other NQTs, otherwise I am seriously afflicted! A parent recently came into my classroom with a bag full of resources that she was donating to the school, she said that she had made them during her NQT year when she was conscientious and bounding with energy so I guess that I am not completely alone. It could also be that I am joining the profession later in life, I spent almost 15 years establishing a career, reached middle management and had lots of life experience to boot. Whilst I have been there and done that, as I said to my Head Teacher during our conversation, I haven’t been here or done this and so need to learn from those around me albeit good, bad or indifferent. Must of all I need to learn to filter ideas and develop a judgement for when to show drive and determination and when I need to listen and take stock.