Becoming a Teacher


Thoughts and challenges for Beginning Teachers

Welcome to this blog which will run right the way through this year, hopefully supporting you on your journey to becoming a great teacher.

I am the PGCE Course Leader at the University of Nottingham and am really interested in the journey beginning teachers take and how they can be best supported through a challenging year.

In the early days of student teachers being with us we talk a lot about the complexities of learning to teach, the different types of knowledge you will be developing and the many expectations that will be placed on you over the coming months. What we know is that, right from the outset, we are asking you to: juggle ideas; work hard every day (and many evenings); gradually increase your teaching and, at the same time, step outside of the day to day and reflect and think about how your teacher identity and thoughts about teaching and learning are developing. Not an easy task.

At the end of the 2014-15 PGCE year, chatting to some students as they finished our PGCE course, I mused about whether it might be helpful to have some sort of ongoing dialogue, sitting apart from the day to day demands and inputs of teachers, schools, pupils and university tutors, that could drip feed ideas and thoughts throughout the year; a space beginning teachers could visit on a weekly basis that would support them to reflect on their week, identify things that they have learnt and plan for the next steps they need to take. The response from these students was a resounding yes so the idea was trialled last year. Feedback was positive so this year I am doing it officially and a blog has been born.

My aim is to offer thoughts, ideas and challenges for you to mull over. When it feels appropriate, I might draw your attention to things you can look at or read but I will be careful not to overdo this as I know you are already bombarded with enough on that front!

I hope you enjoy the weekly insights and challenges and that this helps you as you navigate the coming year and develop as a teacher.

Featured post

Coming to the end of your placement …

As we reach this stage in the course, emotions will be very mixed: excitement that you have nearly made it mixed with fear that you are about to become the ‘real thing’! In terms of these emotions my advice would be to just let them happen, don’t try to over analyse or make sense of everything you are feeling right now. Remind yourself (again!) of the roller-coaster of a year you have had and be kind to yourself!

As half term comes to an end, make sure you are organised and know exactly what else you need to get out of these remaining weeks of the course. Keep focused on that idea of being ‘NQT ready’!

It would be easy to decide to wait until the end of June to organise all your paperwork (if it isn’t already immaculately filed?!) or write ‘to-do lists’ for September. The problem with this is you:

  • may go straight into working the week after the course finishes;
  • might go on holiday or just collapse in a heap to recover from the year!

Either way, sitting down and organising everything is, quite rightly, unlikely to be high on your agenda!

So investing a little time now could pay huge dividends in getting you ready for September.

Some ideas to think about:

  • Is it worth reconsidering your current organisation system? It may be, for example, that everything is currently organised by class which works for your current school but not for next year – would it be better to have all plans and resources for teaching a particular curriculum area in one place? Believe me, if you don’t do this now you never will and, when busy next year, it will feel easier to plan from scratch than find ‘that lesson’ from this year amongst all your files! There is no right or wrong answer to a system of organisation but just think about whether or not it is currently too context specific.
  • There are some key areas that NQTs always comment on not feeling prepared enough for no matter how much we cram into this year:
    • marking, assessment and using data;
    • working with SEN pupils;
    • working with bilingual pupils.

Now would be a really good time to revisit these areas and think about everything we have done with you in relation to them over the year. Put them to the top of your list for for any spare moments you have in school over the next two weeks – what else do you want to know? Who are the ‘experts’ in your school that you could talk to or observe? Are there some NQTs you could talk to and ask questions about these areas?

I talked about assessment and marking recently and offered some links to resources that might support you but here are some links to websites that you could look at in relation to SEN and EAL:

The list could go on but there’s a flavour of resources you could explore! Crucially think about everything we have done with you, dig out notes and resources and then decide what else you want to know before the end of the course.

  • Can you compile a list of questions you want answering before you finish your placement? It doesn’t matter how small or silly they seem write them down. What do you want to know to make you feel less worried over the summer? Some questions may be specific to your employing school (in which case try and find a way of asking them) but many will not be context specific. Devise your list and then ask as many teachers as you can for their answers! Here are some starters for you:
    • Is there a key activity you use in your first lessons in September?
    • What do you do with your form group right at the start of the year?
    • How do you make your ‘behaviour rules’ clear at the beginning of the year?
    • How do you organise your classroom for September? Do you have displays up? If yes, what sort of thing?
    • What are your top three tips for September?

Make your list and then ask as many people as you can for answers in your last two weeks in school!

Becoming ‘NQT ready’

As you return to school next week, a good thought to have in the back of your mind as you plan your subject experiences over these final weeks is the idea of being ‘NQT ready’. I don’t mean this in a scary way – you are always going to be nervous about September, and worry if you are ready! What I mean is, you have made all this progress since September and you are now getting ready for the next stage of your adventure as a teacher! How can you make best use of the different pieces of time you have left on the course to get all your questions answered, see as much good practice as possible and try out ideas in your own teaching to be as ready as possible? Whilst you will be undertaking your inquiry project at a whole school level, you will have plenty of time to continue to focus on your own personal priorities for professional development. You really do have a unique opportunity coming up where you will have space to think and also to observe teachers and teaching as someone who now has a better idea of what they are watching and what they want to know! As many of you have been presenting this week on your personal theory of teaching and learning, it also seems sensible to take a bit of time to think how this focus on theory might help you get the most out of the upcoming weeks.

One particular area I would recommend you focusing on is that of assessing pupils’ work and marking. You will have been doing this over the duration of your placement but it would be a good area to explore further in this period of professional development. Through our work with NQTs, we know that coping with the demands of marking and assessment is a huge part of their first year of teaching. Anything you can do to prepare yourself for this in advance will be worthwhile.

More generally, we know that there is a concern nationally about the impact of marking and assessment on teacher workload – in March last year a review was released with some really sensible guidance and recommendations that are worth looking at –

The document emphasises the need for marking to be meaningful, manageable and motivating:

‘Marking should serve a single purpose – to advance pupil progress and outcomes. Teachers should be clear about what they are trying to achieve and the best way of achieving it. Crucially, the most important person in deciding what is appropriate is the teacher. Oral feedback, working with pupils in class, reading their work – all help teachers understand what pupils can do and understand. Every teacher will know whether they are getting useful information from their marking and whether pupils are progressing.’ 

It would seem to me a really good thing to think about these three ‘m’s before you finish your placement. Gathering as much information, and ideas of best practice, as you can will stand you in great stead for September!



What does ‘meaningful’ look like? Have a look at different examples of marking and try and work out what makes it meaningful.

Have you thought before about what you are ‘trying to achieve’ when you mark, or have you just marked work because you have to, blindly following the policy of your placement school? How do you know if your marking has achieved what you wanted it to?

Ask different teachers their answers to these questions and try to identify good strategies and ideas for keeping the focus on marking being purposeful.


This is absolutely crucial! In September you will be teaching more classes than you do now, you will have less free time in the day and more lessons to plan. How do you fit the marking in?

Talk to as many different teachers (from outside your subject, as well as within the department) as you can to find out what they do and how they make it work:

  • Do they manage to mark during the school day? How?
  • Do they have some ‘tricks’ that speed things up?
  • How do they keep track of all their classes and ensure they don’t fall behind with marking?

The more ideas you get the better!

Try out some of the ideas you like the sound of. Which seem to work for you?

Set yourself a time limit to mark a class set of work and practise sticking to it.


Have you thought about marking being ‘motivating’ before??

Make a note of how you think you have/can make marking motivating. Ask teachers what they think makes marking motivating.

Now, and most importantly, ask pupils!

Ask different pupils from different ages and abilities what they think of marking. When is it useful to them? When does it motivate them? What are the features of an approach to marking that they like?

Remember if it is not working for the pupils then it won’t be doing the job it is supposed to do!


Why is meeting the Teachers’ Standards not making me feel happy?

As we reach another milestone in the course I want to focus this week on thinking about how you might be feeling at the moment, what emotions to expect and then how to move forward.

For many of you, you will have been told this week that you have met the Teachers’ Standards, for others you will be spending the next two weeks continuing to ensure you have confidently addressed each one. Whichever of these situations you are in, the end point is definitely looming!

On the surface one would have thought it would be the case that most of you should be feeling very upbeat and happy. It is not that long since Easter (and an opportunity for you to rest and return feeling fully charged), many of you will have jobs and, with the end in sight, surely excitement and high spirits should be the order of the day?

So why is it that you might be feeling drained and, perhaps, discombobulated this weekend?

I think there are many reasons and that it is worth exploring these to help you understand how you are feeling and move forward.

Obviously, if you are in a position where your Final Profile is yet to be submitted you may be feeling anxious and you will know you have got a lot of hard work to do planning for the next two weeks and then teaching. This is difficult, but do remember this is about giving you the best possible opportunity to be successful and respond to all the feedback and support you have been given in recent weeks. One thing that might be worth doing over the weekend is looking back at some of the previous posts on the BatBlog which either focus on a particular aspect of practice (like behaviour management or differentiation) or on how to reflect, make sense of targets and move forward. I know from talking to tutors how hard you are working and how much progress is being made so do keep focused and show everyone everything you have learnt!

What is less obvious is why, if you have been told you have met all the Standards, do you feel unsettled and down? It is these feelings I now want to focus on. Here are some suggestions of where these feelings are coming from:

You have worked incredibly hard since September and suddenly someone is telling you that you are ok!

It is a bit like coming out of the other side of a very stressful personal situation that you have had no choice but to manage and survive through. You will have focused on coping and carried on regardless – adrenalin and determination will have seen you through. Very often when people no longer have to worry about such a situation, and know they have survived, they suddenly become ill or feel down. This is their body saying ‘now you are allowed to worry about yourself a little bit’. I think this moment in the course is a bit like that – you have had to be so focused and everything has had to go into thinking about meeting the Standards and now someone is saying you have done it and can have a bit of space and freedom – it is hard to know how to feel!

You are worried that your profile is wrong and you don’t feel remotely ready to be the real thing!

I saw one of my personal tutees this week and she said ‘how can I be a 1 in this Standard? I am nowhere near as good as my mentor and I am not ready to do this as a real teacher!’

This is not an unusual feeling either! There are two key things to remember here:

  • The grades you have been given this week are a reflection of your meeting of the Teachers’ Standards in the context of being a trainee teacher. Those grades (and remember it really isn’t worth focusing on grades anyway!) do not equate to an experienced teacher being graded against the same standards. Several years ago there used to be different Standards for teachers at different stages of their career – trainee teacher, NQT, experienced teacher – and in many ways these were easier to make sense of. Now it is the same standards for everyone but anyone that is graded against them is considered in relation to their personal context.
  • You haven’t finished yet! We are not expecting you to be NQT ready today. The whole point is you now have more time to focus on areas that you, as an individual, need to prioritise or areas that are of particular interest to you. All of you will continue to teach until the end of your placement in June and your focus throughout should be ‘what do I need to know now to be ready for September?’

Observing others with a focus, trying different things out, seeing different practices will all help you continue to grow and develop until the very last day of the course.

So, I accept there are reasons why I feel weird but what do I do about them?

Be kind to yourself – allow yourself to feel peculiar and just run with it. Have a nice weekend and don’t try and force yourself to be excited about doing different things next week. Wait for next week to come and let it happen then.

Have clear foci for the remaining weeks of your placement – you might not feel excited but do have a plan! Know exactly what you want to learn and be proactive about it. Decide who to talk to, who to watch, what to notice, what questions to ask. The more you put into planning this period of time the more likelihood there is of finding it exciting and you getting your mojo back!

Adapting teaching for individual learners

Now you have returned, or are about to return, from your Easter break, and are looking ahead to the final stages of your placement, I thought it would be helpful to focus on a specific aspect of teaching and consider ways of developing your practice in a certain area.

I have been doing some analysis of your Interim Profiles and there were a couple of the Teachers’ Standards that stood out as ones that a large proportion of you were not achieving as high a grades in as other standards. This week I am going to consider Standard 5 ‘Adapt teaching to respond to the strengths and needs of all pupils’ and think particularly about knowing ‘when and how to differentiate appropriately, using approaches which enable pupils to be taught effectively’.

It is, of course, no surprise that this was a standard you were not achieving as highly in at the Interim stage – whilst you are still grappling with the basics of planning and teaching, the idea of adapting your practice for a range of different needs is incredibly difficult. This is also a particular complex aspect of a teacher’s practice, and one which many experienced teachers still find hard. Now you are more confident though, here are some thoughts and challenges you might consider over the next few weeks:

Return to observation:

It is likely to have been a while now since you observed an experienced class teacher, but this is an excellent time to observe someone who is really good at an aspect of teaching you are trying to develop further. With your mentor, identify a colleague who is particularly good at adapting their practice to support all pupils in their class.

Talk to the teacher about what they think about at the planning stage – how do they adapt their lessons without creating an unmanageable workload for themselves?

When you observe the teacher, you want to look specifically at what different pupils experience during the lessons and what is the same and different about the activities they do and their learning over the duration of the lesson. What would be a good way of making notes about what you want to see? Decide on a suitable format in advance of the lesson – for example, could you make notes on an enlarged seating plan so you can write about different pupils easily?

If it is appropriate, you could ask the teacher to mention things to you within the lesson – for example, something they particularly want you to notice in relation to what they have done or how a pupil has responded.

After the lesson, talk to your mentor about what you learnt from your experience. What strategies could you apply to any of your lessons moving forward?

Learning from theory:

Consider how the theories about teaching and learning which we have considered over the duration of the course might help you.

For example, how could thinking about the concept of scaffolding support your thinking?

To me, whilst scaffolding is a theory which offers an explanation of what is happening when a teacher and learner are interacting, the concept can also be really helpful when thinking in advance about how to adapt my teaching for different needs. At the planning stage, I can think carefully about the layers of support I could offer in a lesson that would enable all pupils to access a learning activity and, instead of creating lots of different levels of work (three different worksheets as a means of differentiation is never going to be sustainable if you are teaching a full timetable) I can make sure I have ready resources and questions that could help different pupils.

Here’s a maths example of what I mean (sorry for the non-mathematicians – I will try and keep it simple!):

I once observed a lesson on linear equations (questions like ‘solve 3x +17 = 35’). The teacher had done a good job of explaining the mathematical ideas and the class had worked on some examples together successfully. As soon as the pupils started working independently, however, there were several pupils who kept getting incorrect answers. On the surface, this could suggest that the teacher should have created different worksheets with simpler questions on, or possibly even decided some pupils weren’t ready for linear equations and done something much easier with them.

I would argue, however, that there are other ways the teacher could have adapted their teaching that would not result in either lots more work for them or pupils doing substantially different work. Looking closely, the reason why some pupils were getting the wrong answers was because they were struggling with their times tables – so, in the example above, they could establish that 3x = 18 but then made a mistake with their tables facts and perhaps answered 7 or 8. Thinking about this at the planning stage and considering in advance the possible layers of support I might offer within the lesson (scaffolding?), in this situation, I might have had available times tables grids so that the pupils could successfully do the questions and develop their understanding of linear equations along with the rest of the class.

For me there are two key things that success in adapting my teaching relies on: knowing my pupils and knowing my subject.

Obviously I have simplified this example, and there is much more we could discuss if we were really exploring the notion of scaffolding, but can you think of an example in your subject where thinking about scaffolding would enable you to easily, and effectively, adapt your teaching for different pupils?

Knowing my subject

Over the duration of the course, you will have been introduced to a range of different ideas about what constitutes ‘teacher knowledge’ within your subject. To explore this in depth would take too much space here, but I have found the notion of ‘decompressing’ my own knowledge one that is particularly useful (Ball et al, 2008 ) – put simply, I have a very thorough understanding of a mathematical concept and I have to ‘unpack’ this to make the different elements and features of this knowledge apparent to pupils. I think this is helpful when thinking about how to adapt my teaching. If I have done a good job of the ‘decompression’ then I should be able to decide relatively easily:

  • what I might need to emphasise more with some pupils than others;
  • when to take more time over a step in learning or a feature of a concept;
  • where I might need to provide a support prop (like a times table grid), etc.

Ball et al’s work focused specifically on mathematical knowledge for teaching but you will have been introduced to similar ideas in your own subject. Have a think about how these might help you adapt your teaching for different pupils.

Knowing my pupils

Alongside knowing your subject, you must know your pupils and their different needs.

Try the following task:

Choose a class you are teaching. On a piece of paper, without thinking, write down the first nine names of pupils in the class that come into your head.

Set the names out in a three by three grid:








Now choose any group of three pupils (a row, a column or a diagonal). With your group of three, identify things about the pupils that are similar or different in relation to their learning and their needs: consider things such as what they are good at, what they find hard, what the barriers to success are for them, what their attitudes to learning your subject are, how they interact with others, etc.

Now think about how you might use this information, for example:

  • If you identify a pupil you know little about make it a priority to find out more about them in the upcoming lessons
  • If there is a pupil who is particularly good at interacting with others (in the context of learning, and talking about, your subject) could they work with a pupil you have identified who struggles with communication (for example, an EAL pupil)?
  • If there is a pupil who has a positive attitude to your subject, how could you use this to promote the same attitude with others? Who particularly do you want to target?

So, as you move into these final experiences of teaching think carefully about how well you know your subject and how well you know your pupils!

Using SWOT analyse to change my practices

This week  I want to offer yet another way of thinking about how you might move forward in a particular area of your practice.

I’d like to offer you the idea of a SWOT analysis as a way of thinking about the next step in your journey – whether that is thinking generally about making progress, or focusing on one specific area of your practice that you want to concentrate on.


A SWOT analysis can be a really useful tool for helping you identify your strengths and weaknesses and understand the opportunities open to you and the ‘threats’ you might face.

The best way to approach this is to see the strengths and weaknesses as personal to you – they are your characteristics as you see them. The opportunities and threats can be seen as more related to the context you find yourself in or factors external to you.

If you do a good job of identifying the strengths and opportunities, this can give you confidence to take the next step in your professional development. Knowing what you are perceiving as weaknesses or threats enables you to:

  • talk to someone about your anxieties;
  • think about the ‘weaknesses’ you perceive yourself to have and perhaps reconsider or reframe these – the ideas of polarities I shared in an earlier post may be really helpful here;
  • think about the things you have identified as threats and consider:
    • whether they are really threats or whether they are only threats in your mind;
    • whether you need to ask for help or support and focus on exactly what aid you need to ask for.

So let’s think about an example:

What if I was thinking about trying to change my approach to behaviour management with one particular class that I am struggling with. My SWOT analysis might begin like this:


What else might I add to each section?

Now think about how this can help me:

  • Am I really making the best use of the opportunities available to me?

For example, how am I using the teacher who is eager to support me? Am I being proactive in asking for help and coming up with ideas on how they might help me? Could I approach them and ask them to do something specific – e.g. could you sit next to Jade next lesson and make sure she doesn’t interrupt the class? Could you do a specific observation focusing on classroom management (perhaps using the proforma from School Experience?)

  • Can I think about the ‘threats’ differently?

Are the pupils really thinking about me and my lessons all the time? Did I do this as a pupil?! Is it possible that if I started the lesson differently next time they would respond positively? Surely it is worth trying?!

Instead of trying to be the class’s normal teacher, or worrying that I can’t be, can I learn specific skills from them? For example how to have a structured start to the lesson.

In terms of strengths and weaknesses the messages are the same as many previous posts – are you making best use of your strengths or are you dismissing them? Can you identify one specific thing to try to address a ‘weakness’ – for example, if I know the pupils I am perhaps unfairly quick to chastise, could I select one at the start of a lesson and work hard to praise them and notice when I am becoming unfair?

So, here’s another tool to try and help you reflect and plan for change …


Small steps to make big headway

This week I want to follow on from last week and try to help you to continue to take small steps forward instead of thinking you have to solve everything straightaway.

As I said last week, instead of trying to think about keeping going till June, let’s focus on how to potentially take a significant leap in progress in the run up to Easter.

Every week you get given lots of feedback and targets and it is often difficult to filter these and identify exactly what to focus on – what more often happens is that you have a long list of things and you flit from one to the other, making some progress but then going backwards as soon as you start focusing on something else – sound familiar?

Normally, I wouldn’t want to talk about the individual Teachers’ Standards – as we have said many times before, we take an holistic approach to assessment and, as we are confident everything we do addresses the Standards, we avoid conversations that might lead to you feeling like you have ‘ticked off’ a Standard and, thus, can stop thinking about it. This week, however, as you have just had your Interim Profiles they seem a useful way in to narrowing down an area to concentrate on in the next few weeks.

You will have been given targets for development for each group of Standards. For some of you these might be very specific as this is a key area for you to concentrate on, for many of you, though, you might feel like you have things to work on in all sections, you aren’t fully clear about what you need to do and you certainly don’t know which to prioritise. Particularly if there are no real areas of concern, your profile might very quickly become a distant memory and you just carry on as you were doing before the Assessment Point.

So, how can you make really good use of the profile?

First of all, now a week has passed, have another look at it.

What stands out as real strengths? Did you really acknowledge them last week when you discussed your profile with your mentor or did you just accept them?

I have already emphasised enough times the need to celebrate your strengths so won’t rehearse this again, but, have you thought about:

How your strengths might help you with another target?

For example,

Imagine a key strength is your ability to reflect and act on advice and targets and an area for development is in relation to Teachers’ Standard 2: Promote good progress and outcomes by pupils. How can the former help me develop the latter?

Would it help to consider the substandards:

  • be accountable for pupils’ attainment, progress and outcomes;
  • plan teaching to build on pupils’ capabilities and prior knowledge;
  • guide pupils to reflect on the progress they have made and their emerging needs;
  • demonstrate knowledge and understanding of how pupils learn and how this impacts on teaching;
  • encourage pupils to take a responsible and conscientious attitude to their own work and study.

Here’s a clue – why have I put certain ones in bold?

Have you ever thought of sitting down and working out why your ability to reflect and act on advice and targets is a strength? What is it that you do that makes you good at this? What is it about the way your mentor acts that helps you? How could you apply your emerging knowledge of theories of teaching and learning to your own growth and identify what is happening when you progress in a certain area?

How do these questions help? Surely they identify how you should teach pupils to be reflective and take responsibility for their own learning?

With this knowledge could you identify some new strategies and approaches to use with pupils that make overt how to become reflective, identify personal emerging needs and respond to targets?

Perhaps you could identify the internal questions you ask of yourself when you are reflecting and model these to pupils? Or, identify the language someone who has helped you learn about teaching uses that you respond best to and build this into the way you talk to pupils?

How do you shift a target to an action?

Unless you and your mentor have identified a specific area to work on, many sections of your profile will just be targets. How can you identify exactly what you have to do to meet these targets?

Firstly choose one area to focus on next week. How? Pick the one that interests you most!

Now imagine what really good practice would look like in this area. Use our ‘Moving to …’ documents to help you do this.

Next pick your favourite class. Imagine this good practice actually happening with this class. What would perfection look like? What would individual pupils be doing? What would you be doing before/during/after the lesson? If you don’t know the answer to these questions discuss them with a friend or your mentor.

Now very clearly write down what you want – this should look different to your target, it should be a description of what you are picturing happening when you have made progress in this area.

Now return to the target(s) set in this area by your mentor. Can you see how they will help you reach what you have imagined? If the answer is no you need to return to your mentor and explain you don’t understand what you are aiming for!

So, you know what you want. How do you get there?

After targets you need strategies. Again we have documentation that can support you to think of strategies to meet targets (Targets to Actions), so please take some time to look at these. The one I want to prioritise here is to observe an expert.

Talk to your mentor and identify the best teacher in the school to show you what effective practice looks like in the area you are focusing on. Don’t tell yourself you are too busy to fit in an observation, force yourself to see them in action next week! The key, however, is not to just watch a lesson.

Before the lesson decide exactly what you are hoping to see. Now set some questions.

For example, if a target is to ‘make sure pupils become more independent’ then questions might be:

  • What does pupil independence look like? Why does the teacher think it is important?
  • What is the teacher aiming to do? Why?
  • How do they plan for this?
  • How do they recognise it?

Share the questions you have asked with the teacher before the lesson. You might even agree that they will alert you to something you should notice in the middle of the lesson that they think will give you answers to your questions.

What do you then do in the lesson?

Sticking with the same example:

Notice when a child is being independent,

  • What does this look like?
  • What happened in the run up to this moment?
  • How long does it last?
  • What happens after?
  • How does the child feel?
  • Why are they happy to work independently?

After the lesson return to your vision of what you want to achieve.

What have you learnt that you could apply to your own practice?

Have a go!

Remember whenever you try out something, you have nothing to lose and everything to gain.

Feeling unhappy? It’s normal!

I have decided this week to write about being unhappy!

Why? Because, I know that this is a peak time for student teachers to be feeling disillusioned, unhappy and anxious even if they are doing well, and I want to give you permission to feel a bit fed up and to say I am not remotely surprised if this is the case!

Am I weird if I am not enjoying everything about the course at the moment (even if everyone is saying I am doing ok)? No!

Try to look down on yourself and consider what has happened to you since September:

For the best part of six months, you have been bombarded with information, new ideas, feedback, advice, targets, building new relationships, settling in to new contexts, intense situations, … the list goes on! Surely it is no surprise then that this doesn’t always make you happy?

You have not had a real break –

  • in October half term you had lots of planning and preparation to do for your first teaching experiences when you returned to school;
  • over Christmas, whilst you might have had some time away from teaching, it is likely to have been a very busy time socially – you will also have been preparing for Teaching Practice and working on assignments;
  • February half term is a key week to catch up and get organised so it is likely you will have only had odd days off and, perhaps even then, you were thinking about teaching!

Easter is really the first time when you can designate an extended piece of time to proper relaxation. You have long enough to do some work and get organised but also have plenty of time for guilt-free time off teaching – remember this and look forward to it!

Every day of Teaching Practice you will have been observed teaching and you will have received advice and feedback – sometimes the same targets will emerge, sometimes they just add to an already long list and sometimes they conflict with what someone else has said!

If someone else was describing these experiences to you would you feel a little bit sorry for them and understand why they didn’t always feel happy? Yes? Then be kind to yourself and don’t worry!

Why else might you not be happy?

I think the main problem might stem from the very reasons why teaching is such a wonderful job. Like most of you, when I decided to train to be a teacher, the two main reasons were because I liked my subject and because I liked working with young people. These have both stayed with me throughout the years and are the key things that kept me happy in my job.

The difficulty, however, is that these are the two things that are almost impossible to get as a student teacher – certainly in any consistent way.

I remember in the middle of my main placement I had quite a major wobble and really wondered about whether teaching was for me. I felt like I no longer liked my subject because I was struggling to learn a whole new set of subject knowledge (what I now understand as subject knowledge for teaching). This annoyed me because aspects of my subject I had loved just became really frustrating – I wasn’t allowed to just get on and ‘do’ maths, I had to think about it from a teaching perspective all the time. I hadn’t expected this to be so hard and it was wearing me down. Learning to plan in a manageable timeframe, coping with lessons and constantly being given ideas for improvement was making me feel like I had lost the passion for my subject.

What upset me most though was the fact that I didn’t like many of the children I was teaching! This really shocked and unnerved me. I now know that what was actually happening is that I was taking pupils’ behaviour too personally and that, in most cases, it wasn’t actually the pupils I disliked but what they were doing and how they were making me feel; at the time though I just thought that I must have got it wrong and teaching wasn’t working for me.

The issue is the two things that are likely to be the most prominent reasons why you came in to teaching are the two things you are going to find it hardest to get right at the moment!

Even if you are managing behaviour well, and lessons seem to be going smoothly, it is unlikely that you will really like all the classes you are teaching. Pupils take time to trust teachers and build relationships with them and the ‘fun’ of the teacher-pupil relationship normally comes with this trust. This means in many cases you won’t be having the relationships with pupils you imagined and, without these relationships, it may be hard to like some pupils and really enjoy many of the lessons you teach.

So how do you combat this?

Focus on the positives – don’t sigh, I know I keep saying this but it is so important! You need to find the class you like, the lesson that went well, the breakthrough in a relationship and celebrate it. If you are only enjoying teaching one class (even if there are no problems with the others) then this is the class you need to think about at the end of the day. Tell people about them and what you enjoy about working with them. Similarly, notice when you have actually enjoyed planning a particular lesson or using a specific task with your pupils. Don’t expect this to happen all the time, just make sure you notice when it does!

Ask experienced teachers how they felt in the first one or two years of their career – pick a teacher you trust and ask them to be honest about they felt in their training year. They are likely to begin by talking about how challenging it was and that ‘it gets easier’ but try to push them to talk more about how they felt – do they remember not being happy? Not liking pupils? Not enjoying their subject? This will help you know it’s normal.

Prioritise your targets – instead of looking at a whole list of targets, and feeling like you don’t know where to begin, try to agree with your mentor a specific target to focus on for a few days. At the end of each day think only about your development in relation to that target and, again, celebrate and enjoy the steps you have made however small.

Don’t think about getting to the end of June – instead of thinking that the end of June is a long way off just focus on the upcoming week. What do you want to achieve by Friday? Break the weeks running into Easter down and just take them one at a time. Focus on finding one thing to enjoy or celebrate each day and, before you know it, it will be time for a break!

Making sense of what is happening in your classroom

This week I want to encourage you to continue to build on the discussions you had about teaching and learning on Monday and Tuesday, alongside pushing yourself to notice, and celebrate, what you are good at, what you can do now that you couldn’t before and making sense of this.

‘More than ever before, we need to educate young people to think critically about knowledge and about values, to recognise differences in interpretation, to develop the skills needed to form their own judgements. And if that is true for our students, then it is also essential that all teachers develop similar aptitudes, skills and dispositions, constantly reflecting on their practice, systematically engaging with evidence, with critique and development.’

Furlong, 2013, p186

I think this quote is incredibly useful when thinking about why it is important for you to theorise, and form your own judgements about teaching and learning in your subject. In exactly the same way that you want pupils to form their judgements based on the key knowledge that you (as an expert in your subject) know, it is important that your theorising is informed by what is known by experts in the field of teaching and learning.

On Monday, the mathematicians amongst you were challenged to analyse some classroom situations using theories about teaching and learning and other internationally recognised research we have explored so far on the course. This wasn’t an easy task but the depth of thinking that gradually emerged, and the targets you were able to set yourselves coming out of the session, were impressive. I know other subjects did similar tasks and tutors were very impressed with the quality of thinking shown over the two University-based days.

The problem is you are now back in school and the hurly burly of day to day teaching – so, how do you make sure you keep this thinking going and actually make all the reflection and critique translate into changes in your classroom practice??

One way is to return to the idea of ‘noticing’ which we explored in January.

If you remember, we talked about the idea of ‘noticing’ as a way of forcing yourself to ask questions about something you do in the classroom or something that happens.

So, keeping with a focus on celebrating what you are now able to do well, my challenge is that you identify something you noticed worked this week. Keep it small and focused, e.g. a class being able to get on with a task straightaway without you having to instantly run around the room helping individuals; a pupil suddenly understanding a tricky concept; a moment related to behaviour where you suddenly got a desired behaviour from a pupil or class that you weren’t expecting.

Take a moment to simply describe what happened to yourself – what exactly happened before, during and after? Don’t try and justify or explain any part of it, just describe.

Now, can you make sense of that moment using theory? Take the example of having that golden moment where you can stand and watch a whole class get on independently with a challenging task without your help. Consider the following questions:

  • Would the notion of scaffolding help explain how you introduced or modelled the task in a way that meant everyone was able to access it and get straight on with it?

‘[Scaffolding] refers to the steps taken to reduce the degrees of freedom in carrying out some task so that the child can concentrate on the difficult skill she is in the process of acquiring’ (Bruner, 1978, p. 19)

‘Effective learning environments scaffold students’ active construction 7 of knowledge in ways similar to the way that scaffolding supports the construction of a building. When construction workers need to reach higher, additional scaffolding is added, and when the building is complete, the scaffolding can be removed.’ (Sawyer, 2006, p7)

  • Could the idea of contingency make sense of a series of questions and answers that took place that enabled the pupils to build up their understanding?

‘Contingent teaching, as defined here, involves pacing “the amount of help children are given on the basis of their moment-to-moment “understanding. If they do not understand an instruction given at one level, then more help is forthcoming. When they do understand, the teacher steps back and gives the child more room for initiative.’ (Wood, 1988, p81)

  • Have you been focusing on the culture of your classroom and could a consideration of the principles of dialogic teaching help explain what is now happening?

‘dialogic teaching is collective (teachers and children address learning tasks together), reciprocal (teachers and children listen to each other, share ideas and consider alternative viewpoints) and supportive (children articulate ideas freely without fear of embarrassment over ‘wrong’ answers and help each other achieve common understandings)’ (Alexander, 2008b, pp112-113)

There are many more questions you could ask but this begins to give you an idea.

There is still the question of why this matters – why can I not just make up my own theories when I reflect on what happens? Well you can, and should, be theorising for yourself but that alone is not enough. They key is to engage with the expert knowledge that exists in the field of teaching and learning. That way you can learn from this expert knowledge; consider it in your own context; feel confident in the ideas you are developing and the judgements you are making; make sense of what you want to develop further or try next.

Take a break …

I am going to keep this week’s post very brief.

The first thing I am going to say is congratulations! This is a hard half term – you will have found your teaching commitments have intensified, you have been settling in to a new context, mornings and evenings are dark and cold, …

You have survived it, so well done and look forward to the week ahead!

Now, I am going to give you two small pieces of advice in relation to next week:

  1. Organise your week:

Whilst I am sure the last thing you will want to do right now is think about organising, there is a danger if you don’t that next week will disappear in a fog of thinking about (and perhaps worrying about) your return to school – so, even when you are theoretically relaxing, your mind has not switched off. Taking a short amount of time to decide when you are going to designate time to work will pay huge dividends – stick to this schedule and then force yourself to disengage from work the rest of the time.

Make sure you know exactly what jobs you have got to complete and assign them to the periods of time you have designated for work.

If you need to, make one of your jobs organisation so you are fully prepared for your return to school – if paperwork has become scary, use a little bit of time next week to sort this out!

  1. Prioritise your health and wellbeing

Make sure you do some nice things next week! Plan to see friends you have neglected since September, go away for a few days, spend time with family, … do something that makes you happy!

Our children need happy teachers and this means teachers who understand they should have guilt-free time away from school!

If you feel your health and wellbeing are at risk at the moment then next week would be a really good time to explore the BRiTE materials we have mentioned before. They offer lots of ideas and techniques that you could use to ensure, when you return to school, you have strategies and structures in place that enable you to be resilient as you enter the next stage of your journey.

Have a lovely half term!

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