Becoming a Teacher



April 2017

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!

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