‘Human Progress is neither automatic or inevitable’

A Martin Luther King quotation and the ramblings and rants of an NQT: You’ve been warned.

Technically I’ve now been a grown up for three weeks. This is good; in two ways. One I haven’t had to be a grown up for the past 6 years and two because I promised myself I’d buy an awfully expensive handbag when I did become a grown up and that time is nearly upon as all. I can hear your excitement.

But how does it feel to be a grow’d up? Well truthfully it’s rather similar to last year; when, as a GTP I considered myself to be ‘partially grown up but not quite there yet’. The difference being a new and overwhelming sense of responsibility, being given and having to complete all tasks totally independently and 29 new very small and very inquisitive tutees. I have learned a lot in the past three weeks  so to remind myself of the start of my journey and so as not to take my own progress for granted I will write about a few things I have found  out in the first few weeks as a newly qualified teacher. A NQT, like many others, walking into a minefield potted with hidden explosives of contorted education policies and ideals. The system seems to be at its most frantic, disjointed and misunderstood for quite a while – so what better time to start!

Although the media cavort on a daily basis with the apparent dismal policies influencing our current education system (not the old one – that one’s great) it is lovely to remember that what matters is what you do when you are stood in front of your classes. I have been lucky enough to be given some particularly bright, snappy and proactive classes given this year. This in many ways may prove troublesome in later years but it gives me a chance to get the basics right. I have always and still do prefer teaching those challenging pupils, but my idea of what constitutes a challenging pupil is constantly evolving. I read lots of advice about what to do and what not to do when meeting classes for the first time but aside from the most obvious pieces of advice I just did what I normally do. Teaching has made me better at acting but I am far from good at hiding the real me. So I just carried on being me. My classes all now know I am both a) far too sarcastic and b) a stickler for the rules. From the moment they came in I was nice because I’m rubbish at being nasty or stern with them – why would you be nasty?! My lowest ability groups, the ones with the most SEN pupils in and the ones I was most worried about (year 10) are probably the classes I’m nicest to. Don’t smile to Christmas is, in my invalid and humble opinion, the most ridiculous piece of advice ever given. If you are consistent, clear and fair then there’s no need not to smile every second of the day. Particularly at 3.10pm.

So some of the things I’ve learnt whilst starting the new year are included in the following anecdotes and descriptions:

  • To greet my classes for the first time I did the same as I always do! I made sure I was: at the door, had a seating plan arranged, had an activity for them to do, explained briefly class expectations, asked them their expectations of me and then (crazy I know!) jumped straight into the lesson.
  • As our lessons have gone on I’ve explained extra things to my classes.  For example; rules about being late (I have a late book – they sign it if they are late with the date and their name) then sit down. Now there was no point in explaining this before anyone was late; it wasn’t supposed to be a deterrent: although it has turned into one! The book is just an exercise book on a table by the door. When the first pupil of the year turns up late and waltzes in I ask them to go back out, knock, wait to be told they can come in, sign the late book and sit in their chair without disturbing the class. The late book has 4 columns; date; name; reason for being late and a bit for me to sign once we have spoken about it (much later in the lesson or at the end). The reason this has become a (rather mild) deterrent is because it’s so easy to see those who are consistently late. There’s no arguing about the fact they have been late before. This helps to mark registers and issue detentions if they are late more than a few times. It also makes them responsible by signing it.
  •  I found the best way to do things rather than hitting (not literally) them with all the rules in one go also worked for homework. I am so pleased I made a homework tray. Each class has a folder in the homework tray with a sign saying ‘Make sure your name is on it!’ stuck clearly in the middle. If homework is due in they may give it to me in class if I ask for it, but if they wish to give it in early or god forbid late then they stick it in the folder and I will find it. I haven’t had any homework go missing and every time homework has been “left at home” (suuuuuurrreee) it’s appeared the next day in the homework folder. Again it’s about handing over responsibility and also stops them searching round the school for me during break or lunch.
  • There’s been a lot of chat on twitter about classroom walls and displays being worthwhile. I couldn’t agree more – getting displays right has been very helpful. I spent a lot of time over the summer trying to get organised and I have found my Giant checklist (thanks Miss. Wilson aka @TeacherWillson)! and my cool wall (adapted from an idea mentioned by @MrT_RE) and turned into a character cool wall have been really helpful. After reading Zoe Elder’s (@fullonlearning) wonderful book I have made an FAQ wall where pupils write questions whilst we are doing group work. I explained they must only write questions on the post its once they have spoken to their group about the possible answers. It really forces them to only ask worthwhile questions, think independantly before asking and stops me interrupting their learning. READ ZOE’S BOOK READ ZOE’S BOOK READ ZOE’S BOOK!

  • Planning ahead but not too far ahead. I spent my first week writing out full lesson plans for each lesson and thinking all the way through to Friday. I always over plan but I realised I had to stop and wait each time to see how we were doing before forcing us, as a class, onto the next bit just because I had planned it that way. My teacher planner is invaluable. I write down page numbers, ideas and where we got to in it to help plan for the next lesson. It meant my lessons changed entirely this week. My year 8s didn’t understand a task I asked them to do using adverbs in the first week. Being a high set I thought they would but turns out they didn’t so I completely changed the following lesson I had with them to include a starter task on adverbs and use them throughout the lesson to consolidate their knowledge. Cue “Miss I get adverbs now!”. Needless to say that wasn’t on my original plan. I guess the point is plan, but not too much.
  • Keep calm and carry on is the most appropriate saying for NQTs! I almost cried twice in my first week but it’s mostly through exhaustion. This week I vow to have a bit more time to stop thinking about work because if you don’t you can’t keep calm and you can’t carry on.
  • Marking is more important than I ever thought it was as a student teacher – even though you do marking as a GTP it can be a little confusing taking other people’s classes. I vowed I would have all my books marked by the time one cycle (two weeks) was through. I haven’t quite managed it (that’s 210 books) but that is down to the fact I’ve only seen two groups twice so there’s nothing but the date to mark! The rest of them have caused some long evenings but it’s been worth it. Marking is something I actually find really interesting…(weird I know) but I find it the best way to understand the pupils. I’ve found out spelling issues, structuring problems, handwriting problems, presentation issues and work pace issues too. I have also never been as proud of my pupils as marking their books at the beginning of term. I make sure they have to interact with their marking. In fact one homework is to respond to my marking. When you see what they are able to produce it is great and furthermore it means I plan their lessons with their learning and ability as the focus. And I think that is really the most important part of teaching.

So as usual I’ve managed to produce many words in an illogical order. Yet writing things down helps me and perhaps will help other NQTs because it’s a good way to reflect and remember why it is I am teaching. It’s very easy to forget why (and sometimes how!) but thankfully when you turn up and have 30 pupils looking at you with utter boredom stamped across their faces you realise it’s your job to make them smile until Christmas.

As a teacher in 2012 progress is something we are meant to think about all of the time. If Ofsted were to come and measure my progress with their long and delicately built progression ruler then I think they would find it rapid, (and I’m sure this is both oxymoronic as well as moronic) sustained and good. Yet the funny thing about progress is that it is avoidable and voluntary. To keep progressing as an NQT I’ll aim to keep avoiding the negativities, remember reality and voluntarily be the best and happiest I can (possibly) be.

One Reply to “‘Human Progress is neither automatic or inevitable’”

  1. Great post, I think whoever came up with the advice ‘don’t smile until Christmas’ must have either been a)a rubbish teacher or b)hated by the students! Or both!!! Great post with some really good ideas… Can’t wait for work tomorrow to redo my display board into a thinking wall

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