This is a guest blog by Storm Kirkham (@MissKirky7).
When I was asked to write a guest blog, I instantly felt drawn to writing about the moments in my career that have really made an impact, how I dealt with them and the support or advice I could offer to other new teachers. The overall intention being to share not only how to survive but how to enjoy the profession.
Oh my, my heart sinks and my chest is heavy at the thought of it but it is a big year to reflect on and I learnt many lessons.
The amount of paperwork we had to complete was excessive. Specific mid-term plans, detailed lesson plans for every lesson, an evaluation for every lesson, essays to accompany our degree, research projects to carry out while learning how to teach concepts I had never taught before… The panic, anxiety and lack of confidence I felt in my PGCE year consumed my mind and was transparent in my teaching.
I trawled through YouTube videos for demonstrations and TES for as many ideas as possible. TES was a god send (it was also all free a few years ago) – find a resource, adapt it, personalise it. I love the PE community on Twitter, everyone is incredibly supportive and the amount of advice given and resources available through the shared google drives are a gold mine. I always find inspiration. Get onto Twitter, create a teacher profile and you will have THE best CPD at your fingertips.
It was during my PGCE year that I discovered what an act teaching is. Putting your personality into your teaching and enhancing it is key. I failed to do this, even into my second year I couldn’t quite put this concept fully into action. My nerves got the better of me; teaching the plan to the letter took over and blocked any perception of a personality. In my first placement there was a moment I was teaching hockey, whilst being observed by my school mentor, my university mentor, and to top it off, the university quality assurance lead. I was talking about holding the ball instead of the stick and, on realising my mistake, I burst out laughing. And it was this mistake they all fed back to me on- it was that person, in that moment that they wanted to see more of. Not my questions I had placed in the changing room to utilise every single possible learning moment, not my starter activity I had laid out at 7.30am on the astro turf but the personality that shone through in that moment.
My advice to my PGCE self would be to be completely honest with your mentor and be ready to adapt or change activities as you move through a lesson (the more you teach the more practiced you become in this). I’d also tell myself to relax and laugh more.
My NQT year was spent in an ‘Outstanding’, South East London school. I feel like this experience was the real making of my teacher self and it was the best place I could have been for my first professional year. The school had a high proportion of Pupil Premium students and yet achieved 85% A*-C at GCSE.
The personalisation of the CPD we received was incredible. In a session about EAL strategies we would be given student details that highlighted their key issues. We would talk through how to apply a strategy to a particular student rather than discussing hypothetical EAL pupils. They dyslexia session I attended was led by dyslexic pupils who told us what had a positive impact on them and what made them feel demotivated. I left each CPD session feeling like I knew my students better. Seek pupil information (on SIMS/PARS/shared areas), speak to the right people in your school and find out what each of your students need.
It was in London I came across my first really challenging pupil. I would be lying if I didn’t say it still makes me frustrated at the thought of that moment. The problem probably arose from my lack of confidence teaching Dance for the first time and I let it show in my body language. Anyway, she was fourteen and she mocked me and I didn’t use the behaviour policy as I should have with her. I completely lost face, I felt pathetic! The most important thing, is that I can reflect and learn from this experience, I am the BOSS of my classroom and you need to let the pupils that are disrupting the learning environment (that you have planned all evening for, instead of going to the gym) know that their behaviour is intolerable. The school had a great behaviour policy and once I had embedded it into my teaching, my ability to deal with challenging behaviours was transformed. Follow through with consequences and always speak to the pupil before they return to your next lesson to draw a line and move on.
My NQT mentor was truly amazing. When I think of everyone who has made an impact on my teaching, she is a huge role model of mine. At the time, the school was training middle leaders how to hold a ‘coaching conversation’. Call it what you wish, I thought it made an incredibly positive impact on the feedback she gave me following observations. Previously, where I had felt scrutinised and critiqued, I was now leaving these feedback sessions with a spring in my step and determination in my belly to act on the advice she gave me and improve my lessons. It was a simple strategy: ask how I felt it went, listen to everything I had to say and then feed in and link her own notes before finishing with two specific targets. She always kept the structure, without these small formalities the feedback would lose its value. I strongly feel that, however experienced you are in teaching, those structured, reflective discussions must be had to ensure there is accountability and growth all the way to the top.
Second and Third Year
London really set me up in my teaching career but I needed to find a way to ‘work to live’ not ‘live to work’. Life in London was not all I had envisaged it to be and my work life balance was way out of whack! I moved back to see my family and friends and, really, for my own mental health. I had been renting a basement flat with no windows for £750 a month on my own, spent long nights planning and not speaking to anyone face to face between leaving work and returning the following day. Bleak.
On returning home, I received a promotion and became Second in Department. This gave me a new found confidence and I was eager to instil the ideas from London and contribute to the department as much as I could. I joined a netball team, turned my laptop off before 9pm and spent less time thinking about school. I can now identify moments where I am feeling stressed or anxious and while I am still learning coping strategies, I can now manage my time more effectively and do a lot more for myself. Sitting down at break and lunch to reboot and nourish yourself is something I highly recommend. Don’t sit in front of your laptop and panic about next lesson. You have to be kind to yourself in this profession, you will be a much happier and better teacher for it!