Now Teach were honest enough, so I can’t blame them. A “rollercoaster ride” was promised and duly delivered. Two months in, my powerpoints still take too long, my sequence of lessons is sometimes under planned, and I’m still fathoming out how better to help a couple of New-to-English EAL students to access Arthur Miller’s ‘A View from the Bridge’. Truth be told, the play is more than apt, being all about the experience of immigration to a big city, something to which several of my students can relate.
Looking back, there was much about teaching I didn’t know. I thought ‘differentiation’ was an A-level maths topic until 8 weeks ago. Now I’m trying to create separate resources to span the gulf between the Prior Attainment levels in my classes, so I’m definitely learning the real meaning of the word now. Acronyms and jargon are being added to my lexicon daily – SPaG, HPA, LPA, CPD, CPOMS, SCITT. As for the E-qualitas Training Plan / Assessment Record, there are entire days when I’m pretending it doesn’t exist.
That’s before we talk about Behaviour for Learning; about boys and girls from sometimes-troubled backgrounds, for whom the school might be the central point of stability. Welcome to the London I barely know, so close to my door. A London where cultural capital is unevenly spread, where among a class of 22 children living 3 miles from the West End, few have ever attended a play, several of whom are new to English, 4 are SEN, 3 have Speech and Language needs.
So why, in all this, am I finding myself cheerful, resolute and determined, at least most days? And more importantly to the pupils and my own future employment, am I making progress? Now that I actually grasp the immense skill-set required to become an effective classroom teacher, can I still aspire?
Five things give me cause for hope:
1. Although few of my Year 9s had seen a play at the start of half-term, I pluckily asked if they were enjoying it last week and they chorused back ‘Yes!’. TICK
2. I am starting to swap my apparently over-idiomatic speech patterns in favour of clearer instructions and direct explanations; and I’m starting to inhabit Rosenshine principles and see that – surprise! – they do work. TICK
3. Reduced cortisone: post-lesson exhaustion down. TICK
4. Behaviour routines and my own credibility starting to improve as children see more of me and I live by the school’s policies more. My whiteboard writing becomes less illegible with every passing day too. TICK
5. Solid mentoring every day. My SBT manages to combine kindness to her pupils with clear disciplinary rules and fast-paced. cognitively-smart teaching; she is a model for me to copy, and she actually wants to pull me up to her level. I’ve lucked out there, and I’m sorry that is not universal. TICK
Besides all that, there are also three other factors which may not be progress per se for me, but which keep me cheerful….
1. Other teachers. If my impression of one school is anything to go by, a lot of children in the state sector benefit from some excellent teaching. Amid a challenging pupil cohort, I’m surrounded by effective, collaborative and kind teachers committed to making a difference to the lives of the pupils in front of them. How inspiring is that?
2. My school. The pupil cohort may have its challenges, but my school has stayed resolutely kind and professional towards my position as supernumerary, and has staff-friendly rules like zero emails post 7pm.
3. Hang on, I’m teaching. I’m actually TEACHING! Pupils might be learning if I’m doing this right. A few might love English Literature if I do my job right. After one contented 25-year career, Lucy and the NowTeach gang have enabled me to swap to another; where ‘making the numbers’ means helping a teenager secure a useful GCSE grade, not just reaching someone’s arbitrary financial targets. I’m still pinching myself.
Here’s to the next few months, and fingers crossed we all make it to Graduation.
So why, in all this, am I finding myself cheerful, resolute and determined, at least most days?