Teaching through the looking glass

Following on from Fearghal’s post about reflecting I thought I would have a go at disecting my first year in post and pore over it’s scraps.

So, what did I learn this year? As this was my probation year, I don’t quite know where to start. It wasn’t so much a learning curve as a mountain! I suppose some of the biggest things I learned this year were around children’s behaviour, causes of bad behaviour and how to manage it. Throughout university and teaching placements we were constantly told, consistency is the key. Teaching placements however, are too short to really grasp the difficulty that this poses and the consequences of inconsistency. Being a mother of 2, I thought that this was something I was good at as my own 2 children are usually pretty well behaved. However it turned out I wasn’t so good as I thought I was. The difference I suppose is that with my own kids, there are only ever 2 of them at a time and therefore being consistent is quite straightforward. With over 30 children requiring my attention and all with their own different ways of attracting it, this became more complicated. There were certain children who repeatedly broke the rules, and after a while, I found myself bypassing the first 1 or 2 consequences on the ladder without even realising I was doing it. This was pointed out to me by one of the pupils concerned and after the DHT held a restorative conversation between us, I realised that this had had the effect of making the child feel that I didn’t like him. Since then, I have been very conscious of my consistency. I have definitely improved, as I am mindful of it, but still need to develop further next session.

Next up, collegiate working. I hadn’t really appreciated the importance of it until this year. I now understand that it’s hugely important to work well with your colleagues, but not only for your own professional development. I feel that the children really benefited from my own relationships with other teachers. I feel it gave the children a sense of security to know that their teachers were working well together, particularly in the last term with transition to the next class being on the cards. The children knew that their next teacher would be aware of any sensitive situations without them having to explain them. Most of the informal learning and possibly the most useful learning I have taken on this year has been through collegiate working.

Flexibility is another important aspect that I feel I managed well this year. Flexible planning allowed me to deal with any unforeseen changes to lessons, and to respond to the children’s learning well. I also used success criteria and learning intentions in a flexible way to allow children to choose their own level of challenge to a certain degree. By using “some, most and all” differentiated success criteria, children could and regularly did choose their own level of challenge. Of course there are always some children who would do as little as they could get away with but by having a good relationship with and knowledge of the children in my class, I was able to make sure that children who needed extra encouragement to push themselves received this and those who I knew would welcome a challenge were able to do this. The results were that children who I wouldn’t have necessarily given the opportunity to attempt certain levels of work were able to attempt things that they may not have otherwise had a chance to. This then had a positive impact on their self esteem and encouraged them to increase their challenge in each lesson. It also often surprised me how well children did with work that I wouldn’t have expected them to understand but that is one of the best aspects of the job, being proud of what your pupils have achieved.

Finally, one of the hardest things to manage was the ever elusive work/ life balance. Given that this was my probation year, I was well aware that it would be a tough and very busy year. In most other jobs I have done before now, I was able to leave work at the end of the day and actually forget about it for the evening rather than take it home with me. As a teacher though, this seems to be impossible! I feel that my job is more of a vocation than an actual job and therefore I’m always thinking about things I can do in class, how things I see can be adapted or used to help children that I teach and how to make lessons engaging. I enjoy reading other teacher’s blogs and choose to do this in my spare time (whenever I have some). In my mind, the point where this becomes unacceptable is when it impacts on relationships at home. I am quite lucky that I have the perfect husband (don’t tell him I said that….) who works shifts and is often at home. He does his fair share of housework and childcare duties so this makes life a lot easier for me than a lot of teachers I know who have to juggle family life and work to more of an extent than I do. It also means that on evenings when the kids are in bed and the other half is at work I can indulge in my guilty pleasure without so much of the guilt. At the beginning of the year, I spent most of the weekend planning for the week ahead and marking homework and this did become too much. To counter this I started asking children for homework to be submitted on a Thursday which meant I could mark some of it on a Thursday night and the rest at lunch time or after school Thursday and Friday. This freed up a lot of my weekend to spend with my own children. I also found that as the year went on I didn’t have to spend so much time on planning because as I grew in confidence, I didn’t have to plan in the same minute detail as I did at the beginning of the year. I also made sure that in my non class contact time, I did actually plan rather than being side tracked by other things. This meant that again, as the year progressed and I became more confident and efficient, I found that I didn’t have to bring as much work home with me. I began to feel though that I was maybe missing something as the main concern for a lot of people seems to be time management. If I was managing to do things that I needed to do without feeling too stressed about it does this mean that I wasn’t doing enough? The answer is no….it just means that I was being efficient, dealing with the necessities rather than the luxuries of teaching. We all have a list of things we would love to do (luxuries) but for me the reality is that the bread and butter of teaching, i.e. planning, assessment and classroom relationships are the things that are most important and should take priority. I do of course still take some work home with me and this will never completely stop but the volume has definitely decreased. It does also change with what’s going on in class. In times when there is a lot of work to be done such as report time and work which requires entire class assessment the volume will naturally increase, along with the blood pressure. The point though is that this is no longer a sustained state. Going home at the end of the day knowing that I have given meaningful feedback to children which will help them to improve and spent time working with them gives me with peace of mind that I am doing my job properly. To have this backed up with the support of my management team and mentor in an “excellent” recommendation topped off what, for me, was an excellent, exciting, hard going but incredibly satisfying first year in teaching and I can’t wait for the next 31!

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