For @TLPMrsF and @HeadofEnglish I have renamed this ‘My First Year of Teaching’. So here’s my contribution to #BlogSyncEnglish
The hardest year of my teaching career was my GTP year. I completed my training on the 80:20 programme, which meant that I taught full time for 4 days a week and went to college one day a week. I had complete control over my classes and was observed once a week on top of that. So this is my letter to my 80:20 self.
You’re here. The kids are finally grown up enough for you to take this year to get the career that you want. It won’t be easy, in fact there will be times when you think that you might break, but it’s a year – just get through it.
Most importantly, you will become quite ill this year. Your friend will die, your relationship will break up and this coupled with the stress of the training will push your mental health to a limit that you will never be free of. But maybe that’s a good thing, the pills, the counselling and the hospital visits will help to get you on a new path, a more accepting path and there is no shame in that. Be honest about it. If people feel uncomfortable hearing about it, then that’s their problem. But being open about how you are feeling can only ever be a good thing and if people want to be ignorant about it, then so be it.
It’s ok to be the teacher you want to be. People will always insist that their way is the right way, but it is ok to find your own path and teach the way that you want to. You can’t pretend to be other people, find your own rhythm and everything else will fall into place. But, having said that, do listen to advice. You can choose what works for you and people who have been through it before you normally know what they are talking about!
You’ll get great GCSE results this year – amazing even, but next year one of your classes will do brilliantly and one won’t. Don’t take it to heart. Don’t let it break you and remember that, whatever the data says, it’s the individuals that matter. When one of those students comes up to you and tells you that it is down to you and the grade they got, that meant that they could get a scholarship to a private school, bottle that thanks and that feeling. Bottle too the moment the mother of one of those students thanked you for being the only person who believed in and put the effort in with their son, meaning the only C grade they got was in your subject. That’s what matters. Numbers mean nothing compared to that.
You can’t please everyone all the time. Observation of lessons is wholly subjective. What one person thinks is brilliant, another thinks isn’t good enough. What observer might think you talked too much, another will think you didn’t talk enough. You will spend this year changing your seating plan from groups to rows depending on the observer. Just go with it. Don’t let it get to you. The only people who can truly make a judgement on your teaching are those that are there day in, day out. The kids. And guess what? There is no one more honest than a class of 30 teenagers; they’ll tell you the truth and encourage them to be honest about what works and doesn’t work. The more ownership they have, the more they will want to learn and the better they will do.
Don’t be afraid of trying new things. Ignore the “we’ve always done it this way and we’ve done ok” comments. Everything can be improved and there is no shame in wanting to try new things in an effort to improve. In fact, if you don’t want to improve, then you are clearly in the wrong job. It’s a job that cries out for trialling and adapting. Flexibility will need to become one of your best skills.
There is no shame in enjoying your job and wanting to challenge yourself to be better. It’s ok to read books and blogs. It’s absolutely fine to chat to people on Twitter about what works and doesn’t work. It is great to argue and debate ideas online. It is ok to use ideas and adapt them for your classroom. It’s a good thing to go to conferences where your enthusiasm will be sparked and you will come with arms full of ideas. It’s not shameful to want to be better. It is shameful to not be bothered to try.
Never be afraid to speak out and share ideas. If you make resources that might help someone else – share them. It might save one person some time and effort, it might encourage them to try something new. This profession does not work without sharing and over the last couple of years, it has become more evident that there are people around the country who want to share ideas and resources. You will meet some amazing people that way and ultimately, willhelp you to become a better practitioner yourself. Sharing is caring, as the saying goes, but also sharing and collaborating is essential. You will get nowhere fast without it.
You’ve already worked with students for nearly 10 years, you know what a wide range of young people there are out there. Be proud of them all always. Who cares if they don’t make 25 levels of progress, or whatever this week’s figure is, I’d they have tried their hardest, of they have become good, rounded, caring and ambitious young people then that is the greatest thing of all. Be proud that they are going into the outside world as good people and that you may have had a small part in that.
You will see teenagers die, some in horrifically sad circumstances and you will wonder why they had to spend their few precious years on this earth, being pushed to reach targets. You will see children with unimaginable home lives, dragging themselves to school in the morning just to feel safe. Remember that your classroom reflects the complex society we live in. Sometimes those children will be angry, sometimes they will need to cry, many times they will want to laugh and talk and question things. That’s all ok. And if any of those things mean you have to deviate from the lesson plan, then so be it.
Every lesson does not need to be a perfect 3 part, 5 part, 10 part (or whatever the latest number of parts is) lesson. Progression sometimes takes a while, so it is ok to do it until they get it. It’s ok to veer off the lesson plan and try it a different way. You adapt to what the students need, the students don’t have to have a perfect beginning, middle and end. They need to have the knowledge, the vocabulary and the skills to succeed and if it takes a bit longer, who cares.
Read. Read anything and everything. Read classics, read good literature, read awful literature, read the books your students are reading, read books on education theory, read blogs, Twitter feeds and subject specific books. You can’t be an English teacher without it and you can’t teach context, grammar, vocabulary, plays, poetry and novels without having an up to date understanding of what is going on out there in the world, what the latest theories in education are, and what fantastic writing there is out there.
You will have some of your worst days ever teaching, as well as some of your best. You will be so tired and beaten down that you can do nothing but cry. It is a profession where you have to build a strong backbone against the ‘not good enough’ feelings. But ultimately, you will get up and stand in front of those classes every day because you love being with the bright, inquisitive minds of children and those hours of your day are mostly brilliant. And yes, it does help that they are probably the only people left who believe that you are 25.
Be proud that you will make it through this year; it’s just the stepping stone to bigger and better things. Keep going and remember that no other job has ever made you feel so challenged, no two days will ever be the same and you are lucky to be on your way to having the best job in the world.