Archives for the month of: September, 2013

Last week it was my schools open day and I realised that as a teacher I know specifically what to look for when going round on a school open day and that many parents could benefit from this expertise.

Below you will find my top five tips for choosing a school for your child

My Top Five Tips

1. Speak to the students.

Ask them questions, what they like and what they don’t like. Children generally tell the truth and you will get a sense of what it is like to be a student at that school.

2. Speak to the teachers.

Ask them questions and observe the relationship between them and the students. Also do your research and google “teacher turnover rate” for that school. If teachers are staying it usually means that they enjoy working there and that is a good thing.

3. Ask questions relating to your son or daughters interest.

If they have a passion for poetry or knitting see what the school provides in terms of extra curricular activity and if they could offer it.

4. Ask about the Special Educational Needs (SEN) department.

A society is judged on how it treats its most vulnerable members and the same is true for a school. If they have a good SEN department then chances are it is a good school.

5. Take notes.

You will be handed a lot of literature which shows the school in its best light. You want to take notes so that you can remember how you felt when you visited the school and you can use it to help you make your decision.

This is a shout out to all girls everywhere. We are awesome, listen to the good stuff and stop being so hard on yourself.

This is something I have and am still trying to work on. As a gender we are generally predisposed to be “perfect” and “good” and as a young girl I can remember being really preoccupied with getting things perfect. It often stopped me from trying things out as a kid and made me question what was the right decision.

I regularly see this in my students.

Lets look at different levels of ability.

One class, top set and very confident independent learners. However as I have noticed in my classroom, they are often scared of any imperfection. Their books are incredibly neat and tidy (great for marking) but as a maths teacher I can tell you that you need to use paper to do your working out and try out different concepts. In this article the author explains how this perfectionism can lead to girls giving up much sooner than boys. I would argue this is true for all girls regardless of their perceived intelligence.

One argument put forward by Stanford University psychologist Carol Dweck is that intelligence is not fixed at birth through genetics but can rather be developed. It is a simple idea that makes all the difference and I have seen it in action.

A different class that need more support in their learning. I worked with them last year, building their confidence and encouraging them to take risks and to ask questions. This year I was asked if I wanted to teach them foundation or higher tier GCSE maths. I have chosen to adapt the higher tier syllabus to ensure they are better equipped to take the higher paper in year 11 and are more likely to obtain their grade C or higher at GCSE. As it stands at the moment they are consistently working at a Grade C at the moment. Last year they made on average 4 sub-levels of progress, which is two above the expected level of progress for any student. This is absolutely wonderful and I am incredibly proud of them.

One key tool that encourages my students to try out questions is mini whiteboards.

mini whiteboards

This simple thing means that my students are more inclined to try something out. I asked them on Friday, why do you enjoy using the mini-whiteboards? The reply was that they didn’t want to mess up their books. Such a simple thing, but it allows them the freedom to experiment and build their confidence in maths.

The lid is off the jar…

flea jar

This week was one of highs and lows. It started off with tiredness.
The previous Saturday had been an open day at school so with only one full day off I was back at work. Happily the kids were great and things were ticking along. However, as this is quite an emotional job the key to being successful in the classroom is to take care of yourself and to rest. Not always possible however at the start of a new school year. By Tuesday I was pretty tired and marking, planning, teaching, displays, homework, meetings (just to scratch the surface) were taking their toll.

The final straw hit me on Wednesday whilst teaching year 10 about linear graphs. The lesson didn’t work even though it was well planned and differentiated. The students were not independent and drained my energy with their lack of thinking for themselves. At moments like that all teachers look at themselves and think what on earth? How did that happen and I must be such a bad teacher. What I have learned though is that the best teachers suck it up, regroup and come back with a plan.

So with a battle strategy Churchill would have been proud of I went in next lesson armed with card sorts and worksheets. The lesson was better and the students had what they needed at their disposal to complete the task. I didn’t intervene and I left them to it. My role was to facilitate. This is to reduce their constant insecurity and build their own confidence to do it themselves. It seems paradoxical at times that the less I help them, the more I actually do help them.
Everyone ultimately wants to work something out for themselves as it builds our self esteem and helps us develop the reasoning and thinking skills to solve a whole host of problems. Life is problem solving.
We read reports in the media of better results for students and I have experienced schools that push students and feed them the process to pass the exam. If teachers always give students the information they will not develop into the individuals they could be. The more skills you enable a student to develop the better they will be equipped to contribute to society.
Big thoughts in the middle of a tiring week.

out·stand·ing (out-stndng, outstn-)
adj.
1. Standing out among others of its kind.
2. Superior to others of its kind; distinguished.
3. Projecting upward or outward; standing out.
out·standing·ly adv.

This is the word that every school and teacher wants to be graded as. It’s a word that before I embarked on my teaching career I had never really spoken or come across. Now it is in my everyday vernacular.

If we examine the word itself it means to stand out, superior i.e. a step above the norm. This week a lesson I taught was graded outstanding. This is a cause for celebration and rightly so as it shows how much thought and energy I put into my lessons. The students learnt new concepts and made progress and did it for themselves. All fantastic components of any lesson. The difficulty for me is that I don’t think that was one of my best lessons that I’ve taught and I know how it could have been improved further. The grading of lessons is somewhat subjective but also it depends on the students, the relationship you have with them, and even the weather.

Fun Facts about students and the weather

1. Wind makes them go

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2. Rain and cloud makes them (especially teenagers) like this:

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3. Sunshine makes them

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4.But if it is only slightly higher than room temperature then we have

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5. Thunder and lightning is frightening

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6.And finally snow makes everyone (teachers included!) go

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Now, where can I write that on the lesson plan?

Ofsted are due to visit my school in the near future. The threat of an inspection has been on the cards for several years in fact, way before I even joined.
No matter how high the probability has been before up until this point, NOW we KNOW Ofsted is coming.

I have never been through a school inspection but I have felt the threat of an Ofsted grade looming over my teaching career. It’s almost as if you will have your career ended if you fall on the sword of inadequacy or needs to improve. My concern is that they won’t see my best lessons as it is disruptive and stressful. I don’t think anyone has ever seen my best lessons.
Today I had some great lessons: very different between year 11 maths and year 7 history.
Year 11 Maths- independent learners, leading their own learning, showing their working out on the board feeling super confident, me as a facilitator in the room. Great stuff.
Year 7 History-

Me: “So what do you think history is?”
Student 1: “Its when someone did something great in the past”
Me: “Ok, but what about Hitler?”
Student 2: “I think History is from a long long long time ago.”
Me: “When is a long time ago?”
Student 2: “Before 2000”
Best history conversation I’ve had in a long time!

I do think I have the best job in the world sometimes. Plus I know the students and I know how to get the most out of them. I just hope that I tick the right boxes for Ofsted to see that too.

As a teacher you have to face the facts that you won’t be making a shed load of cash from your employment. As a trainee teacher, you’ll be making an hourly wage less than the one you would have got at 15 working in the deli round the corner packing pasta (there is not much I do not know about parpadelle pasta and the different sizes of spaghetti).

However as a person living in one of the worlds expensive cities sometimes it would be nice to be paid a bit more sometimes, as I’m sure we would all agree. One of the challenges we face as teachers and workers in the public sector is the reduction in funding for schools and rising living costs. Salaries haven’t increased above inflation for several years and as a younger teacher I didn’t really understand what inflation felt like until now. It’s that sensation when you are buying the same things and trying to be careful with your money but it still isn’t going as far as you would like.

The other side that is challenging is how to go about moving up a payscale. The Acadmies system has been viewed by some as encouraging a performance management based system which rewards the teachers who get the best results and teachers can be more competitive with their salaries. After my own interesting sourjourn at an academy this did fill me with dread. As a teacher you are constantly working to help your students obtain their very best, but even at my very best the most optimistic statistic is that I will have a forty percent impact on my students. This will only be for my subject in a secondary context. Sometimes students won’t be able to make progress that year for a whole host of reasons way beyond your control and yet I worry that you will be penalised for this and thus your pay will be reflected.

On the other hand you know you do a fantastic job and you have a great success rate with the vast majority of your students and you feel you should be suitably remunerated for your effort hard work and most importantly, skill. It’s not an easy job and the best teachers are like watching an amazing play or hearing a symphony play some exquisite music. You don’t know how it exactly works but you know it does and it’s vaguely tangible. Surely if you are conducting the learning of the next generation and doing it to a fine art there can be some financial benefit to run alongside the sense of satisfaction. The dilemma of course is how can pay and salary conditions be fairly reviewed and monitored that doesn’t make someone feel inadequate. Investment in CPD is an absolute must and this article in the guardian argues how important it is to invest in who we have.

Inadequate has been too loosely bandied about in teaching, via OFSTED frameworks and lesson observations. It’s time we build up our teachers and celebrate them for the superheroes that they are. Support them, encourage them and motivate them within a pay and conditions framework that is fair, just and rewarding financially and or otherwise.

Well today was one of those days that reminds you of why you do the job. I’ll admit the pressure builds and suddenly you’ve got 15,000 small jobs to get done and you have a brief panic that you’ve completely forgotten how to teach and wonder how long it will take the kids to eat you alive.
Then you see a year 7 student with a blazer that’s too big and everyone has shiny shoes and an awkward stance with their backpack. Pristine pencil cases and eagerness pouring from every pore. You realise the incredible privilege you have to be part of their growing up and you smile, from your toes because you feel proud and you feel humble.
Best bit of the day was seeing a year 7 student on their own, looking a little lost and having a chat with her about her love of reading and Roald Dahl and making her smile and feel a little better about the school. Awesome stuff.
Then you get thrown back into swimming through all the planning of lessons, marking, negotiating your stationery order and clinging on to some semblance of a social life.

But hey for that shining second that playground sparkled with happiness for me.

I will teach Maths, History and Yoga this year. Quite a combo!

Sometimes as a teacher you get to a point of insurmountable things that need to get done. Today was a prime example of how much paperwork that needs to be prepared before you can even teach a child.

Display boards need to be papered and primed, whiteboards cleaned to shine, seating plans, mark books, data sheets, photocopies, books, handouts, stationery, desk space, text books, IT check, desk tidy, literacy check, keywords display. Then we have things related to having a form: duty rota, welcome presentation PowerPoint, birthday list, pictures, notice board, checking lockers, obtain diaries and so on. This is before I have planned my lessons and though about homework.

The amount of effort that goes into the start of every year is in incredible and important. However what I do think is difficult to reconcile is that for much of the year I would argue that these data and evidence based exercises are less for the students and more for others to see. It would be wonderful to have more time to spend on lessons and sometimes I am genuinely quite shocked by how much time is required from teachers to be able to prepare fantastic lessons for all their classes every week. Today that is what I felt- a fear that I wouldn’t be able to deliver the lessons I wanted to. I’ll make it happen, but at what cost?

It was my first day at school today and it is exactly the same in some respects as the kids. You see your colleagues, get excited about exchanging summer stories and sort out all your stationery.

What is the most important resource for any school? It’s teachers. Without them doing the wonderful demanding stressful and rewarding job that they do, there wouldn’t be such a vibrant and educated community of people around us. We need investment in teachers to ensure that they continue to be the very best teacher they can be, and this doesn’t come for free. We don’t want any of this from politicians

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but rather and considered approach.
Like this from the Guardian

As budgets are being cut and resources are limited the way we spend public funds has to be carefully measured. We teachers do notice and make adjustments all the time. But I would argue that the continual investment in training opportunities for teachers to develop their practise is an integral component in making sure that any education system is one we can be proud of. This does need to be efficient and cost effective and what better way than by utilising the Internet and digital media to share ideas and resources?
They problem is that many teachers simply do not have to time to trawl through the vastness of cyberspace and separate the wheat from the chaff. This is why I started this blog to try to find a way to link all my thinking and interests in education together. We need to find a way to connect the dots.

So my vision setting starting me thinking about how I need to be inspired, we all do, and how we are all striving for success in different ways. This led me to watch this TED talk on the secrets of success 8 steps to success
This then made me a little confused as it seems so logical and straightforward that how can we all rise to the challenge of being able to realise our own success.

Then it came to me, the thing that holds us back is fear.

So I reminded myself of this wonderfully inspirational speech by Steve Jobs

Are you feeling suitably inspired yet?

If not how about a more practical approach? 30 days

So my own personal challenge is to write about the first 30 days of my school year. The highs and the lows and what I am doing as a secondary school teacher of maths (and a little bit of history).

I love what I do, and I love the students I teach and I want all children everywhere to have an education we can all be proud of no matter where they live, their social background or any other parameter that society can conjure up. We are living in a global society and we need a global education framework that works.

Lets do this.