Maybe it is something to do with starting something new, but when I started thinking about my new role as Head of Science, I thought I should write a blog. This led me to re-discover the blog I had wanted to start before starting teaching. Unsurprisingly, I failed to keep going with the blog during the first chaotic years of teaching, but now I think it will be really useful and so I am going to stick with it this time! Since the previous post was 5 years ago, I thought I would start with a very general blog about five of the big lessons I have learnt since starting teaching.
Year 1: Teaching is one of the most amazing jobs in the world
Although most people I talk to say “I could never be a teacher” I think they are all missing a trick. As a science teacher especially I get to do so many things you would never normally get to try. In year 1 I was not sure who was the most excited and shocked by the sight of the pig’s heart we dissected – me or year 9! With year 12s we built a particle detector and saw the traces of cosmic rays in classroom, and in my after-school STEM club we competed to build the longest Rube-Goldberg machine (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qybUFnY7Y8w for those not in the know). Beyond getting to do interesting and fun things day in, day out, I get to work with some of the most interesting people around. Yes, they aren’t always perfectly behaved, but students are rarely boring. Something interesting (or frustrating/challenging depending on your point of view…) happens every day. Not many of my friends in other jobs can say that.
Year 2: Pastoral support is so much better than when I was at school
The close relationship and amazing levels of support the pastoral teams at both the schools I have worked in is far closer than anything I experienced when I was a student. I can’t imagine having confidence in any member of staff when I was young, but the pastoral staff know so much about the lives of our students, and do so much to help them overcome difficulties outside of school to be successful. In my current school, Kids Company have an office, and the statistics about the people they work with show just how much challenge some young people have to overcome (http://www.kidsco.org.uk/about-us/the-need-for-kids-company). 1 in every 5 of the students they work with does not have a bed – and realising things like this makes it much easier to understand why students find it hard to concentrate on why an object reaches terminal velocity.
Year 3: Getting students to realise they learn in your lessons makes a big difference
I think I fully appreciated this fact only in my third year of teaching. Although it sounds simple, students are more confident if they are successful in a subject. By deliberately giving them the chance to succeed, and by making sure they were aware of their successes and what they had learnt, I got students really enthusiastic about studying Physics. This is particularly important in Physics as students often lack confidence in the subject and think it is difficult. More confident students are more likely to take risks, to try something difficult, and as a result they are more successful. My third year of teaching saw a year 13 go to Oxford to study Physics, and more people (and more girls) than ever chose A level Physics.
Year 4: There are opportunities through being a teacher you wouldn’t expect
Gone are the days where a teacher is stuck in front of a chalkboard teaching the same things over and over. I’ve been lucky to have some really interesting experiences that I would never have expected when I started teaching. A TfL grant saw me get a bicycle maintenance qualification and work with students to repair bicycles the police recovered, which was a great way to use my interests at work. I’ve been to the House of Lords to talk about getting girls into Physics, I’ve had a breakfast discussion with Lord Adonis about helping Teach First reach more isolated areas, and yesterday I met Prince Charles at Clarence House to talk about the Teach First Ambassador movement. Perhaps the most exciting opportunity of all was the fully-funded trip to CERN in Geneva to learn about how cutting-edge Physics research can be used to engage students. Oh, and somehow I ended up singing in front of over 1,000 trainee teachers in Leeds arena!
Year 5: Teachers learn best from each other
One thing I have become increasingly aware of is how much teachers learn from each other. I don’t want to add up the amount of wasted hours I have spent in whole school inset to learn next to nothing as it would be a depressing statistic. The useful insets have got teachers talking together and I have learnt an incredible amount from my peers through discussions (and more recently Twitter). A brief conversation at the Associate Tutor training with @mfl_itt inspired both of us to start using Plickers in the classroom. I am going to make sure there are plenty of opportunities for these conversations in the department next year.
The next step…
It was hard to narrow what I have learnt down to just five key things. I have learnt a huge amount more than this and am still learning every day. The next step is the challenge of putting them all into place in the new role.
What are your ‘big lessons’ from teaching?