(Almost) The End of Summer Institute

Somehow, it is already the fifth and final week of summer institute. By the end of this week, the 2017 cohort, over one thousand of us, will have officially passed the final stage of the recruitment process and will therefore be ready (I use that word lightly) to start teaching in our schools in September.

Over the past five weeks, I have stayed in five different cities. Despite being frustrating to live out of a suitcase for so long and despite realising early on that I did not actually like 90% of the clothes I had packed, it has actually been nice to travel around the UK to visit new places. Of course, with a new city comes a new Snapchat filter which has also added some extra excitement to summer institute.

Unfortunately, it turns out that teaching is actually much harder than I thought it was when I was in school myself. There is a lot more to it than just turning up and teaching a lesson, who knew eh? This means that unfortunately, during this teacher training there was no session called ‘How to teach’ that I could attend and magically leave, happy in the knowledge that I will know what I am doing come September. Instead, there has been an information overload with sessions on everything: special educational needs (SEN), misconceptions, behaviour, building effective relationships, planning, safeguarding (including teachers’ duties in safeguarding against radicalisation and extremism), assessment, biology, chemistry and physics practicals and the list goes on.

This final week is an inter-cohort week, as the 2016 and 2017 cohort have all been together in Leeds. The week started with a two day teacher development conference which was really great as we were able to choose to attend talks which really interested us and those which will be the most helpful. One of the best talks I attended during this conference was by Jaz Ampaw-Farr, who if you google you may recognise from The Apprentice a few years ago. It’s hard to describe exactly what this talk was about and what made it stand out so much, but essentially it was an hour of Jaz standing up and speaking with such passion about her past and about how she is only where she is today because of five teachers who she believes saved her from a life of crime, drugs and prostitution. It may sound an intense topic for a teacher development conference, but I certainly left with a newfound sense of purpose and motivation and a desire to be the best teacher I can be for my pupils. I highly recommend you visit Jaz’s website if you would like to find out more about her and see her speak:

http://jazampawfarr.com/

At the end of this two day conference, we were also treated to a performance by the National Orchestra for All (NOFA- http://www.orchestrasforall.org), a music group set up by a Teach First ambassador and comprising of 100 young people, many of which are from disadvantaged backgrounds. Although admittedly my knowledge of music and orchestras is not great, their music was really impressive and even more impressive was the confidence of the young people who stood up and spoke about themselves in front of 3000 people in the First Direct Arena. That’s something that I’m not sure I would be able to do.

There really have been so many highlights from the past month and I am aware that this blog is getting very long and rambly so I will just finally say that although I have seen some amazing speakers and performances and attended lots of sessions over the last few weeks, one of the best highlights is still the buzz that I got when I stood up in front of a class and delivered my first bit of teaching, back in week 1.

As cliché and cringe-worthy as this sounds, I honestly feel so lucky that the job I will be starting in September is one which allows me to have such a direct impact on young people’s lives and is a job that I know that I will enjoy.

However, as much as I am looking forward to starting, I am also very much counting down the days left this week until I have four weeks off for summer. Because yes I may get a buzz from teaching, but of course everyone knows that the real reason teachers choose to teach is because they crave those long summer holidays.

Week 2: Observations, osmosis and on the road again

One of the things that I was most worried about going into teaching straight from university is whether I look too young to teach. I feel like I really haven’t changed much since I left school myself, so how do I expect students to take me seriously let alone listen to what I have to say? So, much to my surprise, in the past two weeks that I’ve spent in school, I’ve had a couple of students ask me which school I taught at before and one student today even asked me “Are you like, one of those teachers that comes to other schools to assess other teachers?” So, despite the hours of sessions before and after school, probably one of the most valuable things I’ve learnt so far is to not underestimate the power of a blazer and a lanyard.

Although looking like a teacher doesn’t seem to be as much of a problem for me as I expected, one thing that has surprised me is how scary observations are. Over the course of the two-year programme, I will of course be observed many times, but the thought of this didn’t really phase me. If I can stand up and teach in front of 30 teenagers, surely another person stood at the back of the room won’t bother me?

Sadly, it bothers me much more than I thought it would. My first observation on Thursday was probably my worst bit of teaching I’ve done so far. I felt like I used to feel when I had to do presentations in school, nervous, and a little too shaky for someone who was trying to calmly pour sulphuric acid and sodium hydrogencarbonate into a conical flask while demonstrating a practical to a group of Year 7s I’d never met before. Although the only thought that was running through my head during that lesson was “I know that practise makes perfect, but is it possible to also become worse with practise?”, the feedback was not actually as bad as I expected (I think the quote was: “There were some good elements to the lesson”) and I hope this means that I can only get better from here.

Other highlights in week 2 included Monday night’s ‘Teach Meet’, where Teach First participants from years 1 and 2 delivered short presentations with useful advice they wanted to pass on. Although not all of this was relevant to us, just the fact that they still had enough energy and enthusiasm to deliver these presentations reassured me that the programme can’t be that soul destroying. Apart from the ‘disaster’ observed lesson on Thursday, the teaching generally went well last week. Funnily enough, I was in a Year 9 lesson where they were doing the osmosis practical with potatoes that I did myself during training last week and predictably, one boy did start throwing cores of potato at another girl. Thankfully they were only throwing them though, I heard from a teacher today that one particular year 9 class, very randomly, had a habit of eating everything, including some clearly mouldy bread that they were using for a practical. Kids really do the strangest things.

After finishing off my school centred learning on Thursday and a quick trip back to my university to graduate on Friday, I have now moved to my actual placement area and today was the first of three days this week in my placement school. Excitingly, today I finally received my timetable for September. I will be teaching seven different classes, from years 7-10, which I am equally excited and terrified about. I would say “What’s the worst that can happen?” but I know that with science, there’s actually quite a lot of potential for bad things to happen, so stay tuned for that…

Week 1: Practicals, planning and the periodic table

It’s Sunday night and I have officially survived my first week of the Teach First summer institute training, so I thought now would be a good time for another blog post.

The first day of training saw around 70 of us participants come together in our local area, where we had a short time to network before going straight into the sessions.

One of the highlights of the first few days was when we split up into our subject specific sessions. It was very surreal being in a school lab being shown how to do the core practicals and it did feel like I was back at school. But when it was our turn to do the heart dissection, microscopy and an experiment studying osmosis in potato strips ourselves, the realisation did sink in. It is definitely terrifying to think that come September, we will be the adults in charge of the practical. We are going to be the ones having to point out where the valves in the heart are, be responsible for making sure students don’t injure themselves with the scalpel and praying that the class won’t start throwing cores of potato across the classroom as soon as they start the practical.

Although the first few days of training were interesting, the best part so far was day 5, when I had the chance to do my first bit of teaching. As part of the assessment centre for Teach First, they ask you to teach a 7 minute lesson to two adults pretending to be children. Weirdly, I was actually more nervous before this pretend lesson than I was before the year 9 chemistry lesson I taught on Thursday. It did help that I had spent hours preparing the night before like the nerd that I am, making a worksheet about the periodic table and a slideshow about atomic structure and electron shells.

Just before the lesson started, another teacher came in the room and gave me some great advice. She said not to worry about it and that teaching is mainly about acting, so as long as I acted confident I would be fine. Of course, she didn’t know I was actually rubbish at drama at school but I found it really great advice nonetheless.

After being introduced to the class as a “chemistry specialist”, I was given the whiteboard marker and official reins of the classroom. Although I have some vague ‘classroom’ experience from my time as a Girlguiding leader and summer job with NCS (National Citizen Service), I have no actual teaching experience, so my main concern was that I would realise I hated teaching. So, it was such a relief to stand at the front of the classroom and feel so excited to be teaching. I definitely need to work on my whiteboard handwriting and electron shell diagrams, but I enjoyed it so much and it was nice to feel reassured about my career choice.

This coming week I will be teaching small sessions about the universe, osmosis and helping with a practical about making fire extinguishers, so it’s great being able to teach such varied topics. There is already a lot of planning involved, which of course takes time, but overall I’m really enjoying the experience and I can’t wait to start with my very own classes in September.

Finally, I just want to share my favourite quote of the week from a year 9 student in a lesson that I observed with two other participants last lesson on Friday. After the whole class had been disruptive and badly behaved all lesson, he just said “Sir, I bet the one question that’s going through their heads is ‘How the HELL do you put up with us?’”. He may not have enjoyed science, but that’s one thing that he definitely got right that lesson. Here’s hoping the behaviour management will come with time…

 

 

How I ended up here…

When I was in primary school, one of my favourite games was pretending to be a teacher. This essentially involved doing a register with a list of all the names I could think of, then using a whiteboard marker to write the date on my wardrobe, as a substitute for an actual whiteboard.  But although a fun game, it was never my ambition to become a teacher when I ‘grew up’. My real ambition was to be something cool like a pop star or an actress.

Of course as I got older, I realised that being famous was not a viable career choice and I had to figure out what I did actually want to do with my life. After a ‘year out’, which I refuse to call a gap year because I did not travel and discover myself, I began a degree in biomedical science, with the intention of pursuing a career in research.

To help gain experience in research, after my second year I completed an industrial placement year in the research and development labs at GlaxoSmithKline. Although I have no regrets about this decision, it did make me realise that my passion in life did not revolve around pipetting in a lab.

In my final year, I still did not know what I wanted to do after leaving the safety and comfort of the student lifestyle, but one thing I did know that I was passionate about was Enactus. For those not lucky enough to have encountered this before, Enactus is a global non-profit organisation, where students work together using entrepreneurial action to transform lives, tackling some of society’s biggest issues both locally and internationally.

Enactus became such a big part of my life in my final year and I realised that, whatever I did after university, I wanted to continue to create a positive change in the community. If I could do that while using my degree at the same time, that would be a bonus.

So, when I learnt that I could teach science while gaining a teaching qualification on the leadership development programme (LDP) with Teach First, a charity with the vision of ending educational inequality, it sounded like the perfect job for me.

Teach First exists because of the striking link between low socio-economic background and poor educational attainment that exists in the UK, two things that should not be linked. Family income should not be an indicator of how well a child does in school, yet sadly this remains the reality. The more I read into just how big this problem was and the work that Teach First were doing to end this educational disadvantage, the more I wanted to apply.

In November 2016, just three weeks after first learning about Teach First and after an intense application form and assessment centre, I was offered a place to teach science as part of the 2017 cohort. Now, seven months later, I am preparing to start the programme in just a couple of days.

The programme begins with five weeks of training, in the form of university lectures and school based learning. Then, from September, I will be moving to a new area, where I will be teaching science at the same school for the duration of the two-year programme.

In my preparations for this training to begin, which have mainly involved trying to absorb as much information from my teaching textbooks as I can and watching any teaching relevant shows I can find, I had the idea to start a blog to document this journey. I have always wanted to start a blog, but was never sure what I could write about, so I’m starting this blog with good intentions, in the hope that I will have enough content over the next two years to continue to write regularly.

It may be a little optimistic of me to think that I will have the energy and time to write while trying to teach, maintain a social life and stay sane, but hey, optimism is not the worst quality for a new teacher to have.  I hope that this blog will provide a useful insight for anyone considering going into teaching, an interesting read for anyone simply curious about what my next couple of years will involve or just act as an entertaining blog for anyone who wishes to read my entries and feel grateful that they are not responsible for the education of actual real-life children.

You can find out more about Teach First and apply for the 2018 leadership development programme here: http://www.teachfirst.org.uk