Week One

They say we should do something that scares us everyday. I’m yet to decide what scares me more, crossing the death trap (i.e. the awful road on the way to school) or my year 8 classes. 

Despite these daily doses of terror I am indeed three days in to my teaching career and I am absolutely loving it.

Year 8 are challenging. Many of the students can’t read or write and some struggle to speak and understand English. This results in huge amounts of frustration and often anger. After a disaster with one class on Tuesday I have been trying my best to get to know them using games and speaking activities.

Year 9 are interesting, some very challenging behavior is bubbling beneath the surface and I am doing my best to keep it at bay with insane amounts of positive reinforcement and praise. I sense that they are all quite interested in the subject but getting them to be enthusiastic about it is going to take a lot of work.

In comparison my lovely year 11 option group have made my week. Vibrant, intelligent and ready to go – they are going to be the class I look forward to every week. Despite a stern word about GCSEs and an hour on revision websites not one member of the class complained / suggested it was too early to get prepared. There is true potential in that class and I am going to work my socks off to get the best out of them – it will take a lot of work to push all that energy into the right channels.

Lows of the week include… The distant expressions fixed on some student’s faces as their class mates misbehave – it just shouldn’t be the norm. Goldilocks* telling me that she is ‘not rude, simply horrible’. Several students saying ‘Miss, what’s the point, I’m thick anyway.’ And the look of utter shock when I asked the EAL students to raise their hands so that I could point out the language experts in the room – they were so shocked to be recognised for having a skill that English-speaking peers did not.

Highlights of the week…*White cap removing his baseball cap without having to be asked. Three detentions resulting in fantastic work from three students with very challenging behavior. *Simba announcing ‘She is a good, kind teacher’ to the class and *the Dream girls dancing to Yannick Noah and promising to learn the lyrics for the next lesson.

All in all not a bad first week (probably just jinxed tomorrow) – I still have A LOT of work to, I still have A LOT to learn and I need A LOT of sleep this weekend.

Day 1. Radicalism and Project based learning.

It seems I too often start my posts with woes of the six o’clock alarm – so instead I will moan about the 737, which actually arrived at 7.45 making me late for my first day at work. Luckily, my tardiness went unnoticed amid the general havoc of inset day. I slipped into the briefing with my other Teach First colleagues just in time to hear that despite suffering a devastating blow due to the English GCSE scandal the grades at the school had, in fact, improved. Thumbs up.

We then spent a very interested morning with two local police officers who talked about Prevent, a scheme aiming to protect young vulnerable adolescents from being affected by radical or extremist behaviors. We watched and discussed case studies which exemplified just how important it is to follow up even the slightest concerns – as staff at a high school we have a duty to protect those in our care. Any signs which might hint towards radical behaviour or thoughts must be addressed if we are are to protect these children.

In terms of my department it would seem that I am indeed the only French teacher and it is unlikely there will be another until at least Christmas. As I said in a previous post the department has merged with EAL in order to give me some support, however in terms of schemes of work, lesson planning and assessment I have been left to my own devices. Having, initially, been quite worried by this situation I am now feeling quite positive. I think not having other French staff will remove as much pressure as it adds – whilst I will have to plan independently and source schemes of work, I will have more freedom to sculpt the courses into what I want them to be.

One way in which I hope to use this freedom is with year 9. I was warned by the previous teacher that many of year 9 often disengage with French after they choose their options. They no longer see the point in it and often their behaviour can deteriorate quite rapidly. I have decided to attempt to combat this from day 1 by planning their scheme of work into three ‘projects’. I have taken the key material they must learn and designed 3 on-going term-long projects which will not only cover all the material but teach them valuable skills whilst applying the curriculum to real-life modern-world situations. During the first term, leading up to Christmas, they are going to plan (and ‘go on’) a road trip to France. We will cover French geography, customs, transport, weather, towns and villages. The students will design a travel buddy who will accompany them on their journey (allowing them to exploit the use of not only Je but Il/Elle et On/Nous too. I hope to incorporate lots of role plays and lots of IT in order to really bring the project to life. I hope to locate a corridor display near the classroom where the class will track their route through France, and their progress through the project – displaying their knowledge of new vocabulary, grammar and culture.

As you can tell I am very excited about this element of my new challenge – I can’t wait to get started.

As for today, however, I will be focusing on classroom expectations and my RESPECT acronym, followed by classroom instructions with year 8 and stereotyping with year 9.

Wish me luck.

a few ideas for the french classroom…

One of the things I wanted to do when I started this blog was to share ideas and resources. It is no secret that teaching is a hard and time consuming profession and I believe that active collaboration is a must – I therefore welcome any teacher to take, share and adapt these resources as they wish.

Today I will share three simple ideas I aim to trial over the next few weeks…

Firstly, a simple and modern idea for a classroom display…

These three posters play on the popular ‘Keep Calm’ design and remind students to conjugate, speak french and to not forget accents. I printed them onto A3 coloured card for a bright and attractive finish.

Secondly, having been told my year nine classes thrive when thrown into a competition I have devised a Hogwarts-style points system. In addition to individual merits my three year nine classes will work to gain ‘teamwork points’ – the three classes will each be given a name of a French city and its corresponding coat of arms. The slide will be adapted each lesson as points are either rewarded or deducted. At the end of each term the winning class will be rewarded with France-inspired treats (think French patisserie day).

Finally, I have adapted a clever acronym introduced to me by a Teach First associate tutor. Quacnott is a small (very cute) duck – but Quacnott cannot quack (hence his name). Quacnott can, however, remind students of the key components to a well written sentence…

I have designed two wall-posters using the Quacnott acronym and have designed the above label for students to stick into their exercise books as a reminder when writing in French.

I will report back in a week or two and feedback on these ideas.

In the meantime I will be meeting my classes for the first time, establishing classroom rules and expectations whilst attempting to skills test my year 11s and get them enthusiastic about the coming year.

Wish me bon courage – J’en ai besoin!

T-minus 4 days

On Tuesday morning I will be standing in front of my year 9s attempting, for the first time, to stamp my authority whilst simultaneously hoping to winning them over. On my ever-growing to do list is a somewhat key task – locate and prepare classroom.

This, one would think, would be one of the more pleasant challenges of my week leading up to the start of term – how wrong one can be.

At 9am yesterday today I turned up to school armed with flags, posters and seating plans – I was greeted by a store-cupboard filled with every imaginable textbook, workbook and teachers guide. Crisp packets, long forgotten lipsticks and half eaten sweets littered the remains of exercise books and dried up glue-sticks. After two solid hours of sorting, sacking and sweeping I decided to call it a day – I had barely made an indentation in the chaos.

Moving onto the classroom (an ex-media suite) I find nets of mice, headphones and usb cables, display work from almost a decade ago, more battered textbooks and enough french dictionaries to pave the Champs-Elysee. Of course the gem of my day was finding the phrase ‘bon lavoro’ (supposedly good work – in french) and ‘faire’ (the verb ‘to do’ being used to translate the English word ‘fair’) on the wall. Once again I got busy and cleared as much ‘stuff’ as I could, filling a wheelie bin and several bin bags. Alas, it is still a long way off from looking anything like a French classroom. However, after another day of hard work today it should, at least, be safe and comfortable.

On a much more positive note – I met my new head of department (an EAL specialist) who was incredibly friendly and positive. I am so excited to work with her and her team – it seems like it’s going to be a really vibrant exciting department and Miss.E* really wants the best for her students. Furthermore, if I’m honest, she is the first permanent member of staff (outside the one’s on the same grad programme as me) who has made me feel truly welcome in the school.

I’m so glad you’re here, it will be great to work with you.

These very simple words made me feel so much more positive about starting on Tuesday – because let’s be honest, nobody likes being the new girl.

r.e.s.p.e.c.t….find out what it means to me (and my classes)

With only two weeks between me and inset day I am forcing myself to start considering what I might want to do in my first lesson with each class. Following the advice of almost everyone I am designing a multi-purpose fit-for-all (it will probably go wrong) type lesson. Again, following advice from my colleagues and tutors, I am starting with the basics – classroom demeanor, rules and behaviors.

In order to do this I had to seriously consider what I want my classroom norms to be. I don’t want to stand in front of my classes on the first day and read out a list of archaic school rules which they’re already fully aware of and intent on ignoring- they’re stale, they’re old, they’re boring and to be quite honest I don’t truly recognise the danger of a badly tied tie, neither do I think wearing trainers in class is actually going to have an impact on any child’s emotional or intellectual development. (cue a future post telling my – oh so naive – self how wrong I am!)

So what do I think is important? As I’ve mentioned in previous posts I think creating a space where children are free from snide remarks, discrimination and childish taunts is key. I want to create a classroom based on respect (as cheesy as that may sound). When a child learns to respect another they take a huge step towards self-respect, towards respect for their teacher, their learning and their success. My ‘norms’ are still very much in the drafting stage, and they could easily be scrapped before September but here is what I have so far…

In my first lesson I want to discuss what respect means to my students (I hope to get them thinking / writing / sketching about this during the starter) we will then discuss what they think respect is…and shape the classes norms around their findings and the ideas above. I was impressed to read about teachers who have allowed their classes to decide on their own norms and wanted to trial their strategies – however I question how effective that might be as a new teacher who has no idea about her classes.

Whilst I understand the importance of time management I feel in the first week a little leniency might be valuable – I want to allow this discussion to run its course – if it takes five minutes I already have a lesson plan and adequate resources planned, but they can easily be saved for the second lesson if the session is flowing well. Besides, minute-by-minute lesson plans make me nervous and I will have enough to be nervous about in those first few days!

If any experienced teachers have any comments / insights that they would like to share please do tweet me @Disce_Doce because let’s be honest…I need all the help I can get!

avoiding blind panic

After six weeks of intensive training and a week relaxing on a sunny southern beach I am now moving into my new flat. With a to-do list longer than my leg and complete lack of information about my school, classes or colleagues I am feeling somewhat lost.

My brain is laden with information about how to differentiate, how to arrange a seating plan and how to plan successful lessons – yet, I feel more confused and more lost than before my training. All the tips and methods and theories seem entirely futile without so much as a swat of knowledge about my students.

Part of the problem, and I’m sure other trainee teachers can relate to this, is the bombardment of contrasting advice. One tutor insists we go into school with at least 30 lesson plans, another then informs us any lessons we plan before we meet our classes will be completely useless. Another will stress the importance of differentiation from day one, someone else will point out that, as an untrained teacher, effective differentiation is unrealistic in the first term or so. Young energetic teachers preach about the benefits of music, drama and circle time whilst experienced older teachers laugh in the face of a bit of simple role play.

One piece of advice, which troubles me the most, is “Don’t smile ’til Christmas!” … really? Is that the kind of teacher I want to be? Perhaps. However, currently the idea of only smiling after-hours makes me want to trap my head in my pedagogical theories text book.

Maybe this is all part of the learning curve. I guess I might just need to get used to this feeling of not quite knowing what’s going on?

Meanwhile, I’m evading utter panic by ordering personalised stamps on the internet.

“Mme.M dit bon travail!’

Winner winner school dinner.

The aspiration gap…part 2.

Yesterday I attended a Leading Learning Raising Aspirations Panel (#LLG4Aspire) lead by Ndidi Okezie. Over the hour and half long session over 1000 people discussed aspiration and questioned the role of education in raising aspirations. The aim of the session was, initially, to develop an action plan – how are WE going to help children raise their aspirations. This, if I’m honest, didn’t happen – we had far to many questions…and opinions.

One of the more controversial talking points was the value of non-academic aspirations, and the provision for these aspirations in the classroom. Many participants disagreed with the assertion that maths should always be prioritised over say, football. Ndidi challenged this by suggesting we may not think the same if it was our children going through a ‘equally weighted’ education system.

Whilst I cannot speak as a mother, I can speak as the older sister of two sisters, both attending standard state schools. I have seen first hand the value of off-curricula or ‘non-academic’ schooling. One of my sisters has recently discovered art – a subject she is truly excelling at. She thrives in the creative, imaginative environment and has reaped praise and recognition for her hard work and perseverance. By excelling in something she loves she has developed an understanding of hard work and consequent success. Since discovering her talents in art her grades have increased considerably elsewhere.

On the other hand, my other sister has discovered drama – a tool that has taught her how to socialise, how to express herself and how to listen to others – skills, I believe, which will aid her considerably as she goes to high school in September.

For me, these are just two examples of how development in ‘non-academic’ education can promote and develop ‘academic’ skills. En plus, on the way they develop a range of essential social skills; team work, imagination and confidence to list just a few.

It is essential to value and encourage any form of aspiration, because as I talked about in my previous post, aspiration and and interests can, and often do, change – but the confidence to have them can be a challenge to some children. The most important skill is the ability to dream, the ability to aspire to be something you are yet to become.