Sunday 26 April 2015

Dear NQT Mentors...

I've heard most of you are amazing.  Like my own NQT mentor, you inspire, encourage, support and advise.  You invite new teachers to watch you teach and give them guidance with planning, assessment and classroom management.  Respectfully, you give achievable targets after observations before planning in strategies for ensuring they are met.  You recognise that rest is as important as hard work in surviving as a teacher and encourage it to improve well-being.  Those in your care look up to you because they can see you looking at them with huge potential.  

However, there are some of you who are letting the team down.  Among my network of friends and colleagues around the country, I have heard time and time again of NQTs having a really rough ride.  My first instinct is that they're simply in a tough school or that they are poor teachers but, after delving deeper, I discover this isn't the main problem.  The common factor among these horror stories is a mentor with no clue as to what the role requires and how to provide effective support. 

Apparently you expect them to know it all already.  You get frustrated when having to explain something that they 'should have learned in training'. Well what if they didn't? What if they never came across that or their university didn't include it as part of the course or, God forbid, they missed that day due to illness?  It seems you take no excuses, however justified, and your lack of want to help them this time only prevents them from asking again. 

Some of you are obsessed with grades; both for teachers and children.  You see yourselves as a judge when it comes to regular lesson observations rather than a fellow professional.  I've heard that some of you struggle to stick to one or two points for development, preferring a couple of positives before a seemingly endless list of improvements. These NQTs are a far cry from the children we teach but it's two stars and one wish in that ratio for a reason.  I'd encourage you to try observing the lessons using just positives and one improvement; It sounds like you might struggle. 

I imagine that you've been teaching a while so you're in a good position to tell whether someone's lesson is up-to-scratch.  It sounds like you've judged some of my friends as being less-than-satisfactory or worse, inadequate.  Sometimes, perhaps, this was justified.  My issues lies with what you did next and it's the same story around the country: you observed more.  Multiple observations in the space of a ridiculously short period of time. Unannounced drop-ins and minimum feedback. Ever heard the metaphor about weighing the pig?!  It's completely unacceptable and unhelpful for the NQT.

My heart breaks for the energetic, inspired and creative lady or man who ends up in your 'care'.  In my experience, they end up forced out of your school before their probationary year is up in the fear that you'll fail them, leaving them unable to teach again.  Those who survive, get to the end of the year with their flare for teaching extinguished, using phrases like, "only the kids got me through" when they should be praising you for supporting them to succeed.  

Thankfully, the good among you massively outnumber the bad but I simply cannot ignore these stories any longer because I'm all too aware that it could have been me.  I also wonder, when the statistics are mentioned, just how often poor mentors or lack of support are cited as the reason so many leave teaching in the first 5 years.  I certainly know a few who would.  

So to those mentors continuing to support, encourage and inspire the next generation of teachers; please keep doing what you're doing.  You're making a massive difference and ensuring there are effective practitioners coming through to be leaders.  To colleagues who know that there are struggling NQTs in your school; please encourage them and keep an eye out for them, questioning anything you feel is inappropriate.  To those who are causing these problems; you're probably not reading this anyway.

Mrs P

Final note for NQTs: If you find yourself in a very difficult situation, please find yourself a support network whether among colleagues, non-teaching friends, family or though Twitter.  Use your union and let them guide you through your NQT year.  They can ensure you are receiving the correct support from the school and a fair induction process.  Seek advice from them and other, more-experienced professionals and, once again, I would suggest Twitter is a good place to start.  Lastly, if you want to contact me for any reason, please tweet me at @MrsPTeach.

Thursday 23 April 2015

I Wish My Teacher Knew...

This idea has been doing the rounds on social media for the last few weeks.  A simple search on Twitter for the hashtag #IWishMyTeacherKnew reveals a mix of news articles, photos and messages about the idea.  The basics of which is you encourage your class to tell you want they want you to know by completing the sentence at the top of this post.  Having received some wonderful responses when asking children about times they had been brave, strong and resilient earlier in the year, I was keen to see what the responses to this would be. 

Recently, I discovered this article on TES which suggests the idea is 'an, "oh, heck, no" thing'.  Reading deeper, it appears the author's issue lies solely in the publication of the messages and child protection issues this could cause.  I completely agree and therefore you won't find any copies of the responses from my class here.  Not only can I not guarantee they would be completely anonymous but, more importantly, I promised my pupils that I would be the only person to view their responses.  I respect them and owe it to them to keep that vow. 

What I did discover, from completing the task, was that I do know my class fairly well; I didn't learn anything completely new.  Due to the younger age (8-9 years) of my pupils, their responses often fell into one of 4 categories.  
  • How much they liked their teacher (!!)
  • Subjects they struggled with or enjoyed. 
  • Friendship issues in the class.
  • Information about their home life. 
Thankfully, I didn't learn anything particularly enlightening about my class from this activity.  A few critics of the idea ask why we should require such an activity to find out about our children.  My response would be that if we have open and honest conversations as a part of the general ethos with our classes, then we simply don't.  My experience tells me that children are happy to tell us when there are tricky situations at home or if something is making them sad.  

However, what this activity did allow was a chance for children to have their voice heard and be given an opportunity to open up about anything in particular that was worrying them.  Despite receiving no real revelations from the sentences, I actively encouraged my team members to complete it and will definitely repeat it in future cohorts.  

Thursday 2 April 2015

RIC Reading Lesson Starter Examples

As part of our move to whole-class reading, we have introduced a starter activity called a RIC.  In these activities, children use the reading skills of retrieval (R), interpretation (I) and commenting on the creator's choice (C) to understand a variety of media.  The RICs are based on poems, song lyrics, film trailers, adverts, photos, cartoons and anything else which inspires us!  The idea is that all children can access the Retrieve question and most can have a good go at the Interpret question.  If time, children attempt the Choice question before we spend a few minutes going over the answers as a class, with pupils getting the chance to add to their answers with other people's ideas.  This means children get the chance to access high-quality answers and write them down.  To read more about creating the activities and delivering them in lessons, please click here (opens in a new tab). 

People at various events and through Twitter have been quite interested in these starter activities so you can find some examples below.  In Key Stage Two, these are used at the beginning of Reading lessons which happen 2 or 3 times a week. In Key Stage One, these are used two or three times a week in whole-class sessions.

To see all other blog posts about whole-class reading lessons, click here.