Biggest NQT Disappointment

Archived, for now.

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On Targets

Today I had my first NQT observation of the year. This was with my head of department and head of faculty. It’s not a graded obs, and is simply about providing constructive feedback. There are 3 of these interspersed with observations with the overall NQT Tutor/Mentor person, so 6 obs in all. Those 3 go towards assessment points so track how I’m doing.

I won’t go into much detail about the lesson itself. It was ok; some good, some could be improved. The summary of feedback and targets for me to aim for in my next observation and in all my teaching going forward are:

Firstly, to remove the ‘knowledgey’ side of my lessons, for want of a better phrase. The critique goes that I spent more time than is required getting them to do activities on ‘lower-order’ skills, recall and knowledge, that are worth relatively little in exam papers and this time could be more efficiently spent. An activity, to use todays example, that gives a series of sources about Mormons in the American West and asks students to a) identify Mormon beliefs and b) explain why they were so hated, could be redesigned by just *giving them* the Mormon beliefs (the lower-order knowledge) and getting them to focus on inferring and explaining why they were hated from the sources. This can then be extended into an evaluative task (Blooms) in which they rank, say, what they think the 3 most important reasons were for such hatred of the Mormons (a task I did, but after the observers had left).

This is an encouragement that has come a few times – to give the knowledge across, don’t make them work to identify/describe/recall or even explain (‘middling’), and try to move towards higher-order skills as quickly as possible, and the fact they will be working with the knowledge means it should go in anyway.

Secondly, to make better use of ‘whole class AfL’ rather than just sampling individual students when going over an activity or task. Furthermore, the AfL needs to be higher-order, evaluative or judgement based (ranking, continuum lines, prioritising etc) rather than explanation or factual understanding.

Finally, to institute a no-hands policy so I can broaden my questioning beyond the safety net of keen, enthusiastic students that I regularly go to when answering questions. This is something I want to do and have always been anxious/scared to do, for a couple of reasons. The safety net is safe for a reason, and I worry about forgetting student names. Neither excuses are good enough.

So it’s broadly clear to see where my department and faculty heads think where I can improve. They see clear evidence of engagement, my marking is good, I have a great rapport with my class, and my planning for the lesson was good with activities that built upon each other and made sense, following a logical structure, and so on. I am, however, stuck in a ‘knowledgey’ pit and need to grow a bit more.

I also need to follow a bit of internal target-setting. My own reflections about lessons I’ve had lately, especially today (not my observation lesson) have seen a couple of flaws crop up. On the one hand, I expect a certain degree of independence from students and the ability to get on with work given. On the other, I need to be more aware of where modelling or scaffolding is required and give the students the tools to complete the work given, rather than hack away ‘independently’ and give up because it’s hard to access. This is especially true with my setted year 9 classes.

Finally, I need to trust my own instinct more about when group-work is appropriate. My school and colleagues are enthusiastic about it but without clear, well defined parameters, it becomes a complete waste of time as one person does all the work and the rest chat. This then leads to my frustration and warning the class about needing to sort their ideas out and whatnot, when in fact, I’ve set them up this way – by not structuring it clearly enough, or not thinking of a more appropriate task.

I can’t give them only half the tools to succeed, or the wrong environment to succeed in, and not be surprised when many fail to clear the bar.

Half-term is at the end of this week and it gives me a chance to recharge and refocus.

My First Month: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

I’ve just finished my fourth full week as an NQT and there have already been ups and downs, some of which I’ve posted about on this blog. I thought I’d bring a few together to reflect on just how things have gone so far, what I can be proud of, and what I can do to get better.

The Good

Form Group: I love them. I wasn’t really expecting to, or really interested in having a form, but I really like these guys. They’re fun, they’re interesting, they take on board what I say and they respond well when I’m trying to make a serious point, give advice or give some direction. Within days of taking over a couple came to me with issues, concerns, or just for a chat, saying they felt they could trust me and things like that. I make a big deal about representing the form around the school and how I will be on their case for behavioural or other concerns if I feel they aren’t doing as they should – and as a result they are meeting some really strong expectations. It’s a relationship I really enjoy having and a positive, firm influence that I think some of them, boys especially, are reacting well to.

Y10 History: As an NQT I’ve only been given classes up to Y10, with the expectation of having exam classes and KS5 next year. As such, I sort of see my Y10 historians as my most important group, and I have them exactly where I wanted. Over the first 4 weeks I’ve developed a strong rapport with the group where there is a nice atmosphere in class, there are lots of contributions from all over the room, we can have fun and I can be myself, and they can also work hard, such as today when they just developed into silent, studious hard work for 25 minutes without me asking for it – they just fell into it. It’s a great balance, where the lessons are enjoyable and productive.

Statements: This is a new one, just from today – and my same Y10 historians. It was an idea brought to my attention by Mr Histoire. I asked them to rank a series of factors for something and gave them a few minutes to think about it and write it down on whiteboards. Once they held them up, I was just very blunt. “You think it’s X.” And I just stopped, and they took the baton and ran with it, explaining why, linking it to other factors and explaining why they thought it was more important, and so on. Then I went to another – “you disagree.” And then she did the same, explaining her disagreement, using examples and showing good, insightful analysis. Then I did the same with their bottom factors and included others around the class. After a couple of these, I didn’t need to say anything – they did it. When one girl said she felt the least important was Y, a voice from another table piped up in disagreement and explained why. I barely said a thing, never asked a question, but it was some of the most insightful, intelligent discussion of the term so far.

General Rapport: This goes for nearly all my classes. I am very pleased with the rapport I’ve developed with the majority of my classes. I get along with the students, and as a result I have many who comment on the classes going quickly, or how they like history now, etc. I’ve heard comments between students in corridors that I’m one of their favourite teachers, or students have asked me about things that happen in other classes after kids go away discussing it or mentioning it – jokes or comments, events, activities etc. Anything, really. It’s not all classes, but most I enjoy and can have fun in, and my relationships with most students are very good.

The Bad

Differentiation: Last year I only ever had mixed ability groups. This year my Y9’s are setted and I’m finding it hard to adjust lessons or material based on the set that I am delivering to. My top set are wonderful but then there is a long tail and I have a couple of groups, small groups, that are wholly SEN and extremely limited, and I’m not yet comfortable or experienced enough to have the mental resource bank or ideas to know how to explain certain concepts to them, or provide access to what is difficult material – the start of WW1. I’ve had better success in very recent lessons, but broadly it’s not been great and developing access for the lower sets and those with SEN is a big priority.

This also goes for a couple of Y7 students in mixed ability groups who’s literacy is so low that providing more or less any written material is completely pointless.

Middle set Y9’s: I find this group difficult as they are not particularly able, nor are they ‘triers’ who are limited by other reasons. They give up very easily, have little independence and, to me, often show a lack of effort. But again, going to a previous point, this could largely be because my teaching or resources are pitched too high and I’m not giving them the correct access. I find this group my most difficult and it’s a focus to improve.

Lack of Consistency with Routines: Self inflicted wound here. With Y7’s I have them pretty well drilled on entering the room and certain routines, but with Y8 and 9 it gets haphazard depending on the group and I’ve not been firm enough or consistent enough to enforce good habits early on. As a result there’s a number of groups I’m still fighting with to develop the routines that should have happened 2-3 weeks ago, and this wastes a good 5 minutes at the start of every lesson, telling them to do things that they should already be doing without my input.

Conflict over Style: See previous post on this.

The Ugly

Ear Infection: Missed three days last week after I ended up in A&E having lost all hearing in my right ear. It’s not quite recovered but I’ve been in work this week catching up. It was a bit of a combination of things – tiredness, exhaustion, working too-long hours, travelling for a wedding, stress over the style thing – all came together as I pushed myself too hard and paid the price.

Work/Life Balance: Follows on from the last but generally I have Friday evenings and some of Saturday to myself but the rest of my life is devoted to planning and marking any of my 16 groups. It is tiresome, and I know it gets easier as I get better at the job and build up experience and resources and lesson plans etc, it is just difficult to have any sort of social or personal life when every evening I come home, eat and work for 3 more hours.