Jane Basnett is head of MFL at Downe House, a successful Independent Girls School in Berkshire. She has been teaching for almost 20 years and is still learning. She achieved an MA in Digital Technology for Language Teaching at Nottingham University.
Following on from Jane Basnett’s recent article on NQTs, a pastoral professional-turned newly-qualified teacher (and former colleague of Basnett’s) gives her advice to veteran teachers dealing with newcomers.
I'm about to embark on my NQT year teaching English in an 11-18 academy in the South West. Before doing the PGCE, I worked in other areas of education for four years, first in university outreach, then in a pastoral and academic role in an independent school, where I was a colleague of Jane Basnett. Following on from Jane's very welcome and gratefully received ideas in an earlier post - 'Be prepared: A veteran's advice for NQTs' - here's a view from The Other Side: an NQT's guide to handling NQTs...
Recently, I was reminded of Baz Luhrmann's chart-topping single from 1998 called ‘Wear Sunscreen’. The song itself was based on an article written by Chicago Tribune Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Mary Schmich. Schmich wrote that "inside every adult lurks a graduation speaker". It got me thinking about what advice I would give to NQTs and others about to embark on a career in teaching... So, here goes.
Inset days are often criticised, with both teachers and parents finding them an annoyance. Jane Basnett, Downe House’s head of Modern Foreign Languages, tells us why Inset days need to be remoulded into something worthwhile.
September: So, the lovely, long, hot summer is over. Well, maybe not so hot, but lovely and long anyway. You have rested, recuperated and regrouped. You have done lots of reading for pleasure and reading for work and, if you are lucky, the two will have coincided. You have taken down old displays and planned for some exciting, interactive new ones. Your classroom is ready for action. Lessons are planned and you have had time to let the creative juices flow and design some great new resources. You personally are raring to go, as you have managed to get some down time over the holidays. A few weeks cycling through the Loire, or camping somewhere on Britain's beautiful coastline or perhaps a staycation taking in all the sites you never get round to seeing. Yes, you are ready to come back and face the new term. All you have to do now is get through those first days back, including the dreaded Inset.
So what next in my hypothetical journey as a school's digital strategist? As a school we are beginning to embrace our TeachMeets and increasingly more staff are beginning to contribute to the meetings. The time slots have been fine tuned so that everyone can attend, no one feels left out, and those staff who previously may not have felt easy about sharing ideas can now be, at least, part of the process. The staff blog is up and running and through this medium we are now reaching the majority of the staff room.
How often have I heard a pupil ask “but do I need to know this for my exam?” Indeed, how often have I said to myself “time is short, do they need to know this?” No matter who says it or thinks it, it is equally frustrating. As teachers we have become slaves to league tables and all that that entails. Pupils have to get the grades because they have hopes and aspirations and there is so much competition. I do want them to get those top marks because I genuinely want them to realise their dreams. However, how can I get them to see that learning uniquely for an exam is not the best, nor the most important, approach? What matters is that they learn to love studying, that they learn to discover the art of studying and that they realise that there is always another step that can be taken, another fact that can be considered, and another equation that can be solved.
So, here I am, in my not-so-new, not-state-of-the-art office with my brand new role of Digital Strategist. I need to oversee the implementation of a good Digital Strategy and in my original brief to my employer I stated that, in the first place, I would look at the teaching and learning that goes on. Now, I know that there is a great deal of good practice going on behind closed doors all round the school site. How to go about sharing it and making people open to such collaboration is another task.
For many there is a dislike and some mistrust about sharing ideas; it links, unfortunately, to the idea of lesson observation. There is nothing wrong with lesson observation per se, however, it has become synonymous with grading for staff and the dreaded OFSTED inspection. Lesson observation often sits uncomfortably in the mind-set of some colleagues. This is a small fence to overcome but I think I have the key to open the gate.
I do like my job. Of course, I do have moments when I want to pack it all in or plan myself a new career but those are normally moments at the end of term when I know that I am at my lowest point in terms of energy and creativity. It’s often at that time that I feel overwhelmed with my to-do list which I write out religiously everyday. There are even days when I have been too busy the night before to write out my plans so I will write it out after the events have happened so that I can cross out each achievement with satisfaction. Tell me I am not the only one who does this?
So, with all this negative press about teaching how could I possibly like my job? It is not easy to identify one particular thing. I enjoy many aspects of the job I do. I think most importantly I enjoy teaching and I enjoy thinking about how best to convey what I want my pupils to learn. I love thinking of ways to engage my classes so that they are motivated and inspired to learn. It’s what I feel is the creative element of my job and I know that I do have some good ideas. However, importantly, I also know that it is important not to reinvent the wheel. Inevitably, someone in my department or one of the lovely #mfltwitterati will have a great idea to share and so I never feel that the ideas have run out. I consider myself incredibly lucky in this respect. Creating is what I do when I have got all the horrid stuff out the way. Yes – there are elements of the job that I do not like. Marking. I don’t like marking. Well, I like it because I can see what my pupils have mastered and how well they have done. On the other hand, there is nothing more depressing than sitting down to a pile of marking or papers full of mistakes on the very grammatical concept you have just spent a week or so teaching. So, marking is something I do not enjoy. In fact, right now, I’m putting off marking…
There is no denying that digital technology is now part and parcel of our everyday lives and increasingly teachers are making use of it, not just as a personal management system, but as part of their everyday lessons. This is all good, of course, but there can be a rather piecemeal approach to digital technology in schools. There is an awful lot of good practice going on all over the country and still further afield; one look at Twitter tells me this. However, not all teachers realise the power and potential of digital technology.