For myself and every teacher friend I have, the end of a term has us dragging ourselves towards the holidays like the bright shiny beacon that is a chance to sleep, eat and use the loo at a time of our own choosing.
Close your eyes and picture this: endless blue skies, heat shimmering in waves off the ground, the sound of cockatoos screeching at each other from the nearby palm trees, and a pine tree covered in tinsel and Christmas decorations. Something of a contradiction to most, but the only kind of Christmas I knew for a quarter of a century. The Christmas you see in the movies, with the snowy cottages and open fires and everything happening in the dark still doesn’t seem real to me.
I’m teaching the new GCSE English specification for the first time this year and I’m not going to lie, I’m pretty nervous about it. The rest of my department have had a year to get to grips with it all and fine tune it, so while I’m getting what I can from them, I also need to make it work for the students in front of me, and not someone else’s class. With four hours of lessons per week, and three years before their final exams, there’s a lot of time to embed good working habits with my class - no matter how resistant they’re currently being!
Workload, Ofsted, new initiatives, new specifications, changes to external tests, child poverty, mental health issues - it’s enough to make even the hardiest of teachers question whether or not teaching is a career with any longevity. It’s no surprise that there’s a recruitment crisis and even less of a surprise that there’s a retainment crisis. I’ve been teaching for thirteen years and I have no intention of stopping, though I admit the thought has crossed my mind, and I’ve even gone so far as to search for a job outside of education. There’s a lot that keeps me in the classroom, and there’s a lot that I do outside of it that keeps me teaching.
Like any self-respecting geeky English teacher, when posed with this question the first thing I did was Google it:
There seems to be a recurring theme to my lessons of late: I can link any learning moment to a Disney and/or Pixar reference. Some may see this as a distraction or a problem, but I’m in constant contact with my inner child and honestly, the students almost always get it. I was particularly proud of my efforts in a single Year 7 Science lesson one morning. We have been learning about food chains and webs and relationships between organisms. Enter the first reference:
How can teachers go about making their pupils’ first weeks in Secondary school enjoyable? Sarah Bedwell and her colleagues use the academic year’s beginning to have some real fun and make excellent progress.
Moving pupils from Primary to Secondary school, while smooth for some, can be a fraught process for many others. Secondaries do a lot to help mitigate the issues, including transition days, information evenings for parents of students still in Year 6 and, of course, open evenings and school tours, but once students arrive at high school the majority of work is considered to be done.
Whether or not you subscribe to the digital native ideology or believe it’s a fallacy, on the whole our students today are more au fait with social media than ever before. Schools have become adept at limiting student access to social media and at managing their own accounts, but it’s often seen as an additional PR tool rather than a legitimate learning activity. Whilst I don’t believe that unrestricted access to Facebook in lessons is necessarily a valid form of pedagogy, I do think the concept of social media is a useful way to break down topics and help to engage students.
Once upon a time teachers had to rely on taking students to culture, rather than bringing culture to them. These days, with more classroom technology than ever before, teachers can bring the whole world to their students without them ever leaving their desks. I certainly grew in the generation who were excited by this:
So many of our schools and classrooms involve a multicultural mix of students and staff. Taking opportunities to include these cultures in lessons and other enrichment activities can help to teach tolerance and tackle prejudice. One way that I get to do that in my classroom, being an Aussie, is through the Australia Day Curriculum Olympics.