So this week was the first back at school with the students. We had a few teacher only days last week, which I was VERY grateful for. I managed to spend some time prepping my classroom in between planning meetings, which means I am finally (almost) happy with the way my classroom is looking!
Some displays are improving! Still have a few empty walls… I teach general Science, Biology and Agriculture, so I am trying to include displays that reflect all 3 subject areas!
I am also looking to increase the literacy resources available to my students to help them improve their reading, comprehension of scientific writing, and ability to write in scientific contexts!
So in love with my new marine mammal corner! I used the dolphins that my year 13 students used in their end of year ‘prank’ last year. To be honest, I got a beautiful marine theme pranking… Lots of teachers got toilet papered/cling filmed rooms! So I am counting myself lucky!! The posters are from Project Jonah, a wonderful charity based in NZ that deals with marine mammal stranding events. They offer this educational pack to schools, so I jumped on the offer last year.
For the first few lessons with my junior classes I though we could spend some time getting to know each other. The year 9 students have all come from a mixture of local intermediate schools, so they do not all know each other yet. I decided I would do a STEM themed team activity to get them talking and working cooperatively! So we did the pyramid of cups challenge. Each group gets 6 plastic cups, 4 pieces of string and 1 elastic band.
The rules: make a pyramid of cups, working as a team (every member must be physically involved) without touching the cups at all.
This activity worked so well! The students were put into alphabetical order, so not necessarily working with friends, but despite this, they got involved and all the groups successfully made their pyramid. It took some groups more time than others, but they all persevered!
I first came across this activity as an ice breaker during some PD at my training school. As far as ice breakers go, I actually enjoyed it and found it fun! So I hoped the students would respond the same way, so far so good!
Now it is my job to work on remembering all their names! I have met 105 new students this week. With another 30 to meet on Friday, my brain is not feeling too receptive to all the new names and faces… But we will get there!
Grateful for the Waitangi day break that has fallen in our first week back. Busy, full day of teaching tomorrow and then a well earned weekend. It is always difficult to get back to the normal teacher pace after the summer holiday, but give it a few weeks and I am sure we will all be back to normal!!
Avoiding burnout is crucial to keep teachers in the classroom teaching.
I am sure we have all been there… Stressed and tired, hyper and fuzzy brained after one (or 4!) too many coffees… Just trying to make it through the day. Teaching is hard, it is AMAZING but hard. I’ve worked all sorts of crazy jobs (try 6 days at sea on a tiny fishing boat or 12 hour night shifts in a potato factory), but I have never been as tired as I am after a days teaching. Often I find myself falling asleep on the sofa by about 6.30pm.
I think we are all of the same opinion about the challenges that teachers face. But some will resent it more than others and leave the profession. I know I almost did.
There came a point where it was getting to be just too much. I was miserable, my partner was fed up with how gloomy I was all the time. It was taking over my life. Anyone I spoke to, at any point of the day, would get an earful from me about teaching. It consumed my conversations and even my dreams.
Once I had got to the point where I was Googling ‘alternative jobs for teachers’ I knew I needed to make a decision. Was I going to quit this profession and become another victim of the shocking statistics around teacher retention? Or was I going to do something to make my situation better, in the teaching profession.
As it happened, moving countries to teach abroad* was just the move I needed (not drastic at all 😂). Seeing a new school, with new ways of teaching reignited my passion for teaching and I learned to work with the job, instead of battling against it. I stopped taking my laptop home, and I learned how to switch off at the end of the day. *Disclaimer, I am not suggesting that you need to move countries too… That was already in my plans!!*
Part of this was due to realising that, no matter how hard you work, you can never be the perfect teacher, all day every day. So, I used technology and planning to my advantage, I have outlined some of my techniques below:
Set up Google Classroom for each class. It takes a bit of forward planning to start with, but saved me so much planning time later on down the line, plus you can add to it as often as you like.
For my senior classes with exams I set them up with websites/YouTube videos/PPT’s to help them with revision, along with revision tasks and past exam questions to practice.
For my junior classes, I would set them research tasks and give them some useful web-links to get them started on the right track. I would also put up all my PPT’s from class for any students who had missed a lesson, or if a student wanted to go back and look at any content they may have forgotten.
Started a massive independent science investigation with my year 9 class. This took us a whole term, and every child was doing a completely different science investigation of their own choice… Here is a link to a booklet I designed to guide students through this process. It might sound like mayhem, but it was great for a number of reasons:
It decreased my planning, I was facilitating the learning, not planning it, that was down to the students! (this means I wasn’t planning for 3 lessons a week for a 10 week term, winner!)
The students took complete ownership over what they got to learn – increasing accountability and engagement.
They spent most of the lessons over that whole term practicing a variety of science skills (trialling methods, collecting and analysing data, researching, conclusion and evaluation writing – there were so many great opportunities!), which is the whole point of junior science right?!
Quizlet Live/Kahoot/Education Perfect: There are so many amazing education platforms out there now, each that are useful in their own way.
Quizlet Live: I have only just started using this, and OMG! Where has this been all my life! (Well, teaching career…). It is fantastic and the students LOVE it! I particularly like that it organises teams randomly and the students don’t seem to mind if a computer chooses their team mates (?!?), so it has been fab for mixing up students in the class and getting them working together to win, believe me, it gets super competitive!! Regular Quizlet is also good for revision for junior and senior classes and there are loads of pre made sets on there, so you don’t need to do a thing. The best!
Kahoot: I mean, Kahoot is the best for a bit of down time in the class, a quick spot of AFL or as an exit ticket. The kids love it, the music is fantastic… What more is there to say? Oh, I find the inappropriate nickname thing so annoying, but I avoid this by telling them I want their name to be an element from the periodic table, works a treat! If you go through the pre-made ones and save them to your favourites so they are there ready, you can save yourself some planning time. I use them last lesson of the day a lot, you know when the students think it is ok to try and pack up and evaporate into the ether 10 minutes before the bell…
Education Perfect: This is a NZ specific education platform, but I am sure there are equivalents for other countries (e.g. Educake in the UK). This comes with a bank of resources already prepared, inline with the curriculum, and you can add to it as well I believe. The great thing with this is it lets you see the students progress live if you decide to use it in lesson time. I mostly use it for homework/cover lessons when I am not in/or in a lesson if the kids (and I) need a break from the heavy learning. Sometimes they are happy to sit and answer questions quietly on the computer and I can see exactly who is on task on my computer, it is a good way to break up a busy week and requires zero planning on my part! Oh, I also like that you can set up class/year group/multi year group competitions on it, fun!
So after finding more and more ways of reducing my own planning time, it has actually allowed me more time to enjoy my job and be less resentful. I have more time to look into pedagogy I am interested in, it has given me time to write this blog!
Now I am in a position where I love teaching more than ever, in fact, probably more than I thought I would. I really feel like I have found my vocation. I love education and want to do my best to bring something to this extraordinary world that I get to be a part of every day, it is a gift.
But it has taken me time to realise that being the perfect teacher is not sustainable. Find a way to make it work for you. Be selfish. Move schools until you find a good fit (Move countries if need be!). Have a lazy lesson every now and then. Take a mental health day if required (the school will carry on running without you…). Go away for the weekend without feeling guilty about not doing any marking/planning. Get back into nature or do some exercise. Go for drinks and a nice meal. Remember that your health is always more important than your job.
Find the balance, it will be better for you and your students in the long run!
Oh, but I still fall asleep by 6.30pm most evenings… When I find a cure for that I will let you know.
Do you have any suggestions for avoiding teacher burn out? Please leave me a comment below! I would love to hear from you!
I recently hopped back on to Twitter and have been delving into the #edutwitter, #edchat areas looking for like minded folk to follow and get their perspectives on the world of education (partly for ideas/inspiration, mostly because I am nosy).
One thing I have noticed is the number of beginning teachers on there getting fantastic advice from educators with a variety of experience, from fellow first years, NQT’s, HOF’s and even Principals. I never thought to go to Twitter to seek advice in my first year, although now I wish I had! Such a gold mine of information!
Reading these first year teachers current conundrums and queries got me feeling reminiscent of my first year. Granted it wasn’t that long ago, I’m currently technically in my 4th year of teaching (including my training year), but already I feel so far away from who I was in that first year. There are a few challenges from my first year, that when I reflect on them now, I see them in a brand new light. Mainly regarding my mentor…
In my training school I had both a subject mentor, and a professional mentor. They both had different roles for helping me out, but my subject mentor should have been the one that I had most contact with. Regular meetings and observations were required for me to collect necessary evidence to gain QTS. However, my subject mentor was already the Second in Charge of Science and Head of Key Stage 3, a pretty busy teacher. I would schedule meetings, only for them to be cancelled. I got an observation about once a fortnight (I was supposed to have 2 a week to pass the course).
As you can imagine, for me as a new teacher, struggling to get any time with my mentor for meetings, barely hitting the required observation numbers each week, I felt like I was falling behind and became resentful. Why were they not helping me and doing their job?! I had meetings with my professional mentor about this, airing my concerns, they agreed that I was not getting enough support from my subject mentor and would look into it (side note: the professional mentor was a paid role, given an office, had dedicated time and resources and very few teaching hours for their role).
Christmas arrived, and for the first 6 weeks of Term 2, I was scheduled to be on placement at a different school (I had a different, crazy experience there – but that is a whole other blog post). So I stopped worrying about my mentor at my home school, and cracked on with the job at hand. When I got back to school after the 6 weeks – I had a new mentor! A teacher, with barely any additional responsibility, but who was experienced enough in the classroom that they were able to spend time with me and help me gather all the required evidence for my evidence folder. I felt so lucky to have my new mentor and was assured that my original mentor had not been told that I had complained about them, but instead given an excuse as to why they were not mentoring me anymore (although, from the frosty feeling in the office in my first week back, I suspected otherwise…).
Fast forward to June, I had passed my QTS, my folder of evidence was barely even looked at by my University (I am definitely not bitter that I spent hours on it, only for it to be ignored….). I got my certificate, I was finally a teacher! Legit!
Looking back on it now, knowing how much work you have on a full teaching load, knowing the pressures of student data collection and analysis, knowing how hard it is to get cover to observe other teachers, I feel so awful for my first mentor. There was no financial incentive to be a mentor, it was more a case of being told at the start of the year ‘you are doing this’. No extra time was given. Some training was provided, but due to a communication breakdown, my first mentor did not attend this (believing it to be the same training already attended in the previous year – alas no, they had completly changed the programme). This meant we spent the first month recording our meetings and evidence completly wrong and I had to go back and change it all…
I guess what I am saying is… Mentors should be taken a bit more seriously. I am not sure how the mentoring system works in other schools, but I believe that if you are expecting a teacher to give up their non-contact time to effectively train a new teacher, there needs to be more incentive to do so, otherwise they resent it and the trainee feels unsupported. More training needs to be provided too, if mentors were provided with additional CPD to make them confident in what they are doing, this would positively impact on the trainee teacher too.
I am glad that I was able to build a positive working relationship with my original mentor in the years that followed, I think we both had a mutual understand that it worked out better for both of us in the long run…
Despite this experience, becoming a mentor myself is something I would really like to do. I am considering joining onto TES’s mentor training to upskill myself incase the opportunity arises. I see mentoring as a way for me to keep my own skills sharp and have the best impact on future teachers. Hopefully, given my own experience, I would be able to provide the support required. We need more teachers, and I am happy to do my bit to help out!
Do you have any experiences as a mentor or trainee teacher that resonate with mine? Are there any other training programmes available for wannabe mentors??
So it is the end of the teaching year here in New Zealand. At my school we officially wrapped up last Friday for Christmas and the summer holidays! I thought it was a good time to reflect on the last teaching year and make some goals for 2020.
This was my first year teaching in NZ, and boy was it a huuuge learning curve! New school, new curriculum, new team, new students, new country! As a 3rd year teacher who had only worked in the same school for the last 3 years, this was scary. But it has also been incredibly valuable and has taught me a lot.
Reflections from 2019:
First of all: You can do this! Somehow I managed to drag my senior students through a totally alien assessment process, and achieve decent results, I’m taking that as a huge win. NCEA level 1-3 is a largely internally assessed system, something I am not used to being trained in the UK (the land where exams rule). It did mean more marking on my part, but it was pretty spread out over the year. It was also nice to know that most students had gained enough internal credits to pass level 1 before sitting their external exams. A bit less pressure for them.
Second: Kids will mock your weird accent. There was an amusing comment made during a period 5 year 10 lesson which always makes me laugh, ‘it’s kinda like being taught by Mary Poppins Miss!’
I will also continually be mocked for calling chips ‘crisps’, referring to ‘bank holidays’ instead of public holidays, and the way I pronounce data and vitamins is always chuckled at… If you can handle the constant banter, it is a great way to form relationships in the classroom, and I have to say, I have met some fantastic kids this year!
Third: The NZ curriculum is super vague, but you can make this work to your advantage, with a bit of creativity. If you like to teach content, then NZ is not for you. Here they are all about teaching skills, if you can get your students communicating, investigating, participating and understanding scientific principles, this is better than how well they can recite facts. This was a struggle for me at first. So used to churning out lessons based on all the content needed for exams. Here you can take a step back, look at what skills the students need, and pretty much cherry pick the content you want to use to teach that skill. (Note: This is true of junior science, senior science is a bit more structured around content, but not as much as the UK).
Goals for 2020:
Now that I understand more about how the curriculum works and the various processes associated with NCEA, I am looking forward to continuing to develop my teaching practice. I must admit, I think my practice has taken a hit due to dealing with so many new ideas and concepts. In particular I would like to focus on the following three areas:
Improving literacy in Science
Increasing use of peer and self assessment
My behaviour management has definitely dipped this year, I am frustrated that my lack of confidence in a new school allowed my standards to slip. I would say that having a fairly loose whole school policy has not helped. (My previous school had an iron clad behaviour policy!).
I think this is probably a trend that goes beyond my classroom, and the country, but students do not expect to do writing in science… They will happily write an essay in English, but will they write me a decent conclusion and evaluation?! Improving my strategies for teaching literacy in science is one area I would like to develop more. Helping students to feel confident in their report writing and increasing their own expectations of what scientific writing looks like.
Marking… Am I right?? I hate marking, and I understand how valuable it can be, however I can spend hours marking for students to barely even look at it… Enter peer and self assessment. I spent a good week doing some peer assessment with my year 9 science class towards the end of this term (see exemplar below). The response was so much better than when I had marked their work. So, I plan on increasing the time spent doing this in my class. Developing more ways for students to peer and self assess, and really embed it into the classroom culture of my classes.
Thanks for taking the time to read my blog! Are you a teacher? How has your year been? Or how is it going so far? Leave a comment below 🙂
As a welcome and a thank you for visiting my brand new blog, I am giving out a free resource to all new subscribers!
There is a choice of 2 worksheets up for grabs:
Lung Structure Research Task: This worksheet is designed to be a research task, I work in a BYOD school so I do this quite regularly. The topic is lung structure and disease. I have actually used this worksheet as a relief lesson when I was ill and it worked very nicely!
Ocean Acidification Research Task: I have just been teaching acids and bases to my Year 10 Junior class, to increase the relevance of WHY we need to understand this, I have managed to squeeze in a biological twist that has been in the news, ocean acidification.
Choose which one you would like by naming it in the comments below. Once you subscribe, I will email you your worksheet of choice 🙂