Continuing our posts that are primarily for beginning teachers, Kayleigh Bates (@KMB_History), assistant HoD at William Farr CE xcomprehensive School in Lincoln shares an inspiring reflection – a decade on.
I thought it would announce itself with bells on and stop me in my tracks. 10 years…I’ve been teaching for 10 years! And 9 of them at my current school. It actually only dawned on me during a pyjama day in the middle of the summer holidays.
So, what am I feeling?
Disbelief at how quickly the time has gone? Definitely!
A feeling of achievement? Without a doubt! Teaching is a hard gig and I’m fully aware that 1/3 of teachers don’t stay in the profession beyond 5 years. These 10 years have also seen me as a Head of House, Assistant Head of Year and now Assistant Head of Department. All have brought me joy in different ways and taught me so much.
A calm happiness. I still enjoy my career and subject. There are, of course, moments that are difficult and include periods of high stress. And these past 18 months of teaching during the pandemic with staff shortages, student absence, remote teaching and cancelled exams have brought myself and many others almost to the point of breaking. But I know these are not normal times. These are not normal school years.
Completeness. It feeds my soul. What I do matters. It’s meaningful and worthwhile. Every day is different and I cannot begin to explain the feeling when students leave my class at the end of the year with a love for History, or go on to study it at A Level and University.
But I also realise that I might not have made it to 10 years if I hadn’t gone for the job at my current school. When I walked through the door 9 years ago I knew this was where I wanted to teach. The department was inspiring and strong. I knew I could learn so much from them and hopefully in time do the same for other colleagues. The staff were, and still are, a community. We’ve been stretched to breaking point at times during this pandemic but we still come back together. The management cared. This matters.
And work friends matter too. We all need those friends who understand the peculiarities of the job you do, in the context that you do it. I hit the jackpot and they know who they are. The kind of people who encourage you, laugh with and at you, support and challenge you, rant with you, and ‘socialise’ in all the best ways.
However, the students have made it all so worthwhile. They make me smile. They challenge me in the best and most frustrating ways. They have given me so many incredible memories.
Would I have made it to 10 years without these factors: the department, the school community, the teacher friends and the amazing students? I don’t know. What I do know is that I’m still looking forward to where my career takes me, but I’m also spending some time reflecting on what my first decade in education has taught me:
The biggie: The right school allows you to become the best you can be. The wrong school can crush your self belief. If you are struggling right now, it might be that you need to speak up, seek support, or relocate to a new school and ethos.
The crux of it: It doesn’t matter what subject you teach – every lesson, enquiry or unit must start with asking yourself the question…what is the point of this? What do we want students to know, understand and be able to do, and then how can we achieve this and check progress?
The helpful bit: Collaborative planning that is saved centrally leads to higher quality lessons for students that are well thought out, resourced and saves teacher’s time planning day to day. The best schemes of work come from sharing ideas rather than from teachers slogging through planning on their own. I’m not suggesting all teachers must teach the same, or to a lesson plan, but having lessons that teachers can adapt for their classes and interests will bring out the best in everyone.
Listen to yourself: We all work differently and that is fine. Some teachers prefer to stay at school till 6.30pm to get all their marking, planning, prep and data finished before going home. Other colleagues prefer to have family time at home and work later in the evenings. And there are those in between. It really doesn’t matter. “It’s just geography” as my Head of Department once said to me. The work needs doing and we are professionals who choose when and where we do it. Choose the way that suits you best.
The intellectual part: Keep up to date with pedagogy and subject scholarship. I’m not talking about fads that we know are gimmicks from the get go. But the ideas that have been thoroughly researched, trialled and written about.
Keep it fresh: Don’t stop trying out new lesson ideas and refining them. This doesn’t mean reinventing the wheel but be open to approaching topics in different ways. This year we completely changed how we deliver our teaching of the Holocaust by exploring class photographs as an introduction, looking at the geography of the Holocaust, studying Jewish identity before WW2 and focusing on the stories of children of the Holocaust to build up a picture of the gradual escalation of persecution that culminated in the Final Solution. Our end task asked students to consider what key information, individuals and images should be included in a new Holocaust learning centre. The results were far beyond what we had anticipated and we are looking forward to refining this further next year.
Feedback not marking: As a History teacher, marking is the most time consuming aspect of my job and I think we are at a point where a shift in thinking is taking place. There are ideas and conversations about how we can and should move from marking work in students’ books, where we write out the same thing 32 times, to how we can provide valuable feedback that both moves students on and is time effective. I’m not sure what the answer is yet but the next decade will bring opportunities to work this out. Whole class feedback perhaps?
You matter: Regulate what you say ‘yes’ to. Have time where you switch off and leave everything work related behind. Spend time with family and friends. Don’t check your emails, don’t check Twitter if it’s heavily teacher orientated, shut the door on your study or tidy away your bag and laptop. It could be the weekends you have off, or a day during the week and a Saturday, or part of the holidays…but you must recharge.
I’m now beginning what might be another decade in education. Without realising the significance of the timing when I applied for them, I’m starting this second decade with a new role and an exciting opportunity – as a tutor in a new fixed Sixth Form team and undertaking the Historical Association’s Subject Leadership programme.
I don’t know what the next decade will bring. I hope I will still feel as positive at the end of it, but for now I think I will just take it a term at a time!