Notes from the Classroom

I’ve decided that I’m going to do a monthly post on my teaching course on the blog, both for myself, to see how I’m progressing, and also for those of you who might be interested in hearing about what it’s like to change careers and enter the classroom. Obviously I have to keep everything very general as I can’t mention any specifics about where I am working, but I can still give you a good picture of what it’s like to be a trainee teacher. It’s now been four weeks since I started at school, and I’ve never been happier since I left my own school behind eight years ago. It’s a beautiful place to work; the campus is surrounded by rolling countryside and ringed with trees that are starting to turn golden. Whenever I look outside a classroom window I am filled with joy; it is a world away from the view of dilapidated shops and rubbish strewn pavements I used to have in East London. When I wander between classrooms I can breathe in fresh air, and hear the sound of laughing, chatting children floating out of the windows, rather than inhaling traffic fumes and being deafened by sirens. It’s bliss!

Aside from the actual setting, I love what the job itself entails too! I have a form of Year 7s for registration at the beginning of the day, and I am already involved with their little lives. They come to me in tears or with faces of worry, panicking about forgotten homework or old friends they miss. Others come bounding up with big grins to tell me about how well they’re doing, or that they got picked for a sports team. Usually I end up traipsing after one or two with pencil cases or books they have left behind, and I make list after list of things I need to remember to tell them or of things they have asked me to sort out. I feel like I have twenty eight 11 year old children. It’s a great responsibility, but also a great pleasure. I care about each and every one of them, and I hope with all of my heart that they will flourish and come to love their school days as much as I did.

I have been sitting in on lots of lessons, which has been absolutely fascinating. Even in 8 years, teaching methods have changed massively, and no longer is it acceptable to have a teacher standing and talking at pupils for an hour. Now it’s all about interactivity, and the teachers all work so hard to come up with exciting and innovative activities to get the children learning independently. I’ve loved watching how teachers with a wide range of personalities interact with their classes, and I have been especially interested in seeing how Science and Maths teachers make very complex topics simple and accessible to all abilities. After watching one biology lesson, I finally grasped the concept of photosynthesis, something my teacher never managed to get across to me when I was 16! Coming at education from the point of view of a teacher rather than a pupil is a truly eye opening experience, and it is only now that I am really beginning to appreciate just how much I owe my own teachers for the hard work they put in to giving me such a fantastic school experience. You have to be on the ball constantly, ready to answer a thousand and one questions, motivate and inspire flagging pupils, able to change the course of a lesson and come up with new activities on the spur of the moment if things aren’t going quite to plan, and able to cater for students across a range of ability levels, all while maintaining control of noise and behaviour levels and staying calm and unflustered throughout. Those who say teachers are lazy and stupid and can’t cope in the real world infuriate me; I’ve worked harder in the past four weeks than I did for five years in my office jobs, and I don’t even properly teach yet!

I have started to teach a few lessons now, and though I still feel totally inept and am reminded after each one of how much I still have to learn and improve upon, I absolutely love every moment of being in front of a class. It’s the greatest challenge I have yet faced in the working world; keeping thirty people engaged and motivated for an hour while also ensuring that they have actually understood what I am talking about is really not as easy as it looks. When I plan a lesson, I assume that things will go to plan and what I am delivering will be intelligible to everyone. What I am rapidly learning is that this is usually not the case. The way I explain something might work for twenty children, but the other ten might need some extra help. I don’t have time to explain everything in several different ways, so how do I manage to ensure everyone gets the support they need? Dealing with behaviour is also tricky; I can do a good stare down to ensure quiet when I am talking, but what happens when this doesn’t work? I have already worked out that shouting is not effective; so what other ways can I use my voice to assert authority without becoming a fishwife?

I’m also frequently coming home racked with guilt for focusing too much on children whose behaviour is negative to the detriment of those who are wonderful and should be getting my praise. I teach a delightful girl who does everything she is told and who always wants to chat to me, but because she never gives me any trouble I never really seem to be able to spend much time giving her the attention she deserves. How do I ensure that everyone in my class feels valued? It’s so hard, and I never feel that I’ve done enough. Every day I come home and think about how I can do better tomorrow. It’s not like a normal job, where you can go home and forget all about it until the following day. Something I say or do could have a significant effect on someone without me even realising, and I have to constantly reflect on my actions and think about how I could have behaved differently to achieve a more positive outcome. Every day is a huge learning curve and gives me so much to think about, both personally and professionally.  I have so much to work on, and it is daunting, but it’s also thrilling.  It’s everything I dreamed of and more. I can’t wait to get to work every day, and I never thought I’d hear myself say that! It really is the best decision I ever made, and I am so excited to see what the rest of the year will bring!

46 comments

  1. I smiled while reading this beautiful, heartfelt, joyful and bursting-with-enthusiasm post just now, and, while reading further and on to the end of the post, from that smile it went to a few tears of joy being shed. Tears of joy for you. For your happiness, for it is so wonderfully obvious from reading this post that you are truly and completely following your bliss. I couldn’t be more delighted and overjoyed for you, Rachel. I’ve no doubt whatsoever that those girls of yours love you, respect you, and that you have indeed already made a positive – very positive – impact on their young lives, which will stay with them throughout their entire lives. Well done, Rachel. Well done,

    1. Thank you so much, June – you are so lovely! I really think I am following my dream at the moment and I hope I do make the impact you say…it means so much to know I can make a difference to other people’s lives after so long feeling disheartened at attempting to do the same in other jobs. Thank you for your support and encouragement as always.🙂

  2. Keep your joy and your heart and you will make more difference in more lives than you can even imagine. Having taught English in the USA for 40 years (now retired) I can tell you that the self-doubts, frustrations, and angst I may have had as a teacher was miniscule in comparison to all the comments, notes, letters, etc. I have gotten from former students. Teachers DO make a huge difference–they did for you and you will for so many students.

    1. Thank you so much Mary – it’s fantastic to hear positive comments from teachers and I look forward to building those relationships with my students. It’s going to be wonderful!

  3. Well done for being so positive and excited about your new found life. Having worked in schools too for close to 40 years I promise you it will never get boring. As far as those talkers out there, I used to walk over to them, while still chatting to the class and whisper to them. I found when I stopped talking at my normal voice level and whispers, can’t do it too often, I’d get the attention back I needed. I’m glad you realise that yelling does not work!! All the best and look forward to future posts. Pam

    1. Thanks so much Pam – I can definitely believe you about the not getting boring part! I love that tip about whispering to them individually – I am going to try that in my next lesson!

  4. Many of us will look forward to reading your posts on your experiences (and some cleverly disguised anecdotes) as a student teacher. I am sure there will be helpful hints from experienced educators along the way. The UK TV series Educating Essex is currently airing Downunder and I am struck by the amount of time spent by the delightful Mr Drew and colleagues in keeping their pupils engaged and at school. A lot of time is spent on discipline and discussing inappropriate behaviours. It’s clear the teachers are great role models, they respect and want what is best for their students, they are incredibly patient and I think in the end that is what the students will remember and appreciate once they have left school. I am sure you will be an amazing role model!

    1. Thanks so much Kerry! I actually visited that school as part of my previous job and met Mr Drew and the head – they are amazing and I hope one day I can be as good as them! Thank you – I aim to cultivate those qualities in time!🙂

  5. As a teacher of 38 years I know that one never stops worrying about being a better teacher. I used to wake at nights and write down thoughts I had. I planned on my trip to school. In fact all my hours out of school were spent thinking about what I had done and if I had not done it correctly. It is human that some kids are easier to like but never show that . In fact I used to try even harder with those i liked less. I also encouraged them to keep journals and to write to me if there was something they wanted to tell me. Some of them wanted me to read their journals others didn’t and that was fine. Your pupils are indeed so lucky to have you as a teacher. The worry,however, never goes away. I still dream about school. In a staff room whwere I did some substitute teaching this year was a poster Keep calm and carry on teaching As Nelosn Mandela said Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.

    1. Thanks so much for telling me about your experiences, Enid – I’ve found myself constantly thinking about my classes and I was starting to wonder if I was becoming a bit too obsessed – but I think it’s just the nature of teaching isn’t it! I love that idea about the journal – I might introduce that in my form and see whether it helps them to talk to me about their problems. That quote is so powerful, isn’t it? We can make such a difference and it truly inspires me to be doing this for a living!

  6. To have found a place and position where you can be that happy to go to work is a dream come true – I hope it continues, as its clear that you will be a great role model and teacher. Looking forward to the next installment. As someone who works in a boys school, but not directly teaching except the odd cover lesson, I have a huge respect for the teachers – and knowing what goes on behind the lessons helped me realise that it is so much more than just giving a lesson.

    1. I know, it really is! Thank you so much – and it’s good to hear that some people appreciate what teaching involves because so many people have said to me that I must be pleased to have such an easy job now with such great holidays – yeah right!!

  7. So glad that you’re thriving at teaching, Rachel – but even more glad that your first paragraph shows you have finally learnt that the countryside is better than the city😉

    1. Thanks Simon!🙂 Well…I am starting to be convinced. STARTING.😉 But then I have moments of NEEDING to see Big Ben and then I pine for London so much I think I can’t wait to get back! I am torn!

  8. All it took was one origami workshop with a group of eight to twelve year olds at the library for me to rush home and call a dear friend who was a teacher and proceed to sing her praises. But oh you can absolutely see why just the right person for the job would look forward to walking through those doors again and again! I have no doubt there has been some lovely talk about you from your young pupils while at the dinnertable, Rachel. I am really going to enjoy more posts about your life in the classroom!

    1. Hahahahahaha! It is an amazing job for the right people, but if you don’t have the calling it would be absolute hell! Oh I wonder if there have been, Darlene! I love those girls and I hope they like me too! Thanks – there will be plenty more of these to come!🙂

  9. I am glad that you are sharing your wonderful new learning experience, it is a job I know I could not do and strangely enough until university it was what I always wanted to do!

    Your love of your choice of career leaps off the page as I read, and my heart was breaking about wanting to give time to those who just keen and want to learn and not disrupt.

    Good luck with the discipline, I look forward to all the ways you get a class full of students to listen!

    1. Thanks Jo! It’s interesting that a lot of people dream of being teachers then try it and hate it – it takes a certain person, absolutely! The time for those who are just quiet and get on with their work without any trouble really frustrates me – I need to work out a way around that, definitely, because they absolutely deserve my time. Thank you – it’s great to have the opportunity to try and fail and try again without being judged for it – I’m learning and I have time to get it right!

  10. We had to write a weekly log on my P.G.C.E, I re read parts of it recently & it all came flooding back. These monthly posts will be a pleasure for us to read & so insightful for you to re read in years to come. Keep up the good work, enjoyment & whispering!

    1. I have to do that too! I can’t wait to finish this year and look back over it to see how far I’ve come – at the moment it’s all about how useless I am at everything! Thanks so much, Rachel – it’s the best job in the world!

  11. Hi Rachel: Thanks for the update. You sound excited, passionate, a bit overwhelmed, and as if you are putting awfully high expectations on yourself.

    Being a university prof of many years, I know you are going to be a terrific teacher. But I also know it will take years to get to a balanced point – you are going to learning so many different dimensions of your job (like how to achieve discipline without crushing the students) for a long time and, of course, you’ll always want to improve even after that.

    You used a pic from Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (I think) – there are many inspirational teaching movies out there, of course, that has its pluses, but I fear they also set unreasonable expectations. Excellent teachers don’t get foisted on their students’ backs and carried through the classroom in exultation.

    Excellent teachers doubt themselves, are often tired, sometimes snap at students, sometimes teach lessons poorly (or even have years that don’t go well), struggle with managing students who act out (even at university), and through it all, somehow maintain their energy and dedication over time. You are riding on the lovely high of being a new teacher – good for you, but also know you are going to crash, sooner or later. That’s fine.

    The key is going to be maintaining your passion and excitement through the, often draining, days, months, and years as you hone your skills. But you will be great and I’m glad you are having fun.

    1. Thank you so much for your advice – I know I can’t get it right all the time and it’s heartening to hear from very experienced teachers that bad days, weeks, months and even years happen, and it will still be ok. When I beat myself up about something I did wrong, a teacher in my dept is always quick to tell me that THEY still don’t get it right all the time which makes me feel much better. I need to keep the right focus between my expectations and the realistic standards I can achieve at my level of experience…time will tell if I can manage it! For now I am just enjoying the novelty of it all!

  12. I retired after thirty years in education. I know you are on the right track. Constant evaluation and reorganizing is what makes it interesting. During my last months, it was difficult to leave the “next year I will…..” mindset. Another thing is that what works with this year’s group may not work as well next year. An elementary school teacher needs to learn to think on her feet. During my very first evaluation, I was a nervous wreck. While the superintendent sat in the back of my roomful of seven year old children, every thing that could go wrong did. One child’s tooth fell out, a mouse ran out of the closet, a bee flew in the window, a colleague stuck her head in my door asking to borrow something, and the last straw a child stuck his finger up his nose and it started bleeding. All the while, I kept going through my lesson, calming children who were afraid of the mouse, allowing the child who lost a tooth to get a drink, handing tissues to the nosebleed, turning out the lights so the bee would fly back out and it did, giving the evil eye to my colleague, and trying to keep on task. I was worried about my post evaluation conference. The superintendent told me that he left the room in shock. He admitted that he could not have handled all of that. He said that he was surprised that I was such a good teacher because he had always known me to be quiet and unassuming. I explained that it was just a typical day with second graders. After that, we always had a laugh about it.
    My best advice is to wear comfortable shoes. The days of a quiet classroom with a teacher sitting behind a desk are over. I am not sure that there ever were days like that. Enjoy! A teacher always falls in love with her first class….and then every class after that.

    1. I love that story, Janet! 30 years is an amazing career…congratulations to you! I bet you made a massive difference to so many little lives. Thank you so much for your advice..I’m already on those comfortable shoes!!🙂

  13. This heartfelt post brings such joy to my heart, Rachel, for I know a dedicated, mindful, teacher is what you already are. Take Janet’s advice above; I’ve known her forever and ever and what she says is spot on. Keep us posted. Thoughts are with you.

  14. I’m so glad to hear that you’re loving your new job so much! But I already knew you would😉 You’re a natural and people who are so passionate, enthusiastic, care about others, and always want to do their best and keep improving make the best teachers🙂 Things like knowing how to control the class and teaching at the right level so students can understand well just come with experience I think. And it’s so wonderful that you get to be surrounded by beautiful countryside – what an inspirational place to work!

    Can’t wait to hear more, Rachel! Thank you for sharing your experiences with us😀

    1. Thanks so much Lucy! People do keep reassuring me that it will all come with experience, but I can’t imagine that moment of feeling that I’ve got a handle on it all! Thanks – I’m glad you’re enjoying my tales and there will be plenty more to come!🙂 Hope you’re enjoying your new life in California!🙂

  15. I have been thinking about you these last few weeks, Rachel, as my other young teacher friends post Facebook updates about their wonderful/terrifying first days at school. It is wonderful to hear how much you are enjoying your new role and I’ll look forward to more updates!

  16. Sounds like you arrived at exactly the right place for you. How wonderful! Your post exudes so much joy and curiosity, and I was just amazed at the interesting comments also.
    Sometimes children act especially difficult when encountering a new teacher. Sort of testing you out… But if some strange behavour continues and you see you spend more time on those children than on the quiet, interested ones, try to stay in an open and honest dialogue with their parents. I experienced parents often deny that their child is maybe exhausting until they notice you really care and are there to help. Be careful and discreet at how you adress the parents (I am sure you are!!) – not “your child is so…” but “yesterday, I got the impression that…. did you notice something like that also?” Sometimes, there is a reason which explains everything easily, like a new baby in the family or a divorce, and knowing that makes it easier for you to deal with the situation. Even if it’s time-consuming, try to give them a call or meet them regularly, say once a month. Tell them also when something went very well. Often, things look quite different in three months.
    Looking very much forward to this kind of article and wishing you the best!

    1. Thanks so much Martina! I’m glad you’ve been enjoying the discussion. Your advice is so important – I’m already seeing that parents are a very important ally and I’m doing my best to get to know every child in my classes as well as possible so that I can pick up on any signs that things aren’t quite right. I think I have my first meet the teacher night next month which should be exciting!🙂

  17. What a lovely post, I’m so glad that you feel you made the right decision. I hope my son gets teachers as enthusiastic as you when he gets to big school.

  18. Rachel, what an inspiring post! I am struggling through a teacher-training course in Dutch (erk!) while not yet having set foot in a classroom of children and I am beginning to feel quite apprehensive and in my imagination the children – well, teenagers – are slowly metamorphosing into monsters with tiny attention spans and a gazillion behavioural problems. You have cheered me up!

    1. Thanks very much, Helen – I’m glad you found it helpful🙂 Don’t worry – they’re really not as bad as they’re made out to be! In my limited experience they are keen to learn and do well in the majority of cases, and if you make them feel loved they will reward you for it! Have fun on your first placement – I think you’ll be surprised at what you find!🙂

  19. I love your tales from the classroom, Rachel! So glad you’re having such a wonderful time (and clearly doing brilliantly). It’s very interesting to hear what the GTP route is like. Look forward to discussing in person🙂 M x

  20. Love to read these entries. I’m now studying to become a MFL teacher (although in my home country in Spain) and I like to read the TES newsletters for advice on tricky questions, recommendations on how to deal with problems in the classroom, etc. Do you not check them out? I derive some inspiration from hearing English teachers’ opinions, despite the alleged bad fame of the profession in Britain that you mention (lazy, can’t face a ‘real’ work environment… etc). I think English teachers are among the most committed and passionate and so people like you inspire me and I will be keeping an eye on how English teachers do. As regards the big debate of old vs new methods, I acknowledge the need to interact with students but I am not overfond of introducing too much technology in the classroom. It can, i think, take away from making students concentrate on big, deep concepts, while they just stare at the glitter of these media, though I think most teachers are higly pressurised to ‘innovate’.

  21. What a delightful post. I must admit I can’t share all the fizz and enthusiasm because the teaching I did was limited and its not really something I wish to do. I might get to teach adults again – would quite like that – but little ones are not for me. Not really.

    However, I never forget the lovely moments you inevitably have caretaking little people. When you feel you’re really making a connection, contrary to the child’s adverse home life and the negative programming they’ve so far experienced (I had a lot of those). When you enjoy – really enjoy – the delightful little person in front of you for their good manners, appreciative behaviour (helping you clear up after class perhaps), or for their sense of fun. When you capture their attention and lead it along constructive channels. When you work out how to deal with boys/girls differently….the former involves a kind of knock around relating which they like, which is a very effective way of containing their more aggressive/competitive character which otherwise gets expressed in disruptive behaviour. Initially I just didn’t like their ‘loudness’. Then I realised, it’s just a form of energy which can be dealt with when you understand it. Boys needs are different.

    For me – anyway – it wasn’t always or necessarily about curriculum delivery and such and frankly, I have reservations about formal education which is also why I’d had some discomfort with teaching. So on one occasion for example, a child got a spelling wrong and instead of reinforcing that she was “wrong” I encouraged her to try again, she got it “right”, and I said “I think you knew it and just needed more time!!!” It was lovely to be able to do that. I do believe that such comments, such treatment, is extremely valuable: because children form a self identity accordingly. I think ‘normal’ education is often a punishing and brutal Darwinian experience and I was pleased with how I handled that little scenario.

    Anyway, dear R, you’ll rapidly amass your own collection of memories, insights, strategies etc.and its a pleasure to see you share your experiences, as you are yourself enjoying them.

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