Notes from the Classroom

Phew. It’s half term, at last! My first eight weeks of teaching are over, and what a whirlwind it has been! I am absolutely exhausted, both mentally and physically, and ready for a week of sleep. That I won’t be getting, as I’m off to Paris for a few days tomorrow, but never mind; exhaustion is a state I think I shall have to get used to in this profession! I feel like the time has flown, but it also feels like I have been teaching forever already. Since I last wrote about my experiences, I have been given many more classes to teach, had to meet parents, and had to mark a whole raft of GCSE exams. It’s been a steep learning curve and I’ve often felt totally out of my depth, but at the same time, it’s been an amazing experience. When I think back to how I felt and what I knew at the beginning of term back in September, and I how I feel and what I know now, the difference is extraordinary. I can’t think of any other job where I would have learned so much so quickly, and been so rewarded for my efforts. It’s incredible!

I have been teaching a mixture of English and Drama, and I’ve been especially surprised by how much I enjoy teaching Drama. I know very little about theatre, aside from general knowledge gleaned from watching plays over the years, so I felt very uncertain and inadequate at the beginning of term. I thought I’d be totally useless, but actually I’ve had an amazing time. Watching my students grow in confidence and skill over six weeks has been a joy. They’ve gone from being either wallflowers or bouncing balls of uncontrollable energy to accomplished little actors, coming up with their own mini plays and managing to create and sustain characters with only a little bit of direction from me. They can also intelligently criticise one another and make sensible and thoughtful suggestions for improvements. While I have been developing my knowledge, so have they, and it’s been lovely for us all to grow together, while also having enormous amounts of fun!

I’m now also teaching English higher up the school, and having to face the more stroppy side of teenage-dom as the kids get older has certainly been a challenge. My first lesson with my oldest students did not go so well. If they weren’t draped across their desks, sighing about how tired/bored/not bothered they were, they were chatting to one another constantly. Attempting to get on with my lesson, I soon realised that my tried and tested methods with the younger years were not going to get me anywhere fast with this lot. We all suffered through a couple of lessons of me being annoyed and them being distracted until the penny finally dropped and I realised that I needed to change tack. They get bored quickly; so I obviously have to give them a range of activities that get them up and about and doing things. Rather than spending all lesson trying to get them to shut up, I obviously need to set tasks that have them working in groups, so that doing work involves them also doing the thing they enjoy the most – talking! Our last couple of lessons since I worked this out have been wonderful; they’ve stayed on task, produced great stuff, and I haven’t had to raise my voice once. I’m now looking forward to developing a really good relationship with them over the next term, rather than dreading the time I spend with them. The more I learn about teaching methodologies, the better every lesson gets!

Even though it’s only been eight weeks, I am finding a lot of the things I initially struggled with are starting to fall into place. It’s very much a case of trial and error; sometimes things work and sometimes they fall spectacularly flat, but either way it’s positive, because it’s a lesson learned. If a lesson goes terribly wrong, I don’t leave the classroom feeling rubbish at all; instead, I’m buzzing with ideas of how to do it better next time, and can’t wait to try again and see how it goes if I try a different way forward. Teaching can be frustrating, of course, but I can’t honestly say I have had a ‘bad’ day since I started. I am still loving every minute and wake up every morning ready and raring to go. Even so, I am grateful for this little rest, and I shall be back soon with tales from Paris!

47 comments

  1. Brilliant, so glad it is going well for you. I love your enthusiasm and I’m sure that must come across in your teaching, no wonder it is going well with the kids too. Have a great time in Paris, you have earned it.

  2. It is so fascinating to hear more about your adventures in teaching, Rachel! I was a bit horrified to hear about the behaviour of your older students – in my school such behaviour would have got you sent to the headmistress for a dressing down! – but it sounds like you’ve risen to the challenge they presented and are getting great results. I can only imagine how amazingly satisfying that must make you feel. Enjoy your well-deserved break and have a wonderful time in Paris!

    1. Thanks Claire! Yes they can be a little difficult at times, but it’s nothing compared to the really bad behaviour in some schools. All it takes is a firm hand and normally it’s fine, but we’ll see how I get on during the rest of the year! I am loving it and I hope it will continue to go as well as it has so far!

  3. Rachel, I am so glad that it is going well for you. After I retired from elementary school, I became a substitute teacher in the same district. I have discovered that I enjoy high school very much. It may be that most of the older children were “my kids” in third grade and it is nice to see their progress. When substituting, I have the opposite problem than yours. The younger teens are much more difficult to contain than the older ones. The older students have a more serious approach and even if they are bored, are concerned about graduation and college.
    I love your enthusiasm! Always find joy in those “aaa–ha moments” when a concept is finally grasped or the shy grin when a student sincerely enjoys the book even though it isn’t cool to admit it. I always loved teaching and still do. No day is ever like the one before. However, I don’t miss the paperwork and the grading. It is nice to go to bed at a reasonable hour if I want to and not have a list of “to-do s” going on in my head. I can go out sometimes during the week without thinking about all of the things that are getting ahead of me while I am enjoying a movie.
    I truly believe that once you are a teacher, you will always be a teacher even if you change careers. Your heart will still be with teaching and you will find ways to work with children and teach them something.

    1. Thanks so much Janet – I’m glad you had such a wonderful career in teaching. I am so looking forward to the years ahead of learning and growing and watching children move up throughout the school. It’s so exciting!
      I agree with you entirely – once a teacher, always a teacher – and no matter where life leads me I will always find a way to pass on the joy of English!

  4. Well done Term 1 is always the most difficult. I taught for 38 years and always came home with worries and ideas swimming in my head. It is a job which never leaves you. I would wake up at night and have to write down my thoughts or I would be driving to school and get a great idea. Enjoy Paris and relax.

    1. I know, Enid – this is something I have discovered – I just can’t switch off!!! I don’t mind though – it’s so stimulating to always be thinking and coming up with things! I had a great time in Paris and feel so relaxed – I’m ready and raring to go again now!

  5. It sounds like you’ve had a really rewarding half-term, and a trip to Paris sounds like a wonderful reward. I hope the next 6 weeks are even better!

    (I’ve only been at my placement school full-time for 2 weeks and I am over the moon about half-term. No more 5:30 wake-ups!)

  6. In a past life, when I was young, I was a teacher and I loved it! Circumstances took me away from teaching and I never quite made it back, but, I spent years substituting, taught Sunday School, was even director of the preschool age at church. As Janet said above, once a teacher, always a teacher. I even went over to the “other side” and served for many years on a board of education. It was during that time that I grew to love the older kids. You will be fine with them and it sounds like you are already figuring it out. I’m so proud of you, Rachel, and only wish I could have you for a teacher.

    Enjoy Paris.

    1. Thank you so much Penny – I bet you were wonderful and I love that you remained involved in education even when you left the classroom itself. I can’t imagine myself ever wanting to leave education entirely – it’s such a special thing to do, to give the gift of knowledge to children!

  7. Have a good rest in Paris. Thanks to your blog I found a good Bed and Breakfast when your had written a post about your last holidays in Paris.

    1. Thanks Miranda!πŸ™‚ It’s the best job ever and I can’t wait for you to start teaching next term too! You’re going to love it and be amazing at it!πŸ™‚ x

  8. Bit alarming that a trainee teacher is marking GCSE exam stuff, is that for real? or mock exams? (I have every confidence that you are up to the job but it seems a bit steep in your first term)
    Enjoy your hols.

    1. Oh yes, it’s the real thing! They trust me to do it and they gave me all the training. Plus it’s all going to be moderated in house before we give them their marks back. I found it a bit tricky to start but once I got going I found it quite easy and I really enjoyed it!

  9. I’m glad your first term is going well for you! And especially that you were able to figure out how to make the older kids behave and produce good work. Enjoy your very well-deserved break! I expect lots of pictures upon your return.

  10. So good to hear that you are enjoying teaching. You must be getting a good handle on this generation of students and the challenges of 21 century teaching.

    As an aside, did you know that your review of South Riding was referred to (very favourably) in the blog “The Age of Uncertainty”?

    Sue

  11. I’m happy to hear that the teaching is going so well. And I can’t wait to read your posts about Paris. Is Versailles on the programme this time?

  12. Rachel, you are amazing! Your students are incredibly lucky to have you! I think many teachers are unable to adapt their style and methods to different sets of students, and to really understand what their students need. Being able to connect with them like you have is the key to teaching, and I think that is what makes teaching enjoyable, fulfilling, and energizing (in the face of the exhaustion you mentioned). Congratulations on finishing your first term and have a splendid time in beautiful Paris!

    1. Thanks so much Lucy, you are so kind and sweet! I just love my students and really enjoy that interaction – I don’t understand how teachers can teach without loving the kids! I did indeed have a wonderful time in Paris – but after just one day back it already feels like half term never happened!

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