I did my NQT year at the school I was placed at during the second half of my PGCE year. It was a real stroke of luck for me and I will always look back at my time there with great fondness. I was fortunate to have a sensible and supportive Head of Department. He was a grizzled veteran who had seen pretty much every fad come and go, and then come around again, and he looked after me really well. He shielded me from unnecessary work, supported me with difficult students, and never wasted any of my time. He will always be one of my all-time educational heroes.
However, despite all the support and kindness I received, I still managed to make a series of mistakes during my first year. Perhaps the biggest one I made (and continued to make for a number of years afterwards) was to believe that learning could be reliably and neatly compartmentalised into single lesson units. It’s this misconception that was responsible for some pretty awful, albeit well-intentioned, lessons.
When I look back, I’m struck by how much time I used to invest in planning. I found it a real struggle and I could rarely organise my resources more than a day or so in advance. I remember being totally focused on making sure that students were visibly occupied for every moment of each lesson. That was paramount for me. My primary concern was in making sure that I had planned enough tasks to last the hour; I rarely stopped to consider what my students might learn from them. In short, I got things the wrong way around.
My planning was also particularly inflexible. I didn’t deviate from my lesson plans and I can’t recall ever revisiting aspects of the curriculum except during rushed revision sessions at the end of the year. Once again, the misconception that learning happens in discreet one-hour blocks was part of the problem. I thought that when I’d taught a lesson on, say, a poem by Seamus Heaney or a chapter of Lord of the Flies – covered the curriculum, so to speak – I could move on because I’d got through what I’d intended to and the students in my care had dutifully done plenty of work. I wasn’t aware of so many things: that engagement is a poor proxy for learning, that students forget a lot (like, loads), that students are usually pretty good at mimicking the behaviours we want to see – and so on.
Looking back, I don’t think that a shared bank of departmental resources would’ve been that helpful to me. I had access to quite a bit of stuff from various online platforms, so even more one-off worksheets and presentations to choose from probably wouldn’t have made that much difference. However, what I do think I’d have benefitted from is more opportunities to co-plan whole sequences of lessons. I needed a guiding hand to help me become clearer on the body of knowledge that students need to acquire over time, and not just in single moments. Quite possibly, for my first year, scripts to follow – direct instruction style – would’ve been beneficial for at least some of my lessons.
Finally, I think it would’ve been useful for me to spend a bit more time watching my Head of Department teach. He was brilliant. And he was brilliant because he appeared to do very little. He read aloud a lot and took the time to listen to the views of the students in his care; he also worked them really hard. It’s clear to me now that he was doing it right. I think, perhaps, I thought at the time that he was bit old-fashioned and too set in his ways to change or consider doing things a bit differently. I know now, however, that he was actually really clear on what he wanted his classes to know and he knew the approaches that worked best. Above all, he has was confident and experienced enough to take his time – unlike me.
Thanks for reading –
What I wished I’d read at the time: Responsive Teaching, by Harry Fletcher-Wood
Find my blog post on Notes for Lesson Observers and Learning Walkers here
Find my blog post on My Teaching: Nine Things I’ve Changed here
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