I wake up, open my eyes and realise today is study day. No scramble to get in the bathroom before its besieged by my children! Study day is one day, every week when you engage with the universities on-line reading and lectures. As a Mum, it is invaluable as it means that I can schedule my children’s appointments on these days if needed. I see all my children out of the house and breathe, the house is quiet, there are no children, and the temptation is to sit in my pjs, drinking coffee and watching daytime TV! But the on-line study is important, the reading and lectures not only help inform your teaching practise but also underpins your assignments needed for your PGCE. So, I enjoy the peace and quiet and my coffee but then I open my laptop and click on this week’s study. If I’m honest, the other temptation is to crack on with some housework or D.I.Y, to fix that wardrobe door, scrub the bathroom or tackle the ironing mountain that is threatening to topple at any minute so I have to be quite disciplined as there is a lot of reading on academic research and pedagogical theories and I don’t want to fall behind so the ironing remains where it is!
Today I’m back in my class. As I walk in to school, it’s strange to think that at the beginning of the term I was so nervous, wondering what I was doing! I felt I would never find my way around the building or be able to name all these strange faces but as we approach the end of the first term, the school is already feeling like my second home. I go into my classroom, turn my laptop on and one of my neighbouring teachers pops in for a chat. She is an Early Career Teacher (ECT) and we get together every morning, discussing our lessons, sharing printing and resources. As someone who has recently qualified, she offers incredible support as she remembers what it is like. My Lead Mentor (LM) then comes in and we discuss anything I need to know regarding the children, changes to the timetable, how yesterday’s lessons went etc.
Today I will be observing my Lead Mentor on two demonstrations. Demonstrations are a focus on a small aspect of Teaching practice. They can be taking the register, preparing resources, setting homework or an aspect of behaviour management. These are set in our weekly development meeting (WDM). The university set a list of possible focuses for these, but you are also allowed to choose aspects you or your LM feel would help improve your practise. Your LM demonstrates this focus first then you implement them (known as an agenda) when you are teaching.
Now the day truly starts -It's time to open the door and I go out to greet our class. The children bundle in, full of chatter and enthusiasm and keen to share their latest news of a new kitten or a wobbly tooth. The day whizzes past, I observe my LM for my agendas and then observe other teachers across the school to experience other examples of teaching.
At 3.30pm, I ensure the children have left with the correct adult, then our neighbouring ECT joins us, we usually make a cup of tea, produce some biscuits and we discuss our day, how the children responded to the lessons and what we are planning tomorrow. We double-check our lesson plans for the following day and help each other prepare resources. I choose to spend this time after school to prepare my lessons rather than at home as I have my colleagues to help me, bounce ideas off and offer suggestions if needed and the queue for the printer is much shorter at this time of day! When I’m confident that everything is prepared for the next day, I say my goodbyes and go home. I start cooking tea, throw some washing in the machine, run the hoover around and spend the evening with my children. Once they are in bed, I contemplate running over my lesson plans for tomorrow or doing the ironing…
After spending the previous evening, double-checking my lesson plans, I arrive at school ready and raring to go! On Wednesday’s, my school hold a morning briefing session for all teaching staff. This a time to share any information that we need. This could be an update on procedures, changes to Covid guidelines or any other new information then it’s back to the classroom. Today I teach all day, although my LM only observes me for 2 of the lessons. I never thought, when I nervously taught my first lesson nearly 3 months ago, that I would be teaching a whole day in such a short time but it’s honestly the best way to learn and improve. The university study teaches you theories but it’s through teaching that you really understand and hone your skills. Some lessons go according to plan and I feel on top of the world, some lessons I feel have gone better and my LM helps me reflect on what I could do next time to improve although she maintains that I am too hard on myself and points out everything that did go well!
After the children leave, it’s the weekly staff meeting, again biscuits are usually involved! This is a great time when all the teaching staff come together and discuss aspects of teaching and the curriculum. Sometimes the staff lead the meeting, recently the school’s Maths task force gave a presentation on the use of manipulatives in Maths. Or it might be a professional from outside of the school giving advice or teaching techniques. I take pages of notes (and a few biscuits) and try to absorb as much information as I can, but it is usually the discussion with my colleagues that helps me understand more. We all leave, and I stop in the supermarket to pick up something simple for dinner. I find teaching all day a really positive, exhilarating experience but I must admit once that nervous energy has left me at the end of the day the I just want to cook something easy for dinner, chat to my children and ignore the ironing!
Is it Thursday already? Time really does fly when you’re having fun!
Thursday mornings are Planning Preparation & Assessment (PPA) time. I’m very lucky training in a 3-form year group, as well as my LM (who has been teaching for 8 years) and the ECT there is another Year 3 teacher who is also the Year Lead so I’m surrounded by people with a range of experience, so if 2 heads are better than 1 then 4 heads must be fantastic! Once again, tea and biscuits are involved as is general chatting about our lives, which has really helped build a rapport, but we do work too – honest! We discuss how the lessons have gone through the week; what has gone well, what lessons seemed to be particularly effective as well as the lessons that we felt needed improving in some way. It is also another example of how far I’ve come in this teaching programme. To begin with I felt totally out of my depth, frantically writing notes, asking questions but mostly sat in awe as these people planned a whole week of lessons and wondered how I would ever be able to do this but as Christmas draws near, I am now planning lessons, not just for myself but to be shared by the whole group.
After PPA it’s back to the classroom and I’m teaching Maths. This is not being observed by my LM, it’s just more experience for me, immersing myself in teaching, learning on the job and honestly – just because I love it!
Thursday is also when my LM and I have our WDM. This is when we discuss how my agendas, observations and lessons in general have worked. We talk about any issues I feel there were with my lessons so my LM can offer advice and I reflect on how my week has been. This is when we decide on what lessons I will teach next week and set the demonstrations and agendas. These meetings are meant to be an hour long, but we tend to split it with half an hour at lunchtime and then continue after school. We discuss my planning and lessons for the following week and what resources I may need. It’s then time to go home, raid the freezer for dinner and glare at my ironing pile!
It’s the end of the week and this morning is training. This is led by the lead school and is a chance for all the trainees across the Trust to get together once a week. We usually start with a quick recap of our week; what has gone well, what hasn’t gone so well, any problems we’ve had etc and we all listen, celebrate, commiserate and offer ideas. Every week the training focuses on an aspect of teaching, this could be a subject in the curriculum, theories such as cognitive over-load or we might walk around and observe classes. It is clear from our conversations how much we have progressed as now when we discuss modelling, scaffolding or metacognition.
This week our training is being led by the Art lead and I get very excited when I see the sketch pads, tissue paper and pencils out. She runs through the curriculum and websites that will be useful. She then allows us to “play” with the materials and teaches us a range of techniques. It is an amazing, informative session and helps me feel much more enabled to teach this subject. We then stop for lunch and some trainees leave while the rest of us stay as the afternoon is our own PPA time. Sometimes the university sets tasks that can be done collaboratively so this is the ideal time to do this. If there is an assignment due, we might work on that or start planning our lessons for next week as even though our assignment subjects may be different or the lessons we’re teaching, we all try to support each other. As this is our own time, I usually leave the same time as the children so I’m home early to enjoy some peace and quiet, for about 10 minutes, before my own children get home. I cook dinner and we chat about our week. I quite often use my own children as a sounding board – “What was the best Maths lesson you ever had?”, “What was your favourite Science experiment?”. We make plans for the weekend then watch a film. Once they’re in their bedrooms, I start planning my lessons to keep as much time free over the weekend as I can. First lesson completed I then sink into the bath, mulling over ideas for my lessons next week and then realise…
So that’s a week in my life as a mum and School Direct Trainee!
In all honesty -
Is it hard work? Yes
Do I get stressed? Sometimes but that’s usually regarding my assignments as it’s been a long time since I needed to write academic essays. Lesson planning and Teaching is more nerve-wracking then stressful, but the nerves get a little less every time and are tempered by excitement.
Do I get an immersed teaching experience? Yes
Do I get support from experienced colleagues? Yes
Do I get quality time with my family? Yes – don’t get me wrong, you have a lot to do but it is do-able
Do I love what I do? YES
For me, Mondays are usually my independent university study day. This is so I can get my three consecutive days in school including my PPA with my lead mentor on a Thursday morning. I start my Monday with an early morning run so that I can get stuck into my study feeling energised. With the university work there is generally a mix of reading articles, completing reflections and listening to lectures on the topic of the week. I tend to intersperse the lectures with reading and copious amounts of tea! Filling in my reflections using the university model allows me to take the information from lectures and articles and consider how this is going to help develop my teaching practise.
Tuesday mornings see me arrive at school before 8am, as long as I don't meet too many tractors en-route! When I arrive on a Tuesday morning it feels like I've been out of school for about two weeks. I have a quick catch-up with my class teacher (lead mentor) to get up to date with how the children's learning has gone since I was last in school. Then it's a mad rush to the photocopier alongside all the other teaching staff! Children arrive from 8:40am for some early morning work whilst registration takes place until 9am. Morning lessons run until 12noon with a break from 10:45 until 11:00, these generally consist of core English and Maths as well as handwriting, group reading. Isn't it just the best feeling when the children are asking 'are you teaching us maths today?' and at the end of the lesson don't want to go to lunch for love of learning. What could be more rewarding than that? Lunch time is a chance to sit down and refuel- well, maybe after a quick lesson debrief with my mentor and mark the last few books I didn't get around to during the lesson. Tuesday afternoons are our Science afternoon so will some weeks I will teach, some weeks observe my class being taught, other weeks I get out and around the school observe excellent teaching practise. End of the day comes on a Tuesday and that feeling of being absent from school is long behind me as we look forward to the next 2 days.
First thing on a Wednesday is a staff briefing led by the senior team, running through any whole school notices. By midway through Wednesday it feels like my awfully short week in school is nearly over. My focus for Wednesdays is generally to put into practise any techniques I have observed on the Tuesday into my own teaching. It's not just the children that can have the visible light-bulb moments, my mentor has witnessed me having those whilst teaching. In the moments I am not teaching the class, I contemplate where I can go to observe, and undoubtedly pinch some ideas to try for myself! In my teaching things are starting to feel a lot more natural and I am able to really focus on what is going to make a huge impact on the children's learning. The best moments, for me, are when the children are as excited about something as I am. For example when introducing the geography topic population, the children absolutely loved watching the world population clock changing and couldn't wait for me to put it back on at the end of the lesson whilst they were getting their home-time things.
Most of the morning on a Thursday is our planning morning as a year group. We are in a fortunate position that there are 3 classes that all plan together. This means that there are lots of ideas (and biscuits) around the room, making for some really engaging lesson content for our children. It is really crucial to be able to have the quality conversations with the teachers and understand how they plan a sequence of lessons and the best pedagogical methods for each element. After 2 and a half hours of planning, it's straight back into lessons with the class until lunch time. This transition can be a tough one as you go from planning lessons for the following week, to delivering something from last weeks planning time. By the end of Thursday I can honestly say I'm exhausted. I often ask myself why, as I'm not yet teaching full time. However, I then remember that when I am teaching I am also learning and when I am not teaching, I am still learning through observations and conversations with my mentor.
Friday's are our trainee morning at Okehampton. We have sessions delivered to us in line with the university focus of the week with our ITE coordinator or some of the fantastic members of staff from Okehampton Primary School. These sessions are incredibly useful for the real-life reflection and relevance of the academic side of teaching. These mornings also give us a chance to talk together as a group of trainees, supporting each other through assignments, tricky situations that may occur in placement schools and general wellbeing.
Harriet Munday, primary School Direct trainee, Okehampton Primary
Having been involved with leading and recruiting to our School Direct training programme for a number of years, I would like to share some advice and strategies to help you best secure an interview and place on the training programme of your choice.
Firstly, do your research into the myriad number of different ways you could get into teacher training. School direct has the advantage of fully immersing trainees into schools and you spend a greater number of days in the school environment than on a traditional PGCE course. However, this doesn’t mean School Direct is always the best option. Do your research, speak to course providers and make the right choice based on your current experience and needs.
Many applicants come to teacher training having worked in a school, perhaps as a TA or a cover supervisor. This ‘in-person’ experience is invaluable and really allows an applicant to shine through an interview. We are not looking for a potential trainee to have all the answers, but we are looking for an engagement with the modern school environment that does more than rely on hazy memories from their own time at school.
One of the best ways to do this is to try and secure some school experience. Whilst this hasn’t always been easy or possible in recent months due to the Covid-19 pandemic, Dartmoor MAT schools are supportive of such requests and will try to create opportunities for school experience where possible. Please contact me directly via my email firstname.lastname@example.org if this is of interest to you.
A final piece of advice is to do some research into the current national curriculum in your subject area. Potential trainees will be bringing some outstanding subject knowledge to the table, based on their degree and A level results. However, it is important to be aware of current curriculum expectations and key topics that are delivered in schools. Where gaps are identified a subject knowledge enhancement (SKE) can be sought before the commencement of your training year. No teacher is an expert in all aspects of their subject, and subject knowledge development should be an ongoing journey through your career.
I am frequently blown away by the life experiences and enthusiasm with which potential trainees come to the application process. This is one of the great privileges of my current job, where I can play a small part in helping to foster the next generation of teachers that will inspire our students. Hopefully the practical suggestions outlined above can compliment those skills and experiences and help you prepare for a successful application process and interview. I look forward to hearing from you!
Phil Ruse Secondary Teacher Training Lead
Being a School Direct trainee is a fantastic way of training as a teacher because from the beginning of the first term I have been present in the classroom experiencing the teaching environment. This has included observing, team-teaching and solo teaching and it has been a great learning experience and an opportunity to start building relationships with pupils and teachers from the word go. There has also been the opportunity to be part of the whole school community by attending staff, year team and faculty meetings and being involved in extra-curricular activities.
As a trainee I have felt well supported throughout the first term, through having an assigned mentor, ongoing professional development training and support from teaching and support staff. It can seem overwhelming at times especially when there are lessons to plan and assignments due in, however, keeping organised and speaking to my mentor and university tutor has helped to relieve the pressure. Through the experience I have gained in term one, particularly around dealing with behaviour issues, witnessing how this has been professionally dealt with and reflecting through written observations and assignments on the subject, I feel more confident about solo teaching going into term 2.
Trudi Massey, RS trainee, Tavistock College
'So far, the training at Tavistock College as an English School Direct Student has been a fantastic experience. There seems to be a well-established support network for trainees where you will have all of the foundations in place to thrive and get the best out of the training. I have enjoyed working with a wide range of students that work at different levels and have different needs, this allows for you to get a real understanding of how it is to be working within a busy secondary school. It has also been incredibly beneficial to be immersed within your department and feel like a member of the team as opposed to a trainee, having the opportunity to work within a team at a fast, realistic pace has allowed me to further understand what it will be like when working as a qualified teacher.
In addition to this, the route allows you to learn, observe and have much more contact time than any other route allowing you to become immersed within the school's community and strengthen relationships with students. I would argue that the School Direct approach is more demanding as you are on placement throughout the whole training year but this will test you and force you to be organized and, in turn, prepared for your career. Throughout my first term of teaching, I quickly learned my approaches as a teacher through experience at the front of the classroom but also through observing a vast range of teachers across different subjects. I have also realised the organizational skills that are needed to be a teacher and this is something that I will continue working on throughout my training. Overall, I have enjoyed the challenge of teaching and recognize that the training is a massive challenge, it isn't easy, there are tough moments but I am glad that I have the opportunity to progress.’
Robbie Bond, English trainee, Tavistock College