Subject Knowledge

I saw this blog from Tom Bennett on tes and it really caught my interest. I’m a firm believer in the idea that the best teachers have the best subject knowledge, I can’t accept the idea that someone who doesn’t have excellent subject knowledge can truly inspire a top set in their subject.

My route into maths teaching was straight from completion of a four year undergraduate masters in maths, onto a secondary maths PGCE. My subject knowledge is excellent, this may sound somewhat arrogant but I’d question any teacher who couldn’t say the same, as a minimum every teacher should have good sound subject knowledge.

I quickly managed to get a reputation in my current department as a super maths geek, and I love it, I play on it constantly and wear it with pride. I wouldn’t change this opinion of me that my colleagues and the students as well have, I don’t get why a teacher wouldn’t want to be known to be passionate about their subject.

Similarly to Tom’s blog however, the assumption was clear on my PGCE that subject knowledge wasn’t something that would actively be scrutinised. Clearly any inadequacies would be identified, but that was it and only through observations, there was the expectation that placement schools would identify and sort out subject knowledge. A simple subject knowledge check was done by the university, but it had no real substance and looking back I can see how little it actually meant. Same goes for teaching once you are qualified, except in a few 20-30 minute snapshot observations, when was your subject knowledge actually checked?

Having spent a number of years teaching I have come to realise the importance of real subject knowledge in maths, especially for the top set and the most able. The idea of a teacher being “one page ahead” is a somewhat frightening concept for someone teaching the best students.

Take my year 10 top set for example, so far this year we have covered vectors, quadratic formula/completing the square, sine/cosine rules, transformations of graphs and algebraic proof. These are some of the most challenging topics on the GCSE yet I know that a select few of my students will find most of that fairly straightforward were I to use typical exam questions as the end game. To stretch them I needed to go beyond what an exam would typically examine and if I didn’t possess subject knowledge beyond the GCSE specification this wouldn’t be possible.

Every topic in maths links to almost everything else as you take topics further and the beauty in maths is that the best will start to see this and unlock even more, I take my hat off to William Emeny for producing this masterpiece of visualisation.

To unlock this a teacher must know how every topic starts from the basics up to and above what is required at each level. The progression through each topic is key to leading students from start to finish in each topic, particularly when the end game is the very top.

You need to approach a top set with almost limitless ambition for them; these are the best kids and they are the ones you should be looking to inspire to take your subject further. In maths they will make leaps you can’t predict and if given the chance will surprise the hell out of you with their ability, some will seem to just absorb skills and understanding like a sponge.

Anyone who is trying to stay a few steps ahead of a class in maths will get found out. Quickly with able students. The real challenge for the most able shouldn’t be how quickly they can get through material and how far they can get, the challenge should be how deeply can students understand what they are doing. For a teacher to really excel with the best students they need to know their stuff inside out, back to front and well beyond what the specification requires.

For maths this doesn’t come from endlessly repeating and analysing topics; there is limited benefit to true subject knowledge in maths by repeated study of a topic. It may prepare you for any exam question that may be asked, but does that actually mean anything?

To really understand a topic in maths I believe you need to go (much) further and then drop back down to truly appreciate what a topic is all about. I found this during almost every module at university, and looking further back applied to A-level modules as well.

A significant proportion of the PGCE students in my cohort came through a subject knowledge booster course the previous year. Are these people ideally suited to teaching the best students? Debatable. Quite a lot very perfectly capable at GCSE level maths, but A-level was another matter.

When it came to finding a job for the following year we inevitably shared interview experiences and not one mentioned a subject knowledge question. I asked for advice from the head of maths at the school I was placed in and he said he would always ask a subject knowledge question and actually get the candidates to answer it. Why is subject knowledge normally assumed to be sound?

For those who are lucky enough to teach the very best at maths, I’m sure you have encountered that student who possesses more natural ability than you do, or at least possess a seemingly limitless ability to absorb knowledge. For anyone who isn’t equipped with subject knowledge above and beyond what is normally called for will fail that student. An A* is a grade, not a true indication of a students understanding of a subject. Some students will not find reaching the A* standard challenging in maths.

What to do

Putting a teacher’s subject knowledge to the test is simple: test them. How many members of your department actually do the exam papers that you set students? Now consider what they would actually get, how many would ace the exam? How many could?

Any maths teacher who can’t complete a GCSE higher paper easily under an hour and with almost zero mistakes doesn’t have good enough subject knowledge.

With the advent of the new GCSEs this brings subject knowledge to the fore; particularly for anyone who only teaches 11-16 as they potentially haven’t taught some topics at all. How many of your department would ace the new specification sample papers without needing to look anything up?

When they were released I sat down and did them, and I know quite a few others I follow on twitter did the same. I was surprised by some questions and really quite enjoyed doing them (really helping my maths geek tag I know). What I did learn though was that there was a lot to be gained by doing these as a department as a learning experience and I’m waiting to see how well this goes down in the near future.

How can a teacher be expected to teach something they can’t do themselves (with ease I might add)?

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Proportional Graphs

With the GCSEs from 2017 including new content, the challenge of adapting for staff is clear. Subject knowledge may need to be widened and strengthened, alongside the relevant pedagogy whilst also looking at how these new topics fit in alongside current familiar concepts.

One I encountered this past couple of weeks was proportional graphs, which are now part of the much expanded ratio section (which has been split from number and now has 25%/20% of the exam marks at F/H respectively, number is now 25%/15%). As I have the responsibility for KS3 I took the time to adapt our year 8 scheme of work in particular to address these changes and was looking forward to teaching this topic as it was the first new topic I was going to encounter this year. The greatly expanded sequences topics (quadratic and geometric) is another I am quite looking forward to later this year.

The specification from AQA states, under basic foundation content:

solve problems involving direct and inverse proportion, including graphical and algebraic representations

The OCR specimen papers have a 8 mark question (foundation paper 1 q13) on this exact topic. The first part asks students to sketch a direct proportion graph, then y=x^3, each worth 2 marks, followed by this 4 mark question, with axes provided underneath:

prop graphs

I have used a similar idea to get across the understanding of what inverse proportion is, as I feel this idea really has some meaning to students as you can demonstrate it very simply in terms they understand.

I took this question and used it to create a full lesson on proportional graphs for my top set year 8 class, starting with direct proportion, then inverse and finally having a direct proportion to the square of one variable.

The first task was a direct proportion relationship where student were given a rectangle of fixed width and had to vary the length and calculate the area. They recorded these into a table and then plotted them on a graph producing a straight line through the origin which had a gradient of the fixed width. Nothing too surprising here so we moved on fairly quickly once the gradient was spotted and noted as being constant (careful use of language laying foundations for the following lesson on algebraic methods).

Then students were given a rectangle of fixed width, as in the question above, and had to vary the length and width to keep the area constant. This time the graph produced a reciprocal graph with the fixed area (k) giving the graph y=k/x.

Finally we moved onto the relationship between the radius and area of a circle. The slight stumbling block here proved to be the lack of a constant given by me, although most quickly realised it was built into the formula for a circle (pi), prompting some interesting debate. The graph was a straightforward quadratic graph, albeit with y=pi*x^2 as the equation.

We had a fruitful discussion around how the radius and area scale up, with a real focus on understanding and more on the idea of a constant. One student raised the point about the relationship between the area and length of a square, which I had avoided due to the constant in that case being 1, but nevertheless proved interesting. I also posed the question of what a proportional relationship involving cubing one variable would look like and where it would come from, a natural extension to the ones covered.

Overall I felt the lesson was good and fitted in quite nicely before moving onto algebraic methods, particularly having been very careful with my use of language throughout with the idea of a constant.

This is definitely a good addition to the GCSEs as it can really help boost understanding of proportion, as too often I fear students know how to use the algebraic method but have little/no idea of what it actually means for two things to be proportional.

Resource: Graphing Proportional Relationships

Oh, and on a similar topic I’d like to mention this brilliant resource I’ve used in the past on inverse proportion, so much depth to this investigation, highly recommended:

Breakfast Shift – TES link

Urgh, sometimes I struggle

So, strangely enough, coming hot off the heels of my CPD post is another. So we had the one session from this term focussed on teaching and learning, specifically dealing with the most able. The session was delivered by an outside consultant who apparently is charged with improving the provision for the most able in a local authority.

Although to some this may sound promising, this was one of the most pointless sessions I’ve had the displeasure of experiencing in a long time. I wasn’t alone either.

The person delivering the session started off by stating they hadn’t been “at the coalface” for a number of years and then proceeded to list what was wrong with MA provision nationally, all very interesting. Then we were treated to a delightful 20 minutes on various techniques to stretch the best such as posing answers and asking for questions, not “teaching to the middle” with extension tasks being seen as punishment.

Then followed a few comments from our students about their experiences in lessons. Out of the 8 comments, half mentioned that they didn’t feel challenged consistently in all subjects, but 3 said that maths was an exception to this. “I want more lessons to be as challenging as maths is, where I really have to think” was what one said.

It continued for a while about differentiating, before a slow painful death by statistics of how many KS2 level 5s on entry gain A/A*s and why 4 levels of progress has to be the standard we all aim for.

Funny thing is, we have only ever worked on 4 levels of progress to set targets for students, we’ve always used this as our standard. Even with 4 levels used to set targets, we have a number of students who make 5 levels of progress every year. Our A* figures are above national averages, same with As. The same goes when you look at levels of progress for level 5 students on entry.

This kind of universal, one size fits all approach to CPD is exactly what I hate. Imagine teaching a lesson with no differentiation – you’d be absolutely slated. Why is this acceptable for CPD provision?

I’m genuinely intrigued as to why the idea that all teachers and departments/subjects are given the same provision for CPD seems to be so prevalent.

Is outstanding more able teaching the same in every subject? Of course not.

Do all teachers have the same current level of ability when it comes to teaching more able students? Of course not.

I will sit through any safeguarding or otherwise compulsory training, but I am struggling not to voice my utter contempt for the one size fits all approach to whole school training that is a waste of time.

Anonymous feedback forms are so satisfying sometimes….

CPD

During our recent mock ofsted a list of potential questions were emailed around which had been asked to middle leaders in other inspections in the area since September. In those inspections the inspector had gathered HoD from English, maths, science and one humanities HoD together in a joint meeting.

Many of the questions on the list were fairly standard, how do you/SLT monitor your department, how do you ensure accurate data, how do you identify and intervene with under performing students/staff. There was one question which was interesting though:

discuss between yourselves the CPD program in this school and I’m going to make notes but won’t partake in the discussion

The same question was asked in our mock inspection and according to my HoD was answered pretty well by the middle leaders present but when we sat down on Friday to discuss the points arising from the 2 days this was the most interesting one. We already knew about the state of the department and where issues lay, along with what we are doing about them, there weren’t any real surprises from the initial feedback from the inspection.

When we moved onto discussing CPD though we looked critically at whether the CPD program since September had impacted our teaching/students learning. Honestly we struggled. Many of the sessions we had received were safeguarding related so were necessary, no arguments about those. Then we had the inevitable ofsted preparation sessions which weren’t really designed to impact on student learning.

We have one session coming up which is dealing with “higher attaining pupils” so I would expect this to deal with teaching and learning, but given the track record of previous CPD provision we weren’t that confident it would have a great deal of impact on teaching. Looking at the rest of the CPD before the Christmas break we realised they were not teaching/learning related.

One CPD session in the first term dealing directly with teaching and learning? This isn’t right. To develop teaching you need to put CPD in place which is dealing with teaching and learning. Discounting safeguarding related training, what is the point in CPD that doesn’t deal with teaching and learning?

After this we moved on to what could be done and what CPD we needed as individuals and as a department and were both far more excited about the prospect of what we could do as a department to drive each other on. This discussion quickly spiralled and we both felt a plan start to develop around the type of CPD that should be at the heart of good teacher development: collaboration.

Too often CPD I’ve experienced has been given in a standard lecture format, with little to get enthusiastic about. It’s dull, uninspiring and too easily dismissed as “that won’t work with our kids”, “that won’t work for (insert subject here)”, etc. I’m sure many people can relate to this unfortunately. I would put some weight behind the argument that maths is a completely different subject from any other and has to be approached in a completely different way to anything else, meaning that many generic CPD sessions are of limited use. Many other subjects share common ground, as many are reliant on skills and techniques ultimately drawn from English lessons.

The next step for us is now that we have a plan of attack for our own professional development as a department we just need to get the go ahead from SLT to be given the time to implement it. I will certainly post again with what happens further down the line.

Mock Ofsted – Part 2 – Whole School

This is the second post about our mock ofsted visit last week, the first was regarding my lesson observation, this second post is about the whole school picture.

This year we are coming off a bad set of English results. In maths we had a slight dip overall and in A/A* numbers as well, which is undoubtedly why my year 10 set 1 were seen (year 11 were in mock exams all week so weren’t seen). Whilst the results were disappointing we were not unhappy with them as we knew the challenge the last cohort posed for a multiple of reasons and threw everything at them.

English suffered a drop of over 20% in their A-C figure. As a result of this they were under heavy scrutiny to pull it around and the “party line” from the head and SLT was that the English results were a “blip” having had 3 years of improving results above national average.

After two days of heavy scrutiny though the party line hasn’t changed but the feeling from chats with various members of SLT and inferences from the head in the whole school feedback meeting was that English could be struggling to pull it back to where their figures have been previously (or anywhere close).

As a maths or English teacher you have nowhere to hide, it comes with the subject and as a result the whole school has an interest in how well you are doing as it affects them. The need for support is clear amongst staff within and between departments and from SLT above, so this change in tone is worrying. That sinking ship feeling is dangerous if it starts to spread and could spell doom before any ofsted judgement is made.

The implications of English not pulling it around is clear; a notice to improve is going to increase pressure on everyone and some staff will (sadly) inevitably struggle to cope. There is a fine line between being honest and bracing staff for what may happen, and putting out a positive determined message that things are improving and moving forward.

Behind closed doors (ie, within SLT and English leadership) there is obviously a need for complete realism, anything else is bad leadership and unacceptable. However, there is a need for a different picture to be presented to the whole staff, whilst everyone is accountable you need to have a supportive atmosphere or else people will fall.

The whole experience was very interesting for many reasons but very mixed. My observation was the best I’ve had so I’m really happy about my own practice, yet the whole school picture is another matter altogether.

Mock Ofsted – Part 1 – Observation

We are coming up to 3 years since our last ofsted and as a result the head organised a mock ofsted visit this past week. Before the last ofsted we had the same arrangement and the issues picked up in the mock ofsted were able to be addressed to varying degrees which helped when the real one arrived.

I’ve split this into two posts, this one about my observation and the second will be more about the overall picture.

As a Maths teacher you know you are front and centre when it comes to observations and are always likely to be seen. As it turned out I was the first teacher observed in the school after registration periods were over. I couldn’t have chosen a lesson I’d rather have them in, it was my top set year 10 group where I just did what they normally do. The lesson isn’t one I created just for an observation, it was a lesson I’ve done in the past with my year 11 class and as such I felt very confident with it.

The lesson was last in a series on trigonometry and being top set meant sine & cosine rules. Having gone over both in the lesson before the lesson basically ran itself once the starter was done. The starter was a collection of exam questions I titled “Higher Starters 10 in 10” which they complete every lesson and just helps their overall skills improve and exam technique as well. Whilst some may have been tempted to drop this in light of an observation, I just continued as normal and it was well received by the inspector.

Then the students got the following set of 20 triangles (without the last page) and had to sort out which were sine rule and which were cosine rule, then further into missing angles and sides. Once this was complete I put the third sheet on the whiteboard with all of the answers on and in pairs the students each picked a triangle from a category (eg, sine rule missing side) and completed their question individually, offering assistance when needed to each other and checking answers once done. Then they moved onto the next category and so on until they had done one from each of the 4 sets, at which point they had to go back and complete another from their weakest (unsurprisingly cosine rule missing angle questions were they most challenging).

Two extension tasks were available, one on the derivation of the Sine-Cosine rules, which was only given to the very best, with the other students getting questions involving the area using trigonometry (2 simple, 2 involving sine/cosine rules first, 2 working backwards given the area).

In the 30 minutes the inspector was in for she spent very little of it watching myself. She spent her time scrutinising books, checking marking over time, progress over time and getting a feel for what a typical lesson was. She also spent a decent amount of time looking over the data I had provided to her about the class.

I knew the lesson went extremely well and that I couldn’t have done it better really, so going for feedback at the end of the day didn’t hold any fear. The inspector agreed; she was impressed with the attitude and enthusiasm the students had, their independence and the standard of work they were producing. My marking was comprehensive and very informative, progress was excellent (all students had made 2 levels of progress at the end of year 9, with most above that) and the lesson was really challenging. The only development point was making extension tasks more explicit in books, which was mentioned to others in the department as well and is something we are already working on.

Overall there was no mention of a grade, which I wasn’t expecting, but the overall feedback was incredibly positive and I couldn’t have asked for more.

Teaching Progression

It’s been a while since my last post, and likewise I’ve been quiet on twitter. The reason is simple: I’ve needed to disconnect and unwind better.

Teaching is relentless, never truly helped by those higher up and such joyous occasions as book scrutinies and suchlike. Whether it was the long half term, general tiredness, or a bit of everything, I was starting to feel things slip and something had to give. In this case it was this blog and twitter, as they were easiest to step away from.

Having spend 2 months now as second in department I have to say I’m thoroughly enjoying the extra responsibility and increased role in the department. Today was a first as the HoD was unable to lead our department meeting it was mine to lead. Towards the end of last year I had to step in and take on on short notice but everything was prepared for me, this time it was all me. It was a really interesting experience, in a good way, and while I wasn’t going to change things too much, it gave me more ideas for what I would do given complete control.

This lead to consider my longer term ambitions and where I would like to see myself eventually. The step up to head of department is one I do want to make, and within the next 5 years. I’m in my fifth year of teaching now since qualifying and looking back it has been interesting.

My first year was a case of survival, as many NQT years are. Second year was where I started to find my feet and get a handle on myself as a teacher. Third year I started taking on a few extra responsibilities with the aim of broadening my own horizons beyond my classroom practice. Fourth year I felt I had really started to hit my stride as a teacher and began to push on with the extras with a view to moving up in the following few years.

This step up happened slightly quicker than I expected and I have been very lucky to have gotten the second in department role in my current school with a truly excellent head of department to work with and learn from. I’ve spent this half term getting fully adjusted to the role but it has made me all the more determined to move up again in the future. The prospect of having overall responsibility for a subject as crucial to a school as maths is obviously somewhat daunting, I’ve seen first hand this year what a bad set of results can do to an English department, yet that doesn’t deter me.

I’d like a few more years in my current role (and to hopefully expand and evolve it throughout that time) before moving up to head of department, yet after that I’m unsure. A side step to a head of year job doesn’t really interest me, for no other reason than I love teaching maths and wouldn’t want to change my focus and impact away from maths. The next step up would be an assistant head job, which is something I’m not sure about, at present I’d say I can see myself being happy as a head of department, but who knows what is in store.

I do want to mention the one instance that does stick with me from last half term, is was my first lesson back with year 11 in September. They are a really great class, I’ll be lucky to get another like them and I’ll genuinely miss them when they leave, it’s a rare instance of the class and teacher matching up exceptionally well. During this first lesson they were going through a few simple tasks purely to get them going again and also allowing me a bit of time to chat with a select few in order to really get them on side from the off. Another maths teacher came into the room in search of a favour and addressed me as “number 2”, much the bemusement of the class, which I explained was due to my new role and what happened next floored me. They broke into a round of applause.

The thing which got me was that this is something which has no impact on them and yet due to the relationship we had a class it was something they took an interest in and were happy for me. This really does re-enforce why I love teaching, it’s all about the relationships you build with each class and student.

Personalised Independent Revision

I’ve always found revision lessons to be a bit strange for me as a teacher. The obvious teacher led type of revision is fairly dull, giving out past papers likewise uninspiring (if necessary at some point), but it is probably the type of lesson that I’ve found hardest to crack over the years.

I’ve tried to vary these methods over the last year and have continued to experiment so far this year, with another couple of maths staff also sharing their chosen strategies and I am pretty happy with the results, for a variety of reasons.

We have half termly assessments this year and need to put revision in place during lessons beforehand to prepare the students (we’ve always found limited success when leaving it to the kids). Apart from year 11 I’ve not given out a single past paper and not focussed too much on collections of exam questions either (KS3 or GCSE).

The most successful approach I found was one which doesn’t take too much time to set up, just a few sheets of coloured paper (although similar results could be achieved through highlighters for those with tight budgets). I came up with 3 collections of questions, all clearly labelled and of 3 different levels of difficulty (not NC levels, difficulty based on past experience of myself/class). Each set had 8 topics on laid out as a simple set of 8 rectangles, covering any relevant topics.

The easiest set of questions was printed on red paper, then middle difficulty on yellow with a green page of the hardest topics. Students had all 3 sheets on desks when they arrived, with a pair of scissors and glue sticks between two and had to cut and stick the relevant boxes as they went and obviously provide the answers and working out to go with the questions. All I did to create the questions was to screenshot existing worksheets and crop down to fit the template, a fairly quick process and once you have a few of these sheets already done you can easily adapt for other groups and later assessments.

You can obviously tailor the questions to your particular needs but the key here is giving enough choice so that all will have something to cover that they need but not to spread the topics too wide as it will have a smaller effect.

The instructions were simple: pick the topics you need to work on and get help when required. I left the choice of topics entirely down to the students, which can sound very hopeful at best, but it can be very surprising what reaction you get.

I found that the majority will fall into one of three groups: the comfort zoners, the hopeful adventurers and the analysts.

Those who enjoy being in the comfort zone are those who pick the topics they can already do pretty well because it’s the safe choice. I can understand this and accept that some don’t have the same drive as others, but with a few gentle prods in the right direction they can usually be encouraged to challenge themselves but if left will not get too far from where they started.

Then you have the polar opposites: the hopeful adventurers. These are the students (often boys) who want to prove they can do the hardest option and prove their worth (show off). Whilst I admire their ambition it can often be misguided, sometimes they will skip over existing gaps on easier topics because they think it’s easy, but can be prone to silly mistakes and frequent dropped marks. Another case of guidance needed but you have to give them credit for their attitude.

Finally you have the somewhat elusive category, those who actually know what they can and can’t do and will actively seek out those topics and put them right. These students can be rare as they have to be both reflective and have the desire to succeed, but are obviously to be treasured.

Once the students get their head around the idea, you can really start to feel the change in attitude towards revision and I’m hoping for good things come the assessment. There is obviously potential for disaster, asking students to make informed decisions on their own learning is not easy for them, so some/much guidance may be required for some classes, but once they get their head around it I’ve been really impressed.

To help compensate for the possible situation of having half a class with hands up wanting help, a few revision guides placed on tables can help, as it is again encouraging independence, something so vital to everything. Whilst not a full replacement for teacher led help, it did allow many of the smaller problems to be fixed without my help.

The coloured paper is not just a gimmick for anyone looking at my books, although it does help show clear differentiation and pupil led learning, it can be used with students as a powerful confidence builder. It can be difficult for students to see their own progress sometimes, so making it very clearly colour coded is simple and very effective, watching confidence grow because of the shift from red to amber and to green where possible. I’ll try to add some photos tomorrow when I get the chance.

For my year 11 class I used a similar approach but used past exam paper questions on topics and (on the higher) had a set of grade C questions, a B/A set and an A/A* set. I’ve used similar strategies in the form of booklets of revision questions but found this approach to be much more successful. As a class they are capable and have already developed a pretty good independent mentality so I left each table the mark schemes for each question for use when needed.

Looking back I can see why I didn’t relish the prospect of revision lessons and can understand why students probably didn’t enjoy them much either. I can also see why the recent lessons I’ve had which are similar to the one described above have worked very well, now to see if the exam results reflect this approach.

Work/life balance

Forgive the lack of posts recently, but there really isn’t ever enough time in the day for teachers. As I’ve mentioned previously I started the year in a new position, second in department, which is unsurprisingly taking up a bit more of my time, on top of the other countless tasks teachers do and I’ve re-evaluated my work/life balance and in the process found I kept coming back to the following question:

Can you be a great teacher and have a work/life balance?

Personally I want a life outside of teaching, which isn’t too much to ask. Likewise I want to be the best teacher I can be at the same time.

Those two ideals are quite simple really, yet are they mutually exclusive? Can you be a great teacher and have a good work/life balance? I’m not sure, and I’m going to look at it just from the planning and preparation viewpoint, as I feel that this will illustrate my point effectively.

One of the most important things to do as a teacher is to reflect and ask yourself how can I do this better than last time? To do this well I feel takes time. You can’t critically look at your own practice quickly. Putting aside the time to do this before you plan and create/find/adapt resources is one of the biggest things you can do to improve.

No matter how many times I’ve taught something, every class takes something different to progress well. I know some teachers who use the same standard lessons/worksheets year after year, yet I feel that along with doing the students a disservice they are also doing themselves one.

I recycle lessons and resources from year to year, it’s only natural, but I rarely re-use something verbatim. To re-use things over and over again is not only lazy but also suggesting that you haven’t improved as a teacher since you last/first used it. There is no such thing as a perfect resource/lesson that will work for everyone, every time with every class. To adapt the resource to your class takes time and is how you get the best out of you and them.

It can be very appealing from a time saving point of view to print off the relevant 10ticks worksheet with the usual count of 200 questions per page (one of my personal annoyances), or to trawl through tes to find a decent looking powerpoint/worksheet or to do what you did last time, although the teachers I’ve seen employ this approach generally have more problems with behaviour and don’t seem to enjoy teaching as much everyday, even if they have more time outside of work.

It’s taken me a while to sort out tomorrow’s lessons, particularly my year 10 set 1’s lesson on vectors, I know I could have simply picked up the textbook and used the exercises from there saving myself a fair bit of time, but I also know that the lesson wouldn’t be much more than ok, and while I obviously can’t guarantee that the lesson I will teach will be fantastic, I am very confident it will be a hell of a lot better.

It’s certainly not easy to be a great teacher with minimal time spent on work at home, if it is indeed possible at all, which I’m not sure it is.

It is however easy to be an (in)adequate teacher with minimal work outside of school, and I wouldn’t want any child of mine to be taught by such a “professional”.

What I’d give for a normal week

Looking back on last week has left me wondering what a normal week in teaching actually is.

In the last 7 days we’ve had year 11s mostly out on work experience, my year 10s didn’t get a full uninterrupted lesson, one of my year 8 classes was similarly disrupted and then there has been the behaviour crackdown we’ve had (and will continue to have).

All of the above disrupted lessons were for good reasons, all out of my control however. I’m not complaining about the reasons behind the disruptions, but the prior notice, or lack thereof.

The impact on planning is quite significant. I really dislike spending time planning a 2/3 week unit of work and having those plans ruined because of a simple email that is sent out late informing everyone which students are missing. I’m happy to change my plans when its for the good of the students and because of the previous lesson, but I’m coming the resent it when it’s due to staff and could have been avoided.

The worse i find is when you have a handful of students missing, and while many subjects may be able to get around this quite well, maths isn’t one of those. This last week I was supposed to be progressing through a unit on fractions with year eight, moving from working with equivalent fractions, improper and mixed numbers, through to adding/subtracting by finding the lowest common denominator and using mixed numbers and improper fractions as well. Due to the incremental nature of maths and the fact that there is a non-negotiable reliance on prior knowledge (be it the last lesson or last year) the intended progress is seriously hit by this kind of disruption. Any single lesson missed early can really screw up the rest of a topic and the understanding missed isn’t easy to add back in later when the student is forever playing catch up.

The behaviour crackdown is something I’m completely behind as well. I work on a school with some very challenging students, from very difficult backgrounds and with some acute issues. The students aren’t easy to deal with, particularly for many new staff, of which we have a lot this year with many being NQTs. Science are almost unrecognisable from last year, English had 2 leave and got 2 in, in maths we had 2 new staff. There were also several other changes in roles for staff meaning lots of change in many departments.

We had a few new students join on managed moves and other transfers, all are challenging and several are already gone, managed moves cut short and so on. Several existing students returned with new situations at home and have been struggling to cope.

Add to all this performance management reviews and target setting (even if I’m happy with mine), PGCE students (all non-maths) observing a strangely large number of my lessons, a year 11 English, maths and science residential to help sort out, a couple of free lessons taken up helping out a year 8 girl unable to do PE because of her condition and struggling to realise her huge maths ability and much more I’m sure. Oh and this week our governor link is in doing a learning walk.

On a positive note I got a new cupboard donated for my classroom, so all is not lost. I’d just like a week when I can get into my classroom with my classes and teach lessons uninterrupted, is that too much to ask? Of course it is.

You can’t apply the word normal to teaching, or teachers for that matter. Which is why it’s also the greatest career ever created, even if it’s one of the demanding.