Reflecting on a year of teaching

One year.

A pandemic.

Two year 11 classes.

A disrupted training year.

I started at my school in September 2020. We’d begun to enjoy the freedoms of summer and it looked like COVID was winding down, before things got worse in November and the country was into a full lockdown once more by January. Months passed and I helped with my school’s TAG process. I survived to tell the tale.

I’ve been through a lot in my first year as a full-time teacher. We all have, newly qualified or not. But the important thing to remember is that we made it. Against the odds, in the most unusual of years, we came out the other side – relatively unscathed. These are my key takeaways.

Term one: growing pains

My school is incredibly well-organised, and I am so grateful for that. I was paired with a subject mentor – the curriculum lead in my department – and had weekly meetings with her to discuss my progress, co-plan lessons, and get advice on how to continue improving my pedagogy. It’s all because of her that you’ve had my book club features on Rosenshine and Lindsay Bruce. I’ve read through their various techniques and incorporated them into the classroom.

The month began with introductions to students and getting settled. It was a difficult start because of the huge increase in class responsibility and marking load, but that is the case with most new teachers. By the year’s end, I felt much more capable of caring for the future of so many children, and much more confident in my marking prowess (something that I was very nervous about, since the pandemic meant my experience was limited).

When the October half term rolled around, I could have collapsed into a tired heap. Alas, this was not meant to be; we’d had our KS3 kids sit assessments that needed marking, so a lot of the week was dedicated to that.

By Christmas, I’d become quite confident with lesson planning. Every GCSE lesson looked a certain way, which my reading has shown is beneficial for helping children to quickly settle into the classroom – especially SEND students. The greatest hurdle that I’d faced at the start of the year was no longer something that I worried about quite so much. My biggest concern by this point in the year was actually the fact that it was December: nights had fully drawn in, mornings were dark and it was tough getting into work – for staff and for students.

Seeing the Christmas Tree towering in reception did a lot to help me through it.

Term two: left in lockdown

I think everyone knows how this one went because, to some extent, we all lived through it. January rolled around, the Tories sent us into schools and made a rapid U-turn to take us out again, and that’s where we stayed for three months. Again, my school rose to the occasion exceptionally well: we were in the fortunate position to be able to provide every student with a device to access digital learning.

I started adapting my GCSE lessons so they could be completed remotely and, as a Trust, we worked together to adapt KS3 lessons – tremendously cutting down on individual workload. To prevent burnout, and to secure a work-life balance, we were advised to employ a mix of blended learning: independent work and teacher-led live lessons.

I’d be lying if I said that I hated remote teaching. In stark contrast to the rest of Teacher Twitter, I actually quite enjoyed it. Would I want to teach over a webcam for the rest of my career? Probably not. But it was useful for when I conducted two remote Parent’s Evenings, since I could turn off my camera at the end of the day and dig straight into a dinner that I’d prepared at the weekend without a tiring drive home.

I also made the wise investment in a new desk setup, since the one that had served me throughout the majority of that lockdown was looking a little dated. My takeaway from this? Spend your money where you want to spend your time! You will thank yourself! (And so will your students, when your online meetings no longer crash)

Then, before I knew it, we were back in school, racing to get plans in place for what would prove to be the busiest period of my teaching life so far.

High five for a good first year!

Term three: teacher assessed grades

I returned from an Easter break feeling refreshed and ready to work. My main task for this term? Sorting my two year 11 classes. Teachers were expected to assess students’ learning and provide overall grades that would be given to them in the summer. To work out where our students were, we had them sit a number of highly-controlled assessments. We then marked, moderated, remarked and moderated again hundreds of papers, all to ensure that the process was trusted and extensive.

By the end of the first half of term, I was knackered, having worked weekends and after school to get it all done to the highest of standards. Other than wanting what was best for my students, what kept me going was what lay at the end of the tunnel: gain time. I had no idea what this was until this side of the new year – probably because I had little reason to know about it before – but it’s a really useful bonus of teaching.

Essentially, once year 11 have left for exams, study leave, etc., their teachers have the periods that they would usually be teaching completely free. We’re given a number of tasks which will be useful for the incoming academic year and are expected to use this gained time to complete them. My tasks, for instance, included adapting our year 8 scheme of work to be digital-friendly; to make parental engagement calls home; and to put together a common misspellings booklet for our units at GCSE to help with that aspects of students’ writing.

My workload decreased a lot after we got TAGs finished, and gain time was a fun new aspect of teaching that I’d not experienced. It felt a lot more admin-heavy than before, but I quite liked pouring a hot coffee, sitting down at a desktop, and working for a few hours at useful assignments to tick off the to-do list in my Bullet Journal without interruption.

And that was that

Before long, the end of term rolled around. We had an activities week for students, where they engaged in fun trips or activities in school, such as building earthquake-proof towers. This was so much fun – for myself and for the students – and I believe that these events were really important for giving students a little bit of normalcy and fun.

We finished term with staff goodbyes. I setup my new classroom and drove away. It was a strange year, and there were times of heavy pressure, but I survived. I coped. What would be a life without challenge?

And now? I’ve not spent the summer stressing. I’ve had a rest so that I’m nicely recovered, just in time for the start of the new term this month. Year two? Bring it on.

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