This year has been full of trials and tests for me. I moved to Reading in September with plenty of excitement but with a large dollop of trepidation. Everything would be unfamiliar and no doubt challenging.

recite-10777-199235215-18s4xaxI left my last College because I needed a fresh challenge and a change. Moving to the other end of the country, away from all I loved seemed to fit.  I think what I didn’t realise, was quite how much I’d miss everything (and everyone) but more of that later…

My new teaching role would be a full time, rather than an associate contract. This kind of stability had been long awaited (3 years) and was more than welcome. I would have my own desk, iPad, bookshelf and classroom. I’d have new students, texts and courses.

What I knew wouldn’t change, would be my strong lack of comfort with teaching. Last summer I did a CELTA course in Newcastle before I moved. It was an incredibly intense month and in some ways, the best teaching course I’ve done. Every other day, we’d be observed teaching and every day there’d be a whole group reflection on our practice. Certainly tough but most definitely helpful. An observation made by one of my peers was how sick, pale and nervous I’d look before getting up. I hadn’t realised that this was so visible to others. He also observed that as soon as I was up in front of the class, I was a different person- I seemed confident, capable and calm. As soon as I sat down again, the pale nervousness returned. It has occurred to me over the last fairly stress-filled year that, that is me every single teaching day. I’m nervous before and after every single lesson and this isn’t sustainable for much longer.

I have never felt fully comfortable with teaching; although I have good days, on most, I question whether this career is the right one for me:

  • I am very critical of myself.
  • I am often of nervous disposition.
  • I want everything to be the best I can make it… and then some.
  • I am easily absorbed in work; losing sight of all else.

All of these have lead this year, without friends and family around me, to a very dull Hannah indeed!

This year in Reading has been all about surviving. I have missed my old life and all the people in it far more than I ever could have imagined. I am a very independent person and this move was about making a change I had craved for a while. The ‘conventional’ adult life has never appealed- suburbia, marriage, pets and kids. Most of that still doesn’t appeal but after 3 years of living with my partner, I coped far less well without him than I anticipated I would. He’ll be quite smug hearing this but, a nice cottage with a cute garden and snuggling on the sofa seems increasingly what I’d like! Although I’ve enjoyed the challenges of the last year, they’re nothing without him to share them with. Unfortunately, money and circumstances have meant that we haven’t been able to find a solution for the next year but we have vowed to try and see each other every week. I knew I’d regret moving again after giving Reading only one year. The biggest challenge I now face is trying to turn this so called ‘life’ into an actual ‘life.’ In many ways, this will be about combating some of my qualities that end up having a detrimental impact on my ability to have balance between work and down time. In my down time, I need to try and switch off the internal critical voice that usually my partner would have helped with!

recite-10777-201046475-1m76lue

Being that it’s now the holidays, I’ve taken a good few days just to veg out. Involved in this, has been much watching of terrible television. Would it be ok to say that Millionaire Matchmaker is one of my new favourites? No, even just typing it now, I know it’s not ok!

One of the programmes I watched was Cherry Healey’s investigation into our favourite supermarket foods. Yes, it really was as bad as it sounds. One thing stood out for me though. She was investigating variety in food and suggested that if we’re exposed to a large variety of foods, we’re more likely to try more of them. Think of variety packs of cereal or those lovely boxes of biscuits that appear at Christmas… Mmm! Of course we’ll still have preferences, but ultimately, if we’re presented with choices, we’ll be more inclined to try out other options. Often, this is the major difficulty we face in multiple choice tests. We are presented with choices, and all of a sudden, we’re not so sure which is the correct response anymore.

Further to this assertion that ‘variety is the spice of life,’ if we have one item too often, we grow bored of it. A few months ago, I rediscovered Cinnamon Grahams. I bought one box, and when that finished, I bought another. The next time I came to buy cereal, I didn’t want the same thing again. I fancied a change. It turns out, ‘you can have too much of a good thing.’

Due to my critical self, I am in a constant state of seeking to improve all aspects of my teaching. I realise this is unrealistic and I need to hone my evaluation skills so that I improve what needs improving and leave the rest.

Recently, others have made me question my teaching methods. I have been exposed to new colleagues at work and on Twitter. I am a creative individual and love thinking of new activities and resources to use with students. I questioned whether it was right to be changing things for students all the time. Perhaps I should stick to one method and use that more consistently. After all, I was already aware of the need for routine in lessons. Admittedly this year, with a new city, new home, new job and new responsibilities, my teaching could have been better. So certain was I that I should be trying new things and that this would be a year of experimentation, I hadn’t factored in my students being left feeling frazzled by my frantic teaching. If I was feeling swamped by everything, I’m certain some of this must have rubbed off somewhere.

However, I’m not prepared to remove variety from my teaching just yet- I merely need to control it more. I will create a structure and routine around my lessons, with variety contained within. This might seem to you like an obvious thing to do but somewhere this year, I lost sight of that.

If we teach in one way all the time then we’re really limiting our students. Aren’t we teaching our students something by exposing them to variety? They will have to deal with a variety of other people and situations in their lifetime. Unfortunately, I am aware that I can only provide so much variety as I am one person. Although activities may vary, students are still only being exposed to me. To combat this, I plan to invite guest speakers in more often and peer teaching will occur on a regular basis.

New year for teachers is always around the long holiday time. I’ve personally had the opportunity to start catching up with friends and family, do some gardening, clean the house and cook! It is also the time I reflect on the past year and set resolutions for the future.

The highlights of my year so far:

1. Being involved in Pass It On at work. If you haven’t taken a look at this fantastic CPD programme, take a look here:

https://sites.google.com/a/i.reading-college.ac.uk/pass-it-on/

  • As part of this- addressing all teaching staff to give out awards in the canteen- TRULY TERRIFYING!

2. Hosting two mini TeachMeets alongside @ASTsupportAAli.

3. My GCSE students. FULL STOP. They were total superstars in every way!- take a look HERE

4. Going to London with my AS students… and getting lost- that was REALLY fun! At least looking back on it anyway!

5. I’d love to be able to add wonderful results to this come August… hmmmm, we’ll see!

Before beginning my holidays, I finalised schemes of work for AS and A2 students for the coming year. I wanted to enhance the student experience so the following have been planned into schemes of work:

Main opportunities for students this year:

  • A2 students will take over 1 lesson per week after half term onwards.
  • They will update websites to collate learning throughout the year- making revision easier.
  • One will be given responsibility for reviewing the week’s learning on the class website (less content based and more reflective).
  • Students will be given 1 lesson per week where the focus will be rewriting/ peer assessing and reflection.

There will be events run by them:

  • Mini TeachMeets for students where they share their learning with each other in short presentations.
  • Revision lessons styled like conferences with activities delivered that they can select from.
  • A lecture series in collaboration with the English Access students at College.
  • Exhibitions related to the contextual aspects of the texts being studied.

I’m so excited by these opportunities and feel they will foster the learning attitudes I’d love to see in my students.

My major problem with teaching is that I just feel swamped by all the things I’m supposed to be thinking about. I aimed to crystallise this into the main things I need to remember this year. I may add to this as more of my plans for September are finalised-

I teach 1.5 hour lessons- these are some of the things I need to remember:

  • Return to bell work- have a starter/ thinking question on the board/ tables as students enter the room.
  • Leave 10 FULL minutes at the end of the lesson for the plenary- as I always run out of time.
  • Track homework better. Stick to deadlines and ensure students are chased up relentlessly in order to get them into good habits early.
  • Students will create ‘fabulous feedback’ guidelines that we will ALL use. Marking will be made easier this way with forms created, symbols and colour coding applied.
  • State times of the week when students can come and see me in a feeble attempt to get more work done in my frees!
  • Probably the MOST important- join a book club/ find a place to swim/ go to meditation and find some friends.

Reflections done, new year’s resolutions in order, now for the holidays. Although, I have work and reading to do, friends and family will also feature- HEAVILY! What will feature even more heavily is food. I’ve stated already that I’m starting to cook again. I never will be a brilliant cook so it’s fortunate that I love eating out when I can afford it and I’ve been meaning to start a food blog for some time. I’m forever taking pictures when eating out, much to the dismay and embarrassment of my friends and family. The holidays will provide space to create my blog, and will hopefully provide lots of opportunities to take pictures of food too!

You get the best out of others when you give the best of yourself.” ~Harvey S. Firestone

My biggest challenge this year is to give my best to everything else in my life. I’ve given my all to my job this year and I can only continue to do that for so long before I become a shadow of my best self.

Now to see if I can adjust my teaching in smarter ways so that I can live rather than survive because surviving will no longer suffice.

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