The Parent Trap

 

Starting your NQT year can be daunting enough. There’s lessons to plan, books to mark, meetings to attend and not to mention your extra portions of NQT specific training. This is all on top of that difficult year nine class that seemingly occupy 90% of your weekly mental capacity. All in all it’s a difficult job that, for teachers of all stripes, can sometimes seem like a long hard slog.

One area that you are going to need to venture in is that of the phone-call to parents. Picture the scene. That troublesome year nine class had seemed to have calmed down this week, but suddenly the dreaded Cthulhu of bad behaviour has sprouted many more fascinatingly hideous tentacles. You’ve issued sanctions, as per your school’s policy, but nothing seems to stick. It’s time to call home.

Picking up the phone for the first time is a nerve-jangling experience, but remember that your reasons are fundamentally positive. A child whose behaviour is good is much more likely to learn in your classroom. Still, calling home is not an easy thing to do at first (if ever), so here are a few top tips.

Start with the positives
This may seem simple, but it is genuinely worth it. No child is irredeemable and each and every one of them have an infinite capacity to improve.

Focus on your classroom rules
Rather than steaming in with all the egregious actions that little Johnny has committed today instead start off with how your classroom operates. Emphasise that clear routines, a calm atmosphere and an onus on personal responsibility are the key tenets of your classroom.

Relate your rules to the pupil
While little Johnny may have been quite naughty, saying this outright to a parent may not win you a favourable ear. Instead refer back to your clear classroom rules/routine and highlight where the child fell short of them.

Emphasise the path to future success
End the conversation with your clear conviction that there is a route forward for the pupil, that you believe in them, and that you know they can achieve highly. You may have your doubts, but rock solid confidence in your ability, and in the child’s ability to improve, will help close the conversation on a positive.

So there you go. 100% guaranteed to work eh? Ok, so not quite. You will encounter many difficult conversations, both on the phone and face to face. However, after each one you get a little better every time. Conversations with parents can feel like a difficult hill to climb for a new teacher, but that link with home will prove absolutely vital in the long run.

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What is Music Education For?

Music education and those who operate within it can be broadly (lazily/stereotypically) split into two camps. Traditionalists: those who believe the score is paramount and that all music should be taught via it and Progressives: those that believe that music should be taught via sound first and that the traditional staff notation can come sometime after, if at all.

Now, as a guitarist by training, it may be assumed that I fit in the latter camp, however that is not the case. Infuriatingly I sit somewhere in the middle with a lean towards the traditionalist archetype. Staff notation is not perfect, and various compromises have to be made for instruments not strictly of the western tradition, but it is a shared language that, with finesse, can be applied across schemes of work in any secondary school.

Where I differ from a (again extremely stereotypical) traditionalist viewpoint is what music education, especially at KS4 is for. I still have yet to come to a settled viewpoint, but what drives my thinking at the moment is the role of music education in schools and it’s increasingly limited space in the curriculum.

Are we playing the game properly? The paradigm of our education system is one of attainment in GCSE level exam subjects, yet only 8% of pupils take GCSE music. This number will only decrease as the emphasis on EBacc subjects grows. Is a drastic, two-pronged approach to music at GCSE needed to ensure music as a subject is seen as a metaphorically hard currency in school?

Is the role of GCSE music to exclusively create high quality musical pupils who are ready to take the next step in their music education? If so, should this be the case? Not every triple science pupil will be embarking on a career in the sciences, but rather they are developing a literacy in the subject, and concurrent skills of analysis, that will benefit them holistically as they move to KS5 and beyond.

Do the new GCSE specifications allow those pupils who have a broad interest in musical study to succeed? Or is it the case that only those for whom music had been a dominant part of their upbringing, through lessons and graded examinations, are best suited to KS4 music study? If so then is the implication that music now at KS4 is only accessible to those pupils whose parents have been able to afford instrumental lessons in the past?

Extra Curricular

While it is probable that you will have to at least take part in extra curricular during your ITT, it is more than likely that you will be running at least one group of your own during your NQT year. For the purposes of this blog I shall split EC into two broad areas: 1) Performing Arts 2) Other subjects.

At this point I should very quickly add that, as a music teacher, I’m basing this blog on my own experiences. You do not have to be a Performing Arts teacher to run numerous EC clubs, indeed I know many teachers outside of Arts departments who do this. However, my experience is of running many musical ensembles, and some outside of the music department. To save those from outside creative and performing arts subjects some time I shall tackle the “Other Subject” area first, followed by performing arts.

Extra Curricalar

An extra curricar club is a fantastic way of getting to know your pupils and those that you don’t teach. Your first few months may involve numerous ups and downs. Having an hour where you and your pupils can focus on an area for pure enjoyment, rather than grading and assessment, is beneficial to both you and the students. You may be picking up a club run by a previous teacher, or setting up a new one yourself, just remember to make it lively, exciting and that your passion for the club will be what brings the pupils along. Communicate this passion to members of faculty too. Having adults take part in the club as members can really drive pupils along. 

Extra Curricular: Performing Arts

All of the above applies to clubs within the PA department, but there are a few more added extras to be aware of. Extra curricular within these subject areas often form a very public part of the school’s image in the wider community. It is important that you are engaging, produce exciting resources, and make sure you stay organised. 

You need to make sure that your planning is both inclusive and long term. You want to give your most talented participants challenging material, but you also have want your newbies to have material that is appropriate for them and allows them to settle into the ensemble. 

Finally you need to establish goals for your groups that add a sense of urgency on the journey and a feeling of satisfaction on completion. A Christmas show during the last week of term, or a showcase during a school summer fair are good examples of where you can show off your club and allow members to work to a clear deadline. 

Happy Planning! 

Happy Planning

In my previous blog I outlined a few KS3 top tips that may help you as you start your first year in ITT or begin your NQT in a new school. What I forgot to point out was that the context of that blog did not magically appear to me when I started teaching, nor did I have a hitherto unforeseen sixth sense for managing a classroom. Rather, what I learned during my NQT I did so through many conversations with colleagues and considerable reflection on my own mistakes. 

Embracing when things do not go to plan is still something that I am getting used to. What I try to remember is that the more we try to delineate a growth mindset for our pupils, the more we should model that mindset. I say this to point out the fact that these blog postings are derived from my initial experiences as an NQT. Some of those experiences were positive, whereas others required a fair bit of reflection on my part.

KS4/KS5

Last week I wrote that I would be subsequently including some top tips to help you with your level two and three pupils in your ITT or NQT year. If you’re undertaking teacher training then it is important that you follow the lead your mentor gives you. Your mentor will have cultivated these year groups carefully so they can get the right balance within the classroom, which is somewhere between positive motivation and firm reminders of looming deadlines. Closely observe your mentor during KS4/5 lessons and think about the questions you can ask them during your allotted meeting times. These questions will be vital in shaping your own planning when you begin your NQT year. 

If you are about to start your NQT year then the best bit of advice I can give you is to know your spec inside out. Not only that, but give yourself a clear timeline of what you expect to be done, both by yourself and your pupils, within the half term/term/year. Explore prior exam questions and use them to allow your pupils to become familiar with the language of exam questions. Use the data from this to inform your medium-term planning. I found that pupil recall of key facts within my GCSE class was strong but that they would sometimes struggle with exam style questions. I used this data to build more exam style questions into my lessons. 

As the majority of national exam subjects are moving to a primarily terminal assessment based model it is important that you build in an understanding of what the examinations will look, feel and sound like. However, you can also use short tests at the start of a lesson to check understanding and retention. Keep a log of the scores from these tests to inform your planing. 

This leads on to my final point, which is to track and log everything. Do not just rely on the data you input in to your schools MIS. If you are setting up interventions for a pupil, putting on revision sessions or going an extra (extra) mile then make sure you are logging it.

Happy Planning

Unknown Unknowns

Knowing What  You Don’t Know
It’s the end of your degree/PGCE/School Direct and you’re just beginning the summer holidays. Everyone you know connected to teaching: mentors/HoDs/deputy heads/lecturers/your mother’s best mate (Val), have told you to rest and relax before you begin a school year at your new school. This is sound advice for the most part. A tired teacher is not an effective one, however it’s important that you hit the ground running in September.

A state of uber-preparedness will not only allow you to make maximum impact with your pupils, but it will also enable you to establish yourself as a dynamic member of staff and a clear visual presence across the school. Utilising your time effectively over the summer will enable you to do this, however you will be faced with Rumsfeld’s “unknown unknowns” whatever key stage or subject you are teaching. Regardless of how much you prepare there will be some things that hit you out of the blue. You didn’t expect them, hell, you didn’t even expect to expect them.

What follows is a (definitely not) exhaustive list of  KS3-based top tips to help you manage both your first year of teaching and your first few months in your teacher training. KS4/5, extra curricular and general top tips to follow. All of this advice is based on what I learned during my NQT year, therefore it is highly contextual. Feel free to adap and shape as you see fit.

KS3

There is a significant amount of literature to absorb regarding KS3, so I will assume that you’re doing that already. Suffice to say that the government is anxious about pupil progression during KS3, therefore the recent “Wasted Years” report from Ofsted is a must read. If you are beginning a new post in September then the following things that I have learned during my NQT year may be of use.

Year Seven

These guys are in the same boat as you. They’re bang in the middle of a brand new environment, which may be a bit daunting. It’s highly likely that you are going to be teaching these folks for at least three years, therefore get your routines and behaviour expectations embedded early. It may sound odd, but you should really embed how you expect a lesson to start and how pupils should be set up ready to work. Be consistent and you will quickly reap the rewards.

Year Eight

They already have a one year head start on you and they initially know the school better than you do. As with year seven it is important to be consistent in your approach and be clear in how you want your classroom to operate. It is important to emphasise the value of year eight as a stepping stone in a pupil’s life. Too often pupils can see year eight as the unimportant year between an introductory year seven and an options heavy year nine. Consistently push the value of year 8 and those within this year group will quickly become ‘your’ pupils.

Year Nine

This year group may be your most challenging, but ultimately most rewarding, KS3 group of them all. You may be replacing a much loved teacher, or you may be being parachuted into a class that has never had a regular presence, but what is most important is that you are as consistent with this year group as you are with any other. Year nine may be instantly suspicious of you, you are a new face after all, and they may try to test the boundaries. In some circumstances they may even attempt to push your emerging knowledge of the school’s behaviour system. A good bit of advice here is to adopt a two-pronged approach with year nine. Be as consistent with this year group as you are with any other and do not adapt your standards or behaviour policy to suit them, however you should also work hard to get to know the individual components of this year group. Of course this is important for all year groups, but year nine can be a stressful and daunting time in a pupil’s life. Getting to know this group well, and being able to reference achievements, skills, and general pats on the backs that have been achieved outside your lessons can really aid your classroom management.

I hope these small croutons of advice help you in some way during your first year in teaching. Please feel free to leave a comment.