A few weeks ago the time came to teach my year 4 class a Science unit on forces, the same unit which comprised the first lessons I taught as a PGCE student. I remembered these lessons fondly; looking back they seemed a model of teaching when I had a huge amount of time to spend on planning and resourcing, a whole morning to prepare for teaching, and a class of angelic pupils to deliver it to.
I thought it would be an interesting opportunity to revisit the planning I for these lessons, and base my teaching on them- after all there is no way I would have the kind of time I had then to plan the unit this time round. On revisiting these plans that I felt I had perfected, and had reflected on positively at length in an MA essay, I was surprised to feel they fell rather short of my expectations. They weren’t bad, but I felt I could plan the same sort of thing very quickly these days, and they seemed hugely lacking in several areas I now try to make key to my lessons.
This provided a moment of realisation for me as to how much I have learned over the last 18 months, but also a realisation as to how easy it is to take this for granted. There is always another area to develop in this job, and as soon as one thing is mastered it often becomes automatic, and is quickly obscured by the next thing that needs to be worked on.
I started thinking about the difference between myself a year ago and now, and what I have learned since I started doing the job full time. There are many obvious transitions; the full timetable, the relative lack of time to catch your breath and reflect, the opportunity to follow and affect the achievements of a group of children over a whole year rather than only a few weeks. Personally I have also had a huge learning curve this year in several areas, notably managing a challenging class.
However, for me there is one fundamental shift in my thinking from my PGCE days. As a trainee I spent a year first trying to work out what kind of teacher I wanted to be, and then striving to be that kind of teacher. Possibly rather arrogantly this was often based on coming across the kinds of teachers I did not want to be, and throughout my PGCE I felt I was coming up against tutors, mentors and colleagues who really didn’t ‘get’ where I was coming from. I was criticised for making activities ‘too open ended’, and for my nascent attempts to promote responsibility and self control in behaviour management. To a certain extent these experiences merely strengthened my resolve that I knew what kind of teacher I wanted to be, and I had to continue to try to become that person.
I think that was a very important process to go through, but after two terms working with the realities of being a full time teacher in an urban school my point of view has changed. Thankfully I found a school and a head who really fitted the kind of teacher I wanted to be; a school with a culture that supported childrens’ independence, interests and personalities, and a leadership team who support staff to be the teachers they want to be rather than telling them who they should be. I set up my classroom and started the year as the kind of teacher I wanted to be, but I quickly found this wasn’t enough. Some in my class jumped headfirst into my world of independence and flexibility and thrived. However, a significant number obviously found this world confusing and struggled to behave appropriately in it.
Such circumstances have made me realise that whilst it is very valuable to frame what kind of teacher you want to be, in reality to be the best teacher you must try be a different person for every class, and even individual. This year I have reacted in ways I would never have imagined when wearing the rose tinted glasses of a trainee. Many times I have done things which I know I would have been quite critical of had I observed a teacher doing them last year, but I have come to realise that sometimes to get the best out of children you have to be the person they need, not the person you want to be.
For me this is the biggest transition I have made from PGCE to NQT, the realisation that what children actually need is much more important than what I want to provide them with.