Sunday, 29 September 2013

Geography teacher 2.0

I'm coming to the end of my first month back in teaching...



I spent twenty one years teaching, mostly in one school, before leaving to join the Geographical Association for what I thought would be the next twenty years... it didn't quite turn out that way... I then spent two years as a freelancer, and working part-time for the Open University's VITAL service. During that time we also created Explorer HQ, and I worked on a lot of European projects and travelling, and broadened my horizons professionally in so many different ways. Twitter came along at that time, and connected me to a range of new people, and my blogging audience grew in size to a regular 2000+ daily readers...
Financially I was bouncing along the bottom, but I had a lot of interesting projects to occupy me, and which made the most of my skills (such as they are)
I'm now back teaching in a school four days a week.
A few people asked me to write about what I'd noticed going back into teaching after a break away from it.
I would have to say that the break has done me a lot of good, but it has also broken the rhythm that I was in.... To quote Neil Peart:


"I'm in a groove now
Or is it a rut?
I need some feedback
But all the lines are cut"


Was I in a groove, or just a rut ?
The last five years have shaken me out of any rhythm I had. Which means it's taking me time to adjust to being back in the classroom.
Teaching remains an exhilarating way to spend the day, with the countless interactions and conversations that are to be had. There are the demands of marking, feedback on student work, grades and reports which remain the same, although they are mostly ICT managed, rather than the carbon paper reports I used to produce. My pigeonhole has remained empty mostly, but there have been plenty of e-mails...
The subject has continued to move on, but I'm comfortable with that, as one of the people who helped it move on in a small way.
The department I teach in holds the GA's Secondary Geography Quality Mark... and it shows. The team work very hard, and have been generous and supportive. The curriculum is interesting and forward looking. I've already been on the first GCSE Geography fieldtrip, and completed a minibus assessment in advance of that. The first parents' evening is next week...

What have I been getting up to ?

As an illustration, if I take my day on Friday this week to show what I got up to, to show the amazing variety that a teaching day provides, and the various challenges it poses to you...

I was up at 6am to shower, help prepare my kids' lunches and snatch a quick breakfast. Banana and insulated mug for the journey.
Off for the 40 mile drive to work. The journey is an attractive wander via Swaffham - passing the two huge Ecotricity turbines which dominate the town, then through fields past RAF Marham: home to Tornadoes which regularly roar around the villages, and past 'pig cities' and Barton Bendish towards Downham Market. Here I pick up the A10 and hug the rivers, and cross the drains as I move from Norfolk into Cambridgeshire and Fenland proper. Most mornings, mist cloaks the low lying land, and the sun has been rising en route. Tractors are a regular occurrence at this time of year... After forty minutes or so, I see the 'ship of the Fens' on the skyline, and know that I'm nearly there. The route takes me through the centre of Ely, and into the cathedral area, where I'm now 'at work' as all the buildings from there for several hundred yards are part of the school. The cathedral is a daily dose of inspiration.

I park up and head to my classroom, boot up the computer and grab a latte from the coffee machine. I check my e-mails and two pigeon holes (I teach in two parts of the school) then set up for the day, laying out the resources I need. I've always needed to get into school early and that hasn't changed. Chats to form members, and staff briefing.

Friday is assembly for the Junior school, which means that there are over 300 people coming calmly into the assembly hall, piano playing. There's a hymn and messages and prizes to hand out.

Lesson 1 is an observation lesson: a set five Geography group exploring Polar climates. My new HoD is sat at the back, and after a starter I turn on the projector to find that it doesn't work - the bulb has apparently gone on the previous day, when I was working up at Hull University... It's onto Plan B and we still achieve most of what I wanted to.
Lesson 2 is in another part of school at least five minutes walk away. I grab what I need and walk over chatting to my HoD about the lesson, and realise I've left something important back on my desk, but it's sorted. Work on Cities and a review of the first month. Conversations and handing out miniature boxes to create cities in (an urban version of my classic 'Landscape in a Box' lesson)
It's the morning break now, so back over to the Junior school for a coffee and chat to a few people who are interested in how yesterday went, and also the Director of Studies who seemingly knows every child and member of staff really well...
I have a 'free' period which is spent marking, and preparing lesson resources to make up for the fact that my projector doesn't work. I check the iPad bookings too...
Over to lunch early. The school has a fabulous dining hall which is an old monastic barn, built in 1375, and used to house Oliver Cromwell's cavalry at one point. Friday means fish... excellent brain food.

After lunch and PM registration with my form, it's into a lesson which is a close version of my observation lesson. It's with a higher set, and we do a little more analysis and use some peer assessment and Ron Berger-esque 'FISHY feedback'... using a sheet with Tom Morgan Jones fish illustrations...
Illustration: Tom Morgan Jones

We're just getting to the climax and the fire bell goes... it's a 2nd fire drill of the term...
Back in and packing away ready for the next lesson - this time it's Cheddar Gorge, from a scheme written by Noel Jenkins...
We use Digimap for Schools to create maps for a weekend climbing trip by Brian the Climber, and also explore the landscape of the Gorge itself.

The last lesson of the day is straight after: working on the Encyclopaedia Antarctica project - students are in their third lesson of creating something for a multimedia resource, and they have been busy. We have iMovies on penguin habitats, 3D posters on aquatic food chains, Prezis on changing exploration and written pieces too... Everyone has great fun - was I able to evidence progress every 20 minutes ? Probably not... Would I require improvement ? Possibly...
Capture the enthusiasm of those students, and the moment of creativity when a superb killer whale emerged from a block of playdoh and you might change your mind...
At 3.45 the day ended, but there was the little matter of a prep duty for an hour and a quarter.
Lots of chats with students who were staying behind to finish prep. I helped with suggestions and feedback and discussions on: the beatification of Saints, a Latin translation, some creative writing, a Spanish lesson on directions, posters on Sport, numeracy and fractions and a range of other things....

Then it was the drive home, with the smell of onions being harvested in the fields as I drove along the Ouse... Home at 6pm. An 11 hour day.

For any teachers reading, you'll realise that this sounds like an average day...

Although a direct comparison with teaching before the break is hard, a few comments I would have are:

- social media has not made the inroads into teaching and staffrooms that some enthusiastic advocates might suggest - that's not necessarily a bad thing - a focus on where you are now, and the students in front of you is good... the other 'rooms' can be distracting... I'm using snippets gleaned from Twitter and other projects, but a lot of what I'm doing is good 'old-fashioned' teaching :)
- school ICT provision varies, and where it is strong there are opportunities for creatively capturing students' imaginations - I'm using it in small doses at the moment...
- pride is an important factor - I already feel a pride in working where I do... I want to do my very best for the school, the students and my new colleagues... I feel that I have been 'invested in'... do you feel that your school has invested in you recently ? how would that be manifested ?
- marking and record keeping are as important as ever
- data matters - I have data on all the students I teach, but their personalities are what I'm interested in most... when I have a parents' evening next week, I have a feeling that it's the classroom experience that will drive the conversation rather than MidYIS and other indices...
- I'm not quite 100% yet, but get closer each day - learning the routines means I feel like a bit of an NQT... albeit an experienced one...

This is an uncharacteristically personal blogpost for me, but I was asked to write about the topic, so I have. Thanks to all those teachers whose work I've used so far, and will continue to use.

A final analogy would be to an album that has just been re-released by the band Rush. It was made 11 years ago when the band were returning to music-making after some personal tragedies for the band member Neil Peart (mentioned earlier...)
It's just been re-released... with a completely different sound. It's like the original album... but a whole lot better.... You can listen to it here - check out Ghost Rider and Sweet Miracle.
And that's what I think the break from teaching and the huge range of experiences I've had in the interim have done to me... I've been remixed... and now have better clarity and impact...

Check out my GeographyTeacher2Point0 blog for snippets from the classroom as I continue to re-adjust to life back at the Smartboardface....

I wasn't walking on water
I was standing on a reef
When the tide came in
Swept beneath the surface
Lost without a trace
No hope at all
No hope at all

Oh, sweet miracle
Oh, sweet miracle
Of life

4 comments:

Mary Cooch said...

Fascinting post -and you paint a great picture also of your journey to work! I really enjoyed reading it; thankyou.

Alan Parkinson said...

Thanks Mary. The journey is interesting - what it will be like through the winter remains to be seen, but on a sunny September day it's really pleasant - this week I'm setting off as the sun is rising so lots of interest...
Hope you're well.

kevincooper777 said...

Phew. Epitomises why I love teaching, but also why I could never again teach full time...

Alan Parkinson said...

Thanks Kevin...
I think full time might be more straightforward than the crazy mix of projects I have on at the moment :)