Being on the second year of the Teach First programme has been a revelation to me…about quite how insane last year was. This year is hellish hard work still, but my stress levels are around a tenth of what they were last year.
Something happened this week which caused me to reflect on the contrast between this year and last year. It was Thursday and I’d been rounding off a sequence of lessons on the area and circumference of circles with a task of designing Bilbo Baggins a new house (everything had to be round). It was a messy lesson – coloured card, scissors, compasses, pencils, calculators, glue, felt tips etc. everywhere. I’d lost track of time, and (as will be familiar to you all I’m sure) realised with three minutes of the lesson to go that the classroom needed to be tidied, I needed to get together the resources for my Year 12 class happening immediately afterwards across the school, had homework to give out and had five reports to sign. Eek.
So I got the class quiet, gave out (rather loose) instructions to tidy up, put everything back in the right drawer and pick up a copy of the homework. Then I busied myself signing reports, disconnecting my laptop and prepping for my next class.
2 1/2 minutes later I looked up to see an almost spotless classroom with Adelle (bless her!) just emerging from my cupboard having put away the felt tips for me. Mason had taken it upon himself to hand out homework, and students were just tucking their chairs in. Bliss.
My point here isn’t to put across how wonderful my year 10 class are (although they are pretty awesome). It’s the contrast with last year that is so instructive. I am not doing anything fundamentally different at the end of class from what I did last year. I am no more organised (in fact I’m less ‘on it’ than I was at this time last year). And yet things just work this year, whether that is getting students to tidy the classroom quickly, keeping students ‘on task’ in a lesson, or getting students to attend detentions.
So this post is really a word in the ear of Teach First subject mentors. Don’t judge your mentee too harshly if their classroom is a tip at the end of a lesson, you look through the classroom window and see students off task, or the pace of their lesson drops because they are demanding (and not getting) the attention of every student. Your mentee might be doing everything right, and might be working far harder than anyone else in the department, and yet because of their inexperience and the reaction of the kids, the impact of their efforts will be different to anyone else’s in the department. Part of this is down to the authority they portray in front of the students, but part of it is also down to the kids and their reactions to new teachers. Rest assured your mentee is probably killing themselves trying to get it right, and will reap the rewards (as will the rest of the department) next year. Please help them get that far.