January 2006, 10 years ago I walked into my first teaching post, unqualified teacher of science (chemistry) training on the Graduate Teacher Programme (GTP) in an 11-18 community comprehensive school in a strange little town in the North West. I was 26 and had not quite finished writing up my PhD, having rather tardily left the lab in October, I had my viva at February half term. I’m not sure where I thought I would end up 10 years into my career but it certainly wasn’t where I have actually ended up! So here are a few of my thoughts on my first(!) 10 years in teaching…
What has changed….
Yes I know I am somewhat stating the obvious here… In 2006 in my area there were secondary schools, all under the umbrella of the Local Authority (LA), apart from the local independent (which I now work for). Sure, there were a few faith schools (don’t get me started….) and various weird things about their funding like voluntary aided etc but all schools were LA schools. Ten years later and there are a number of Academies and a UTC (University Technical College, a 14-19 school, v recent invention!) Thankfully the Bolton area is one that has managed to resist mass Academisation and I think that is to its benefit but I know whole LAs where every school is an Academy. Terms and conditions vary widely, I’m not sure this is a good move…. 10 years on teaching is a whole lot more complicated depending on where you’re working and who you’re working for…
Is it me or is there a whole lot more “management” than there was in 2006? Oh sorry, it is “leadership” now, not management! And doesn’t it now have fancy titles? I was once a “Head of Chemistry”, that title was changed to “Leader of Learning-chemistry”. I used to have a head of department with the title “Head of Science”, now that post has the title “Director of Science”. Within departments (often now organised into faculties!) there are key stage coordinators (I’m not au fait with their latest fancy reincarnation!), assistant directors of science (2nd in department), lead practitioners, intervention coordinators, leaders of learning (Heads of smaller subjects mainly). In pastoral teams there are Learning and Progress Coordinators (Heads of Year), pastoral leaders (non teaching staff who do all the donkey work from what I can make out), the SENCo probably has a new title too lest ‘special educational needs’ be too politically incorrect. Senior leadership teams have swelled massively (some have contracted again recently I admit). One headteacher, two deputies, 6-10 assistant heads, then all the “directors” and the extended leadership team. It’s a wonder there’s a teacher left without a TLR (Teaching and Learning Responsibility point, extra cash for management responsibility). What does this tell us about teaching 10 years on…..? That there’s more admin than ever I suspect….
In 2006 I met some real characters as I was starting out as a teacher and I suppose myself I have also developed into a “character” of some sort… My HoD (head of department) when I started teaching was a kind, mild mannered physics teacher of nearly 30 years experience. He shielded us from the worst excesses of SLT, gave his office up to be the brew room and translated our four letter words into suitable feedback for those higher up. Summing up his job he said “my job is to make your job easier, that’s what they pay me for”. It’s a mantra that should be taken on by many other HoDs. When we had cash he would buy in schemes of work and he always took more than his fair share of tough groups. Eccentrics were reasonably common when I started teaching. The history teacher who always wore the same burgundy V neck and threw handfuls of fruit pastille to his classes, hated his laptop and couldn’t work the photocopier but was loved by his students with a fierce loyalty. The bulldog drama teacher feared by pupils and staff alike but whose classes rarely slipped below an A grade through sheer force of personality. The staunchly political languages teacher, cornerstone of the Union in school and staff room sage. Those teachers have been retired or “moved on” (code for got too expensive…) No in 2016 it seems eccentricity is OUT and uniformity, conformity and predictability are IN. Teaching is in danger of becoming well, rather beige, we’re not careful…. No-one remembers a beige teacher….
- The curriculum
The less said about this the better, previous blog posts describe just how many different incarnations of KS3/GCSE/A level I have taught in ten short years….
What has stayed the same….
Yes, teenagers have not changed much in the ten years I have been teaching and I am mightily glad of that! They are predictable in their very unpredictability and they bring joy to the lives of their teachers (and some other stuff but let’s not dwell on that!)
- Chemistry lessons
Despite the changes to the curriculum the actual chemistry has hardly changed. A few things have been lost and a few things have been gained, the emphasis has shifted and shifted back but essentially I still teach lessons today that I taught similarly in 2006. So GCSE group 7 The Halogens will see me heating sodium on a brick and then covering it with a gas jar of chlorine, sublimining iodine, getting the students to determine the order of reactivity using aqueous halogens and halide salts, using the topic to reinforce key concepts like conservation of mass, balancing equations, making observations, drawing diagrams of covalent and ionic bonding…. The same as in 2006. Now of course 10 years on I know a whole lot more about lots of things, students, pedagogy, assessment and I am a much better teacher than I was when I took those first steps in the classroom but quite simply some things don’t change. Chemistry has been the constant and I am pretty sure that is why I have ended up taking the career path I have…. So far….