Well I Never: Another Reflection

When I first took the new class yesterday and was asked to teach them about internal and external factors affecting retail, specifically the Sunday Trading Act and the Town and Country Planning Act I thought “Oh dear what thrilling exciting stuff to engage a new class with”.  I’d tried my best when planning the lesson some time ago, to make it as interesting as possible but even so I doubted its ability to really impress upon learners the kind of teacher I am. Something I feel is important with a new group.

So… I decided to shelve the planned lesson and do something much more fun instead, something related to the topic but less heavy than the original spec. I decided that I’d have time to claw back the ground I should have covered and felt my mentor wouldn’t mind me showing a bit of initiative and working not only on delivery of the unit but on relationship building which I’ve come to realise is perhaps one of the most important elements of teaching.

I decided against formal ice-breakers, I just thought I’d welcome the class, have chats as the group grew from the early arrivals through to its full capacity. Once everyone had arrived I introduced myself very briefly and explained the situation; why I was standing in front of them and what the plan was for the future. So far so good.

Then we did a very quick overview of the unit, when they had something to say I let them say it and we had a few interesting discussions about the retail industry and it gave me a chance to do a kind of micro initial assessment all of my own. I had a really comprehensive group profile which my mentor had given me and I started to connect people with the very accurate character descriptions. I also got a chance to see who was forthcoming, who was a little more reserved, who was lapping up information and who seemed not to give a hoot. The class is pretty much on an even keel as far as diversification goes with one or two exceptions. This should make for easier lesson planning.

We took a look at some advertising (a task taken from another unit that I happened to have on a Prezi) and we talked about market segmentation and how retailers group their customers so they can direct promotions at them. We looked at adverts and talked about what we felt the target market was and if the ad would appeal to that market. Then we looked at some banned ads which had been deemed offensive and shared our thoughts on them. We ended with a shout out and a quick You Tube search for adverts which students felt had definitely influenced their buying decisions. It was fun and engaging and everyone joined in. It was a good call.

I had opportunity to make my classroom expectations known and set them in line with agreed standards, I wasn’t overly critical of chatter but was aware that it was something I would need to address more at the next session.

When I arrived in the class this morning there were several students who expressed that they were pleased to be having me teach them again which is never going to be anything other than good to hear.

I decided that now the hard ice had been cracked in a less contrived way that we should go for some more nitty gritty getting to know you activity.  As the class had been together for a while now, since September I asked them to introduce each other to me by each choosing a fellow student to introduce, telling me their name and where they thought they would be this time next year.

We were in a class room with computers arranged in two back to back channels of desks which is definitely not ideal for a number of reasons but we managed OK in the circumstances.

It went well, most seemed to get each other right choosing the safe option of them being on the second year of the course, something most didn’t disagree with which bodes well for retention. There were a good few laughs and I managed to start absorbing some names into the memory bank. Something I worried about as an older teacher, but if you’re thinking of taking a career change, don’t let this put you off, it’s amazing how fast you get to know them all.

After that I got everyone to log into Socrative and they did a quiz based on retail with all of the questions relevant to what we discussed in the unit overview the day before. I was pleased to see that everyone got all or all bar one of the questions correct so something had sunk in.

They enjoyed the task as well and again as we surveyed the results on the board it was something of a talking point. I love that Socrative tells you how many students are in the virtual room so you can tally that up against the number in the actual room and know instantly if anyone is slacking and not participating.

After that we began the lesson proper, it was mostly didactic at first but I used Prezi to add a little dynamism and I noticed that the use of illustrations really appealed to the class.

Illustrations I find offer more of a talking point and are a good way of weaving questions into lessons. Instead of just asking a question and everyone looking awkward and blank, using a picture on the whiteboard, an advert, a graph even or a short video clip and then asking what was happening, what did they think is much more productive. They’re also great for visual learners of course.

After the Sunday Trading Laws teaching was done I posed a statement and split the group into two debating teams who self selected a spokesman, one was pro Sunday trading the other was against it. They came up with some fabulous ideas and thoughts and engaged in a lot of critical thought and analysis, definitely up there in terms of Bloom’s taxonomy.

I had to challenge a couple of swear words being used but apologies came very quickly and they responded well to requests to quieten down and listen to their peers. At the beginning of the class I told them that I’d noticed they liked to talk a lot so we’d have a debate later to let them all exercise their vocal chords. I pointed out that any comment relevant to the lesson was always welcome but other chats could wait for outside of the classroom and I just pointed out that it wasn’t nice for students who wanted to listen to have a background noise constantly humming. Sometimes it pays to just point these things out because I believe some people genuinely don’t realise how annoying their constant mumblings can be.

Some of the boys while researching for the debate were more interested in football and so I got them talking about how football clubs use retail to build a club’s wealth and how that subsequently allows them to buy more players, better grounds etc. Rather than fight their off track line of thought I chose to bring it back and make it as relevant as possible to the discussion. Also made a mental note to include retail in football grounds and stadiums, on line football club merchandising and such into a lesson to spark some interest.

We had a look at referencing for assignments. A couple of the students don’t just want to but really need to achieve merits and distinctions so they can fast track to university having accrued UCAS points from previous study and so I felt it appropriate to include a short ‘assignment tips’ section at the end of each class. I just gave them some tips on boosting their grades with some quality, well sourced and well referenced quotes. I kind of took my inspiration for this from a desire to see them do well of course, but also from an article I read while researching my poster presentation which indicated that BTEC students are not as well prepared in terms of academic writing for HE courses as their A’level counterparts. I took it upon myself, as I should, to make sure that wasn’t the case with any student who crossed paths with me.

They thanked me as they left the class and that’s something of an indication that I’d not done too badly.

I’m reminded once again that mixed methods work and feel I had further confirmation that this group is going to be one that needs lots of opportunity for discussions and debates and more vocal response elicited by more visual stimuli although they did respond well to a didactic style too. I think the mix was about right.

Questioning worked well, I used a range of pause and pounce, open, direct and responses indicated learning from understanding to evaluative had taken place.

This is what I’ve been waiting for and I’m just glad that finally I’m doing the job I wanted to do. I’m also really enjoying being a part of the team and helping out in the office regardless of what that involves, from manning the phones to dealing with bunches of unruly students out in the corridor. It’s all an education… for me.

Writing this blog and these reflections on my experiences is really helping me to make sense of it all and to take all of the positives and run with them while being acutely aware of the fact that this is a learning experience and identification of areas for improvement is of paramount importance to this whole course. Things go wrong and that’s good because it is from things going wrong that we learn the most. Just today though, everything feels like it’s going right.




When is Team Time Not Team Time?

When it’s teaching time!

I thought I was teaching this afternoon but evidently this class is now all mine! I’ve got them Wednesdays and all day Thursdays and I’m really pleased about that and also pleased to keep on teaching Yr2’s, I’ve got to know them so well now it would be a shame to not teach them again.

I guess that first class you teach is a really special one, one you never forget and although they’ll probably not remember me they’ll always be a little bit special to me, like a first child… maybe not. They were your guinea pig, the one who you tried and erred with the one who you welcomed criticism from. Not to mention the one who you were far more scared of than they were of you.

But the new bunch are great, spirited, engaging, enthusiastic, focused and really contributive in discussion. Definitely right about my thoughts from yesterday that discussional type teaching will be right up their street. They seem to have clear direction in most cases and that’s good to see some ambition in them.

So I’ve gone from being out in the wilderness to having my own class and a bit and to having lots of teaching hours a week, solid independent hours and that’s boosted further with the planning and the extras.

I just messaged my tutor and thanked her for helping me sort this out, it’s made a huge difference and it’s put me back on the enthusiastic track I started this course on. I really would advise anyone who is struggling with placement issues, whatever they are to talk to your tutor and get some support with it. After all we’re all paying the same fee for our course, we all deserve the same out of it for our money and although it can’t always be an identical experience (nor would I want it to be) there is an element of equity to be expected.





Got lots planned for today. This morning is team time so I’ll be helping out with whatever needs doing and finding out more about using the electronic systems for monitoring. No curriculum meeting this week but looking forward to that next week.

With my class I decided yesterday was a kind of casual introduction so today it’s a cool icebreaker to get to know the Yr 1 students a bit better as I’m going to be spending lots of time with them. I’ll blog about its success or otherwise later. I’ve chosen one of the ones that was my favourite when we started the PGCE so I’ll see how it goes with them.

I’ve put together a Socrative quiz to see how things managed to sink in yesterday to follow the ice breaker and get a snap shot of who was listening and who wasn’t. The year 2’s say they enjoy using Socrative so why not try it on the Yr 1’s? It’s a good tool to get an overview of who is keeping up and who is straggling.

This is all to ease them in to a heavy lesson about the political and legal impacts on the retail sector, but I’ve designed it to culminate in a debate on the pros and cons of Sunday trading with as minimal formal teaching as possible. I did it with the Yr 2’s and they enjoyed it… trial and error and all that.

This is quite a vocal, opinionated group so I’m wondering if discussional and debating type teaching is the way forward. I just have to be careful to keep them on topic and to keep the side chatter down and ensure the conversation is focused on the one person who should be speaking.

Then I’m with AAT later in the afternoon. I’m thinking of signing up for AAT 3 myself when I hit the ground next year wherever I am. I wouldn’t mind teaching it and it’s another string to my bow and after looking through the materials with the AAT teacher I reckon 3 would be a good place to start and then move on to 4. Wish I’d done it while I was studying my degree now but we live and learn.,, thank goodness.



New Day New Class

So today was the start of my newly arranged placement. I started off teaching the year 1 BTEC Business Level 3 group. It’s a big group, boy heavy with some interesting characters. I had a remit but I decided that this is my class now so I can be more flexible. I started by checking what they knew of the unit leading up to the section I’d been asked to start with and it turned out they knew nothing. So I decided to play it flexibly and start with an overview of the unit.

Now, this is one of the huge advantages of using Prezi to plan out your lessons, not only for the didactic sections as a more fancy Powerpoint like software, but for storing and presenting tasks, activities, games, extension work and links to Socrative in secret little hidden places.

It means that if your planned lesson runs short you have something there at your finger tips, well lots of things there if you pull up your whole Prezi library, to keep everyone engaged. It also means that you have your entire teaching for a whole unit on one Prezi.

What I do is set the scene on an opening slide with unit title, name of the course, year of study and overall objectives. Then I create a set of boxes one for each session of teaching. This then allows me to prepare lesson plans for each box (which I can also store hiding away in the box by the way so that I never have to be searching files to find it) this also allows me to update the lesson plan simply when I update the content.

This method also allows me to store links to anything I might be using such as You Tube clips or online case studies or interesting articles.  Besides this it means that because you have the entire unit within one Prezi that you can be flexible, you can stay within the realms of the unit but bring in thoughts and ideas from other areas of the unit and perhaps show something that was meant for another lesson but which becomes obviously needed now. You can also link to other units or refer back to something visually that you have covered before.

Today I realised the beauty of Prezi and my approach to using it for entire units. I digressed a bit there… not at all like me. I was able to change the plan at the press of a whiteboard and deliver an overview of the unit, covering the earlier materials which fed into the material I was supposed to cover. This made the lesson quite fast paced and enjoyable. Tomorrow I’m going to be in a better position to deliver the material intended for today and my students will be in more of a position to make head or tail of it.

It’s going to be good to have my own class, it’s what I wanted all along and what I expected so it will be good to get to grips with them and start to make even more headway.

For the second session of the day I was picking up the stragglers from Year 2 who didn’t go on the trip to the Coca Cola factory. Thank goodness I didn’t go in the end, as no stragglers turned up I got a lovely early finish and got to catch up on some of my academic work. I also got to spend some quality time in the staff room and also got to have a good natter to the other ladies in there.

I’m all lesson planned out having completed all of the plans for the remaining 3 units, even though I may not teach them all I’ve planned them anyway as I’ll teach them someday no doubt. It will be good to have a bank of Prezi’s to cover all eventualities with the Level 3, I might start on the Level 1 and 2 at some point and then think about giving AAT a shot.

Fab day, very positive and just what I needed.

Mission Accomplished

So today was poster presentation day and I enjoyed it, tiring and hot but worth it. Great to see what everyone had done and the innovation was oozing out of the room.

It was interesting to have so many fab discussions and to spend time chatting with members of the group which runs alongside ours.

I loved the colours and vibrancy, the hours of work which had clearly gone into things so many different takes on a theme.

I must admit being drawn to the more corporate ones, just I guess what I’m used to at these kind of events and years of conditioning takes a while to escape from.

In some ways I wish I’d opted to do a paper based one, I can be quite creative but at the same time if I’d done that I wouldn’t be able to share it on my blog would I? Not the full interactive experience, but this way I can do that and so for that reason I’m glad I did it this way. I enjoyed the other electronic presentations. It did strike me though that electronic presentations are more for a wider, remote or online audience as the paper based ones were pulling in the punters more in the small, personal environment.

Horses for courses as I always say and on top of everything I got some great feedback and more importantly knew my stuff when it came to talking about my creation. I’m not going to detract from the fact that it was digital art which took a lot of putting together.

My favourites in terms of corporate feel were the CMI presentations which is hardly surprising. I loved the brick wall, building block approach of another corporate feel poster, I LOVED the army jacket, clearly focused on the specialist subject. I really enjoyed the functional skills fabric poster, the symbolism was awesome. I loved the book and the newspaper and the simple, clean design of the sports massage poster and the clear knowledge and understanding of the theory which was demonstrated.

The arty ones were masterpieces, the giant camera was awesome and the box of sweets close to the really engaging health and social care poster and the travel and tourism map of the world (which used similar effective styles) was a real innovative choice.

They were all awesome and I had a great time looking at them all, giving my opinion and chatting about everyone’s work.Tiring, hot, a long time but ultimately rewarding as peer support, learning and sharing.

If anyone’s interested here’s mine.

BTEC Level 3 Business Curricular Influences

Poster Presentation

When I saw that one of the assessments for the PGCE was in the form of an academic poster I was quite excited. A chance to be creative to design something and add a touch of innovation.

As it turned out when I realised what the topic was and what had to be included I lost my enthusiasm and decided to go for the less stressy option of creating an interactive online poster. I didn’t imagine that I’d enjoy putting it together as much as I did nor that it would allow me to be creative in a very different way to that I’d initially envisaged.

The poster had to discuss the influences on curriculum development in our area of specialism, specifically what we teach. Naturally then I chose to focus mine on BTEC Business Level 3.

I used Prezi as my design software for this one, and saw a chance to use it as I’d seen demonstrated as something miles apart from Powerpoint rather than I had been using it, that is something feet apart from Powerpoint.

I really enjoyed the opportunity to forget conventional ways of presenting information, of critically analysing and of linking my work to academic sources. I enjoyed the challenge of using Prezi in a different way and of making the poster more of a multi-media exercise, something more organic and less staid than an essay or report and more expressive and engaging than a traditional academic presentation. If nothing else it’s made me appreciate more the value of mixed assessment methods and is something I’m considering for an assessment which I have to design to do with marketing for one of my groups and also it has helped me to fine tune primitive Prezi skills.

Whatever happens on Monday all is not lost. I only hope I haven’t got carried away with the creativity and that I actually know my stuff well enough to be able to talk about it when I have to!

I’m looking forward to it, I’ve seen some sneak peaks of the others and they’re looking really good and interesting and I can’t wait to see the different ways everyone has approached the task, besides anything else it will give me a bit of an indication of what to expect if/when I decide to use this as an assessment method myself.

Career changing? Moving from another profession into teaching? Advice.

NOTE ADDED 18.03.14

“I should like to point out that this was my own reflection on my own poor attitude and lack of appreciation for the need to address ‘the office’ in a very different way to that in the corporate world. It was advice and reflection as a career changer to embrace the things you have come to take for granted, to be enthusiastic about things which ceased to hold awe for you long ago. This post was my own tongue in cheek note to self and to anyone like me who I know reads my blog to not take complacency from one role into another.

It was not an affront on my experience in my placement, it was not an attack on anyone, it drew comparison between the excitement of being young and being in your first professional post and being older and in your umpteenth professional post.

It was also written on the back of a PGCE lesson in which it was raised that a trainee who endears him/herself to the team is more highly valued than the trainee who moves mountains in the classroom, something I challenged at the time in class, something I expressed my concerns about and something which seemed ludicrous. I thought about it on the way home, there is never time in a class to get involved in lengthy discussion and I’m a reflector, a thinker, so it was on my mind. This was how I off loaded those feelings and made sense of them.

This was not written about my experience as a trainee on placement, it was not written after a placement day, it was purely my own advice to be open minded when career changing… unlike I had been. This post was misconstrued and inaccurately and out of context shared with others instead of being challenged on the blog (the whole purpose of an online discussion media. Several people (older career changers) empathised with this post and its content and a number of private messages were received discussing it and sharing similar experiences when transitioning from one profession to another. No offence was intended to anyone and the only person berated for anything in this post is myself, I can admit when I made a mistake and that was the crux of this post. The style of writing was to mimic my own self chastisement and nothing else.”

There was something I didn’t realise, something I didn’t anticipate, something I now see that has been a problem and so something I want to share on my blog just in case anyone reading it is thinking of a mid-life career change into teaching.

The majority of teachers who will be trainees at the same time as you, either on PGCE courses (a route I’d obviously highly recommend bar the expense) or other routes, particularly Teach First are either young people about to start in their first professional position OR older people who have switched via retraining from years of unskilled work to a professional path. Then there are few like yourself, myself, who have switched from one professional path to another.

Now, one of the things which your mentors will be looking for on your placement is enthusiasm. That’s taken as read. But it’s not enthusiasm for the job of teaching that they are looking for, something which you have in abundance. Oh no, it’s enthusiasm for the trappings of being a teacher. It’s important to be a part of the teaching team, of course it is. No matter how temporary your role there is. However, if you have spent the best part of the last twenty years as part of a professional team you are already aware of the way you play these things, you have office environments sussed, you have developed strategies to cope and to remain outside of cliques and above gossip, you are aware of the hierarchy, you know how irritating trainees can sometimes be, you’re aware of office politics, you’re aware of pecking orders and office bitching and all of that stuff that you know detracts from the job. You avoid staff rooms for breaks as you know you will not get a break, you will pick up more work, people will talk to you about work, you will end up spending your break problem solving and meeting planning.

Forget all of those tactics and avoidance techniques and act as if you have never been in a professional environment before in your life, flap around like an excited teenager, fill yourself with your own importance, puff out your chest, wear your staff badge with pride and indulge your mentor in your excitement at your new-found professional status and your absolute glee at being trusted with all of the status symbol trappings of professionalism.

I’m talking keys to doors, access to staff rooms, your own mug, the responsibility of answering a phone, the staff log in, the access all areas staff passwords and all of that. Show your delight externally even though you have long since felt that those things were standard and symbols of nothing more than working in an office environment, even though those things ceased to excite you 20 years ago, even though those things mean zero to you in terms of your ability or commitment to your job.

You might feel that this is all a step backwards for you and you might feel a little uncomfortable, being 40 or 50 and the new kid on the block but then you knew it was going to be different, you knew the trappings of the corporate world had been left behind and it is the classroom that interests you. The classroom is your place of work, that is your new office, that is where you can make a difference, the staff room is just somewhere to touch base. You know that you are not here for the professional status symbols, you made a conscious decision to leave those all behind. You are here because you want to pass on your knowledge you want to teach, you want to inspire and motivate and make a difference, but that doesn’t matter. What matters is that you wholeheartedly throw yourself with gusto into the team and embrace with pronounced joy the things you had erstwhile taken for granted.

If you don’t you are not seen as being as interested or as bothered as a ‘regular trainee’, someone for whom this whole foray into professionalism is a first, the key, the cup, the login, the chair, the desk, the books, the pens, the powerpoint clicker – love it all or you will be seen as unenthusiastic.

It’s something I never envisaged or even thought about but it’s important. Erase your memory and start again, don’t take the avoidance of the staff room which you’re practiced for 20 odd years into your teaching career, embrace it as part and parcel of being one of them and of being a huge indicator arguably the most significant indicator in determining both your enthusiasm as a teacher and your worth as a teacher. The classroom is not the most important place of work, the staff room is. It’s a huge change and something that can easily be overlooked.

We live and learn and I’m glad we do, if I ever thought there was nothing left to learn I’d know I still had a lot to learn.