Teaching Resource – Business

Sorting through all of my amassed materials so thought I’d share. This is a fascinating little video to show how the world has changed, the impacts of the industrial revolution, consumerism, energy consumption… has some fab statistics. My classes were glued to this video and I only used it to show the masses of trade routes. It led to fab unanticipated discussions about sustainability and the future… one of those seize the moment teaching and learning opportunities is definitely to be had from sharing this video in the right setting at the right time.

Sometimes I find with teaching FE students they get to a point where they’ve just had enough but it’s not time for a scheduled break. Carefully selecting and putting on a short business related video can help to shift the focus for a moment and then get back to the main intent of the lesson or at least get you to the break!

It’s good to have a bank of videos which will be shown as part of teaching but not necessarily in the lesson plan, just as something to shift focus. I found my students responded very favourably to me saying “I think you’ve had enough of the town and country planning act [insert anything you like here] let’s watch a video so you can give your brains a rest”. It always went down well and achieved what I wanted it to. It felt like a treat.


Customer Service

This is a great teaching video for classes looking at customer services. I’ve passed it on to fellow PGCE’ers before and I know it’s been put to use in travel and tourism as well as business teaching. It’s good for most older learners from KS4 up I would say.

Placement, routes in and applications – yet more PGCE advice

I’ve not submitted many applications I must say. I know myself and know that I’m probably much more suited to supply teaching than the constraints of a ‘forever’ job. It’s just the way I am. I don’t like company or office politics and the longer you stick around in any job the more involved in that you become and the more affected by that you become. I much prefer to flit in and out unaffected, doing what I want to do well (that’s teaching nowadays) and getting out before any rot sets in and detracts from my main purpose.

That’s not to say that I couldn’t last a year or two, I could but I know I would start to get itchy feet after 2-3 years.

I like to do a good job of whatever I do, my rule of thumb is “if I had no bills to pay, no mouths dependent on me to feed them would I do this for nothing?” and if the answer is yes,  then I know my heart is in the right place. I would teach for nothing. I have taught for nothing this past year and I put in extra hours, gleefully because I was learning and wanted to learn as much as possible and because I loved what I was doing and wanted to do more and more of it.

I just want to go back a moment and say that when I say as a PGCE student I “taught for nothing” I do of course mean only for no monetary reward, my payment in kind was priceless. I could not afford in a million years to pay for the training I received, indeed money would not buy it. I don’t mean just when I was observing or under observation by qualified, time served teachers either, I of course learned far more when I was in command of the classroom and there was nobody with me, when it was just me and the students.

I really think that if we feel that we are volunteers (I did a post on this a while back) or that we are free labour, or we are working for nothing then we really ought to be rethinking what has motivated us to enter the teaching career in the first place. If we are reluctant to ask or seize opportunities to learn even more because ‘we’re not getting paid for them’ we really do need to have a good long look at ourselves and ask if we are really suited to what is ultimately a service role that is not entirely about us, it is so much more about them.

Of course you have to be mindful of not being taken advantage of but then… you see I don’t think you ever could see it like that. Every opportunity you get to practice, learn, reflect and grow is to your advantage. If it gets too much and starts to detract from your learning experience then think about calming it down. If you feel it is unrealistic as a workload consider those around you who do this full time and consider if you are able to do this full time, perhaps the teaching role is more than you imagined it to be and you are not cut out for it.  Nobody said it is easy to manage, it will be tough but think about your expectations of what being a teacher involves before you make a decision to be one… and when you think you know what it involves increase that behind the scenes workload by at least double.

Getting back to the job application point of this post (at last!) imagine that day when you are asked to cover a colleagues class right after your own class, even though you are not that familiar with the subject, even though you only have ten minutes to prepare, even though you have never met the students before. Imagine you feel that it’s putting on you, taking advantage of free labour so you say no. Fast forward a couple of months to when you are filling in job applications or sitting in front of an interview panel. That box where it asks you to note any relevant achievements, or where it asks you to give examples of where you have faced a challenge, that question where they ask you to relate a particular challenge you overcame… won’t you be kicking yourself if you didn’t have much to say? How much more proud are you going to be to write or talk about the time when you were asked to cover a colleague’s class with only ten minutes to prepare, with subject matter you were not too familiar with, a class you had never met and you managed to deliver a confident lesson and more than that through your questioning and some discussion you were able to ensure that learning took place. Gaining experience is what the placement is about

Think ahead, that’s all I’m saying.

So my tutor said that I should see it as one of my new long term objectives for my ILP (which by the way is a living document, it didn’t die when I handed it in and I’m still working on it and from it and will forever be doing so) that I should seek to gain some experience teaching professional programmes. I’d not thought of that before, FE was where my heart was/is but I thought hey, why not give it a go… what does it mean? I found out what professional programmes are (and like most things realised I already knew of course I just didn’t know they were called that) and then to my surprise there was a vacancy for casual professional programmes tutors advertised at my local college/uni centre.. so I just applied.

But while I was doing that I got to thinking. If I had not done the PGCE and had done the new MBus course (I could have done the final fourth year as an add on to my BA with funding etc available) I could have done that, had a masters level qualification and maybe found a niche to teach in an FE’s HE department without needing the PGCE.

For me, it would perhaps not have been the best route as I really wanted and want to teach in FE if I can ever find a job (they tell you they are easy to come by because the sector has such high turnover but my experience of looking has been inconsistent with that myth) but for someone who wants to teach in HE it would be a much easier route and land you with a masters qual in business too. I can think of some people who would have liked that path if it had been open to them last year and now it is, still open to them this year.

There are so many ways into teaching and into jobs. This is what I’m trying to say. PGCE was without a doubt the right route for me but it might not be the right route for everyone. Working in FE and trying to get some casual/supply hours while searching is right for me, it might not be right for everyone. Think about what you are doing and why and how and keep your focus on the students, don’t let your ambition lose sight of your intent towards them.


Becoming a better teacher by listening to your students

I came across this interesting little article by Dorset language teacher Rory Gallagher entitled “Learning from learners: student feedback boosted my teaching skills” posted to the Guardian Teacher Blog by Rebecca Ratcliffe today (29/6/14)

Have a read by clicking here http://www.theguardian.com/teacher-network/teacher-blog/2014/jun/29/learning-from-learners-hone-teaching-skills

In it Rory talks about courting opinion from the second of Brookfield’s (1995) critically reflective lenses: the students. I regularly did this with my classes, even the ones I only covered once or twice and totally agree that it is perhaps one of the most useful things I did as a trainee. I found that well constructed questions received very frank and mature responses which enabled me to adjust my teaching style, my focus and ultimately helped me make lessons more interesting and engaging. This is a useful brief on Brookfield’s theory with a reading reference at the end: http://sydney.edu.au/arts/teaching_learning/academic_support/Brookfield_summary.pdf

This blog post made me think about those four lenses and how we value the opinions of our tutors and of our mentors through formalised OTLS procedures as we eagerly await, read and digest feedback. We are taught relentlessly to pursue autobiographical introspective self reflection and we are encouraged to compare our performance against the theory but we are not really pushed or taught to court the opinions of those we teach and surely this is as if not more important than any of the others.

Rory had been teaching for some time before he realised that “when asked about the activities they preferred, students gave such intelligent responses, that I should be asking them more questions, more frequently” (Ratcliffe 2014). I feel this should be more emphasised during training and it could help to avoid making mistakes with the way we ask questions.

I found myself nodding in agreement when he advised some caution in the way we canvass opinion and how to avoid simply becoming the brunt of a disgruntled student who maybe hadn’t had such a good day or one who feels giving candid opinion is just too ‘uncool’. Some theoretical discussion of the best approaches to seeking student feedback and appraisal and some class discussion would be really useful. I feel it would be useful for a cohort of student teachers to develop a standard questionnaire or question bank for themselves to use in their own classrooms.  I had realised the same thing as Rory and had learned to construct my questions in a similar manner to that which he described when he says:

“Of course the level of question you ask of a student will reflect the answer you get back. If you just ask “What do you think to my teaching?” you may well find one of the students answers “it was crap”. If you give students a structured question – for example: “If I didn’t understand a point my teacher is able to explain it and help me understand it better” – then a student will think carefully, consider an example and say that they strongly agree or not. The process helps students to understand the language of teaching” (Ratcliffe 2014).

I would add that it does not pay to ask students too many questions, just one well constructed one at the end of a class is sufficient, especially if you have a selection to use over the course of a semester and slot them in now and then rather than it being an end of every session predictable occurence. I feel that makes it lose its value. If you are wanting to start a debate or discussion and if you are wanting lots of feedback I would suggest making it a session in itself and setting the right tone. Maybe planning to teach a fun but short lesson and then seeming to cut it short in favour of a ‘chat’ making it feel like a reward while you have students in an upbeat and engaged mood would work, it definitely worked for me the couple of times I tried it. I don’t think the students even realised what I was doing and because of that they were very open and frank and also very innovative in their suggestions for how lessons could be improved.

I like that Rory points out that this method of performance appraisal is not without its dangers when he mentions things like “10% of teachers would not trust what students said and worried about the feedback they would get” and “There is a danger that if student feedback becomes too formalised it will become part of an evaluation process”. I can fully empathise with his concerns, if it did become part of the evaluation process it wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing but it may be less measured, controlled and well managed by a central body than by individual teachers and I think it is important to seek opinion in the healthiest of enviornments. Not so that the feedback is all good, you would be crazy if you expect a bunch of teenagers to ever glow and tell you how amazing you are on demand, but so that it is more likely to be honest and constructive.

I also appreciate what he says about teachers being somewhat reserved about courting this feedback from students. “As a new teacher, it’s often more important to concentrate on technique and your voice in the classroom. You have to focus on developing your confidence… some more experienced teachers who are still uncomfortable about relinquishing that authority or power in the classroom” but I don’t think it necessarily comes down to relinquishing power if done in a well thought out and carefully orchestrated manner. I perhaps felt comfortable doing it as I don’t really consciously feel I have the power in the classroom, although of course the teacher usually does, but to feel like a part of the organic whole of the class perhaps makes you feel less cautious about letting the seat of power ebb and flow a bit more between teacher and student, it’s just important to be the force which controls that ebb and flow when it needs a bit of a push or pull.



It’s over… I think. A final reflection on being a trainee.

I think I might have just done enough to pass my PGCE but I won’t be celebrating just yet. I was so engrossed and committed to supporting the students to the bitter end that it became my focus and my teaching file was a side issue. To me this felt terribly right yet terribly wrong all at the same time. The dilemma of the PGCE student, focus on the  teaching or the theory? You won’t get one without the other that’s for sure so it’s a balancing act. Hopefully my grades already in the bag will go someway to helping keep me afloat overall and my observations and essays (at least one of them) should help. Fingers crossed.

My placement hasn’t quite finished yet. I’m going to drop in during management week just to get a feel for some of the planning that goes on behind the scenes but the teaching element is complete.

I can honestly say I have loved this placement. I have really enjoyed the opportunity to learn so much about the teaching role and the behind the scenes elements of teaching. Some of it I can relate so easily to my experiences in the public sector and much of it came as an eye opening experience which I had not anticipated.

When I spent time researching and contemplating my area of practice I definitely made the right choice so it was time well spent. I would advise anyone who is not sure where they want to teach or which subjects or which qualifications that they spend some time investigating, it pays off. Also I would strongly advise that if you do not want to work in the only area you can get a placement don’t do the placement, defer for a  year, take an alternate route into teaching, don’t do it for the wrong reasons because you will not enjoy it and the students will not get the best of you and you will not get the best for your own development. Imagine how you would feel if your children had you as a teacher, someone who was displaced, uncomfortable and in this for the wrong reasons. Students are someone’s children, they are people and not doing the best possible by them is an abuse of your position.

I really felt like a part of the team on this placement. It was odd yesterday  handing my keys in and my mentor telling me that they didn’t want to take them off me because I felt like one of them now. We had such a good fun day yesterday, now the main stresses of teaching were done and we could reflect and relax a bit as everyone started to catch up on paperwork and tying up loose ends. It reminded me of my days spent as a professional temp in London and how it was always commented in my departing testimonials how I never had a temporary approach to my work and always managed to become a part of the team. More often than not I’d have been offered a permanent position (not this time I should add before anyone misconstrues that) but I didn’t take those opportunities because I loved temping, it allowed me to have so many new experiences, to never grow stale in a role, to be constantly enthusiastic and all of that allowed innovation to flow and I was able to leave my mark… maybe that’s something that my inner Leo needs to do.  I guess at this juncture in my life it would be nice to have stability but I think I thrive on living on a rocking ship, it keeps me alert and I know from my years in mental health that keeping the mind alert is not a bad thing as we age. I think I know now that I need to work in supply, something I’ve long suspected.

This approach doesn’t mean that I don’t feel a tinge of sadness when I move on, of course I do, I’m a highly emotional person but I can put that aside and allow the practical side of my nature to take over. I’ll miss the students and I’ll miss my colleagues, all of whom have taught me so much. I’m so grateful for every single one of them and the countless questions they’ve answered, the tips and tricks they’ve shared, the way they have coped with my intrusion into their world in such an embracing manner and the way they have helped to restore my confidence which was pretty low at the beginning of this journey.

I feel that I have achieved more than I ever expected as a trainee teacher. In terms of achievements that can be measured I’ve been pulling 1’s out of the bag on observations since my second observations and they have increased in number through to the end. That’s not to say there isn’t room for improvement, of course there is, there always is. Some things were beyond my control, such as the environment but I did the best I could possibly do within it and that was noted in other ares of observations so those ugly 2/3’s were balanced out in the overall grades. Looking back on  my observations makes me aware of one thing, there are consistent identifiable strengths in terms of behaviour management, rapport with students, use of resources and activities, relating learning to the workplace, embedding of literacy and numeracy as well as ILT, anecdotal teaching, flexibility and pace and pitch of delivery and embedding of employability and E&D. It also makes me aware that there are some elements which can shift in terms of success or otherwise from observer to observer and from class to class which will always require more effort and more thought.

I guess my biggest lesson is no two lessons are the same.. never rest on your laurels you are never going to be perfect at this so never imagine that you are or will ever be, it is a learning process and always will be. Not that I ever thought I would be perfect, I’m highly self critical and always looking to improve and if I feel I can’t improve I know I’m not looking hard enough at myself.

Another measurable achievement is that in all of the units I taught independently in both years 1 and 2 my students all completed, most within the tight time frames and many were producing work of a merit or distinction standard consistently and quite a few were hitting those higher grades on first submission. This helped me identify a couple of things; firstly I must have been teaching effectively, secondly I must have explained the assignment briefs clearly and thirdly I must have been offering adequate support and motivation to complete. I know with some this took some additional effort and I worked extra hours and stayed longer and offered lots of one to one support but that’s what teachers do, they are there for the students not for themselves. I saw this exampled by my colleagues in the department. I saw their commitment to ensuring the students achieved and their delight when it happened. There may be grumbles about the additional input (mine included) but those grumbles are quickly replaced by smiles and sighs of relief as yet another one passes and achieves what seemed to be unachievable. There is a great sense of belief in the students and I love that, I love that it is about them not us, it’s reassuring and warming and I’m proud to have been a part of a team who felt like that. It’s not one of the measurable things but it’s one of the most important things.

Now for the less measurable – I managed to help one of the students directly into a job and another three told me that they felt the learning they had undertaken on my unit helped them to secure jobs through confidence in the interview process and preparedness, another one told me how she had felt a greater sense of self belief at an interview for a work placement as she had been supported and encouraged in a way that made her feel she could do it when she felt she wasn’t good enough.  I’m proud of these things, they are what matter as much as or more than the distinctions and merits and the 1’s at OTLS.

And the end – the unexpected thank yous which I am going to mention because there is not much reward in a trainee role, we do it for the experience there is no money involved, it costs us to participate but the rewards outweigh even the training experience when students come to you, purposefully seek you out to thank you, to tell you how much you are appreciated and how they could never have achieved their qualification without you. It is so heartwarming.

I learned so much from this experience and one of the main things is be flexible, get to know the kids, find ways to incorporate the things they are interested in and enjoy into their learning even if it deviates from your plan, as long as you achieve your end goal it’s a win win situation.

Don’t listen or get involved when they have gripes and moans about other teachers, they are more than likely griping and moaning about you to their other teachers, don’t kid yourself that you are their favourite even if they say you are, they will tell you that as a lever to pull to get them what they want… which is to do as little as possible.

However, if they tell you that they like a particular teacher take an opportunity to learn, ask them why, ask what the teacher does that impresses them and then speak to the teacher concerned about it and find out as much as you can to use in your own practice and to your advantage. See if them liking the teacher is supported by the teacher achieving good results, ask the teacher if they are an outstanding at OTLs be frank and open they can only tell you to mind your own business. If that teacher is a fellow trainee, speak to them and ask what they do and how they are managing to achieve the lofty status of ‘liked teacher’.

Above all else, never see a student as difficult, never see a lack of resources as prohibitive, never see an environment as ruining your teaching, never let team dynamics distort your approach to teaching, see everything as a challenge, a learning opportunity and a chance to do better, to overcome and to achieve. Focus on the student, their achieving is what matters, that’s what you are there for, nothing else. Fill yourself with positivity, believe in you, believe in them and you both might just surprise yourselves.

If you genuinely care about other people achieving their full potential no matter who they are, where they come from, what they do, then this is a job for you and if you’re wondering if you should go down a teacher training route or not and you do not feel that this is your prime motivator then have a serious think about what you are doing and why you are doing it.










What next? The beginning.

So the placement’s nearly done, the course is almost passed (fingers crossed) so what is next apart from the dole queue 😛

I’ve had so much going on lately, so many choices and decisions. It’s no secret that I’ve wanted to move from this area for a long time but there’s always something that means it’s not the right time. This time I thought it was happening but then other things happened with my kids and it’s not so easy a choice again.

I’m going into supply teaching  from September while also studying for a masters. I’ve also got some work as a research assistant for some people I know who are studying for their PhD. I wasn’t really aware but evidently by assisting with research you become named in  published papers and that helps you to teach in HE if you want to and also to progress with your own academic study. It’s an interesting prospect and I have already lined up one research piece and have lined up another potential for September.

Then my tutor threw into the mix that I should gain some experience in teaching professional programmes so I’m looking into that now too and have an application in.

I need a break now though, that’s my immediate plan. I’ve worked hard and I’ve learned so much and I need some time to absorb it all and make my choices in an informed and relaxed manner.

Watch this space, I will blog now and then about the job search and future experiences, it doesn’t end here, this is the beginning.



To blog or not to blog

“Creme (2005) notes that [when we ask teaching students to write a reflective journal] we require more than a personal voice: we ask our students to open themselves up in the process of writing on very personal experiences, which means being honest and authentic in what they write. This involves taking a risk in the content they write” (Pavlovich 2007:285)

This is perhaps one of the reasons I do not feel that a blog is the best place to have a reflective journal as at times it isimages not possible to be honest or authentic or to take a risk in what is written. As Pavlovich (2007) also states the writing of a reflection should allow the author free rein to identify and examine their experiences, to make sense of things which did not make sense at the time, to look back (reflect) on what has happened or how they felt and adjust their behaviour, learn from mistakes and move forward. People can’t do this not because of their own shortcomings but because their experiences might sometimes involve interaction with others and those others might self identify (rightly or wrongly) and become offended especially if the reflection is not supported by a whole lot of context.

If blogs are to be used as seats of professional reflection for teachers or trainee teachers then there needs to be a healthy discussion between those involved first which explains what a blog is, what the point of sharing information and thought is and raising the intent up above a Facebook level of mentality and empowering people to discuss, debate and disagree in an intellectual manner, with reason befitting a higher level academic and professional. A class of students is aware that what they write is open for scrutiny by their peers and anybody else but they should also be advised that scrutiny and comment should take place constructively on the blog (via comments facility) in the open manner it was presented and intended by the author.

We need to ensure that people are aware that sometimes for debating purposes ideas and concepts are thrown out to evoke a reaction, to get a debate going and sometimes a person is entitled to their own feelings and thoughts and entitled to express them how they wish. If  a person feels they have been treated unfairly and is not able to reflect on that how can they learn from it? How can they see where maybe they are right to feel the way they do or where they may need to consider a point of view to highlight an area for development? What is the point of a reflective journal if the author has to lie about how they feel or mask true feelings? The most difficult experiences are the ones we learn the most from after all.

It’s a shame as I feel that it’s a fantastic way of keeping a journal and for people to identify elements of themselves in others, to feel supported, not to feel alone and to find inspiration, coping mechanisms and all manner of other outstretched hands of mutual encouragement and knowledge to grasp on to. I love reading the blogs of others, sometimes I don’t agree and I say so (that’s what comments are for) sometimes I do agree and I say so (again that’s what comments are for).

I think one of the biggest problems with blogs is they are not understood, they are not used correctly and as an academic tool I agree with another interesting point made by Moon (1999) in Pavlovich (2007):

“when journals are graded, the grade becomes the emphasis that constrains free expression and creativity, supporting strategic approaches to learning” (Moon 1999 cited in Pavlovich 2007:286).

Additionally, Kennison and Misselwitz (2002) commenting on the usefulness of reflective journals feel that when a journal is not being graded, students don’t bother either to create or maintain it which makes it an ineffective reflective tool. Although I would argue that this is subjective and hinges heavily on the intrinsic motivation of the student; a student has to be self-motivated to want to use a journal to share experience, to reflect on practice and theory and to be able to appreciate the value of honest reflective practice without seeking a reward or recognition to fully embrace the upkeep of a reflective journal.

Some useful further reading from the authors mentioned in this piece:

Creme, P. (2005). Should student learning journals be assessed? Assessment and Evaluation in Higher Education, 3093), 287-296

Kennison, M., & Misselwitz, S. (2002). Evaluating reflective writing for appropriateness, fairness and consistency. Nursing Education Perspectives, 23(5), 238-242

Moon, J. A. (1999). Reflection in learning and professional development: Theory and practice. London: Kogan Page

Pavlovich, K. (2007). The development of reflective practice through student journals. Higher Education Reserach and Development, 26(3), 281-295