Thursday, 13 September 2012

The Difference Timetables Can Make

Right, this week has been busy. Seriously I feel like I haven't stopped so, well, yeah welcome to the new school year!

Honestly with full teaching days and duty and frees being taken up with actually working my day seems to be completely full. Poor little me!


I actually have no grounds to complain at all. Well maybe about the greenhouse door that still has not been put on properly - I can see one of my frees on Monday being taken up by fixing that myself - but other than that I do not have any cause to complain.

So as I pour myself another glass of red and break one of my pieces of advice last week I would like to explain why after a week of getting to know my classes I am sat on a Thursday evening nicely relaxed and not panicking about the year ahead anymore. 

It must be my timetable.

Yep my timetable, that simple piece of paper. Or to put that statement in a bit more context the classes I have on my timetable do not seem to be an issue at all. However it is more than that. It is the realisation that after 2 pretty turbulent years I have in most cases seen worse. Yes I know but it's true! Lets run down a list of classes that I have.

  1. Year 7 class that I see once a week.
  2. Year 8 class see them 3 times a week are a lower ability group but very small - under 20 - may need some support but seem generally very keen to work.
  3. Year 9 class see them 4 times a week a bit noisy but do not seem to have the 'attitude' some prior year 9's have had so far seem hard working bunch.
  4. Year 10 BTEC see them 3 times a week might be the only class to cause me issues but then so far at least 3/4 seem hard working and diligent just a few well know 'characters' to deal with.
  5. Year 10 triple science option group that I see once a week very able and very lovely to teach.
  6. Year 10 triple 'fill in' group which I am picking up odd bits with, see them twice a week some overlap with the group above equally as awesome to teach - very much enjoyed me using them as birds in a bioaccumulation practical today.
  7.  AS biology group that I share with another teacher, see them twice a week so far seem very able and willing to work.
To the list you can add my form who now they are used to me being their form tutor seem to have 'grown up' and are a pleasure to have.

At my old school I had at least 3-4 classes that I would worry about teaching. Last year at my current school there were classes or periods with classes that I would dread someone walking in for a spot observation on. So what is the difference - and yes I am well aware that I am only in the second week of term but something feels different already (maybe the wine?). 

It has to be my timetable surely? 

After all I have higher ability sets who are bound to be better behaved and more focused on their work. Well that has to be a contributing factor surely but counter to that is the fact that I still have students who could easily 'step out of line' and cause an issue. I still have wide ability ranges within my classes. I still have to manage expectations with realism and ensure sufficient progress of all my students. This all with the specter of a definite OFSTED visit at some point this academic year - which means internal observations have stepped up a gear to ensure teaching and learning is at the highest level it could be. 

This is also within a learning/teaching framework that is starting to be increasingly virtual - something I have blogged about before - which goes against my love of dusty textbooks and practical work (see last blog for love of Faraday and experimental scientists).

And also being a year 10 tutor my day has shifted to run on a slightly different timetable to how it was last year - myself and my form are still getting used to that - which seems to have had a big impact on how tired I am at the end of a day. So is it just the timetable? Really?

Of course it isn't. 

It's experience. Nothing more and nothing less. Most of what I am teaching now I have taught before several times in different forms. I know what works. I know what doesn't. I know what students are likely to find difficult and how to counter that. I know different ways to put things so that they become more readily understandable - bioaccumilation like a bowl of chips for example - which naturally makes the job easier. That doesn't mean that I don't make mistakes still or confuse students (I think I confused my year 9's today - bad times!). 

But it is easier. The job gets easier.


And here is the interesting part. Because I think it is getting easier - regardless of whether it is or not - I am more able to deal with things. Seriously if you read some previous blog posts (or just know me) you will know I started this as a way of seeing the good in each day as I focused on the bad. The difference now is astounding. Yes moving schools and scenery has helped with that but being more experienced in the job has certainly been the biggest driver in my mentality shift. 

Now that is not to say things are perfect and I can put the carpet slippers on and the feet up. Just because tonight I had two glasses of wine and chilled out does not mean I don't have work to do - I have a big stack of marking in the corner of the room trying to star me out - but it means I don't feel destroyed by the job to the extent I have done in the past. 

So what can teachers in the position I was in 2 years ago take from this?

  1. There is something inherently good in what you are doing or you would not have passed your PGCE never forget that.
  2. The longer you are in the job the more savvy you become with it and that improves the work-life balance no end.
  3. As bad as it can seem at times someone else has been there - talk to people about it.
  4. Even people who have hated the job can end up loving it again (honestly).

I won't say much more - the wine is quite potent -  but I will finish with a quote that I can't get out of my head since I heard it in Brian Cox's TED talk on why we need explorers;

 "When I woke up just after dawn on September 28, 1928, I certainly didn't plan to revolutionize all medicine by discovering the world's first antibiotic, or bacteria killer. But I suppose that was exactly what I did".  - Alexander Fleming.

Maybe all of the above is rubbish and the main difference this term is that I have that quote ingrained in my skull and it is making me appreciate the opportunities to make a difference that each day might bring. 

Or maybe I have now had too much wine to be allowed to type...?

Whatever it is I am glad for it. Although half term is only 6 weeks away...


  1. Hi

    Nice article and one that I can 100% relate too (sans wine as I am on a serious health kick).

    Whilst as head of Science and "8 years in" teacher, I don't feel it get's easier each year (as our personal goals and responsibilities increase) - what changes is our capacity to cope, adapt and juggle the 1001 things that we need to do.

    Oddly, I too have had a "good" start to the year, spurred on by my mental shift to "do everything that I can at school" and "leave home for personal stuff", as much as possible. That single thing (plus a real commitment to sleep) has revitalised my outlook.

    Plus, I must admit, a pretty big chunk of Year 12 and 13, which I normally allocate to faculty members.

    Enjoy your wine...


  2. I had this revelation last year, when I felt that I had "cracked it" with all of my classes. However, now I have moved school and all although my classes are wonderful behaviour wise, I need to work on their ability to learn. So I am starting again requiring a new set of techniques, but from a different angle. At least I am not terrified of going into the class - I have been there many moons ago when I worked at a school similar to your previous one.

    I am really glad that it is going well for you so far.