Diary of an NQT The NQT conference
THERE WAS another NQT conference this week, which I only found out about the day before. Unfortunately the reminder email had been sent
to the office, who may have forgotten to forward it on to me. Of course they may have sent it on and I just lost it in the blizzard of emails that I’ve been getting since being finally added to the “all- staff” list. I’ve only been on the list for
a few weeks and I’m already beginning to think we need a “no email Friday” policy just to allow staff time to catch up with all the emails that fly about. Anyway, I made it to the
conference because one of my PGCE friends sent me a text suggesting getting there early to have a coffee and chat beforehand. The conference was really
great. It gave me some new ideas for teaching and taking my lessons a bit further, especially with gifted and talented classes. Some of the activities were
really interesting and there were plenty of opportunities for me, and others, to learn a bit of science too. During the conference, I noticed that
most of the NQTs were teaching outside their subject specialisms and I wondered how often this happens – especially as NQTs don’t say “no” very often. During lunch and after the conference there was
the obligatory catch up and swapping of horror stories. There were tales of teachers’ cupboards being
broken open and their mobile phones being stolen; pupils setting fire to blinds and desks; whole-school fire alarms and evacuations triggered by an NQT’s
smoky experiments; year 8 students copulating on the playing fields; flashing year 11s; and even a case of a pupil who may have been pleasuring himself at the back of the room. If only the writers of Waterloo Road knew the half of it. They’d certainly stop having their teachers wandering off in the middle of their lessons to get involved in the action – the action would be taking place in the classroom! During the conference
I decided – as I reached for the sixth cup of coffee of that morning – that perhaps I should cut down on caffeine. For the majority of
my childhood I avoided anything with caffeine in. I didn’t like the taste of tea, coffee or coke and only had my first caffeinated drink in my final year of university
while cramming for exams. Since starting my NQT year, my caffeine intake has rocketed. I used to “tut” teachers who had a cup of tea or coffee in the classroom, but quite quickly I realised why they did. Not only does the caffeine help you to stay alert, but having something to drink helps you
keep your voice longer. I’m teaching my year 9s about drugs, both legal and illegal, in the next few weeks and
withdrawal symptoms will be in there somewhere. It’s also Lent, so perhaps I’ll set my classes a good example and give up caffeine – and take up exercising too.
• Our NQT diarist this year writes anonymously and is a teacher of science from a secondary school in the East of England. He returns next week.
Those who can, teach Moral support
I HAVE said it before and I will say it again: education is a hot topic right now. Everyone is taking up the education agenda, the press, MPs and now celebrities! This not only goes to show how critical education
is to our society, but also highlights the importance of teaching. Yet, while it is good that the media can shine a light on our schools and can ask some pertinent questions, is all this attention really a distraction from the complexities of being a class teacher on a day-to-day basis? I recently had the opportunity to
go into a school to teach as part of Holocaust Memorial Day. I had two sessions with two groups of about 40 students. The students were a little awkward at first, but I managed to relax them and we had what I felt were some very engaging discussions on the topic. The feedback from the students and staff at least was overwhelmingly positive. I must confess I came away from the day feeling very pleased with myself. It was only when I was travelling
home that it occurred to me how exhausting it was teaching just these two sessions. I wondered if these sessions would have gone as well if I had also had to prepare and teach a full timetable to large cohorts of mixed ability students, on top of the marking, reporting and the many other responsibilities teachers are expected to fulfil. I fear not. I also realised that I was not alone in those
sessions. Yes, I had to engage the students and teach the subject well, but a whole team of people had come together for these sessions to work so effectively – from the school administrators to the classroom teachers. My “success” relied not solely on the preparation
I had undertaken, but on everyone else who formed part of the two sessions. Yet, it is exactly this focus on teamwork that
is missing from the current media furore on education. We see all the problems and we see suggested solution after solution after solution, but what we do not see is the context and fabric of life in schools. Take Jamie Oliver and his Channel 4 programme
Dream School for instance – and I will talk about this show more thoroughly in my next column on
April 7. Celebrity experts are brought in to engage and teach students in their chosen field to varying degrees of success. Much as with my own recent experiences in the classroom, the experts teach in a kind of educational vacuum: no reports, no marking, no inspections to worry about. Not even a follow up lesson to plan. The celebrities may be experts in their fields, but
how expert are they in the day-to-day running of a classroom and the multiple skills and relationships involved in doing this? Similarly, the Classroom Warriors
or ex-soldiers brought in to teach in BBC Panorama’s recent documentary, in which Teacher Support Network’s own 2010 Behaviour Survey was referred to, are clearly adept at maintaining discipline in the forces, but how adept are they really at the complexities of teaching mixed ability classes? One such teacher in Peterborough spoke recently about the large amount of learning and
adaptation that was necessary to make the transition. To be clear, I am happy whenever
teaching and education are brought into the spotlight. However, we know from the calls that we receive to our support lines and from our own surveys and research that a
lot of teachers feel that the public perception of them as a whole is poor, which can impact upon issues
in the classroom such as discipline. What does it mean then if we are saying that celebrities or soldiers – or whichever group is next judged to be suitable – are better for the job than teachers?
How can we expect teachers to be truly valued
and supported if we continue to say that anyone can do the job? We are putting teaching into the spotlight ourselves
this weekend with the charity gala performance of teacher Vivienne Franzmann’s award-winning play Mogadishu on Saturday (March 19). Call 020 7697 2754 to book discounted tickets.
• Julian Stanley is chief executive of the Teacher Support Network. Visit www.teachersupport.info
or call 08000 562 561 (England), 08000 855088 (Wales). Moral support returns in April.
Could helping teenagers to understand more about
mental health offer a vital lifeline? Dr Stephanie Thornton discusses the problem of teenage mental health issues and suicide
of your life – and all of this in a world beset by worrying threats from terrorism to climate change, unemployment, recession... So it is hardly surprising that a many of our young
are stressed. Anxiety and depression, eating disorders, conduct disorders, drug and alcohol abuse, extremes of risk-taking, and post-traumatic stress disorders are rife. Adolescence, too, is the time when disorders with some genetic basis begin to emerge: bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and the like. Government statistics suggest that around 10 per
cent of teenage girls have mental health problems at any one time. And though we tend to assume that girls have more such problems than boys, the reverse is true. Over 13 per cent of teenage boys have real mental health problems. These figures may even underestimate the gender
difference: teenage boys are three times more likely to commit suicide – the extreme expression of mental distress – than girls. Strikingly, suicidal boys are far less likely than suicidal girls to have reached out for help from the health services: only 12 per cent of such boys had seen a doctor about their troubles, by comparison with 20 per cent of girls. And overall, the young are far less likely to reach out for medical help than their
elders: only 14 per cent of suicidal teenagers seek help, as opposed to 26 per cent of adults.
So how can we help the young to deal with the stresses and strains of adolescence and the mental health problems that those things can generate?
Supporting adolescents with mental health problems
Not understanding the causes of mental health problems, the young may fail to interpret their own experiences in that way. They may even believe that they are uniquely – and shamefully – afflicted. Key steps in helping the young are to help them identify the signs that they might need help; to help them understand how those reactions relate to experience; to understand that real help is possible.
Discuss the kinds of feeling that may indicate that one needs support and help: • Persistently feeling very anxious or very angry. • Not being able to let go of a hurt, a loss, a bereavement. • Thinking your mind is out of your control. • Finding yourself craving alcohol or drugs. • Obsessive dieting/eating/exercise. • Wanting to hurt others or destroy things. • Doing reckless things that could harm you or others.
Engage them in talking about the kinds of things that might make anyone feel like this: • Such as difficult social circumstances of the kinds many meet. • The particular stresses which rise through adolescence. • The special worries of a given community, a given generation. • Even watching someone else in trouble (being bullied, for example) can cause this kind of mental distress.
• Emphasise: distress and the mental health problems that it may lead to can happen to anyone.
Talk about the kinds of support there are for those with mental health problems:
• Bust a few myths: it is not all strait-jackets, drugs and One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest!
• First steps in support may be as simple as talking things over with someone who can help put things in a healthy perspective. There may be someone in the school who is particularly appropriate to approach.
• Talking things over and gaining more constructive new perspectives is the key to most effective therapies.
• There is no stigma in taking such help: look at all the celebrities who do it.
DOLESCENCE IS a tricky time. There is pressure to do well in school, to be popular, to manage the complexities of growing independence while still living in a family, to make important decisions that will affect the rest
SecEd • March 17 2011
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