Back to School

If you’re reading this, you probably either; a) have experienced initial teacher training in the past or b) are currently going through the process. This blog post is predominantly directed at those wonderful people currently grafting their way through category b). However, some of us category a) lot might appreciate a few little reminders of what we set out to do all those decades/years/months ago.
Now I really wanted to start things off with a nice, inspirational quote from the Capel & Whitehead classic “Learning to teach Physical Education in the Secondary School”. I can’t do this however as the minute I eventually got it back from last year’s ITT student, the current one got it. So I’ll start with my own…
“I teach because I love kids”; Chris Horner, 2004 on his 1st public speaking engagement as an NQT (Wath Comprehensive School Sports Awards).
Now this bold statement raised a few eyebrows. Mainly because lots of the 300 or so parents were not quite sure if that meant this baby-faced, hair-straightener-abusing prettyboy was fiddling with their kids. Of course not. I meant it then and I stick by it now, I love kids. If you don’t, why are you reading this? And what’s more, why are you interested in teaching?
I wanted to teach because of Steve Creek. Because of Steve Cooksey. Dave Ridley, Rob Moxon, Ian Evans, Sil Williams, Dave Bestford, Liz Hague and Eric Sampson. We all had our inspirational teachers at school. We’ll all remember them for the rest of our lives. These people inspired me and countless others in and around my generation and help shape our futures from a young age.
All of the staff listed above were/are fantasic teachers in their own right. All of them managed this without having instant access to ICT. None had an iPad. None of them used technology other than perhaps an overhead projector with acetates – remember those?! (The only one of them who used the term “app” was Liz Hague; simply because, as a cockney, it was her way of pronouncing the word “up”). These guys were/are good at doing their jobs and became good at doing so without the use of the technology we now make use of every day. It is with this in mind that I wanted to try and strip teaching back – and PE in particular.
Before I upset everyone, I’d like to mention that I really like technology. I like gadgets. Be it for personal use or in the classroom, I like things that can do fancy stuff – it’s great when some of these toys are useful in lessons. I tend to use some gadgets on a regular basis in order to enhance the learning experience for the kids I teach. Having said this, I am a little concerned that all I seem to hear about lately is technology in PE. At a recent PE teachmeet, I would estimate that around 30-40 of those 120 in attendance, were ITT students. I couldn’t help but feel that some of them might have gone home feeling a little bit baffled that they’d just sat through a few hours of PE specific CPD – without one single mention of a practical/activity based idea. They must have thought they’d stumbled upon an ICT convention rather than the collective bunch of jocks they were hoping for. I felt like a bit of a hypocrite having myself presented on the use of video analysis software, when really this kind of stuff is what I’d call the “icing” rather than the “cake”. Now this blog post isn’t about lesson plan ideas, activities or drills. It’s about the basics of teaching that those wonderful people listed earlier practised so well.
So, with this in mind, what can I pull together to offer unto the next generation of PE practitioners? I thought back to all those lessons I’ve been in throughout my youth, along with quite a few since. (I also enlisted the help of four of our most recent Northumbria University SCITT trainees.)
Relationships with kids
I can always remember a guy who taught me shouting “I’m not here to be liked!” Fair enough, but it doesn’t half make it easier if you are. Kids will respond much better to staff they like. If you don’t form positive relationships, you won’t teach well. PE obviously lends itself well to relationship building; extra-curricular activities are a great way of meeting the kids and finding out something about them. Oh and if you don’t like kids – don’t be a teacher
Class Management
I put together a class/behaviour management session with our ITT students this September. It’s not on every school’s priority list at the moment but it absolutely baffles me when I hear members of staff giving it “the big one” about their pedagogy-this, unpacking-that, scaffolding-t’other; when the kids are running rings round them because their class management is weak. Sort this out early doors (future blog on its way). Yr 11 were highlighted by ITT students as being a tough group of kids to crack. They’ve been at the school a lot longer than you, they know what they can/can’t get away with – it’s important to follow school policies and procedures.
Beg, Steal, Borrow, Observe
One of my biggest worries when I went through PGCE (and NQT) year was “What if I run out of ideas?” Most PE trainees will have shown a modicum of sporting prowess in at least one field. You will probably have done some kind of Level 1 coaching badge in order to blag your way onto the course. At some point however, you will either a) exhaust your “drills bank” or b) be asked to teach something you know nothing about. For me, this happened in Rugby Union. I could teach League standing on my head, but having despised the “other” form of the game for the 1st 22 years of my life, I had no idea what I was doing. What do you do? Get out of the office/workroom and watch others. Everybody. Watch as many teachers as you can; teaching as many different activities as possible. The vast majority of my lessons will contain something that has at least in part, been bastardised from something I’ve watched somebody else doing. As highlighted by Pete Hall (thanks Pete), nobody minds sharing their stuff with you. Whether it’s a lesson plan, an idea, a paper resource – people are there to help you during your early career – if they’re not helpful, they want sacking.
Experiment/take risks
Once you’ve been doing a job for a while, it can be difficult to keep reinventing yourself, your approach, methods or style. To be fair, we could all take a leaf out of Kylie and Madonna’s books here – if we can be as fresh and innovatve at 65 as those two, we’ll be OK. During PGCE year and into NQT, you are in a perfect position to have a go at something weird and wonderful. If it dies on its arse, so what? “Take risks, there’s no better time to do so” (Graeme Seddon). As we get older, we tend to stay well within our comfort zone – it’s an age thing, don’t play it safe during ITT.
Get kids active
Why do kids tend to enjoy PE? Because they’ve been cooped up in a classroom all day, listening, answering, writing. They want to run, jump, throw, kick, catch, hit things and move. A few years ago I was heavily criticised by an HMI (another bought-in mini-inspection) because my lesson was simply not active enough. I’d gone ridiculously overboard, trying to incorporate loads of paper-based thinking, planning and peer assessment into a Yr8 Basketball lesson. She came along, observed 20 minutes and hammered me because the kids weren’t getting a sweat on. I completely agreed with her and haven’t made the mistake since. PE is a practical subject. We do (like it or not) have a responsibility for getting kids active and encouraging healthy lifestyles. Some of our kids will use their PE lessons as their only form of activity in their lives. With this in mind, use lesson time appropriately.
Be Creative – make things Engaging
One of my pet hates is seeing a lesson on (insert generic invasion ball game here) – it’s on passing by the way – two lines of kids, standing still, passing the ball between them. I mean, come on; would you want to do that?! Do something different; think of what happens in a game situation. What could you do to make it more interesting? When I plan an activity, I’ll usually think “right, if I was a kid, would I enjoy doing this?” If the answer is “No”, scrap it because the kids will hate it. This obviously doesn’t just apply to practical lessons – if you’re trying to teach a theoretical concept, how could you make it more interesting? Think back to your science lessons with Sil Williams; what did you always ask? “Miss, can we do a practical?” Kids like to DO stuff, not just sit, read, listen and write. To quote my enigmatic friend Paul Taylor (and Confucius) “tell me and I forget, show me and I remember, involve me and I understand…”
Decide who you want to be
One of my 1st bits of advice to ITT students is “don’t copy me or anyone else”. I even put it in the CLV SCITT Student’s Placement Survival Guide (available on request). It’s not like I’m the character-plagiarism police or anything, but you’ve got to find your own style. I cannot teach like Dave Paterson or Paul Steanson, so I don’t try. Likewise, if a student tried to emmulate my own bizarre mannerisms, the kids would probably wonder what the hell they were doing. As one of my informants tells me; “it’s important to feel relaxed” in lessons. You can’t do this if you’re acting like someone else. Try to pick out key characteristics of good teachers (people paid a lot more than me would call them “Effective Teacher Behaviours”) and assimilate them into your own personal style.
Use a structure and teach to it
I’m lucky teaching at my school in that the “Cramlington Cycle” has been around for several years. I can use the same structure in lessons as the rest of the staff. Kids get used to this and it makes it easier to establish routines. Sounds ridiculously simple, but at our place all lessons start with a “Connect” activity – a “bellwork” activity if you like. If kids have something engaging to do when they enter the room – it’s a nice little set-up for the rest of the lesson; not rocket science (unless you’re teaching rocket science). If your school (or placement school) doesn’t have a structure to lesson planning, maybe they should get one; you’ll have to establish your own. If they have a set structure, teach to it, it’ll probably make a big difference.
Get some strings for your bow
If you’re on an ITT programme right now, you got it more difficult than anybody who trained before ever did. When I trained, jobs were plentiful and you could almost take your pick. Naming no names, but some absolute nuggets from my course got jobs. In recent years, I’ve seen some of the best students I’ve encoutered struggle to land a permanent position. With this in mind, you need to be looking at what else you can offer. Do you know anything about educational issues? Do you critically evaluate your teaching? Do you blog? (There’s a few guys out there who do who aren’t even qualified yet). What can you offer a school that’s over-and-above your job description? In a world where jobs are at a premium, you’ve got to make yourself stand out. It’s not about being a bullshitter or a yes-man, it’s about being a desirable prospective employee.
Having just looked back at the points above, I genuinely could argue that most of it would be as applicable to qualified teachers as it is to ITT students. Maybe in the 21st Century climate of “embracing technology”, we shouldn’t neglect our bread and butter. Let’s use tecky stuff wisely eh? It can be so useful and make good teachers great. But if you’re not effective, it isn’t going to do it for you.
The best bit of advice I received from our ITT students-past was “enjoy it”. How apt that I finish with this then; we got into this profession because “we love kids”. I didn’t get into teaching because of anything else. If you enjoy working with kids and educating them – keep enjoying it. The minute that you stop – look at why you aren’t enjoying it and fix it – or get out.