Ask the Experts

Dr Kelly Richens – Secondary Biology

I felt a fraud when I won ‘Secondary Teacher of the Year award’ in 2018. Bear with me here, this is not me bragging (to be fair it was only a local ceremony we are not talking national here!)  but initially I didn’t understand why I had: my chemistry and biology teaching were fine, but sometimes I was literally just ahead in the physics. So why had I won? The answer is this: because I am a human-first teacher, a phrase coined from the amazing Jaz Ampaw-Farr. Students liked being in my class because I was so explicit in my care for them, how valued they are, how much I enjoyed being their teacher. I told them every day, I had posters and chalk pen writings on my walls and windows, it was inescapable. I just wish I’d known this as a trainee, the power of kindness. Because then I would have known that being human, making mistakes, the whole journey of being fallible and vulnerable is ok and I might not have been so terrified: if I’d known then I was equipped with this superpower, to make others feel good, to change their trajectories, I think I would have been kinder to myself too and this would have helped the drudgery of the training year. My trainees are all inducted with the human-first idea and it is pervasive in their training and it is what gets them through the tough times. One trainee recently told me she was really struggling and was considering giving up but had run an activity I had asked them to do with their new classes called ‘I wish my teacher knew that….’(from During this ‘human-first’ activity, one of her students passed her two sticky notes: the first was ‘I struggle to be organised and need help’, the second was ‘I wish my teacher knew she was amazing’. My trainee went home with tears in her eyes, but a full heart and new resolve that this really was why we do it. It is my belief all trainee teachers should be made aware of their superpower: 100% of trainees ‘want to make a difference’ we just need to give them the advice to make this totally explicit to their students.

Vicky Gould – Primary English

I wish I had known that time is a great teacher and trainees must set reasonable expectations with regards to their development. The complexity and intricacy of primary English should not be underestimated, and trainees must allow themselves time to reflect, explore and experiment. I think it is essential that trainees have a good understanding of age-appropriate quality texts which ignite children’s curiosity, as well as exposing our learners to new concepts. The training year is all about exploring learning opportunities and using feedback to your advantage. The main point I would stress is that perfection is not the aim of the year, improvement is.  Try everything, take risks and celebrate successes!

Helen Ostell – Primary and Secondary Physical Education

How to switch off.

Susan Ogier – Primary Art and Design

One thing I wish I had known as a trainee teacher was that that nothing you do is ever wasted! Even if your lesson doesn’t go as planned – it might even be disastrous!- but because learning to be a teacher is a dynamic process, those challenges can make us stronger. Just like being an artist, in fact!

Tim Bold – Secondary Physics

This was a very long time ago, and the training was much less focused than it is now. I really wish I had known more about misconceptions in science learning (including my own – either from poor teaching or just misunderstanding on my part which was never picked up on). One of the first things I share with trainees is that I only really started to understand my subject (as opposed to “do it”) was when I started to teach it, and that I am still learning about my subject nearly 40 years later (because students can still ask questions I have never considered).
I also wish I’d known that its sometimes OK to admit to your students that you don’t know the answer.

Harmeet Sahota – Secondary Computing

To be mindful how much time I spent on creating video and screenshot based resources. With the nature of Computing, our subject is unique in how it evolves and the rate that software changes its user interface can quickly make your resources obsolete. By all means create high quality resources, but be prepared to create new materials year on year.

Kit Rackley – Secondary Geography

That perfection, or even striving for perfection is not just unobtainable it’s also detrimental. I was too worried about trying to teach the perfect lesson each time, with the best outcomes for all students with every single one of them behaving. I found that very stressful. I had to discover for myself that it’s ok to just through the motions from time to time, have a standard lesson that isn’t all singing and dancing (the kids will appreciate it!). Also to show your fallacies and vulnerabilities to come across human to the students. If you don’t know, you don’t know. If you make a mistake or feel you came down too harsh on a student, own it and say sorry. Show you can make mistakes but you can react to them positively. This sets you up to be a strong role model for the students, but also shows that you’re human and that you treat them as human beings too.

Catherine Bickersteth – Primary History

A teacher has to allow time to build positive relationships with each child they teach, and not to underestimate the impact that you have on each individual.

Julia Mackintosh – Primary Geography

The benefits of engaging with all development opportunities offered to you at the start of your teaching career. When you are tired and time is short, you may feel that time is better spent planning lessons and marking work. But observing other teachers, being a part of moderation activities or attending CPD sessions will provide you with so many more resources and experiences to develop your understanding of teaching and learning. Long-term, it is worth the effort!

Helen Snelson – Secondary History

One from so many?! OK, the one I will pick is the joy of finding that becoming a better history’ teacher is an endless quest. And that you learn from colleagues in school, the wider subject community, public and academic history, and, above all, from your pupils. I worried when I started it could get boring – it doesn’t!

Sarah Vaughan – Primary Computing

One thing I wish I had known as a trainee is how different computing can be in different school settings. From differences in hardware such as ipads or chromebooks to limited devices and wifi available and knowing how to adapt teaching for this. Understanding both computational thinking as the basis of computing and the power of unplugged teaching, teaching without devices, enables trainees to have the skills to be able to adapt to different settings.

Kirsty Wilcockson – Secondary Music

That there is already an inherent understanding of my subject within all of us and, if as a trainee, you can tap into that then you will go far!

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