Teach North

Teach North nominated a number of 2019-20 trainees for NASBTT’s ‘hero trainees’ campaign: In the second of two Q&A features with their trainees, we spoke to James Underwood and Marcus Amber.

You were nominated as a ‘hero trainee’ for your work at your placement school during the national lockdown. Can you tell us a little bit about the school, and what you enjoyed about being on placement there?

James: “My placement school in South Yorkshire has a heavy intake of deprived students, but my interactions with the students of this school were what I came to enjoy about being on placement the most. The students were initially challenging, but once I had earned their trust they were all amazing. This trust was developed by constantly being there each day with a smile, hello, consistency and the occasional reminder of expectations. Also, I could not have asked to have worked with a better department who all supported me throughout; they picked me up when I was down and praised me when I was doing well. My mentor was inspirational and modelled to me everything that a teacher should be.”

Marcus: “My second placement was at Outwood Academy Carlton. I felt like a part of the team from day one. The academy was extremely supportive – I never once felt like there was such a thing as a silly question to ask of anyone. I was supported 100%, through good lessons and more challenging ones.”

During the national lockdown, new challenges were faced and overcome by teachers and trainees across the country. What was the biggest challenge you faced, and how did you overcome this?

James: “The biggest challenge I faced was the change that can occur swiftly and at random. One day I could teach a class of 30, and the next there may only be 15 students in front of me. The entire operation of a school could alter overnight due to new guidelines and it is very easy to feel overwhelmed. An equally important challenge was providing students with work whilst they were self-isolating or in lockdown. This was overcome by amazing support from my whole department.”

Marcus: “The biggest challenge for me was keeping in touch with fellow trainees, who had been my support network throughout the teacher training year. I missed checking in on how they were doing and what their plans were. This was overcome by moving to video chat platforms such as Zoom: it wasn’t as fun, but we made the best of it.”

Your work supporting your academy during lockdown was fantastic. What were you up to during this time, and how did you continue to interact with students and teachers?

James: “I stepped up to cover lessons due to staff self-isolating. I also took on the role as a Vertical Monitoring Group (VMG) tutor and used VMG and lesson time to reassure nervous students. I also helped to create take-home packs for students unable to work online and I continued to set and mark work in Google Classroom, the online platform used within the academy to provide work for students who were unable to be in school due to closures. It was a challenging time, but a rewarding experience, and I learnt a lot.”

Marcus: “During this time I tried to keep as much contact as possible with the academy to ensure that if they needed support I was there. It also kept me informed with what was happening within school. This consisted of both online video meetings with my mentor and my department, and regular conversations.”

Lockdown has shown us new ways of working. Did you learn anything new that you have used since in your classroom or teaching?

James: “The thing I learnt, like many teachers (new and experienced), was the use of technology: firstly, to allow students to access work from home; and secondly, to make lessons more engaging in the first place.”

Marcus: “One thing it has made me realise is the importance of classroom management and how the body is an educational tool. I am still looking for ways in which to find the same sort of impact with students while still maintaining social distancing. I learn new skills every day.”

How has the new academic year started for you? What has your day-to-day work involved?

James: “Being a nomadic teacher is challenging this year as you have to travel to different areas of the schools, set up your lesson and settle your classroom in a limited amount of time, but we are all adjusting to this ‘new normal’. I also worried about the workload of a 20-hour timetable when I only taught 12 hours for a limited time due to the school closure, but have found I spend less time planning lessons than I did as a trainee. You stop over-planning and you quickly learn what works and what doesn’t.”

Marcus: “The new academic year, for me, has started by working within a school to further my professional development. I am now starting to put into practice everything I have learnt through training with Outwood, and gradually creating my own style of teaching. It is an exciting time.”

Finally, what advice do you have to pass on to trainees who are currently on placement or starting their placements this academic year?

James: “At times being a trainee will feel daunting and you will question everything about your practice. You will make mistakes, and you will have moments where everything clicks for your students. You will strive for perfection, but there is no such thing as a perfect lesson. All I can recommend is you roll your sleeves up and give it your all, day in and day out. You will receive some knocks and you will earn triumphs, but you will soon recognise the small transformation occurring in your students. Then you will realise it is all worth it.”

Marcus: “Never ever forget your coffee cup!”





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