Teach North

Teach North nominated a number of 2019-20 trainees for NASBTT’s ‘hero trainees’ campaign. In the first of two Q&A features, we caught up with some of these trainees to discuss their experiences. First up are Alana Ward, Aimee Dixon and Courtney Bethell.

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?

Alana: “My placement school was Outwood Academy Shafton. The school has a brilliant team spirit in normal times; however, during the pandemic and lockdown, the school had a great support network and really pulled together as a team. I loved my placement. The science department is amazing. The support in and out of the department was more than I could have asked for. The students are a pleasure to teach, they remember so much about you as a teacher and always say hello or smile in corridors.”

Aimee: “My second placement was at Outwood Grange Academy. I loved my placement at this school; I was made to feel really welcome by all members of staff across all departments and roles in the academy. The support I received from both the DT department and trainee co-ordinators was fantastic. I was able to observe, team teach and teach independently in a variety of material areas. I was encouraged to research and try new strategies and not to be afraid of getting it wrong. This continued during lockdown and beyond. This positive attitude they embraced has encouraged me ever since.”

Courtney: “I completed my placement with Outwood Primary Academy Greystone (OPAG) in Ripon. I chose to train through Outwood as I was a student myself at Outwood Academy Ripon and the vision of the Trust really resonated with me. The ethos of ‘children first’ is something which really rings true at OPAG; the students are not only supported academically but also developed as well-rounded people due to the school’s amazing approaches to mental health, community and inclusion. The community spirit in the school was my favourite aspect of training. They have amazing connections to care homes, various charitable organisations and the local cathedral. It was not just the outside connections that made OPAG such a lovely place to train, but the staff too, who are so supportive and are like their own little family.”

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?

Alana: “The biggest challenge was the uncertainty. I had secured my NQT position so I was very fortunate. It was in my last placement school, so I still wanted to keep in the loop as much as I could. I was super nervous about September and what it was going to be like. During lockdown and the summer holidays, there was a lot of time to think about what September was going to be like and creating all kinds of scenarios in my head. I overcame this through the support from the science department at Outwood Academy Shafton and my mentor. We had meetings before the summer holidays, and I knew I could ask any questions I had and that no question would be too much.”

Amy: “One of the biggest challenges I found was not being in the classroom with the students and still wanting to provide learning and support to them. I overcame this with excellent support from my department in weekly meetings. They guided me and encouraged me to learn with them on how to teach virtually. I threw myself into this, helping to contribute as and when I could. Seeing the amazing work that the students were uploading was a great feeling.”

Courtney: “There were so many different challenges during lockdown for the education community, the impact of which is still being felt. For me, the biggest challenge was the lack of a final training placement. Though I had the amazing opportunity to support my local primary academy, I lacked the opportunity to experience the stage of teaching where practitioners come into their own and develop their independence in the classroom, becoming less reliant on support from mentors and host teachers. I am very fortunate that I was still able to engage with young people during this time, but it was far from a ‘normal’ classroom experience.”

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?

Alana: “Google Classroom was the main way. I had been added to the Google Classrooms of the classes I was teaching during my placement. I would reply to students’ comments or give them positive comments when they had completed their work to help keep the interaction between me and my students which was so important during lockdown. It also helped students to stay engaged. I got stuck in with some of the STEM activities we had set, finding all kinds of household stuff to make a ‘Density Tower’. Up until the summer holidays, we had weekly department meetings. This was important as it meant we could all stay in touch and support one another. It really kept the team spirit going.”

Aimee: “I joined weekly department meetings, contributing to ideas and acting on tasks to help deliver content to students during the lockdown period and by preparing content for the current academic year. I gave feedback to KS3 students though Google Classroom, helping them to develop and encouraging them to continue with their great efforts. I contributed to whole school virtual assemblies with recipes and designers of the week, in order to encourage students to get creative at home.”

Courtney: “I was due to return to OPAG for my final placement the week that lockdown was announced. It was not even a question for me if I would offer my help, as this school had supported me so much in my first placement. I offered to come in and work with the children who continued to attend the academy due to their parents being key workers. Initially, it was trying to maintain as much routine as possible for the children, with online classwork, daily exercise and pastoral support. The staff were on a rota as we had lower numbers of students in school. I worked with the same staff members every week, maintaining social distance. As the school began to open up again to various bubbles, I stayed with those children of key workers and specifically worked with a child on a one-to-one basis who needed additional support to complete their online lessons and to try to bridge the gap of lost learning time – vital for this particular student. During this time, I worked with one other member of staff, and between us we supported children from school years 2-5. We tried our utmost to keep the children smiling with engaging activities, even dressing up as Disney characters on the final day of term as a treat to surprise the children.”

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

Alana: “I knew nothing about Google Classroom before lockdown. We use Google Classroom and Google Meet so much now to ensure all students are able to engage with lessons, and to provide both in-person and remote learning for our students. This helps us provide high-quality education for all students, so I am really glad I had the chance to practice before using it in September. I still add positive comments to students when they complete their homework.”

Aimee: “Lockdown gave me the opportunity to learn the basics of Google Classroom, Google Meet and in providing feedback online. I have since further developed these skills and this has helped me to embed my blended learning strategies for students at home and in class.”

Courtney: “Due to the nature of schooling during the lockdown, there has been an influx of amazing online resources which can further support learning alongside teacher input. My current class really enjoys the various videos on BBC Bitesize which explain different aspects of grammar in a humorous and entertaining way and the quizzes which come alongside this.”

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

Alana: “So much better than I thought. Staff have been amazing and so supportive. The students have responded so well to the change and have adapted so well. I could not work in a better school. The days are super busy and moving around is hectic. But I have not known any different because I was moving around in my training year, so I have adapted well to it.”

Aimee: “The new academic year has been exciting and scary all at the same time. My days include trying out new ways of working with the students online and in the classroom. I have been lucky enough to have students participating in practical food, textiles and product design lessons. This year has taught me to embrace change and adapt on my feet. Every week shows new challenges which I am enjoying – making the most of providing education in many forms.”

Courtney: “I was offered a fantastic opportunity to support a local school in Ripon at the start of this academic year. My position is a maternity cover role, but due to the nature of the last few months, I started in September with my current class as a Higher Level Teaching Assistant in order to provide some continuity for the children. Initially, my role involved supporting the children in the classroom through interventions and challenge sessions. It also involved mucking in and getting involved with cleaning, in order to keep our children and families safe. Now that I am a class teacher, I have taken on the main teaching responsibilities. I still have a duty to support the school in being a Covid secure environment; by making sure the children are quarantining their reading books and various equipment after use, marking with PPE and maintaining the bubbles within the school to ensure that we keep our school community as safe as possible. I have really enjoyed my first few weeks in school and I am incredibly lucky that the class sizes have been decreased in order to support our Covid secure aims. This gives me more opportunities to support specific students in bridging the gaps from lost learning time. I doubt that many other NQTs can say that their first-ever class, in a city centre school, was made up of only 15 children.”

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

Alana: “Try not to be too harsh on yourself. You are doing your best! This year is going to be very hard, but surely no other year can be as hard as this one. Use your support around you, everyone wants you to do well and will not judge you.”

Aimee: “Enjoy yourself! Take care of yourself and embrace change. Don’t be afraid to get it wrong (advice you give your own students) and if something goes less well than you hoped, take it as an opportunity to learn and grow. Good luck!”

Courtney: “Do not be afraid to ask for help. I feel like this is something I wish I had felt confident enough to do sooner. Your training year is a difficult year and I imagine that training during lockdown will be doubly difficult. If you are struggling, you have a whole network of support. Talk to your mentor, host teachers, NQTs in your schools who have been through exactly what you have been through. Don’t suffer in silence. Finally, enjoy it and take in as much as you can. You will never be a trainee again after this year, take the opportunities to observe other teachers in your school, make note of ideas and approaches which you really like, and enjoy working with the kids because they make this all worthwhile.”







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