Wednesday, 17 May 2017

From application to induction – Dave Stephenson


In December 2015 I was working as Assistant Inclusion Manager in a secondary school within the West Yorkshire Teaching Alliance. I enjoyed this role immensely but knew that moving into the classroom was the way forward. I had been contemplating applying for the Schools Direct training programme for some time and had enough in-school experience to feel confident in my application. With the encouragement of my colleagues, I submitted my application on the last day of term before Christmas.

The application process was swift and expertly facilitated by Clare, West Yorkshire Teaching Alliance Manager, and Heidi, Initial Teacher Training Secondary Manager. On the first day back after the Christmas holiday, I was required to deliver a twenty minute lesson in my chosen subject (History) before sitting down with Clare and Heidi for an interview. Prior to planning my mini-lesson, I found out which year group I would be working with (in this case year 8) and researched the topics that they had recently been studying. I decided to focus on the English Civil War, designing an activity that involved identifying which side various historical figures would have fought for based on evidence that I provided. My main concern prior to the lesson had been about filling the entire twenty minutes, but this proved to be baseless – if anything, I struggled to fit the entire activity into the allotted time. With hindsight, it was the quickest twenty minutes of my life. I was pleased with the outcome of the lesson; the students seemed engaged and the planned learning objective had been achieved.

I found the interview to be far less nerve-wracking than the lesson (children really are harsher critics than adults), and Clare and Heidi immediately put me at ease. The questions explored my areas of interest within my subject, my previous experiences in education and a self-critique of the lesson that I had just delivered. The atmosphere was relaxed and friendly, and it was a nice opportunity to discuss my hopes for my future career and raise any concerns that I had. I was told that I had been successful within days of my interview and my place on the course was confirmed.

The nine months between my application and the start of the course involved a great deal of preparation but I was guided the entire way by the WYTA team. Perhaps the most stressful aspect was the undertaking of skills tests in numeracy and literacy. Literacy has always been a passion of mine, yet numeracy has never been one of my strengths. To prepare, I asked a Maths teacher friend to tutor me in the areas that the test would cover, working from the book Passing the Numeracy Skills Test by Mark Patmore. My advice to future applicants would be to prepare yourself fully before undertaking the tests, especially if you lack confidence in a particular area. The tests are very difficult and applicants are only allowed three attempts, so failing to pass can derail your place on the course before it has even begun. This was the hardest part of the entire process and one that I was glad to get out of the way.

Dave

Dave Stephenson is a School Direct PGCE student at West Yorkshire Teaching Alliance. This was originally posted on the WYTA ITT blog and is published with kind permission.

What are professional skills tests? 

In this blog, we answer three of the most frequently asked questions.

Monday, 15 May 2017

My biggest achievement so far - Lucian Huxley-Smith


The moment when I smiled the widest was when I got a child to write for the first time I'd ever seen them write. After three months of trying to get them to write. That was my biggest achievement so far, I think.

Coming into teaching I thought that, if I didn't provide every student I met with a C or with the highest grade they can possibly get, I'd be failing, and I've soon realised that's not necessarily the case at all. If you can get that person who's never picked up a pen in front of you to pick up a pen and write, then you've achieved something huge. If you can get across the importance of a comma or a full-stop to someone who's previously not even understood what those concepts are, that's huge. You are making a difference to people's lives potentially on a daily basis, and that's massive.

We all remember our best teachers from school and, when you're in the bubble of teaching, it’s very easy to forget that you could be that teacher; that someone could have walked away from your lesson that day with a thought they're going to keep for the rest of their life. It's important to recognise those small wins, because actually they're not small, they're massive to that individual.

Right now, I certainly intend to stay with teaching. Any other job I've ever done I have probably loathed a good 60% of it. Of course, there are tough times as a teacher, but actually I love about 80% of it. The lows are hard, but the highs always make it worth it, unquestionably.

When I was script-writing I was happy, but there's a great unknown, there's no measure of your impact. With teaching, any time I mark a book, any time I see a kid smile at something, I see that impact on a daily basis.

I've grown up more the last nine months than I think had for the previous nine years. I'm much better organised than I ever used to be. I now no longer feel that any challenge is insurmountable. I'm filled with a greater confidence that, anything that comes my way, I will be able to take it on. It may not be easy, but that doesn't mean it's not doable. I can do anything I really want to turn my hand to. It's just a matter of overcoming those initial stumbling blocks.

I have felt supported every step of the way. I've never felt left alone at any time with Teach First. Any time I'm feeling like I'm struggling to meet the challenge, other participants are your key network. We all have a common goal and having that support network is unquestionably one of the most useful things I have. We go for a beer, discuss what went well, moreover what didn't go so well, and have that common understanding that we're all going through this together.

Lucian

Lucian Huxley-Smith is a former script-writer who is now teaching English in London. This was originally posted by Teach First and is published with kind permission.

If you liked this…

Shane and Janie share their stories about why they chose a career in teaching:
 
 

Tuesday, 9 May 2017

Five tips for preparing a UCAS personal statement – what every parent needs to know

This is the part of the university application process which causes a great deal of stress to teens – not to mention distress to their parents, who may not feel in the mood for an in-depth analysis of their son/daughter’s career prospects when they are trying to cook tea or put out the bins!

The truth is, we are ill-equipped to give that advice, and therefore need to be careful what we say. This time last year, I was going through the personal statement process with my eldest daughter, so I thought I’d share my thoughts and experiences just in case you are going through the same right now.

The UCAS personal statement
I started off full of optimism that I would be a great asset to my daughter as she prepared this extraordinary piece of writing. It wasn’t long before she had to point out my paragraphs were peppered with clich├ęs, and I over-used the word ‘passionate’ – both of which are classic mistakes, apparently, so I turned out to be more of a liability than an asset.

Since then I have found this great summary of what not to do in personal statements, which I wish I had read a year ago.

Thankfully, the other adults advising my daughter were far more tuned-in, which brings me to my list of top tips.

Five top tips for preparing a UCAS personal statement
1. Your child’s school or college is where the expertise lies, so make sure they use it. They will probably be allocated a specific mentor or tutor for this, so make sure they keep in touch and submit draft after draft, until it’s perfect.

2. Don’t pay someone else to do it. It needs to sound like a 17 year old has written it – albeit with some guidance. Don’t be tempted to pay online to get one written for you. Your child will be questioned about their statement in interviews, and it’s important their personality shines through.

3. The word count is very strict (4,000 characters), so start off with a longer draft and then cut it down. It will take a long time. Estimate how long you think it will take, multiply this by four, and you may be somewhere close.

4. Three main areas MUST be covered: why the course is right for your son/daughter, why they are right for the course, what extra-curricular activities they do, and how these activities are relevant to the course.

5. Perfect spelling, punctuation, and grammar is vital. A parent can help with this, or you can find someone else who can!

The main lesson I learnt
Your child will be expected to have a career path in mind, extra-curricular activities relevant to this career path, and a clear vision of how their chosen degree course will help them on the road to their career.

Quite rightly, teens often get a little spooked about being asked to fix their life’s journey at such a young age. The best thing to do is reassure them that things change; we can all have many changes of career throughout our lives. So, advise them to pick a direction and follow it until something comes along which makes them want to change. Help them explore as many potential career paths as possible.

Dr Sharon Parry is a Mum of three and a former public health research fellow. She now works as a freelance writer and shares useful tips and her thoughts and experiences of having kids in primary school, high school and university in Wales on her website www.aftertheplayground.com.

Top five food hygiene tips for freshers

Thousands of young adults fly the nest this month, as halls of residence up and down the country fill up with students. Many of them will be responsible for preparing their own food, which should not be a big deal if they’ve picked up a skill or two at home. Two things, however, are very different. They are now sharing a kitchen with complete strangers (who will admittedly become their friends in a week or so), and they do not have a parent overseeing their hygiene arrangements. This presents a few problems, so here are my five food hygiene tips for freshers, which I hope will keep them well.

1.   Do not reheat takeaway food
The obvious option for cash-strapped students! It saves them having to buy another meal, and avoids any sort of washing up. If they don’t get up until after lunch-time, chicken tikka masala or pepperoni pizza is an entirely appropriate meal to start the day. Tempting as it may be, don’t do it!

This food has spent the last 12 hours on the arm of the sofa/bottom of the bed/lounge floor, at the nice warm temperature pathogens love. So, by the time you come to eat it for the second time there could be millions of them. Yes, you can try to blast them with your shiny new microwave, but you will not necessarily reach them all, and will have no chance of getting rid of heat-stable toxins.

2.       Treat raw chicken as if it is nuclear waste
This should apply to all meat, but I have picked on chicken because it is a fairly cheap meat which comes in conveniently small portions, making it a popular choice with students. While stereotyping is quite rightly frowned upon in almost all walks of life, it is perfectly acceptable when it comes to food hygiene. Raw chicken is the bad guy, and you are perfectly within your rights to assume every piece of raw chicken is contaminated with bugs which can make you very ill. Don’t handle it much. Don’t put it on lots of surfaces. Do keep it wrapped up in its plastic tray and then empty it straight into the pan you are cooking it in. Then chuck the wrapping straight in the bin and wash your hands.

3.       Protect your cooked food
If raw chicken is the bad guy, cooked food is the vulnerable victim. It needs protection. Anything which goes straight into your mouth without going in the hob/oven/microwave falls into this category. Cover it up, put it in a sealed bowl. Buy cling film – lots of it. If it is not covered up, you do not know what your flatmates may accidentally drop on it or drag across it.

4.       Wash it before you use it
In an ideal kitchen, all utensils, cutlery, chopping boards and plates would be meticulously washed straight after use and put away. This is not what is going to happen in most student kitchens. Instead, you will find a chopping board skulking under three saucepans and a wok next to the sink. You do not know what it has been used for, so make assumptions and always think the worst. It may have been used to chop raw meat so don’t just grab it and use it. Wash it first.

5.       Keep it cold
Fridges in student accommodation are mainly used for drinks, chocolate and tomato ketchup. They may not be big enough for everyone to get all their food in. You need to adopt a nightclub-like priority system. Things like cooked ham and pasties are on the VIP list and get guaranteed entry. The pickled onions may make it in if numbers are low, but they shouldn’t get their hopes up.

I have made light of this advice, but food hygiene is no joke. I worked as an Environmental Health Officer for many years, and have investigated countless outbreaks of food poisoning where people have had their lives ruined by food-borne disease. It is preventable, so please do share these five food hygiene tips for freshers with your young adults.

Dr Sharon Parry is a Mum of three and a former public health research fellow. She now works as a freelance writer and shares useful tips and her thoughts and experiences of having kids in primary school, high school and university in Wales on her website www.aftertheplayground.com.

Exam stress season


Dr Sharon Parry is a Mum of three and a former public health research fellow. She now works as a freelance writer and shares useful tips and her thoughts and experiences of having kids in primary school, high school and university in Wales on her website www.aftertheplayground.com.‘Tis the season not to be jolly – otherwise known as the ‘exam stress season’. It’s like the flu season, but without the cough.

So here I am, juggling the very different needs of my three daughters, two of whom have exams this summer.

Here are the steps I have found useful in achieving a successful exam stress season. Let me be clear about what I mean by ‘successful’. I do not define success as every one of my children achieving straight A* grades in all subjects. I define success as them getting through the stress of exams safe and well, and being able to look back satisfied that they gave it their best shot. The rest is for fate and the public examination boards to sort out.

Exam sympathy
This is a point in my parenting life when I feel I am required to be unreservedly sympathetic. Some parents may want to tell their children exams were harder in their day, or had taken on ten paper rounds before they were out of nappies. Even if these things were true, I realise this is not the best time to talk about it. Exams are hard and can be gruelling. I find it helps to acknowledge this and state clearly my acceptance this is not a great time for teens. I also remind them it will not last forever, and a long summer break will soon be here – although I don’t mention results day is right in the middle of it!

Exam support
If you have some knowledge about the subjects your child is studying, it is tempting to become over-involved in the revision process, but this is not always helpful in the long term. The objective of this process is for your child to become an independent learner, so it may be useful to keep this in mind as you hog the textbooks.  Personally, I can be a complete pain in the neck when my kids are revising a subject which interests me, and I’m sure this is a constant source of irritation to them, but they humour me nevertheless.

On the other hand, don’t assume they will have everything available for the learning process. Revision skills are taught in most schools these days, but your teen may not have taken them on board. Therefore, you may want to encourage them to discover what works for them, and this is a matter of trial and error. I personally need to write everything down in note form when I am learning, and I also find it helpful to talk out loud as if I am explaining it to someone else. Some students find a whiteboard and pens useful, while others need a huge notebook. If you support them in their chosen revision method, at least it shows you respect the process and consider them mature enough to handle their own revision. If they can revise according to their own style it will be more productive, and perhaps even enjoyable, for them. They will NEVER admit this, however.

Exam structure
A perfectly structured family life is, in my experience, almost impossible to obtain. I can, however, see the benefits of everyone knowing what is happening and when. The timetables for public examinations are published well in advance and shared by schools and colleges. As soon as you get yours, pop the dates into your calendar or simply pin the timetable up in the kitchen where everyone can see it. That way you can plan family events without clashes.

A revision timetable really is essential, but can and should be flexible. Subjects can be broken down into sections or topics which can each be allocated a ‘session’. There should also be scheduled breaks. These are some of the reasons I find a timetable useful:

  1. It makes it easy to appreciate the quantity of work needed. Teens approaching public examinations for the first time sometimes underestimate the quantity of material they will have to plough through. This can lead to a last-minute panic. 
  2. It gives a psychological boost to teens who are floundering and overwhelmed, because it provides a clear path and much needed structure. 
  3. It shares out time between subjects, so your teens don’t become bogged down in one subject to the detriment of another. 
  4. It can give a sense of achievement if they stick to it. 
  5. If they don’t stick to it, this can give you or them an idea of how far behind they have got.

Exam supplies
My thoughts on this subject are very clear: if you are leaving your teen at home to revise, make sure there is plenty of reasonably healthy food in the house. This will prevent them from either starving to death or ordering several pizzas using your credit card details while you are out.

I know the official advice is to feed your child healthy brain-enhancing food at this time, and I feel this is absolutely the right thing to do. I also know there are moments in your life when you really have to have a chocolate biscuit, and halfway through an algebra equation is very likely to be one of those moments. So, once again, I try to reach a compromise. This is really not the time to have a blazing row over organic wholegrain crackers and humus.

Help with exam stress
There is no escaping the fact teens are put under a lot of pressure around exam time. Some will sail through with no problems, but others will struggle, and a few will become seriously affected by mental health issues.

There is plenty of help available if you are worried about your child’s exam stress. If you feel your child is really not coping with exams, and their physical or mental health is deteriorating, you should contact your GP, who will be able to give you some further advice. Organisations like ChildLine and Mind can also offer support and guidance.

Dr Sharon Parry is a Mum of three and a former public health research fellow. She now works as a freelance writer and shares useful tips and her thoughts and experiences of having kids in primary school, high school and university in Wales on her website www.aftertheplayground.com.