My teaching year: a warm welcome at my new school

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Lead practitioner Laura Tsabet explains how her year started with Wordsworth and the warmest of welcomes at a new workplace, and ended with a focus on high-quality direct instruction

The warm welcome from my new school

It was the third week of September. I had packed my bag and bundled my paddleboard into the boot of my car before leaving for a weekend break in the Lake District. It was time to figure out, once and for all, what Wordsworth was on about in The Prelude.

Heaving through the water like a swan, or rather like the poet on his little stolen boat, I paddled out into the middle of Ullswater and took in the idyllic surroundings. The area was mountainous and abundantly green, lit by rays from the summer sun – no sign of the huge black peak that troubled Wordsworth.

Yet, amid this picturesque landscape, like Wordsworth I felt how tiny and insignificant I was floating on the lake’s vast black waters. I left with a deep feeling of tranquillity and adoration for the outstanding natural beauty of the area but also a new respect for Wordsworth’s writing. And, more importantly, when I taught my GCSE classes the following week, I found it easier to convey the meaning behind the poem.

My pupils, many of whom haven’t even travelled out of Dorset, were excited to see my photos and hear about my experience. It truly was delightful that they were captivated by the poem and curious about this location, which was otherwise alien to them.

New beginnings

Having started a new school in September, I was overwhelmed by an abundance of information about new policies and procedures – and, worst of all, hundreds of new names to learn. In those first few weeks, exhausted, I frequently found myself grasping for a can of Coke in search of caffeine. However, the overwhelming feelings that come with being new to any school were quickly appeased by my inspiring colleagues, who welcomed me with open arms, instantly making me feel at home.

One highlight was when the vice-principal dropped into my Year 7 lesson to see how I was settling in. As I’d had no advanced warning, my heart stopped. I was in the middle of a sequence of literacy lessons using just the visualiser as a teaching tool.

What would she think of me using direct instruction with a class so young? Were the rules of sentence construction too mundane, not engaging enough? Would my role as lead practitioner be over before it had begun?

Thankfully, I had nothing to worry about. She saw the value in my approach and its impact on my pupils, and awarded me the “wine Friday” prize in our next staff briefing. As I was handed the bottle of sparkling rosé, I knew I had found the right school for me.

Looking back and looking forwards

I often find myself reflecting, at the end of the year, on what could have gone better. Perhaps I should have cheated more on our inter-tutor quizzes so that we didn’t end the year in the losing house. Perhaps I should have shed a few tears when (spoiler!) Lennie got shot at the end of Of Mice and Men. Or perhaps I should have been more empathetic and understanding towards a couple of pupils who were disenchanted with school and, as a result, were struggling to learn.

This last point worries me the most. It can be difficult to find time outside of teaching, and the mountains of admin that come with it, to really get to know potentially hundreds of pupils – even more so those who find attending school difficult. I am saddened that there are still a couple of individuals whom I failed to get through to.

I find myself wondering whether calling home or lending a sympathetic ear just one more time could have made any difference.

I am hopeful that I can continue to develop my use of the visualiser in the classroom and bring it more into my key stage 3 lessons. My aim is that by reducing the extraneous cognitive load created by busy and unnecessary PowerPoints, and instead using frequent high-quality direct instruction from Year 7 onwards, I will see a vast improvement in pupils’ reading and writing in these vital years of their education. And, as a nice little extra, a reduction in my own planning workload.

I am also keen to try the What-How-Why method for improving pupil analysis that Becky Wood (@shadylady222) described in a blog post in October last year (bit.ly/BeckyWood). Having moved away from commonplace acronyms such as PEE (point, evidence, example) a couple of years ago, I have since been using a reading skill ladder based on the assessment objectives. However, I much prefer the way that Wood effectively reduces these objectives and skills into three clear criteria: what is the writer telling us? How do they do it? And why do they do it?

Plus, I think the What-How-Why could simplify the process of modelling under the visualiser and therefore could go hand in hand with my plans for KS3.

Laura Tsabet is lead practitioner of teaching and learning at a school in Bournemouth

This is the third in a four-part series about the year in teaching

This article originally appeared in the 23 August 2019 issue under the headline “I wandered lonely as a cloud before joining this school”