Why I’m a teacher…

The end of the first term at school is always a time of reflection for me. It’s the hardest time in the school year and the one which really requires you to dig deep and keep going when the evenings are dark, the marking is piling up and the students only want to talk excitedly about Christmas plans.

This year has certainly been a challenge and a learning curve for me but I think I’ve managed to face things head on and think about solutions rather than worrying about problems. I’ve seen the importance of positivity in the face of adversity; the need to keep a team together and just how wonderful teachers are. I’ve been thinking more and more about why I became a teacher in the first place and what has kept me here when so many are moving on and choosing a new vocation.

Despite what the media may have you believe, becoming a teacher is an active choice and one I am extremely proud of. Teaching is a profession which requires incredible resilience, dedication, hard work and passion.

When my teenage years were distinctly lacking in positive role models, I found those in my teachers. My teachers inspired me, supported me and shared their passion for their subject. I saw the value in what they did (although perhaps I didn’t always appreciate it!) and I respected their knowledge.

Now, I don’t want to create the impression that I was a completely disenchanted teenager who hated school. I didn’t. I have always loved learning and have vivid memories from about three years of age of trying to read anything that was put in front of me. I would sit for hours looking at catalogues or anything with words on. I was regularly read to and enjoyed writing long stories or poems in the summer holidays. You could argue that I was easier to engage in education than many students and you would probably be right but keeping someone engaged throughout their education is a difficult task.

I was lucky to have some amazing teachers who influenced me and changed my life. I don’t say this lightly. They showed me that teaching requires expertise, patience and a sense of humour. I would leave lessons wanting to know more and to ask further questions. That, to me, is the sign of a great teacher.

Mr O’Hanlon taught me to see the beauty in language as we examined symbolism and how writers create meaning. Lessons weren’t whizzy with millions of resources. We read Lord of the Flies, we discussed, we analysed and we felt empowered to have opinions and ask questions. He indulged us in the summer months when a wasp repeatedly visited the classroom and was named Cyril; he taught iambic pentameter by doing a John Cleese style walk across the classroom and he showed us that poetry was an exploration of thoughts and feelings. We looked at Sylvia Plath, Ted Hughes and Seamus Heaney and we learnt more than just what they had written – we considered them as people who wrote because they felt something and because they wanted to communicate an important message. Our lessons were in a large classroom with a giant painted glass window and a pulpit which we would sit in for discussions or debates. The tables were wonky, the OHP was a nightmare and the sun would regularly dictate the lesson as it chose to cast huge shadows over the board or illuminate one member of the class for thirty minutes at a time. When Mr O’Hanlon left the school we held an assembly for him and sang ‘O Danny Boy’ through streams of tears. He must have been absolutely mortified. I spent weeks trying to find him a present that he would love and would show him how much he had inspired me. Eventually I settled for a little book of Shakespeare quotations from a charity shop and wrote what I thought to be a worldly-wise comment in the front for him.

For A level English I was taught by Miss Lotinga, a gentle American lady full of sharp wit, warm humour and a huge amount of intelligence. She spoke so passionately about books and her love of learning that it stayed with me. I still remember her love for Anna Karenina. Mr Walsh also taught me at A level – he was relaxed, thoughtful and kind and showed us that teachers are human beings. Alongside teaching he would throw in anecdotes about his drunken escapades with Mr O’Hanlon and the time he woke up in a shower in Ireland! Perhaps not something I would share with my students nowadays but at the time we sixth formers loved being let into this little secret before we would be submerged back into the worlds of Thomas Hardy or John Webster.

Mr Hildrew taught me for Media Studies and showed us that it was much more than ‘watching films’. It was analytical, political and significant in our lives. He felt passionate about the power that the media has and his lessons always seemed so thoughtful and carefully considered. He loved Kate Nash, Taylor Swift and Slow Club and encouraged us to combine our passions with our study.

Mr Pitts became like the new Mr O’Hanlon. He had a biting wit, love of the subject and didn’t take anything too seriously. His approach to teaching created an atmosphere of challenge and support at the same time. Miss Tegg also joined and taught me Media for a while. I recall her seeming very young and thinking she was far too ‘cool’ to be a teacher. Perhaps she was a trainee or NQT at the time. She worked so hard and helped in giving us structures, model answers and examples to work with.

Although the above are English and Media teachers, I was influenced by many more.

Miss Nissenbaum helped me struggle through GCSE Maths and I came out with a B thanks to all of her support and never-ending patience. Maths is not my friend and I can’t imagine how hard it must have been to get me to understand any of it. She was a small, sharp lady with a sprinkling of freckles and dark brown hair. I remember how strict she was but how she would soften and be so helpful in important moments. Even after she stopped teaching me she would pass by and ask me how I was. This is something I’ve always tried to remember and do when I see my old students. It means so much just to be acknowledged.

Mrs Ford was the interesting Science teacher with fiery hair and personality to match. She used to wear a multi-coloured pleated skirt with her big white lab coat. She always seemed full of energy and enthusiasm.

Mr Smith was the Head of Sixth form at the time and was a keen walker. He loved being outside, building things and exploring and would be on every school trip going! As a scared sixth former who had no idea what to do, he guided me and considered what would be best for my future. He suggested that I try Aberystwyth University based on the English Literature course and the town itself. He had visited many times and knew it would be the place for me. He wasn’t wrong and I spent four wonderful years there.

Even in my earlier years of schooling I can recall the influence of my teachers. Mrs Scholes, the friendly, owl-like lady with big round glasses taught reception classes the importance of friendship, co-operation and how to fit 30 wriggly children onto a small carpet all at once. She even tolerated our giggles during the ‘I was cold, I was naked’ hymn. Mr Walker used to read from a huge book in his booming voice and slam it shut at the end to make us all jump. He did the same thing every time and yet we were still full of surprise and awe.

I’ve grown up with some fantastic role models and tried to assimilate some of their practice into mine on a day to day basis. I’ve not quite nailed the booming voice just yet.

The teachers I work with now still inspire me and remind me what is it to be a teacher. Hard work (lots of!) but also passion, courage, kindness and determination to do your best for everyone. The department I work in is full of English teachers who love to share, discuss and consider what will work best for their classes. We share books with each other, send along resources, keep each other in constant supply of tea and chocolate and advise each other. At times when I wonder if I can keep up with the workload, I remember that I am surrounded by people who want one thing: to do their best. They are not motivated by money or selfishness and they are not trying to beat each other at things – they simply want to help students and other teachers. That is why I am a teacher. I feel passionate, I love learning new things on a daily basis, I love challenging myself, supporting others and making a difference.

Ultimately, making a difference is the most important thing. I hope that I can go on to inspire a student the way that my teachers inspired and enabled me. I only wish I’d managed to say it at the time and wish I could let them know just how much I appreciated their tireless efforts.

Sometimes we forget that teaching is a job because it is so closely intertwined with our passions and personality but it’s important to remember that to be an effective teacher you have to be rested, creative and happy. I for one will be enjoying this Christmas holiday more than ever before!




Convincing persuasive writing – GCSE Language Paper 2 Q5


One of the hardest things to do in persuasive writing is to sound ‘convincing and compelling’ when you’re a teenager. Most teenagers don’t care about global warming or recycling but exam boards across the country love these familiar topics and so we need to learn how to teach them to care, or at least sound like they do.

Welcome Charlie Brooker. Not only is he one of my favourite satirical writers of recent years, he’s also fantastic to use as an example of someone who has a strong voice, clearly has an opinion and who doesn’t shy away from hyperbole and extended metaphor. What a winner.

I want my students to care. I want them to be assertive and direct because otherwise they simply won’t sound convincing. Their instructions from me are to avoid ‘wishy washy’ and follow a strong line of argument.

Courtesy of my lovely new colleague, I introduced this class to the wonder of Charlie Brooker and his article/diatribe on Christmas adverts. My colleague had chosen this text and deconstructed it so all I had to do was talk it through with my students, demonstrate hyperbole through my own language and encourage them to feel something. Some of them even had a wry smile on their face when reading it. Their particular favourite line being ‘Get lost Santa.’

So it worked. They were engaged, convinced and compelled. They all agreed with Brooker, that yes, crying at an advert for a shop is for ‘idiots’. How did he do it? How did he appeal to a room of teenagers who don’t understand his references to Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go, old school discos or John Betjeman? How did he manage to use sophisticated vocabulary and colloquial terms yet still sound intelligent and interesting? He used his wit and his voice. He was full of disdain and sarcasm. Surely something many teenagers do very successfully!

This was my in. Ok everyone, I know it’s veeeerrrry difficult but let’s try and emulate this tone on a cold Wednesday. Try and sound annoyed or outraged.

Off we went. Their task was to respond to the following statement: ‘National service is to be introduced to school leavers to benefit them and further their skills and qualifications.’

I asked each individual if they wanted to go and fight in the army when they had finished their A levels. Unsurprisingly I was met with ‘wouldn’t be bothered, Miss’ or a grunt. I got them to ask me.

‘No!’ I shouted with indignation!

‘Why not?’ They humoured me.

‘I don’t want to die!’ Dramatic response but central line of argument decided.

We decided the most convincing argument would be not to go into national service and needed to plan from there. A few key points included: danger and death; inequality; lack of choice; inexperience.

How to add in humour? Link to real experience/anecdote and maybe a rhetorical question to show your disbelief.

‘My only experience of firing shots is the hours wasted on Call of Duty and I’m pathetic at that as it is. How could I be expected to stand on a real battlefield?’

More humour? Different audience?

‘Have you ever asked your teenager to pick up their clothes? Try asking them to pick up a real weapon.’

Ooh we can sense a metaphor beginning…


‘The only battle my teenager is used to is the one about their lack of homework.’

Need a comparison? Teenagers/zombies. Basically the same thing.


‘Teenagers can’t even roll out of bed on a Monday morning. When they finally manage the heart-rending task of crawling towards the front door they stumble blindly towards school like a poor imitation of a zombie from the Walking Dead. Imagine the impact a dozy, apathetic teenager would have on a battlefield.’

Need a reference to something intellectual to give yourself gravitas and encourage the audience to respect your opinion? Refer to something literary. Not well read? Refer to the poetry anthology or texts you have studied.

‘A group of untrained teenagers at war would be like Lord of the Flies. All face paint and fire.’

Popular culture? Use a song and include it. We went for War by Edwin Starr. Subtle and entertaining.

‘War. What is it good for? Absolutely nothing.’

To sound convincing and compelling you must engage your reader (the examiner!) and make them agree with you. Make references to things they will know about, use language and structure intelligently to reinforce your point and consider the central line of argument. If your most effective point is that you don’t want to get injured then stick to that and return to it throughout. You don’t get marks for the amount of different points you make. It is about how effective they are and how well you develop them.

We still have a way to go. It takes a long time for students to become accomplished writers and be able to reference things beyond their current sphere of experience but it isn’t impossible if we give them the tools to do it with.


Lang Paper 1 Q3 Structure – Developing responses

Structure is a difficult thing to analyse, especially in ten minutes with an unseen extract. Poor Year 11 – this isn’t going to be easy. BUT I am trying to embed it by applying structure to film trailers and their current knowledge so that they can apply it to writing.

Today we looked at Kafka’s Metamorphosis and used FIND SCRIPTS to begin our analysis.

First we refreshed our memory of each method and how they could be effective in writing.


Flashbacks (analepsis) – sense of nostalgia, can be used to slow pace down, can be used to explain thought process behind a character’s actions, could be a recent or old flashback, may be used to express regret/guilt/loss

Flash-forwards (prolepsis) – misses out key information so could be used to confuse reader or create enigma, by not following entire life of character we may not feel as close to them, the jump forward might be used to emphasise the contrast between youth and age, could flash-forward to real or imagined situation.

Introductions and openings – May be slow or fast depending on events, may not reveal everything to create enigma, might introduce character/setting or an important motif to be used later, could contain the main event of the story and be followed by explanation and resolution or might be used to explore the build up to a key event. We discussed the ways in which a writer might choose to organise the structure of their story differently according to the effect they want to create. Do they want immediate shock followed by discovery? Do they want to build up tension and suspense before shock? 

Narrative perspective can be more difficult. We spoke about perspective being the way in which people sees things differently and how this affects the way they speak or write about it.I handed out pieces of paper with the same phrase on it: She is a lovely, friendly woman who often helps people. 

Students were  told that they must read their statement in light of their perspective but the rest of the class didn’t know what the perspective was. The different perspectives were:

She is a criminal mastermind and used her money to support the murder of her enemies.

She is your enemy and has caused you and your family a great deal of trouble.

She is your grandma.

The students managed to change their tone according to the perspective they were given. This led us into discussing how our thoughts on someone or something will change the way that it is presented. If a fight happens then some people have different interpretations on the event according to where they are stood, who they are friends with and even if they were there at all. I mentioned The Great Gatsby (any excuse!) and the way in which the presentation of Gatsby is coloured through the narrator Nick who admires him, rather than if the narrator had been someone like Tom who despises him.


Development of story – Links in to opening and introductions but also has plenty of overlap with other techniques like shifts in focus. Development might be a change in character, new information, recurring images, a physical movement or exploration and so on.

Shifts in focus – This is one area which students really excel at. I think this is because films and trailers really help to exemplify how effective shifts in focus can be. One student mentioned Final Destination and a shot just before a woman falls through a window of the glass pane being carried. This focus change from the glass to her indicates something bad may be about to happen. We also discussed how shifts in focus could reflect distraction of character or narrator, speed, movement, foregrounding of something important or a subtle way of making a comment about the events of the story. (Just a quick note: Do not show Final Destination to your students! It is gruesome and unpleasant! There are plenty of other great examples.)


Conclusions and ending – Lots of overlap here. Resolution/no resolution, how it leads onto the rest of the story (if it’s an ending of an extract), if there are any links back to the start.

Repetition, patterns or motifsWe spoke about when we made our Brighton Pier construction and how some people used crows or the repeated use of the colour red to explore this. This can be used as a warning (such as in most horror films or writing) or a reminder (in A Christmas Carol with Scrooge and the chiming bells) or even as a nostalgic device intended to reflect elements of the characters childhood or past actions.


Inside links and sentence types – Short sentences may reflect dramatic moments, determination, defiance, anger, sadness etc. whereas longer, more fragmented sentences may be used to show the mindset of the central protagonist or the speed at which the story is progressing.

Perspective change – big/small/inward/outward – Again we used A Christmas Carol for this as a student mentioned the perspective change when Scrooge moves from flying over the countryside with the Ghost of Christmas Past to being alone in the small school room with Scrooge as a child. This served to highlight the isolation of the character and his insignificance in the wider world. We applied inward/outward to The Metamorphosis when we looked at the way it moves from describing Gregor and his situation to his own internal monologues and worries.


Time and temporal markers – An easy one for them to grasp. Used to show changes in time and perhaps reflect changes in mindset or stages between certain events. Might emphasise how fast or slow something is happening and therefore how quickly decisions are made or just how slow time has passed whilst a character is considering something.

Sequence of events – Again plenty of overlap here and ties in with development of story. Students thought about how an opening might impact on later parts of the story and how events might follow on or precede one another.

Here is the extract we examined followed by some responses:

One morning, when Gregor Samsa woke from troubled dreams, he found himself transformed in his bed into a horrible vermin. He lay on his armour-like back, and if he lifted his head a little he could see his brown belly, slightly domed and divided by arches into stiff sections. The bedding was hardly able to cover it and seemed ready to slide off any moment. His many legs, pitifully thin compared with the size of the rest of him, waved about helplessly as he looked.

“What’s happened to me?” he thought. It wasn’t a dream. His room, a proper human room although a little too small, lay peacefully between its four familiar walls. A collection of textile samples lay spread out on the table – Samsa was a travelling salesman – and above it there hung a picture that he had recently cut out of an illustrated magazine and housed in a nice, gilded frame. It showed a lady fitted out with a fur hat and fur boa who sat upright, raising a heavy fur muff that covered the whole of her lower arm towards the viewer.

Gregor then turned to look out the window at the dull weather. Drops of rain could be heard hitting the pane, which made him feel quite sad. “How about if I sleep a little bit longer and forget all this nonsense”, he thought, but that was something he was unable to do because he was used to sleeping on his right, and in his present state couldn’t get into that position. However hard he threw himself onto his right, he always rolled back to where he was. He must have tried it a hundred times, shut his eyes so that he wouldn’t have to look at the floundering legs, and only stopped when he began to feel a mild, dull pain there that he had never felt before.

“Oh, God”, he thought, “what a strenuous career it is that I’ve chosen! Travelling day in and day out. Doing business like this takes much more effort than doing your own business at home, and on top of that there’s the curse of travelling, worries about making train connections, bad and irregular food, contact with different people all the time so that you can never get to know anyone or become friendly with them. It can all go to Hell!” He felt a slight itch up on his belly; pushed himself slowly up on his back towards the headboard so that he could lift his head better; found where the itch was, and saw that it was covered with lots of little white spots which he didn’t know what to make of; and when he tried to feel the place with one of his legs he drew it quickly back because as soon as he touched it he was overcome by a cold shudder.

He slid back into his former position. “Getting up early all the time”, he thought, “it makes you stupid. You’ve got to get enough sleep. Other travelling salesmen live a life of luxury. For instance, whenever I go back to the guest house during the morning to copy out the contract, these gentlemen are always still sitting there eating their breakfasts. I ought to just try that with my boss; I’d get kicked out on the spot. But who knows, maybe that would be the best thing for me. If I didn’t have my parents to think about I’d have given in my notice a long time ago, I’d have gone up to the boss and told him just what I think, tell him everything I would, let him know just what I feel. He’d fall right off his desk! And it’s a funny sort of business to be sitting up there at your desk, talking down at your subordinates from up there, especially when you have to go right up close because the boss is hard of hearing. Well, there’s still some hope; once I’ve got the money together to pay off my parents’ debt to him – another five or six years I suppose – that’s definitely what I’ll do. That’s when I’ll make the big change. First of all though, I’ve got to get up, my train leaves at five.”

I’ve had to type these out as my scanning didn’t work! These were written in exactly ten minutes in exam conditions. We have a little way to go but I will be using and improving their responses so next lesson they can edit and hopefully hit the top band of the mark scheme. Work to be done on expression and avoiding those typical phrases ‘it paints a picture in the reader’s mind’, ‘it makes the reader want to read on’ or ‘it makes the reader interested’.

In the source as a whole, the writer has structured the text to interest the reader by including inner dialogue to convey the confusion of the central character, Gregor. It is left unclear what has actually happened to Gregor “What’s happened to me?” and so causes the reader to feel just as disorientated. Also, this question asked by Gregor suggests that he is struggling to understand and accept what has happened to him. He doesn’t appear to be panicking and so demonstrates his denial of the situation.

Later on in the source, the writer shifts focus when he describes how the room ‘lay peacefully between its four familiar walls’. This sudden shift presents Gregor as isolated and hopeless as the reader is encouraged to focus on other areas of the room and therefore perhaps consider his predicament as less serious. The shifts in focus delay our understanding as a reader and therefore this creates enigma as the reader wishes to discover what has happened to Gregor and why.


The writer has structured the text to interest us as a reader through the use of perspective change. At the start of the extract only Gregor is described, ‘he found himself transformed in his bed into a horrible vermin.’ Then it moves on to broaden its view and describes his room, ‘lay peacefully between its four familiar walls’. This suggests that he feels isolated in his room as it emphasises how alone he is. It may also be used to prolong the story and create more suspense for the reader as they don’t know what will happen to Gregor Samsa.

Furthermore the writer uses shifts of focus in the novel to also interest the reader. When describing Gregor’s room the writer adds information in about his job, ‘A collection of textile samples lay spread out on the table – Samsa was a travelling salesman- and above it…’ This highlights the slow pace of the novel and creates a sense of ambiguity and mystery for the reader. The deliberate break in the sentence makes the reader feel intrigued to know more about his job and therefore read on.

In the extract the writer uses temporal markers at the beginning and end of the text to reflect Gregor’s thought processes to the reader. The extract starts with ‘One morning’ which symbolises Gregor’s thoughts; he has realised it is a morning although he does not know which. The text ends with ‘my train leaves at five’, also a temporal marker except that this one is part of his internal dialogue. This contrast is used to make the reader feel connected to Gregor as most people wake up, realise it’s the morning and think about work. This makes Gregor more relatable and reflects his own thoughts through the temporal markers.

The writer uses perspective changes to create a sense of mystery and ambiguity throughout the text. In the first paragraph , the narrator describes Gregor’s transformation but only what he can see like ‘he could see his brown belly, slightly domed and divided by arches into stiff sections.’ This creates a sense of enigma as its still unclear exactly what has happened to Gregor and what he is.


If you have any great ways of teaching or improving responses for question 3 then please let me know!










What is your ‘brand’?

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I often wonder about the different types of teacher that students are met with each day at school. They move from lesson to lesson and encounter an entirely new personality with a different style of teaching each time. Hopefully each different teacher follows the same expectations and holds the same values but I am intrigued about the way teachers use their personalities to educate and motivate.

I have come to think of teachers as having a ‘brand’: a particular style that they employ or certain personality features that they accentuate in order to teach most effectively.

My ‘brand’, as far as I am aware, is this –

  • I always say hello at the door and take care to say student names. I vividly remember a day during teacher training when we were told that some students go an entire day without any adult saying their name. That made me deeply sad and so I always make a concerted effort to say hello to those that might go under the radar.
  • I like to start lessons with something short, snappy and engaging just to get them listening and thinking. It will usually be a picture or a quotation for them to discuss. A lovely lady I used to work with told me that we should encourage students to feel like they can achieve from the very beginning of each lesson – every student can access a picture or discuss what they think it might mean and therefore no one feels like a failure before the lesson has even begun.
  • I lend pens. I know, I know. I’m supposed to reprimand and log it and tell them to be more organised but I just think it’s easier to quietly lend a pen and let them get on with it! Students have so much to contend with before they even arrive at school that I can’t find myself getting angry over a pen.
  • I am organised and so my students are organised. I like highlighters, colour-coding, stuck in sheets, dates and titles underlined and everything as it should be. I know it is perhaps a little pedantic but students showing pride in their work is important to me. If they begin as a disorganised student then I will spend time with them helping them so that they feel prepared and ready to tackle the lesson or homework effectively.
  • I love peer assessment. If students are taught how to do this well then it has a real impact and massively reduces my marking.
  • I don’t love marking. I find that marking often can have minimal impact on the student when it is done after the event. I try to ‘live mark’ as much as possible now so that students receive feedback in the moment and can correct work there and then. I save my big marking for assessments and target tasks.
  • I care – I ask them how their day has been; what they particularly like about a novel; what they are currently reading; why they are upset and how certain issues in the lesson might affect their lives BUT…
  • I set boundaries – students don’t get the opportunity to gossip and they know I won’t engage in off task talk for longer than 30 seconds. They recognise when they need to get on and work.
  • I’m not a rule breaker. If I get a message from SLT then I do exactly as instructed. Whether that is going to a certain meeting, the way in which I fill out online homework or even reading a document immediately. People laugh at me for it but I can’t bear to break rules or be even slightly rebellious.
  • I am a stickler for deadlines. (see above)
  • I pick up on everything: chewing gum; untucked shirt; nail varnish; whispering (also see above)
  • I try to make lessons fun and engaging wherever possible by trying a mix of different activities but they are always tied back to assessment objectives and the need to progress. I want to make sure that students always see the point in every activity and so feel that it is worth dedicating their time to it.
  • I like displays – my classroom is bright and each display supports their learning. Students are proud of their work that is on the walls and I try to keep them up to date as much as possible. I currently have GCSE texts on the walls as I know these won’t change for a while and I can just refresh them when necessary.
  • As a tutor, I remind them regularly that I am not there to look at their grades. Whilst I want them to do well and succeed, ultimately what I want is for them to become great people who are known for being kind, supportive and respectful. I try to give them some kind of inspirational speech each fortnight to remind them where they are and what they might do as an individual to become a better person. Obviously some of them roll their eyes but I give real examples and explain how I demonstrate kindness. Their challenge today is to get up to break time without making any negative comments.
  • In my role as tutor I don’t come up with whizzy activities. I’m not very exciting in the morning – sorry! We normally end up watching Newsround and discussing the news or playing some kind of word in a word game together. This is when I’m not reading out notices or discussing whole school things with them. Not much I can do in 15 minutes but I think they’re all on track and doing fine!
  • Acts of kindness – I hope I’m a kind person to work with. This morning I made an effort to write two short letters to two co-workers to remind them how well they’re doing and which traits I admire in them. I added some chocolates for a bit of a mid-January boost and both were incredibly grateful. I’ve been doling out Haribo too to those in need!
  • My lessons aren’t perfect. Students aren’t always angelic and I don’t always manage to mark every book in the hour. The activities aren’t always inspirational or fun and sometimes I just want them to work and do a long writing piece. But sometimes they are angelic, I do get round everyone and I do have fun, inspirational lessons as often as I can manage. That’s all a teacher can reasonably be expected to do.
  • I acknowledge my faults and learn from them but most of all try to think only of the positives.
  • I want to be better. The driving force behind my teaching has always been the desire to be better. I want to be the kind of teacher that students admire and want to work for but I want to be respected at the same time. There’s a fine balance there. I also want to be the kind of colleague that motivates others and encourages them to try new things or even just to keep going at difficult times of the year. Eventually I want to be a leader who is able to promote resilience and professional curiosity in my staff.

I realise that this blog post sounds massively self-indulgent but also like the writing of a complete goody two shoes. I’ll happily admit that both of those things are quite a strong part of my personality. But that’s the final thing I wanted to say: there’s nothing wrong with being who you are and making it work for you. Teachers don’t all have to be the same.

Congratulations if you got to the end of that! What is your teacher ‘brand’?

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Behaviour for learning

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I read somewhere once that you are a part of everyone you’ve met and I really do believe in that. My personality is a combination of all of my friends and my teaching style is a combination of all of the great teachers I have observed and worked with.

My training year was based in a department with particularly feisty ladies who showed me that you don’t need to be big physically to have a strong presence in the classroom. You don’t need to shout to be heard and sometimes you don’t even need to speak at all. One of the first lessons I ever observed was a petite lady who used to get students to put all of their pens down once they have finished writing so that she could see they were ready. Since then, I have taken that and transformed it into jazz hands so that all students have to show me their jazz hands so I know they’re paying attention. Simple and fairly obvious but not something I had considered before then.

At my next placement school I was placed with an incredibly strong woman named Alison who had naughty Year 11 boys working in silence. It seemed like magic. Her trick was using very short commands, remaining very calm at all times and getting the students to do all of the organisational work in the classroom. Instead of running herself ragged handing out books, opening windows, organising pens, writing the date on the board and closing the door, she had students do it for her. Certain students would always do the books, windows, pens etc which left her ready to start the lesson calmly and quickly. I know it sounds simple but back then I hadn’t even considered that they would happily help me and take ownership over small tasks.

After having completed my PGCE, I moved to my new school and confidently told the head teacher that my strongest asset was my behaviour management and that the school I trained in was much more difficult than this one. Mistake number one. NEVER assume that just because you can control one or several classes in another school that you will be able to replicate the same success in a new one. My new timetable came complete with a notoriously difficult class of Year 11 boys and various other ‘challenging’ classes. It served me right. I had to go back to basics with behaviour charts, endless detentions and introducing firm boundaries with my new classes. Luckily, I was in a department with some incredible teachers who took the time to support and coach everyone.

Support for the Year 11 class came in the form of Andrew, a quirky, funny Drama teacher who also did the most interesting English lessons. He showed me how to use my voice for control and how humour at the right time made a real difference. Claire, the kindest person and teacher you might ever come across, did coaching for the whole department and showed us that English lessons don’t need to be all about writing and that students can show understanding in a variety of different ways. She also taught me that if a student can do something achievable at the very start of the lesson then they will feel more positive about accessing the rest of it. I have never forgotten that and it’s now part of every lesson I teach. My preferred starter involves pictures to start discussion – it might be an odd one out, links to characters and themes or how the pictures might symbolise something else.

Since then I’ve worked with several teachers who have influenced me. I’ve taken the ‘silent glide’: a particularly effective way of approaching students as quietly as possible and appearing suddenly in front or at the side of them. No speaking required but they know I’m there. Works a treat.

But one of the main things about behaviour for learning is that behaviour isn’t always perfect. Teachers and students aren’t perfect and lessons shouldn’t be about ruling with an iron fist or students too scared to speak their mind. It should be an atmosphere which promotes bravery, mistakes and support. I am in no way a behaviour management expert but sometimes it’s nice to hear honesty and opinion from a female teacher who has worked hard to develop strategies and maintain consistency.

The point of my post it to remind any new teachers or even teachers dealing with the first term tiredness that keeping calm and carrying on really IS what it’s all about.
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New (school) year resolutions

Starting a new academic year is always a shock to the system after six weeks of relaxation and minimal deadlines. Every year I tell myself I’ll have more of a work/life balance and will manage to come up with a clever way to minimise marking  and meetings yet maximise impact in the classroom. Hopefully this year I’ll get it right. Here are my new year pledges to myself:

  1. Increase use of flipped learning.
  2. Learning isn’t always evidenced by masses of writing – use a variety of ways to assess understanding but keep it meaningful.
  3. Go paperless – scan in documents, type up notes and take pictures to document things.
  4. Don’t have meetings for things that can be done via email (if possible)
  5. Work on intrinsic learning with the classroom and across the school.

Here are some fantastic blog posts I’ve read recently. Definitely worth a share!

Tom Starkey – Magic formula for a good teacher

Learning from my mistakes – Postmortem marking vs live marking

Love to teach – Poundland Pedagogy



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Crime scene investigation

Year 10 had sports day today so I decided that returning to a classroom and doing extended writing pieces might not be their favourite activity today. We are looking at 19th Century extracts on the theme of crime and so we had a terminology lesson based (very) loosely on crime.

They began in groups with a word search on terms they need to be using.


Then each team had to create clues to distribute around the room. They were engaged discussing potential questions, answers and clarifying the terms for some students who still haven’t quite got it. Their favourite part was deciding where to hide the clues!


The room was frantic as they worked out their cryptic clues and found the answer to questions. Here’s what one group produced:


Once they had completed their trail they had to come to the front and solve a crime based anagram. This then led onto each group designing a crime scene and filling it with descriptive words. Groups of boys were shouting out words to write down which was definitely a sign that the competition element was working…

crime scene eeaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaabbbb

All in all, a successful revision lesson that ensured students used the terms regularly, linked back to previous learning of descriptive writing and also encouraged them to work together and be more independent. Minimal preparation from me and lots of smiles during the activities.

Constructing Brighton Pier

Both my Year Eleven classes will be sitting mock exams for the new language papers in a few weeks time and so we are preparing by revising skills we covered in Year Ten and developing on written responses.

AQA have some helpful specimen papers so these have been the focus for each lesson as we build and develop responses. We are currently looking at Paper 1 and analysing an extract from Brighton Rock but have now arrived at the structure question…

Structure is notoriously difficult for students to analyse and there are also so many elements that go into the construction of a text. I wanted to find a way to ensure they understand the nature of construction and also revised the elements of structure at the same time. The tendency to just say ‘the structure of the text is…’ was something I needed to steer them away from.

So we begun today’s lesson like this…


Their faces were confused. Questions were asked. Then I explained…

They had to make a 3D construction of Brighton Pier using objects to represent the structural features. This worked in a few ways:

1. They had to work in metaphor and consider which object best represented the structural feature – we had lots of carousels to represent perspective change as the carousel moves round, the pier represented development as it is long and changes could be seen within it, and the sign represented an opening whereas steps into the sea signalled an ending.

2. They had to continuously use the words out loud to discuss where it would be better placed – this meant they were using the terminology regularly without thinking about it any more.

3. They understood the relation of the different parts to each other. They decided the sentence types and internal links should be the posts as these were central and supported the rest of the text. They understood that narrative perspective depends upon where the narrator is and who they are so they positioned their narrators in boats or with a partially blocked view. They realised that the development of a story is throughout the entire thing whereas shifts in focus might be seen several times within it and they engaged with motifs and how they are repeated. One group used red across their pier to show this.

4. And finally… they enjoyed it! I’ve never seen my groups so on task and discussing terminology with such open confidence. They asked for advice, help and didn’t once discuss anything other than the task at hand. A definite win for me!


The models are pictured below. I’ve taken pictures of these to use as the starter for next lesson before we begin looking at example answers and analysing Brighton Rock from a structural perspective. Hopefully this activity will have made the learning stick! #funfridays

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PETAL paragraphs

Analysing language is difficult. Analysing language and commenting on effect is even more difficult. Analysing language, form, structure, commenting on effect, using subject terminology and linking to contextual factors all within one response is pretty terrifying for a class just starting Year 10.

We are currently working on answering the Section B part of Literature Paper 1. This is the 19th Century text extract question which requires analysis of the extract and then the text as a whole. In order to prepare my class for the analytical skills involved we are looking at a range of 19th Century extracts and trying to analyse just the extract in detail before we move onto anything else.

I’ve been using the sample papers on the AQA website to provide extracts to teach with so we have covered Oliver Twist and Frankenstein so far with The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, Great Expectations, Jane Eyre, Pride and Prejudice and The Sign of Four coming up.

Here is my latest acronym to help students remember what to include:


So far we have done two lessons covering contextual factors that might influence a text or the reading of it and we have begun looking at how a response may look. The example above is clearly a very basic start but it has the ingredients that the examiners will look for.

We are using starters to cover subject terminology each lesson and then analysing an extract in pairs and groups before moving onto a more detailed response and peer or self assessment. A starter might be: list as many verbs to suggest fast movement as you possible or list as many adjectives to describe a busy town as possible. Again, just getting students used to using the basic terminology before we step it up a level.

In our lesson today we looked at the extract on Frankenstein and I broke it down into smaller questions for them to answer in pairs before we moved onto synthesising information and constructing a full PETAL paragraph. The questions I used were:

How does Shelley present Frankenstein’s monster as needing to be loved and accepted?


  1. Why do we feel sorry for the monster when he wants to ‘claim protection and kindness?’



  1. How does the verb ‘yearned’ show loneliness?



  1. Why does he describe their looks as ‘sweet’?



  1. Why do we feel pity when he says the ‘utmost limit of (his) ambition’ is to be looked at kindly?



  1. Why might people treat the monster with ‘disdain and horror’?



  1. He describes kindness and sympathy as something he ‘requires’. What does this suggest about how he feels?



  1. The monster describes his ‘unnatural hideousness’. How does this suggest he feels about himself and the way people react to him?



  1. He wishes to be ‘tolerated’ – do you think he has a good opinion of himself? Explain your thoughts.


This is what a first attempt at a PETAL paragraph looked like:


Not a bad start for 3 lessons in! We are looking at the difference between understanding, examining and exploring next. Hoping to use exampro to give some great examples of written responses and make use of target tasks and DIRT to extend answers in books.

Any tips or suggested extracts for me?

Differentiation with superheroes

Differentiation can be very time consuming so I wanted something that could be created once and then used across every lesson. It initially took some time but I’m hoping it will pay off in the long run! I definitely took this idea from elsewhere and adapted it but can’t remember where it was – if anyone can find the original then please let me know!

So this is what I did:

Firstly I arranged the seating plan so that students with different target levels were placed where I needed them. This minimises too much movement as they should be able to simply turn around to work in their groups or with new partners. My classroom has four rows going back on each side so eight rows in total. Below are the front two rows – imagine that yellow pupils have a target of a level 6 and blue have a target of a level 7.


I wanted to ensure all students get to mix and work with people of the same level, different level, in mixed groups of four and in mixed bigger groups. I created the cards and explained it to students like this.


Pupil 1, 2, 5 and 6 all have the same colour card so to work together Pupil 1 and 2 simply have to turn around.

Pupil 1 and 2 both have the same letter so stay where they are.

Pupil 1 and 5 both have the same shape so one of them needs to turn around.

Students don’t know it is linked to levels at all and so no one feels self-conscious or worried. They were very excited to be in their superhero groups (although maybe I shouldn’t have chosen Green Lantern, apparently he isn’t very impressive!) I will be using the superhero groups for competition elements of lessons and bigger quiz activities and there may even be a competition league created for each group towards the end of the unit.

Obviously this is much easier to do if you have a class of even numbers and rows. I don’t have an even number so I’ve created a group of three on one row and they seem to work fine.

If you’d like a copy of the cards then feel free to tweet me @engteachwbs and I can share.