Just before the holidays, the TES reported on research from the DfE that suggested that there is no discernible effect of non-specialist teaching in science.
I’ve been a science teacher for over 20 years now but because of my setting, I find myself teaching AQA Additional Science for the first time ever. This means I’m having to teach some content that I’ve never taught before in mainstream or special education. The amount of time I have spent prepping these lessons is considerably more than I usually spend as I have had to do plenty of research as I go. Fortunately, there is a wealth of support available and combined with the fact that my students have target grades well below a C they are unlikely to be affected by my lack of subject knowledge.
I do a lot of background reading so that is likely to influence my teaching, as is my willingness to go the extra mile as well. There is overlap between the disciplines of science so I suppose that stands me in good stead but I wouldn’t like the thought of facing a group of top set science students without the appropriate science knowledge to draw upon.
One certainty is that we are going to have a lot more data to draw on in the not so distant future as the number of physics and chemistry graduates entering teaching continues to fall. I also wonder if I should be suspicious these research findings are released at a time of teacher shortages?
For those readers who would like to read the research paper you can find it here.
Schools are challenging places to work – those of us who work in schools are aware of the challenges faced by everyone in the education system. As a school we spend a lot of time looking after our students but we also have to make sure we look after our staff. On our inset day before the Christmas break we bought in the Nottinghamshire Educational Psychology Service (EPS) to run a session on staff wellbeing and resilience.
Whilst I don’t want to repeat all their content here (that wouldn’t be fair to the EPS) I have summarised some of the key messages in the hope that they will be of use to others.
If you don’t look after yourself you won’t be able to look after others.
In air safety drills you are always told to put your own oxygen mask on first – the same applies with mental health. We get so wrapped up with the problems of others we can neglect ourselves.
Find strategies that work for you
Not everyone is the same. Different people find different strategies work for them – be prepared to try more than one.
Emotional intelligence – know your emotions and how to manage them. Strong emotions are very powerful – recognise the stages in your emotions – the assault cycle provides a useful structure/explanation of what is happening.
Learn relaxation strategies
Find time to unwind and relax. I find that a long drive to work coupled with an audiobook or music (depending on my mood and energy levels) works for me. Some people do yoga or meditation – find something that helps you to unwind.
Try to change your default thinking (for those that read my post on The Chimp Paradox this is a similar idea to reprogramming the computer in the model by Steve Peters). Ask yourself questions like “is it really that important?” or “what would happen if I didn’t let this thought bother me?”. You then try to replace the negative thoughts with more positive ones. There are plenty of sites on the internet with more details – google is your friend here!
Find outside interests- FLOW
Immersive hobbies (like sports, cross stitch or even candy crush soda saga in my case!). From Wikipedia:
Schaffer (2013) proposed 7 flow conditions:
Knowing what to do
Knowing how to do it
Knowing how well you are doing
Knowing where to go (if navigation is involved)
High perceived challenges
High perceived skills
Freedom from distractions
Peer supervision – looking for solutions (focus based circles)
We were shown a technique for looking for solutions to problems that you can work through as a group. Searching the internet reveals many variations on this technique – this is most similar to the version we tested. The version we tried had someone present about a problem for six minutes – during which only the presenter can speak (even if they run out of ideas the six minutes keeps running). In our first run we discussed the problem of getting staff to put their pots in the dishwasher (photo above). The second step sees the presenter being silent for six minutes while ideas are brainstormed. There is then another six minutes of dialogue and the final stage is to discuss the first steps for another six minutes (you are able to sum up or seek clarification outside the six minute windows).
This is a really useful technique and provides a very useful structure for discussing a problem.
Don’t give up
Remember that each time you face a problem, it will be easier to face a similar problem in future. After twenty years in special education I subconsciously use several of these strategies and they do work.
Look on the internet for Martin Seligman (video below)
I noticed that the TES resources have had a holiday sale. I recently tweeted about paid-for TES resources as I find it totally bizarre how teachers are expected to purchase resources without being able to inspect them properly first. Previewing is an important requirement as I reject 75% of the resources I download as they don’t suit my current setting.
Thinking about this I’ve spent a couple of evenings sorting through my resources and have uploaded many of them to the pages on this site. Unfortunately there are resources that I can’t upload, many have had to be compressed or have video clips removed in order to put them online.
Please take a moment to read the copyright information and get in touch if you find something that needs removing (for dodgy science or for any other reason) or if you can’t find what you are looking for.
I hope you find these resources useful – remember I don’t charge for these resources and would actively encourage others to do the same.
Whilst a bulletin was sent out to interested parties this week, there were no answers for teachers struggling to get to grips with what to tell their year 11 students (anecdotally I’ve seen less emphasis on predicted grades and more emphasis on what to do to improve their answers in schools).
The information did serve a purpose, and that was to remind me how my special school students have been let down by the system. In the email we are reminded “New GCSE content will be more challenging” which is depressing for students who were struggling, because of their learning difficulties, to cope with the content of the old GCSE exams.
We are also reminded that the boundaries have changed, supposedly “The new grades are being brought in to signal that GCSEs have been reformed and to better differentiate between students of different abilities.” What that means on the ground is that most of my students will fall within a two grade range rather than three. That’s hardly better differentiating between students of different abilities.
When you add these factors to the press (and government) talking about a grade 5 being a good GCSE pass and you can see why my students don’t want to take the exams. They are made to feel that their achievements are worthless and that anything below a 5 doesn’t matter.
A government talking about expanding grammar schools has little interest in those students at the bottom of the ability spectrum, but for my students, the GCSEs are becoming less and less accessible with more exams for less recognition and lower grades.
(If you want to receive the 1-9 bulletins too you can sign up here)