2014 Highlights and 2015 Hopes

It’s been a funny year. Things at school have been good overall. Our students got good results in the science department. Lots of goodbyes to old colleagues and hello to new. At home, watching the two girls growing up and seeing Phoebe start school after a nice summer. Becki has run the outdoor playgroup with her friend throughout the year. I’ve enjoyed the education conference sessions, ASE, ResearchEd(s), Northern Rocks and meetups such as Laura McInerney’s touchpaper project, York Tweetup and various teachmeets both in and outside my school. So many positive things… and yet…
I am unhappy. I have been all year – struggling to motivate myself, both in the classroom and at school, and at home with my family and jobs I’ve needed to do around the house. I’ve had support, professional, medical and from my family, and it has helped. I am in a much better place at the end of this year than I was at the start. And yet…
I worry about next year: I have big decisions to make that may mean changes for work. At school new schemes of work to build for example A Level Computing. Outside school projects I’ve started that I need to make progress in or complete such as the TeachMyConcept resource with Michael Slavinsky, bathroom at home (boy that needs to be over), projects I want to start or restart, such as the Science Teaching Library book resource and of course the TV and Radio guide….
So perhaps writing this down – actively choosing and reflecting on the good things from last year, and picking my top priorities and hopes for next year – will spur me on to concentrate on the positive elements of my life, both in my career as a teacher and with my wonderful family.  It certainly can’t do any harm.

5 highlights of 2014

1 – School Days
My daughter has started school and she started when she just turned 4, making her one of the youngest children in her class. The school, a small village one where I was lucky enough to do a two week primary placement before I started teacher training, has been wonderful with the head-teacher adopting a flexible attitude to introducing Phoebe to school life. Legally, she doesn’t need to be in fulltime education until she turns 5, and so we asked if she could attend part-time. The answer was a tentative, but reassuring yes, and since then she has been attending mornings, with a couple of full days a week after half term. The communication from the school and Phoebe’s teacher has been first rate, and I am so pleased she has started so well and with such enthusiasm. I commend the school staff for being so accomodating as I am pretty sure this would not happen everywhere (despite it being allowed).

2 – Getting Stuck In
I’d be lying if I said that the odd free ticket to a conference wasn’t part of the incentive to helping out on the door or doing other jobs on the day – my budget doesn’t stretch to 6 conferences a year. But I have to say I’ve really enjoyed being part of the support act to Northern Rocks and ResearchEd. In particular being able to do the programmes for Tom and Helene, knowing that I’m taking a stressful part of the grassroots conference off their hands. ResearchEd – whilst undeniably Tom’s baby – feels part of my achievements over the last 2 years. I organised and hosted the twitter chat based around Ben Goldacre’s education paper that helped kickstart the discussions that led to the conference being developed and I also hosted the original blog until Tom got his website sorted with @Alby’s help. It’s a nice feeling to be a behind the scenes person on such an important movement – going from strength to strength.
It was lovely, also, to meet so many people, both at the REd conferences a nd Northern Rocks. I’ve met people who I like and respect and made a lot of friends. The York REd conference was a particular highlight for me as it brought me back to my first placement school at Huntington, led by the inimitable John Tomsett who is much admired across the education blog and twittersphere.
Talking about getting stuck in, I saw John again when I inadvertantly took part in the York panel for the Royal College of Teaching – I still haven’t blogged about this as I’m waiting for the streamed video to be released. I will be sure to do so.

3. Teaching and Learning
I’m in my 4th year of teaching and I’m loving it. It’s a tough job and I have felt the brunt of it over the last two years due to one thing or another. But I think that being in the classroom helping children develop a love and understanding of science and physics and now computing has definitely been one of the things that has kept me going. It’s a tough decision to leave a well paid job, doing something you like with people you get on well with, and undertake a year and a bit training, in order to start a career again. It’s made tougher, when at the same time, rhetoric from a party who may well win the next election (back in 2010) could put a kybosh on the whole thing (I don’t have a good degree level – there was an element of flunkery during my last year at university that put pay to that). I started teaching at a time of great flux in the political machinations in the education world and following the twists and turns of the output from Ofsted, Ofqual and the DfE (some good, to be applauded; some downright dreadful, to be ridiculed). There are colleagues online who do a fantastic job of keeping these things under check and in perspective and I though I often find myself drawn into the fray, the bottom line is I am here to do a job: to teach students to the best of my ability and help them learn, and grow to be people with an interest in learning more about the world they’re in, whether that be physics, general science, computer programming, music, maths, philosophy, politics etc. I must remember that.

4. Music
I’ve started playing in a band again (though it’s taken a back seat for the winter term). I love playing music, it’s such a release from the trials and tribulations, and it’s a real joy to play with people who can just pick up their instruments and play. I went to school in Greenock, a deprived town, but in the 1990’s the school music scene was amazing. My music teacher Albert Sloan, who was my inspiration to become a teacher, took a thriving orchestra at my school and transformed our school’s music department. We had concerts every year in which the students just learning to play the keyboard took centre stage alongside the orchestra, and windband, and other groups. It was a small school (800) but music was at the heart of it and schools around had the same. Scottish music provision for school age students was nothing short of excellent in the 1990s (I hope it still is).
I may be unlucky, but I have not seen anything like this in the schools I’ve worked at in the last 4 years. There are out of school music groups, and some excellent musicians, but I teach in one of the largest schools in England (2000) and we’ve struggled to put together a orchestra for our school show. This feels wrong to me, but I understand that it’s mainly down to funding across England. Even so, playing music, both at school and in a personal capacity in a band, and with my family will always be a highlight.

5. A new addition
Finding out that I am going to be a father for the 3rd time, has been amazing. Today I saw my new baby wriggling around for the sonographer. Finding out that it might be born on my birthday next July (due date 1 day after) and seeing its strong beating heart was the highlight of the year for me.

Hopes for 2015

1. A happy new year.
It’s been a tough couple of years for me; feeling very low has been a regular occurence but I am glad to say that I feel that I’m getting to grips with my depression. Working through my thoughts and anxieties, finding the positive side to things that happen to me, and prioritising things that are important to me both in work and at home, will be my modus operandi for 2015. I have lots of things to look forward to over the coming year, and important decisions to make; so being positive about them and organising my time to make the most of things is really important. This may mean less time on twitter 🙂

2. Healthy babies
I clearly have something to hope for in July, baby Weatherall III is due on the 16th. We will leave things to chance – as that’s how life works – and not find out too much about the baby. All I shall say is I hope my wife has a comfortable and enjoyable pregnancy, and that the little one is as healthy and happy as possible. I also hope that my big girl continues to thrive at school and enjoys the transition to full time in time for Y1. And I definitely hope that her wonderful little sister continues to be the source of joy that she is to all of us.

3. Practice
My teaching practice needs to improve, I know it. I am reaching that plateau that David Weston so eloquently describes in his lectures on CPD. My motivation to improve is high, but my energy levels have been low. I am going to go back to  school next week having had some rest and with a renewed vigour for improving my practice. I am responsible at school for a trial of peer-support observations that need to be reviewed within the first few weeks in the new term. I am pleased that school have been happy to trial such important changes and to let someone from the grass-roots lead on it. I hope it’s a positive change for CPD for everyone at school. I will be concentrating my efforts on more effective feedback with my students and more effective use of time in and out of the lesson to consolidate learning – no point in doing either of these if it doesn’t benefit the students so my focus will be on impact on all my students – I already collect feedback on my teaching from them, a very useful gauge.

4. Projects
Ahhh. Projects. Those little ideas that form in the back of your mind, that turn into the thing that occupies your every waking moment. I have projects:
some are at home – I have a bathroom to finish, rockery to build;
some are at school – the CPD trial, my classroom walls, the physics corridor, teachmeets, computing schemes of work, etc;
some are for me – writing music, getting a bit fitter, the raspberry pi needs to be played with;
some are just there – concept mapping the entire curriculum!, weekly science TV and Radio guides, the Science Teaching Library book reviews, and more…
I hope I do them 🙂
An addendum to this – I also hope the College of Teaching project continues to pick up steam, I have already a strong interest in this and it has to be a positive change for teaching.

5. Ch..ch..ch..changes.
Next year my life at school is going to change, there’s no two ways about it. Curriculum changes in A Level physics, Computer Science curriculum changes. Lots of decisions to make about what I want from my career as a teacher with an extremely tempting curve ball thrown in last month. I didn’t go for a Head of Physics job at school last year as I didn’t feel ready for it, but the amount of work I am going to be doing preparing for next academic year requires me to step up to the next gear. A role with responsibility for the curriculum and assessment is one I relish as I already have my head firmly stuck into the new curricula for the upcoming years (as well as for the TeachMyConcept project I started last year). It’s vital we are ready for the GCSE and A Level changes, whether I’m (just) a classroom teacher, or someone with more responsibility, I consider it important I’m on top of these changes. Watch this space…