As we near the completion of another school year, I find myself at the end of my first ‘full cycle’ – taking a class of students through from Year 9 to 11 where they have sat their final two exams in History. For some, this is the end of their History education, for others this is a stepping stone into further education.
I still remember my first day as an NQT and meeting this class the first time, them not knowing me and me not knowing them and attempting to carve a relationship through our love of history. I remember the advice given to me by mentors, well wishers and anyone else I spoke to in panic in the final weeks of my summer, telling me, “No smiling until Christmas” and “Show them who’s in charge from day one.” With these words ringing in my ears, this was exactly how I treated Year 9 that first day and for the first few weeks. Obviously, being a new teacher and new to the school, they pushed the boundaries and I pushed back. I still remember the arguments over writing in silence and their note taking speed, a student eating so many marshmallows she could not respond to my questions and the what felt like constant seating re-arrangements to keep on top of chatter. I’m sure they thought I was horrible, this was later confirmed on innumerable occasions; “Sir, I still remember that time you screamed at us for just turning around.” However, I can truthfully say in hindsight that the advice was invaluable. Whilst being unsuccessful in holding out on the smile until Christmas (I probably lasted one lesson at most), the clear expectations from day one set me up for even better classroom management, building relationship with the students.
Having taught for nearly three years now, I have met plenty of classes and I can not say I have found one that I ‘clicked’ with, like this particular class. For roughly 100 lessons, we discussed history, politics, current affairs, favourite crisp flavours and hiphop music. Whilst they had to listen incessantly to me talking about either my wedding, my honeymoon or most recently my daughter. I must have laughed every lesson (they certainly did not at my Dad jokes) and they certainly kept me in my place with critique of my lessons, online ‘teacher group chat’ ( AKA Twitter) and even my style/accent. I suppose you would call it ‘banter’. I know parents at parents evening called it that, but it worked for us. From Year 9 onwards, I rarely had to raise my voice or use the behaviour system (bar the odd occasions with orange peel, mobile phones or my whiteboard clicker). We formed a mutual understanding that worked for us. Perhaps it was the conversations in class or the chats in the corridor, pep talks at break or advice after the lesson that made us work so well. I hope deep down they knew I cared, both how they did in history and also about their wellbeing. It was not all laughs and jokes, this relationship and close understanding helped me understand the gaps in their knowledge, their strengths and weaknesses and build bridges to find a way to developing better historians.
I’ve seen a lot of discussion about behaviour management this past year and for me, it is the relationships I build with students that underpins everything in my classroom.
This is not to say the past three years were not tough at times. For example, confusion over Hitler’s rise to Chancellor and Dictator, difficulties differentiating between the Abyssinian and Manchurian Crises, Diem Bien Phu and even on the day of the final exam some could not remember how to answer the American 10 mark question. There were also moments where I made mistakes such as attempting to introduce revision files in Y10 and my disastrous first efforts at “pick your own group” groupwork (rookie error, I know). As they learnt from me, I did from them and I’m a better teacher for it.
I will be finishing my third year, looking forwards to results proud of the fact that our revision attendance was the highest we ever had, proud that 4-5 students ‘turned it around’ in Year 11, proud that many have been inspired to take history at college, proud known ‘write off’ students engaged and loved history, proud they took on anything I threw at them and proud how they took to interleaving revision and the fortnightly exams I enforced in Year 11.
As I drove home on Friday night after Prom, the realisation dawned on me that our time was up. I should really thank these students, for giving me a chance from day one, for teaching me as much as I taught them and for affirming to me that at 30 years old, I have finally found the career for me. I will I’m sure remember this year group fondly, and I’d like to think they’ll remember me, if only for the stripey socks!
So, here’s to my first full cycle, and onto the next…