Almost there and time to reflect.

With one week to go before the half term break and exam season warming up, it’s hard not to become reflective.

A fair portion of my free moments this half term have been spent reflecting on my first year at Welly and I have enjoyed looking back with the Freyas!

It can be very easy to only remember the hard times, the stresses and tears. Not to mention how many times we quoted our mantra, “It’ll be fine”, at each other, although with a little less conviction each time! But with the submission of the coursework, both GCSE and A Level, and the exams happening all around us it’s become easier to focus on just how much we’ve achieved.

However, all of my reflections and thoughts on what I will take forward to next year lead me to one important question:

Why don’t we encourage our students to reflect honestly too?

I know that there are assemblies and tutor programmes which encourage celebration and looking forward, but how often do our students just stop and honestly reflect on their successes and failures over the past year? I’ve written before that if all I’ve done is prepare a student for the exam then I’ve failed and I really do believe that. Surely our most important job as teachers is one that isn’t measured in league tables and cannot really be graded by Ofsted, but it’s making sure that the people who walk out of classrooms and, ultimately, our schools, walk out as the best people we can help them to become.

It is no surprise to anyone I work with, or who has read some of my past blog posts, that I love my Y11 class. I’ve only taught them since November, but I genuinely love them all to bits. They are a resilient, charismatic and beautiful group of teens. I feel so privileged to be able to take a small amount of responsibility for the people they’ve become. I am so proud of all they have achieved. The fact that they quote and understand ‘Macbeth’ & ‘Of Mice and Men’; encourage and motivate each other; actively seek out additional revision work and work hard every lesson should be recognized and rewarded as much as every C+ grade achieved this year. Sadly, outside of the Welly walls it will not be. Over this past half term I’ve worked hard to encourage them to reflect on these past 6 months and to recognize and celebrate all of their achievements. However, I am scared that the letter on a piece of paper in August will over shadow that.

Then I think of my Y12s. This year I have two students who are resitting Y12: one in Language and one in Literature. They’ve spent a long time reflecting on their past year. Discussions on attitude and attendance were an interesting start to they year, as I didn’t really like the feeling of kicking a 17yr old when he was already down, but it paid off. Watching him flourish in the Language course this year has been priceless, as was being able to tell him that he made the second highest improvement between draft and final piece in his coursework. It’s also been amazing to see how this forced reflection of what his successes and failures of his first attempt at Y12 has led to a new vision for his life: he is now talking about going to uni. And I now feel that he have a highly successful time at uni, because of what he learnt and acted upon after reflecting on a year of his education.

But then there are other students, the ones who don’t hold on to the lessons learnt from the previous year. With the submission of the A Level coursework I’ve had to tell 2 Y13 students that their coursework isn’t as good as they want it to be. There were tears, there was sulking and there was blame. They looked to blame their teachers for this year: how they weren’t given enough help or time to complete the coursework to a good enough standard. When faced with the angry tears of accusing students it would be very easy to crumble, to apologise profusely and to give up countless hours of my own time to give 1:1 revision out of guilt. However, my own reflections over the past year made it easy for me to stand strong and remind them of their low attendance, missed deadlines and the occasions when myself, or their other teacher, was sat waiting to help them and they didn’t appear.

As I walked away from these confrontations I couldn’t help wondering how much we had actually taught them over their time in KS5. Have we prepared them to the best of our abilities for university? But maybe delivering the bad news and forcing them to accept that they have to take some of the responsibility for it was the best thing I could do for them. I can still remember the first time I really failed at education. I can also remember what it gave me.

Schools are often full of inspirational quotes and usually one quote is about the importance of failure, but do schools actually allow their students to fail and reflect adequately? I started this blog post by admitting that I’ve had a half term of reflections, what I didn’t admit is that it’s only been this past week where I’ve not finished with the crippling realisation that I’ve failed at so many things this past year. I spent 3 weeks waiting for Michael Aspel to pop out from behind a corner clutching a big red book proclaiming, “This is your year of failures.” I doubted every decision I’d made and became almost crippled with fear of having screwed up the education of those I’ve taught since starting my new job.

But then last week happened…

Revising with both the Language Lot and the Lovely Literature Ladies this week showed me how much they’ve learnt and how far they’ve come since September and I was forced to admit that I was a part of that. Then their exams rolled around and 2 hours later I was anxiously watching through windows looking for any one who would tell me how it went. As students came to find me or I bumped into them and heard their thoughts on the exam they’d just sat I started to regain some of my confidence in myself. Perhaps, I hadn’t totally screwed up their AS levels?

And of course there were four lessons with my favourite Y11 class. Sadly, this week had a sad note to it for them as I received an email letting me know that one of our class was taking early study leave as he was struggling to cope in school recently. I couldn’t help but feel that I had let him down somehow. All he needed was a D to get on his course and I was so confident I could get it for him and now with 2 weeks before the exam I’m scared that his E grade target is now in jeopardy. However, the remaining class members cheered me right up. I had to change my lesson plan on the spot on Wednesday as I was late getting from the 2nd floor sixth form area all the way down to the ground floor classroom (a nightmare journey known to many nomadic teachers I’m sure). I was expecting a little bit of chaos. Weirdly as I approached they were all sat at their desks paying attention to one of the class. Upon opening to door I heard him quizzing them all about ‘Of Mice and Men’. Bye bye Macbeth, the class want to discuss George and Lennie today! Same thing happened on Thursday, except ‘Macbeth’ was the focus of the student led revision, although now he was at the board writing notes and issuing warnings and Vivos! Perhaps I’d taught them something about the exam texts after all? Perhaps my confidence about out target grade or higher vision wasn’t totally misplaced?

I’ve spent this past week reflecting honestly on my time at The Welly and I can confidently say I’ve come out stronger. It’s going to be a challenge to keep that up as I prepare to leave and move on to a new post as I will be confronted with loose ends and failed plans alongside high grade folders and successful plans: I must make sure I reflect both on my failures and successes. And I will encourage my students to do the same and hope they learn how to have a more successful year in 2014/15.