Tuesday, 20 December 2016

Bringing the learner to the forefront. Does FE differ from secondary education?

Tonight serves as a time for reflection on the year we have had within education. The introduction of the new GCSE's in English and Maths looms over us and everyone is apprehensive about the current structure of these new exams. While schools around the country are gearing up for students to sit these examinations, colleges have yet to adopt this change. Some colleges have opted to join the change and move to these new specifications early in order to gain an extra year of experience delivering these qualifications before the mainstream students who have attempted these exams come onto their further education journey.

Aside from the examination changes, changes to funding in FE have meant that students will be funded on their full time programme providing that colleges can evidence progression within English/Maths depending on the current grades of the students. We also have to consider that students have to stay in education until they are 18 years old, and if they choose to stay further, they have to complete Maths or English qualifications until they are 19 or achieve "C" grades in both (or 4/5 grades, but nobody is really sure which)

So where does this leave further education. Are we becoming more mainstream and compulsory?

As a lecturer at a college, we get a mixture of different student groups, the students all have one thing in common, they have attempted their GCSE at least once before and gained either D grade or lower. Rather than just throwing students into their GCSE again regardless of grading, we also have functional skills qualifications (which is an adult numeracy qualification in problem solving using contextual information to complete maths based problems). Does this make it easier for our students who achieve less than a D grade in GCSE Maths? I personally think if we can provide skills for maths exams and learning, then we are doing a service to our learners who otherwise will be leaving college without any formal maths qualification whatsoever.

One of the common questions I get from students is "why do I need to do Maths?", a lot of the time I work with students on comprehending their maths learning and considering how this could apply within their future life. Does this mean everything they learn they use in the future, well, it depends on their occupation choice but generally speaking students will not use as much as they will need to learn in their maths qualifications. Does this mean that we have lost them altogether in their maths learning, why learn it if there is no need?

Consider this problem, two candidates go for an apprenticeship in construction, both are equally competent within this field and are able to apply themselves within their construction skills, however one has a C grade in Maths and the other doesn't, one is judged as more competent than the other. In our teaching of maths to these learners, be sure to stress that you are helping them become more employable rather than being good at maths. The truth is, not many of your students are looking to become maths teachers, nor are they looking to complete further mathematics education, be sure to speak directly to the students motivation and interests in addressing the issues surrounding their compulsory English and Maths education.

It's funny when I speak to students about jobs, some are happy doing any job they want but ultimately they all want opportunity in the future. Some students will also work part-time, prioritise their driving lessons and have other personal problems to contend with outside of your maths lesson. Consider the individual motivations when trying to encourage your students to continue and complete their maths qualifications and bring attention to that. You do not need to be the best maths teacher in the world to teach FE students maths, you just have to be able to relate to the problems that students compete with in their day-to-day lives and show genuine admiration and interest in them. Some of the students I talk to about their English and Maths sessions say they enjoy their lessons in these subjects because they feel valued in the classroom not because they want to necessarily study your subject (one student made me a "best maths teacher" sticker which was very sweet) .

Take away the professionalism, and be yourself in front of your students. I encourage you to think about how you can relate to your students more, not because you want them to think about how they can relate your subject to what they do day-to-day but because you are considering the holistic wellbeing of the students in front of you. They don't need to be maths geniuses to get the maths exams, or a classic poet to understand the meaning gained from a text of information, however they need to consider what they want to do with their lives and make independent, adult decisions regarding their own futures. Does a student who gets frustrated feel frustrated with you personally? Rarely, so let's not make it a personal attack either. Remember, there is more to someone than meets the eye, just dig a little deeper and put the learner at the forefront of everything you do within your further education lessons, does this approach really differ much from school? Not at all.

Monday, 19 December 2016

An introduction to Improving attendance, positivity and learning within the FE Classroom.

Happy holidays readers! Another year is coming closer to an end and most teaching staff are getting a well-earned break. Congratulate yourselves, your colleagues, your teams and your students for bringing a hopefully rather quiet and relaxing end to this term.

Today's blog is all about the learner, the main reason we all do what we do. The learner is without a doubt the reason you are in your job, the majority of people chose to teach because they love working with and helping others, a sentiment that I definitely share especially when I write this blog. I sometimes think of what to blog about and then eventually the words come out, shaped from my experiences within the classroom as well as the events that have unfolded as the weeks have gone on.

Your learner's wishes, wants and motivations play a pivotal role in how you cope with English and Maths within FE. These learners have attempted your subject before and for those who don't experience this teaching, it is fair to say around 10% of your students will be genuinely interested in what you are delivering. The majority of your students are there because they have to be, or because they are forced to improve their own skills for their course. Nearly all your learners will be taking another vocational qualification such as Hair, Construction, Engineering, Catering amongst many other options available at your local institution. Equally more frustrating, some of these learners do not even want to complete this qualification, making your job as a Maths lecturer in this field even more difficult. This means we have to seriously consider learner motivation in order to improve attendance, attitude and the classroom culture within FE Maths and English classes.

What motivates people to do well? Praise by others is a strong influencer in how your students feel about their GCSEs and I would highly recommend ensuring your learners feel valued and safe before attempting to deliver any lesson. This is definitely useful if you talk to your learners at the start of the lesson. As I have built on my own practice, I spend the first 15 minutes of my 1 hour lesson completing a starter activity, usually an activity of an exploratory nature on the board involving discussion around a particular topic. One of my biggest reasons is to build rapport with my students, I talk to students about themselves, ensuring I show genuine interest in what they are doing and how they are getting on day to day. This practice for me has been effective, to the point where vocational staff will tell me that learners are enjoying my Maths lessons and perceive me as a good teacher (That's another way to keep your staff motivated and happy).

Motivation is temporary, there is a reason why gyms in the UK often sell loads of memberships in January but then become empty again come the first week of February. As human beings, motivation comes from things that make us feel good about ourselves and then repeating this behaviour to gain that same positive reward. This doesn't even have to be a tangible reward, the reason some people volunteer is the good feeling that a person gets after helping someone who is less fortunate than themselves, this doesn't mean that we can't operate purely on altruism but that we generally find reward from positivity and feeling good about ourselves in what we do.

Motivation itself is also formed from habit, learners have a timetable and the ones who stick to it have already formed the habit of attending your Maths lessons. It is extremely important to make those first few weeks of your maths lessons engaging, exciting and overall pleasant for your learners. Maxwell Maltz in the 1950's suggested that it takes individuals about 21 days to form a new habit, for learners in your classroom, this is the equivalent of the first month of their FE education. Aside from illness, if you can keep your learners engaged and in that classroom for the first part of the term, then the habit has formed and they will attend due to our natural behaviour to habit form, the next thing you need to work on is the positivity in your groups.

Positivity can be generated within your classroom in many ways, the biggest influencer of this is you. Learn to engage with your students on a level they are comfortable with, you should also be aware that not everybody wants to tell you about their personal life. As a rule of thumb, you should know who your learners are within the first month of delivery. I will eventually aim to develop particular questions for you as lecturers to challenge yourselves within this aspect to ensure that you not only communicate effectively with your learners, but you also consider every single person within that classroom as a person rather than another statistic or passing grade.

Another aspect revolves around behaviour management. I prefer to use the term PBM which stands for Positive Behaviour Management, the reason being that our students may have been subject to less than positive experiences in the past, where we have placed them in low sets or have already been labelled within a less than optimal grade boundary. FE Maths teaching is a different game altogether, the learners all have one core objective and none of them differ in this respect. Be sure to challenge behaviour but consider how you do so. I will be featuring examples in a future post.

Overall, I don't compromise on the truth about the role nor do I want to, for any teachers aspiring to teach FE Maths or English, this job is a very tough one, there are good days and some serious lows also. As a teacher of Maths within FE you will question yourself more and more about your work and what you are doing everyday, some people I have worked with see this challenge as a goal and work towards improving standards within their department, others have unfortunately lost hope and have left the occupation altogether. I hope that upon reading this, you take some time to reflect on your own journey as a teacher and question your own motivations, wishes and wants.

I have a question to any teacher out there who is reading this, how do you motivate your learners within your subject? Please comment below or follow me on twitter (@feguidebook) with your suggestions so we can hopefully share some good practice this festive season. Have a fantastic break!

- Matt

Friday, 9 December 2016

Do you perceive this as the most difficult job in Education?

Amongst the tirade of unhappy staff ready for a break, along with unhappy students who are thinking likewise, it is very difficult to see where the satisfaction and job reward is in delivering compulsory English and Maths in Further Education.

This was evident today to me, when students are consistent in questioning why they have to do their maths qualifications. I struggle to tell them that they are a part of a system that makes them complete something that makes them feel stupid, however we have to see the real benefit to the students who try again, and again and again to complete these qualifications.

Within mathematics particularly, students are told very quickly if they are right or wrong. Any person doesn't like being told when they are incorrect in their thinking and often take this as personal criticism. I spoke to my students over the last few days who all struggle with the demands placed on them from their course, their english and their maths classes. Does this mean our students should prioritise us over what they enjoy, over a subject in which they excel compared to a subject in which they feel defeated?

This brings me to the crux of todays blog post, is this the most difficult job in education? My answer is that any job in education, regardless of sector or subject, is as difficult as you perceive it. I may be thoroughly biased as I enjoy my job, not everyday, but as an overall occupation. I feel a lot of reward throughout the day in the small victories that are achieved, this may be one of my students excelling in a recent Functional Skills assessment, to receiving a christmas card from a student saying how confident they feel in passing their functional skills Maths at Level 2, a notoriously difficult qualification for some learners.

My most difficult moment remains this, I stood in front of a class of construction workers and realised that a lot of them probably won't succeed in getting their Maths qualifications. I considered what the point of the whole thing was, I was only ever going to get grief from the group as a whole? Why should I continue to take the brunt of the group.

I then changed my approach.

Instead of viewing the whole group as one, I took it apart, person by person and aimed to get to know each student individually. Talking to students about what they enjoy, what they like about their course and what they intend to do in the future enthuses them, it makes them feel that you care about their whole course and wellbeing. When you consider a group as the sum of it's parts, you start to see the cracks. You see the students who are hiding their frustration with bad behaviour, you see the angst of the students when you tell them that they have an assessment coming up.

This was prominent most of all with one of my learners, who wanted me to tell her she was stupid for not understanding the assessment I handed to her. Did I reprimand her for not answering any of the questions? Did I tell her to get on with it and work it out? No. I considered her feelings as a student in a classroom where she has had negative experiences before. I sat with the learner, and instead of assessing her, I talked her through the assessment. I talked to her and taught her about the methods that we covered previously. Rather than thinking that our students just don't get it, maybe we have to react and think about how our delivery and attitude could win them over so they want to learn.

I want to share a video from YouTube now, I thought this was a clear message in how we talk with our students and give feedback. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G7bGv7LPL4Y) This clip was made in 1947, nearly 70 years ago, and a lot of the messages are still relevant today.

Consider how we talk to individuals rather than groups, think about the individual motivations and what you say in how it will motivate and inspire the learners in your care. You are the difference in a persons maths or english journey and you can make a difference.

Is this the toughest job in education? Yes, but the students, laughs, staff and victories make it all worthwhile.

Enjoy your weekend teachers, onward to the christmas holidays!

- Matt

Thursday, 8 December 2016

Do our students perceive us as the problem, or the solution?

A wave of mixed behaviour and assessments plague the Christmas season before the students and staff get a much deserved break. I've been busy working on other projects for my own development and I remembered that I have been slacking on the blogs.

What I am going to talk about today is the perception that our students have about us as FE teachers and lecturers. Our students come in to a system in which they have to attend further education until the age of 18. If they choose to continue at 19, they still have to complete compulsory English and Maths until they are 19 also. The students I work with have displayed unusual behaviour this week, sometimes the confrontations start and vary throughout the day. I believe this is down to personal frustrations and the feeling that they are tired from the longer side of the half term towards Christmas.

One of my students today was unmotivated, didn't want to be there and frustrated. It is very easy as a lecturer to be objective in this circumstance but the conversation I had with this learner afterwards was very insightful. This learner told me about her negative experience within school, and how her previous teachers would get on to her to work on her Maths. Our conversation revolved around her negative experiences with teachers, interestingly enough, she said that she hopes she has me as her maths teacher again next year, a positive message that I wouldn't have known about without taking the time to show I cared about her education.

What I learnt today was that our students view us as a part of a system that criticises, judges and demotivates their ambitions. We often tell our students to complete tasks and activities within lessons but within Mathematics, our students are often felt feeling belittled, small and often stupid. My students often tell me that they feel stupid when we don't get something, a feeling that is shared amongst my adult evening classes too. It is worrying when adults tell you how they feel upset when they don't understand some content you are delivering.

My advice for today is to consider your students as people, talk to them about their priorities and what they see themselves doing. Your students view you as part of the system, show them that you are interested in their wellbeing and learning while they are in your care. It's very easy to complain about behaviour, it's much more difficult to consider the cause and get to the root of the problem. I realised that my students aren't angry at me, but at the system that got them in contact with me, become deflective of negativity and know that it is not you, but rather the subject they are frustrated with.

A short post today, but I intend to do shorter posts throughout the week, and then end on a much bigger blog entry considering experiences shared. I am currently completing my QTLS qualification so I may not be able to post as frequently as possible, so thank you for reading and your continued support.

- Matt

Monday, 28 November 2016

Considering Criticism: how my poor lesson observation made me a better teacher.

Sometimes we have really bad days, we question if we are doing the right thing and we often think about what else we would do instead. Teacher retention is a massive issue within the UK, so much so that the government are looking at funding options for recruiting and keeping graduates who choose to teach Maths, English or a Science. Teaching as a profession does not get a lot of praise, from parents, other professionals or from government, meaning that there will be a continual problem to recruit and keep some of the UK's top teachers.

Where do we go from here? How do we keep people in the profession and also keep them happy? Within FE English and Maths, teachers have to tackle the massive issue of encouraging students to complete qualifications that have been attempted once before. For a lot of teachers, this could mean that students are disruptive, uneasy or generally unwilling to co-operate with you and your lesson on anything with letters or numbers. How do we tackle what seem like constant problems against what feels like a never ending cycle of negativity?

Keep fighting for success, failure isn't an option (Courtesy of Pexels.com)

As a teacher myself, it is so easy to admit that nothing can be done, complain about student behaviour or run yourself down before you head home. I encourage you to think differently in order to preserve your own mental health and keep you loving the job you work so hard in. You are in a tough position and many have tried and failed before you, the thing that you will need to consider is, how do you take personal criticism and constant feeling of failure.

I have my own story, in my first year of teaching, I had a group that did not co-operate. I was frustrated with the group as they didn't want to learn, constant behaviour problems mixed with all the students taking a complete dislike to me. I got observed within this group and ended up doing very poorly, I spoke to my line manager at the time and I was angry and frustrated, I vented to some of the other staff I work with about the issues I had with the group and how it was all the students fault I did so poorly, I blamed everyone but myself. I went home in a huff, thinking of a way out, thinking I was not good enough to do this job. The thought of going back in, everyone will question me, everyone will think I am a fraud. I'm not cut out for this.

That evening I sat down, thought about it all and spoke to my friends. I told them how I was feeling and what I thought I wanted to do, leave. My reason was not because I wasn't qualified enough, but I felt like I was failing the students I was working with and coming up with poor ideas. It took a while but I realised that my perspective was all wrong, this was my worst group, this was not a personal attack but a lifeline for me to get this group back on track. This was a way for me to work with other staff and help my students get through their maths exams. I sent my line manager an email at 8pm that evening stating that I appreciated his feedback and I wanted to work on the things he commented on within the observation, I said I wanted to work on different approaches to the group to help me within the classroom I had. I felt instantly better, I was being positive about my own shortcoming, identifying your weaknesses in yourself makes you more likely to improve on them.

Who knew that would work? Instead of questioning myself and what I was doing wrong, I thought of what I was doing right. My lesson content improved massively and my behaviour within the classroom became more relaxed and encouraging. I realised that this was not a personal attack on my lack of experience or my competency as a teacher, but it was a wake up call, I knew if I was told I was outstanding I wouldn't have been happy with that either. I am a teacher and I have the confidence to know I am also a competent one, I know what I am doing and I know how to interact with my students. We all have areas we can improve on, and I saw this as a new challenge.

The way I responded to this affected how I feel about the future from here on out. I don't consider myself as a bad teacher, I know I work hard to get things done and work in the best interests of my students. I realised that this negative experience within my role shaped how I handled future events like this, I knew that I could have easily given up, but I know I am stronger than this and knew I could change. Ask this of yourself, if you receive some bad news, or a lesson goes horribly wrong, become objective and remove yourself from it. If there was a camera in the room, what do you think you would do differently? How do you think you would behave and what would you like to see in your own video? I thought about my own mental video from that observation, and this inspired me to work on the issues that I perceived myself. I realised the next year that my change was successful when a previous student from that group told me that she felt I was a better teacher and my lessons were much more enjoyable.

I want you to think about perspective today, your perspective shapes everything that happens to you as a teacher, if you perceive the bad group, you will subconsciously treat them differently. If you perceive yourself as a failure, you will more than likely look for opportunities to back up your hypothesis. I ask you to remember that you do this because you do care, you are competent and you are the change that may help some of your students achieve their English and Maths qualifications. You are more than a lesson observation, a pair of hands or a number. Consider this before you jump ship and try something new, think about what you can do differently and always question yourself for opportunities to develop your approach. You are not going to fail if you are always looking for ways to improve. The big lesson I learnt from this experience is to perceive criticism as a way to improve what you are doing, treat constructive criticism as a new lease of life to any problem areas and use this to shape your own development. Tackle problems with solutions, you'll feel better, healthier and earn more respect from other staff and students alike.

- Matt

Saturday, 26 November 2016

The key to Monday happiness, the weekend!

A lot of times, Monday mornings are the worst days that most professionals go through in their working week. How did the weekend leave us so fast? There was so much I had to do! How did I not manage to see my family? All these questions, feelings of regret and unease at the week ahead. This unease doesn't get easier for teachers, who may be planning lessons over the weekend and doing more work on top of their already full on job itself. Marking is a bane of a teacher's life, but I will address this in a separate blog post.

So where are we at now? It's a Saturday evening and I am sat here feeling content in the fact I have done the majority of the stuff I wanted to do over the weekend, and all done without a hangover. As I referred to in a previous post regarding work life balance (Post), the key to success for the weekend is how you prepare yourself for the week ahead and properly relax in time for that Monday morning alarm clock!

I was desperate to do a few things before this weekend was over, these things were to update this blog, contact my parents, get my haircut and also do something lavish for myself, I've done those things and it's not even 6pm on Saturday, it means I can relax a bit more until tomorrow where I will look over my lessons in preparation for the next week. I don't feel unhappy or stressed at the thought of planning my lessons, I accept that they will get done and I am content that I am prepared for the work that this will ensue.

One of my biggest tips is sleep, make sure you catch up on any sleep and prepare yourself for your morning routine this week. Sleep also greatly increases our active thinking, affects how positive we feel and how likely we are to perceive stress at different times. The way to do this is to ensure you don't set yourself an alarm over the weekend. If you do have to get up at a certain time, then go to bed 8 hours prior. Our bodies sleep in cycles of 1.5 hours at a time, in those intervals, we are at our lightest stage of sleep, so for you maths people out there every 1.5, 3, 4.5, 6, 7.5 and 9 hours your body would naturally wake up if slightly disturbed, it's also why you may feel really groggy if you wake up in the middle of a sleep cycle. One application I would recommend attempts to find your body's natural rhythm and wake you up when you are at your lightest stage, search "sleep cycle" in the application store on your phone for options and see if you find any success with them. There is sense to the principle that you can wake up on the wrong side of the bed!

It's very easy to stress too much about different things we have to get done, I've tried a new practice, I plan out my week on a Sunday evening. This plan has all my commitments, plans for when I am going to exercise, write my blog, work, see my parents and other commitments (including writing my best man's speech for my friends wedding). I start by writing down everything I need to cover in the next week (pay this bill, see this friend, book tickets etc), then I order the things I need to do in priority. I prioritise my most important things, such as family, friends, blog and exercise. I then try to fit that around work as much as possible. I know that we all need downtime, that's timetabled too in my week and at the weekend. Getting into a positive habit and routine takes a lot of the mental strain out of preparing yourself for the week. I don't worry about my lessons for the week now, I've planned time on Sunday evening to peruse my plans for the week. Mention in the comments if you would like me to expand on this topic. Try it for yourself!

I also love to see my parents every weekend, without fail. They only live in the same town as me but I feel it's important to connect with those closest to you, as mentioned in my previous blog post, family and relationships are paramount in helping you feel de-stressed, relaxed and generally all-together in preparation for your week ahead. It's funny when I was with my parents this weekend, we sat and watched some old family movies. My dad said to me "Life was easier then wasn't it" as I watched one year old me blow out the candles on my Humpty Dumpty birthday cake. Yes dad, it was, but in that moment nothing else crossed my mind other than how much I valued my family, it was great.

Just make sure you leave enough time to wash your clothes for Monday! Happy weekend everybody!

P.s. I've added a follow button on the top right of this page if you want to be kept updated when I next post, let's build the community one follower at a time!

Thursday, 24 November 2016

Don't you know? The kid's are alright!

Another eye opener today with regards to the teaching within my maths classroom, remarkable what activities work and what doesn't work so well but the main thing is that every experience improves us as lecturers and teachers within this FE minefield!

A fact we always forget when we are delivering to the students within compulsory English and Maths is that they are giving it another go, we've all been deflated over not receiving news we don't want to hear however for some of the students we work with, this may be a fresh start on a subject which they had lost hope in. The amount of students who require extra arrangements for exams is staggering, a lengthy referral process ensures that students who are struggling get seen, assessed and then awarded different arrangements from the examining body.

One of the striking moments within teaching today was helping a problem learner through some maths work, a learner who I thought would not achieve surprised me and completed work of a very good standard, we are getting somewhere! We are making progress towards the goal, what goal that is becomes subjective to the students you know within your classroom and what you view as a step forward in their motivation, achievement and learning. This is what I am going to talk about today, how do we define success within the FE classroom and how do we measure progress from the starting point, we have tunnel vision regarding our learners however I am here to open up the box and make you aware of the little victories you all experience day to day.

When we get our learners at the start of the year, they are apprehensive, don't want to be there, have their own stories and experiences that we are unaware of. The big issue here, it's a guessing game to identify which learners belong in which category. Some of our students are not able to read correctly and struggle with basic life skills in the classroom, some have such terrible experiences within education that the thought of coming along to their functional skills classrooms sends them into a wild frenzy. We often forget this when we have 16 learners and 4 of them become disruptive during a lesson, however we need to be more subjective and student centred to move forward and keep our heads in this ever changing system.

We make it a habit of talking about the general student group. Statements like "the kids are on one today" and "they are all behaving terribly" sometimes becomes defeatist about the role we are in. I want you to practice something, for every negative you say regarding a student's attitude or behaviour, consider the small victories, did a student perform better than expected? Did a student impress you with their knowledge? Did they thank you for the lesson at the end of the day? I always make it a practice to thank my students and tell them to enjoy the rest of their day, a positive message to leave our learners with and show that you do care about each and every one of them.

Dale Carnegie wrote a book called "How to win friends and influence people" in 1936 but a lot of the lessons within it are still prevalent today, especially within the role of education. Dale Carnegie suggests that we should always try to give honest and sincere appreciation, appreciate your students for the effort they made in getting to your classroom and the work they completed. This rule applies to all the staff that you work with in a support capacity, thank your learning support and teaching assistants within your classes as well as the administrators that make your life easier day to day. The more you appreciate the students and staff around you, the easier your life becomes. Richard Branson once said that "employees come first, if you take care of your employees, they will take care of the clients", let's remember this in day to day workings with our staff and our students, use this message to inspire us to keep going week in week out, lesson by lesson and day to day.

For every negative, try to find a positive in your classroom

Wednesday, 23 November 2016

Addressing your work-life balance; Practical tips (part one)

How much value do you put on your work/life balance? Where has the importance been in terms of ensuring that not only do you work hard but also take time to ensure that your own personal and emotional needs are met? Many articles have surfaced on the internet about the problems faced by teachers regarding recruitment, retention and work-life balance. This is especially prevalent within the FE environment where classroom sizes are increasing and more students require English or Maths at C grade.

What I am going to talk about today is the responsibility of getting your work-life balance in order to effectively perform not only as a teacher, but in all aspects of your life. Please don't take this as patronising, but I will try to elaborate on how I prepare myself for the days and weeks ahead in my working life. I am going to share the secrets to my own personal reflective process so I do not succumb to the day-to-day frustrations of FE teaching and run myself down as the week progresses on.

I discussed with my colleagues today about how they work and what they do outside of their own lives, it's difficult when you have so many other commitments from children, family members, friends and others to make time for yourself. One thing I do is ensure that I make time for something I truly enjoy doing. Last weekend I went to Costa Coffee and had a latte with something to eat, it was my own time to reflect and be happy with my own thoughts and feelings, it's funny how we enjoy ourselves when we are left in our own company just to dream away the time. My first piece of advice is to do something for yourself at least once a week. Maybe you want to go to the cinema with a significant other, have a meal out at the weekend, if you have children then what about going for a refreshing walk in the sunshine (providing the weather is good!). 

The practice of mindfulness (essentially living in the present reality) is becoming more commonplace within work, allow yourself time to reflect on the day's activities (my blog works really well for myself) and consider what events happened and how they make you feel. Question your own feelings and emotions in an objective way to help you restore clarity in your own judgement and reasoning. This brings me onto my next avenue for success, spirituality. I am Agnostic however many colleagues I have worked with in the past have strong religious beliefs, make time for your own spirituality and teachings to feel some faith in yourself again. If you are non-religious, meditation is really good for making you feel present and in the moment, calm breathing and relaxing ensure that you feel more control in yourself rather than how the outside world affects your feelings.

I went to see my sister at the weekend, she has a little girl who has just turned two years old, I had a great three hours playing with her and really relaxing with my valued family members. I couldn't believe how grown up she is, how has it been three months since I last saw them? I now reflect on this and want to see them at least once a month, this brings me to another important pillar in my work-life balance, relationships. Always make time for people and fulfil your social need, ensure that you spend time with people you value and care about, this will in turn make you feel relaxed, calm and positive with how you approach your teaching in the future days to come. Happiness is infectious, and your happiness even more so.

How does this help you teach anything? Well, the more you address and understand your own needs, the more likely you are to respond to the needs of your students. There is more to anyone than meets the eye and the students may not be able to spend time with the people in their lives they care about. You cannot change what is happening in your student's lives, however as they learn and develop into young adults, they may look to you for guidance and support. Support your students by supporting your own needs and wishes first. Make yourself and your health a priority again so you can be effective within the classroom and perform positively in work and life.

I am hoping to expand on this even further for teachers within FE, so please follow the updates to find out when I will be discussing this in another future post. Bye for now!


Tuesday, 22 November 2016

Classroom Management in the FE Classroom; Fun, boring or leave.

How do we tackle consistently poor student behavior in our classrooms? How do we pick our battles and be on the winning side? What students want to leave and what students are always just going to cause you grief? Most importantly, are you going to let student behavior drive you out of your job?

Today was a real eye-opener to the feeling of resentment that teachers feel about poor student behavior. Why are we here? Who is to blame? Is this fair? Although some see this role as glorified babysitting, I believe that the value we give our learners in a further education environment outweighs their need to go to work straight out of school. The current system is not a perfect one, however if we constantly consider the faults, we don't give ourselves time to praise the students who do excel and perform to the best of their ability.

I tried something new in class today, frustrated with my lessons and poor behavior from a particular group in the morning, I said to them, "Right, I have three options for you, we have a really great activity planned today so you can take part in that and we can have a really good lesson, alternatively you can work through a worksheet I have which isn't anywhere near as fun. the other option is the door, you leave and get reported to your tutor". The main thing here is, I described a lesson as fun? Use positive language to describe the work you are going to do, don't downplay your time and effort, be genuinely enthused about what you are going to teach in the next hour.

I tried it with another group, most were happy to get on, and some actually opted for the worksheet, I realized something remarkable, even my worst behaved students who opted for the worksheets thinking it was less work than the activity completed the whole thing in this time. That's more work than they've done in the last week! I will be sure to develop this approach more going forward and recommend you try it out for yourself. The thinking behind this is simple, if you are expecting adult behavior, treat your students like adults, it's surprising what a little choice will do to make your students views feel valued and encourage them to complete their own tasks.

I've been working hard on implementing behavior approaches in how I speak to students in this way. Think about a really bad argument you've been in with a student, it's never fun, but think about how you could have approached this differently, my first piece of advice is never raise your voice or sound angry, they have won if they can see they've gotten to you. My second piece of advice is be overly nice with your students, encourage them, help them with their work and tell them how sorry they are that they feel that way about your Maths/English lessons. This approach makes the student appear irrational, it's almost like dealing with a bad customer, apart from if you were selling them a mobile phone, they probably wouldn't be as rude.

The final thing, is mobile phones. The bane of any FE teacher's life. Mobile phones do so much and are so capable of being brilliant resources in your classroom, your Senior Management would encourage you to use phones where possible to embed some technology within your classroom. Mr OFSTED probably agrees with that theory. Within compulsory English and Maths, I encourage you to be strict on mobile phone use within the classroom, i.e. no phones on tables, on loud or in hands. How you tackle these issues is again as adults, ask your learner if they feel that this is a valid use of their time. If you get a sarcastic answer, remind them about behaving like adults (rudeness should not be tolerated within your classroom either) and ask them to put it away. At this point most comply, if there is nothing, another simple choice. Put it at the front of the room, or leave. Most choose the former, no great loss if they choose the latter, You're always going to be less interesting than a cat video.

How you choose to tackle these issues in your classroom are completely up to you, I would encourage you to think about your own teaching style and how you function within a classroom before you change too much about your lessons. I would also encourage you to bring change in gradually. Small changes are extremely effective and could be the difference between you finishing class with a smile on your face, or in tears.

Value your students, value your profession, value your time and effort and most importantly, value yourself

Monday, 21 November 2016

How to combat stress in an FE Classroom

Today was a refreshing teaching day, I felt on top of my lessons, out the door early preparing some new resources and planning the week ahead. Teaching Maths in Further Education (FE) on a monday gives you a feeling of anxiety before you enter the classroom (are the students alright, are they going to behave, is your resource going to work) and excitement from feeling fresh from a relaxed but restful weekend. One of my future blog posts is going to talk about how to turn off at the weekend for FE staff as this for me is extremely important in keeping myself mentally ready for the week ahead.

One of the biggest problems within FE is stress, knowing the symptoms, when people have reached the end, and when to consider other options. There is nothing worse than feeling trapped in an occupation you no longer enjoy (I've been there in other occupations) and I would hate to think that people enter the profession purely for monetary reasons.

Ask yourself one question "Why did you want to become a teacher?"

Do you want to help people? Do you want to shape minds? Maybe you like a challenge? Whatever your reasoning, your motivation for this job probably isn't, I want to feel worthless and upset over young adults not learning about areas and perimeters. I want you to consider that every job in the world has it's ups and downs, there are bad days and good days much like life. I don't personally believe that there is a job that someone is 100% happy in, if someone tells you they are, they are lying to you.

I've seen many staff members leave over my relatively short tenure at my FE college (nearly 2 years), which should, by now, be considered long service award worthy. This is due to problems with students, different job expectations, work demands, marking expectations all underpinned by one word; stress. How do we cope with stress in this role? Are we doomed to be stressed our entire teaching career and is it something we have to accept?

The answer is no.

I believe that there are ways to combat stress, deal with problems head on and keep your head above water. Most jobs involve a form of stress, a little stress actually makes you perform better in some scenarios, but it is given considering the current education climate and demand for results that you will inevitably have to deal with stress. I am going to share some ideas on how to cope with stress for you to become more effective and not dread your day going into work.

The first thing you need is a solid support group, look around your staff room and consider who you are happy to talk to, what do you talk about? Is it always professional? Do you really know the people in your staffroom or office? The best thing to do is invest time in learning about others, you gave a reason why you wanted to teach earlier so practice those skills here, learn to listen actively and respond appropriately to other people you work with. I make it a practice to try to talk to everyone in my staffroom to make sure they are alright in one day, try it for yourself and see if you feel more connected to your colleagues. When you are genuinely interested in their own lives, dreams and ambitions, they will become genuinely interested in yours too, we teach our students to be caring and considerate adults so let's be the perfect role models.

Another suggestion, change the dialogue in your day to day teaching. Jimmy may not be getting a piece of work and you are certain that he is not going to achieve this year, what does Jimmy think about? What is important to him within your lessons? Maybe Jimmy loves coming to college because he gets to socialise with his friends and practice his skills in cookery, does it make him a bad person for not achieving a learning objective you've set for him? There is a reason he is retaking this subject, there is a reason he may want to talk to his friends instead of complete the worksheet you've set for him, show him that you think differently. Change reprimand for positive language and positive outcomes.

A prime example happened today in my first lesson, I had a student who told me that she thought maths was rubbish (not the exact terminology used) and didn't see why she had to do it to get a job. I asked her instead to think about what skills could be learned from attending the lessons and how she could apply them to real life. It wasn't that I was telling her off, I was encouraging her to think like an adult. She saw that I genuinely cared about how she was progressing instead of getting defensive about the subject, this meant that she not only completed the work, she thanked me when she left the room after the lesson finished. Mutual respect between your students and yourself is a powerful thing. Please and Thank you's to your students cost nothing. Do you think she thinks about this altercation after she left the room? She won't, will you?

Please let me know in the comments what you do to actively destress, what would you do in your classroom and how do you cope with the day-to-day demands of the jobs? Many thanks for reading this blog post and I hope to see you all soon.

Sunday, 20 November 2016

The Why of Maths?

"Why do we have to do this?"
"Why can't we do something fun?"
"It doesn't matter, I can still get a job without maths"
"I can't be bothered"

Amongst other excuses that your students will have told you about their future in completing their maths qualifications in further education. Today, I am going to talk about the why of maths, how to make it more tangible to students and how to change the maths schema.

For the most part, maths is symbolic of a students failure. Having to attend more maths lessons feels like they are stupid, worthless, can't do it or they are going to have to change their dreams and career options. This is not the case for our students, however I will talk about this in another blog entry.

Picture the scene, you've studied Maths for 11 years and then get told that you don't meet a required standard. For some of our students, a "D" grade is a very good achievement from where they were several years ago, however our system tells them to improve. The natural reaction is distress, they don't know how to progress further on from this and are unsure what this means for their futures. Blame sets in, they blame their teachers, they blame the subject, they blame the other students for being so distracting within lessons and potentially their parents for not helping them with their homework in year 9. What I am going to encourage you to do is change the dialogue within your classroom to help your students and make them see that this goal is achievable using some simple language and easy to understand concepts.

The majority of your students are going to be 16+, a big priority for these students is their independence. When they enter an FE environment, we encourage them to think, behave and work as adults. Part of the development of these learners is for them to pass their driving test. Let's get our students to think about this, to start, ask your students:
"What would you do if you failed your driving test first time?"
The natural response here would not be to give up, but to just try it again next time, to give it another go, to achieve because it's what they are motivated to do. Why should this change because it's Maths? The truth is, it shouldn't, you just have to help your students see that for themselves.

Maths itself is a set of skills learnt over time, it takes time, practice, lessons and eventually a test at the end. Sound's quite similar to preparing for a driving test right? Encourage your students to consider maths as a set of skills instead of a new subject that they will need to practice. Change the language in your classroom to reflect this; encourage your students to consider the "skills" they are learning rather than going through the motions of mathematic principles. Maths tests are about being competent in skills regarding maths, akin to a driving test, we wouldn't let everyone pass otherwise we would have a whole heap of issues.

Why do your students have to do Maths? Because Maths provides them with a skill-set needed to tackle problems in the workplace as well as in their own lives. A solid foundation in Maths will open doors for our students and provide them with more opportunities within work and life, we may know this, but maybe they don't yet. It might be the same effect that being able to drive and not driving would be to their career prospects. Consider your students motivations and relate to something tangible to allow your students to reflect on their own attitudes to maths.

Saturday, 19 November 2016

An Introduction to FE Maths Guidebook

Welcome to my new blog, here I am going to talk about all things Maths, current issues regarding the education system regarding compulsory English and Maths as well as some remedies.

As a current teacher working in the FE sector, I feel passionately about the teaching and education of students who are willing to retake their GCSE Maths again. I mainly focus on Functional Skills Maths, a perceived step-up qualification, which gives students some grounding skills within Maths before they reattempt their GCSE Maths. This qualification is mainly for students who achieve less than a D grade within their first attempt at GCSE Maths, the goal is to give students confidence within their own mathematics skills before reattempting a GCSE again.

So what are the issues, the number one has to be the student groups. Student groups are a mix of abilities, levels and also attitudes towards Mathematics. You have to differentiate effectively in order to get the best out of each student within each classroom as well as identify students who struggle, students who don't want to do it and students who perceive themselves as failures for not achieving their Maths at school.

As this blog develops, I will be drawing on student groups, as well as best practice for delivery of FS Maths and GCSE Maths for these student groups. I believe students can be categorised based on their need and different provision should be given to each of them which I will cover in a future post. I also believe that certain methods work well with retaking students for their Maths and I will be sure to provide examples of my time within my teaching days to reflect on how to improve for the future.

Whether you are a fellow college lecturer struggling to deliver these qualifications, a manager looking for different ways to help support your colleagues or a workbased provider considering different options supporting your student in gaining their magical "C" grade in Maths (or a 4/5 next year). I hope you find something within this blog that will be of use to you.

Many thanks, and happy reading