Monday, 30 January 2017

Assessments in FE Maths?

So tonight's blog post is all about assessment, yeah yeah I get it, we all do it every time we walk into the classroom and deliver an activity or worksheet to our students, but I am going to share with you what has worked for me in the past and what continues to work now in an FE Maths environment.

You may be asking yourself why the environment from School to Further Education changes how we should deliver and assess? Well it doesn't in the most part, a lot of the methods we use to deliver and engage our students within their further education Maths lessons, however we have to consider the student groups we are working with and how we combat the different issues and dynamics that happen within your different class groups.

The first thing I want to say, is that you are not going wrong with what you are doing currently and I am not the person to criticise or judge what you are working towards. In fact, anyone who teaches within this current further education climate should pat themselves on the back for a job well done. You keep the energy going and you don't back down, keep it up!

What I am going to do however is offer up my own opinions of what I believe works and what doesn't work considering the different classrooms and structures that I have around the current further education maths classroom. Let's start with everybody's favourite!


Ahh yes, the worksheet. Not only does this require minimal effort on your part but they are ideal for your students who are stretching and understand concepts in a lot of clear detail. One of the models I use within the classroom is the Bronze, Silver and Gold worksheets. The idea is that students can opt for worksheets for the level they feel their understanding is at. Within some of my functional skills classrooms, some students opt for the worksheet as they want to grasp a concept in more detail or they just don't want to do it and feel that this is the least painful way to get the lesson over and done with.

Worksheets when used well can add much to your classroom, it can inspire students to participate actively, especially if they are competitive in nature (my sports students are massively competitive in this respect) but that means that they will encourage each other to reach a certain level of maths attainment. I don't believe in basing lessons on worksheets as this can wear down quite quickly to some student groups who may advance rapidly as well as belittling the ones who struggle with the content you have given them. Use with caution!

Come on now, those worksheets aren't going to mark themselves!

PowerPoint based activities

This is one I primarily use, I structure a lesson on a powerpoint and then run through it within an allocated time, allow some time for bell work/starter activity while students are appearing in your classrooms to get the creativity and discussion flowing within the class. I use this method regularly as students tend to discuss and I can assess work on a variety of different levels across the class as time goes on. It is a tough situation within Maths as you want to make sure that people understand the concepts rather than copy off their friends, so I use this as an opportunity to make my way around the classroom in parts. I work with a variety of different students in Maths with different needs, some may need extra support understanding what you have asked them to do so be aware of this when you wander round your classroom and think everyone is getting the material.

Are your students excited by your amazing powerpoint?

Movement activities

A great way to assess activities in my classroom revolve around being active in the classroom, in the FE classroom, I have to use this sparingly as some students will outright refuse to move out of their seat (so make sure you have a backup). An example of this was when I stuck up signs across the room saying "Always True" "Never True" and "Sometimes True" and gave students statements about different maths misconceptions, most of my students participated within this activity but alas, there were a handful who did not want to leave their seat, or when they did they didn't want to continue working afterwards. A really difficult concept when you have 45 minutes of your lesson left and your students are screaming the corridor down. Oops.

Be sure to have a backup activity prepared if this falls apart, my favourite thing to do is amend what you are doing, so raising hands or small group discussions work well in this situation

Interactive Resources

Kahoot, Activinspire Voting pads and other devices have been helpful in developing this approach, so much so that students will actively ask for these activities in their classes. These revolve around the use of technology to enhance the student learning experience, sometimes these work very well and students are engaged within their lessons. I have encountered problems with this approach however, students who have got their phones out to use Kahoot have since decided they don't want to participate and then closed the application altogether, a very difficult concept to work with the students when they don't listen or aren't interested in the activity you have prepared for them.

If you have the availability, try to get students to use college facilities to engage within their learning, I don't think they will use Facebook as often to find out that their mate is at Greggs having a great time while they are stuck in maths!

Get off Facebook you!

When receiving feedback

One of the biggest problems in my teaching practice as a new maths teacher has been how to assess and give proper feedback on performance. I have always just waited for one person to give an answer to a maths problem and this suffices, however during a recent teaching observation, I was noted on this aspect and encouraged to think about other assessment methods. I eventually decided that I was going to give students the answer to the question on the board already, and they have to show me how they got to that method, there is much more variety in the method compared to the answer which you can assess. Assess the students method in maths, that's where all the marks are, it's evidence of understanding the question they have been presented with.

In Conclusion

It is a really tricky minefield teaching maths within further education but you have to use a combination of different approaches to make sure that you get the most from your classes. Classify students within the groups into appropriate dynamics so that you can work towards their own best interests. This is especially difficult when you have groups who can drive you up the wall, tell you your lessons are rubbish or question you constantly about your capability to teach them.

Teaching in this environment can be unforgiving, just remember that if you are struggling with assessment in these classes, find another way. There are many opportunities to assess based on these methods outlined about but overall, nobody knows the group like you do. Work in the best interests of your students (and tell them that often) and you should hopefully make your life easier, it's nearly half term teachers, enjoy the rest of your week

- Matt

Friday, 27 January 2017

5 Traits of Further Education Teachers

So an interesting week and conversation in the staff room today, discussing what the ideal candidate would be for a teacher job within the FE sector teaching compulsory English and Maths. There are plenty of lists out there online that will tell you about certain qualities you may want to possess as a teacher but with FE a certain set of skills will help you gain the most out of your students as well as from your team in helping students complete their English and Maths qualifications.

So what qualities do you need to possess in order to excel within delivering these qualifications? Well there are a few things to consider:

You don't need to have taught before to be good in FE

Some of the best lecturers will have been out to work in different positions and institutions across the country, including areas that are not do to with teaching. There is a massive weight in having work experience in a variety of different fields so you can apply these skills within Maths or English teaching. I have met lecturers across the field who are still training or have begun to train in delivery of English and Maths, they bring an amount of fresh air to the profession as they may view problems in a different way compared to people who have been teachers prior. The best results in the staff room are a mix of excellent teachers who have taught in Secondary schools mixed with new ones as they can bounce loads of different ideas off each other. I'm very lucky to have this within my current institution.

Some of the best further education teachers may not have taught before. But a real mix of backgrounds in teaching work best (Image courtesy of

Empathy is your best trait, be sure to show it

You need to show serious empathy with your students before you work in the further education field. You may find that some students will aim to challenge and make your life difficult in the teaching role, but you have to always remember that this may be a cry for help or attention across the lessons you teach. Some of the students you teach will expect to fail your subject or they will expect for your lessons to be exactly like school lessons. Your best chance at working with these students is to have a laugh, work with them and talk to them about their own interests and priorities. You will find more joy if you work with your students than work against them so try to get a grip on how your students are feeling and the pressure they face across all aspects of their programme.

An enhanced subject knowledge can be developed in time, but this will help you

As a maths lecturer starting out, I did not know what to expect walking into the Further Education classroom, my maths knowledge was good but I found it difficult to adapt the subject and emphasise it's importance to different areas. Some students will question every task they have to do and how it will apply to them, the truth is that some of these subjects may not be applicable such as having to draw graphs by hand. Emphasise the importance of having these skills to apply to any situation, just because you may be studying a health and social care course does not mean that you will always work in this sector. Maths and English qualifications give you transferrable skills to apply to a variety of settings. An enhanced subject knowledge will help you in this role to show your students your legitimacy to teach them lifelong skills they can apply to different situations.

You may want to let your students know they have options with English and Maths education (image courtesy of

Become a people person, react to your student needs

Being a people person and interacting with students in a way that they can understand and appreciate will not only help you within your role, but these traits will help some students attend your lessons and work towards achieving their qualifications. Students may challenge but just try to react with positive body language and emotional intelligence, along with empathy, try to counter-act the notion that we do not care about our students and work with them to achieve their own goals and aspirations. Some tips are to always question yourself and your actions, as a lecturer, base your decisions on your students best interests. One of my students this week was so worried about her exam, that I told her to not attempt it this time but to wait until she was ready, thinking in this way will win value amongst your students in this educational climate.

And finally, show your students the enjoyment of your job and laugh

This one is so important that I am surprised a lot of other teachers fail to miss out the basics, but remember to enjoy your own subject delivery and create activities that you would enjoy delivering as well as attempting if you were in your students position. Having this thought process when it comes to your students needs will help you create engaging, exciting activities that students will enjoy. I found that some groups hate moving around too much in their Maths lessons, so a lot of the activities I do revolve around getting them to think critically and can be enjoyed remotely, other groups may feel different. Adapting your teaching to each group will not only make your job more enjoyable but will help you to relax in the environment you are in.

Don't forget to laugh and have fun in the further education classroom

So these are just some ideas to get you thinking
Every teacher who decides to go into further education has some value to bring to the team, from previous managers to people who are newly qualified. Students who are thinking of teaching should try out Further Education within English and Maths, with the right mix of staff and student abilities it provides a stimulus to get you thinking about how to approach new challenges every day. How do you feel teaching Further Education? Are there any tips you would share with new or current further education teachers? If you do then please comment, I read every single one. I believe that together we can create an active and happy FE environment for staff, students and other working professionals.

Well let's stay positive about that prospect.

Have a great weekend teachers

- Matt

Tuesday, 24 January 2017

Is Microsoft Powerpoint killing creativity? How I rekindled my love for teaching

So following on from my latest blog post, I did try the Flying start activity and it worked with a large amount of success! It was really fun to run the activity with the different teaching groups and everyone gave it a really good go (even if I did get hit in the head by paper balls several times!) Check out my previous post about technology to use within the FE Classroom, I've been trying to get to grips with the staff visualiser with no success whatsoever! Any tips would be appreciated!

My monday was incredible, I felt that although I didn't have a regimented plan for what they were going to cover, I was responsive to the needs within the classroom and what they wanted to cover. As we approach the exam period for Functional Skills Maths, it is evident to me that students are becoming more stressed and antsy about the looming prospect of being put on show in their mathematics ability. This has been shown to me through the repeated questions on how their exam will run throughout their individual session.

I realised one major thing within this practice, I rely too much on Powerpoint to cover content in my classroom, not only was this killing my creativity, but it was also sucking the energy out of my teaching. Rather than treating all my individual groups as individual groups, I gave them the same content without considering the student needs within the groups I had. A prime example of this happened a few weeks ago, where I delivered a Level 2 Functional Skills Maths lesson to a group of Level 1 learners, not only did the learners feel deflated but they also didn't appreciate coming back to their maths lessons soon after for fear of criticism. This has me concerned about the value I am providing my learners for their maths lessons.

- Am I killing the creativity in my class?

After a few lessons on monday, I was buzzing with excitement, eager to tell everyone how amazing it was to be free from the powerpoint that I had created and shackled to for comfort. I knew my subject! I know enough to talk around the subject in detail and I can help any student to tackle their mathematics problems. I know different ways to engage students interests, I know what these kids value, and finally I know what being a good teacher is all about, it certainly isn't about making students complete mundane activities for the sake of completing activities but to get them invested in their own learning to use in the future and how to apply that same learning to real life contexts.

One of the biggest alternative softwares I use is Promethean's Activeinspire which is fantastic for showcasing maths working out, alongside the ActivSlate device, it has been a real winner for applying mathematic concepts to the education of my learners in the classroom, it also has the ability to change to graph paper and other grid options to reflect what students would have to complete within their exam practice. This software has also been helpful for incorporating ICT within my lessons as students can be eager to write on the slate device to show their own working out.

- Activslate, a really great piece of kit that had some students in awe. Just watch for the occasional rude drawing...

How do we as lecturers respond to the different needs within the classroom? I know for a fact that a lot of lecturers have complete sets of lessons prepared (which don't get me wrong, is fantastic for consistency of delivery), but I would encourage you to deliver your own twist on these resources so that you can get the most from your groups. In further education, it may not be that your students seriously struggle with their mathematic ability, but that they struggle within a learning environment. We have a duty within further education to enable students to benefit from being within a supportive, fun and active learning environment, not only to encourage activity but to promote the idea of lifelong learning. I feel that everyone can be a lifelong learner providing we set up creative and interactive ways to work with their subjects they study in further education.

Your task this week is to find a new way to interact with your students in your classroom, I have checked to see what items are available within the library for me to borrow so that I can adapt and change my own teaching style (consider it my own challenge as such), if you want your students to think differently, you have to be willing to do the same as well. I also have a second challenge, attempt to deliver a single lesson without the use of powerpoint, this may help you to work actively on being creative and active within your classroom. It may be the jump you need to remind yourself why you loved being a teacher in the first place. Leave a comment to let me know how you get on, I would interested to hear your own experience of your powerpoint-free delivery.

- FE Maths Guidebook, Less powerpoint, more teaching

Enjoy the rest of your week teachers!

- Matt

Sunday, 22 January 2017

Expanding into new tech for the FE Classroom! The start of the FEMathsGuidebook YouTube Channel!

This is something new that I am going to try, especially towards helping students within FE understand maths principles and work towards improving maths skills across the board. All weekend I have been excited by the prospect of starting a YouTube channel (no guesses for the name) and realised that the market is saturated with resources for young people.

With the growing demand for young people to use their phones and have them on their person 24/7, there is massive opportunity for learning right within their pocket. Some applications are very good in helping students to gain mathematics skills, I particularly like HegartyMaths as well as MyMaths for students to build their own maths skills on the go, however I feel the human touch is always the easiest way for students to learn, develop and gain more mathematics skills which both these excellent applications offer.

So I start my YouTube channel, scheduled in two videos for the next week and am very happy with the results, it made me question what equipment that we need as lecturers in order to build ICT within the classroom and how we can use the technology that the students have in order to enhance the learning environment for our young people within their mathematics education.

A new service that hit our staff room this week was kahoot! A massively open online resource for students to answer quizzes using their mobile phones. I was sceptical at first as I know that students struggle to work well with their mobile phones in compulsory subjects however I was pleasantly surprised when all the students were engaged, participating and active in responding to the questions that I gave them within this application. I highly recommend Kahoot and you should definitely consider it with your learners in the future weeks, they are also a fantastic bunch of people too:

- A reply from the Kahoot team after I tweeted at them about their app! Follow me while you're there (@feguidebook)

It made me wonder about the other applications and technologies we are all apprehensive about using when working with young people. I believe that a blended approach can work within FE providing you set clear boundaries and guidance for students to participate within their own learning. My approach will take time to set up but I like the idea of eventually creating my own resource bank in which students will be able to work on their Maths problems without me being there.

One of my biggest reasons for doing this is for the sake of the students that really try within their Maths but just struggle to remember the basic maths skills they need. I have one student who works hard within her maths but has been with me for nearly 2 years and is struggling to complete the Level 1 Functional Skills qualification. As heartbreaking as this is for me as her lecturer, it is equally upsetting to her as she is desperate to complete and pass her maths qualification this year. I am determined to make that happen, and so through the YouTube content that I will be creating, I will aim to help students outside of the classroom to complete their own mathematics journey, revisiting the teaching that I have provided over the next year.

We have to ask ourselves why we do this role, and as educators I believe it's because we want to help others as much as possible. I have also been looking at other methods and found a fantastic starter activity given by Ross from Teachers Toolkit called Flying Start, an activity in which I am eager to try in the next few weeks, especially for revision on certain topics, the video will be linked here:

-Ross from Teacher's Toolkit demonstrating Flying Start at SSAT

As a teacher, I didn't think that I would also be finding value within YouTube as a resource for my own professional development, Ross's video shows me that actually there is a lot to be gained from the technology that we all use day to day. It would be interesting if we could get our students to also think about how we use these resources to develop our own teaching practice and enhance the learning environment. I hope you've found something useful here and let me know if you plan on using Flying Start within your lessons as well. I will be sure to let you all know how it goes!

I still really want one of these things, but I don't know if my department can justify the price-tag, ouch!

- Entry Level Visualiser, used for classroom demonstration

Enjoy your week!

- Matt

Wednesday, 18 January 2017

Address the behaviour, not the student personally

So a lot of the challenges you may face within the further education sector is to do with Behaviour. It's a lot of the problems with teaching Maths in Further Education where students will firstly not only not be vastly interested in your subject, they may resist your teaching in many different forms. Teaching itself prepares you to tackle different behaviour types and approaching behaviour in many different forms but Further Education teaching will question what you know about challenging behaviour and how you choose to tackle it.

There are many guides that will tempt you to follow certain behaviour traits in order to gain the best from your students, these range from books such as "Getting the Buggers to Behave" by Sue Cowley (an excellent resource if you get the chance to read it) as well as research into communication theory such as Berne's Transactional Analysis (which was mentioned heavily within my PGCE). Either way, whatever you read on the subject should enhance your knowledge and be put into practice as much as possible within the field of Further Education.

So a few pieces of advice from my limited time within Further Education, I am approaching some time within this field and believe that I can share some helpful, insightful tips to  deal with challenging behaviour in a variety of ways. Let me know within the comments if there are any other tips you would recommend to other viewers of this blog as the more we know, the more we can help each other, support colleagues and keep everybody happy.

1) Never show anger or aggression when dealing with challenging behaviour

You may have heard the phrase "if you shout, you have lost", this is particularly true within Further Education. Some students will aim to get sent out of your class so will disrupt others and wind you up as much as possible, not all students will do this, but they may be having a difficult time dealing with your lesson or the content. Challenging behaviour within maths may come from frustration with the work they have to do, they may not understand or want to complete the activity you have set. Try to speak in a low, soft voice when dealing with behaviour, this will in turn calm your students to work with you and then you can really explore the subject in a lot of different ways. I have always found that speaking in a way that is calming, relaxed and considerate shows your students that you are there as a source of help to them rather than to upset them.

2) Work with students, not against them

Show your students you want them to succeed, a regular thing I tell my students is that they are all capable of passing, they just have to want to, and that's the crux of the challenge within Further Education. I have seen many lecturers become frustrated with the role and take this frustration out on students through shouting and becoming defensive. If a student challenges you on your workload, become light hearted and relaxed when explaining different concepts. There will be times when your patience is tested, but just remember that of that group, they will turn to you to guide them towards their own personal goals. Try to phrase things in terms of helping students as well, try phrases such as "this will help when you leave here to do...." relating to the subject you are currently covering.

3) Confront behaviour in small groups

If you are having a problem with a particular student, approach the student during an activity and ask them if you are able to help them with anything. This approach has worked fantastically in my Maths lessons as students will want to talk about what they don't understand, it shows compassion, attentiveness and an awareness of the needs of your students within the class. I often have problems with mobile phones in which instead of telling students to put their phones away, I say something along the lines of:

"I'm pleased you're such a social butterfly but what are your thoughts about..."

see what I did there? I made light of the situation, did not reprimand this student about their phone use but instead encouraged them to continue their work without actively asking them to. I have found reprimand to be ineffective within this respect, as mentioned in my last post, some students view being a naughty student as being better than a stupid one, remember the motivation behind the behaviour before you start to challenge it.

4) Tell your students you think they can do it

This relates a lot to the confidence that your students have within a classroom when they enter and get told they are doing a subject they don't know much about. Some of my students moan or complain when they say they can't do a particular subject in Maths (today's example was percentages), one of my students who is notoriously poorly behaved in lesson focused and completed work today, this was after I encouraged them like this:

Student: "I can never do percentages, I am rubbish (not the word used) at them"

Me: "Well you can do it, and you'll be able to by the end of the day"

Student: "I've never been able to do it"

Me: "Well I think you can do it, so let's give it a go and see how we get on"

In this conversation, I encouraged the student through positive praise in their own ability, valuing the individual and helping them see my own feelings regarding their own performance in Maths. Today was a massive win for this student after they completed their activity and understood how to find a percentage of a number, engagement was there without actively asking for it. Have you got other examples of these wins in your classroom over the last week?

5) Finally, don't forget to have a sense of humour

One of my students made my laugh today, he asked me what a "roadman" was and I thought it was someone who stands by roads, this caused quite the laughter amongst the crowd and I laughed along with them. If you are able to, draw out positive emotions within your student groups. Have you ever been in a situation where students have gone from laughing to shouting? I didn't think so, it's a very difficult thing to suddenly switch from very happy to very miserable.
Addressing behaviour in this way (particularly mobile phone use) is going to be effective in helping your students see positive results, if you can make light of a challenging situation such as addressing negative behaviour, then you can deal with it and respond without any escalation. The worst thing you can do is fight back and escalate the behaviour in the situation more. Students will have what is known as a trigger for their challenging behaviour, and if escalated could end in serious issues.

This curve represents this idea, students can be calm in the main until they receive a trigger (such as a maths subject they struggle with) most students can then escalate to this agitation but we can avoid the acceleration by being calm, collected and empathetic to the students needs. This was especially the case in students who have learning difficulties and other issues outside of your classroom. Consider this when working with students of the nature you are likely to see to judge how you are going to respond to the behaviour appropriately and effectively.

Remember teachers, you don't have a problem with your students, you have a problem with the behaviours that they sometimes show.

Enjoy the rest of your week, follow on Twitter for more insight as well as more posts about education and learning practice in Further Education

- Matt

Monday, 16 January 2017

The Matrix of Student Variation in FE Maths: A perspective on student groupings

Happy Blue Monday everybody! A day that is considered the most depressing day in the year (usually the third monday in January), the weather is terrible, the sun isn't out long enough and the classroom is looking bleak, dull and not very exciting.

I noticed a massive attendance drop off today, lots of students not attending their maths lessons this week so far which I am hoping will improve by tomorrow. A lot of the students are motivated, engaged and eager to pass their maths qualifications in the up and coming Functional Skills Maths exams.

Today's post is going to revolve around the matrix of student needs in your classes. I personally don't really agree entirely labelling students in these areas as permanent positions but it is more likely that students can move between areas rather quickly. There are a few factors to consider when looking at each area and how we approach different students who are currently sitting in each area. Each student can be put off being in optimal working mode due to factors you cannot control, but if you can identify the signs early, this will make your life much easier.

The Matrix of Student Variation

1) Motivated and Capable

This is the optimal area for your students to sit in, students who are motivated and capable tend to be those who realise they are close to the goalpost but just need an extra few steps to ensure they get within the C grade (or 4 next year).
Students in this zone will need differentiated activities aimed to stretch their understanding of Maths, this will ensure that you are responding to their needs appropriately and encouraging positive participation amongst your student groups to avoid moving quickly into other areas on the matrix.

2) Unmotivated and Capable

Probably the most frustrating group of students to work with, these students do not like Maths, nor do they want to stay within your lesson long. These students may challenge your knowledge of the subject you are teaching as well as assess the need for different activities that you produce within your lessons. These students will question why they have to complete their subject as well as question what the use of a particular topic is within their lessons.
These students benefit from reassurance, constant encouragement and praise when they have genuinely done something that is positive within your lesson, this will in turn help them and encourage them to move towards their own motivation.

3) Motivated and Incapable

Incapable is probably the wrong term for this group, but these students are on board with your lessons and want to improve their own maths skills, they just struggle with the subject matter that you are giving them. These students are the reason you are going to question your role within the FE setting, you will assess the needs and realise how unfair it may be for a student like this to undertake Maths testing again without positive result.
These students gain positive results through 1-1 and small group teaching, there needs to also be a need to encourage homework and other work outside of classrooms. I would also encourage the use of the VLE (Virtual Learning Environment) that your FE institution has to support your students with their Maths. These students may also want to be referred for Exam Access Arrangements (EAA's) to ensure that there are no processing and/or barriers to learning.

4) Unmotivated and Incapable

These students will be the source of your most challenging behaviour in your classroom, not only assessing your ability to teach them, but also seeking opportunities to disrupt the flow of your lesson. Some students will be hiding their own insecurities about their subject in the form of misbehaviour, one student actually said this "It's better to be a bad student then a stupid one", a lot of these students within this category will need some form of extra support.
These students will gain from positive language and encouragement throughout the lesson, as well as step-by-step instructions in small groups. These students do not want to be outed as failing in their subject so they will often ask questions during individual 1-1 sessions and activities. These students benefit massively from small group work and working individually with a member of staff and learning support.

So there we have it, four areas to focus on. As discussed earlier, students can quickly transition between different areas in this matrix depending on day, week, family life and other aspects of their life that they have on their mind. Obviously some students will remain in their respective groups on the matrix but do not be disheartened if you are unable to move out of the Unmotivated and Incapable (at least these students are attending).

If you have any other additions you would like to make to the matrix, or any other methods that have worked with your students, then feel free to leave a comment below. Please also follow on twitter @feguidebook for more information and inspirational quotes to start your day as a good one, even on blue monday!

Have an enjoyable week teachers!

- Matt

Thursday, 12 January 2017

What I learnt in my first year of teaching Maths in Further Education

I want to discuss what I learnt over the last year of my teaching within further education. As a new teacher within the field, I have managed to adapt my teaching style, develop key relationships with colleagues and staff as well as adapt to student behaviour and manage it appropriately.

Today I am going to share with you my advice for any new teachers who are looking to move into this field, or to consider the entering the profession entirely. I have learnt these as I went through my own educational journey in teaching this specialist provision, which have in turn allowed (in my opinion) for me to become an effective educator in this sector. If you are considering the move, trust me, you won't regret it. Here are some things I wish I had known before I started my job:

You are going to doubt yourself a lot.

You are going to question everything you know about education, learning, society and the young people you teach. Further Education in the UK is seen as developing the workforce of the future and helping young people achieve their ambitions and dreams. There are going to be days where you feel inadequate, like you don't deserve to be there or that you are a fraud. I encourage you to remind yourself why you did this job in the first place, remember that for every thought you have about your own self-worth, there are many other staff feeling the same thing. Talk to your colleagues about your concerns and spend time learning from more experienced colleagues to gain an advantage in the teaching environment,

You students have been through the system once, and you are their next stop.

Consider going through 11 years of maths education to come out the other end not knowing how to multiply or divide? Not understanding the fundamental basics of a subject which interacts with nearly all aspects of a young persons life? I can't personally imagine it, but you can empathise with the students you have in your classroom and encourage them to think logically and reason problems out with you. I wish that someone told me how difficult it would be to manage a class when some students will look to criticise and complain about your teaching, but just remember that you need to step into their shoes and try to gain their perspective on their education. Keep yourself grounded.

Pick your fights, and make sure you are not doing it to belittle others.

Students will challenge you and tempt you to negative emotions, they will want you to snap at them and tell them they are stupid or don't deserve to be there. Just keep your head and remember why they are there, they struggle with your subject or they hate it. Show them that you are different and don't get angered easily. One student who is known for refusal said to me the other day that "I've been mad at other maths teachers but I can't be angry with you", why is this? Instead of approaching students to reprimand, ask if they are okay and need any help. Negative behaviour stems from negative emotion, maybe they are struggling to complete a task properly and need 1-1 guidance.

Your colleagues are your lifeline, treat them fairly and respect them equally.

When times are tough, you are not going to rely on your students necessarily to make sure that you are coping well. Some students will seek to make you feel worthless in your role so you have to have an effective support network in your staff. You can talk to them about concerns and worries, they will have their own too so be sure to pay attention, be responsive and supportive to the needs of your colleagues and support staff. Offer to help in a time of need and your team will have your back for your teaching career.

Whatever happens, you are making a difference

Regardless of the feeling of leaving a classroom in despair, some of your students will have gained something new from every lesson you teach them. For some students, this may be by working through an activity in which they now understand, for others it will be the fact that you are the person that lifts them up and tells them they can do it when other people will have let them down. Consider how you interact with everybody each and every day so that you can reflect and improve in your own practice. Some days will feel like you are going through the motions, but you are making an impact, however small, to the students you see every single day.

I hope you have an enjoyable week teachers, and I look forward to talking more about starting further education jobs across the UK. If you have any suggestions or tips for new teachers, be sure to follow me on twitter (@feguidebook) as well as leave a comment below with your suggestions for future content.

- Matt

Monday, 9 January 2017

How to support and work with support staff within Further Education, some tips on best practice I have learned.

So this post is a bit of an eye opener today, appreciating the support and care that our back office troops play in the role that we have as teachers.

Some of the teachers I have worked with do not value the staff they have, previously working as learning support, I felt undervalued and under-appreciated in my role which made me want to take the step forward to becoming a teacher. I believed that I could do something different within further education and I can work with people based on their value as people rather than their position within the corporation.

I have met a wide variety of staff and friends through my current role, learning support staff who will bend over backwards to help you as well as exams, administrators and other professionals who enable you to complete your role in an effective and manageable way. As teachers, we get so caught up within embracing students that we need to also learn to embrace the hardworking staff that keep us running smoothly day in day out.

How best can you help these staff in their role. I will give you some tips to ensure that you not only improve your practice within your organisation, but also will enable you to develop meaningful working relationships with your support staff and colleagues.

1) Always say please and thank you to support staff every single time they work with you

As a learning support member of staff, a thank you was all that was needed to make me feel valued within my role. Share your thoughts within your classroom with these staff members and realise that you are not the only person who experiences this in your class. Be sure you are sincere about particular support that you have received during your lesson, especially if there was something that you would have struggled with otherwise.

2) Treat your support staff as your colleague, not your servant.

There is nothing more demoralising than seeing support staff being treated poorly by other people, I have a serious issue with people who judge their worth based on their position within the company. I will defend my learning support and administrators actions if they are faced with a difficult decision. Be willing to listen to the needs of your learning support staff and administrators should they need help with a particular problem. Within Further education, support staff in your classroom is very much a privilege, be sure to let them know how grateful you are that they are there.

3) Be empathetic to your support staff's needs and help them develop with you

As a relatively new teacher, being aware that some of the support staff may be more experienced within student behaviour is vital to ensure that you are at the forefront to deal with issues in your classroom. This is particularly helpful when working with staff who have frequent interactions with students before they enter your classroom, you can gain an insight into behaviour of challenging students within other lessons so that you are prepared to respond to your students best interests.

4) Finally, judge your effectiveness of deployment of support staff in your classroom

Start a dialogue with your support and administrators, do you feel that they are being used to their best effectiveness within your classroom? If not, talk to them, they may be feeling the same way. It might be obvious, but ensure that you build a rapport with your learning support in the classroom (especially if they are regular attenders in certain groups) as well as the many administrators that help you complete your tasks day to day so that they are more than willing to help you in your time of need.

Your support staff are there to help you, so be sure to help them in return. Start the change to create an open, empathetic and positive working environment, your students will benefit massively because of it.

This post is dedicated to an amazing colleague who sadly passed away over the christmas holidays. Thank you for all your support and help with our students Nicky, you will be missed.

Enjoy the rest of your week teachers!

- Matt

Sunday, 8 January 2017

Relating maths to your students needs. What do you tell your students?

A new term starts and as a teacher, it is a great time for reflection on our own performance as well as a chance to prepare your students for assessments, mock exams and other tests they may have to complete. Within functional skills maths, tests will be looming for our students, allowing them the opportunity to retake if they are unable to achieve as well as clear progression for the students who are wanting to advance to the next level of their mathematics education.

The most common question in the maths classroom that I get from students is this?

How does this help me in real life?

Now, there are a variety of ways to answer this question, depending on the group of students you have in the room they can take whatever answer you give them very literally so I would be prepared for this question especially within Functional Skills and GCSE Maths in further education.

I have a few suggestions to offer you within this setting and will suggest how effective they were when I have tried these within my own classroom.

1) You have to learn it for the exam

This is probably the least effective response to give in this situation, why? The students you teach may not be wanting to either complete the exam or even complete the exam yet. A lot of the students you teach within further education maths may have had a negative experience to mathematic assessments and exams. I regularly get students who feel physically upset when confronted with a mathematics assessment so this approach is often ones students do not warm too. In extreme circumstances, this can lead to students becoming defensive and not buying into what you are trying to teach them in the first place. I would personally avoid this where possible.

2) I don't know, but you may need it in the future

Again, this is a bit vague and will deter a lot of your students. It is okay to say where students may not need a skill as long as you follow it up by mentioning the effectiveness of the method for problem solving, skills or for other uses. More than often, students will question why they have to complete certain skills when technology does it for them. A prime example being the need to convert units of measurement when they can just look up the information. I like to suggest that being able to use the skill generally will mean they don't have to rely on technology if it was ever incorrect. How often have you gone to get holiday money and the rate is different to what is considered the "exchange rate" at the time?

3) Give a related example to their current vocational area

This is not always possible, and where it is possible it can work for a lot of the students you teach. This is a bit tricky however as you may not have an example to mind so I would use this approach with caution, consider how you can relate it to other things such as shopping, mortgages, renting, daily living skills if you are struggling to think of another example.

The truth is, sometimes you won't have an answer for your students and this may not be very helpful to you at all. I would like to share an example I had the other day and what I said in return.

Student: Why do I need to do Maths, I can still get a job without it?

Me: I completely agree with you, I have never said you can't get a job but this will certainly help you

Student: How?

Me: Well, if you want to get promoted, you may face competition. That other person may be more appropriate for a senior position because they have a maths qualification, which suggests that they have a better understanding of mathematic concepts and problem solving, which lets face it, an employer would look for in a supervisor or manager right?

Student: I guess so, I just don't want to do it

Me: Well let me know how I can make it more interesting for you so you don't feel that way...

This conversation could have taken a very different turn if I started to combat the student, as a further education maths teacher, you will encounter this quite often. I would encourage you to engage with your students and relate it to how they feel. Make your students feel valued in your environment and in turn, they may start to value your lessons and you as their teacher. Comment on any ideas that have worked for you in your maths classrooms. What works for you in your environment and how do you work towards your students best interests?

Enjoy your week, and happy new year!

- Matt