Teachers are NOT overpaid.

Last night, a friend at a party repeated her opinion that teachers are overpaid for what they do. 

The Times reports on a report published by The Taxpayer’s Alliance

I was too conflict-averse and tipsy to voice my considerable irritation about this at the time. So, in a bout of intense l’esprit d’escalier, I have researched and written this blog in response to this infuriating opinion that seems as difficult to purge as a nasty case of knotweed. 

If you’re interested in the arguments as to why teachers are far from overpaid, or want to have some facts in your arsenal next time a lawyer accuses you of being lazy at a dinner party, this blog is for you. 

  1. Teaching is among the most important work in our society. 

If you are someone who values education, both for its own sake and for the opportunities it brings, you should respect and value those who provide it.

2. Teachers are not overpaid compared to other public sector professionals.  

Teachers are professionals. It’s infuriating that some people assume that because they went to school, they understand the complexity of what teachers do. Teaching is based on a body of pedagogical and subject-specific knowledge, and, like any other profession, it takes considerable time to master. 

Assuming that a teacher started as a qualified teacher aged 23, and had 7 years’ experience by the time they were 30, they would expect to be earning £35,971 in England.[2]

Let’s compare this with other public sector professions. In order to try and factor in differences in the amount of time it takes to qualify, I will use figures for what the average person would expect to earn at age 30, if they had progressed straight from school, through university and into their profession without pause.  I’ve discounted pay for extra responsibilities in each of these professions, and I’m using figures from the pay scale for England, not London.

A qualified GP of 30 years old would receive a salary of approximately £65,000 a year in England.[1] A barrister would expect qualify at 25 and would have five years’ experience by the time they were 30.  Working for the government in the Crown Prosecution Service, a qualified barrister aged 30 would expect to earn between £38,000-42,000 per year.[3] Assuming that a police constable began working at aged 23, then by the age of 30 they would be expecting to earn approximately £40,128.[4]

The pay for nurses is considerably worse.  Entry level nurses with a nursing degree will receive an average salary of £24,900 from April 2020, and after five years can expect a salary of £27,400.[5] It seems obvious that we should be paying nurses more like teachers and policeman, rather than paying teachers like nurses. Teaching and nurses are indispensable, skilled professions and deserved to be remunerated as such. 

3. Teachers are overworked. 

The difficulty in calculating the amount of time that teachers work is that, unlike other public sector professions, teachers spend a considerable amount of time working outside of the hours that they are mandated to be in school. The teaching hours, parents evenings, report writing, school trips, marking/planning time and further training, which count as the ‘directed time’ for which teachers are paid in their contract, also spillover outside of the contracted hours. Many teachers find themselves working much longer hours than those for which they are paid as pastoral responsibilities, lesson planning and marking eat into their evenings and weekends. 

Teacher workload has remained fairly stable for the last 25 years. Researchers from UCL have examined data from more than 40,000 primary and secondary teachers in England who took part in four different surveys between 1992 and 2017. Their analysis found that primary teachers work around 47-49 hours per week, and secondary teachers work around 46-49 hours per week. 40% of teachers report that they ‘usually’ work in the evening.[6] A different study concluded that teachers worked for an average of 50 hours per week during term time in 2015/16, compared to 44 for police officers and 39 for nurses.[7] The government estimates that teachers work approximately 49.5 hours per week.[8] Taking into account  school holidays, teachers and police staff are paid a similar amount.[9]  

You may well be thinking, so what that teachers work intensely during term time – they get 13 weeks holiday a year! On to point 3… 

4. ‘Vacation’ is not vacation – it is preparation time. 

As I’ve previously covered, unlike other jobs a great deal of what constitutes the work of ‘teaching’ is lesson preparation, curriculum design, report writing and marking. This work takes place in the holidays. When factoring the average work done by teachers in the weekends and holidays, it is calculated that teachers earned an hourly rate of pay of £17.70, similar to nurses, and lower than police officers’ £18.80.[10]

This holiday I am designing a computing curriculum for my school from scratch, and planning my lessons. Every teacher I know works in the ‘vacation’. 

Imagine how much work you would put into a presentation for work. Now imagine giving 5 of these presentations back to back five days a week– of course you would work in the holidays and at weekends.

5. Teaching is a skilled job, and teachers must continuously update their knowledge. 

The best teachers, the teachers that we want for our children, are continuously updating their subject and pedagogical content knowledge. I am not claiming that all teachers do this – many feel too overworked just keeping up with the planning and marking. But in addition to their other duties, many teachers attend education conferences (e.g. ResearchEd and Team Meets), complete further qualifications in education (see the Chartered College of Teaching, the Ambition Institute, masters degrees, and various subject association CPD courses) and read about teaching and learning to continuously improve their practice. 

The narrative around teaching is one of extremes. Some believe that the average teacher is lazy, enjoying long holidays and leaving work at 3pm. The appreciative minority regard teachers as hardworking, and fundamentally good and decent people. 

I personally wish the narrative around teaching focused on the skill involved in teaching, rather than the idea that we’re ‘good people’. Teaching is hard, and it takes years and years to become really good. It requires practice. It isn’t an instinct; it’s an expertise. Perhaps if teaching was recognised as profession, as well as a vocation, there wouldn’t be so much complaint about our pay.  

6. We have a recruitment and retention crisis. 

People don’t become teachers for the money – considering the hourly rate of teaching, factoring work done both in and outside of school, many teachers are worse off than they would be if they had chosen a different job. 

We are in the midst of a recruitment and retention crisis in teaching. The number of trainees recruited to teach in secondary schools was 15% below target.[11] In 2016-17, 9.9% of teachers left the workforce.[12]

Former teachers cite student behaviour, workload, stress and pay amongst their primary reasons for leaving the profession. [13]


[1] https://www.bma.org.uk/pay-and-contracts/pay/other-doctors-pay-scales/salaried-gps-pay-ranges

[2] https://www.nasuwt.org.uk/advice/pay-pensions/pay-scales/england-pay-scales.html

[3] https://www.cps.gov.uk/sites/default/files/documents/publications/foi/2019/2019-foi-disclosure-24-attachment-A.pdf

[4] https://www.polfed.org/pay/constable-pay-scales/

[5] https://www.nurses.co.uk/careers-hub/nursing-pay-guide/

[6] https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-49728831

[7] https://www.independent.co.uk/news/education/education-news/teachers-police-officers-nurses-workload-pay-national-foundation-education-research-nfer-a8264046.html

[8] https://www.gov.uk/government/news/teacher-workload-cut-by-five-hours-a-week-over-past-three-years

[9] https://www.independent.co.uk/news/education/education-news/teachers-police-officers-nurses-workload-pay-national-foundation-education-research-nfer-a8264046.html

[10] https://www.independent.co.uk/news/education/education-news/teachers-police-officers-nurses-workload-pay-national-foundation-education-research-nfer-a8264046.html

[11] https://www.nfer.ac.uk/news-events/nfer-blogs/latest-teacher-retention-statistics-paint-a-bleak-picture-for-teacher-supply-in-england/

[12] https://www.nfer.ac.uk/news-events/nfer-blogs/latest-teacher-retention-statistics-paint-a-bleak-picture-for-teacher-supply-in-england/

[13] https://www.independent.co.uk/news/education/education-news/teachers-police-officers-nurses-workload-pay-national-foundation-education-research-nfer-a8264046.html

Why bad schools are imitations of good schools.

Lant pritchett-ankara-presentation-development-analytics-1

A caveat: I’m lucky – I have not worked in a school like the ones I describe in this blog. I’d also like to acknowledge that the majority of senior leaders are talented and committed, working tirelessly to improve their schools. This description does not apply to the majority of schools – just an unfortunate minority.  

As Biologists and nature enthusiasts are aware, nature is replete with ‘Isomorphic mimicry’. ‘Isomorphic mimicry’ refers to the phenomenon in which non-venomous flora or fauna have evolved to resemble venomous members of their species. For example, the patterns and colours of the scales of the Scarlet King snake depicted above resemble the Eastern coral snake closely enough to confuse predators. This mimicry allows snakes to deter predators, without having to expend energy manufacturing the venom. 

Development specialists in the World Bank and NGOs have adopted the term ‘isomorphic mimicry’ to explain why international development projects in low income countries so often fail. Often, grant awarding bodies, or international institutions such as the World Bank or the International Monetary Fund require adherence to a certain set of standards, based on what ‘best practice’ and evaluation look like within their own context. Imposing these models of ‘best practice’ onto contexts with different capacities actively impedes the aims of that project. Or, as Professor Lant Pritchett from the Harvard University’s Building State Capability project writes

“such strategies produce administrative systems in developing countries that look like those of modern states but that do not (indeed, cannot) perform like them; reforms yield metrics that satisfy narrow bureaucratic scorecards in donor capitals (and thus enable funds to continue to flow and legitimacy to be sustained), but that mask a clear inability to actually implement incrementally more complex and contentious tasks.” (Pritchett, 2012: 4). 

In the more successful projects, who succeed despite donor demands, the projects put on a show, jumping through hoops to placate donors, while continuing with effective provision in their own way when the donors aren’t looking. In the worst-case scenario, the entire project becomes a sham, a hollowed-out version of whatever service it was meant to provide, a paperwork factory designed to secure the next grant. 

Perhaps the teachers reading this can anticipate what I’ll say next. I believe that a number of schools in the UK fall into the ‘isomorphic mimicry’ trap.  Teachers are well aware when they are working in one of these schools – where superficial indicators of ‘best practice’ appear or are demanded by senior leadership, while the fundamentals of great teaching and good behaviour are ignored.   These are the schools that pull students out of lessons for poor quality ‘interventions’ with a TA, so that they can tell inspectors that a child is receiving 1:1 tuition. These are the schools which want to give build pupils ‘resilience’, and so pay for mentoring and abseiling activity trips, while allowing students to sit in class for a year without picking up a pen because they ‘find it too hard’.  These are the schools which want to increase student’s literacy, and institute a ‘Drop Everything and Read’ program, knowing that most of their students don’t remember their books and simply sit in silence, staring at pages instead of reading them. These are the schools which encourage students to ‘take responsibility for their own learning’ by demanding that students carry scraps of paper with them with their learning goal for the term, and reprimand teachers if these scraps don’t appear on their desk each lesson. These are the schools that produce vast quantities of paperwork, colour coding students by their gender, whether they receive Free School Meals, whether they are ‘gifted and talented’, and force teachers to write regular descriptions of the interventions to help these pupils progress. This adds extra workload for the teachers who are teaching well, while allowing poor teachers to claim that they are teaching well by pulling out a folder filled with made up interventions. We try to fool inspectors, but also fool ourselves, into thinking that these surface level changes have made us a good school, conflating ‘form and function’ substituting ‘looks like’ for ‘does’. (Pritchett, 2012: 31). 

This isn’t to say that schools shouldn’t look at what other schools are doing, or that they should never change their practice. I’ve seen curriculums transformed by collaboration with other schools, and teachers often benefit from planning with other subject teachers in a different school.  

However, there is a real cost if teachers and students feel that something is being changed so that a senior leader can prove that they’ve done something, rather than because it will work. This is particularly the case if extra obligations are added to teachers, without removing others. If you work in a school where a teacher is punished for not having a ‘good learner goal’ on every slide,  but where teachers are also allowed to deliver poor quality lessons day in day out, then a school is taking part in ‘isomorphic mimicry’ rather than sustained improvement.

Without the foundation of consistently good teaching, ensuring that schools are kind environment where children always feel safe, these changes are useless, and the distraction they create can impede improved performance. It encourages schools to walk before they can run, focusing on ‘fine tuning’ before securing the fundamentals, adopting the practices of successful schools without changing the ethos that underpins their own.  Most schools already have sound policies for behaviour and teaching and learning – enforcement and culture are what needs to change, and this change is much harder. 

School reform is so hard because senior leaders are required to succeed in the unbelievably difficult task of transforming their schools from one species to another- from the ‘Scarlet King’ to the ‘Eastern Coral’ snake. An easy way to keep predators off your back is to focus on surface level changes, adopting features that are practiced in good schools, without expending pain and energy of changing the character of your own. Schools can adopt knowledge organisers and stress the importance of independent learning, but if they neglect the fundamentals of consistently good teaching and good behaviour, these reforms will only be skin deep. 

Schools shouldn’t ONLY Teach Dead White Men: a response to Michaela’s The Power of Culture.

Michaela: The Power of Culture: Amazon.co.uk: Katharine Birbalsingh,  Various Michaela Community School staff: 9781912906215: Books

Michaela school recently published a book about their school values and culture – The Power of Culture. The book consists of a series of essays written by staff, including chapters on culture, curriculum, leadership and school structures. 

Michaela is an exceptional school; I can only admire its achievements. I support any school that provides a world-class education to its pupils. This blog is a response to Katie Ashford’s chapter in The Power of Culture: “Schools Should Teach Dead White Men”. This post is not intended to be a personal attack – I have learned, and continue to learn, a great deal from Katie Ashford. However, I disagree with some of her analysis, so I have written this post in a spirit of respectful professional dialogue. 

————————————–

Let’s start with the most contentious part of Ashford’s essay:

Black literature often (and rightly) focuses on man’s inhumanity to man, but, as a result of not having to deal with oppression throughout history, white men were intellectually freer to explore other topics. Man’s inhumanity to man is important, but it is only part of the human condition. There are other powerful themes in literature: love, loss, suffering, hatred, or our relationship to God, that equally deserve exploration” (p.67). 

The statement that black writers have not explored other aspects of the ‘human condition’, such as ‘love, loss, hatred’, to the same extent as white writers is belied by the plethora of great literature written by black authors. Oppressed peoples find the ‘intellectual freedom’ to write great literature despite the circumstances in which they write. Writing on ‘man’s inhumanity to man’ does not preclude writing about ‘love, loss, suffering, hatred or our relationship to God’, as works such as The Invisible Man or Go Tell it on the Mountain attest to. As to the question of ‘man’s inhumanity to man’ being only ‘part of the human condition’, one might simply respond, ‘whose human condition?’ Virginia Woolf’s essay ‘A Room of One’s Own’, is a stirring, steadfast exploration of the the physical and psychological oppression of women, of ‘man’s inhumanity to women’ if you will: it is also ‘great’ literature, occupying its rightful place on university reading lists because of its artistic brilliance. Regardless of the identity of its writer, the 400 or so pages of a great novel constitutes, to bastardise Hamlet, ‘infinite space bounded in a nutshell’; great literature, the literature that should be studied in classrooms, sustains multiple readings and close analysis. The literature written by black authors can (but not always) explore ‘man’s inhumanity to man’, and explore “love, loss, suffering, hatred, or our relationship to God”, just as  Shakespeare and Marlowe wrote about some common themes, while also exploring a multitude of others.

Most teachers would agree with Ashford’s point that there is limited time to teach, and so choices must be made about what goes into the curriculum (p.61). She writes that Michaela “believe[s] that the best thing we can do for our disadvantaged children is to teach a traditional curriculum that necessarily includes dead white men” [Ibid]. It would be a travesty if students weren’t able study ANY white male authors. Some of them are really quite good. 

I don’t deny that some schools choose texts for their ‘relevance’ which do not challenge pupils as much as they should. Teaching YA (‘Young Adult’) fiction wastes the opportunity to expose pupils to challenging, exciting literature. Like Ashford, I’d always teach Great Expectations over Malorie Blackman. Blackman’s books are gripping, relevant, and thought-provoking, but arguably would not sustain a term, or half term’s, worth of extended study. It is crucial to expose students to new knowledge and advanced vocabulary in the classroom, leaving Noughts and Crosses, Stone Cold, and The Fault in our Stars for students to read for pleasure.[i]

But if I had a choice between teaching year 9 Half of a Yellow Sun, Their Eyes were Watching God or the poetry of Derek Walcott, as opposed to Treasure Island or William Wordsworth, I’d chose the former any day of the week. The opportunities for building cultural capital, in addition to the fact that they are, in my opinion, artistically superior works of literature, renders them much more suitable texts for classroom study. 

Students deserve to be exposed to ‘the best that has been thought and said’, to be exhilarated and moved by great literature.  I don’t see anyone claiming that “black children ought only to study black writers” (p.67), or that schools shouldn’t teach any dead white men. We need to find a curriculum in which, to use Ashford’s words, “texts [are] chosen according to the ideas they espouse, rather than [because of] the identity of their writers”. Some of the best texts to be written in English are by writers who are not ‘dead white men’, one would expect a rigorous, challenging and enriching curriculum to reflect this.  

As always, I look forward to hearing your thoughts. 

Hannah


[i] I sent a version of this blog to a friend and colleague before publication. He made a good case for Noughts and Crosses. His school teaches Romeo and Juliet followed by Noughts and Crosses, which contains a host of allusions to R&J. It’s a fascinating way of designing the curriculum, I’ll try and see what he’s up to and write a blog about it in the future. 

Barriers to analysing literature: a cheat sheet for English trainees

I hope that this blog can add to the conversation about the specific misconceptions and barriers to learning that you need to plan for specifically in English. So much Continued Professional Development (CPD) training is based around non-subject specific content (e.g. Differentiation, Behaviour Management), which is vital, but overlooks the fact that a well planned, accessible lesson underpins these other skills. I’ve talked to a few colleagues, and looked back through my old lessons to make a list of common misconceptions or barriers to learning in analysing literature, and a few ideas for addressing them.* This can help you anticipate and plan for the majority of barriers that you’ll most frequently come across in the classroom, although many students can throw you a curveball with uniquely wacky and entirely unanticipated modes of miscomprehension. I’ll be writing similar blogs for analytic, creative and transactional writing.

  1. Reading

This is so often, unfortunately, a severe challenge for our students. In some of my middle set classes, 2/3 of students had a reading age below their chronological age, while ‘bottom’ sets might have students five years below. This is not something a class teacher can miraculously ‘solve’, and none of the strategies below are any real compensation for students who are able to read, and have enough accumulated hours of reading practice to read fluently and comprehend the text. Fortunately, there are some ways you can support them.

Overcoming barriers:

I once asked Alex Quigley for his advice when I was struggling with what text to give a low set year 8 class. He said to pick a ‘Goldilocks’ text – something ambitious beyond their current reading age, which will expose them to new knowledge, vocabulary and syntax, but not so far beyond as to be incomprehensible . This could be a classic text 2 years above the average reading age of the class. I think it is important to increase students’ cultural capital by exposing them to texts that they would not usually read at home, but that they can still access through class reading. Software such as Accelerated Reader will usually give an idea of the ‘reading age’ required to read a text. Likewise, if I want to check the approximate accessibility of a poem or extract, I’ll paste text into the Oxford 3000, which highlights unusual vocabulary that will most likely be unknown to students. I then provide students with a glossary to help them understand the text. I’ll try to only focus on 2 key words per lesson, which are likely to come up again in what they read (e.g. ‘reluctant’, ‘incomprehensible’). This is what is known as ‘Tier 2’ vocabulary (look up Bringing Words to Life or Closing the Vocabulary Gap for more information on this.)

Of course, you may not always have a choice of text. Teaching Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde to students with a reading age of 8-11 is far from easy. Even so, there’s no need to throw your expectations down the toilet and go straight for the graphic novel. Choose short, significant extracts, and read it in an expressive way . Sometimes I converted extracts into short scripts that we would perform before reading the actual text together – this worked particularly well when Hyde transforms into Jekyll in front of Lanyon. Students often read that part of the novella and miss that Hyde is presenting Lanyon with a red pill/blue pill style choice – he can either turn back and stay innocent, or he can choose to know but be unhappy forever. Using a script with dialogue from the text helps students grasp this point more clearly.

Another way I help students to comprehend texts is to include key images on the board as we are reading (see example below). This scaffolds learning; students can pick out imagery and ideas, while minimising the extra cognitive load of imagining. For instance, this might help year 7s with a low reading age to think about Helena’s servile relationship to Demetrius by clearly imagining the behaviour of a spaniel. I was surprised by what an effective tool this was to help students access a text that was far above their reading age.

Be careful as to how much you read at a time without giving students time to discuss or think deeply. Mixing it up in a lesson is important – read a small chunk aloud, then discuss the text in groups, write about it, etc, then read some more.

2. Writer’s context and intentions

Pupils struggle to understand shifting purposes and effects, identifying features (metaphor, pathetic fallacy etc.) without thinking about what the writer is trying to achieve.

There is a fine line between communicating the writer’s intentions to the students without reducing all literature to a message in a bottle. Priestley wanted to do more than promote Socialism in his An Inspector Calls– he also wanted to write a damn good play. It becomes even more complicated when the writer’s ‘purpose’ is ambiguous – does the ending of Macbeth reinforce the doctrine of the ‘Divine Right of Kings’, or suggest that the ‘Divine Right’ is merely a sham to legitimise whichever power-hungry monarch has kept the throne for long enough, or does it defy any single interpretation?

Overcoming barriers:

Refer to the writer constantly in your explanations, and suggest that the writer may have different intentions at different point in the text, or multiple intentions, or intend for the reader to have conflicting, multi-layered interpretations. I might encourage the students to think about the writer by ‘hot-seating’ with a five minute interview with the author (usually me in some kind of mortarboard or top hat) where students can ask questions about different parts of the text.

I’ll also model how to appropriately use context in live modelling of essays and through student discussion. Often I encourage students to think about how context is funnelled through the writer’s mind to inform the work using activities such as the worksheet below.

Not everything can be immediately connected to the overall purpose or theme without several intermediary steps of analysis. E.g. What does Priestley intend to convey about Sheila’s character when she crows “Look at it Mummy”, flaunting the ring that Gerald has just given to her? Try to get students to delineate between what the writer’s intention is at this precise moment, and how this might connect to a more sustained, thematic message. E.g. in the moment, he’s trying to show that Sheila’s childish. But this in turn connects to the wider ‘message’ of the play – that before the Inspector’s arrival, Sheila is sheltered, and is too immature to accepts responsibility for her actions. The Inspector’s arrival acts as a liberation for Sheila: accepting her responsibility to society simultaneously condemns Sheila, but makes her more politically active and more human that she ever was before. Her evolution conveys the benefits of a socially connected society for the elites as well as for the vulnerable, by bringing them to a heightened sense of dignity and responsibility.

There are several steps to analysis like this. First, I might model it. Then students would discuss a similar quotation in groups. They might then work together to fill out a flow chart to understand the steps between the writer’s intention, to effect on the reader, to writer’s purpose. This is a form of dual coding, helping students both to develop their analysis, and it acts as an aid for students to put their ideas in a logical order before they attempt to write a paragraph.

3. Lack of historical knowledge.

As Hirsch so clearly illustrates, cultural capital underpins everything – you cannot analyse without knowledge.

This is more typically reflected in a lack of awareness of history e.g. not knowing about the role of religion in shaping the writer’s intention and a contemporary audience’s reaction to a text, a lack of awareness about gender roles, etc. A further complication here is that when you do tell them, students can easily conflate the different eras.  The forms of sexism Sheila experiences in An Inspector Calls, for instance, are very different from the types of misogyny that informed Shakespeare’s portrayal of Lady Macbeth. Students can easily fall into the trap of making generalising comments, “Women couldn’t do jobs, they were expected to stay at home”, rather than specific comments on the period.

Spending adequate time explicitly teaching the context has been the only way that I’ve found to ensure that students know and remember it – no ‘research on computer’ lessons. (There’s already been some great writing on why this is ineffective – see David Didau, Daisy Christodoulou etc). I find it most important to be incredibly selective with the context that I teach students , keeping it punchy and immediately relevant to the text. For Macbeth, I teach some basic details about  witchcraft, religion (especially heaven and hell), ‘the Great Chain of Being’, gender roles, and the Divine Right of Kings. I make sure that each of these bits of context can be summarised in two sentences, and is attached to a specific fact or detail which firmly roots their contextual information in one particular period over another.

I also frequently quiz students on the details of context so that they remember to make specific contextual comments using examples.

4. Lack of cultural knowledge

It’s easy to assume that cultural and literary associations are widely recognised, even intuitive. For example, we associate light with purity or goodness, and darkness as something sinister. I often made the mistake of assuming that students were aware of these tropes. Students can find it frustrating when teachers assume these cultural keystones are so widespread as to almost be innate, something that can be taken for granted and not taught explicitly.

My only advice here is as you are planning each step of your lesson, to make a note of everything you are expecting them to know, and be able to do, before they embark on each step. Drill down – are you expecting them to be able to pick up that the storm might reflect the character’s emotions? Don’t expect it unless you have explicitly taught them that storms are associated with a turbulent state of mind/ a sense of foreboding/upheaval in a previous lesson.

Jennifer Webb has written brilliantly on this (I can’t recommend How to Teach English Literature enough). Her book includes a list of common tropes/symbolism in literature which we must not take for granted that all our students are aware of. For instance, that red can symbolise passion, danger, love, blood, violence or that Spring has connotations of new life and new beginnings. Buy the book, have a look, and teach these associations to your pupils.

5. Choosing and analysing quotations.

Students find it difficult to choose relevant quotations. It can be easy to help students pick quotations by live modelling, choosing between quotations that are more or less relevant to the points that you are trying to make. Live modelling is when you create a piece of work in front of the class, usually under a visualiser or on a smartboard. I used to pre-prepare WAGOLLS (an example of a good piece of work – ‘what a good one looks like’), assuming that showing my students ready finished versions would help them see what to aim for. Prepared WAGOLLS are sometimes helpful, but often students find it far more helpful for you to model analysis or creating a piece of work in front of them. They can see your thought process, the steps by which you come to a point, and the mistakes that you make along the way (see below).

Although it’s much easier said than done, I would encourage you to set your pupils off analysing independently as soon as possible, even if that means that their work isn’t spectacular from the get go. I was so afraid of my pupils failing that we would analyse every quotation together. In the short term this helped get their work to a certain standard. But in the long term it didn’t develop their resilience or ability to analyse ‘on the fly’. I tried to move away from this kind of analysis by using prompt questions and supporting their ability to conceptualise images using visual prompts (see example below), eventually removing these prompts altogether as they became more confident.

To help students make sure that their quotes were relevant to the question, and analyse quotes with the question in mind, I found David Didau’s ‘Comparison tunnels’ really useful. You put the quotation one side, and the key word of the question on the other. This diagram helps students to connect what they are analysing to the question (make sure to model this first).

The next step beyond this is to show students how to judiciously choose quotations where there is lots of analysis. I mainly illustrate this through live modelling, and use the analogy of burgers. What you want to choose is a ‘meaty’ quotation, with plenty of patties and toppings to get your teeth into, rather than a flat little burger of a quotation where there is nothing to say.

6. Accessing the language of the essay question.

It’s so easy to assume that students understand what a question is asking them to do, when an essay question can seem very alienating. Students can find it hard to connect the essay question to all the groundwork you have laid in previous lessons to help them.

Model breaking down essay questions, explaining what each part of the question refers to. Get them to practice breaking down the question, so they know exactly what is expected. Think of the number of words for show – present, portray, illustrate – all of these words might potentially bamboozle a student.

7. Writing point sentences

Some students are overwhelmed by the blank page – they don’t know how to start. I often gave students sentence starters. This can be very helpful in the short term, so long as the ultimate goal is to wean students off this scaffolding. I found that the pressure to produce a certain volume of work from students meant that I often gave in and made my life easier by always providing sentence starters, rather than promoting independence in other ways.

Eventually, I learned to devote five minutes every three or so lessons to practicing writing point sentences on whiteboards. This is a relatively short activity, which, when practiced over multiple lessons, embeds better habits. To start off with, I’d encourage students to start every point sentence using the words of the question, although advanced students were able to move on from this. For instance, if the question was “How does Shakespeare portray Lady Macbeth”, the point sentence might be “Shakespeare portrays Lady Macbeth as…” Often, when students have written the first point sentence, the rest of the essay is relatively easy- this is why they so often open paragraphs with quotes, because they don’t know what else to write.

To expand students’ ideas, I used the ‘but because so’ exercises from The Writing Revolution. This is a relatively simple idea: give students a stem e.g. “Shakespeare portrays Lady Macbeth as conniving…” and students finish the sentence independently three different ways e.g. ‘but’ “Shakespeare portrays Lady Macbeth as conniving, but by the end of the play she has lost her power”, or “Shakespeare portrays Lady Macbeth as conniving, because he is reflecting the contemporary attitude that ambitious women untrustworthy”, “Shakespeare portrays Lady Macbeth as conniving, so that when Macbeth gives in to her persuasion, it is not a surprise to the audience.”

The original aim for this post was also to include tips and tricks for essay writing, but I think that will need its own post! I hope this is useful for any ITT, and best of luck.

Hannah

*A few caveats: I’ve consulted with some colleagues for this list, but it is far from exhaustive. I wrote the kind of thing that would have been helpful to me at the beginning of my ITT training.I’d appreciate it if more experienced colleagues chipped in and commented.

“Iron in our food keeps us stuck to the earth”: why trainee teachers need subject-specific pedagogical training

The Science of Near-Death Experiences - The Atlantic
An anaemic man floats away

“I learned about why we need to eat food with iron in it today”, I remember my then eleven-year-old sister boasting proudly:

“Iron is magnetic. Magnets stick together because of magnetic attraction. Today we learned that we get iron from red meat and spinach. So that’s what keeps us stuck to the earth, because the core of the Earth is like a giant magnet and the iron from our food keeps us all sticking down on the Earth’s surface.”

Two things strike me about this unhappy incident. First, think of the poor anaemics, who, in my sister’s world, simply float off the earth. You might hear the occasional exclamation of “Off she goes!”, as an iron deficient teenager floats off into space.

Second, my sister’s whole train wreck of an explanation did have a logic. She had previously learned about magnets, and that iron is magnetic. She therefore assumed that the iron in food helped keep living things stuck to the Earth. She had no concept of gravity, so attached this new knowledge – ‘iron as nutrient’- into her science schema in a way that made sense to her. This is just one example of where a misconception can fundamentally change the way your lesson is received. Her poor teacher probably had no idea of what she had “learned” that lesson.

As teachers know from Dylan William’s ‘Inside the Black Box’, the Holy Grail of Assessment for Learning, it is vital that we assess students’ prior knowledge and probe their misconceptions, before, during and after every lesson. This is one of the Teacher’s Standards, the set of minimum requirements to gain Qualified Teacher Status.

Alongside a plethora of Assessment for Learning strategies, teachers need strong pedagogical content knowledge. As you learn pretty quickly in teacher training, just because you have good subject knowledge, it does not mean that you are a good teacher. In fact, good subject knowledge can be a curse when you first start teaching, because it can make it harder for you to understand the barriers that your students’ face in accessing the lesson, and the steps needed to get from point A to point B. The difference between good Subject knowledge and good pedagogical content knowledge is that while subject knowledge merely requires that you ‘know’ your subject, having strong pedagogical content knowledge means that you are aware of all possible misconceptions and barriers to learning in your subject, and have arrange of strategies to address those barriers.

Each subject its own hazards, with odd rabbit holes of misunderstanding, flawed thinking, and specific vocabulary. Problems that arise in English (struggling to write a ‘point’ sentence) will be different to those that exist in Maths (struggling with place value). As my sister’s misadventures illustrate, students misconceptions are as specific as the subjects themselves.  

In order for a lesson to work, what you are trying to teach needs to build on what the student already knows, while you remove any other barriers that will prevent students from learning. Anything less than this for every student in your class means that you are leaving some of them behind. Without effective Assessment for Learning and a strong ability to anticipate student misconceptions, you are taking a gamble as to whether your students are learning what you need them to learn.  It’s like pulling the lever on a slot machine, keeping your fingers crossed that the content of your lesson, your student’s prior learning, and their ability to understand you line up in a winning combination. 

Mini Slot Machine | Robert Dyas

 Strong pedagogical content knowledge and expert AFL are the most fundamental aspects of being a teacher, and they are also amongst the most challenging and skilled aspects of the profession. To anticipate, probe for, and address student barriers to learning requires considerable theory of mind, deep subject and pedagogical content knowledge, and a wide variety of assessment for learning strategies, embedded seamlessly at every new stage of learning.

No wonder that these skills are difficult for a trainee to master. It takes years of practice to become really good – I can now describe what good AFL looks like, but I still need to work on improving my practice.

I was very lucky that my English subject training focused on addressing common misconceptions in English. Although we English ITTs loved our subject, and tried our best to plan a decent lesson, we lacked the experienced teachers’ AFL abilities and pedagogical content knowledge. Rather than letting us drown until our we gained enough of our own pedagogical content knowledge or enough AFL to teach effectively, our university tutors gave us a sense of the most common misconceptions and barriers within English that we should be alert to.

My English sessions were targeted to the most common difficulties and barriers to understanding English, along with strategies to address them. For instance, some students find it difficult to form point sentences, others students lack confidence analysing language, while others find it difficult to comprehend that characters are constructs to convey the writer’s ideas. In the short term, understanding these common misconceptions allowed us to teach better lessons. As the year went on, the sessions were a way of scaffolding our pedagogical content knowledge and assessment for learning, by acting as examples of the kinds of pitfalls we should look out for.

All of this is a rationale for my next blog post. I’ll be putting together a ‘cheat sheet’ of common misconceptions among secondary school students in English, along with some strategies to address these pitfalls. The strategies will be a mixture of what I learned from observing other teachers, what I’ve seen online, and my own ideas. The post will focus on analysing literature, with a separate post for creative and persuasive writing.

Please send comments or tweets adding your ideas to the list, I look forward to hearing what you all think.

Forget Freire, dump Dewey – does theory matter for teachers?

Now that I’ve caught your attention with my sacrilegious header, I’d like to discuss the role of educational theory in Initial Teacher Training (ITT). Not so much about up to date, evidence informed cognitive science (Rosenshine, Willigham, etc.), but the more philosophical stuff: Freire, Foucault, Dewey, Piaget, Chompsky, Vygotsky, Bloom, Gardner and Bourdieu (who, it turns out, bears an alarming resemblance to Rob Lowe).

 I did not read these theorists on my Teach First PGDE – most of what I have picked up has been from the edusphere, or in my undergraduate degree. My colleagues on university based PGCE courses have said that their courses contain less of this theory too – a quick poll reveals that most haven’t even heard of Pedagogy of the Oppressed, let alone read it, which makes me feel marginally less ashamed that I have not read it either.

This experience may reflect the fact that since 2010, (and before, from the 1990s I believe) the government has increasingly advocated that the base of teacher training shift away from the university, towards the school (Department of Education, 2011:15). This inevitably leaves less time to engage with classic educational theory. The then Secretary of State Michael Gove stated that ‘Teaching is a craft and it is best learnt as an apprentice observing a master craftsman or woman’(Gove,2010) echoing the view of philosopher and theorist David Carr, who also argued in the 1980s that teachers are like apprentice craftsmen, who can only learn through practice rather than theoretical discourse (Carr,1980:61). This reaction against theory may have been informed by Gove’s suspicion of education lecturers; he condemned them as “the blob’” a bunch of group-work loving, constructivist hippies who were “hell bent on destroying education” (Gove,2013).

So I suppose I want to know, what am I missing? Is it important for teachers to be conversant with historical theories and approaches to education, even if modern educators have moved away from many of the theories espoused by the hell bent hippies?

Although I welcome the move towards more practical and evidence informed training, we may have thrown the theoretical baby out with the bathwater in slashing the time the teacher training syllabus dedicated to the theory, history, and philosophy of education. It is vital that educators have a sense of our intellectual heritage – where we have been, and how theories and philosophies of education have informed, and continue to inform, the course that education takes today. The lengthier masters training in Finland means that alongside pedagogical content knowledge, research and subject training, Finnish teachers learn explicitly about debates on the philosophy,  history, theory, and purpose of education (see Pasi Sahlberg’s Finnish Lessons: what Can the World Learn from Educational Change in Finland? (2014) for more insights into the Finland’s education system).

I am not advocating that these theories be swallowed uncritically – but that it is unfortunate that we do not learn them at all. Christodolou has rightly taken umbrage with the way in which Freire’s constructivism has been used as a stick to beat teachers who ‘talk too much’ (Christodoulou, 2014:12) rather than letting students ‘work things out for themselves’, but Freire and Bourdieu can highlight a key point more and more relevant to ‘neoliberal’, so called ‘meritocratic’ society. Bourdieu and Friere alert us that schools and teachers can, at our worst, reinforce an unjust society by perpetuating the myth of social mobility. At the other extreme, Hirsch’s work can at times smack of reactionism, and he has been accused of stigmatising working class parents[1] (Hirsch, 1987, 86) but he makes important points about the way that knowledge is power, and that denying certain forms of knowledge to our students reinforces inequity.  We are all working in the legacy of these thinkers, who shape our understanding of our values and purpose of education, whether we are aware of it or not. Understanding this theory strengthens our professional identity – without an rich understanding of our past, we are ill equipped to critically examine current trends in education.

So with this in mind, and with some trepidation, I’m embarking on The Pedagogy of the Oppressed. Wish me luck.

 Works Cited

Carr, David. 1980. “Knowledge In Practice”. American Philosophical Quarterly 1 (18): 53-61.

Christodoulou, Daisy. 2014. The Seven Myths Of Education. Oxford: Routledge.

Department of Education. 2011. “Training Our Next Generation Of Outstanding Teachers: An Improvement Strategy For Discussion”. June 2011. DfE.

Gove, Michael. 2013. “I Refuse To Surrender To The Marxist Teachers Hell-Bent On Destroying Our Schools: Education Secretary Berates ‘The New Enemies Of Promise’ For Opposing His Plans”. Mail Online. https://www.dailymail.co.uk/debate/article-2298146/I-refuse-surrender-Marxist-teachers-hell-bent-destroying-schools-Education-Secretary-berates-new-enemies-promise-opposing-plans.html.

Gove, Michael. 2010. “Michael Gove To The National College Annual Conference, Birmingham 25Th November 2010”. GOV.UK. https://www.gov.uk/government/speeches/michael-gove-to-the-national-college-annual-conference-birmingham.

Hirsch, E. D. 1987. Cultural Literacy: What Every American Needs To Know. New York, NY: Random House USA.


[1] Hirsch uses ‘do you want to play with your chalk, or do you want to get your pegs out?’ as an example of middle class speech, contrasting with the ‘laconic utterances’ of ‘move’ and ‘shut up’ to represent the interactions of working class parents with their children.

Introduce Yourself (Example Post)

This is an example post, originally published as part of Blogging University. Enroll in one of our ten programs, and start your blog right.

You’re going to publish a post today. Don’t worry about how your blog looks. Don’t worry if you haven’t given it a name yet, or you’re feeling overwhelmed. Just click the “New Post” button, and tell us why you’re here.

Why do this?

  • Because it gives new readers context. What are you about? Why should they read your blog?
  • Because it will help you focus your own ideas about your blog and what you’d like to do with it.

The post can be short or long, a personal intro to your life or a bloggy mission statement, a manifesto for the future or a simple outline of your the types of things you hope to publish.

To help you get started, here are a few questions:

  • Why are you blogging publicly, rather than keeping a personal journal?
  • What topics do you think you’ll write about?
  • Who would you love to connect with via your blog?
  • If you blog successfully throughout the next year, what would you hope to have accomplished?

You’re not locked into any of this; one of the wonderful things about blogs is how they constantly evolve as we learn, grow, and interact with one another — but it’s good to know where and why you started, and articulating your goals may just give you a few other post ideas.

Can’t think how to get started? Just write the first thing that pops into your head. Anne Lamott, author of a book on writing we love, says that you need to give yourself permission to write a “crappy first draft”. Anne makes a great point — just start writing, and worry about editing it later.

When you’re ready to publish, give your post three to five tags that describe your blog’s focus — writing, photography, fiction, parenting, food, cars, movies, sports, whatever. These tags will help others who care about your topics find you in the Reader. Make sure one of the tags is “zerotohero,” so other new bloggers can find you, too.

Introduce Yourself (Example Post)

This is an example post, originally published as part of Blogging University. Enroll in one of our ten programs, and start your blog right.

You’re going to publish a post today. Don’t worry about how your blog looks. Don’t worry if you haven’t given it a name yet, or you’re feeling overwhelmed. Just click the “New Post” button, and tell us why you’re here.

Why do this?

  • Because it gives new readers context. What are you about? Why should they read your blog?
  • Because it will help you focus your own ideas about your blog and what you’d like to do with it.

The post can be short or long, a personal intro to your life or a bloggy mission statement, a manifesto for the future or a simple outline of your the types of things you hope to publish.

To help you get started, here are a few questions:

  • Why are you blogging publicly, rather than keeping a personal journal?
  • What topics do you think you’ll write about?
  • Who would you love to connect with via your blog?
  • If you blog successfully throughout the next year, what would you hope to have accomplished?

You’re not locked into any of this; one of the wonderful things about blogs is how they constantly evolve as we learn, grow, and interact with one another — but it’s good to know where and why you started, and articulating your goals may just give you a few other post ideas.

Can’t think how to get started? Just write the first thing that pops into your head. Anne Lamott, author of a book on writing we love, says that you need to give yourself permission to write a “crappy first draft”. Anne makes a great point — just start writing, and worry about editing it later.

When you’re ready to publish, give your post three to five tags that describe your blog’s focus — writing, photography, fiction, parenting, food, cars, movies, sports, whatever. These tags will help others who care about your topics find you in the Reader. Make sure one of the tags is “zerotohero,” so other new bloggers can find you, too.

Introduce Yourself (Example Post)

This is an example post, originally published as part of Blogging University. Enroll in one of our ten programs, and start your blog right.

You’re going to publish a post today. Don’t worry about how your blog looks. Don’t worry if you haven’t given it a name yet, or you’re feeling overwhelmed. Just click the “New Post” button, and tell us why you’re here.

Why do this?

  • Because it gives new readers context. What are you about? Why should they read your blog?
  • Because it will help you focus your own ideas about your blog and what you’d like to do with it.

The post can be short or long, a personal intro to your life or a bloggy mission statement, a manifesto for the future or a simple outline of your the types of things you hope to publish.

To help you get started, here are a few questions:

  • Why are you blogging publicly, rather than keeping a personal journal?
  • What topics do you think you’ll write about?
  • Who would you love to connect with via your blog?
  • If you blog successfully throughout the next year, what would you hope to have accomplished?

You’re not locked into any of this; one of the wonderful things about blogs is how they constantly evolve as we learn, grow, and interact with one another — but it’s good to know where and why you started, and articulating your goals may just give you a few other post ideas.

Can’t think how to get started? Just write the first thing that pops into your head. Anne Lamott, author of a book on writing we love, says that you need to give yourself permission to write a “crappy first draft”. Anne makes a great point — just start writing, and worry about editing it later.

When you’re ready to publish, give your post three to five tags that describe your blog’s focus — writing, photography, fiction, parenting, food, cars, movies, sports, whatever. These tags will help others who care about your topics find you in the Reader. Make sure one of the tags is “zerotohero,” so other new bloggers can find you, too.

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