Observational ramblings by Graham Gibson @Fungineeringlec

Screen Shot 2013-07-15 at 20.19.51 We are performers, however confident, insecure, happy or sad we are, we have to perform. Ofsted demand it, heads of school demand it, and most importantly students demand it. So we pull on the mask, switch on the stage lights and ‘an audience with’ starts.

Then starts the mental torture. I hope I'm good, I hope they like me, I hope I don't forget the punch line when I show them Pascal’s principle. So I talk. I talk too much. There is a ripple of laughter at times but I am unsure if my performance was worth the entrance money.

I have taught this week’s topic covering all objectives and my scheme of work is ticked off and success rates are safe for the moment... But what about independent learning, stretching and challenging and any other topical or fashionable targets of the moment?

Am I doing a good job?

As we roll out of another academic year and we reflect upon what has gone before, I raise the question again about the value for money and how is this measured? There are so many ways that our performance is measured, after all we are reminded of this daily. We certainly have many critics scrutinising us.

Student perception is something I feel strongly about and whether or not my audience like me, matters. You will definitely get feedback from your primary audience; good or bad. I appreciate that I will have some personality clashes with the hormone fuelled little learners, but most of the time I try very hard to be liked. This however, can cause issues if boundaries blur, lines are overstepped as it is then very difficult to play the bad cop without appearing to be psychotic. We are measured by our success rates and value added. As long as students pass the course and progress through the system then all is good and well, but at what cost to the students? I sometimes feel that I have preached, lectured and thoroughly bored them through the course and if I feel that, then the students must feel the same way.

Then of course there is always The Big O, the great people of HMI. We seem to be either preparing for an imminent visit or reacting to changes driven by inspections gone. This is then augmented by internal observations and learning walks etc.

Now for the hard bit.

I have just entered my eleventh year of working in education. Having had only grades 1 or 2 at both Ofsted and internal observations for the first 9 years of teaching, I was given a 4 in last year’s internal obs. I knew it was a bad session, the students did not engage. I did not give a performance worthy of the entrance fee. My audience hated me and the critics were cruelly truthful.

The course content that week was to revise for a final assessment. Nothing flashy just to prepare some revision notes on the importance of working relationships. (Oh the irony). This had an effect on me that I was unprepared for. I crashed into a very destructive low where the self-doubt consumed me. Colleagues were very supportive and explained that an isolated instance could happen to anyone and that I should just pick myself up and revert to type.

A repeat observation was made the following week with no grade attached just to check that it was an isolated incident, a second chance. The nerves and the lack of self-confidence destroyed me and from the moment that the observer entered the room and I was reduced to a babbling idiot. I spoke so much in order to prove to the observer that I had planned the session that the students were left watching aghast as I asked questions then answered them in fear of there being any silence.

That was breaking point. I was officially rubbish. I did a lot of soul searching and very nearly left the profession as I felt I had let my colleagues, school and most of all my students down.

I was asked to attend sessions with a lovely lady from the quality improvement area to discuss my drop in performance. I was coached for a year in common sense, planning and preparation. Some of the sessions were very difficult to deal with from a personal perspective. Admitting that I had failed due to a combination of poor planning and complacency was extremely tough but this was not the case for all subjects. Some were running very well and gave me enjoyment whilst others did not. I wasn’t entirely happy with having to go through the coaching sessions and performance reviews, for obvious reasons, but I have to say that it helped me to realise that we all have the ability to fail and recover and to learn along the way. Eventually I felt ready to face the music again and have a graded observation which went well. Overall good with a couple of areas for improvement, but I can live with that as I know deep down that I still need to improve. Who doesn’t?

We all have to consistently perform, day after day, with little regard for how we are feeling. We may feel under the weather because of illness or the pressures of our personal lives but still we have a duty to perform. We ride the roller coaster from outstanding to inadequate, often during the period of one session let alone a week or a term just hoping that we have more highs than lows in readiness for ‘the call’ that we are to be judged on 45 minutes of our show.

So a year down the line I am back to ‘good’ and my drive for teaching has returned.

How do we maintain and improve?

Every February and July we are contracted to carry out CPD which ranges from mandatory sessions to a Hobson's choice of carefully selected sessions arranged by the college and that are usually delivered by our own staff. Some memorable howlers were how to correctly complete enrolment forms and how to mark your register (Granny doesn't like eggs). Then there have been some exciting, informative sessions delivered; usually based around the use of emerging tech or classroom tips and tricks. As a rule, I prefer to look at CPD from a personal perspective and choose things that are useful to me and my students.

We are all told that we have mandatory CPD to attend and we are often made to feel that more responsibilities are put on us with each one diluting the time we have to develop high quality and interesting lessons.

February saw me join Twitter with total distain and cynicism. I did this after a request from @sciencetchr21 as part of my e-learning duties. One night I looked at #ukedchat followed by #ukfechat. It was mental. People from every corner of education were talking and debating with a healthy level of banter thrown in. I even sent my first baby tweet out into the ether. Then unlike school meetings people responded, not with the college line, but with #teachlikeapirate and punk learning.

Now you have my attention!!

Like all newbies, I struggled with how to follow conversations, especially when chats are in full swing and I didn’t know my ‘at’ from my ‘hashtag’. I soon figured this out and looked at what other people had contributed. I read blogs, I read articles, I watched live streams of teachmeets and I even attended one. I have started to take an interest in my profession again, thanks in part to social networking.

I usually settle into #ukfechat just after 9pm whilst on the bus home following some formalised, engineering based CPD. I have never claimed to be a lecturer that is well read on educational policy, politics and theories and often feel out of my comfort zone when following some chats. Sometimes, (mostly) I will take a back seat in chats and watch the discussions develop until I feel I can offer something.

Nearly six months on from these first tentative steps, I truly believe that this is the best thing that I have done this year in terms of taking control of my own CPD.

I have learned that there are many people throughout education with their own goals, aspirations and problems. We are not alone and there is always some advice to be taken, all you have to do is ask.

So as we all break to recharge our batteries during the heady days of summer I am confident that with every lesson that is prepped and every scheme of work that is tweaked, I will continue to improve and evolve as required to the ever changing world that is FE. This I will do with re-found motivation which has developed and is being nurtured by some great people who I have never met.

To you all, thank you.