My twitter timeline has been awash – awash, I tell you – with the hashtag #Nurture1314 recently. I didn’t know what it was until I read a few of the blogs and realised that it was not only fascinating to read other people’s thoughts and feelings about 2013 and their hopes and aspirations for 2014, but might also be very helpful to share mine. Helpful to whom, I don’t know. Chances are it will be far more helpful to me than to anyone else but that’s reason enough to do it, in my book.
So, 13 reasons to be thankful from the past year…
When reading this blog I thought I would go over the books I’d read in the year, and was surprised at what I found. I would go on about it here, but since it’s all covered here, I won’t repeat myself.
Twitter continues to offer seemingly endless possibilities when it comes to improving one’s practice. Whether it be helpful hashtags, access to blogs, open and frank discussions, shared resources, or just the fact that it allows such ease of communication with such a wide-ranging audience, it’s a massively helpful tool, and I’ve been really energised by using it to its full potential. I just have to convince some others now! Incidentally, my humble account can be found here.
3) Teaching A-Level
Admittedly, this is a bit of a ‘2012’ entry, since I was actually given my first A-level classes in September of that year, but as it has been a major change in my teaching life, and has continued throughout 2013, I wanted to mention it. I moved schools in the summer of 2012 and was given Year 12 and 13 Literature AND Language classes to teach, having not taught a single KS5 class in my previous two schools. The challenge was immense, and it’s because of this that I found it so hugely rewarding. Yes, there were some mis-steps along the way, but the thing I’m happiest about is that when faced with a mountain, I got climbing. The nicest thing about it was the feeling of being professionally respected and trusted to do a difficult job, and I think I came through. KS5 classes are traditionally more rewarding, because of the maturity of the students and the fact that they have all chosen to study the subject – but I don’t necessarily buy that. I don’t find the classes ‘more’ rewarding per se, but they do provide a different type of reward. I have particularly enjoyed the challenge it has set me both personally and professionally; the amount I have had to learn in order to be an effective teacher of both disciplines; and seeing my classes transform and develop from nervous girls who were just a few weeks out of year 11 into capable and confident young women who are more fluent and confident in their understanding than they ever thought they could be. Isn’t that what this job is all about? At the end of this summer I will be very sad to see them go.
My wife. February marks 10 years since we first got together, and although it’s annoying when people roll out clichéd platitudes about their other halves, I’m going to do it anyway. She really is my rock, my inspiration, and my best friend. She’s also a brilliant teacher who inspires me to push myself further and improve professionally. My new year’s resolution since we met has always been to try and make sure I deserve her. I only hope I manage it.
5) Ludwig Van Beethoven
This may not seem like the most obvious choice, but this year I decided to stop messing around and actually learn something new on the piano. I’ve been playing since I was about 3 years old, but when I got up to Grade 8 at age 18, my sight-reading was so bad that my teacher suggested I shouldn’t sit the exam. As a result, learning new pieces kind of dropped off my radar. I could always learn new things, because I can play by ear, so pop songs etc always came naturally but I was always scared about the discipline and frustration of sitting down and learning a ‘proper’ piece, and so since 2000, I hadn’t actually challenged myself. So, this summer I began learning Beethoven’s ‘Pathetique’ Sonata. It has been extraordinarily taxing. I’m nowhere near there yet, although I can play the first two movements at a respectable speed and to a respectable standard, but the feeling of having taken on a challenge has been great, and the feeling that I’m now trying to reach a high standard of playing is giving me the inspiration I’d been lacking for so long in my playing. So, cheers Ludwig.
I went cycling this summer, knocking up about 12-14 miles a day round Thirsk. It was hugely enjoyable, and again, something that would have been much easier to not do, so I am proud of myself for sticking to it. I thought I would keep it up through the term, which I absolutely didn’t, and then go back to it in the holidays, which I also haven’t done, so I’m not quite there yet, but at least it’s something I know I can do now, and something I know I can enjoy. If I ever get near a decent work/life balance (arf arf) then I’ll get back to it asap, but if not (much more likely) then at least as the summer holidays approach I can look forward to pounding the pavements and rolling around the beautiful country roads around our house again.
This year has been a busy but productive one for music too. I spent the first two weeks of my summer holidays driving back and forth to Newcastle to record with my trusty buddy Paul. We managed to record 10 songs in about 11 days, which is incredible really, and it got me bang in the mood to record again. So, in the remainder of the holidays I worked on more songs in my home studio and as a result, I’m releasing another 2 EPs early in 2014. The releases are labours of love, for sure, but having a hobby I love this much makes it worthwhile.
8) My new job
At the end of the school year I was promoted to Head of House at school. Again, I was most proud of the fact that I was even considered for the job, let alone entrusted with it. It has been demanding, but massively rewarding. The other Heads of House have made me feel very welcome, my ideas have been receptively and warmly received, and it has given me the chance to work with the girls in a different way, from a new angle, which has helped my understanding of their lives and situations.
9) Mindset by Carole Dweck
Our school is looking at implementing the ideas of a Growth Mindset (GM), and in preparation I read this book. I presumed that I already followed GM – of course people should understand that they are not the finished product, that every failure teaches us invaluable lessons, that we are always travelling along a spectrum, and that getting something wrong doesn’t define you as a person. I’ve always tried to bring these ideas into my teaching and my marking, making sure that students understand that so long as they learn from the view on the canvas, they should never be too sad to have been knocked down. But then I read the book, and realised that I’ve never sung from that particular hymn sheet when it came to my own life. I believe in GM, I just don’t have one. So I have had to really sit down to examine my actions, and my teaching, not to mention my entire sense of who I am, and it has been quite eye-opening. Maybe we will implement it at school, maybe not, but regardless, it has been invaluable to me as I continue to grow and learn.
10) My department
I’m massively grateful for my department. Since I’ve joined the school I have had to get up to speed, and up to strength, quickly. Warm, hilarious, fiercely intelligent and massively supportive and kind, my department consists of some of the cleverest and most capable people I’ve ever known – their excellence radiates from their ideas, their knowledge, and the way that other students talk about the impact they have had on their lives. If I’m going to be an effective member of the team, I know I’m going to have to discipline myself to maintain high standards of expectation and achievement, and I’m looking forward to the challenge.
11) Writing for The English Review
I got to write an article about ‘The Great Gatsby’ for the English Review this year. I don’t know if it will get published, but it was nice to put myself forward for it.
12) Jumping off a bridge
Not much to say about this one, really – I’d always fancied doing a bungee jump, and then this year I got to actually do it. When I first looked at the risk assessment, I did start to wonder if I’d lost my mind.
The real wonder of the day was seeing the students get to the top of the bridge and then suddenly seize up – some of them were really genuinely terrified, but the others really helped them through it, and all 10 of them jumped and loved it. One girl said on the way home, “That was amazing, I feel like I can do anything!” Lovely day out all round!
13) ‘Jurassic Park’ by Michael Crichton
I’m always thankful for this.
14 things I hope for
I mean this in every sense, not just another ‘training’ day where I’m told that you can teach better lessons by being a better teacher. I want to continue to professionally develop, whatever that might mean, and wherever it might take me.
2) Stop finishing 4th
As Head of House, I’m now taking a very vested interest in the myriad of competitions in which we take part. So far, this year, there have been hundreds, it seems, and we’ve finished 4th in all of them. Now, this can’t possibly be actually true, but it does seem to be the pattern we’ve established. It’s genuinely more important to me that the girls are enthusiastic and take part and have fun than it is to win things, but it would be nice to stop finishing 4th!
Having got two thirds of the way through Beethoven, I’ve lined up the next challenge – Rachmaninoff’s Polichinelle in F#m. It’s really hard – I don’t know how I’m going to manage to learn it at all, let alone play it, but that’s what I would have said about plenty of things this time last year, and if I’m going to embrace the Growth Mindset stuff, I really need to take on something that I’m going to find difficult.
4) Be a better teacher
The day that this is no longer on my list of things to do is the day I’ll walk away from this job. I have learned so much, and gotten so much better, but I don’t want to stop. I can’t afford to anyway, I’m nowhere near the standard that I demand of myself, and so I need to keep trying things out, finding new avenues down which to walk, increasing my knowledge base and improving my teaching. I want to remain an eternal student too, never losing my desire to learn new things – hopefully I can channel that in my lessons and help the students feel the same way.
5) Do more things that scare me – and that actually scare me
This is Growth Mindset thinking at work. I’ve always been full of ‘do things that scare you’ talk, but to be honest it’s usually been something like the bungee jumping. The truth is, it didn’t really scare me all that much, and although it was a bit nerve-wracking, it only lasted about 2 minutes, and you can hang by your thumbs for that long. I mean something that actually scares me – something that I might actually be bad at, something where I have to put myself on the line a bit more, something that I could really fail at in front of people – something I can use as a lesson. The view from the canvas may be educational but you have to get hit pretty hard to see it. It may sound peverse, but I’m actually quite looking forward to getting smacked around the chops a bit, to see how, or if, I pick myself up.
6) Be a better friend
I have some wonderful friends, and through complacency and excuses, I have failed to be a good friend to them. By extension, I’ve failed myself. I love having friends, and I’m incredibly selective about the people with whom I choose to spend my time – and I am going to try and get better at it this year so I can revel more in the company of those I love.
7) Promote all three albums
Maybe this can relate to number 5. When I put music out, I don’t promote it. Usually. I don’t know how. I’m hugely uncomfortable with self-praise. Actually, I’m incredibly proud of my songs and would love people to listen to and enjoy them. So I’m going to try and actually promote them this year and get the word out to a wider audience, even if that invites criticism or (perhaps more terrifyingly) apathy.
8) Read 50 more books
Once I get going on a book, I absolutely scud through it. I’ve started to do it more and more this last year, and it’s been great. The key thing is, I don’t really want to read things because I feel like I ‘ought’ to, I want to read things because I want to. Twitter has been massively helpful when it’s come to great recommendations, and I’m looking forward to exploring a bit more in 2014!
10) Department Twitter Page
These two are connected, largely because I don’t really know what I’m doing with either of them. They are going to need some discipline and some real attention if they’re going to grow and become useful in anyway. That’s got to be the point of blogging and Twitter, hasn’t it? Providing something useful. If I’m not doing that, I don’t want to do either of them. My blog has always been very personal, and I’d rather it was more educationally useful rather than talking about my favourite films. My worry is – what if I don’t have anything worthwhile to say? I read other blogs and it terrifies me. Still, if I remember rightly, that was the whole point of number 5 on this list, so I suppose I should embrace the fear!
11) Have the kind of holidays that will make non-teachers REALLY jealous.
If I’m going to get grief for being in a job that gives me loads of time off in the summer (and it seems I am) then I figure I may as well make the most of it! I want to travel during the summer. Our plans are far-reaching and massively exciting, and will be culturally enriching to boot! I won’t go into massive detail here, but suffice to say that when I do tell you all what I’ve been up to, my hope is you’ll be emerald with jealousy!
12) Achieve my professional goals
When I left university, I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life. I worked in a succession of jobs that were fine without ever showing me a real path. Then I became a teacher, but even then it took 4 years for me to feel like I actually wanted to do it as a career. Now I do feel like that, and so I want to start making my way through the job as best I can. I don’t even know what those goals are, yet – other than the obvious ones of just being a better teacher and better colleague, but I’m planning to stay motivated, stay active, and as much as anything…
13) Stay positive
This can be a very difficult job. With Michael Gove’s pantomime villain at its head, the world of education can often feel quite dispiriting. Twitter, for all its positives, is also a place where misery can find the company it so loves, and it can be hard to rise above it sometimes, not least towards the end of term when the world seems to weigh particularly heavy on one’s shoulders. It only takes one of those classes on the last lesson of a day to really make it seem as though it would be worth chucking it all in and sticking an application form in to the nearest McDonalds. BUT – for all its foibles, it is an amazing profession, and one that gives us many a reason to be of good cheer. I love this job (and was delighted to read, and agree with, this post) , I love the opportunities it presents, I love the people I get to work with, I love the fact that I’m 5 years in and I’ve felt every emotion under the sun except boredom, I love that I know what’s coming every day and at the same time I have no idea, I love that I’m being forced to improve, forced to learn, forced to find what’s best about myself. Roll on 2014!
14) Continue my one-man crusade to have Jurassic Park put into the Literary canon.