I am delighted to have been elected onto the NATE council as the regional representative for the North East. NATE 2017 was particularly special for me as it was an opportunity to return to the University of Nottingham where I completed my PGCE. I must confess, there have been so many changes, the place is unrecognisable. All for the better. I still love my subject and since qualifying I have weathered countless changes, but I fear that we are embarking on even stormier seas in the political mire that teaching is now embroiled in. Therefore, institutions like NATE are even more important than ever. They offer guidance, advice and ideas about teaching at a time where all teachers need as much as support as possible.
My workshop at the NATE Conference ‘Preparing For 100% Examinations in GCSE English’ was extremely popular (See the feedback from delegates below). What emerged from the discussions was that there are some positives about the new system, but there is deep unease about results and how the boundaries will be set; now and in the future. It is felt that here are too many variables beyond the control of both the teachers and the students. Nevertheless, with great teaching and a clear sense of what is best practice, students and teachers can still flourish within the current system. I am particularly pleased that I have convinced teachers to teach language through literature – an efficient and effective way to engage students in the new curriculum. One delegate stated that, ‘It helped me understand the way GCSE can be approached in a much more professional way. – I can take with me quite a few resources to use in my teaching as well as advice for my students.’ A member of SLT stated that she gained a ‘superb insight into the links between low self-esteem and low ability. Lots of really good ideas and timely reminders about keeping literature alive. I am going to teach the language units through the literature.’ This is my aim and NATE’s aim, we need ensure English remains a vibrant and engaging subject, that all students can access and enjoy.
Devising resources that stretch the imagination and widen the experiences, both emotionally and culturally, is the side to English teaching that always meant the most to me. I still firmly believe that in a narrow and in many respects dull curriculum, we need to FIND ways of engaging students. It is paramount that we maximise the interesting links that can be made to the texts. Reclaim English, it is ours, not the governments. Most importantly, we need to encourage teachers to move away from the obsession with Assessment Objectives. Teaching the text well will cover the objectives, this can be done implicitly. The text is the focus. Creating interesting ways for students to understand and appreciate the text is paramount. One of the examples I used was using ‘Thirteen Reasons Why’ the novel and Netflix series about a girl’s reasons for suicide. This can serve as a modern introduction to the themes covered in ‘An Inspector Calls’. It was my teenage son that made the connection and he confirms that this would have been a great way to engage teenagers in the issues covered in the play. The delegate comment ‘Lots of interesting topics discussed, it felt relevant and tailored to the group. – Resources and ideas for teaching language through literature were particularly useful – I have already been thinking of my own ideas.’ fills me with hope. It is the way forward – take a look at your class, consider how to best engage them and adapt your resources and your approach accordingly – think for yourself!
What also emerged in our discussion was the amount of pressure young teachers were feeling in both their training and as NQTs. Yet again, we need to give our new teachers as much support as possible and have realistic expectations of them. Retention is a major issue, and effective support is the best way to keep such committed professionalism in the classroom. There is momentum growing to change the Key Stage 2 SATs. For the sake of the mental health of both teachers and students we also need to fight for change for the ‘reformed’ GCSE and A Level. All students should get the same opportunities, irrespective of their background. We need to work together to ensure that there is a realistic way to move forward as a profession as well as a subject.
Can I also urge everyone to never forget about the importance of rewards. Many schools have postcards that are sent to encourage and reward their students. Even at my age, and with my experience, I was thrilled to receive the above postcard from a trainee teacher I met at NATE. The comment also serves as a reminder of the importance of NATE. It is an opportunity of all ages and varied experiences to meet and discuss our love of the subject. It was refreshing for me to meet so many young and enthusiastic teachers of English. Rebecca, the postcard writer, in turn also ‘made my weekend’ because she was a lively, clever and thoughtful trainee teacher, whose love of the subject was something she wanted to share with her students. We need to harness and protect our trainee and new teachers. We all need to work together to keep our beloved subject alive for the next generation and beyond.
As part of my new role as regional representative for NATE, I will be organising a series of events where we can meet to discuss the teaching of English. I will put a programme together ready for the start of the new academic year. I look forward to seeing both old and new colleagues at our future events.