Key lessons from my first year

I started my first and current job as a Lecturer in A-level Religious Studies in March 2018, we recently celebrated our A-level results day so I thought this would be a good moment to reflect on my first year of teaching to share what went well for me and what I will be improving for 2019-20.

I was offered this job during my PGCE year, which meant I could complete my placement and get paid at the same time – win win! As A-level RS jobs are quite scarce, especially in the North, I made sure to make the most of this wonderful opportunity and couldn’t wait to get started and have my own classes!

I am actually the only RS teacher at my workplace, which at first was (and sometimes still is!) VERY daunting as well as exciting. As I started this role mid-year, I spent March—May 2018 preparing the students for their AS and A2 exams and then spent the summer re-jigging the course and schemes of work ready for the 2018-19 academic year.

Between September 2018 and now, I have learned a great amount about myself as a teacher, about the AQA Religious Studies course itself, as well as made some great improvements in my teaching – as we all know, teaching is all about continuous improvement and I always believe we can learn new things every day. Below I will be sharing a small list of things that went well for me and improvements I will be making this academic year.

What went well for me…

1. Network, network, network!

The best advice given to me throughout my PGCE was to NETWORK with everyone in the workplace, to ensure I introduced myself to my colleagues and made every attempt to learn from everyone I met. This is something I have reminded myself of at certain points throughout the academic year, mainly when other new teachers started or when meeting other colleagues across the College. For example, my College also runs and delivers university degree courses for the University of Central Lancashire, University of Bolton and Buckinghamshire New University, so when I met the University Dean, I made sure to mention that I had a Master’s degree in Religion, Culture and Society and had taught undergraduate degrees whilst completing my Masters. The reason I did this was to introduce myself and show that I had more to offer than just A-level teaching.

I think it is always beneficial to be able to do various things as part of your career, so that you can expand your job role (where possible) and show that you are willing to always learn new things. I was recently asked to join the ‘Honours’ team, with a specific focus on the Extended Project Qualification side to this (EPQ). For those that may not know, many colleges and sixth-forms offer a tailored tutorial programme (‘Honours’) for students who achieved 7, 8 and 9’s for their GCSES. I had previously mentioned my keen interest in joining this team and offering my help with EPQ for students as this was something I had done whilst on my first placement during the PGCE year and wanted to try something new for my second year of teaching.

2. Ask for help!

In addition to this, as someone who sometimes struggles with asking for help (thanks to social anxiety!) I made sure to change this and ask my colleagues for help when I started my teaching journey, as I knew I had a responsibility as a teacher to provide the best learning environment for my students. Almost 18 months of teaching later, I can say I have noticed a great improvement in my ability to ask for help when I need it, as I know all of this will help me improve my teaching experience.

3. CPD!

A final piece of advice I was given by my PGCE lecturers was to ensure I made time for CPD and training events throughout the year, so that I could network with others teachers in the profession, learn new skills and activities that I can use in the classroom to improve my teaching and to ask and provide help to other teachers. Throughout my first year, I have attended CPD events with both the teachers union that I am part of (National Education Union) and with AQA. These training events have been hugely beneficial for me, I have managed to start using new resources and activities (which I will share in the next post) and understand the specification much better now.

What I will be improving this year…

1. Reading more

I have already started on this goal for 2019-20, however my issue is that I can’t seem to read one book at a time! I am currently switching between ‘Grit’ by Angela Duckworth, ‘Lean In’ by Sheryl Sandberg, these are to better understand how I can develop leadership skills and improve my resilience in order to succeed. I am also reading ‘The Great Philosophers’ by Stephen Law, this one is to improve my own understanding of some of the key philosophers that are part of the AQA Religious Studies curriculum. Once I have completed these, my next read is going to be: ‘Embedded Formative Assessment’ by Professor Dylan William. I am intending to finish a book per month (this sounds very slow but I’m trying to fit this into my already busy schedule!)

2. More 1-1 support for students

I began offering regular 1-1 support to my RS students from March 2019 onwards and believed this massively helped some of the weaker and less motivated students to find some time to focus on one subject and improve their revision techniques. This academic year, I am going to try and offer more regular 1-1 support from October 2019 onwards.

3. Personal statements

As well as Lecturer in Religious Studies I am also a personal tutor for AS and A2 students. From September onwards our A2 students will be focussing on their university applications and this year I will be improving my own understanding of what universities REALLY WANT from personal statements, specifically for the Business and Sciences as these are fields I am not so aware of.

Over the last 18 months I have learned an awful lot about myself, my subject, my students and the career I have chosen. I’m sure I will continue to learn more on this journey and I look forward to writing my reflections this time next year!

I hope this post has been somewhat useful to you. I would love to open up the conversation about your reflections, the different things we all do and anything we would like to change/improve, so please leave a comment below with your thoughts!

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