One year ago I published my first ever blog post. Mildly optimistic for the new year, we were all definitely ready to move on from the rollercoaster of 2020. However, in 2021 the pandemic continued to linger like a bad smell, causing us to wonder just how long it will remain part of our lives. As we begin 2022, it seems like we are right back where we started, with continued uncertainty around what the new year will bring in terms of restrictions and the way we teach.
This past year has seen a number of significant changes in my life both personally and professionally. Most notably, I moved on from my international teaching post and returned to the UK. Whilst this was a very tough call as I loved living and teaching overseas, the uncertainty around travel restrictions and face-to-face teaching pushed me towards moving home.
In this post I reflect on 2021, the ups and downs of returning to the UK and share some teaching tips for the new year.
Here we go again
Throughout the first few months of 2021, teachers around the world continued to battle with the disruption to in-person education. In Malaysia, schools reopened in March after being closed since late October of 2020. We then returned to virtual learning in May until the end of the academic year. As a primary class teacher it is inevitable to build a close bond with your students over the course of the year, but the class of 20/21 will always be particularly special to me because of the journey we went on together.
Teaching is never easy. However, during those months of online learning it became increasingly difficult to maintain motivation. As an educator you bounce off the energy from your students. Whether that is responding to their curiosity, observing them succeed or progress, and identifying when they are in need. When teaching online, there is often a void of energy which you normally encounter in a physical classroom. You can also miss out on the emotional responses to the learning opportunities you have planned and prepared.
If we/you do end up returning to school virtually, here are some quick tips.
Ways to increase motivation when teaching online
- Make space in the timetable for social activities in small groups (supported by an adult)
- Use an emotion “check-in” form. This really helps identify the mood within the class and target specific children who may need additional support whilst at home. I used one shared by the wellbeing and behaviour queen Good Morning Miss Foster.
- Provide 1:1 time. Host a meeting or use a breakout room to have some contact time with individual students. Initially I used this to check on my students reading but soon realised it allowed for a well needed catch-up.
- Plan some themed days, wear different outfits, or create special lessons that boost engagement and shake things up a little.
- Sign up to Calm to introduce some mindfulness practice to your day and you can share this with your students too. Nearpod (a fantastic online learning tool I would highly recommend) has partnered with Calm and there are many free guided activities which you/they can take advantage of. Create a free account and you’re good to go!
- Go for a walk during break times. You need it and you won’t regret it!
New school, where are you?
Once I had settled on my decision to leave life as an international teacher, it was time to start looking for teaching jobs in the UK. As usual, the first place to check for teacher jobs is on TES. However, this year I also discovered the DFE has created a job listing service on teaching vacancies which many schools now opt for because it is free to advertise.
Although there were ALOT of jobs, the competition was unbelievable. One job I applied for had over 100 applicants! Despite my teaching experience and a strong covering letter, being located out of the UK put me right to the bottom of the pile. It was extremely disheartening.
I was leaving an amazing school with a leadership title and a wealth of experience to offer. Yet I could not seem to even secure an interview in a country with a national teacher shortage! Thankfully I realised that it wasn’t just me, many of my international friends and colleagues who were moving home were in a similar situation.
For some bizarre reason, international experience isn’t as well regarded as it should be and it almost seems to count against you in the state sector. Rebecca Findlay, a fellow educator and leader in Malaysia, was inspired by the situation to write an article for TES. In it she explains why schools in the UK shouldn’t overlook teachers returning from overseas.
Eventually my route back into teaching at home was through an agency, and at my first interview I secured a job for September.
Football may not have ‘come home’ in the Euros, but at the end of July I finally did. Several expensive PCR tests later, I returned to England just as the last of the coronavirus restrictions were lifted.
After a summer of enjoying new freedoms, I prepared to begin my new job and new school. I felt a mixture of nervous excitement to finally be back in a physical classroom and start a new school after 5 years. My initial goal was to make sure that I didn’t become the teacher that constantly began every sentence with “At my last school…”
But before I had even met my new class, COVID finally caught up with me and I ended up spending the first weeks of term in isolation. The timing was terrible.
With such big life adjustments all happening at the same time, teaching was supposed to be the one thing that would be relatively familiar. I should have got this down by now surely? Once I finally returned to the classroom, I quickly realised this wasn’t the case. An extraordinarily challenging term was upon us and no amount of experience could have prepared me.
Hello new class!
When meeting a new class and joining as a newer member to the school, it is paramount to build relationships as quickly as possible. After missing out on the start of term, I had some catching up to do with my new class. One of my initial go-to resources for building relationships with students is a morning greeting routine.
Seen those videos of students greeting their teachers at the door with a hi-five, hug etc? Well, if you haven’t tried it out yet, I urge you to give it a go with your students and see their responses.
The kids at my new school absolutely loved it, probably more so than any other class I have used it with. I have also never seen as many children opt for a hug each morning. That in itself says a lot about how the children in our classrooms are feeling right now.
Top tips for using a morning greeting poster in the classroom
- Introduce the routine to your students the day before you intend to use it. It not only helps them to understand what to do, it builds some excitement to try it out the next day.
- Encourage everyone to participate but allow them to pass on the greeting if they choose to. After some time, those students who do not participate initially will understand and feel comfortable with the routine, and are more than likely to join in when they feel ready to. In actual fact, having this routine in place really built confidence when communicating for some of my ‘quieter’ students.
- Ensure there is a range of greetings which make all children feel comfortable including some smaller forms of communication e.g. a smile, a wave, or a thumbs up.
You can download a free copy of the morning greeting poster I created on Canva below.
New year, New school
Regrettably, I didn’t seem to fit with the new school and I made the difficult decision to leave at the end of the term. Coming home was a challenge in itself and teaching in the UK has been much harder than I thought. Whether or not there is “lost learning”, the effect of last year’s pandemic is easy to see in a classroom, especially in students like mine who have never received a “normal” year of education so far.
Before we are teachers, we are people. Whilst we put a lot of ourselves into the vocation, ultimately we still have to prioritise our own wellbeing. Staying in a job that doesn’t bring you joy is not helpful for anyone, not even until the end of the academic year.
Unlike other professions where it is normal to leave roles or companies when you feel it isn’t right for you, in education it is often expected that you will see out the full year/contract. However, continuing to live each day as an unhappy teacher would result in an unhappy person.
Education in the UK is extremely tough, particularly this year, and there are droves of teachers leaving the profession, or as I did, moving to teach overseas. If you or anyone you may know is having a challenging time at school, consider these questions for reflection.
- Visualise yourself in a year’s time – What are you doing? How do you feel?
- What are the main barriers and what have you not tried?
- Who can support you?
I am immensely proud of what I achieved with my students in a term and I am grateful for the lessons I learnt from this opportunity. This week I begin teaching at a new school and I am feeling really positive for the new start.
One of my goals for the new year is to continue exploring how to be a good and better educator, and offer more experience of this in my blog across 2022. Across the year I have been inspired to understand more about gender and its role within society and education.
I have always felt a great alliance with women, having been brought up by a fantastic single mother and been surrounded by female friends. Growing up I was also influenced by strong females in the public domain such as The Spice Girls and Madonna. However, as we’ve seen with other social injustices, to be a true ally you cannot simply excuse yourself from the issue because of who you surround yourself with.
Instead, the past few years has challenged us to hold ourselves accountable. As a white male educator, I asked myself: How can I actively challenge misogyny? In my upcoming role this new year, I will be teaching in an all-boys school which offers me the perfect opportunity to actively promote positive masculinity from the foundation.
Some key readings that have caught my attention this year:
Women Don’t Owe You Pretty – Florence Given
This was kindly given to me by my friends who refer to it simply as “The book”. Since reading, it has been at the centre of many of our discussions. Not simply about feminism, Women Don’t Owe You Pretty confronts a whole manner of harsh truths about our patriarchal society.
And it’s about time too, it’s 2022, time to wake up! A personal highlight was the chapter ‘Check your Privilege’ in which Florence notes that “Privilege is usually invisible to the person who has it until it’s pointed out to them’.
Boys Don’t Try – Matt Pinkett and Mark Roberts
I’m half-way through this research-based book co-written by two UK teachers. So far it has sparked some interesting dialogue for me. Although mostly aimed at Secondary education, it discusses the key topics of how to better support boys in our schools.
Chapters include myths regarding boys’ engagement, how to support their emotional well-being, and ways to challenge our own gender-based judgements as educators. Each topic is supported by a heap of practical solutions for the classroom and lots of further reading. See Mark’s blog
Ready, set, alarm
As one of the lucky teachers in the UK who managed to escape a Covid Christmas, I have enjoyed the reset that the first term’s holidays bring. Although the morning alarm is still going to be a hard one to manage considering all the joyous lie-ins.
Without the painful phrase “New year, New me”, I am ready to take on 2022 with refreshed optimism for both my new home and new school.
And if the mild weather in London continues this way, I will avoid complaining that I haven’t been to the beach in a year.
Wishing you all the very best for the start of the new term.