Sidney-Stringer-Academy

Considering that my desires for a career revolve entirely around being a teacher, I have elected to volunteer at Schools to help me achieve a number of things:

  • Make sure this is definitely the right choice for me
  • Help me decide whether I want to work in Primary or Secondary
  • Give me an opportunity to discuss with people in the profession and get a more truthful representation of what it is like.
  • Gain valuable experience to help me enter a good PGCE course.

The first school I have volunteered at is Sidney Stringer Academy, a Secondary School in Coventry.

I did a total of 12 Days at the school over a period of ten weeks, ranging from 6 to 8 hours long.

Screen Shot 2014-05-11 at 21.48.48Example of one of my days at the school.

I was working with Year 10’s and Year 7’s primarily in English classes, but also had experience with Year 9’s, Year 11’s and Sixth Form classes in Art lessons.

If I was to be a Secondary school teacher, I would be an Art teacher, but applying for the volunteering I was placed in my secondary lesson choice which was English, as the core subjects is where they needed the volunteers most. I didn’t overly mind this, as English was my second strongest subject next to art/ photography so I didn’t feel exactly put out by the situation.

The Year 7’s 

I spent a lot of my time with the Year 7’s working with them in groups. It was a very low ability class so there were a lot of kids that needed extra help or groups that needed extra supervision lest they become distracted and uncooperative in the lesson.

My experience with the year 7’s was an interesting one. On the one hand, I thoroughly enjoyed my position as a teaching assistant and felt I took to the role well. On the other hand, they had a tendency to spiral out of control, so you had to be incredibly stern with them and keep a tight leash on the situation.

This isn’t to say this ruined the experience for me, on the contrary, it was encouraging to discover that I was able to step up to that requirement. I have always been concerned that I wouldn’t be able to be intimidating enough to children if they were misbehaving, or wouldn’t feel confident enough to discipline them. This concern quickly dissipated as I started doing all of that without even having to think about it.

a-midsummer

On a lighter note, I also discovered that I could lose any concept of shame or nervousness when working with the children. We spent a lot of lessons introducing them to A Midsummers Nights Dream, and being a very low ability set we had to take it slowly and use different tactics to keep them engaged. One tactic was introducing a drama element to the class. We asked them to act out parts of the play we were talking about (mainly the arguments between Oberon and Titania) to help them understand the emotions they are feeling in the play and show that they are grasping the concepts we are discussing with them. It was at these moments when you couldn’t be self conscious and had to be willing to wear a crown and pair of frilly fairy wings while over dramatically showing the kids how they could act out Titania’s anger. You can probably guess from this description that I had no problem throwing away my usual self conscious attitude and doing what was necessary to engage the kids and help them learn.

It was invigorating to know I could jump into this so easily. I enjoyed it, even when the children were being uncooperative or rude and I had to become strict and threaten detentions. I didn’t become disheartened by their attitude, it didn’t upset or shock me when they swore or became verbally aggressive, I just dealt with it and I am proud of myself for doing so. I have always been aware that that was always an aspect of being a Secondary School teacher, and the thought of it always intimidated me slightly because I didn’t think I couldn’t deal with it. I proved myself wrong and am incredibly proud of myself for doing so!

The Year 10’s 

The year 10 English class was also a low ability set, with a large proportion of EAL students (English as an Additional Language) so I was warned about the possible difficulties from the outset. For most of the lessons I was working one of one with students designated by the teacher I was working with, one of which I was warned as having quite aggressive mood swings. I was able to interact with them quite well (We will call them Student A for the purposes of clarity and child protection) and worked with them a lot over the course of the 10 weeks. I got Student A to complete the class work and put a lot of work into trying to get then to retain the information we were teaching them, and the teacher was pleased with my input. It was satisfying to see any signs of progress, however small and far between.

There was a moment when they were sitting there mock exams that Student A verbally abused one of the exam moderators after we left the exam hall. A lot of members of the class have problems with older people, which this moderator was, though I was not exposed to personally being a young adult. This led to me having a conversation with their teacher about how these children really were not suited for a classroom environment, and how it was unfair to expect them to succeed in our education system while having to translating everything in their heads (being EAL students) and not being able to retain the information given to them. The teacher really cared for these children, and put so much work into them and their lessons, but she was also very aware that some children just are not suited for the school system. This didn’t make her give up on them, on the contrary she put massive amount of effort into them, but there was a level of noticeable exasperation that I felt came more from being expected to try and make the kids conform to government expectations even it wasn’t beneficial for them.

This was a real eye opener for me, as I had never worked with children like this before. It was hard work and though I still enjoyed it, it was certain a very brutally honest image of what being a secondary school teacher is like.

Lunches 

I spent my lunches in the office with the other teachers, and really enjoyed being able to speak to them about their jobs and hear their honest opinions. I had the opportunity to hear their opinions about the government and the constant changes made to the school system, and how much they despise Michael Gove (which is entirely justified and reasonable). It made me consider how Primary Schools are not touched as much by the government, and considering how they are making the Secondary school teaching profession haemorrhage, do I want to enter the job with that much stress caused just by the internal affairs?

Art Classes

During some of my lunch periods, I went up to the art department and viewed some of their lessons and asked questions to the teachers. Considering how I would want to be an Art Teacher at a secondary school, this was really important for me to see.

I thought it was a little strange how in year 8 the kids get the option to not take art. And there had apparently been a lot of changes from the government between being allowed to offer BTECS or A Levels so it kept switching. Apparently the arts in the school lose time because the school wants to focus more on the core subjects, which even one of the English teachers I worked with agreed that it seemed a little unfair. This is something I have heard happening in multiple different schools, especially Academy’s. I was happy to hear that the Art teacher still thoroughly enjoyed her profession, and I got to see a lot of the kids work and talk to them about their lessons. One of the teachers also gave me the email address of another teacher at another school, that was a photography teacher, so I could consider going to see them in my own time and experiencing a different art environment.

Year 9’s and Year 11’s 

An-Inspector-Calls-BrochureWe were looking at An Inspector Calls with the Year 11’s.

I took the opportunity to work extra days at the school, so got to see different years and different skill sets.

I saw children who where at vastly different abilities to what I had been working with previously. It was an interesting change of pace as the teaching style differs depending on ability. I got to see a lesson more engaged in discussion about the topics and opinions being willingly put forward. The Year 9 class worked especially well, and actually wanted to continue working instead of watching a video, which was promised at the end if they had worked hard. However, there are always going to be naughty students, and the naughty students in this class also happened to be the strongest learners. This did not stop them trying to look down my dress while I was bending down to look at their work (despite my dress being high cut). I have been made aware by teachers that if you are young and female you may get some unwanted attention, so luckily I wasn’t overly shocked by the behaviour and just kind of shrugged it off while telling the boys to stop acting pathetically.

You do learn pretty quickly while volunteering at a secondary school that you can’t be afraid to call children out on what they are doing. It feels weird at first, it went against every fibre in my being that tells me to be polite to people. But it’s amazing how quickly you fall into the role as someone who can’t be willing to take any form of crap (excuse my language) from the students.

Overall

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed my time at Sidney Stringer Academy and am especially grateful for the opportunity they gave me by letting me volunteer with them. I enjoyed my time talking with the teachers and was made to feel very welcome. I am happy that I got to see the ins and outs of the teaching profession, they didn’t try to hide anything from me or make it seem prettier than it is. It’s hard and has long hours but at the same time you get to teach what you love and the satisfaction you get is one of the greatest feelings I have ever felt and I was only volunteering!

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