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Struggles with KS5 students / bigger worries

Discussion in 'Secondary' started by rtyle4, Nov 6, 2017.

  1. I have recently moved to a new school. In my old school I struggled slightly with behaviour at KS3, but in general felt accepted by staff and students. I enjoyed teaching KS3 and 4, and found A-level to be fine. In my new school I am teaching a lot more A-level. While the KS3 and 4 is going well, the students at KS5 are extremely chatty, obviously looking at the clock as though they don't want to be there, and generally not engaging with the lesson. I feel like they won't accept me as a 'new' teacher, especially alongside more established, older colleagues who are well-liked. One of my KS5 classes is in a related subject to mine (Politics) and I have found it extremely depressing to be confronted with this behaviour in 3 x 60min classes a week, so much so that I have lost sleep worrying about lessons.

    I know everyone struggles with certain classes, but this is a lot worse than anything I experienced during my last (NQT) year. The options seems to be:

    1. Look for another school (my third in three years as I spent one year at my NQT school before relocating for unrelated reasons).
    2. Ask to not teach this related subject next year for the Year 13 class that I am struggling with so much.
    3. Ask to not teach this related subject at all for Y12 and 13 next year.

    Doing 2. or 3. would reduce my KS5 load, meaning I'd be teaching more KS3 and 4 which I enjoy. But this feels like quite a selfish request and possible unfeasible.

    I waver between feeling like I'm making a fuss over nothing, while at the same time realising that it's just not healthy to be so worried and concerned about the bad behaviour of KS5 classes and so this job as it is at the moment isn’t good for my mental health. I doubt my abilities as a teacher, but received good and good/outstanding feedback during my training and NQT years respectively, so I know I'm not ‘terrible’ at least! I also doubt whether I have the temperament to be a teacher if I'm not 'tough enough' to handle bad classes or criticism. For example, I feel that I am a '3.5 - 4 out of 5' teacher who isn't one of those amazing, inspiring teachers that you always hear about and that this is never going to be enough to feel like I'm succeeding at the job.

    I’m not sure what I expect or hope to get from replies to this thread, but wanted to express how I’m feeling honestly. I’d appreciate any constructive feedback or advice anyone reading this may have.
  2. FrankWolley

    FrankWolley Star commenter

    I think there is a myth that A level teaching (KS5 - whether or not the school teaches A levels or another course) is easy. Whilst it can (often) be the most rewarding type of teaching, at least intellectually, this isn't always the case. Far from it. I'd be surprised if any experienced teacher of KS5 hasn't had similar classes at times - I know I did. So the question is, what can you do?

    Well, remember that you are still a pretty new teacher. And this isn't your main subject (if the 'difficult' class is Politics, does that mean you are, like me, an Historian?) So don't be afraid to ask for help & advice from the other teachers of Politics. Perhaps you could sit in on one or two of their lessons to see the approaches that they sue that seem to be successful? Is there a HoD? If so, get their help with resources. I remember (not in Politics) a new teacher planning a rather special trip for their A level group which, although it appeared to be curriculum related, was also designed to act like a 'bonding' session - could you do that?

    Finally, I'd be honest with your class: 'Listen folks, as you know I've taken over from xxxx and it won't have escaped your notice that I'm a pretty new teacher, especially to Politics. That means I'm going to be learning alongside you, which is actually an advantage for you because I'll be seeing the difficulties that you face first hand. But don't worry, I'll be liaising closely with yyy & zzz (teachers of politics) and we'll all benefit from their experience. I know you are all here because you have chosen to study Politics, and I agree that it is a fascinating subject, especially just now with.... [Give relevant contemporary examples]. Now, any questions?'

    Or something like that!

    Good luck.

    PS I wouldn't think of changing schools if KS3 & 4 are going well.... Frying pans & fire etc. ;)
    sabrinakat, Dodros and pepper5 like this.
  3. CheeseMongler

    CheeseMongler Established commenter

    Sounds like they're sulking. You've got to remember that although KS5 students may look like adults, they have a lot of very childish tendencies. If there are older, well liked teachers in the department, some of the students may have mainly chosen to do your course based on the fact they like Mr/Mrs X and so they're a bit miffed that they've got this stranger. That's not because you're doing anything wrong, they just had the wrong expectations.
    What I would do - find out what they are interested in, which ones have a love of the subject and which ones are just filling in their timetable. You can inspire them (or at least some!) without being an all-singing, all-dancing performer, just show an interest in them.
    Most importantly, in my opinion, don't try to change who you are; be yourself. If you start thinking, "I'd better do this the way Mr/Mrs X does so they like me" the students will never get to know you, you'll just be a Mr/Mrs X wannabe. It will take time for them to get to know you but, as your KS3 and 4 classes show, when they do, they will work for you. (KS3 and 4 are often a lot more accepting of new faces so that's why you may not be facing an issue with them.)
    Until then, if they are not doing what you ask them to, sanction them as you would any other student. I don't mean to use this to "whip" them into line like a drill sergeant, but if they're behavior is not what you expect, you need to calmly point this out to them.
    I don't know how well this would work with your department, but what I'd want is for the popular Mr/Mrs X to subtly big you up a few times. If they popped their head in during one of your KS5 lessons to say thanks for borrowing one of your brilliant resources, or praised you for a KS3/4 lesson that they saw, it would give the message to the students that you are a good teacher.
    Dodros and pepper5 like this.
  4. pepper5

    pepper5 Star commenter

    Work them so hard they don't have time to chat. There is no time to chat or watch clocks in an A level course as there is a lot of reading and writing plus the analysis to do. Give them assignments where they have to report back to the class and give mini teaching sessions.

    Give them surprise quizzes.

    Take the clock off the wall.

    Don't doubt your ability and don't retreat.

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