Time: a teacher's gift
It’s probably worth mentioning that time is something I have very little patience for. My natural approach to life is to jump into any given situation feet first because if I want something, I want it now; I want it yesterday. I love to be busy and my mind is always whirring and moving at a much quicker pace than my body (although I have started running, so even that is moving quicker than it used to!)
Unfortunately, when I move quickly, I make mistakes. When I run, I fall over (often); when I dash about trying to get lots of things done for my job and my family, everything gets done just a little bit badly… It all gets done, but the result is not as good as it should be.
In recent months, I have finished my full-time job and instead of teaching for 25 hours a week and marking 45 books a week as well as planning, attending meetings and inserting data for who knows how long, I now teach a maximum of 11 hours per week, mark mostly in lessons plus a few books a week and, as a result, the quality of my planning, teaching, marking and reflection is infinitely better. Not to mention, my house is tidier and my children get more of my attention.
No shit, Sherlock you may say. If you haven’t got enough time to do a job, you are going to do it badly.
I suppose my point is that the students that I teach are exactly the same. As I have slowed down myself, I’ve realised that I really want to slow the pace down for my Word Academy students too. That is ALL students. Whether they are high fliers in literacy terms or struggling, there is something to be said for moving at a slower pace. Work can still be differentiated so that it is hard enough for them but time must be given to allow students to think, practice, process an idea.
An issue with the latest GCSEs is that as a class teacher, you often feel that you are up against it ensuring that all parts of the curriculum and exam are thoroughly covered. At Word Academy, I am taking a deep breath and working at students’ own pace. The difference, I suppose, is that when you are working to cover the literacy issues of just 4 or 5 students in a class rather than up to 30 plus the content for 2 GCSEs, it is much easier to give them this time.
On the other hand, I am a strong believer that, whilst it may not help them in life, to get a good grade in exams, drilling students is the best way to do it. That means to test and re-test. My newfound enjoyment of giving students time has not made me feel any differently about that but it is a balancing act between drilling them slowly like a drip-feed with the knowledge they need and building deep knowledge of a subject.
I am working with plenty of students, both home educated and school educated, where a fast pace does not work for them at all and is adding to the stress that they are feeling. It’s no big news story that teenagers are more stressed and anxious than ever. For some home educated students it seems to be that the pace of learning in schools is the very reason they are no longer there. In my classroom, at a slower pace and with plenty of understanding, they are doing just fine.
In fact, often it is easy to forget that as a teacher I am asking students to do an awful lot of things that are using lots of different parts of their brain; I’m asking them to structure a story whilst thinking of the best words to use whilst remembering to use punctuation in the right place, whilst remembering that they always spell the word “restaurant” incorrectly whilst remembering what I said about making sure they use some imagery and to make sure that their sentences are varied. To be honest, it’s like learning to drive a car! For some students, cognitively there is just so much going on that the job is almost impossible in a fast-paced classroom. They need more time.
For other students, they can write essays perfectly well and know the texts that they have been studying. They are trying to get the very top marks and for them it is about thinking deeply and spending time on the analyses. They need time to think, discuss and debate. They need more time.
So my promise to you, is that wherever your child is, time is what Word Academy can offer, along with understanding of where they are and where they can be. My mission is to create a place where students are moving at their own pace, where they are pushed but not left behind and where they feel supported. Time is key.