Meet our Cohort 2020/2021Back
Oliver Seadon: English
Click here for an excellent reflection entitled: "Nine lessons and carols for a trainee schoolteacher."
A week at school
Monday tends to be the first day of the week and, with it, I usually find a new reserve of energy. I’m using it today to build relationships with some of the more challenging students in a year eight class I team-teach, sitting with one per lesson to focus my attention on them. Today, our first task is to define gender assumptions we make and annotate them on outlines of a man and a woman before analysing a speech made by the actor Emma Watson. The twelve-year old I’m sat next to writes ‘savage’, ‘aggressive’ and ‘army’ on the outline of the man. I gently probe, “Is that about a specific man you know, or just men in general?” With impeccable comic timing he pauses for effect, looks me directly in the eye, points his finger towards me and mouths “You” before writing ‘Mr Seadon’ across the chest of this savage military outline of a man. I say, “That’s pretty funny”, and give him an effort stamp.
Tuesday often follows and, today, I’m starting a new project by having one-to-one sessions with every child in the tutor group I’m attached to. It’ll help me get to know them so that I can support them better, but will also help me address the behaviour of a small handful of students who I find it difficult to teach. After each session, they’ll write me a letter to introduce themselves and I’ll write one back to identify with their experience and share a bit of my own. I’ve a few set questions to ask. “What do you find challenging about school?” is one of the first ones, to which one thirteen year-old replies, “I don’t like it when teachers talk to me too much early in the morning. I’m tired and I want them to leave me alone”. I ask, already knowing the answer, “Am I talking too much for you this morning?” A pause, to consider the implications of their answer, then, slowly and deliberately, “Yeah, you have said a lot of words”. It won’t surprise you to hear that we kept talking.
After Tuesday, Wednesday usually happens and I’m on duty in the Year 7 playground before 8am, unlike in my prior career where I’d be having a leisurely breakfast and listening to the world falling apart on the Today programme around now. A cabal of girls approaches me to tell me that one of the boys has been “really rude” to them. I make an approach to the boy in question, who I’ve never met, say his name and gently suggest he “come here for a chat”. Not gently enough, perhaps, as he shouts, “This school is rubbish!” and runs the entire length of the playground – a solid 200 metres – before heading out of the school gate and down the road. He’s faster than me so I don’t make chase and slowly walk after him, eventually catching him up. He’s mistaken me for one of the vice-principals (by virtue only of me being male and over thirty), thought I was going to give him an hour detention, is in floods of tears and is completely distraught. We agree that the top priority for both of us, for now, is for him not to be upset and that we’ll then go and find Mr Rutter, his house tutor, who can get to the bottom of what actually happened. Days at school rarely, if ever, start as I intend them to so it’s easiest and least painful to just accept that this will always be the case.
The penultimate day of the school week is Thursday, I’m told, and as trainees we get a brief breather from school for our core-training day. This year, the vast majority are in webinar form but we’ve had numerous inspiring keynote speakers and everyone’s doing their best to deliver the training we need. A day of webinars can be more mentally tiring than school, I’m finding, and that’s a useful lesson for any remote teaching we have to do. I always miss being in school by the end of the day and am keen to get back there to try out the new ideas Thursday’s brought.
Friday’s an inevitability, but it’s always my favourite day of the week and not because it’s the last, though I’m always pretty shattered by now. I’m an English trainee and Friday begins with a solid half-hour of DEAR Time where teachers read aloud to their tutor groups. I’m reading ‘Terror Kid’ by Benjamin Zephaniah, picked strategically to entice the kids to read more for themselves. They engage so fully; they genuinely appear to love being read to. The story’s set in Birmingham and I give my best Brummie accent, which is regularly critiqued – ‘Is that character from Liverpool, sir?’, asks one, whilst another kindly suggests it’s better than some might think. One of the characters is Spanish, but I don’t risk unveiling my accent to the class as I think it’s probably reminiscent of Manuel from Fawlty Towers. It’s a brilliant start to Friday (the reading aloud to attentive kids, not my accent work) and the day ends wonderfully as well because I get to spend an hour with ten students, after school, on a Friday, who have made the choice to spend a whole hour with me playing drama games and looking at scripts for year eight drama club. Most lessons of the week having included at least a few students who’d rather not be there, it’s the perfect way to head into the weekend – before we start it all again next week.
Earlier this year the industry I worked in for fifteen years closed for the foreseeable future, so I’ve decided to do something I first applied to do three times in 2005, 2006 and 2007 but never quite had the courage to follow through: train to be a teacher.
All it took was a global pandemic.
Most recently, I was a tour director for Cirque du Soleil and, so, having run off to join the circus once before it feels in many ways like I’ve done so again by stepping foot into a secondary school. There’s certainly a circuslike quality to it: clowns; acrobats; each class has a ringmaster, which sometimes isn’t me; and I’ll stop the circus analogy before mentioning wild animals. It can be pretty entertaining; gasp-inducing spectacles can be achieved, ‘cos I’ve seen them.
I am going to teach English rather than drama. I love English literature, I had the most wonderful A-Level English teacher, Sue Dawson, and this summer I completed an eight-week preliminary course to enhance my subject knowledge. It all feels a great fit for a new challenge and, for the last five months or so, has been an exciting theoretical prospect looming in the distant-albeit-increasingly-closer future.
Now, though, I actually have to do it.
I now have to set foot in a classroom and teach teenagers why Shakespeare was the greatest British playwright and why exactly George Orwell’s Animal Farm, written in 1943 as an attack on a decades-dead dictator, still speaks to us today. Thankfully, though, for these teenagers, I first have the opportunity to watch many other experienced teachers teach their lessons before I do it myself.
I’m nervous. My nerves exist on a variety of levels, but I’m mostly nervous about getting it right. I’m reminding myself every day, though, that the sooner I get comfortable with getting it wrong, the better. Because I am likely to get it wrong – every day, and fairly publicly. As much as I annoy even myself by writing this, practise does make perfect. Although, as perfection is pretty unattainable, I am entirely happy that, for now, practice instead just makes me pretty good.
The fantastic thing is that I don’t have to do this on my own. I’m one of a team of around 200 new teachers training with Harris. Within that team, around 20 of us are training to teach English and a solid few handfuls of us are career changers, so there’s a lovely breadth of experience and support to draw on as we go through this training year together. As much as leading teams is what I’ve got used to in my career, it feels really good instead to just be part of one.
Whilst nervous, I’m excited to get started. I also figure that if we can learn to teach in the times of coronavirus, it can only get easier after this.