I am now a term into my second year of teaching and, so far, my experience has been extremely far removed from that of my NQT year. Last year I was almost intimidated by the amount of control I had over the direction of Drama within my school, unsure of my jurisdiction under my head of faculty and extremely conscious of the prospect of failing my NQT year. Following a trying and extremely educational academic year, something I am particularly feeling the benefit of in my RQT year is the clear knowledge I have of my job. Due to various events last year I was required to take on responsibilities beyond the requirements of my job role. This afforded me the opportunity to reflect on how I wanted this year to be different and as a result I find myself much more resilient.
This academic year my particular focus for both my teaching and Masters study will be on my curriculum. This is as a direct result of my progression from my NQT year and the place I’m currently in as a teacher. I feel more established in my position in my school and things seem less frantic (for the time being) which is enabling me to become more reflective and critical on my practice and what I’m teaching. In my current curriculum each year group studies 4 different units; a play text, devising from a stimulus, a theatre era and a Shakespeare play.
As my predecessor left no real schemes of work for me to inherit this selection comes partly from what I taught and observed during my PGCE year and what is covered in the GCSE specification. Some of the schemes work really well but it is apparent that students respond better to some of the schemes. I have highlighted 1 scheme per year group that needs altering drastically or even scrapping. Something I am discovering more as I progress into my second year of teaching is the fact that each age group often have clear differences, but also different cohorts and even classes respond in different ways to schemes. This means making any alterations have to be to the mutual benefit of each class.
As the only Drama teacher in my school working under a head of faculty who is not a Drama specialist I have complete freedom to select what I teach. At the same time however, this choice is limited. Three KS3 classes are taught by non-specialist teachers which, to some extent, limits what I plan for those classes. In addition to this the fact that I am ultimately responsible for Drama teaching and learning within my school is its own limiter on what I teach, regardless of whether it should be or not. The independent nature of my work forces me to ensure I can justify the work I set my students. The 2 lesson observations last year I received the worst feedback in were the lessons where I took risks with my teaching.
This year however, our school has changed their observation policy. Senior management have made the decision to move away from graded lesson observations and are instead looking at lesson content and delivery in a move back towards subject knowledge being the focus. We are told this shift comes as a result of teachers playing safe in observation lessons and just striving for a ‘Good’ grading. Senior leadership feel that teachers need to be more ambitious and take more risks not just in observation lessons but also within their everyday teaching in order for students to make excellent progress.
The ‘Brothers in Arms’ scheme I teach in Y8 is risky; it relies on students investing in a real life story in a sensitive and empathetic way. I have taught the scheme in two different ways over the past year and I will be adapting the scheme again over Christmas to try a different approach and compare the outcomes from each of the different versions. The scheme is based around the AF truth model which is based around the true stories of my Great Cousin who was killed in battle in WW2 and was awarded the VC posthumously, and one of his descendants who is currently serving a prison sentence for murdering someone. At the start of the scheme I pose the question whether it is every acceptable to take another person’s life – a debate which we return to at the end of the scheme as the students have uncovered the juxtaposition of John being awarded for killing dozens of men whilst David is imprisoned for killing one.
My (far from unique) situation at work makes the ownership of my work very important to me. Obviously the non-specialist Drama teachers rely on me to provide work for the classes they teach but apart from that I am reluctant to share work unless it is as part of collaboration which is mutually beneficial for all. Although I am no fan of team-teaching I really enjoy the few opportunities I have for collaboration with other practitioners. One of the reasons I am passionate about Drama is the sense of community and opportunities for collaboration is extremely engaging. Perhaps one of the reasons I am so protective of the Brothers in Arms scheme is because it is connected to me personally. I still find it challenging to see students working with the material so the thought of another teacher ‘mis-teaching’ the unit does not appeal to me. This over-protective nature goes against many of the principles in Drama. Perhaps the more I teach and adapt the scheme the less defensive I will be about it. Talk to me in 3 months and ask me.