“So continually remind yourself… of the many things you have achieved. When you look at all the people out in front of you, think of all the ones behind you… Why be concerned about others, when you’ve outdone your own self?… say goodbye at last to those deceptive prizes more precious to those who hope for them than to those who have won them.” Seneca, Moral Letters to Lucilius, no. 15
This little extract seems to summarise quite well how many teachers feel about recognition; I thought I might use my first post of the new academic year to challenge that ethos. So used is the profession to being labelled ‘enemies of progress’ by their own Secretary of State, and being doubted by parents/children who they are providing their services to, that they have followed the stoic’s internalized approach to praise. In some ways you can agree with this: who deserves prizes for simply doing their job? Well, I think, everyone. I love prizes, which was why I very excited when I found out that a colleague I trained with, Zael Ligertwood, was part of the department named the Time Education Supplement’s English Department of the Year. The judges appreciated that school she works in, Dagenham Park C of E School, “has a compassionate professionalism at its heart, and it is clear from the parents and pupils that the teachers’ work is hugely appreciated.” Great news for a school that works with so many students who experience significant socioeconomic disadvantage.
Starting positive, what are you most looking forward to about this year?
I am looking forward to a lot of things this year. Firstly, to teaching my A Monster Calls scheme of work with the new Year 7s. As a department, we want to see how teaching literacy and descriptive writing through film can benefit pupils’ writing, reading and increase engagement in lessons. A Monster Calls, by Patrick Ness, is beautifully written and can be taught alongside the film, which is equally powerfully produced – both did not fail to move me to tears (class reading towards the end of the novel will be interesting…).
We will have lots of new faces in our department from September who I am looking forward to collaborating with and creating engaging schemes of work. We are also starting the Royal Shakespeare Company Associate Schools Programme, which will be an exciting opportunity to bring Shakespeare texts alive through movement and drama and develop our students’ oracy skills. Lastly, I am excited to have lots of debates and discussions with my new classes!
What are the TES awards and why on earth did you win one?
The TES Schools awards celebrate the successes and commitment of schools, teachers, support staff and pupils. We were lucky to have won the English Team of the Year (very cool), given to us by the host Julian Clary (even cooler). Like the other winners and nominees, our department received the award for our dedication and passion at ensuring students from all backgrounds are supported and encouraged. Our and the students’ hard work placed us in the top 1% for our 2016 exam results.
Were you surprised when you found out you were nominated/when you won?
I was surprised because the shortlist for this award was full of exceptional departments who pour their life and soul into teaching for their students, so really only one winner wasn’t enough. However, others in the department were certain we would win it. When Dagenham Park was announced, all ten of us jumped up out of our seats, beaming, shrieking, clapping and hugging. Our Head of Department, Mr Brookes, retired this year so it was a fantastic way for him to end his 30 odd years teaching.
Did you tell the students you won the award, and how did they respond?
Students were told in assembly and it was displayed on the Media Wall. This led to lots of pupils congratulating us when they came into lessons. I think they definitely felt a sense of pride to be part of a school that has been recognised nationally for its efforts.
What are the stand out features of your department for you?
Our department work endlessly to provide a range of extra-curricular activities for our students: such as, film club, Debate Mate, Speak Out, creative writing club, theatre and poetry trips, afternoons with poets, authors and literary agents. Students are constantly encouraged to enter various poetry and story writing competitions and our involvement in “book buzz” and Accelerated Reader means all of our students have books to read at home and can partake in reading challenges throughout the year. We are forever collaborating and looking for ways to create and develop exciting and engaging strategies, which can be incorporated into the classroom.
What kind of impact do you think winning this award might have? Do these kind of events matter?
These events definitely do matter as teachers work tirelessly, despite the challenges posed by cuts and exam and curriculum reforms, and quite rightly deserve for their dedication and hard work to be recognised. Teaching is a job you really can’t escape from – it pervades life outside work (even my dreams!), so having events like these give teachers a morale boost. I think these awards also help schools recruit good teachers, especially schools in areas people may not apply to. With the significant rise of teachers leaving the profession, schools like ours are finding it hard to recruit. A little bit of TES glitz and glam may give some teachers more of an incentive to stay if their work is being appreciated.
Good luck this year!