The Elusive Grade One

I’ve been meaning to write this post for a while now and like many of my posts, it was published and then unpublished and then published again until we get to the point I’m at now: finally choosing to publish for good.

I am now well and truly into my fifth year of teaching. Over this time, I have grown as a teacher and until I stop growing, I’ll continue teaching.
Since about day 67, after the fear of being thrown, unqualified, into a classroom had subsided slightly, I’ve aimed towards achieving a grade one in an observation. Of course, I became a teacher in order to work with young people; t wasn’t always my dream to be a teacher but it emerged as something I’d enjoy and do well at. But it wasn’t the idea of a ‘grade one’ gleaming on my lapel that got me into the job. I wouldn’t have lasted more than five minutes if this were the case and I’d certainly be wondering what the last five years had been all about.
A taste for a grade one began to emerge after a PGCE observation graded me at a two- with no areas for improvement. None. Not a single one. I’d been robbed and I was out to get a grade one next time around. My search for the elusive grade one wasn’t in an over-zealous way. I have never been about ticking boxes. I’ve always taught in the only way I know how- my way (all informed by colleagues, blogs, articles and books of course). I didn’t want to copy someone else or do it the way I thought someone else wanted it to be done; I just felt awkward when I even remotely tried that and the lessons would fall flat on their faces.
For a misinformed while in the early stages of my teaching career, I felt that I was working hard and I thought I was doing all the ‘right’ things, so I could just get a grade one as a result. In fact what I was doing was surviving and hitting some of the basics, some of the time.
I then spent time with a particularly cynical teacher. Fantastic but cynical. He had been a grade one once upon a time but he assured me that all observers were now evil and seeking to catch you out. To a large extent, that was misinformed too.
I then went through a stage of working with a teacher who was truly one of those rare ‘great ones.’ If you’ve ever met one, then you’ll know exactly what I mean. He was passionate, intelligent, warm, funny, stern when necessary, a true subject expert, and just an awe-inspiring person. He never knew that I held him in such high esteem but he didn’t need that to know he was a ‘great one.’ Not in a footballer arrogance kind of way but in a cool rock star kind of way.
Whilst working with the ‘great one’, I came to believe that it was only teachers like him who could get a grade one and I resigned myself to the fact that I would only ever amount to a two. There was still a niggling want for a grade one but I maintained for a long while that I was satisfied with a two.
Then it happened in my new job. I had honed my teaching. My confidence had grown. I was observed. I got a grade one.
During my feedback, I kept smiling to myself when my observer wasn’t looking, whilst also putting my sensible, ‘this doesn’t phase me’ face on.
I then told everyone. I phoned my mum, my friends and my partner. They were all very pleased and made all the right noises. I went to sleep exhausted (this had been far more exceptional than the ‘usual’ teaching week) but happy.
So, for about a total of 14 hours, I was pretty pleased with myself. And then I woke up. I felt weird. Really weird.
For a while, I thought it was because I was tired and I’d had to get on a ridiculously early train to go house hunting. I thought the exciting changes about to happen in my life had dampened my happiness at a grade one.
For a number of days, I felt that it was because I’d achieved a goal that I’d worked towards for five years. Where was I supposed to go now? What would be my goal? How would I have any direction?
I then considered that it might be because I didn’t deserve a grade one and then I realised that wasn’t it either. My observer rarely gives grade ones and I’m certain it wasn’t out of pity for how hard I work. No, it was a cracking lesson. One of the best.
And then it dawned on me.
Over the last few years, I’ve really got into Formula One. It’s the only ‘sport’ I can handle watching for any length of time. I wish that getting a grade one could be the equivalent of winning the formula one championship. I had thought it was the same and I couldn’t have been more mistaken.
A lesson is one race. A single moment. Sebastian Vettell wins and wins and wins some more. He is the sporting equivalent of ‘The Great One’. He performs at a consistently high level. But he doesn’t achieve this alone. Undoubtedly, he possesses a sufficient amount of god-given talent but he has also developed his skills over time. This, I’m certain, will have been with the support of his peers and a set of role models and advisors eagerly lurking in the wings. He has a throng of fans to champion him through thick and thin. On race days, he has the full support of a talented and well-equipped team who have all the training and resources necessary to succeed. This is why he is the best at what he does.
I want a grade one to feel like that must feel. I want it to be based on great performance over time. I want it to be influenced heavily by the working of an entire team over a whole term and not a snapshot of a single moment. Maybe to a certain extent it is. I’m not the teacher I am now without all of that in my past and indeed present but my grade one judgement was still based on that single lesson.
This week, I’d be a three in some lessons and a one in others. To be seriously generous, I’d call myself a two.
Teachers’ practice, if it’s to be examined, should be based on development and performance over time and shouldn’t be judged in terms of ones, twos, threes and fours, not least because I’ve never been a huge fan of numbers
No, it should be a judgement of ‘great ones.’
I’m more interested in being a ‘great one’ rather than a ‘grade one.’ I always have been interested in that, I just used to be under the illusion that the two were the same thing. They’re not.
A ‘great one’ is a teacher who can inspire even the most disengaged learner, no matter what the time of day. A ‘great one’ can get every single one of their learners to be engaged all of the time, no matter what the subject. A ‘great one’ leaves every single lesson safe in the knowledge that all that could be done for the learning of their students has been done.
I’m not a ‘great one’ yet and might not be for a long time, if ever. But that’s what I’m ultimately striving for: great learning, great teaching, great team collaboration and great lessons- all of the time. It might not be possible without superpowers but that won’t stop me from pursuing it.
So ta very much for the grade one but I can thankfully say that I’m done with the chase now and I’m relieved by that.
9205204328_c9e0717b15_o (1)
Australian South Sea Islander women crossing the finish line in a race in Innisfail, Queensland, ca. 1902
Photo sourced from Flickr- Commons
Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin
Share on email

Leave a Reply

‘A great lesson starts at the door’

Week 2 of ‘Managing Behaviour for Learning‘ from Future Learn is focused on the importance of routines, boundaries and expectations. All teachers have them but do not always communicate them effectively to students (read about week 1 of my learning here). The first few minutes of a lesson are crucial.

A Love for Poetry is Born

I never loved poetry until I came to teach it. Before this point, I could endure some of it but it mostly bored me to tears. I have, however, always  loved Wordsworth and I think I am probably in love with the guy. A few years ago, I visited his