Blocks of Marble – Teaching

“In Every Block of Marble I see a statue…. I only have to hew away the rough walls…”


Over recent days many trainee teachers have been sharing concerns about the situation they find themselves in. Completing a PGCE or placement must be difficult right now. The uncertainty they face as to whether or not the placements will go ahead at all, and if they will be able to become qualified teachers by the end of the academic year must be such a worry for them. I always think of newly qualified teachers as a massive opportunity to improve my school. When you appoint an NQT you’re actually appointing somebody who will grow and improve over period of time. You are not appointing  the finished article. They are very much the block of marble from which hopefully the masterpiece statue will emerge. For all those Trainees currently worried please keep that in mind! If you are stuck at home here are some things I would certainly make a priority as you look to develop as a future teacher.

1) – Become subject knowledge experts.
We increasingly look to deliver knowledge rich (or the expectation of knowledge rich) Curriculum. I was once a history teacher. At the point I had to teach A Level I spent an entire summer reading, learning and testing myself on the content I would have to deliver it to my students. The same applies to any training. I would advise you to be clear on the national curriculum elements of the subject(s) you will need to deliver. This doesn’t need to be done on site or in a university training course, it actually requires professional discipline and reading.

Make sure you know the national curriculum content as well as you can for your subject. If you are entering the primary phase make sure you are crystal clear on phonics teaching, the rationale behind it, and the central knowledge that you will need to deliver. If you are training to become a maths teacher sit the 2019 GCSE paper and so on. It may sound strange but it will really help you understand where any knowledge gaps maybe for you. To secure a post you will be expected to have the knowledge you need to teach the pupils knowledge they need. Regardless of your phase, make sure this is a priority

2. Develop my professional life routine
It’s sounds silly but the most effective teachers understand they are a professional. Newly qualified teachers often struggle in the first half term with managing life around their profession. I always lead an NQT training session on organisation in the first week of their time in my school. Planning how to manage your day-to-day life is essential to being successful as a teacher. If you are not in school make sure that you keep to a school schedule at home. Make sure your day starts at 7 am and finishes at 5 pm as this will help you build an understanding of the actual day-to-day experience as a classroom teacher. Lock down is quite an accurate representation of the life of a teacher in that first term. If you are in post you will just be in school during the day and when you get home you’ll be tired and going to bed at a reasonable hour. Use the time right now to discipline yourself into positive routines and expectations that will mean when you are back in school do you know it is your focus.

3. Take time to plan your planning
Planning lessons effectively is an art form- it evolves overtime as you become used to thinking about not just what you teach, but what the pupils need to learn. The very best teachers develop sound and precise planning instincts, and know went to try which activity with which class.  To an NQT this can look like the most impressive black magic! I would recommend giving yourself an example class (Let’s say Year 6) And then trying to plan a series of topic lessons. This would give you a chance to look at what you want the pupils to know over a period of time. My background is secondary so for trainees in that context consider how you would plan based on a departmental scheme of work. Pick any school, go on the website and look at the curriculum section. You will find schemes of work or at least an outline. Try and plan three or for lessons within that outline. What would the lesson objectives be? What types of activities would you use to ensure they were met, and how would you then assess pupils had learnt what you wanted them to learn? Practising this type of planning will help you even if you are not actually in school.

4) Read and read widely
Over the past few years there has been an explosion in teacher research and this can be found almost everywhere. You may wish to consider joining the chartered college of teaching so you can access their monthly  literature, this would help you feel current in your pedagogical thinking. It is well worth buying yourself books that talk about subject specific issues ( i’ve included the link to our staff reading club here) For many new teachers the first worry is how they will manage people behaviour. There are some excellent books on this topic, and almost all of them talk about the need to be precise and explicit with the pupils to ensure your classroom is organised. In many cases behaviour and good behaviour are product of school wide good routines. If everybody delivers those well this is less of an issue.

5. Develop your application
Applying for a job can feel daunting- it really isn’t. Make sure you take the time to write a letter of application that is precise and well thought out. Explain why you wish to be a teacher and make sure that it is an accurate representation of you and what you stand for. I would advise applying for jobs and organisations that you feel attuned with. Always ask to speak to the Headteacher, if they call you back this will give you some understanding of the values of the organisation. Always make sure your application forms are well presented and precise. Oftentimes a poor application form is simply passed over.

The Block of Marble
Your training year is just that. Your real development as a classroom teacher begins properly when you are in a full-time job. It is in your NQT year that really move forward and develop as a practitioner, for me this is far more important than the year in which you train. Please do not worry because your year has been disrupted and you will not get a job. That is simply not the case. I’m the next few months jobs will be advertised, and from my perspective it does not bother me if someone has had the training disrupted due to closure or lockdown. What I am looking for is an individual who has the character and drive to want to help young people be the very best I can be.  If you have that, the essential characteristics of a teacher, then the rest of it – the mechanics and logistics of delivering as a teacher can developed and improved when in post. The best teachers always see themselves as a block of marble, and we try to keep searching for the statue inside.

Published by mrcfoley

I am a serving Headteacher, and an LLE. I am a practising Catholic within the Diocese of Salford, and I have worked in Catholic schools for the duration of my career.

One thought on “Blocks of Marble – Teaching

  1. Great post: here’s a version once heard in a talk to NQTs.

    Young person to parent, having seen a sculptor at work: ‘ How did they know that giant stone had a lion inside it ?’ Teachers help people see the lion (other creatures are available) and help to bring it out. Apologies to Michaelangelo!


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