Bea is an ECT, teaching KS3 Art and Product Design and KS4 Photography and 3D Design at a secondary school in Surrey. She completed her ITT in 2022 as an art teacher after a 20-year career in marketing and communications. Her biggest challenge this term is teaching multiple art and design disciplines whilst navigating ECT life…
Understanding the content you are delivering is arguably the bedrock of effective teaching. The Great Teaching Toolkit (an ITT bible) states that “Great teachers understand the content they are teaching and how it is learnt”. Being secure in what and how you are teaching something gives you the headspace and confidence to focus on other key factors such as classroom management. By July, I had begun to develop a fluent and flexible understanding of my subject, which allowed me to pre-empt misconceptions, perform diagnostic assessments and spontaneously adapt my lessons. I was able to effectively sequence tasks and build schema whilst supporting, challenging and progressing pupil learning. But at that time, this was only in one subject: Art. So, when I discovered that during my ECT year I would be teaching subjects I was not a specialist in, I realised I needed to up my content knowledge pronto!
First step was to familiarise myself with my new school’s product design SoW, and the exam boards associated with photography and 3D Design. Next, I joined relevant and reputable Facebook forums, to which I posted numerous technical questions. I connected with teachers I’d met through teacher training and asked them to recommend books, websites and organisations I should investigate.
Once I started my role in September, I was sent on accredited health and safety training and connected with specialists from the MAT who could further support me. I asked a gazillion questions and felt no shame in openly admitting I had no idea what I was doing at times. In response, my D&T HoD gave me the freedom to amend the product design SoW to reflect my burgeoning skillset, my Art HoD advised me on the processes of mapping out photography coursework and my ECT Mentor offers unlimited moral and professional support.
Almost a term in, and I’m already noticing my content pedagogy in my weakest subjects (3D and product design) is improving thanks to a whirlwind of self-directed study, learning on the job and tips from colleagues.
Thankfully, due to an incredibly thorough ITT year, I no longer feel the need to make what I’m teaching in art before I deliver an average KS3 lesson. I now have enough secure content pedagogy that I can teach effectively and adapt if things take an unexpected turn. However, if content pedagogy is the foundation of good teaching, then, in practical subjects at least, having a go yourself is fundamental to linking the what and the how of learning.
As soon as I started my new role, I raided the supplies cupboard and with the same PowerPoint I was due to be delivering lessons with to guide me, I started to make stuff! I made a bookend, a lamp with an LED light, a wheeled toy and numerous clay and wire sculptures. I created a digital portfolio and experimented with the exposure triangle. I made a few mistakes, smashed my fingers several times, squealed in terror at the machinery, got disheartened when things collapsed and felt elated when I turned a switch and somehow, I’d created light. No amount of planning, questioning or reading books can provide anywhere near the same level of learning as having a go yourself. Yes, it adds to your workload, but only initially and the benefits to your teaching are incomparable.
The materials, equipment, resources, and considerations required when teaching one, let alone four practical subjects is immense. I was no longer simply just multiplying my prep for each class I teach art to; I was now juggling the set-up, delivery, clean-up and storage needs of multiple specialisms across KS3 and KS4.
Whilst practical subjects don’t require hours of marking every week, they do require a decent amount of prep. This can feel very overwhelming and requires a methodical and organised approach to manage. Firstly, work on each specialism individually and take it one lesson at a time. List all the materials, equipment and resources you will need, and then think about how you will deliver/action each one. Who do you need to involve in this prep: the technician, site manager, HoD etc. – and how much notice do they need to support you? Then, especially in product design due to rotation teaching, you need to ‘zoom out’ and assess the needs of the SoW overall.
In photography, you may need to issue and collect camera-use agreement forms from parents before student can even use the DSLRs., and don’t forget, you need to be scheduling in time to check camera batteries and inventory. A detailed Excel spreadsheet, ongoing ‘to do’ list and efficient relationships with your support team, colleagues and HoD, is vital for juggling all these requirements.
Reflection is a mega buzz word in teacher training and in education in general, and it truly is so incredibly vital. At the end of each day, as I pack-up the workshop and drive home, I think about the lessons I’ve taught and how they could be improved. I’m sure all new teachers think of nothing else! The beauty of teaching product design is I get another shot as the SoW every three months and I’m so looking forward to comparing my lessons, teaching and student outcomes as I make my way through the rotations. With KS4, I have the time to plot a course, reflect and change direction if necessary – which feels so different to the immediacy of KS3.
In my case, I am not only an ECT who is still slightly reeling from the intensity of the ITT year, but I am also a career changer with young children I need to get home for. I, therefore, remind myself regularly that it’s perfectly acceptable not to have my content pedagogy where I want it to be – yet. I’m grateful that I have the support of my school as I find my feet, and I’m astounded that my students have absolutely no idea that (a) I’m a new teacher and (b) before September, I hadn’t held a coping saw since 1996!
Thankfully, I am still able to showcase other teaching skills as I build my subject knowledge, such as creating a positive classroom environment, fostering a love for learning and the pastoral wellbeing of my students. The rest will come, over time…
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