Dear Ben,

I know you think that you have perfected most areas of your practice during your trainee year. You might feel as though you have mastered the “art of  consequence”; that you have sussed the knack of putting in solid routines for every class and that there are a great breadth of activities in every lesson. However, there are so many areas of your profession that you have barely scratched the surface on, let alone come close to mastering.

Mastery is the path of dedicated effort and ongoing curiosity. You cannot expect immediate results. Time is always precious; invest it wisely. Take the time to speak to teachers from other departments about how they approach their teaching regarding both learning and developing relationships with students. There are some great cross-curricular links that you could take away from speaking to experienced teachers, in addition to observing their lessons. Be a magpie, constantly drawing on the collective wisdom of staff in your school.

Do not fall into the trap of thinking that if students struggle with 12- or 16-mark questions, that fancy pedagogy and drawing pictures on storyboard template sheets is magically going to get them writing great analytical answers for these types of questions during assessments. Worked examples, lots of modelling and deliberate practice should be a staple diet in your classroom.  Drip feed the appropriate techniques and skills to students who might need specific support and in time, you will see improvement. Don’t drink the Kool-Aid of “our kids can’t do that.” It might make you feel better about your teaching, but you are lowering your expectations of them.

Remain committed to revisiting the pedagogical theories you learnt during your first year on the Teach First Leadership Development Pathway. It helped you to better appreciate the rational behind why students cannot remember the difference between Harald Hardrada and Harold Godwinson. Find out about more about the forgetting curve, interleaving and speed of retrieval as they will become especially important as you start to think about learning as a sequence over time.

Keep revisiting previous content covered, constantly making links between then and now.  Revisiting prior learning is more than a “back of the exercise book quiz” with the answers written down on a post-it note. Cement it as part of everyday learning. It is far better to spend time doing this than rushing through lessons with classes that might struggle to take on board the fact that ‘manifest destiny’ is more than just a lyric sung by Panic! At the Disco, in High Hopes. But remember, you are not solely responsible for curating learning; interleaving; nurturing inter-disciplinary links. There are many teachers and leading educationalists still grappling with these very topics. Seek advice, plan with others, reflect on what the children need now and in the future and keep responding accordingly.

Finally, appreciate and value the small wins and hold onto them tight, particularly in those lessons when the computer completely fails and you improvise using charades-like acting and terrible whiteboard drawings. Most importantly do not forget the reason why you wanted to become a History teacher in the first place; to encourage young people to think deeply and enthusiastically about the past to better understand their future ambitions.


Ben Manley

Teacher of Humanities

Bristnall Hall Academy