Robbie Gill is the Year 1 teacher at Worlebury St. Paul's primary school in Weston-Super-Mare. Read on to find out what his challenging yet fulfilling role is really like

Getting into teaching

I studied a BA (Hons) Primary Education, Initial Teacher Education at the University of the West of England (UWE), graduating in 2015. After initially spending a short time supply teaching, I completed my newly qualified teacher (NQT) year working as a Year 1 teacher at St. John and St. Francis Church School in Bridgwater before accepting my current position.

Working hours and school timetable

I'm in school Monday to Friday, although my working week extends to a Saturday. An average day at school looks like this:

  • 8am - I arrive at school and spend time making sure my resources are set up, tested (if using IT) and ready for the day.
  • 8.50am to 12pm - Morning session of lessons.
  • 12pm to 1pm - I try to get ahead of marking during lunch, which leaves less to do in the evening. I also use lunch to ensure resources for the afternoon are in place - encouraging children to take responsibility for organising themselves is good, but often causes confusion and time wasting.
  • 1pm to 3pm - Afternoon session of lessons.
  • 3pm - The end of the school day. I like to make myself available to parents should there be any issues, concerns or reasons to celebrate their child's achievements. I then spend some time tidying my classroom, organising and printing the appropriate resources ahead of the following day.
  • 5pm - I try to leave work at 5pm, but often it's as late as 6pm. I work in the evenings until about 8pm - finishing my marking and ongoing formative assessment sheets, which I use to track my pupils' progress. I also prepare tomorrow's learning objectives, along with key questions and challenges to structure my lessons.

I'll spend most of my Saturday planning. Sundays are supposedly my day off, but in reality I'm thinking about how many jobs I've left undone.

School terms

The academic year is divided into the autumn, spring and summer terms, with week-long half term breaks in the middle of each. Easter and Christmas breaks are two weeks long.

The first week in a two-week break is usually spent carrying out admin, such as:

  • planning the first week back
  • inputting and evaluating data from assessments
  • tracking pupils' progress
  • evaluating subject leadership data
  • completing mid-term plans
  • writing reports
  • planning school trips.

The summer holiday is a good opportunity to reflect on the previous academic year. I assess how successful I've been in my teaching and re-evaluate areas that I'm less confident in. I ask for advice from other teachers or do independent reading to improve, as it's hard to fit this into my schedule during term time. I try to become familiar with my new class too.

Primary national curriculum

We follow the national curriculum but teaching is based on themes we pick ourselves. I embed objectives from the curriculum in order to ensure coverage, depth, challenge and engagement. We include cross-curricular links wherever possible so the children can put their knowledge into practice.

We use core subject policies as a foundation and build upon them using efficient approaches, methods and resources. While consistency is very important, teachers need some freedom in order to teach in ways that inspires them.

For example, although we are a school that predominantly follows the Letters and Sounds programme for phonics, I have enjoyed bringing my knowledge of Read-Write-Inc. phonics from my previous school and combining these to teach a flexible, pacey and engaging session which covers reading, spelling, writing and common sight words in every lesson.

Inspections

I have not yet had the Ofsted experience due to my comparatively short time in teaching. However, I have recently undergone a Statutory Inspection of Anglican and Methodist Schools (SIAMS) inspection, which is of incredible significance to a faith school like Worlebury St. Paul's.

We provide excellent pastoral care so our respectful, nurturing culture spoke for itself. Behind the scenes, there was pressure on staff and management to provide evidence of effective assessments, differentiated learning and measuring progress. Teachers were questioned at length about policy, ethos, planning, teaching and assessment.

Challenges facing teachers

The greatest challenge I face as a teacher is maintaining a good work/life balance. I find it very difficult to say ‘that will have to do’ as I always want to give my best to the job.

Most full-time teachers end up working 60 to 70 hours a week during term time, which quickly becomes overwhelming. Dips in energy and becoming over-tired can make the job feel stressful.

I could dedicate every minute of my day to teaching as there's always something to do. Does that display need laminating? Do I need to make a new PowerPoint, or can I adapt an existing one? Prioritising your workload effectively is a must, but it takes time and practice - I’m still working on it.

Holidays are never entirely your own either. I use my time off to get ahead for the next term, which relieves some pressure further down the line. However, I try to take a few days off during each break to relax.

Benefits of teaching

The most rewarding part of my job is inspiring, exciting and encouraging children to become independent learners, and seeing them excel academically, socially and emotionally.

It’s often the small steps and glimmers of light that make the difference and make primary teaching so worthwhile. I love seeing a child conquer something they once found ‘impossible’, whether that's seeing them stand in front of an audience to deliver a line in a play or watching them compete in a sports day event.

I also enjoy bringing my knowledge and understanding of sound, lighting and performance to work to provide extra-curricular opportunities for learning. I'm hoping to begin a choir and stage a musical later this year.

Opportunities for promotion

Pressure on budgets means schools are forced to make financial savings wherever possible, which has seen cuts being made to continuing professional development (CPD) to save on costs for supply teachers. In a small school, there are naturally less opportunities for promotion than if you're based in a school with two or three forms per year. However, we're working towards joining forces with other local schools to form a federation, where we'll all work under a single, over-arching governing body. Opportunities for promotion might arise in the future as more roles become available to me.

Tips for trainee teachers

It's not until you experience teaching for yourself that you understand the reality of the workload. For me, there are three important aspects to consider in teaching:

  • Choose your school wisely - Does its ethos, mission statement and values align with yours? Are your skills and attributes going to be welcomed and valued? From my experience, you can't make these judgements based on a guided tour alone.
  • Be emotionally resilient - There is so much pressure, and only so many hours in the day, to keep on top of responsibilities such as assessment, observations and marking (to name a few). Sometimes, making the decision to take an evening or weekend off can benefit you and the children as you return to the classroom refreshed and invigorated.
  • Keep on top of behaviour management - Learning outcomes are significantly affected if low level disruption isn't addressed quickly. Be consistent in implementing the school’s behaviour policy - this makes for a calm, positive and productive learning environment where children are able to engage in learning.

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