Why I went back to school!
Avril Moulds explains why sitting a GCSE was more than she had bargained for.
This academic year I, like many other teachers, taught a new syllabus. Nothing new there I hear you say. Teachers regularly have to keep abreast with changes in specifications and the curriculum – it’s what we do. Like most teachers who have been teaching a number of years I found myself teaching outside of my subject speciality. I, like the next person, love a challenge. We had opted to teach GCSE Film Studies as new course at our academy this year. I was eager, initially hoping it would provide light entertain and possibly an opportunity to watch some great movies. How wrong could I have been?
Whilst studying the syllabus- someone (and I genuinely can’t remember who it was but I know it wasn’t me) had the great idea that the staff delivering the course would sit the exam along with the students! How hard could it be?Enthused, we all agreed. In fact we generated a buzz and more teachers opted in for the chance to sit the exam. Two of those opting to take part were SLT! Obviously, the rest of us wanted to beat them! Altogether twelve teachers opted in and signed up to sit the GCSE examination in June along with our year 11 students. My own daughter who is currently in year 10 at another school joined in the competitive spirit and signed up to study it on an evening and sit the examination with us. We had generated a buzz within our subject. We became creative with our classes, each convinced we had the best strategies and revision techniques to ensure our own class achieved the highest grade. We became more competitive with our own work, in a desperate attempt to outwit and out perform our colleagues. The game was on!
My first piece of work was filming, something I had had little experience of. I realised that creating, staring, filming and then editing my own movie trailer was a lot more hard work and time consuming than I had first anticipated. I gave my own class options but I had exacting standards and wanted to be able to model a piece of work that was A* level to my students. I picked the task I believed to be the most difficult and challenging. If an ancient technophobe who hadn’t sat a GCSE ( O level in my day ) for a lifetime could do it, surely they knew it was within their grasp. I wanted them to know I was there with them, I felt their pain! Well actually, they simply thought I was mad, but joined in the competitive banter asking about the work of others and joined in our competitive spirit.
I learned how to edit images; I can now photoshop my pictures to make me look thinner, younger and more amazing. I don’t think that was the criteria but it was certainly an added bonus! I became aware that it all took a very long time and was all consuming. This was particularly challenging along with my work and family commitments. I went through bereavement and somehow managed to meet deadlines with my own work and that of my class. I was cutting it as a student.
I knew the syllabus practically word for word. I soon developed a whole new language, where I discussed mise-en-scene and connotations and denotations. I was a film geek. I started to love the studying. It was a bit like the sober bit at university and I loved it.
Along the way we experienced a number of casualties. Staff fell at every hurdle. They were busy, had family commitments and workload issues to name but a few. We were left with a hardcore of staff, only 4 teachers from the original 12 remained. The exam approached and I can honestly say my confidence wavered. Thoughts of exam failure kept me awake at night. I needed to get my revision head on but I found it hard. If my own daughter hadn’t have been siting it along with me I may have been tempted at this point to quit. But the pressure was on. I had to not only set an example I had to beat her!
I found ways of revising that I had suggested in the past to my students and actually used them. I made notes, I condensed and I mapped. I was a model student. Then the exam arrived and I can honestly say I was unbelievably nervous. I wanted to pass I wanted to do well.
My first exam I very nearly missed as I somehow had confused the dates. Nevertheless we were there. The die hards. The crazy ones. The first paper was hard, that threw me. I knew to get higher grades I needed to get every bit of information down and after what seemed liked minutes (not an hour) it was all over. Paper two was the same. A blur. I came out relieved, happy and doing the ultimate examination postmortem ever. We compared notes, laughed, screamed and had a mild panic when on reflection I noticed I could have possibly picked up an extra mark. I was a student again and I loved it.
When we had finally calmed down and had time to reflect I realised many things. I had learned more than the course requirements and a few skills. I had learned a real lesson in education. I had a real understanding of what our students go through and I only sat one exam not ten! I knew that life and all the messy things associated with it get in the way of studying. Would we accept the excuses given from staff (sorry guys but hang your heads in shame) from our students? Hell no! Of course we wouldn’t, we expect them to focus. To get a grip and to get on! I went back to school and sat one single GCSE and it was hard. We expect ours to do an awful lot more than that. So I can honestly say it was not only a valuable exercise. It’s one I think every teacher should do. It keeps you focused, motivated and skilled. It gives you an empathy with your students that nothing else can. Will I be as confident on results day? No. Of course not. I will be as nervous as my students and my daughter. Do I want to beat the one remaining member of SLT who sat the exam? No, I don’t care about that- I just don’t want to be beaten by my daughter!