Each year the UK Department for Education publishes their statistics on teacher training places, and there are no surprises when we see that Physics places have not been filled. In fact, the latest figures show a small decrease from 47% to 43% (DfE, 2019).
Physicists are in demand, but there is a limited supply. For many schools, this leads to a difficult dilemma: employing an NQT who may be responsible for the Physics curriculum or retrain one of their current teachers. For my school they decided to take a chance on me, an NQT. The purpose of this article is not to discuss recruitment and retention, instead it is here to show you the support available.
I took up a post as an NQT in September 2018 and was given the enormous task of being the only physics teacher in a grammar school. This was not a surprise to me as I knew what the situation was going to be before accepting the job. However, this presented several early challenges in my career. I was going to be responsible for leading physics at both KS4 and 5. I had taught a small part of the KS4 curriculum in my training year, but not a lot. I often ended up with biology. In terms of KS5, I had observed a lesson a week whilst on placement, but never had the opportunity of teaching it.
Asking for help
I knew teaching KS5 was going to be challenging so I knew I needed to seek help. I decided I was going to email the Institute of Physics and ask if there was any help available. Luckily, I had a positive response and met one of the Stimulating Physics Network coaches just before the end of the summer term. It was a wonderful day, spent looking at Particle and Nuclear Physics.
I was nervous for the year ahead, the AS physics group adored their previous teacher, she was incredible, and it was a big void to fill. I voiced these concerns and their advice has always guided me. A simple remark of ‘be yourself and be bigger and better’. These words were important, I started to believe that I could overcome the hurdles in front of me. That group left happy with one student commenting that they had judged me too quickly at the beginning.
This bespoke session was wonderful, but one session was never going to ease my nerves. Between me, the IOP, the Ogden Trust and the school, we designed a six day course spread over the year. I picked the topics, and everything was done at my school so that I could become familiar with the equipment available. Between all of us, we sourced teachers in the local area to join, the IOP brought other coaches with them to support with the delivery of the course. These sessions were more than just practical and theory, they were opportunities to network with other teachers in the area, new and old. The IOP sessions were wonderful, I learnt lots of knowledge, and each session focusing on improving delivery of content.
The lonely physics teacher
I work with a wonderful department, a department that have always supported me, a department that have always believed in me but there was always something missing, another physics teacher. Sometimes I was jealous, sometimes I felt somewhat lonely. I had no one to share ideas with, no one to discuss curriculum sequencing with.
Twitter became my second department. I grew my network and interacted with some wonderful teachers; the majority are part of the Chat Physics project. Many of those teachers shared resources, answered subject knowledge questions and aimed to support as much as possible. In fact, halfway through that year Chat Physics was born. I started to interact more and use the time as an hour of reflection. I will never forget the chat on teaching electricity. All the lessons I had observed involved getting the equipment out and having a play. I took the ideas from this chat on board. I started with a demonstration, teased the science out of the students, and then let them go and confirm their observations. This advice was invaluable, it allowed more learning to take place, but also made my life easier in the classroom.
In summary, the year was always going to be challenging, it was never going to be smooth, I was trying to develop my practice and lead a subject simultaneously. The support on Twitter, in my department, the school and the IOP all allowed me to call that year a success. All four of those A2 students went to university and all their courses involved physics in some capacity. I am proud of what I achieved that year, but my message is to ask for help because you may be surprised by the support available.