Tom Ding – A typical (Thurs)day

16 Apr

Tom Ding is a maths trainee on the School Direct programme at Ark Academy in London. Tom used to work as a strategist in advertising and marketing in the UK and abroad, and holds a 2:1 an MA in maths from Cambridge University.

Before you embark on a new career it’s only fair to know what your lifestyle might be like. With all the usual caveats (no two days are the same, everyone’s experience is different etc.), here is a rundown of a typical Thursday for me

7.10 – I arrive at school bleary-eyed, smiling as I shuffle past the other zombies queuing for the photocopier. After a quick tidy of the classroom, I write in the correct answers for last night’s Year 9 homework and save it ‘to the system’ so the rest of the department can show them to their classes.

8.00 – The first courteous student arrives, eager to set up my classroom, placing mini whiteboards, pens and glue on every desk in exchange for a merit. Meanwhile, I open the day’s lessons, re-familiarise myself with what’s to come and make sure I have all the resources I need.

8.25 – The pupils line-up on the playground for their reading groups. Since it is my training year I don’t have a reading group, but I do have a ‘transition duty’ on staircase C. I say good morning to pupils as they pass, reminding every second one to tuck their shirt in or take off their coat or both.

9.00 – Lessons begin, but I have a free period. I meet my mentor for our weekly catch-up. We talk about my target that week and the mini-observation that took place yesterday, then set a new target for the week ahead.

9.50 – Lesson one: Year 10, Set two. We are midway through a trigonometry unit and I’m just about to take the class out of their comfort zone. After a couple of lessons on SOHCAHTOA, we push past GCSEs and onto the ‘Additional Maths’ syllabus for some more challenging content. Some of the class lap it up, but others howl in protest and mutinously down their pens. It takes a lot of energy to keep the majority on course.

10.40 – It’s break-time, but three students must wait to see me at the end – one for a lack of homework and two because of doodling in class.

11.00 – Form-time. As a trainee, I’m not responsible for my own form, but am ‘attached’ to another so I can watch and learn.

11.25 – Lesson two: Year 8, Set three and my rowdiest class. I make them line up outside the classroom twice, but eventually they settle down. Our current unit is called ‘What does simple mean in maths?’ and it is mostly about drilling skills they have learnt previously, which makes it relatively easy for both them and I. After a quick demonstration to check their understanding, I put on the classical music and they work independently for 18 minutes. Then they mark their work, discuss what they have learnt and it’s all over.

12.15 – Lesson three: Year 7, Set five. Today is a recap lesson as the students practise all the skills they’ve learnt in the unit ‘Is beauty mathematical?’. Tracing paper flies around the room as they work in pairs, racing to translate, rotate and tessellate.

1.05 – The morning’s lessons are over and it is officially lunchtime. Unfortunately, I can’t relax because I need to be across London for School Direct training at 2pm. I rush to log the day’s merits, print off the materials for training and tidy my room once more.

1.30 – After two snatched conversations on the stairs, I finally make it out of the building, but as I go through the gate I realize I forgot to take my year 7 books with me. This means I can’t mark any tonight as I had hoped to do, but will have to do it at the weekend instead.

2.15 – Thursday afternoons mean School Direct training for me, and today is the second of three sessions on developing Literacy. It’s a chance to pick up new tips and to catch up with the other trainees. We cover reading, writing, talking and listening and they bring out sweets at the half-way mark to get us over the finish line.

6.40 – I arrive home before seven (rare on non-training days), but I’ve got emails to check, which takes twenty minutes. At this stage though, I’m secretly thankful that I left my year 7 books behind and settle down for an evening of light relief. Tough Young Teachers is on the TV!

There are a number of routes into teaching including School Direct, which has places available in some of the best primary and secondary schools across England. To find out more visit

Tom Ding – why maths lessons are not how I remember them…

14 Apr

Tom Ding is a maths trainee on the School Direct programme at Ark Academy in London. Tom used to work as a strategist in advertising and marketing in the UK and abroad, and holds a 2:1 MA in mathematics from the University of Cambridge.

Maths was my best and favourite subject at school, but seven years of lessons have blurred into a single image in my memory: the trusty textbook open at that day’s page, an extended period of silent work and a mark out of twenty at the end.

But when I first stepped into the classroom as a trainee teacher at Ark Academy in Wembley I was surprised to see the textbooks sitting idly at the back. Four months down the line, they have barely moved from the shelf and when they do come out the students are excited by the sheer novelty of using them. At our school, like many others today, a maths classroom is not a predictable place. You never quite know what you are going to find when you go inside.

Here are just some of the surprising things I have seen in my first term and a half of teaching maths:

  • Year 10 students humming along to ‘The Quadratic Formula Musical’, a Youtube video created by a class of American students and streamed via the interactive whiteboard
  • Teachers wrapping up a unit of work on loci and construction by challenging the students to use their newfound skills to design a new sixth form building for the school
  • A set seven year 8 class recording their own version of the ‘y=mx+c rap’, complete with rap star-style posturing
  • My department teaching the addition, subtraction and multiplication of decimals by calculating weekly, monthly and annual wages of the teenage characters in Eastenders, and so also delivering some important life lessons along the way. Here is a video of maths at Ark Academy.

Now it’s worth recognizing that ‘innovation’ like this is not a good thing in itself. I’m very sceptical of flashy gimmicks and technology in the classroom when it just gets in the way of the serious stuff, the learning. However, over the past few months I have come to realise just how profound a change it can be to have fully-networked, internet-ready, touch-screen boards in classrooms.

Used wisely and with discipline, such technology unleashes the imagination of teachers, and allows them to work together in new ways. Put simply, as a teacher today you have the combined efforts of your entire department and the internet at your fingertips. This open and collaborative way of working means a scheme of work need not be dictated by a textbook, but can be created by a team of teachers and tailored to their students.

In our particular school this comes through in the way we present each unit of work as an enquiry or investigation. Instead of telling students that this term we will be doing constructions and loci, we say that we will be asking ‘How much of architecture is mathematics?’ Instead of saying we will be ‘revising decimals then moving onto compound interest’, we ask ‘What is the price of money?’ Creating these units is no mean feat, but if you can split the work between a team of 10, it’s doable.

These ways of working are only just emerging in schools, but in just a few months, I have seen both how technology enables more collaborative, imaginative approaches to teaching, and the impact these approaches can have on the engagement and energy of both staff and students. I think it has the potential to make being a teacher a more ‘creative’ job than it might have been in the past, but more than anything it makes me jealous that I am not a 12 year old today, learning maths and asking big questions for the very first time.

For more information on teaching maths and how to receive up to £25,000 tax-free to support you while you train, visit the Get into Teaching website.

Tom Ding – why I left my office job to become a maths teacher

11 Apr

It’s hard to imagine now, but twelve months ago I was getting paid more than I am today, working in a plush advertising agency in Melbourne with hammocks and an in-house barista.

Today I work longer hours than I did then, constantly catch myself debating with 13 year olds and fill my evenings by marking a stack of books (it’s like painting the Forth bridge – when you get to the bottom, it’s time to start at the beginning again).

Yet I find that I am twice as happy.

Choice of career is such a personal thing, it’s very difficult to generalise from one person’s experience. But  given that there must be hundreds of people unhappy with their own corporate grind and considering their options just as I was, I thought I could share three of the moments that helped nudge me slowly towards teaching. Maybe one of them will resonate with you.

 -   One day my boss gave a speech where he said that ‘work-life balance’ is a dangerous concept. He said that as soon as you focus on balancing two halves of your life, you compromise both. Instead he advocated ‘work-life alignment’ as a motto instead; find a job you care about enough, and you lose the sense of compromise. The speech stuck in my mind, though not for the reasons he intended.

 - While working on a project about ‘Generation Y’, I read ‘Flourish’ by Martin Seligman. He writes that to be successful in a professional job, intelligence isn’t important. What is more important is finding a role where you can ‘flourish’, where you care enough to give it your full effort. I looked around the office and saw other people caring and ‘flourishing’ more than I was and I was jealous of them.

 - One day, I watched this video by the RSA about ‘what really motivates us’ to succeed. Not money, they say, but ‘autonomy’, ‘mastery’ and ‘purpose’. I rated myself 7/10 for autonomy, 6/10 for mastery and 3/10 for purpose, and decided that I needed to do better.

 Now, it’s important to say that on a day-to-day basis I wasn’t miserable. More often than not, my old job was fun and I achieved several things I am proud of. But over time I also came to realise that I just didn’t care enough to devote my future to it. Changing career was a gradual process, but when I started to prioritise what I truly cared about, teaching and education surfaced very quickly, and I set about getting more experience working with young people.

 Fast-forwarding to today, as every career, teaching is not perfect (and there are many well-documented challenges), but because of the sense of autonomy, the sense of mastery and the sense of purpose I feel, I know it is the perfect job for me, and one where I hope I can ‘flourish’ in the future.

 I hope you can find a job where you can say the same thing, whatever that might be.

 For more information about the different routes into teaching and financial support available, visit or call the Teaching Line on 0800 389 2500

Patrick Garton on life as a trainee teacher

2 Apr

Patrick Garton OTSA

Patrick Garton is Director of Teaching School at the Cherwell School, which has been designated as one of England’s new Teaching Schools – organisations at the leading edge of school-led teacher training. He also co-ordinates ITT across the Oxfordshire Teaching Schools Alliance. In the second of a series of blogs for us, he tells about his school’s approach to equipping new teachers with classroom management skills.

Everyone who works with children and young people knows that rarely are two days the same, and that is just as true for trainee teachers as everyone else. And it follows that the range of things that regular classroom teachers carry out day-to-day should be the things that trainee teachers do too.

In essence education is about change, so one of the most important things that we help our trainees to understand is that change is the only constant in the life of a teacher. Learning to work with change is a vital part of developing the skills and resilience required to be successful in this ever-evolving profession.

  • There is no ‘average’ day for anyone in school but a successful training programme should include the following key ingredients.
  • Observing skilled practitioners and being supported to reflect on those observations in a focused and developmental way.
  • Working alongside established teachers to plan lessons, and schemes of learning and to select and develop appropriate resources.
  • Taking responsibility for aspects of teaching, this might start with a short section of a lesson that has been jointly planned.
  • Being observed and then working through the feedback that is given to reflect and develop further.
  • Learning about and developing subject specialism. Sometimes people think that this is the same as knowing about a subject having studied it at university but the crucial distinction is really about the specific skills required in teaching a particular subject.

Embedded in the work of successful schools and successful teachers is a constant process of reflection and review. Trainees are asked to evaluate every lesson or part of a lesson that has been taught. Sometimes trainees will say “that was dreadful, I just want to forget about it” – but it is often in these situations that the most beneficial lessons can be learned.

Trainees, and indeed all teachers, need skilled support from a mentor or coach to help them understand their own progress and areas for development and so working with colleagues in school is a vital part of the day to day learning process. The role of the mentor can cover many aspects but this is generally the most significant relationship that trainees develop during their programme and so the best training programmes ensure that these individuals have all the relevant skills and training to make them effective in this role.

We also recognise that learning about and understanding specialist areas of requires specialist input and so built into a trainee’s schedule will be specific time for learning from the most skilled practitioners. This might be subject specialists focussing on key areas of pedagogy or skilled practitioners and leaders outlining the most effective approaches to behaviour management. But we also recognise that learning happens in lots of different contexts and so some of the best training sessions involve learning directly from students about their views and experiences.

For more information on school-led teacher training visit the Get into Teaching website


Engaging students with Raspberry Pi in the classroom

27 Mar


Carrie Anne Philbin is a computing teacher at Robert Clack School of Science. Here she explains how a £24, credit-card sized DIY computer – the Raspberry Pi – has become the cornerstone of the computing classroom.

“Miss, what do I do?”, says a Year 7 student when a dialogue box appears on the screen of her windows networked PC. I reply “Have you read it?” “No miss.” Again she says “What do I do?”

When did children stop clicking all the buttons? When did it become okay to not want to try something? When did fear of failure stand in the way of using and creating technology? When did it become okay to say “I don’t understand technology!” and wear it proudly like a badge?

In my teaching practice, I took the decision to move my students away from the networked computers in the classroom, that were already setup and on lock down, in the hope it would combat this problem. Instead I chose to give them Raspberry Pis. At the time, teachers asked me: “Why? You can do Scratch or Python programming on any computer if it is installed…”

The answer is simple. The Raspberry Pi takes students to a world they’ve not encountered before, one where they are in control, where they have to plug their computers in and make them work. Along the way they ask questions, “What is this, miss?”, “How is it a computer?”, “Why doesn’t it have a case?”  As an educator, there is no more fulfilling moment than when students ask questions because they are genuinely interested.

Some people have said to me “Isn’t it a faff? All that equipment and effort?” Not really. My equipment lives in a cupboard and students are responsible in pairs to collect what they need, set up their Pi and at the end of the lesson return it all. Class sets of SD cards make it really simple for each group to have their own operating system, file structure and files saved.

As computing teachers and educators we have a real opportunity to engage young people in our subject like never before. Like a cross between the fun experimental parts of science, and the creativity of DT and Art, our students can now learn, build and make with our guidance. Get some Raspberry Pis - you won’t regret it! In fact, there are full free Raspberry Pi schemes of work, and free CPD on offer from the Foundation, even free Pis if you are lucky!

Computing is exciting, awesome, engaging, complex, creative and empowering. I can’t wait for children to discover this in school too.

For more information on getting into teaching computing, visit

For more on Raspberry Pi, Carrie Anne has written a fantastic book, Adventures in Raspberry Pi, on using the Pi in the classroom. She is also founder of and blogs about teaching computing at


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