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Opinion30th May 2018

‘Tough Young Teacher’ Meryl shares her journey with Ark Elvin Academy

Meryl Noronha is second-in-charge in English, KS3 leader and mentor at Ark Elvin Academy in Wembley. Meryl joined the school four years ago, at the same time the school joined the Ark network. She shares her unusual route into teaching, what it’s like to be part of a transition school and how she’s been supported to develop and progress in her career.

I had a different start to my teaching career compared to many other teachers. During my first year of teaching, while I was still training, I was filmed for a BBC documentary called ‘Tough Young Teachers’ which aired during my NQT year. It was a great opportunity and I learnt a lot, but I was keen to continue growing and developing. I didn’t want to remain stagnant in my teaching and was keen to try a new challenge in a different context away from the bubble of the television show.

I attended a Teach First alumni event and met someone who was working for Ark. She told me about a new school in Wembley that was local to me and recommended that I have a look at roles there. She knew I’d understand the local context and the kinds of issues and challenges that the school might face. It was a great chance for me to try out my skills in a different environment. So I applied and joined Ark Elvin Academy when it opened in September 2014.

It’s never easy joining a school in transition. You need to have patience – the school won’t transform overnight. We’re still learning as a school, but now we have moved into our brand new building and we have established our rules and routines – we’re in a much stronger position than we were a few years ago. It’s so exciting to be part of my school’s journey, everyone plays a role and we all work incredibly hard both for our students and to support each other.

One of the best things about Ark Elvin and being part of the Ark network is the great professional development opportunities I’ve had. Before I joined, I knew my teaching could get better but I didn’t necessarily know how to improve it on my own. But now I feel like I’ve learned more and had more supportive feedback in my time at Ark Elvin than I did when I was first training to teach! The network-wide moderation days that Ark run are legendary, you know that you’re getting the best possible training. You’re divided up by your subject so it’s specific and relevant to you and it’s great to work with fellow teachers in your subject from multiple schools across the UK.

Being part of a transition school can provide great opportunities for your career. At Ark Elvin I’ve had so much training and so many opportunities to develop my practice that I’ve had four promotions in four years! I would never have thought that possible before.

Meryl Noronha quote

Improving our teaching is something that we’re really focused on here at Ark Elvin. We do things like Instructional Coaching, which I’ve recently been trained in. A colleague will pop into your class for 10 minutes each week and you’re given one quick tip to do by the following week. The feedback I had when I was coached changed the way I teach and really developed my teaching style and confidence.

Ark Elvin is such a supportive school, from the incredible heads of department who have helped me become a stronger teacher, to the love and support that is palpable in the staffroom. It’s important for that positive culture to remain in the school as we develop and grow.

I feel like I can be honest and open with my line managers about any issues I have inside or outside of work. If I said I needed help, or that I didn’t feel confident doing something, I would immediately be supported.

We advocate having a good work-life balance, particularly in our English department. We do a lot of co-planning, stagger assessments and mark year 11 mock papers together. We just try to make it more manageable for each other.

One thing we’ve really prioritised is behaviour management. The school is so hot on behaviour that I rarely have any issues; if I do have an issue it’s dealt with straight away. All the children sign a behaviour policy when they start, and parents have to sign it as well. Our school has a great relationship with our local community and that’s something we really prioritise. We have events throughout the year, such as our International Day, when we invite people from the community in to see what we’re doing and see how we’re celebrating our diverse neighbourhood.

Every time I am with our students, I feel proud to be a teacher at Ark Elvin. I volunteered to go on a year 11 residential over the Easter holidays. Seeing the progress they made and how much they appreciated it was just brilliant. One of the last sessions I did with them was on persuasive writing. After that we had an agree/disagree line and I asked them to choose a side to show if they felt the residential had been helpful or not. They all went straight up to the agree line, and the line went right up to the end of the building. They are some of the nicest, most hardworking young people you could ever meet, and they are so determined to do well.

Sometimes when I tell people I work for Ark, they assume that we’re like the other academy chains. We’re different. It really is a place where you go to develop and grow. You’re looked after whether you’re an NQT or looking for headship. At every stage you’re supported in your career to help you be your best.

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