#blogsync: Dear Mr Tristram Hunt, these are my thoughts on education and teaching.

Dear Mr. Tristram Hunt,

To be honest, it’s very hard to put the reality of teaching into words. How would I even begin to explain to an ‘outsider’ about the job that gives me so much joy & so much frustration; the job that lifts my spirits & saps all my energies; the job that I willingly give so much to and yet it is never enough.

I think after that contradictory start, I need to explain further.

The students, my colleagues and the wonderful Tweachers are everything that’s amazing about education.

The students keep me inspired through their never ending fight to be better, to understand and to grow.

Sadly, so many of my students have to keep fighting at home. I was fortunate enough not to grow up facing the struggles of many students: abuse, parents fighting addiction; the care system; neglect. Every day they amaze me with how strong & courageous they are just to put on their school blazer and walk through the front doors. They make me want to be a better teacher. They make me fight for them until I have nothing left. I do not want them to face a life where they have to keep fighting every day once they leave my care.  But this takes a toll. This drains you as a teacher, and a person, especially when you teach several students in this situation each year.
All of the students I have taught have left a lasting impression on my life, my heart & my teaching. (sadly, I can’t remember all their names, but I am USELESS with names – better with faces luckily!) I can think back through every year of my teaching career and recall countless students who have brought something positive into my life. Even the ones who have destroyed lessons, hurled abuse at me or just plain thrown things at me all come with at least on positive memory.

My colleagues support & inspire me.

My current school is going through a hard time at the moment (the DfE & Ofsted in the same week, was hopefully the end of the chapter of waiting and the start of a new one) and we’re EXHAUSTED. Not because we’re lazy and struggle to work 9-3 for 6 weeks at a time like the press & some politicians would like the public to believe, but because we haven’t stopped driving for success since September. Our staffroom is a mix of enthusiasm, drive and passion but this can only be sustained for short times before you burn out. And this is why I love my colleagues. We push each other on. We motivate each other. And when all else fails we help each other to keep going. This was only too evident when we got the Ofsted call – the flashes of panic on people’s faces was quickly replaced by light hearted reassurance to make sure those who had never experienced an inspection weren’t paralysed by fear. And then the children went home and the work really started! I’ve never seen so many staff still planning, filing, marking & tidying until 10pm (and this happened at the end of the first inspection day too). This wasn’t done because we hadn’t worked until this point – the DfE were in the day before so surely everything was already in place? But trusting that alone was not good enough for us. We wanted perfection for ourselves, our school and our students. Yet amidst all this panic, fear & mild delirium we stopped and came together for Dominos. I’d never experienced anything like it: SLT, middle leaders & teachers sat together ate, joked & supported one another. No one was too caught up in their own lesson or worries that they couldn’t take the time for everyone else. (I wonder if Performance Related Pay will affect this mentality?)

The Tweachers provide me with the best CPD & guidance all day, everyday.

It’s great that you have promised to read our contributions to #blogsync but if you want the real truth follow us on Twitter. Read about our days, our successes and our failures. Get involved in #SLTChat or #EngChatUK or any of the other wonderful moments where Tweachers come together to support total strangers.
We use Twitter to find out about CPD events. Without Twitter I never would have known what a TeachMeet is (and if you don’t, you really need to if you’re going to do good in the world of parliamentary education), let alone presented at one & signed up to present at another. I would not have had the opportunity to attend and be part of the LATE / BFI winter conference or #TLT13 (Teaching & Learning Takeover).
Twitter is where you’ll find the realities of teaching, as are the TeachMeets & CPD events that are advertised through the many education related tweets.

I’ve tried to give you a balanced impression of what my current realities of teaching and education are so far. But I feel I would be doing an injustice to myself (and education) if I didn’t tell you about the realities that are long standing & have a, sadly, powerful impact. The countless policies and the endlessly moving goal posts make our job so much harder than it needs to be (not to mention the name calling, “enemies of promise”. Seriously?!) It’s hard to do your job when you feel unsupported by the ‘big bosses’, it’s even harder when you feel like we are constantly at war with each other. It’s ridiculous really as we seem to be fighting over the same core issue: what’s best for the students.

To be honest, I’ve never met you or Michael Gove so it would seem rather churlish to judge you both but then, from my research, you two don’t know much about being a teacher. I think you can see where this could head…
It would be very easy to go on the ‘You have no idea what you’re talking about’ rant, but where’s that going to get us? However, it does genuinely concern me that something as vital for a country’s future as education is being run by people who don’t know the ins and outs of it. I don’t wish to seem like I’m doubting your intentions, ambitions or ability to do good as shadow secretary for education but I am concerned, and a little confused, by the lack of experience held by many of the people who have held the posts both you & Gove hold.

People have flippantly thrown around petitions & invitations for politicians to come into schools, but I would honestly welcome you into my job for a week. I would happily show you the data of the 130 children I work with each fortnight and give you a detailed description of the personality, learning styles, disruptive tendencies and personal issues of each one. Then, I could tell you where each class was in the scheme of learning and the assessments they are working towards, as well as the deadlines! This would lead nicely into me teaching you how to find the resources, books, way round the school, my diary and all the contact details for parents – just in case. Oh and my marking pile – that damn thing never gets smaller, only bigger! Before I left you to plan for the week ahead.

I’m not beginning to suggest that I could do your job, I don’t have enough experience for that… yet! But if you are genuinely interested in the realities of teaching (and I so hope you are, because then my faith in those that are in charge of my job, my vocation and my passion would start to be restored) you need to experience it firsthand as well as talking to teachers honestly and listening to them being honest.

But if you ever fancy being ‘Mr Hunt, English supply teacher in for Mrs Keenan’ for a week you know where to find me.

Yours sincerely,

AK

http://blogsync.edutronic.net/

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Year 11: New term, new start?

At this time of year everyone’s worried about their Y11 class, but when that class is predicted Ds & Es the pressure, apparently, is less. But that’s really not the case, to be honest I feel more pressure than when I taught my top set with straight A/A* targets.

I only inherited the class and, to be completely honest, I was really worried about the first lesson with them as every bad memory of bottom sets & poor behavior came flooding back in a tidal surge that caught me a little off a little off guard. To give this some context, I have fallen in love with every bottom set I’ve taught but that’s only after taking the time to build a relationship with them: where would I find the time to build that vital relationship when there is no time spare? Especially as for some of these students I’d be their 4th GCSE teacher.

Then the day I’d worried about arrived and period 1 in they came… sporadically… loudly… and late! But I was so wrong! so very, very wrong! They are an AMAZING class and brilliant people. In a couple of days we’d built a strong relationship, to the point where after missing 2 consecutive lessons one of the boys refused to come in to the lesson unless I was teaching.

However, I made a fatal mistake one day. During one of our lessons I asked them what grades they wanted and they all said C, except for one girl who wants a B. And from that day it was decided: we are working for Cs. What are the chances of them all getting a C? I don’t know, but I know it’s not high.

So, how to tackle this challenging goal?

So, far I’ve taken the following steps:

  1. Personal English reports: An idea I pinched from ‘The Lazy Teacher’s Handbook’ (which if you haven’t read yet, put it on your reading list now!). The first lesson back in 2014 they were all issued with their personal English report and filled them out, honestly. They had to sign at the bottom, as did I and our TA: we are a team and we all signed up to work together to make progress this term. I am now keeping these safe ready for my comments at the end of this half term and their next report. On their return in the new half term another personal report will be waiting for them. Hopefully this will be a good way to track their progress & build their self esteem. (I’ve got a copy of this in my dropbox & am happy to share: https://www.dropbox.com/sh/c1edj1mxqeflr2f/I2ll6EoD_8)
  2. Creating a team mentality: As I said before building a relationship has always been the most important part of my successes with lower ability students. I spoke to them very honestly about how a C grade was only achievable if we all worked together and matched each other’s efforts: they need to make my effort planning lessons in their homework; I will match any effort they put in outside of lessons & homework by marking mock papers, additional homework & running revision sessions. However, I took it a little further than I normally do: I told them the complete truth. I told them how much work we needed to do on their coursework folders to get them up to C grades. I told them how little time we had to do it all in. I told them that I didn’t know the best way to make that maths work. Then we all had a discussion about what we could do together to make this work. They came up with this idea:
  3. Tuesday Catch up Session (or the Getting a C on your Coursework Class): One of the boys in the class asked if we could have a 30 minute after school lesson for catch up / development work. They all agreed that this would work and said they would all be willing to attend and as I told them I would match their efforts I have booked them into my diary. As pleased as I was with their suggestion and agreement to attend, I am not naïve! This morning I sent a text to all their parents & carers to let them know about the session & that their child had agreed to attend. The first session is tomorrow, I’m keeping my fingers crossed that they turn up!
  4. Practice, practice, practice: They worked on a draft of their assessment, but I’m taking an additional week to make them practice the skills again & then tweak their draft. They are not being allowed to settle, no matter how much they’re trying: if the techniques & skills aren’t there it’s not done! This will be developed next week once they’ve done their assessment, as each week they’re going to start one of their lessons with one of the ‘Of Mice and Men’ short answer questions from the exam (Edexcel), which I will return asap to, hopefully, allow them to improve on the next practice! This practice, practice, practice mentality led nicely on to the next step:
  5. Praise, a LOT: This class have very little confidence in their English skills. This has to change if we are to stand a chance in getting any Cs at all. I plan to make at least one positive phone call home after each lesson and I got my chance today. One of my boys with a target of an E grade completed his homework paragraph (an achievement in itself), but when I gave him feedback on it in class, I was so pleased to tell him that it was C grade standard! This has made my week!
  6. Work with my TA: We are so lucky to have the same TA for every lesson and I’m even luckier because she is amazing! But I have started working with her more than I have with any other TA. I need to practice what I preach; if we’re a team then I need to team plan with my TA. She knows the class so well and is able to help me make sure my instructions & explanations are clear, non-intimidating while still being at a C grade standard.

I shall keep trying new ideas & keep updating my blog about them. As well as continuing to drop any resources which may be useful into my dropbox folder in case they help anyone else get that unexpected C grade! (https://www.dropbox.com/sh/c1edj1mxqeflr2f/I2ll6EoD_8)

They are a fab class and I’m desperate to get at least one C grade, but I’m secretly hoping for 9 more!