1 Month in…

It’s the end of September and a perfect time to reflect on this new year. 

I’m not gonna lie, it’s been bloody hard. 

This is my first proper year as a full time teacher mummy and it’s hard. Harder than it was when I returned from maternity leave at Easter last year. Initially I thought it was the summer holiday making me miss time with my little one, but it’s the balance. Not the work / life balance; the teacher / mummy balance. 

For a decade all I focussed on was teaching. My tutor groups and classes were the most important thing. I tweeted, attended TeachMeets and conferences to make myself a better teacher. And because I loved them. But the hours I put in to my work made me feel happy that I was doing the best I could. 

Now I have Oliver and I don’t have the same time. And to be honest, I no longer want to put the same time commitment in. Problem is, I’m still trying to be the same teacher I was. 

It’s a struggle to come to terms with the way things have got to be. It’s the reality that deadlines will be prioritised and those deemed less important may be missed. This weekend, for example I met the UCAS reference deadline (very important), most of the Y11 internal report deadline (moderately important) and less of the Y10/9 putting PGs on the system deadline (less important). And I don’t feel bad about it. I know I’ll do it Monday or Tuesday and, I hope, I have enough of a reliable reputation at my school for those in charge to grant me a grace period while I’m working this whole teacher-mummy thing out. 

But the real problem is the teaching. To make it all work, I have to change the way I plan and teach. A colleague of mine said she taught “50 pence” lessons when she returned after her first child. And I’ve got to try to do that (and here’s the real problem…) without feeling guilty. I still haven’t mastered that and I’m beginning to feel swamped and overwhelmed already. But as I left work yesterday I did feel like I may have a plan to claw my way back. Hopefully…

But, a stressful month back at work has yielded some wonderful moments too. 

I have some amazing classes. My low ability Y9 are such characters and test my low level behaviour strategies. But I love watching their faces as I read Of Mice and Men to them. They’re proper children again captivated by a good story. Honestly, those moments are the best in my day. 

My new Y11 class are amazing and such wonderful people. And I have my old Y9 class in their final GCSE year and it feels like such a privilege to teach them both. 

It’s great being back with my colleagues. To be honest, it’s better now than when I first returned and I felt like an outsider: didn’t know the little anecdotes; in jokes went over my head; new staff I hadn’t formed relationships with. It did feel quite isolating. But I feel like I’m back home again with my department. 

On top of that, I’ve been finding my Twitter voice again and have returned to blogging (although this is more cathartic than edu-blogging). And I’ve got TLT17 next weekend. I love that event and know that it’ll be the reinvigoration I need at the perfect timing. I’ve got plans to go to Ed Fest again this year. 

I think (most days) that I’ll be alright and will end this year having found how to balance out the most important thing in my life with the job that I love. 

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#ShareRamadan 

On Friday 28th I chose to take part in #ShareRamadan. 

I’ll start by saying that I thought this was a great idea and I wanted to support and be involved with it as I try to uphold the values that it represents in my day to day life and feel that this it is even more important to do so now that I’m a mother. Unfortunately that was also the problem, I’m a new mother – a new nursing mother. So fasting for a day was not the most sensible plan for me or my boy. It was this that caused me to adapt the idea slightly: rather than fasting, I chose to spend the day as if I was a mother on my NQT salary; I decided to use this method to remind myself how lucky I was and how there are many mothers struggling to balance the budgets. 

I cut the luxuries out of my day and chose my food for the day on what was in the ‘reduced to clear’ section and was affordable on my starting salary. 

I found it an interesting experience as the impact and realisation of the struggles of others didn’t really hit me until I was giving my son his bedtime feed. That quiet time was perfect for reflection and I walked out of his room with a huge load of respect and admiration for the families who often have to choose between feeding themselves of feeding their children. I also thought back to the time when my parents were struggling and, unbeknownst to me, they were sacrificing to ensure I was unaware of their financial struggles. I left my son that night with a greater appreciation of my parents and fond memories became fonder as I finally realised how much effort and sacrifice my parents put in to making sure I had those fond memories from those years. 

On a personal level, I learnt that I’m incredibly lucky to be able to live the life I do, but that if I had to, I would sacrifice anything to make sure my child grew up with fond memories. I also decided to stop trying to sell the bundles of baby clothes he’s out grown and gift them to those who need them instead. After all, we’re united in wanting the best for our children and I don’t need the money from them more than a new family may need the donation of baby clothes. 

And finally, I also learnt I’m useless without my Earl Grey; that would be a hard sacrifice to make again!

My New (School) Year Resolutions

I’ve had cause to reflect on the past year this week and on more than one occasion I’ve felt like I failed at it.

It’s seems rare to me to find a teacher who feels that they’re getting it right all the time and is doing their job perfectly. And to be honest I’m not sure I trust the ones who say they are. I’m often the first to admit my mistakes and I try really hard to look for solutions and not problems, but it’s not always easy.

But there started to be moments of change: coursework improvements were coming in on target; reading and spelling ages were improving; analysis was in depth and students were challenging me with their ideas.

So with this in mind and a new position in a new school looming for September I’ve started to think about what I will do differently: I’ve started to make my New (School) Year resolutions:

1. Organise my time better
I say this every school year and make some improvements, but I still feel that there’s some way to go. However it’s not just me that if need to think about, there’s whole school issues too. Firstly, a homework timetable. I have nothing against them, but I’d prefer to work it out for myself and tell my class or at least within the department. I find that it is very rarely practical when it’s issued from up above. Take this year for example, I have to set Y10 homework on Mon & Weds which means I can only mark their books during lessons or take them in on Friday. As much as I try to mark during the lesson I can’t get a whole set done and still help them achieve A*s and with a full day on Friday I’m forced to take books home, something I hate doing as they’re heavy and if I forget them Monday I’m screwed! But it’s not just that, it’s things like the unhelpful placement of off timetable initiatives during assessment week – thanks for that – which stop me using my time productively.

2. Put aside 30mins at the end of every day to email / call parents
Honestly, making the positive phone call home is the best part of my job. Sadly, it’s often the part which gets pushed to one side as I’ve got mocks to mark, meetings to go to, reports to write etc Next year, no matter what, I’m going to do this! It’s such a simple thing and so essential for building good relationships with classes and parents. It’s often the best and most time efficient way of creating an effective learning environment, but it just doesn’t get done enough.

3. Plan my lessons the way I know I can
I can sometime produce a lesson that I know I could have done, and sometime have done, better. Tiredness, lack of time or lack of inspiration all impact the lessons I produce. But I know I can be outstanding, even got the obs to prove it, but I also know I can require improvement, got those obs too. I hate when I look back at the lesson I just taught and ask myself why I did it that way? It’s impossible to be outstanding all day everyday, but I’m going to try to make sure each class has at least one outstanding lesson a week. I know it’s going to be challenging, but I hope it’ll be worth it.

It’s not a massive list of resolutions, but they’re the ones I feel I should make, I need to make and the ones I feel I can keep.

Entering a post exam disorientation & leaving school depression.

Usually at this time of year I’m feeling excited about the year ahead and reenergised as gained time helps me refind a work/life balance and my passion for education after the murky depths of coursework panics & revision sessions.

But not this week.

With one A level exam to go, I can’t help but feel an overwhelming sense of sadness and confusion. What exactly am I supposed to do with my time now?

I’ve worked relentlessly and fought passionately for my Y11 class in the 7 months I’ve taught them. They’ve occupied a lot more of my time and energy than any other class I’ve taught before. And then there’s the KS5 classes… I’ve had a hand in teaching all 4 English A Level classes this year. And it was exhausting but wonderful. They were so passionate and inspiring. Or they worked so hard to improve on dodgy Y12 attitudes and grades. But half of them are all but done and left. And the Y12s are back on Monday.

Over half my timetable has left me.

I know that may sound melodramatic but that’s really how I feel. I have invested so much of myself into these students that I’m not really sure what I’m going to do when I don’t have them to focus on and worry about.

Normally I would focus myself on preparing for next year. But my next year is now going to be different to the visions of 2 months ago. Due to budget cuts, I felt that I had to look elsewhere for a job next year to ensure my career didn’t end up going backwards with the discontinuation of funding for my TLR (worth noting that I bear no ill will towards my current school – they didn’t slash education’s funding). And don’t get me wrong, I am really excited about my new job: the school and people seem really nice and I think I can be happy and successful there. But I wasn’t finished at my current school. I had plans for next year; plans to move my key stage and More Able students forwards to better and, hopefully, more exciting times. But now none of them will happen.

Worse still I find myself planning for next year torn between not wanting to let my vision go while at the same time not wanting to step on my HoF’s toes. I find myself getting excited when I think of things I could do next year and then plummet into a deep sadness when I realise I won’t be doing it next year.

I’ve never felt like this at leaving a job before and it’s really messing with my head. I’m trying to be positive and not wallow in how sad I feel but it sneaks up on me. It’s been with me these first two days back and it’s coming out in a variety of different ways: manic craziness; snapping & snarking at people; random moments of genuine, heavy tears.

My time at my current school has been short but has had a very significant impact on me. The whole school has worked so hard to prove to everyone how good we are and how bright out future is. But that’s nothing compared to how hard we’ve worked for our students. We’ve given up so many hours and poured so much of our heart and soul into them all it’s hard not to genuinely love our students and the school itself.

But that makes it worse. I feel like I’m deserting my students and my school so much more than I have at previous schools. Which is made worse as I’m not being forced to go, I’ve not been made redundant, I’ve just refused to accept a lesser job. I feel guilty.

I don’t know how I can reconcile this, although writing this blog post has helped. But I do know that I want to leave the best impression possible on my students, my department and my school.

…Which definitely will mean no random outbursts of tears and snarkiness in the coming weeks!

Why I love teaching.

The content of this blog may be a little against the tide at the moment, but I think that’s the reason why this needs to be written.

All the little wins.

There are so many in teaching and they come from so many different places:
The parent who takes the time to thank you for supporting their child. I’ll always remember the phone call I got from the parents of a boy in my GCSE class. He’d gone through a tough time and suffered badly from anxiety & had become a school refuser. But I got him through his coursework & exam with a pass grade. It meant the world to me when I received that phone call and both his mum & dad wanted to thank me for all I did. It was so lovely to know that they appreciated the work, effort & care I had put in to their son so that he got a pass grade. They weren’t worried about it being a D when he was targeted a B, they were just grateful that I hadn’t given up on their boy.

Hearing students encourage other students. Is there really anything better than this? It shows me that they care about each other as well as what we’re trying to do in the class. But it does get better… Hearing them encouraging (and sometimes reprimanding) each other using my phrases. It makes me smile & chuckle but it lets me know that they are listening to me & that they are on the same page as me.

Students trusting me with their personal creative writing. It means so much to me when students bring me their own writing. As an English teacher and a writer (although lapsed at the moment) I get so passionate about young writers and developing them. But when a teen takes the scary step of showing someone their work and that someone is me, I feel so privileged.

Students taking the time to say thank you. And I’m not talking about the polite “Thanks miss” as they leave. I’m talking about when a student takes time to thank you for being their teacher. It doesn’t have to be accompanied with a gift and / or card but the fact that a typically grumpy, surly & embarrassed teen has acknowledged that they are grateful to you is huge!

The camaraderie between staff. There is a bond between school staff which many outside of the school building wouldn’t understand. We always have a common enemy: the toe rag who disrupts every lesson; the parent who believes teachers love nothing more than bullying their darling, butter-wouldn’t-melt child; Ofsted; government. You know the old saying, ‘The enemy of my enemy is my friend.’ But it goes beyond that, we cheer each other up and encourage each other. Not to mention help plan lessons with each other (even if it’s a different subject to our own) because we hate to see our colleague struggling to find the best idea to deliver the same old material.

“Miss, I finally get it!” Music to my ears! 5 simple words which mean so much. They mean: a child has pride in their accomplishment; hard work pays off, theirs & mine; I did my job right; that student will trust me in the future if we tackle another challenging unit.

There is a lot of negativity around teaching at the moment and it makes it hard to see all the brilliant, amazing and wonderful moments that make up teaching.

Fighting that sinking feeling.

I need to start this by saying that I love my job. I love teaching so much. There are so many reasons why that it would become its own blog but that’s not my intent today. Maybe tomorrow I’ll write that blog; the yin & yang of teaching?

The only ‘real’ job I’ve ever had has been teaching and I know some may judge me for this but I could never imagine doing anything else from the age of 14 (I know, I’m that sad!) However, I’m questioning my profession, my job & myself more than I’ve ever done before.

Let’s start with the Gove…
He is only doing what he thinks is best for the UK, education & our students. (Ducks many, many projectiles)
But that is the reality of it. He’s doing what he thinks is best. Problem is he doesn’t know enough to know that sometimes he’s wrong. So very, very wrong.

I have this amazing class: 11B3. I’ve blogged about their progress & our fight for grades before (and will again before the holiday is out). 10 students: 8 E grade targets; 1 D target & 1 C target. They are working their arses off at the moment: coming behind after school; doing English work in subjects that are finished and not pratting around / truanting like their mates (mostly): coming in during the holidays; going on residential exam prep courses. I couldn’t get my top set of 2 years ago to work this hard! But it breaks my heart every time I give them a piece of work with a D on it and myself & the TA are the only ones celebrating. I know I can see the pay off for hard work & sacrifice (and the value added) but all they hear is a thousand voices telling them it’s not good enough because it’s not a C: telling them they’re not good enough because they’re not a C grade student.
Thank you Mr. Gove.

The war all teachers are currently fighting is bringing me down as well.
I don’t mean pensions or PRP but the one we blindly walked in to with the public.
Since we started fighting for our rights we walked in to a trap. And, to be honest, I think that was always the plan. Think about it: the Education Secretary has a background in media. He’s an ass but he’s savvy.
Everybody knows schools. Everybody knows teachers. Everybody knows what’s wrong with both of them. Why wouldn’t they? Everybody spent 11 years of their life, at least, in a school.
Problem is that as students we didn’t know what the teachers really did. We thought that they went to far off sunny places every holiday. We thought they went home at 3 to put their feet up & laugh at all the mugs who worked till 5. We thought it was easy. These are the teachers who are demanding more money. These are the teachers who are hurting children’s education & parents’ jobs by striking in the eyes of Joe Public … Oh, and the media.

And I could go on about the paperwork, marking, admin, behaviour issues etc etc but I’d sound like I was whining and that’s not the point of this blog post.

So what is the point of my post this morning?

Quite simply it’s this question:
How do we solve the two problems I wrote about?

Not on an individual scale with our classes and our friends & family. But how do we really change it, on a National level? We’ve done strikes & attempted to work to the letter of our contracts, but it’s not worked. So what’s next?

How do we fight the sinking feeling? How do we make this a world when an E grade student is celebrated for his D? How do we make this a world where Joe Public & educators are not at war but fighting for education & students together?

Am I just being naive?

I hope not. And to be truthful I don’t believe I am, if I did I don’t think I’d get out of bed in the morning and go to work.

My husband told me the other day that he’d always imagined I’d quit teaching and go into a position where I could affect education for all students some day. I’d never considered it; never saw myself in that type of role. Never imagined teaching would ever get like this or that teachers would ever feel so low.
But now I keep playing his words through my head and wondering if there’s more I can be doing now, at this moment in my career, to make sure it’s better for 11B3 and all the students just like them who are waiting to be told they’re not good enough because they don’t have enough fight to exceed their target, their potential, by 2 grades instead of 1?

Just an early morning Easter holiday pondering…;

The reality of my work / life balance: Which family do I choose?

I had great plans for this half term. I was going to get back my work /  life balance.

My plan was simple: split the week in half. The first half was for me, except for an hour on Tuesday to work with my Y11s. I was totally drained after the previous 6 weeks and needed to recharge and get my brain working properly again. Then, I was going to work from Wednesday onwards (with Saturday off for the 6 Nations!) to catch up and get ready for going back to work.

I should have realised that it’s just not that simple…

On Monday morning I was presented with the one thing that wouldn’t just cause an imbalance, but would totally destroy the scales of my work / life balance.

A family emergency.

With one family member in hospital, suddenly Schemes of Learning and marking seemed like minor inconveniences; a waste of my time & energy which needed to be pushed to one side. I’ve spent a lot of time this holiday driving back and forth to hospital; phoning the hospital; phoning various relatives and shopping for the essentials that my uncle needed.

It wasn’t until Thursday that I began to think about work (a day later than planned, so behind before I even began) and found it really hard to concentrate. I was racked with a mixture of guilts. I felt guilty that I hadn’t been as focused on my exam classes (and I have 5 of them!) and marking as I should have been. Guilty that I couldn’t even remember what my TLR jobs were for this week. Guilty that I couldn’t do more to help my uncle. I felt like I was torn between two families.

I love my family dearly and it genuinely pains me when I can’t help them or, worse still, don’t know how to help them. But I have invested so much time and energy into my GCSE & A Level classes that I truly care about them and their marks. The sad truth is that there have been times when I have given my students more time and thought than I have my own family and I’ve done it without a second thought. But it struck me that I was struggling more when it was the other way round, which just added on a whole heap more guilt.

I’ve realised that it’s not that I care more about my students than my own family, but I have put so much of my time and so much of myself into their education that I’m invested on a level that non-teachers can’t grasp. It pains me when I have to deliver them a bad mark when they’ve worked so hard. I’m near delirious when they exceed their own, and sometimes my, expectations. I get hurt and disappointed when they let me down. Yet it dawns on me that I feel safe when I’m giving them my time: I am the expert. I have spent years training for this and even more years practicing it: I know what I’m doing. Yes, I have ‘teachers’ block’ and doubt myself at times but underneath it all I know what I’m doing and I know I’m doing it right.

However, there was no uni course for dealing with family and family emergencies. I’ve had no practice at coping with and supporting an alcoholic. But it’s worse than that: I was unprepared for the reality of the uncle I’d idolised as a child.

On Thursday I was getting down to school work, when I was rocked by a phone call. When I put the phone down I felt useless; I felt powerless; I felt confused. I couldn’t work: I couldn’t think straight. I needed my family, but with my parents living abroad and my other uncle at work I was stranded. I talked it through with my husband, but we couldn’t get close to the answer without every member of the family involved. Inevitably, the answer didn’t offer the magic solution or a ‘happily ever after’ like Hollywood would have us believe. It presented more problems; more feelings of uselessness and another day of stress. I have to say this though, Thursday evening I felt at my lowest over the whole situation and sent out a tweet: “In need of cheering up tonight. C’mon Twitter, do your thang!” I rarely send out things like this, but I was genuinely cheered up by the people who responded. It struck me that 6 people, who I’ve never met in ‘real life’ took the time to cheer me up. They gave me the strength to pick myself back up and get on with it. And I’m still riding off that today (and the England win).

I’m writing this blog as a break from lesson planning, but have spent the whole day getting on with work. As well as coming to terms with the fact that I’m starting on Monday already behind. But more than that, I’m coming to terms with what I’m going to have to do in the next few days. Helping an alcoholic start recovery takes a lot of time and emotional energy from all involved, as does teaching. But I have to choose my actual family this time. There are four of us who are able and willing to help him once he’s out of hospital and that has to be my priority for a little while. And because of that, I’m going to have to do the one thing I really struggle with: ask for help at work.

Ultimately family is the most important thing. It’s just as teachers, we’ve an extended family of over 100!

How easy is it to be a Dolphin? Or How #TLT13 inspired me.

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On Saturday 19th October, I spent the day at The University of Southampton taking part in the Teaching and Learning Takeover and walked away with a lot buzzing around in my head.

Perhaps the most memorable message, the one that summed up everything #TLT13 was about, was delivered by David Doherty (@dockers_hoops) in his final speech to all the attendees. The ability to change versus our readiness to change. We all know someone who fits each of the four categories in the picture above and, if we’re honest, we will sit in each space on the graph for some point in our careers, whether it’s a day, a few weeks or months: we all have times when change seems hard, scary and unnecessary.

As a bit of background…
Last April I joined a new school and was hit by a mess of information, chaos and coursework issues with no time to unravel it all. Change was something I knew had to happen and could see how much there was that needed to be changed, but how to do it wasn’t as immediately clear. Undeterred by this the new head of department, the new second and myself had meetings, planned and implemented new ideas and strategies and were starting to see results before we left for the summer. I think it’s fair to say that when August rolled around we were all dolphins and were looking forward to continuing the journey of change and improvements that we had started to see.

However, in an unexpected turn of events the academy faced unexpectedly disappointing GCSE results and the consequences of this were immediate, shocking and unsettling. Yet, within a few days we, once again, felt motivated and were relishing change once more. The English department was a pod of dolphins ready and willing to do whatever it took to make the right changes for our students. But after 8 weeks of change and some turbulence in the department I can see the toll being a dolphin has taken on those around me, especially my head of department. My head of department is fabulous and desperately wants the best education she can provide for every student that walks through the English Department’s doors. But when everyone else around you is flagging and needing support, can you be a dolphin on your own?

During my few introspective moments today, I found myself thinking about the ideas that #TLT13 had sparked in me and the additional pressures that introducing these ideas may place on me and those I work with.  I’ve thought about how I want to use some of the differentiation ideas mentioned in Chris Moyse’s presentation to start my next A Level literature units which will allow me to tailor the following lesson’s learning to the multiple starting points in my class. David Fawcett’s ideas on feedback have inspired me to set the AMA (Academically More Able) students in the school termly targets on how they can better use their feedback to improve their levels / grades. Chris Waugh has made me rethink the format of Thursday’s AMA meeting with parents. And Chris Hildrew (yes, I missed out on the Chris clean sweep on Saturday!) has gotten me thinking about what makes my lessons outstanding…oops, sorry Chris… great and how I can find that magical 1 grading again. Overall, it’s clear to see that my head was close to exploding by the time I got home.

At home, I began to wonder if all the change was a good idea if it meant that a student’s teacher was burnt out and had no time to plan great lessons.

And then I looked back over my notes from Saturday and some of the pictures I’d taken which led me back to the TLT hash tag and all the inspiring and enthusiastic tweets from people on Saturday and Sunday and today. Without meaning to sound too cliché, it really was a light bulb moment!

I want to be a dolphin and I think that I am, most of the time. I want to see if they help the students I teach or the AMA students I monitor. But more than that I want things to get better. I want results to get better, students to become better learners and myself to become a better teacher.  But today, I realised the most important lesson I learnt from #TLT13 is that dolphins need a pod. To be a dolphin teacher you need to surround yourself with other dolphins. You need to ask them for help, you need to be inspired by them and you need to come together and share, motivate and laugh together.

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Of course our classes need our time: they need us to be refreshed, energised and teaching well planned and well thought out lessons. But, to the same degree, they need us to go to TeachMeets and #TLT13. They need us to be collaborating and finding out new ideas and strategies. They need us to put these wonderful new ideas taken from amazing teacher at events like this one in to our schools.

Overall, the most important thing I’ve taken away from #TLT13  is my determination to be a dolphin and that I want and need to put all my #TLT13 ideas into practice, but they don’t all have to be up and running tomorrow. I’d rather they were well thought out and planned, while I delivered the great lessons I thought about with Chris Hildrew. But the only way I’m going to do this is by finding my pod of dolphins. I need to reach out more to all the fabulous Tweachers I’ve found during my time on Twitter and to make much better use of the amazing people I work with, or am about to work with.

Thank you Jen & David for helping me find inspiration during your wonderful event, but most importantly thank you for helping me find perspective on it all.

What is the purpose of education?

To be honest, until signing up to take part in this month’s #blogsync I hadn’t thought about the purpose of education since my PGCE. Over the years education had become something I was a part of: a large machine of which I was just a cog, unable to see what happened to the finished product I had spent years shaping; unable to control how the machine worked and who controlled it. However, having spent the last couple of weeks thinking about this question I have come to realise that there is no one answer. 

At the moment, with political one up man ship in full swing at party conferences, education seems to be something to score points and votes with.  It seems that the profession I love has only one purpose, getting Mr. Gove in the media spotlight. Sadly, the reality of the previous point is enough to dishearten and depress, but as always a student comes along to brighten my day and lift my sagging spirits. 

Last week a year 9 student of mine reminded me of the real purpose of education. Having been one of my challenging students in year 8, I have to admit that I was not looking forward to attempting to keep him in the room & getting him to put pen to paper. For some context, he is low ability and low confidence which causes him to give up and lash out rather than risk failure.  But this year something was different. In our first lesson he worked hard, he stayed out of trouble and we actually got on. When talking to him I discovered that not only is he desperate for a C, he’s also desperate to prove to his parents, teachers and himself thay he can work hard, behave well & get his C in English. This to me, shows a real purpose of education. And what’s more important is that he has found a purpose in education. 

And this new purpose in education should help him to find purpose in other areas of his life and future. it should help him find more confidence in his academic abilities and his ability to stick with the things that he finds hard and find a solution. His discovery in the purpose of eduction is already starting to rebuild the trust and relationship with his parents, so he tells me. He is seeing the immediate benefits in education. But we, as his teachers, are seeing the future benefits for him: good grades, good college / vocational courses, less detentions and good relationships with the adults in the school. But these arent the most important benefits of discovering the purpose of education and true educationalists know this. The true benefits that this boy is beginning to discover are the happier days in school; an improved self confidence; a sense of self belief and the ability to recognise mistakes as merely a bump in the road, not the car crash they had been previously. All of this will get him what he needs to survive in ‘the real world!’

Qualifications and grades do open doors in young people’s futures, but I have to believe that they are not the sole purpose of education. Sometimes the politics, the paperwork and the target data beat me down and I lose sight of what I know to be true: if all I’ve given a child is an exam grade, I’ve failed as their teacher. 

The purpose of education is to allow all children to enter the ‘real world’ with fortitude,  the ability to tackle challenges and social skills. To help guide them in becoming well rounded, thoughtful & caring members of society. ALONGSIDE all the skills and knowledge they need to get their best grade in their exams.

To steal from Jerry Springer (and not just for the usual role play scenario!), my final though that reminds me of so many troubled and challenging students I’ve taught:

Education has a redemptive quality that never abandons a child and always welcomes them back, no matter what has happened previously, as long as they are ready to believe in themselves and try their hardest. 

 

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Why can’t I turn off?

People always talk about teaching being a vocation, but I don’t think I ever really understood what that really meant until this summer holiday.

No matter what the government, pupils or the general public think we use the summer hols for, we all know that it’s vital time to recharge overly depleted batteries and get ourselves ready for new schemes of work; syllabuses; classes and problems. Yet why during a summer when I really need to be recharged and refreshed ready to start a new year at an academy I’ve recently started working in, do I find myself thinking about schools, old and new, more than I ever have done before?

A lot happened before the blessed day in July appeared in front of me that made me long for the summer recharge more that I think I ever had:

  • My parents had their offer accepted on their new house abroad,
  • My very first head of department passed away unexpectedly,
  • When returning to my previous school to support their summer cabaret of the year 9s I left behind begged me to come back and teach the class as it was “worse than before you started teaching us”
  • I was told that 2 members of the tutor group I’d just left were going off the rails as they approached the vital Year 11 and might I be able to find a free afternoon to have a word with them as no one else has been successful,
  • And the familiar nagging thoughts of self-doubt snuck back in as I looked at my growing To Do list for September and I began to doubt whether I’d survive to the summer holidays, let alone make it through the first term.

But I made it to the last day and knocked off a lot of my To Do list on the final two days and my two trips in to the school.

Yet, I have not been able to switch off… Why is this?

Even as I write this, I am sat in Portugal in my parents’ new house having just checked iSAMs and my work emails, not for the first time might I add. So far, while I should have been enjoying near 3 weeks in gorgeous countryside and beautiful sunshine I have checked A Level results; sent a few work emails; checked and edited a scheme of work; and sneakily checked out the GCSE results of the two Y11 classes I left behind.

I’m beginning to find that I can’t relax properly until I know work is all settled and sorted. But I’m always finding something that I need to fix, attend to or work on. I find some comfort in knowing that others, like my head of department @fod3, will be doing much the same as me. But does that make it OK?

I love my job. I love working with the students and helping them understand and master something they previously ‘knew’ to be impossible. I know that I was meant to be a teacher, but I don’t want to be just a teacher – I want my life. But that gets invaded by work more often that I would like. I know I can check work emails on my iPhone, although I initially vowed I never would it has become something that sneaks into my life. The news often talks about how teachers are failing students in one way or another (which just builds to make me feel guilty that I may not be doing enough and somehow this will cause a student to miss out on the all important C at English and their life and future will be ruined because of me); how exams are getting easier, not teachers getting better and students working harder; how results are dropping because I’m not good enough at what I do; how I have too much free / holiday time. And beyond that whenever people find out that I teach in a secondary school teaching is all they want to talk about. It all conspires against me in a vicious cycle making me feel too tired to be the teacher I want to be who teaches the lessons that I know I have inside me which only serves to make me feel guiltier about work, making me spend more of my own time working / thinking about work. Grr…

How am I supposed to get away from work and turn off to enjoy some of my long holidays before they get taken away from me?

It’s hard to admit it, but the enemy here isn’t work or Gove (although many teachers will disagree) it’s me. I don’t have to check work emails, I don’t have to know A Level results at 6:50am while on holiday, I don’t have to work until past a reasonable hour. I love the vocational side of me that chose teaching, but that’s not all I am. From now on, I will embrace the selfish side of me too. I will rest, I will enjoy time with my husband and my friends. I will find time to sit and breath for a moment or two.

And I will start now: I have 4 days left before I have to leave Portugal and say goodbye to my parents and I will not open a work email or check Twitter until I get back to Blighty.

I know that this selfish side will lose the battle once September starts, but maybe, just maybe I can let her win once in a while so I keep loving teaching and feeling like I am pretty good at it too.