When it all goes wrong.

This blog has been in the making for a good few weeks now; it has been redrafted and edited and redrafted and edited. I always get my posts proof read by my long suffering wife, not for spelling or grammatical accuracy, but as my conscience – sometimes the blog becomes more of a rant and must be saved to file for another day. Anyway, I am in a good place, the initial despair and anger has now subsided and turned into positivity and drive and an endeavour to get it right.

Going into this academic year, I knew that it wasn’t going to be plain sailing (not that any year is). My amazing Teaching Assistant was experiencing some pretty horrific personal issues that prevented her from working from mid-September until December, and so I was left alone in class. I did have some support from my teaching partners, but all in all, I was left. I was at the start of my second year in teaching to manage a classroom with very little additional support. Furthermore, as a teacher out of my NQT year, I also had subject leadership responsibilities and was handed SMSC, a field I have great interest in but one that is of significance in our church school. To add to the challenge, my new Year 6 class came with some incredible challenges in both behaviour and attainment and of course, no longer an NQT and with no NQT time, I was on my own and teaching full-time without support – or so it seemed.

Many times during this period, my very supportive Senior Management Team would pop in, ask if I was ok and did I need anything, to which I would reply “I’m doing fine” and “No, I’m managing” which of course was man-speak for “Of course I’m not ok, in fact I’m struggling and really could do with a shovel to dig myself out of this black hole I’m in!” I wasn’t prepared to show weakness, I would survive!

My planning was sparse at best, marking was equally inadequate (‘survival marking’ was the feedback from a book scrutiny) and my enthusiasm had waned. I would sit at home thinking that I was a poor teacher, an awful role model, a grumpy daddy and a short-tempered useless husband (sadly most of the respective ‘victims’ would agree.)

Then came the aforementioned book scrutiny, the usual frenetic review of the books before taking them to the Co-Head’s office the night before took place: ticks here, comments there, a couple of stars, and a handful of wishes (which of course were not responded to) to show challenge. Of course the feedback was that my books were far from acceptable and that I was to meet with the rest of my team to agree a way forward. By this time, the only way to protect myself was to be offensive to those closest to me – my team made suggestions, I got grumpier, more apathetic and more defensive but most of all less effective.

As always, the follow-on from the book scrutiny was the dreaded lesson observation. The date was booked and the plan was in place, however, I had already started making my excuses. My observation was preceded by a week-long period of interrupted scheduling (extra assemblies, assessment days, subject release time) and exacerbated by losing three days (including the weekend) to the local stomach lurgy.

Monday morning came, I borrowed a TA from another class to support the children and I delivered one of the worst lessons ever; I knew that it had been a complete train crash. Despite my apologies to my head of year and the co-head, the feedback report had lots of development points and lacked any real positives. I had likened my feedback to one of the pieces of work where you struggle to find one star, let alone two and have to decide how you can incorporate the dozen wishes needed to reach the standard!

I had a chance to reprise myself a few weeks later, but in honesty, I was too deep in my troubles that I couldn’t get out.

As a result, I was promised support from a member of the SMT for a few weeks after the Christmas break. Whilst this was meant to be an offer for support and an opportunity for personal development, what I heard was “this is as close to the capability process as you can get, get out of teaching you imbecile!”

The mood got worse, the apathy got greater and so, like many others, I decided to get out.

Thankfully I didn’t and I’m almost completely back on track. Despite the many feelings of personal attack, I have received an astounding level of support from my SMT. I have had support in planning lessons, developing resources and of course delivering well-structured, engaging lessons.

As for my books?

I have a ‘sensible’ marking timetable that ensures that all books are being marked at a level above the expected standard of the school’s marking policy – I feel like I’m back on track.

In addition to the support from the SMT, my TA has returned, we have cried together, each for our own reasons but have laughed together even more and of course I have a very supportive wife and understanding children. It goes without saying that I am still a grumpy old git, but a lot less grumpy.

I’m yet to have a follow-up observation, but having had an assistant head in with me for some time now, her feedback and reports back to the co-head have been very positive and I now feel that I am in a good position to provide a lesson expected of me and that I am worthy again to call myself a teacher.

So, what’s the point of this rambling?

To teachers like me: You are probably a very capable teacher, your children love being in your class and you can provide engaging lessons. BUT, ask for help before it’s too late – get some time to plan with someone, ask for some guidance on your marking, tell people how you are feeling. If you are still new in the role, there are still mistakes to be made, don’t be afraid but do take advice and accept any support.

To senior management: Middle-aged men won’t ask for help – they aren’t “doing fine” and probably would appreciate a little bit of guidance (even if it is met with a little resistance).

I wrote some time ago about how not to do everything, it still stands but is balanced with the need to do something.


Why do we do this?

It’s getting to the end of yet another year, and my first year as a qualified teacher, although one way or another I have been in this game for almost 7 years now. When I joined the profession, it was there as a ‘time filler’ whilst I was searching for a job in an ever depleting employment market. However, it didn’t take me long to realise that this was for me, that every day I would wake up feeling enthusiastic about the day ahead, loving the fact that I had an opportunity to engage a child in another step along their scholastic life, I still feel like this today.My, soon to be, deputy wife has been teaching for 16 years, eleven of which we have spent together and, even when faced with a troubled year group of social outcasts, ne’er-do-wells and those who’s only stability lies in school (I won’t even mention the parents!), she still feels the desire and excitement to (almost) skip in to school. 
Here comes the question…
So why do we do it? When faced with increasing pressures from senior management, delayed exemplification materials from those whom are responsible for defining what we teach and the ever-increasing of social, emotional and economical issues that face our schools, why do we still love the lives we lead?

It’s simple, there are 52 sat on a coach to London with me now for a day trip that will last 18 hours, depending on traffic. They will return to school to perform at a local Christian celebration the following afternoon and still deliver a decent piece of writing at the end of the week. It’s the same children who will, undoubtedly, bring me to tears at their leavers production in 6 weeks time!

Of course this is a romantic view, don’t get me wrong, my head of year is forever telling me to calm down when I sulk over having to use purple pens to mark learning or when I’ve spent an entire evening planning a lesson that gets pushed back to “another day” because of a corridor conversation. But the truth of the matter is, the 30 children in my care, the hundreds I have had the pleasure to work with and the thousands that pass through my mark book during my career is why I do this job. It’s why I get up every morning and it’s why I don’t whine at the end of the school holidays!

Working in Year 6 this year has been a challenging year and also a great year to complete my NQT year. We have taught a curriculum that is new to children and staff alike, we are trying, ourselves, to define the difference between determiners and pronouns and how these differ from an article and we have been preparing writing based on a best guess until government materials, that appear to be wholly contrived, move the goal posts and challenge even our most adept writers. Every teacher works incredibly hard but I do feel that this year has been quite exceptional for my fellow Year 6 colleagues around the country.

However, if you still spend nearly every waking moment thinking about your class and wake up with that positive feeling “what will they achieve today?” then you are joined by the majority of amazing teachers that keep smiling through the educational storms and will continue to make the difference that you vowed to do when you started in the job.

If you do not feel like this, if you have already given up for the year or if you are desperate for the next holiday season, maybe a refocus is required – ask yourself “Why do we do this?”

The Mystery of Moving Forward


Please remind me of this post in ten/twenty years time!

This week was concluded, not by the frenetic end of the week finishing-off and catching up activities, but with an enlightening and engaging training session from @alanpeat. We had booked Alan in over 12 months ago, but due to unforeseen events we had to rearrange to Friday gone. Alan Peat is someone whom I take great delight in reading on Twitter and, unsurprisingly, was very excited that he was coming to my school to share his wealth of knowledge, experienced (not to mention his vociferous opinions on the education world!) – if ever you get a chance to see Alan, do it, he is worth every penny, offers lots of free, useful, resources whilst still promoting his publications.

Now, I’m not an Alan Peat stalker, but an NQT with a love of learning, a teacher who wishes to develop and progress, a teacher who wishes to keep on top of the changing world, or dare I say, one step ahead (if that’s remotely possible). I have been lucky enough to also have had a training day hosted by @ICT_MrP (Lee Parkinson), which has resulted in me taking a level of responsibility on our computing team and developing our computing hardware and software armament.

When sharing my excitement of the training sessions, or recalling my attendance at #pedagoolondon, I was chided with a “you’ll get over it” by at least two more experienced teachers. A comment that I chose to laugh off but one that has escaped my musing: why would anyone sneer at the opportunity to gain greater experience from those with specialism tested, and peer reviewed knowledge? Typically, this is not the voice of everyone: my wife, @hayleyearl, has been teaching for fifteen years, has developed a skill far superior to mine at blogging (themusingsofateacher.wordpress.com), and is starting to spend some time speaking at conferences and learning from her peers. Furthermore, both the musingsofateacher and my own blog are a direct result of and have been shaped by award winning blogger @ictevangelist, Mark Anderson, another source of pedagogical CPD. My deputy head was sharing his excitement about the number of key speakers we have had in the past eighteen months and we often have a catch up about items that have appeared on our Twitter feeds.

With the shortage of funding for the local authority to put on training courses, and the provision of private, offsite training being cost prohibitive, I rely on Twitter, attending teach-meets, conferences and the knowledge of my peers to shape my practice. It is experiential CPD which, in my opinion, is the most superior form of CPD. I know that often teach-meets are at the end of a long day or week and that it impinges on family and marking time or that I’m reviewing my Twitter feed when I should be heading off to bed but these opportunities are to be embraced, relished and utilised: after all, it’s for your own benefit.

So what turns a teacher from a pedagogy enthusiast into a disengaged, uninterested plodder? Is it an age thing (although I’m no spring chicken!)? Is it apathy for an ever changing industry? Nevertheless, whatever it may be, I don’t want it to happen to me!

Loaded to the Max

WorkloadSeven weeks into my NQT life and this is my first blog since the summer, I have a pile of My Plans to write and two piles of books to attack with a red pen but feel that a temporary interlude is necessary. A chance to regroup and refocus.

Before achieving QTS, I enjoyed joining my local ukulele group, bashing out some songs and having a good ‘sing song’, not to mention the occasional gigs I would perform at. Now, my week involves juggling marking, planning for class, intervention and writing club whilst trying to demonstrate that I am developing as a teacher: The only ukulele playing occurs when I am teaching it at school!

Admittedly this term has been crazy, as an NQT in year 6 I am desperately trying to ensure that I am challenging the children to an ‘appropriate level’ so as to prove that they will achieve the expected ‘levels’ of progress before the dreaded SATs arrive. We have had a week-long residential (which has rendered me completely exhausted), RWC 2015 theme week and requirements to support an international partnership week. Just to add to the pile, I discovered that I will be observed by an HMI inspector as part of my former university’s inspection on the same day as a presentation tea for external visitors and a 5-hour-long parents’ evening.

This is not a blog of complaint, nor one desiring sympathy from fellow, exhausted, teachers but a nod to all NQTs who feel that they are barely ‘treading water’ if not already on their knees. It is also an even greater nod to all those teachers who have experienced or continue to experience these feelings and continue to provide an exciting, engaging and positive environment. The blog is also a chance for anyone to share any successes in improving their work-life balance.

The good news is that I continue to love the job I do; I have 30 wonderful children who make all the challenges of life worth it. I work with an amazing team whom I have developed a strong and positive relationship with (especially since the residential) and have an amazing TA who brightens up the classroom every time she enters it (don’t tell her if you see her!). My SLT has been ultra-supportive and continue to provide positive feedback with regards to my practice; and so I feel that I continue to strive forward.

Finally, I acknowledge my wonderful family both my children and wife at home and my extended family who have all provided support throughout the term. I still manage to adhere to the house rules of ‘no school work whilst the children are awake’ and so get to spend the weekends and the evenings being a dad and a husband but wish I could offer more…

The holidays are upon us and, sooner than a wink, the year will pass by – assuming I have the privilege of receiving a permanent contract at my current school at the end of the year and remain in the same year group, I believe that I will be quicker at rattling through the workload and maybe even get the ukulele out (an accomplishment that my wife will no doubt look forward to!).

That’ll do! Won’t it?

I write this blog under the influence of cider given to me by the lady who cleans my classroom. I don’t drink during the weekdays but it is the penultimate week before the end of the year and we are starting to wind down – aren’t we? 

Just because we are winding down, doesn’t mean that we can give up doing what we do. Would you accept the fact that the decorator used a slightly different shade in the living room on the last day of a decorating job, or that a surgeon didn’t quite suture you up as cleanly as he would have done at the beginning of his shift? Of course we are easing of the pedal at this time of year, assessments are done, reports have been submitted and even the walls are starting to be ripped down ready for the new year. However, lessons (in whatever guise) continue to take place; I still have another four English and Mathematics lessons left to teach! 

In actual fact, one of the best pieces of sage advice that I received from my ATW was to “Keep the children on timetable for as long as possible; there are enough distractions [sports days, end of year productions and celebrations] to wind the children up!” I also accept that we are all exhausted (I have had two days where I have had over ten hours sleep as opposed to the usual five/six), but I still feel passionate about maintaining engagement and giving the children opportunities to learn. 

Meanwhile, there are some teachers who think it is ok to provide children with tasks that barely relate to taught subjects, let alone support the intended learning objective. We are all guilty, some more than others, of searching the internet for an activity relating to the unit of work we are teaching and then form the lesson around the activity, but does this always work? I have always found it tricky teaching from another person’s plan, but, if I didn’t support the team planning we have in school, I would be buried under inordinate amounts of unnecessary planning. When you plan as a team however, you can speak to your teaching partner, you can discuss the teaching and learning and, when you know them well, you can usually second guess their thoughts. When you teach from a plan that you have downloaded the previous night however, you are faced with a level of uncertainty and insufficient knowledge of previous learning, and so, are unable to provide quality first teaching. 

There are many great resources available from some fantastic free and fee paying websites, of which I have contributed to and drawn from, but it is most important that we make sure that we use them to support our teaching and not guide our teaching. In other words, don’t make the teaching fit the resource, make the resource fit the teaching.

Everyone is different!

On a day when we remember one of the worst atrocities that the UK has witnessed in my lifetime, at a time when we are still asking questions regarding the recent attack in Tunisia and at a time where terrorism is a ‘credible threat’ I feel it necessary to remind ourselves that we must celebrate diversity, especially in our classrooms.

We all accept that we must meet standards in Spiritual, Moral, Social and Cultural education and that, as Teachers, we meet the teaching standards to promote tolerance and uphold British values but do we really embrace diversity in our schools? Do we always remember that there are opportunities for us to learn from our children, where collegial education can outweigh Teacher instruction?

Before joining my current school, I worked in a school where, in a school of 250 pupils, diversity was limited to a traveller who rarely attended school and a small selection of non-white, British or Christian children. Now, however, I work in a school where diversity is great, where no two faces are the same. Initially, I was apprehensive of this, not because of a conflict of beliefs, my family are so diverse that I could represent four countries in any sporting event, but I because I didn’t want to offend families. It didn’t take long, however, to realise that diversity was not something to be feared but something to revel in, to celebrate and embrace!

My colleagues, I’m sure, must get frustrated with me when I say that I am a little behind with the plan or have recorded and activity slightly different as we have been caught up in a great discussion in class. These discussions however, are always linked to the planned learning but often allow the children to share relevant knowledge and experience which often provides their peers with a greater learning experience than one that I can offer. Of course, the discussion isn’t about the latest band that they are listening too or their current progress in Minecraft (often a discussion I kerb in class) but a discussion about how their religion and culture impacts their daily life, worship, up-bringing or learning.

I was teaching Hinduism all day yesterday as our scheduled RE day for this term, we had covered Christianity, Islam and Judaism and so Hinduism was next on the agenda. Planning for the day and preparing the associated resources proved a long and cumbersome process; I was learning as I was planning, it is a religion I know nothing about (maybe supporting your idea @Jon_brunskill about needing specialist teachers in primary schools). Furthermore, the learning intentions were very specific and appropriate resources were not available for download. With some trepidation and a low level of confidence in my plan, I took to the floor and began to deliver the lesson. I hadn’t got far into the lesson when I was greeted by “Mister E, I know all about this as my family are Hindu!”

“Don’t you know your children?” I hear you asking, of course I do, but this young man joined me unannounced last week, was of foreign origins where English was not his first language. In addition, he did not show a great deal of attention in class and was yet to participate in class. Immediately, I grabbed the opportunity by the proverbial horns and invited him to join me at the front of the class to share the teaching. With animation and enthusiasm, my young man joined me at the front, explained to the class about his religion, used anecdotal experience and even answered questions fielded by his peers. The only response from me and his classmates was a rapturous round of applause and a large quantity of house points.

This is not the first time that I have used my children’s own knowledge to support or enhance my lesson, and the children clearly are more engaged when their friends are teaching. The children show greater levels of respect, interest and engagement; they ask more questions and retain the knowledge more: I cannot compete with my seven year-old counterparts! These learning opportunities also provide wider opportunities, it promotes tolerance; the children not only tolerate their peers’ diversity but are eager to learn more about it. Since yesterday’s teaching experience by my new pupil, he has come out of his shell, become more engaged and appears to have made more friends: a boost in reputation and a boost in self-confidence.

In response to the question “Should we employ a specialist to teach this?” I maintain my negative answer. I gained sufficient knowledge to teach the class, I planned to a high level and nobody, including my Hindu pupil surpassed the highest level of challenge. I also continue to argue that my children appreciate my honesty about the limitations of my knowledge and witness life-long learning first-hand.

Finally, to those who have been affected by the atrocities of war stemming from diversity, I offer you this final thought: these catastrophic events are unforgivable and the loss of those affected can never be balanced, but my children live in a world where diversity is embraced and celebrated. These heinous acts do not cause hatred in my classroom but a resounding love for a world where every religion is a peaceful one, where diversity is not to blame, where we accept that everyone is different.

Everyone Has a Voice

This weekend I had the pleasure of visiting London, not to take photos of architecture, nor to experience the pomp and circumstance of our great British institution. Interestingly, despite the fact that one of the biggest tennis tournaments was taking place in London, I wasn’t anywhere near Wimbledon either. I was a delegate at Pedgaoo London, a TeachMeet organised by Hélène Galdin-O’shea (@hgaldinoshea) that I hadn’t been aware of until quite recently and, honestly, if my ATW (@hayleyearl) hadn’t been presenting there (which now makes her the Most Amazing Teacher Wife!) I wouldn’t have attended nor would I be blogging tonight (sorry Hélène). However, I cannot express my delight in attending and my gratitude towards Hélène for organising the event, supported by Kevin Bartle @kevbartle, to the many speakers and to the delegates also, many of whom I have started to follow and extend my own professional network.

Whilst my ATW was nervous about speaking to her peers, I housed my own anxieties: I would be in a room with delegates with extensive levels of knowledge and experience compared to my 7 years as a TA, Unqualified Teacher and Student, how could I participate in the anticipated discussions? Listening to Phil Stock (@joeybagstock) and then Chris Waugh (@edutronic_net), I was filled with awe; these two guys could hold an audience with musings of wisdom, and evidence of practice that I hope to achieve one day in my career. Maybe I had a right to be nervous, these people were eminently worthy of their podium position at the front of one of the IoE’s classrooms, what could I offer in discussion?

However, these fears were somewhat alleviated when I entered the room and realised that everyone was there for the same reason, to learn, share and develop professionally, a common expectation. What’s more, when I shared opinions, I found I was not alone, nor were they dismissed, people were interested in my thoughts and could relate and, dare I say, agree.

The day was a resounding success for everyone involved, for my ATW with her new-found desire to speak publicly (see www.musingsofateacher.wordpress.com) but selfishly, for me too. I’m lucky enough to have lots of CPD opportunities, formerly as a Schools Direct student, now as an NQT and as a Teacher at a forward thinking, staff investing school. Notwithstanding the existing opportunities, I cannot advocate enough the professional and personal rewards available from attending TeachMeets. The TeachMeets don’t have to be as big as Pedgaoo London or Northern Rocks (which will be in the diary next year!): try to meet locally in cluster schools to discuss progress and experiences. Meeting with colleagues of various levels of seniority, form varying backgrounds (primary and secondary) and with different levels of experience is an invaluable form of CPD. I’d even go as far as saying that I would happily organise PedagooGlos if enough are interested (will book ATW first!)

Finally, from this weekend’s experience, never underestimate the value of your own knowledge too: everyone has an opinion, everyone has experience, everyone deserves a voice.