The Mystery Superheroes (a.k.a Pastoral Workers)

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Image: CC Pixabay

In a term where the pressure on teachers is great, where the sand of time is running through your fingers and where the children are more tired than the staff, the collegial support gets you through the day. Sometimes though, the staffroom banter, the friendly, empathetic friend or even the glass of wine whilst sat proof-reading reports, just isn’t enough and so the tears of exhaustion and emotion arrive, flood your face, and continue to flow until you can’t cry anymore. Whilst I haven’t been overcome with tears (yet), the last few weeks have been quite stressful, completing PDPs for assessment, preparing for final observations and continuing to ‘act up’ as Class Teacher in a class where every child needs that ‘little bit extra’. Then, this week arrived, probably the most challenging in the six years I have been in education.

Anyone who works in education will have, at least twice in their life, considered and studied Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs but how many of us considered that we would be the main provider of the lower levels, providing love and safety, for some, even the basic physiological needs? Maybe even more so as a parent, I struggled (and continue to struggle) to understand why this does not happen in the homestead.

For obvious reasons, I cannot share details of individual cases, but this week, I have discovered that sometimes, as a Teacher, we experience the worst cases of human cruelty, of disregard for the needs of children and of failure of basic, human decency. In these darkest days, there are many people to turn to for support, but for me I have been blessed by an amazing, professional team of ladies who continue to drag teachers, parents, carers and children, especially the children, through these dark days. Enter the Pastoral Team!

Before joining my school, naively, I believed that the social care of children was, either the responsibility of the children’s’ parents or, failing that, the responsibility of the authorities. I was not that naïve that I did not think that Teachers had a key support role, but I had not really considered that our role could be so vital. “I’m an educator, not a Social Worker,” I would utter to colleagues, even mocking pastoral worker friends at university that I wanted to provide education, not the “happy-clappy stuff!” Now I stand corrected and apologise: the Pastoral Team play a pivotal role in enabling us to do our job effectively.

I cannot describe how grateful I feel for having such an amazing team, for the work they do with the children especially: were it not for them, I firmly believe that some children would no longer be with us.  Many would have escaped the radar, be in a life of squalor and crime, and not know any different. Although not the main priority, the team provide an amazing level of support to the teaching staff too, and as a newbie, they provide invaluable advice and the most incredible emotional support too. I know that I’m a bit of a softie; I can bawl like a baby at films, have to tell my ATW (amazing teacher wife) regularly how much I love her and can be melted by a simple act of kindness or humility, but the children in which I (don’t) speak about break my heart daily. A single smile of content from them or a moment of weakness will have the same effect: they can make the hardest of days light or the lightest of days become overshadowed with yet another disclosure of abuse.

So how do these super-humans do it? The Pastoral Team remain calm when challenged by staff over the decision not to give a child a consequence (knowing they can’t divulge the antecedent), or when a parent, whom they have provided some much support to, barges into their office with a tirade of profanities because the Pastoral Team can no longer collect their children from home. A home where mum is still ‘coming down’ from the late-night highs or nursing the injuries she sustained from her latest beau. I questioned one of the team this week how they keep their cool when faced with bureaucracy or the apparent reluctance to act by some outside agencies. Worst of all, when all is said and done, they go home to their families and cannot share their woes but must continue to play mum, wife, lover and normal human being. Notwithstanding baring all of these troubles, I can always guarantee a smile and a giggle from these incredible people.

Therefore, despite the many sleepless nights you suffer and the emotional, mental and occasionally physical pain you endure, on behalf of the entire teaching profession, the parents you support and most of all, from the children whose lives you change, thank you!

The Mystery of  How (not) to do everything.

                                                                     Image credit: MZMcBride

I’m sure I am not alone when I declare myself a victim of ‘student/NQT syndrome’, a highly contagious affliction where the patient tries to do everything he/she possibly can. The symptoms vary from patient to patient but often include excessive amounts of energy (comparable to a Springer Spaniel puppy) through to heightened emotions, often resulting in an eruption of tears, anger or both at the most inopportune moment. We deny it initially, “surely not me, I’m just doing my job!” but sooner or later, we realise that we are being consumed by this exhausting and occasionally career threatening affliction.

I have often tried to try to convince myself that I am just being conscientious, to prove that I really was the right person for the job (bearing in mind that the role is only for 12 months until completion of the NQT period) or that I am capable of using my own initiative and don’t want to be a burden to anyone (probably common amongst the more mature of us who have already enjoyed a career). Ultimately however, our unending levels of energy, willingness to take on everything (I now have someone holding my arm down in staff meetings to stop the volunteering) and our occasional lack of judgement creates greater problems: It can be perceived as arrogance, can cause upset and even create difficult situations for all involved especially for those who have to try and resolve any ‘mishaps’ as a result.

I’m not saying that having high levels of energy or lots of new ideas is a bad thing, it really isn’t but it is about judgement, about weighing up what and and when new ideas, styles and practices are appropriate, we must not forget that as students, NQTs or even as early professionals, we can learn our trade from those around us, those who do it day in and day out, those who have, for some time, lived, breathed and slept a scholastic life. It’s great that we know the pedagogical theories, but it is in school where we will learn the most, from teachers, SLT, support staff (don’t ever underestimate the knowledge of support staff!) children and parents. This learning process will, like in life, continue throughout our careers. Mark Anderson, @ictevangelist wrote in his Education Evangelist post Dealing with Difficult Conversations (19/05/15) “every day is a learning day. A day where I don’t learn something new is a pretty poor day.” As an aside, in my inaugural post I alluded to the fact I had been on the receiving end of a difficult conversation, if I’m honest not my first, where I was told to learn to walk before running – I was already in the grasps of this debilitating syndrome, was completely unaware but had already started displaying the irritating symptoms. Of course my Amazing Teacher Wife (ATW) had warned me about it but when do we listen to our partners when we are unwell?

The problem is, of course, that when we are training or observing teaching we gather copious quantities of ideas, advice and perceptions, we merge them, manipulate them and then try to find ways of putting every single element into our own practice. We also combine that with our desire to learn more and take on more responsibility and so offer to run extra clubs, attend additional training opportunities, take the lead in launching new ideas and given the chance, solve world peace! It seems that many of us fail to use any form of filter or even plain old common sense to realise that we can’t do it all nor to consider the consequences when we don’t achieve what we have committed to.

I’m hoping that this post rings true to other NQTs, otherwise I am seriously afflicted! A parent recently came into my classroom with a bag full of resources that she was donating to the school, she said that she had made them during her NQT year when she was conscientious and bounding with energy so I guess that I am not completely alone. It could also be that I am joining the profession later in life, I spent almost 15 years establishing a career, reached middle management and had lots of life experience to boot. Whilst I have been there and done that, as I said to my Head Teacher during our conversation, I haven’t been here or done this and so need to learn from those around me albeit good, bad or indifferent. Must of all I need to learn to filter ideas and develop a judgement for when to show drive and determination and when I need to listen and take stock.  

Life After Levels – An Assessment Revolution?   

I, like many, continue to be ‘baffled’ by this new life. Found this post from earlier in the year very interesting, informative and useful. Many thanks @leadinglearner

@LeadingLearner

Over recent months I’ve been involved in interviews for a number of posts across the Multi Academy Trust.  One of our favourite questions has been, “What will assessment look like once levels are dead?”  The answers have on the whole been a bit confused. 

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It’s no mystery – behind every man…

behind every man

As we reach the end of another break from the chaos of balancing school life with family, and as I face my final four weeks of training, I wanted to acknowledge the secret to my (almost) success, of which there really is no mystery!

I remember the day I was made redundant by my employer: I had previously been told I was safe, which my wife and I greeted with some relief as she was five months pregnant. However, a few days later I was called back from a supplier meeting and ordered into a meeting with the Sales and HR directors to receive my ‘cards’. This sledgehammer of news was not the worst of the day as later I received a call to say that my wife had been taken to hospital following a fall. Thankfully, following a thorough assessment, both wife and baby were ‘cleared for action’ and we returned home, after the evening’s tribulations, my announcement became insignificant and fazed neither of us.

My decision to change career didn’t occur immediately, a number of failed applications, a particularly memorable and disastrous selection day and the lack of opportunities were all contributing factors but I continued searching. Whilst scouring a dwindling employment market I began to volunteer at a local infant school and realised I was quite good at it, but most of all thoroughly enjoyed it.

Enter my wife, realising that I had found professional happiness, very much at the expense of a significant income, she not only supported me in my endeavours as a Teaching Assistant, but actively encouraged me to take employment at the school despite going on maternity leave to deliver our first child. The hours were short, the salary was limited, but as we watched a new life enter the world our house was filled with exponential joy!

I don’t remember how the next chapter came about but as my wife returned from maternity leave, she agreed to return to work full-time in order to support me through three years of part-time university study and delegate ‘home-maker’ responsibility to me on days that I wasn’t at school (thankfully my parents could help here too). I find it hard to describe the guilt I have always felt that my wife did not get to play the key caregiver to my son and so I always tried to ensure that she could enjoy unadulterated ‘mummy time’ when and wherever possible.

During the past five years (3 years completing my degree, a 1-year gap and my current Schools Direct year), my wife has played proof reader, teaching advice giver, moral and emotional councillor, mother, wife and best friend. We have since had a second child, a daughter, and she now only works four days a week to my five, and so playing a more active role in raising our children but still, she continues to work and take on additional responsibilities and tutoring opportunities just to provide for the family, to support me in pursuing a dream.

There are times that the financial struggles we face, which are similar to the same struggles all young families face, drag us down but it is always my wife who remains positive and drags the four of us through the challenges families are presented with. However, it is days and weeks like this week when, as a family, we enjoy great times, when we realise how every challenge, tear or pang of guilt can be quashed by the elation of family time. Be it a walk along the canal or a cheeky meal out at a cheap and cheerful pub chain using saved vouchers, the holidays remind us why the sacrifices we, especially my wife, have made were not in vain. The greatest affirmation however was today, over lunch, when my wife told me that the thing she is most proud of is my determination and drive to make this career change but without her, I could never have achieved this, without her I couldn’t have made her proud and without her I wouldn’t be the father of two amazing children. So behind my (almost) success, there is one amazing woman, my amazing teacher wife (known hereinafter as ATW).

The Mystery of Blogging

I read a post yesterday from @ictevangelist encouraging everyone to write a blog, a concept that I have always pondered but never actioned, a concept that fills me with some trepidation. I know that the majority of the internet community are unlikely to read it, and of those that do, will probably discard it as “more ramblings” but nevertheless, a challenging concept. What’s more, less than twelve months ago, @hayleyearl, my very talented wife, began blogging her musings (themusingsofateacher.wordpress.com) to some, allbeit still small, succcess. However, a few weeks ago I was told, during a professional conversation, by a person I have the upmost respect for, that I am outspoken and needed to consider my outlet. This morning, having pondered @ictevangelist’s post and advice on the web regarding blogging, that the publishing of a blog (publicly or privately) was both cathartic and rewarding, on the proviso that the content was appropriately edited or not published!

Other than a ‘more considered outlet’ I have also considered the purpose of the blog, a common point of note on blogging advice sites. Ninteen years ago I set sail on the sea of enlightenment, the maiden voyage of a career, I had done well at school, had decided not to attend university but train ‘on the job’ under Tony Blair’s New Modern Apprenticeship scheme. My training was all encompassing, from engineering and technical inspections of mechanical components through to accounting and financial management witin a multinational. Thirteen years later, an established career and a relatively successful career path set, everything appeared to be ready for the next step, parenthood, until the toll of redundancy took hold and I became another statistic on the unemployment reports of the recent financial turmoils.

The blog, and this story is not an outlet for self-pity nor an opportunity to criticise the international institutions who directly impacted my family’s social standings. It is a celebration of the consequences, for it is as a result of the redundancy that I became a volunteer at a local infant school, was quickly employed as an intervention Teaching Assistant, retrained and am just about to embark on my new career as a qualified teacher in a school that celebrates diversity across it’s entire community, pupils and teachers alike. All this was achieved through the support of an amazing teacher wife, who has given me two wonderful children in this time and a very supportive family. This blog aims to provide people like me opportunities to understand how industry and education are vastly different, although slowly beginning to intertwine and maybe selfishly, allow me to learn more from the sages of my new world.

As for my vociferous character, I promise to ‘reign it in’ but also hope that readers of my blog can empathise with my ramblings and offer advice to this new teacher with simple ideals.