Tag Archives: Teaching

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?”

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.

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


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!