Tag Archives: workload

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.

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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!).

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.