Observations, parents

Reflections on the year

Image adapted from Pixabay using WordDream
Image adapted from Pixabay using WordDream

Dear Parents,

As the school year enters its final term, I have been busy writing reports and reflecting on the past few months.  I wanted to share with you the conclusion I have reached: we have had a blast this year.  30 reports full of positivity, celebrations of achievement and compliments on the kind, caring, thoughtful and funny children I have had the pleasure of spending my days with.

Of course, it hasn’t all been plain sailing.  I may have handed out a sanction or two for talking when they should have been listening, or saying something they shouldn’t have, or maybe for forgetting their PE kit or homework.  It’s not because I’m grumpy or unreasonable, but we have school rules in place, and I want your children to understand the importance of following them.  You see, of course I’m here to help them to become better readers, writers, mathematicians and scientists, but I’m also here to help them to become well rounded people with a respect for others and a regard for authority, just like you are.

Maybe we’ve talked this year about problems your child has had.  I hope that you feel we managed to sort them: I think, on the whole, I have a class of 30 really happy children.  I understand that your child is your number one priority: I have children of my own and know how fiercely protective I am of them. I know that you want your child to be happy in school and do well.  I want that for them too, for every single one of them.  But that’s the difficulty at times: there are 30 children whose wellbeing I am responsible for.  I am sorry if I didn’t try to resolve your problem in the way you wanted me to, but please do understand that everything I have done, every day of the year, has been in the best interests of all the children.  Seeing them grow and mature this year, I think we’ve done well.

I know that sometimes some of you have been worried that your child has been struggling.  I say again, everything I have done has been in the best interests of them all, individually and collectively.  I think you’d be surprised at how well I, and the other teachers, know your child.  We watch their every move in class, note what they can do and what they have found difficult.  Yes, we have challenged them, but your child, like the others, has risen to the challenge.  We’ve all been amazed at what they have achieved this year: you should be very proud. I know that sometimes, things have ben difficult, but I hope I’ve managed t put things in place to overcome obstacles for your child.

I will hold my hands up and admit that I haven’t got everything right this year: I’ve made mistakes, just like the children.  But every time, I’ve agonised over what I could have done differently: why did I say this? Why didn’t I do that? I’m still doing it now.  But, I can’t turn back the clock.  So please understand that a). I didn’t do any stupid things on purpose, and b). I’m human too.  I have poorly children and childcare issues and sleepless nights, just like you do.  I come into work tired some days, or with a headache, or just feeling a little bit jaded.  I’m not trying to defend my actions; I try to keep my head in the classroom when I’m at school, but sometimes, just sometimes, the mind wanders for a minute or two.  I’d like to think though, that on the whole, we’ve got it right.

I have loved spending time with your child this year.  I’ve been so lucky to have so many gorgeous personalities and great sense of humour.  I shall remember this year as having been one of fun and laughing.  I hope your child feels the same way too.  I know there are still seven weeks to go, but there is lots more fun and madness to come.  If your child leaves my class in seven weeks’ time smiling, having learned at least a few new things (although I hope they have learned a lot!) and with a love for school and learning, then my year has been a successful one.

Thank you again for entrusting me with your child.  I hope you are very proud.

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Family, Observations

Who would you be?

Picture credit http://www.disneyclips.com
Picture credit http://www.disneyclips.com

A question in a random Facebook post yesterday said “If Mummy was a character, who would she be?”  Well, curiosity got the best of me, and I asked 6 year old T. The wife from “The Enormous Turnip” was the answer.  Not overly keen on that one: if my memory serves me correctly, in our version, she’s an old, frumpy kind of woman with grey hair and a bun.  Not really the way I see myself, but obviously T has a different view to me.  So, MVNTH decided to have a go at answering the questions.  Cue the same question. The answer this time: the teapot lady from Disney’s Beauty and the Beast (I know it’s a film, but the question did just say “character”).  Not much better than the last answer.  I’m hoping this is because of my kind, caring, nurturing nature, not because I’m short and stout.  Don’t answer that one.

So, I thought I’d have a go myself.  The only problem being that, despite the fact that I’ve read hundreds,  maybe even thousands of books in my time, my mind went completely blank of a single character, never mind one who I might be like!  So anyway, after some extensive browsing of book shelves and googling of lists of characters, I’ve decided that I don’t fit the description of a single one.  I’m a mish-mash,  a personal anthology.  A bit of this one, a bit of that one.   But this is who I think I am.

Matilda Wormwood from “Matilda”, Roald Dahl

Always seen with my head in a book as a child, with a strong sense of right and wrong.  I like everyone to get along, but I like to see the bad guys get their just desserts too. Sadly, I don’t possess the power to rearrange my classroom with my mind though.

Mary Poppins from “Mary Poppins”, PL Travers

As I mentioned in an earlier blog, I like to think I have a bit of Mary Poppins’s positivity (although I have to confess, this view comes from the film rather than the book.  Sorry!).  I like to find the element of fun in everything I do, and yes, she’s right, once you do that, the job’s a game!  She knew what she was talking about, did Mary.  More of us should follow her lead: sing at ourselves in the mirror, make up stupid words and laugh.  I love to laugh.  Loud and long and clear (come on, admit it, who’s singing now?).  Sadly, again, no magical powers to help with the tidying up.

Hermia from “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”, William Shakespeare

This one’s a bit dodgy.  I’m not entirely sure I am like Hermia, after all, she was moody, feisty (maybe I am a little bit!), possessive and more than a little crazy.  But Helena says: “Though she be but little, she is fierce”.  That’s the bit I like about her!

Hermione Grainger from the Harry Potter series, JK Rowling

This young lady is the one I can relate to the most.  A complete teachers’ pet boffin at school. Yes, that was me.  More than a bit smug about her brains.  Yep, sadly.  Children would often ask me how to spell words, knowing I was great at spelling.  I would always reply “d-i-c-t-i-o-n-a-r-y.”  Geek.  But, despite her nerdy ways, Hermione’s brains have served her well, she turned out alright in the end and would do absolutely anything for her friends.  I can live with that comparison.

But finally,

Bridget Jones from “Bridget Jones”, by Helen Fielding

Come on, name me a woman who hasn’t belted out a tune at the top of her voice when she’s feeling rubbish.  Drowned her sorrows with wine and chocolate.  And gone so fast on an exercise bike that she’s fallen over when she got off.  We’ve all done it.

So, that’s me.  A cop out, I know, but I couldn’t pick just one.

Who would you be?

 

 

Family

Holidays are for the family

I love my job, but I have to say, I love the holidays too.  That’s not to say I’m in it for the holidays: I’m not.  But they are a perk of the job.

Holidays mean regular times to see the family.

As I was growing up, I spent a lot of time with my grandparents.  Maybe it’s a case of rose tinted glasses, but I do remember most weekends being spent seeing one or other set; as a small child, they helped out with childcare and as I grew older, I spent time with them during the school holidays too.  When I saw them all of the time, I didn’t think anything much of going round to their houses.  Of course, there are special memories associated with both: at one Nan’s house, I’d spend hours looking through her jewellery box at all her wonderful rings, and my Grampy would let me stamp the Pools Coupons with his special stamp (he was the Pools Man for their village).  At the others’ house, Nan would make me coffee with loads of milk that always got the skin on the top when it cooled, and proper toast with proper bread and proper butter, and my Grandad would teach me to box and call me “Angel”.  They were just things that happened: they were my grandparents with their houses and gardens and routines.  It was just the way it was.

I consider myself to be very lucky to still have three of my grandparents to visit, and the school holidays are the time to do it.  When I moved away to university, and then to live, visiting them didn’t happen as often as it had done in my younger years.  This is why I love the holidays.  Having a regular interlude in the everyday chaos of working life means that I can take time out to go and see them.  It’s too easy for the days, weeks, months and eventually years to pass by without ever having made that phone call or visit that I’ve intended to make.  But having regular holidays is like having a reminder that it’s visiting time.  I’ve always tried to go over, but now that I have children, it’s even more important.  I remember visiting them all about 7 years ago and thinking how I wanted my children to grow up knowing their great grandparents.  That’s when MVNTH and I decided the time was right to start a family.  We were right.  I love seeing them all together: I see my grandparents in a whole new light.  I don’t remember them when I was very young, and I don’t remember how they were with my younger brother when he was a small child, so seeing the three of them now with my children is a revelation.  I see them differently, see how they idolise my children, see how they revel in their growing up.  Grandad plays Top Trumps with T and football in the garden (it’s been a while since I saw him play football!), and now he calls G “Angel” instead of me.  Nan makes  them biscuits and jam tarts.  And the other nan has a special cup for T to use for his squash whenever he goes round.  T and G are making their own special memories of their great grandparents.

I see their homes differently too.  All of my grandparents live in the villages I grew up knowing, in the houses I knew them in.  The houses and villages I have visited thousands of times before.  But each time I go back there now, I appreciate their homes and villages more.  The beautiful countryside views out of their windows.  The wonderful gardens that the children run around in.  The river at the bottom of the garden.  All of the things that I have seen hundreds of times before, and always taken for granted.  Like my grandparents.  Sometimes it’s a little chaotic trying to fit in visits to see them, with other visitors and shopping and hairdressers, but I know how much they look forward to seeing us.  And I know how much the children look forward to seeing them (partly because of the biscuits and cakes that are always involved!).  And I look forward to seeing them too.

When I think I about the school holidays, visiting the Nans (and Grandad!) is one of the first things I think of.  Thank goodness us teachers get so much time off, I say.

Uncategorized

The Mystery of Blogging

There is another blogger in the family! MVNTH has joined the blogging fraternity… Please take time to read it.

MisterE Teacher

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…

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Family, Observations

The Writings of a 10 Year Old Author-To-Be

Last week, The Quirky Teacher published a blog about boys’ writing skills, exploring the idea that we are socialising boys to be poor writers.  To some extent, I agree: if I think about my own class, the most able writers are predominantly (but not exclusively) female, whereas the least able are mostly male.  The reasons behind this I am not sure of; I’m not qualified to even try and give reasons why, and I disagree with some of the points made by the Quirky Teacher, but discussing these is not the purpose of this blog.

The reason I am writing is to share the pride I felt on spending the day with my 10 year old Godson, H.  Today, after a busy day out, we sat down in a pub to order some dinner, and he proudly placed a notebook and pen on the table.   While we ordered our food, and while we waited for it to arrive, H wrote.  He chatted to us too, but his conversations were punctuated with silence while he jotted down ideas.  The content of his notebook was private: when I asked what he wrote, the answer was “stuff”, but his current “stuff” consists of the development of a superhero character.  I could see that he was carefully planning out his character; he’d already planned the subheadings of his superhero characteristics, and was gradually padding them out with detail.  H didn’t know where he was going with his character; we talked about ideas and he suggested a comic book, playscripts for the character to be made into a film, stories, but for the time being, he was completely absorbed in the development.

Becoming engrossed  in his writing isn’t unusual for H: his desk is covered with stories and pieces he has written.  He has an extensive collection of notebooks (today’s Marvel Superhero one was his favourite!) and he was writing with his special pen from India.  We chatted about the pens he liked to use, the joy of starting a new notebook and the excitement of beginning a new project.  Writing is a pure passion for H.  He’s had other interests: he loves swimming, does karate, plays the piano, has been a huge lego enthusiast for years and loves playing computer games.  Some of these are lone activities, others involve co-operation but not conversation: activities which The Quirky Teacher claims would inhibit conversational language and vocabulary development, therefore putting him at a disadvantage when it comes to writing.  He’s had these interests and more, but he’s loved reading for as long as I can remember.  He devours books. His mum had bought One Thousand and One Nights (Arabian Nights) for research for school.  H read it in two days.  He used what he had read to write an Arabian Nights inspired story for school, which he then turned into a play: he was thrilled when his story was chosen for some of the children to act out. He’s intelligent and articulate and I’ve no doubt that he’s got the skill to write as a career if that’s what he chooses.  He’s challenged in school, and his parents have been supportive too, enrolling him in Able Writers Workshops and spending days with authors, but ultimately, H’s success comes from his enthusiasm and drive.  I know that all children are not like H, he may even be an exception to a rule.  I’ve met other extraordinary boy writers, and some very poor writers too, but H does show that boys can do it all.

H inspired me today.  I write regularly, but always on a laptop.  I make notes for my blog on my phone.  I contact friends, but via text or email.  With the exception of marking school books and jotting down things from meetings or in my diary, I never commit pen to paper.  As I talked to H about how much I love writing in notebooks, I felt quite sad: I’m always buying new ones, but always for staff meetings or assessment meetings or for making notes at school.  Never for pleasure.  A very good friend of mine told me at the weekend about a writing course she’s going on soon.  More jealousy – and more notebook envy.  Well, thanks to the two of them, I’m going to get me a notebook.  And I’m going to write in it for me.  Maybe just blog notes, maybe  ideas and observations. Supposedly, everyone has one book in them.  Well, maybe my journal could be the start of mine.

There are three things I’m going to do as a result of this blog:

  1. Go shopping for the BEST notebook and pen;
  2. Start writing; and finally,
  3.  Give a message to my Godson: H, you’re an inspiration xxx
Observations

What makes a great teacher?

I read a blog yesterday by Matt Bromley  entitled “What makes a great teacher” (part 1 here  and part 2 here). It was a really interesting read, and got me pondering the question myself. What follows here is my take on the question. Not particularly intellectual, not backed up with any kind of research or evidence, just my experiences, both as a student and a teacher. There are so many qualities which a good teacher possesses, but here are five that I think are really important.

Enthusiasm

I remember being told as a student at university that a huge amount of teaching is all about acting. To some extent, I agree, but I just don’t think it’s possible to stand in front of a class, lesson after lesson, day after day if it isn’t something you really want to do. Children aren’t daft, they pick up on subtle changes in our mood and they know if we aren’t interested in a lesson. The only way to enthuse and to motivate children is to be enthusiastic ourselves. Keep the lessons fresh; find new and exciting ways to deliver familiar topics; shake your lessons up by teaching yourself a new skill and then sharing it with the children. Yes, it’s easy to churn out the same lessons year on year, and at times, there’s nothing wrong with that. But it’s hard to be enthusiastic about a lesson that you know inside out and upside down and could teach with your eyes closed. I love teaching, but this year has probably been one that I have been more enthusiastic about than I have been for a long time. It’s because everything’s new: new curriculum, new year group, new technology. It’s exciting, we’ve taken risks, and the children have welcomed the enthusiasm.

 Commitment

There is no way you can be a great teacher without commitment. It’s not a job you can be half-hearted about. Long hours, massive workload, constant negative press attention (the profession, not me personally!), soaring stress levels – why on earth would you do it if you weren’t completely sure it was what you wanted to do? I’ve met students and teachers in my time who were just going through the motions. They weren’t happy and found the job to be incredibly stressful. The only way you can overcome all of the negative elements is through the sheer joy of the job. Commitment and dedication are what keep great teachers in schools.

Drive

This is an ambiguous one. I don’t necessarily mean the drive to climb the career ladder (although that’s not necessarily a bad thing), but I mean the drive to succeed. Success for yourself, but also success for your children. In our world, there are constant targets and pressures for the children to do well. Of course, we want our children to leave school with the correct level or having reached Age Related Expectation, but sometimes, we have to say that making them into well rounded human beings is more important. We have to have the drive to pursue what our children need, to push for what they are entitled to and to strive to get the very best for them. We need to have the drive to speak up for what we need to do our jobs well, the drive to find out what’s available to us and to strive to be the best, most informed teacher that we can. In our LEA, we used to have an amazing CPD facility: constant courses, advisory teachers on hand to help, and of course, fantastic lunches! All of that has gone now, and training opportunities from the LEA are few and far between. A great teacher will seek out training opportunities or research new approaches themselves, and then pass them on to others. For me, Twitter has been an amazing way to do this – I’m convinced I’m a better teacher since I joined up.

Compassion

This is a huge one. I’ve had a good upbringing, I wasn’t spoiled by any stretch of the imagination but I never went without. I lived in a nice area and had a loving and supportive family. The school I went to was full of equally nice children from equally nice families. I did my homework on time, I did well in school and life was generally quite easy. We didn’t really encounter children with “difficulties”. When I started teaching, life was remarkably similar. It wasn’t until a few years into my teaching career that I began to encounter children with difficult home lives. As time has gone on, I have taught more and more children who have day to day experiences that I just can’t comprehend. I don’t know what it must feel like to come to school having had to sleep with several other siblings in a cramped in a small bedroom, having had no breakfast and having to rush into school because they left the house late. I can’t imagine what must be going through that child’s head as they sit down in lessons and I expect them to learn. I can never appreciate what they are going through, but I have to try and understand. I have to try and make school the constant calm in their life, a place where they can feel safe and where they know they will be helped. It’s not just the children who a great teacher shows compassion towards. The families too need to know that we will try to help them, that we will try to understand, and that we won’t judge. Compassion over judgement is perhaps the biggest obstacle: we all have our own experiences and opinions, but having never walked in the shoes of our families, we are not in a position to judge them. A great teacher doesn’t judge.

Resilience

Resilience is important in so many ways. Resilience to keep on trying when a child doesn’t understand. Perhaps better described as dogged perseverance, but the ability to not get beaten down when things don’t work out as we expected: there’s nothing more disappointing than a lesson which we’ve been really excited about falling flat on its face and the children not getting it. But bouncing back and trying again a different way is hugely important. Resilience when talking to parents: we have to remember that the child we teach is their absolute priority, and they understandably want the best for their child. While a great teacher will of course be doing their best for each and every one of their pupils, some parents will want more. That’s their perogative, of course they want the best, but it’s hard to hear that someone doesn’t think our best is enough. And finally, resilience to deal with the negativity that surrounds our profession. Of course there are some teachers who just aren’t good enough. There are many who are good teachers. But there are so many more who are amazing teachers. I read tweets and blogs from them every day. Butthese people   just don’t get the media coverage. It’s easy to get beaten down by it all, but great teachers will stand up for their cause and carry on doing the amazing job that they do, day after day.

There are so many more qualities that great teachers possess. I haven’t even touched on creativity, on having a sense of humour and on being the kind of person that children, parents and staff can relate to. Organised, thorough, forward thinking: more words that can describe a great teacher. We aren’t great a celebrating what we’re good at, so do me a favour. If you know someone who fits the bill and is a great teacher, make their day and tell them.

Curriculum, Observations, parents

Celebrating Sportsmanship

Today marked the start of the summer season with our annual Inter-House athletics event. I love it; it’s one of my favourite events of the year. For me, it has so much of what school sports are about.

It involves the Key Stage 2 children being spilt into phases, so we hold a Y3/4 event and another for Y5/6. The children are split into their houses and compete against each other in a series of races. Some are solo events, some are team relays. Some are traditional races, such as the sack race and egg and spoon relay, others, like the carrot-between-the-knees race and the leapfrog relay, are less traditional. There are a few straight forward running races for those who like to sprint, but most of them are just good fun.

The children choose their events themselves, which involves an hour or so of chaos while they work out democratic ways to decide who does which races. Sometimes, democracy reigns, at other times, it comes down to who shouts the loudest. However they get there, the teams usually seem to get themselves sorted. It’s a great lesson in compromise.

When we get to the races, the children take them seriously enough to want to win (they earn points for their house which are then added up at the end), but not so seriously that they end up falling out over their successes- or lack of. The atmosphere during the athletics is brilliant. Because of the nature of the races, athletic prowess is not necessary in order to do well. Sometimes, we find that those children who are less keen on PE often do well, as they are more cautious in their approach. They are all incredibly supportive of each other; they cheer each other along and commiserate each other if their house hasn’t been successful. The Year 6 Sports Captains help their houses by making sure they are organised: they send the children to their races, keep track of the scores and ensure their teams are behaving appropriately.

What I also like about the athletics is the camaraderie. Today, we had all of the junior TAs, students and Lower Junior staff on the field; it was lovely to have so many adults. Because there were so many of us taking part, the children knew that they would have to behave themselves (which they did!), and so we could all enjoy ourselves as much as the children. We aren’t a particularly big school but there are so many people who I just don’t get to speak to on a day-to-day basis. Many of whom, I have worked with before, but we just get caged in our own year groups. So it was lovely to have the opportunity to work with them all again today, albeit in a slightly chaotic (but organised!) way. We work well together as a big team – we all knew what needed to be done, we all had our jobs to do but mucked in whenever it was needed. I have to say, we were pretty slick today! Perhaps too slick – there were a fair few messages of encouragement on the microphone to pad the morning out (I was a bit nervous about being MC to begin with, but by the end, people were probably desperate to wrench the mic away from me!!!), but the morning went really well.

Of course, the other big bonus was having the parents in school. I’ve written before about wanting to encourage the parents to come in more, and we had many in this morning. Of course, some beat a hasty retreat as we approached the parents’ three legged race, but many joined in. As ever, the parents were more competitive than the children! But while the children were racing, there was a fantastic atmosphere amongst the parents as well as the teams: competitive but encouraging.

We hold other sporting events in school: the Cross Country event in the spring is an opportunity for those with athletic skills to do well, the whole school sports day is a chance for children of all ages to work together. But for me, today’s event really teaches the children so much about what being a good sport is all about.