Family, Observations

Making our mark

Before I begin, a word to MNQTH.

This blog is not meant as a rubbing-your-nose-in-it, thumb-on-nose-with-waggling-fingers, look-what-I’ve-got-and-you-haven’t type piece.  It is meant to show what you have got to look forward to next year when you begin your year in calmness, sanity and a classroom with all its walls, floor, fixtures and fittings x

In teaching, there are many ways in which decision making is taken away from us. We are allocated a class, given teaching partners, put in a classroom and given a curriculum which we must teach. These are decisions which are made by others. And while we do have some freedom over what we teach and how, ultimately, we don’t have complete autonomy over this, as we have assessment criteria to meet. The one way in which we do have relative freedom of choice is in the way we design our classrooms. This is a way in which we can express ourselves and maybe show our personalities a little.

FullSizeRenderThis week has been one of ups and downs in our house. On Tuesday, I was very excited to be back in school, getting my room ready for the new year. This didn’t involve anything special: the usual backing of boards, putting things on display, numerous configurations of furniture, getting drawer labels ready, and best of all, getting the table trays ready with the new stationery. For me, filling a cutlery tray with brightly coloured sharp pencils and taking the stoppers out of the new glues means that the new year is here and I am ready to go. Admittedly, many of the jobs are quite onerous (is there anything more dull than cutting out tiny little names for sanction boards and talking partners?) and awkward (after 15 years, I have still to perfect backing a board without having a stapler in my mouth and climbing across a row of chairs), but they are fun to do all the same. And with the addition of to make huge posters, backing boards was even more fun this year. I finished my day on Tuesday feeling really proud of my day’s work. There really is nothing like a furniture shift around to make you feel like you have a brand new classroom. But this excitement was tinged with a bit of disappointment.

You see, MNQTH is about to embark on the challenge of having his own classroom. He too was excited about getting to set his room up for the first time. But with a new build classroom still in a state of disarray, no furniture, no display boards and no storage, his excitement was understandably dampened. Until this happened, I really had no idea how much we pin on our classrooms – they are our way of making a first impression on the children, and we want them to be perfect. I felt bad telling him how much I had achieved during my day and how pleased I was with the results. When I realised yesterday that I would not be in class to see what the children thought of the rainforest and the animals everywhere and the giant trees (which I haven’t quite finished yet!), I was really disappointed. I’m sure the same is for MNQTH – this is day 1 of his career, and he wants everything to be just right.

I have a vague recollection of my first day in a very similar situation: my classroom was not ready for the start of term, so I started in a temporary classroom affectionately known as “the baked bean tin”. I had 2 posters on the wall and no display boards, and it sapped my confidence a little. I wanted the children to go home and tell their parents how fantastic their new classroom was, not that it was dreary and dull and had nothing in it.

So, tomorrow, we have a family outing planned to the new classroom. We are going to fill cupboards and move tables, put pencils in pots, fill it with bits and pieces to make it MNQTH’s room (T very thoughtfully made his daddy a Hama bead heart yesterday to stick on his wall!). It’s personal touches that give our classrooms an identity, that give us things to talk about with the children, and make us want to spend our time there. Hopefully, with a bit of time and luck, we can make MNQTH’s classroom into the room he wants, so that he can feel the buzz that I get when I walk into my room.


The Not-So-Secret-Teacher

Clipping generated at
Clipping generated at

As ever, this morning I read the Guardian’s Secret Teacher article. I do it almost every week. Sometimes I share it, sometimes I comment. But almost always, I get cross.

I understand that the aim of the Secret Teacher is to blow the whistle (albeit anonymously) on schools and staff who treat others badly or have an ethos of bad practice in their schools.  The Secret Teacher aims to promote debate and discussion. But in this time of recruitment crisis, when teachers are flocking to leave the profession, why on earth are we sharing such horror stories so widely without providing the contrasting positive views?

I realise that many, many teachers have awful experiences, and we need to ensure that these situations are not replicated elsewhere, but there are hundreds of thousands of us teachers out there with positive stories and experiences to share. We need to encourage dedicated young (or even not so young) people into schools, and we aren’t going to do that through forums like the Secret Teacher articles.

Why isn’t there anywhere to share the positive stories? The people who have been in the profession for years, who haven’t been beaten into the ground by unmanageable workloads, who haven’t fallen prey to unrealistic SLTs and who haven’t given up all hope on the youth of today? I’m one of those teachers. I started writing my blog so that I could share my positivity, and I know that many others do the same. But we can never even hope to have the readership that the Guardian does.

I know the negativity pulls in the readers – heart wrenching, difficult or traumatic stories always do – but positivity can promote debate too. I should know: I approached the Guardian months ago to write a positive ST article. They published my article (although it was very, VERY different from what I proposed), but not as an ST piece. It didn’t need to be anonymous. But it certainly promoted debate. I stopped reading the comments very quickly as most made me either angry or upset. However, it proved that positivity can be well read: It had almost 1500 shares directly from the website and hundreds of retweets on Twitter.

So many of my PLN on Twitter share my positive ethos. We need to do so much more to promote it rather than sharing the negative views we are bombarded with from the press on a daily basis. So here’s my stand as the Not-So-Secret-Teacher.

It’s not catchy, I know, but here’s my headline:

Teacher loves job, manages workload, has a fantastic SLT and loves her children.

I don’t need to be anonymous: I don’t care who knows it.

I know that many of you reading this may not have the same experiences as me, but please, please share this and help to start putting more positive views out there for others to read. Let’s start something here: share your positive views using #NotSecretTeacher or #postapositive on Staffrm. Share the teaching love!

Family, Observations

Behind closed doors…

typoramaNow, without wishing to blow my own trumpet (although I was very good at that: MNQTH and I met whilst playing in a brass band!), I’m an organised kind of person. It is often said at work that I’m organised. It’s true: my lessons are always planned; I print out my resources at home so that I can photocopy them on the way past the printer as soon as I get into school. If someone asks me to do something at work, I do it straight away. I am an organised teacher. It has been said by one or two that I make them feel bad because I am so organised. So, to make those people feel better about the way they work, here’s a look behind closed doors. Once I stop being Mrs E and go back into me mode, the organisation isn’t quite as efficient.

I’m a wife, I’m a mother of two, and things at home rarely run as smoothly as they do in school. I pay someone to clean the house, so we have less to do at home, but still we live in a state of vaguely organised disarray. The day before the cleaner comes, we run around emptying bins which are overflowing, picking up piles of washing which didn’t make it to the washing machine and shoving them back in the already full washing baskets.

In the mornings, my choice of clothes is influenced by a) what is clean, b) what doesn’t need ironing (we often operate an “iron as you need it” policy) or c) what can be hung up while I have a shower so the steam un-creases it.

Breakfast often involves promises of buying bagels or croissants at lunchtime, echoed from the previous day because I had forgotten I’d made the promise when I went to Tesco. It also involves filling in the reading record I forgot to do the night before, hunting down the bag for G to take to the child minder (usually involving a trip out to the car) followed by another trip out there to find T’s drink bottle. Then washing up, whereby I leave most of the cutlery in the bowl, sitting in the water all day because I didn’t quite manage to remember to empty out the sink.

After a drop off at the child minder’s, a few hours of calm and organisation. Mrs E returns. All is well. Until I realise that I have forgotten to pick up/make any lunch and I haven’t ordered a school dinner. Cue a trip to Tesco to buy lunch and hastily grab something to feed the family with that can be made from scratch in under half an hour.

All is well again until the children’s pick up: reading, cooking, finishing the breakfast washing up all going on with a grumpy nearly-two-year-old wailing for a cuddle because she’s tired and hungry. It’s amazing how adept you can get at cooking one handed with a child on one hip! While the children are in the bath (not on their own, you understand – MNQTH is there too!!), there’s the frantic washing up/defrosting something from the freezer to cook a decent meal for tomorrow’s dinner/get the washing out of the tumble dryer/water the garden race before the planning marathon begins ready for tomorrow’s “calm exterior” at school.

When I fall into bed later, just as I’m dropping off, I remember the clothes for tomorrow that are still wet in the washing machine, and make a dash downstairs to hang them up and hope they dry by morning.

I may be ultra-organised when I’m at work, but that’s only one side of the real me. Another colleague commented not so long ago that she used to think I was scatty and ditsy, but apparently I’ve changed. Perhaps the scattiness and ditsiness is the real me and the organisation is just a façade … you see, I am human too.

So, is it just me? Are we the only family to live in this state of madness? Or is it common to the families of all teachers? Is it worse because we both teach? Perhaps we should be warning all of the eager NQTs about to embark on their careers exactly what chaos they are heading for!

CPD, Observations

Letting go

typoramaOver the past 12 months, I have been on a well-documented roller coaster ride of assessment systems. From the despair of having no idea where to go, to the excitement of getting together with the White Horse Federation, to the trepidation of introducing our system to the staff, this has been my project. Along with my teaching partners, we have been in a little bubble of assessment, trying things out and adjusting where we went.

Of course, everything I did was in discussion with the SLT, but to a large extent, I made the decisions (subject to approval, of course!). Now, all of a sudden, my little bubble of 2 classes and 3 teachers has been opened up to everyone else. It’s suddenly open to the interpretation of others, open to criticism, and other people need to have a say in how it works. Suddenly, decisions have to be made by people other than me: how are we going to plan our maths to tie in with the band progression sheets? What strategies are we going to use to ensure we teach phonics and spelling correctly? I can have an opinion on these matters, but now, my assessment system needs to fit in with the ideas of others. My inner control freak is going mad.

Over the past year, anything that needed doing could be done at my own pace – as soon as I wanted a letter or a decision, I could write it or make it. Now, I have to consult with others and wait my turn… the control freak is twitching at the keyboard!

I think I have developed a great deal professionally over the last couple of years. I have learned to be organised, efficient and methodical. That’s easy to do when you only have your own timescale and workload to consider. Hence my control freak tendencies. This year, the challenge is on for me to be more laid back. I’m not particularly stressed, stressful or stressing; I do consider myself to be very laid back anyway. But now, I need to be a more “it’s ok, it can wait, I can do it tomorrow. Another 24 hours won’t hurt” kind of person.

That’s my challenge for the year: I’m going to let the control freak go!

Family, Observations, Workload

The curse of being a teacher…

Image created using Typorama
Image created using Typorama

It’s the summer holidays. Now, before you all scream and shout at me, let me explain.

All I want from a summer holiday is time to switch off, relax, spend time with my family and recharge my batteries.

Don’t we all?

Some of my friends are brilliant at it. I’m not, and it drives me mad. That’s the curse for me: the inability to stop and forget.

I am HOPELESS at switching off. I spend half of the holidays getting cross with myself for thinking about plans and lessons, classroom displays and resources. As the weeks go on, I get better at forgetting. For example, in the first week, I spent a few hours in school and two evenings planning. This past week, I have thought about doing some planning a lot, but not actually done any. That’s progress for me. But the problem is, I have still thought about work. Even on my non-working days, I have managed to order resources, read the Assessment Commission’s leaked report, email it to people who are sensible enough to not log into their school emails for a few weeks, book a school trip, book an animal roadshow and enquire about drama groups coming into school. All of this is while I’m not working.

I am absolutely rubbish at forgetting about work. That hasn’t come from pressure from above, or a lack of organisation during the term, but just my own stupid control-freak tendencies and need to get things sorted. It doesn’t make me a better teacher – in fact, it probably goes some way to make me a worse one as I haven’t had the proper break I deserve. When strangers (and even some people who know me well) bring up the old “oh, you teachers are only in it for the holidays” debate, I don’t get sucked into it any more. I don’t tell them about the hours in school tidying and putting up displays, or planning and sorting my class out. I nod and agree: the summer holidays are amazing, and a definite bonus of the job, but they aren’t as school-free for me as they should be. At the start of the holidays, I wrote my #Summer10 list of things I wanted to achieve over the 6 weeks.  I think it was a great idea for me, as it made me stop and think about how I would use my time.  I didn’t want to get to the end of another summer break with a list of “I wish…” .  Instead, I’ve been busy ticking off all of the fantastic things I have done with my family – and there are still more to come.

Linked to #ukedchat conversation
Linked to #ukedchat conversation

I think I have always been like this, but I don’t think Smart Phones and Twitter have done me any favours. I love Twitter: I think it is an amazing resource, but it can take over. It’s too easy to catch up on a publication or get involved in a debate, to share a resource or idea or to ask for help from your PLN. I’m clearly not alone in my addiction – the #ukedchat question last week revealed a huge amount of teachers sharing their “bad” points about Twitter were that it was time consuming, addictive and took over theie lives (incidentally, it did reveal an enormous amounts of positive reasons too!!).In the good old days of having to get a computer out and switch it on, doing something for school was just a bit more of an effort, less convenient, so therefore less likely to happen.

So, I’m making a stand. From tomorrow morning, I won’t have a laptop, just my iPhone for the next 10 days. It’s going off. No Twitter, no Facebook, no blogs or stat checks, no Google searches. Just the very occasional text to let people know we are all still alive. That’s it. I’m not sure I have been so disconnected for a very, very, long time.

I’m looking forward to it already. But not as much as MNQTH is. He might actually get his wife back for a few days.