This is another one for http://www.teachsecondary.com. Hit the link to subscribe. I mean, look at that face there. How could you not?
What’s the number one response when I tell people that I’m a teacher? (Apart from, ‘Are you sure? Really? With hair like that?). Well, it’s a variation on the phrase: ‘Wow, that must be so rewarding’ coupled with a look of pity or mistrust. Then they move away swiftly to go talk to one of my mates who’s a lawyer or recruiter or MMA fighter or something sensible like that.
I get it. It’s pretty difficult to conceptualise why someone would want to get into this game. A lot of the time it can be a right ache in the nethers and I’ve often wondered myself what the bloody hell I’m doing in a job that’s long on hours, short on recognition, fat on absurdity and heaving with stress (this is perhaps why I’m not allowed to write recruitment slogans). Even so, there’s something about that response, the use of ‘rewarding’, that never fails to nark me off no end.
What it comes down to is that I don’t want to be patronised or pitied by people when I tell them that I’m a teacher. I don’t want them to have to resort to the assumption that it’s ‘rewarding’ (but you know, not in the monetary sense, or the kudos sense, or any of that useless stuff) and that’s the only reason I do it, like I’m some sort of paladin with a whiteboard marker instead of a lance. Get out of it. Here’s the bottom line:
I teach because I get paid to do it. It’s my chosen profession. I don’t do it out of any sense of missionary zeal. I do it because it’s my job.
Crazy concept, I know.
Of course, it’s a job that has golden moments. The kids (when they’re not conspiring to make my life as miserable as an Eastenders omnibus but with more swearing) are kids, with all the inherent yet wonderful madness that comes with them. But when all’s said and done, golden moments don’t feed my children, pay my mortgage or keep me in Nutella (OK, not even Morrison’s own brand version of Nutella). Also, a lot of the time the kids can go do one (which, coincidentally, is the title of my upcoming book on education. It’s either that, Teaching. Meh. or 101 Ways to Eat Morrison’s Own Nutella in Class, I haven’t quite made up my mind just yet.)
What I truly long for is a time when I tell someone what I do and there’s no mention of the job being ‘rewarding’, no consolation in their eyes – just pure, unadulterated jealousy and then some desperate begging to hook them up with some training. Instead of being seen (both without and within) as uncomplaining saints, teachers should be revered. I’m talking free backstage passes for us and our entourage. I’m talking complimentary everything. I’m talking real Nutella. I’m talking RiRi levels of swag and other terminology that I’m not fully confident in using.
Because if teaching really is the most important job in the world, why aren’t those that do it treated like VIPs? Instead of ‘That must be soooo rewarding’ it should be ‘Wow! That is absolutely incredible! Sign this body part!’
With recruitment and retention being as it is at the moment, maybe we should start looking at the fact that people’s go-to response when you tell them that you’re a teacher is to assume that you’re doing it out of some sense of vocation, some intangible reward, rather than because it’s a good job. Because what does that say about the profession?
‘Only Saints Need Apply’ is also not a very good recruitment slogan.
I sometimes think we’re our own worst enemy. We have a tendency to revel in the hardship of it all. To signpost our sacrifices rather than negotiate our contracts. To shoulder burdens and carry on ‘for the kids’. Whatever the hell that means. Do you see RiRi shouldering anything but a diamond-encrusted Gucci handbag? No. You do not.
So the next time someone mentions your job being ‘rewarding’ just say ‘Yep. It is incredibly rewarding for people to have a chance to work with me. Then take a selfie, and bounce out of there, like the rockstar that you are. #teacherswag #iamthereward #realnutellabeeyatches
Thanks for reading.
So my secret contact passed this to me in a brown envelope in an undisclosed location that certainly wasn’t a McDonald’s on the high street and I certainly did not get ketchup and nugget grease all over it before passing it on to the good people at http://www.teachsecondary.com or anything like that.
Predicted Grades Moderation Meeting
Present: (Eng Dept Teaching Staff) AF, CC, KC and ST (the trainee lad who looks all of 12.)
(Senior Leadership Team) JN
(Admin Staff) BS
Apologies from: No bugger. It’s full attendance. The fact that JN’s here is merely coincidence says I.
Meeting held in: Boardroom One as a member of the senior leadership team is present and the Eng dept classrooms are a bit of a trek downstairs.
Input of predicted grades for KS4 into new ‘Perseverance’ admin system tool
KC opened the meeting by stating, in no uncertain terms, that the only tool he was aware of was the one who decided to buy such an unwieldy, bloated and almost psychotically unhelpful piece of software as Perseverance.
JN said that he would certainly look into it (it was him) but for now it was what they had and if the predicted grade boxes weren’t filled in it would hinder student progression pathway. I’m also pretty sure that if this doesn’t happen soon that the system will become self-aware and try to wipe out humanity.
To aide the team in their use of the system, BS attempted to demonstrate the ease with which a teacher can input their grades. This is primarily the reason why the meeting overran by approximately 1 hour and 15 minutes.
All members of the English dept to attempt to input their grades by the end of the week (or invent a time machine to stop Perseverance before it destroys the world, whichever is easiest).
Predicted grade moderation, or ‘Fight Club’ as it’s also known.
CC suggested that due to the new specifications, boundary shifts and an alternative grading system, it’s very difficult, if not impossible, to accurately predict the grades that students will achieve – and furthermore, attempting to do so may well take time away from activities that could actually help the students, such as planning and feedback. This coupled with the possible demotivating factor that arbitrary grading may result in for the students means that there are real concerns.
To counter this argument, JN stated that the boxes needed to be filled.
At this point ST (bless) piped up and asked if anyone was using a particular formula for grade prediction as he was struggling. AF suggested tossing a coin, CC explained her patented dartboard technique. This left ST with a horrified expression on his face until KC told everyone to stop taking the Michael and that she would go through it with him at a later juncture after he’d calmed down a bit and stopped hyperventilating. This seemed to do the trick until she added that she’d let him have a go on the crystal ball she kept in her office.
There then commenced full and total open warfare as to what the exam board specifications actually mean, with the poring over the minutest detail of semantics, vagaries of meaning, interpretation and detective work not seen since Sherlock Holmes was about. This ultimately led to an agreement that for now, no-one had a scoobie and a line of best fit would be used going on previous examples of marked work. An almost inaudible comment from an unidentified member of the team suggested that this be a perfect juncture for CC to actually do some of the said marking but when challenged, no-one was able to identify the source of the statement. CC then stated that whoever it was, she would be seeing them in the car park. Everyone agreed that it was most likely ST, and that he was in SO MUCH TROUBLE. ST then excused himself to go to the toilet as he was looking a bit peaky.
AF and CC to attend exam board training day to see if they can’t figure out what the hell is going on.
(From JN to all) If everyone could stop messing with ST before he has a heart attack, that’d be great.
Get outta here. Don’t you even dare.
Meeting ended: with no injuries
I talk a lot about ‘golden moments’ in teaching. The good stuff, the stuff that gets you through. Moments of insight, kindness and humour from the kids or something that reminds you why you do the job in the first place. A sweet little memory from the day that puts a smile on your lips as you struggle through yet another set of Year 8 books that are physical, ink-stained evidence that no bugger listens to a word you say (or can underline properly). These golden moments act as fuel to keep on pushing because the job, the life, the kids, the lessons, even the lunches aren’t that bad.
But also in schools, as in the wider world which they reflect, there are moments of abject horror.
Not the fights, scuffles, rudeness, workload and all the negatives that can be experienced in places of learning (although these are sometimes bad enough). I’m talking about things that open your eyes to a world where there is no light and no hope. Disclosures from students regarding the worst types of abuse from those who are supposed to love and protect them. Visible signs of self-harm or neglect (or both). Reports of lives led in places that are dark mirrors of home pushed or sometimes screamed out of battered and worn bodies and minds. Unlove instead of love. Fear as the norm. Lives inside a fist, forever squeezing.
Stories from children.
I’ve worked as a teacher for a long time in places where these type of stories are perhaps not as uncommon as they would be elsewhere and luckily, even then they are relatively rare. Yet they do happen. Luckier still, in each of those places there were strong pastoral systems and support that allowed those more expert than I to take over and do their part in trying to make the child’s life better. I have been able to refer children to people better trained, better equipped, with more knowledge and experience of the surrounding issues than I could ever have. Sometimes this support included various agencies working together. Many people were involved.
In these situations, although I may try, it is abundantly clear that I am not good enough to handle these things by myself and neither should I ever be put in the position where that would be the case. Yet, when I look at funding (the fist that schools find themselves in) I can’t see anything other than removal of services resulting in a detrimental effect. I foresee a time where teachers have no choice but to take on the responsibilities that were once given to a broad range of people; professionals and experts who, working together, had a much better chance of bringing a modicum of light to a child’s life.
Some of the things I’ve heard and witnessed have stayed with me. There’d be something seriously wrong with me if they hadn’t. But even now I’m confident in knowing that I did my best for them by being able to refer them to people who had a better shot at giving them something better.
I hope that I’ll always be able to do that. It’s one of the things that stops the dark getting me.
As well as my column for http://www.teachsecondary.com I also act as contact for the anonymous minute-taker of the new feature: Last Meeting’s Minutes. Here’s what they handed me for this month’s edition in an exchange that was fraught with more tension then a dozen spy movies. There were code names and everything. Honest.
School Trip Organisation Committee
Present: AF, TH, CC (by some minor miracle, think she must’ve come in by mistake), RG, RC and EF
Apologies from: So many buggers that I’m not going to bother to list them
Meeting held in: Learning Zone One so it’s cold and no-one can hear each other
Finding and working the thermostat in Learning Zone One
Unanimously agreed that this was of the highest priority. TH (Learning Leader for Educational Technology) attempted to action ITEM 1 by pressing random buttons on the control panel on the wall but unfortunately only succeeded in repeatedly turning the projector on and off. Coats will be worn until further notice.
Trip location decision
After last year’s ‘incident’ at Manor Worth Urban Farm, Year 9 is no longer welcome until all the animals have been accounted for. RC requested that it be recorded at this point that although the working relationship with Manor Worth had become less than optimal, he will always treasure the memory of watching Sasha and Marcus interact with the wildlife and is still impressed that they both managed to jump the fence riding only one pig.
Even so, an alternative locale has to now be considered. The alternative must have obvious educational value for our students and complement the existing schemes of work from various dept.
‘Bowling’ was suggested by RG as it had “PE and physics an’ maths an’ that when you add up the score.” The bowling alley’s location, being nestled between two public houses, was merely a happy coincidence he assured us. The rest of the attendees agreed that it was a very strong possibility and it has been added to the top of the list. RG has volunteered to action a pre-visit fact-finding mission of the bowling alley and adjacent buildings.
CC then proceeded to state that she had no idea what this had to do with the Tackling Student Lateness scheme and after some discussion and an impassioned speech from CC on the worth of sticking to the agenda as she was an extremely busy Learning Leader of Learning, it was pointed out to her that the Tackling Student Lateness scheme meeting had taken place two and a half weeks ago. The other attendees suggested that CC action getting her s**t together.
Other suggestions for prospective visits included:
The Local Art Gallery (this was met with groans, the most audible of which came from TH, the Learning Leader for Art).
Police Station (due to the fact, as stated by AF that “most of mine are halfway there already”).
Anywhere that We’ve Already Filled in the Risk Assessments For
Anywhere Where They Take Them and We Can Go and Get a Coffee
It was pointed out by EF at this point that due to budgetary limitations, any choice of location would have to take into consideration that there is a limited budget. After some preliminary calculations the estimated budget for the school trip stands at £0000.17p and whatever Sasha and Marcus can get for that pig.
It was agreed that the School Trip would most probably be a visit to the local park as it is within walking distance, costs nothing, and has an extremely sturdy perimeter fence. Also, the layout will be familiar for the students as they have been there for School Trips the last two out of three years.
- Find some bloody money somewhere so we don’t have to go to the bloody park again. (ALL)
- Research how much pigs are going for nowadays (ALL)
- Sort out your electronic calendar, for goodness’ sake (CC)
What happened to the biscuits?
Those present were in agreement that these things are much better when there are biscuits. It’s not the same without biscuits. It was agreed that biscuits are good.
No. Don’t be daft. No. Just shush.
Meeting ended: eventually, and just in time for last orders at the Clerk’s Retreat (or, King’s Head, as it’s more generally known)
This is another one for http://www.teachsecondary.com. I’m in it, but to counterbalance that it also features a whole range of articles on secondary education that you can use to cleanse yourself after reading my shtick. Subscribe by clicking the link if you dare.
As I get on in years, I am, more and more, thinking back to my own time at school. This has led me to a conclusion about this odd profession of ours; whether we like to admit to it or not, our opinions and viewpoints of education are often intrinsically linked to our personal experience of it as children. The halls, corridors and classrooms represent a past paradise to some or a prison to others, and I’m of the belief that what we think about education currently as adults has an extremely strong lineage back to the days when we weren’t.
I see in fellow teachers attempts to embrace their own school past or to shove it over a wall. I see teachers who have wanted to emulate those that helped and guided them and I see others who have wanted to show those who let them down that they could do better. Attitude, approach, pedagogy – our own time in uniform has influenced them all. In some ways we are all dancing (or boxing) with ghosts.
My own experience of secondary school was pretty unremarkable (which, some would argue, accurately reflects my teaching career, heh). I was a smart kid in a rough place but I was big so I got away with it. Mostly I remember being cold at break time. To be honest, I could go on for a couple of long paragraphs reminiscing about my own experience (and taking into account the word count required for this page, that might well be on the cards so don’t rule it out) but those stories are often akin to when you recount your dreams; they’re fascinating to you because you experienced them – but they’re wholly tedious to any bugger else.
Having said that, I know for a fact that some of the things I prioritise as a teacher, some of the beliefs that I firmly hold today, have their roots firmly stuck in the heart of an awkward, lumbering 14-year-old with hair like a hay bale and dreams of…well…getting through five periods and then going home and eating his weight in Boost bars. To this day, behaviour is still a burning issue for me, due to the fact that I spent a lot of time trying to learn in a school environment where it wasn’t brilliant. I lean towards a more ‘traditional’ way of teaching as that’s what the most effective teachers in my school did. I’m concerned about teacher welfare because I remember when we took bets on how quickly we could make new teachers cry. Just about every part of the teacher I am now goes back to what I experienced then.
Our history shapes us. And whether it does it with an artist’s brush or a madman’s axe we still hold that aspect, taking it into the unique job that we do. Whether that’s a good or a bad thing, I haven’t really decided yet. We are fashioned from our past yet I worry that we can become slaves to it as well. The significance of our individual experience on a personal level can blind us to different worlds, different ways of doing things and different narratives. There’s a wide educational world out there and only seeing it only through the lens of our own school days may lead to a restricted view.
Perhaps we spend too much time with the ghosts.
I’m not, of course, saying that we should deny our history or go through some sci-fi mind-wipe during training so we become more open and susceptible (although if anyone can build something like that for the kids, you can take my money right now). What I am saying is that our own school history, whilst important, is only one story among countless others and if we let it fashion our thinking and our actions to such an extent that we close our mind off to other possibilities then we run the risk of missing a rich, expansive world that may offer us seemingly alien, yet useful ideas.
OK, that’s 675 words. Err…so…. let me tell you ‘bout the time when Mr Maynard fell asleep during the inter-school football tournament. Only thing was, right, he was supposed to be refereeing. Almost caused a riot. Me and Davey and Ryan had to…
Thanks for reading.
Here is a big juicy, ripe tomato of a good idea. Look at how the condensation trickles off the taught, ruby red flesh. Inside it is chock-full of delicious potential to make things better. It is perhaps the best, most perfect idea tomato that has ever been imagined into existence. It’s gorgeous.
Now, take this plump, juicy, ripe, delicious, idea tomato and lob it into that industrial fan there.
Now wipe yourself down a bit. Scrape the pulp of the walls. Get that bit off the floor. Don’t worry about the chalk-dust and rat droppings and such. Mix it all up, no-one will notice – it’s still the same tomato after all.
Right, put it into a sandwich and give it to the kids. No, it’s the same tomato – yes, I know that the added grime has made it a bit gritty and slightly hazardous but it’s still the same tomato and we’ve already paid for it. Just spread that mush in there, it’ll be good for them. Tell them how good it will be for them. Put it in a poster or something.
You eat it too.
There are good ideas in the world. Some of these good ideas could be very useful in schools. However, without proper implementation of these ideas, they just end up as so much crap stuck to the wall.
This is another one from http://www.teachsecondary.com. It’s a great magazine that has some extremely useful snippets on the education biz. I’m at the back, like the kid who constantly asks you what time the lesson finishes but then takes ages to get his stuff and get out of the classroom.
‘Low-level disruption’. It’s almost a cute term isn’t it? Like disruption that’s not trying very hard and needs to do better:
“C’mon Low-Level, you’re only at sneaking a look at your phone now. You’re really going to have to get your act together if you’re going to make it to the big leagues of assault and bullying!”
But disruption is disruption at whatever level it manifests itself, and if it manifests itself for long enough it can be bloody knackering. Even the ‘low-level’ stuff has enough weight behind it to smash learning to smithereens and have you wanting to low-level disrupt the perpetrators by shaking them a lot.
For instance, I once had a lad who, without one iota of malice, would lay waste to my lessons with neither thought or design by drowning them in an unending avalanche of verbal diarrhoea.
It wasn’t so much a stream of consciousness, as more of a tsunami of ever-present thought only ever vaguely attached to the question at hand. Or the subject. Or the fact that he was indeed in a school. No tangent was too far off, no anecdote too disparate (and often hugely awkward).
If there was something to be said, he would say it. At length. Whether it had anything to do with what was going on or not.
Now, this wasn’t fighting or calling me names that have no place being repeated in an upstanding publication such as this (there was a fair bit of that going on as well) – it was just wave after wave, after wave, after wave of words. The cliffs of my lesson eroded against the constant tide. It was like watching a personification of Finnegan’s Wake only less comprehensible and peppered with far more ‘yer get me’s’.
It might be accurate to classify this onslaught as ‘low-level’ but the effect of it was anything but. You could actually hear the eye-rolling from the rest of the class when he got going because they knew that no-one would be able to get a word in edgeways.
I’d become increasingly frustrated at the constant interruption and those that needed quiet to concentrate (contrary to popular belief, there are actually quite a fair few of those in schools believe it or not) were pretty much jiggered.
Although this lad didn’t mean any harm (and on the scale of awful things that can go on in a school this didn’t even get into the top 50) his actions meant that others weren’t being allowed the shot they deserved. This, just about more than anything when it comes to teaching, doesn’t fly with me.
Sometimes it even feels a little like overkill. But in this case I was considering killing for the talk to be over, so it seemed like a good idea to do something about it before it got to that point.
I took him to one side, explained that his talking was affecting the learning of his classmates, and asked him what he thought about that. Half an hour later, after I had learnt more than I had ever wanted to about his eldest sister’s social life, he finally agreed that perhaps he could do with keeping schtum during my classes.
To help him before he sallied forth thereafter, I would remind him of this conversation and for further reinforcement, whack him in a detention every time he decided to go on one of his epic soliloquies.
It was pretty effective. Remember, this kid wasn’t a hard-nut, just a mouth. Sometimes the quick word would work and sometimes he got a detention. But overall, with a bit of encouragement and a hard word every now and again, there was an improvement and it meant that the rest of the class saved a fortune in ear plugs.
When it comes down to it, ‘low-level disruption’ is simply disruption. Grading these things by supposed levels of severity is counter productive due to the fact that any disruption has the potential to stop kids learning and should be dealt with with extreme prejudice – because everyone deserves a fair shake.
Especially when they don’t shut up.
Thanks for reading.