Here’s another account of an absolutely critical school meeting written by my anonymous contact. Subscribe to http://www.teachsecondary.com and I’ll write more of them. No, sorry, I mean they’ll write more of them. Or something. Whatever.
Staff Wellbeing Meeting
GL – (Deputy Vice Principal)
TR (Due to illness)
TT (Due to illness)
GH (Due to illness)
FH (Due to illness)
HK (Due to illness)
MEETING HELD IN –
Art studio – only one that doesn’t have at least one migraine-inducing flickering fluorescent light.
So what exactly is the problem?
The meeting has been was called by senior management to try to pinpoint the reasons for / and alleviate the issues surrounding the perceived decline in staff wellbeing. Attendees were asked what one of the main problems was.
“Meetings.” – CC
“Endless meetings.” – RL
“**** endless meetings.” – PB
GL stated that he would look into the many and varied reasons that had been stated and call a meeting with other members of the senior leadership team to see if they couldn’t get to the heart of the matter in this hugely multifaceted issue. Responders were also invited.
Stretch and challenge
GL was pleased to announce that a yoga consultant had been brought in for a day’s training to help staff to try and manage their stress levels. At this point, the other attendees stress levels seemed to go through the roof.
“As much as I would love to learn good form in downward dog,” stated PB, I’m not sure it’s massively relevant when trying to teach 9LL simultaneous equations.
“I dunno. Being bendy might be useful when they start chucking stuff,” said RL. “You could go all Neo from The Matrix and dodge it.”
“Will yoga help with the time it takes to complete a set of books using the new triplicate mark scheme?” asked CC. “Does this yoga have the potential to bend time and extend the hours in the day so I might not have to be green-penning it until 11pm every night?”
GL stated that this wasn’t on the website but he could certainly look into it. He assured people that it would be a good way to manage stress.
“Wouldn’t it be better to try and minimise the reasons for that stress rather than our reactions to it?” asked RL. “I mean, if workload was lessened, perhaps we wouldn’t have to pay someone to come in and teach us how to roll about on a mat for an hour.
GL informed those present that it was, in fact, an all-day event.
“But that doesn’t leave any time for department planning,” explained RL.
GL stated that planning would then have to be shifted to another time in the day. Break or lunch perhaps? As the yoga training was compulsory perhaps they should organise a meeting to plan when it can take place?
At this point in time RL, PB and CC all had to leave for their next meeting. Unfortunately, they all went on sick the day after.
No. Even if there was someone else would have to sort it, I can feel myself coming down with something as well.
Here’s one from http://www.teachsecondary.com. If you hit the link and subscribe they say they’ll get me a new whiteboard marker. I think they’re telling the truth this time.
For the majority of my career, I’ve worked in places that have been deemed to be ‘challenging’. I’m not a huge fan of the term. It’s a bit of an educational misnomer.
I find getting out of bed on a Monday morning (or any other morning quite frankly) to be ‘challenging’, the weekly trolley smash to get the shopping with my two sprogs is ‘challenging’. Heck, managing yours truly can often be a tad ‘challenging’. Working in a school that has underlying problems isn’t just ‘challenging’, it’s rock hard.
But ‘I work in a rock hard school’ hasn’t really got the same ring to it. There’s none of that positive sheen and gloss that people so love to present to the outside world. You’re not going to see a job advert for HoD that states:
“We are looking for a passionate member of staff to come and work in our tough-as-nails-that-have-seen-some-terrible-things-during-wartime school.
I understand the reasoning in using the word. I understand that ‘challenging’ offers an aspirational alternative to ‘rough as a hedgehog’s five o’clock shadow’ but I also understand that in education there can be a tendency to do a bit of semantic juggling to paper over some pretty large cracks. I sometimes wonder if people think that if you change the name, the nature of the thing will automatically follow. I also wonder why these people don’t call themselves Millionaire McSexypants. Those people are delusional. Or lazy. Or both.
So here’s a tip to all senior management out there – if you’re referring to your school as ‘challenging’, best be doing everything you can to help your staff meet that challenge. Otherwise, it’s just another euphemism designed to muddy the waters. Or ‘a lie’ as I like to call it.
At heart, it’s a question of striking a balance between image and honesty. That’s the real challenge, right there.
The other problem I have with the term is that every school has unique and particular challenges no matter how well or how badly they’re doing. If it’s not behaviour, it can be workload. If it’s not workload, it can be pastoral issues. If it’s not pastoral issues it could be staffing and so on and so on. Even the most pleasant, together schools where the kids are polite, staff are well rested and look forward to functioning at optimal capacity to help their charges (I have heard wild rumours of such places) have their own challenges to be overcome.
I can drag a class of 35 through GCSE when 27 of them have severe behavioural issues and that’s challenging, but so is taking a talented top set class through their A Levels which is something I haven’t done for so long that the prospect of it would be one that fills me with dread. Whether something is challenging or not doesn’t necessarily mean it has to be at the extreme end of things. Challenging is sitting down with a kid whose parents are going through a messy divorce and doesn’t know how to take it. It’s taking some year 10s on a skiing trip (even when they’re being absolutely brilliant). It’s break in drizzle. It’s making sure that your targets exceed last year’s. It’s parents evening when the expectations are sky high. It’s a million other things teachers have to do in thousands of schools up and down the country. They’re all challenging. The very DNA of this job is challenge, no matter where you work.
Granted, some of these challenges may be, well, slightly more challenging than others. I wouldn’t mind swapping the behaviour issues I deal with frequently for something a little bit more genteel for instance but I’d be willing to bet my hurriedly scoffed Friday canteen fish and chips (with extra chips) that there’s not one school in this country were working there does not present itself some form of challenge. It’s just that they’re different types of challenges, that’s all.
Words are important as is the way we choose to utilise them. We shouldn’t have to be given the extra challenge (HA! LOOK WHAT I DID!) of trying to negotiate words that don’t really mean what they’re supposed to and we should try to appreciate that one teacher’s challenging isn’t the same as another’s yet they both come under the same banner.
I’m off to do the weekly shop. Always up for a challenge, me.
Thanks for reading.
This month’s minutes makes me suspect that my contact may have been reading a fair bit of Shirley Jackson recently. Subscribe to http://www.teachsecondary.com to read more minutes.
Streaming of Classes
Present: Everyone who has a stake. It’s packed to the rafters.
Apologies from: No-one. They’d be mad to miss this.
Meeting held in: The main hall. Nowhere else is big enough.
RATIONALE FOR STREAMING
It’s about ‘reports and things’
It was restated by our glorious leader RL that streaming is a good way to pool resources and thereby lessen teacher workload.
It was also restated (after a number of anonymous suggestions in reference to the last meeting on the subject) that streaming has, in no way, been implemented so that certain members of the Senior Leadership Team can harvest off all the most able classes and make like they’re the best thing to happen to teaching since clickers with those little lazer pointers in them.
When ST (who has been reading a bit too much about education for just about anyone’s liking) asked about the evidence base for this most recent decision, RL muttered something about ‘reports and things’ and was later seen to be putting a line through a name on a list.
But to be honest no-one really cares about that because, LADIES AND GENTLEMEN! THE MAIN EVENT IS HERE WHICH IS…
Anyone but them
Breath is short. Those who believe in talismans have brought their lucky pens, their photos of beloved children, anything that they believe will make things swing their way. Silent prayers are made and fingers are crossed in the hope, the hope beyond hope, that their groups will be in the top half of the table, that the dark shadow of the bottom set will pass over them, to rest on somebody, anybody else. This is no time for charity. Each of them are alone in their victory or their suffering.
Science is the first to be chosen. The dozen staff share nervous looks as the allocation sheets are passed out. A pregnant pause punctuated by the rustle of paper as each of them look for what their fate may be. A stifled cheer goes up from AH as he realises that he’s got the top class. Other reactions are varied but even those from that have been chosen to lead some of the lower sets have a sense of relief about them.
Then there’s OC. OC’s face is frozen in a rictus of terror. He looks desperately to the left and to the right with eyes pleading for this not to be so. The other staff move away from him, as if what he has is contagious, further and further until OC I’d left alone, weeping and raging at anyone stupid enough to get close.
“I’m sure with such a positive attitude, OC will achieve success with even our most challenging of groups” says RL as he beckons a couple of vice principals to lead OC away.
The rest of the meeting goes much the same for the different departments. Some are lucky and some are sacrificed. Just because the lucky ones seem to hold senior positions is neither here nor there. As is the fact that for some reason, ST received four bottom sets.
No, I’m not hanging around so they can give one of them to me.
As fast as possible.
http://www.teachsecondary.com keep putting what I write into their magazine. Subscribe by hitting the link to bear witness to this madness.
One of the things that doesn’t seem to be much discussed when it comes to behaviour in schools is group dynamics within the classroom. I’m not talking you and the kids; I mean the kids and the kids. There’s a heavy emphasis on what a teacher can do to improve an individual’s behaviour (in some quarters there’s a belief that a teacher’s actions are the only thing that affects behaviour but as we all know, the people who subscribe to this are quite clearly completely and utterly insane) – in comparison however, the effect that different students have on each other seems relatively overlooked.
This could be down to a couple of things. It might be due to the fact that there is very little wriggle-room (if we don’t count streaming or other similar practices) with regard to who ends up in the class in front of us, so we accept the group as it is presented and just get on with it. However, if we dig a little deeper I think the reason for the lack of focus on group dynamics is that with it an ugly truth rises close to the surface, which is to do with the notion of teachers being masters of their own fate. In moving the focus away from the direct line of transmission of behaviour management from teacher to student we skirt close to a realisation that some find unpalatable, which is this:
The ease of a teacher’s success in behaviour management is very often down to the luck of the draw.
Now, behaviour as ‘register roulette’ might not be the most chirpy of ideas out there. It allows and admits a certain amount of chaos and chance when it comes to teaching – and who wants to admit that? It’s a depowering concept in a lot of ways. I’m in no way saying that we defer our responsibility to do our utmost to create and maintain an environment where every student is allowed to learn, but on the other hand, I think there has to be some acknowledgement of other factors that have an influence within those four display-laden walls apart from the whiteboard marker-wielding person at the front. Group dynamics being one of them.
When it comes to the mix of students in a class, some are a golden draught and some are a steaming toxic slop barrel that glows yellow when you turn the lights off. There might be a buzz in the room as children spark off each other in wonderful ways or there might a buzz in the classroom as children try to use sparks to set fire to each other in wonderful ways. Personality clashes, age-old grudges, even family feuds; all these can put paid to the best teaching in the world.
It means that the starting point for teachers when it comes to successfully managing a class differs, and that the journey is a lot harder for some than it is others given the hand that’s dealt. It’s not just you and them. It’s them and them. And him. And her at the back. And Daryl and Kim. They’re the worst.
For me, the relationships that kids form with each other and how those relationships manifest themselves in the classroom are infinitely more important than anything I can do directly. Of course, teachers can dampen the effect of powder-keg classes, model good relationships and respect for others, shuffle and change seating plans, take key players aside and give them an earful if that’s what’s needed; but at the end of the day people are complicated, and the way they act towards each other is even more so.
Times this by a shed load if you’re talking about children.
We’re only one person in a room of thirty (if you’re lucky). That’s thirty minds and hearts all mixed together. It’s a small sea of humanity looking primarily to each other for affirmation, entertainment, threat, love (yuck) and a plethora of other wants and needs beside. Sometimes this means great things and sometimes it means a massive headache.
So have a think about group dynamics next time you’re in. Try to take yourself out of the equation and look at how they are with each other. It can sometimes open your eyes to a world outside your sphere of influence, where there are triggers and factors away from what you do. It’s a scary thought… but no-one ever said this teaching lark was going to be a doddle.
Thanks for reading.
Here’s another leaked document from my contact who is certainly not me. This time it’s on behaviour policy. As a rule, my policy is that everyone has to behave, apart from me. Subscribe to http://www.teachsecondary.com or I’ll not be pleased and no-one wants that.
New Behaviour Policy Meeting
Present: DR, PT, AA
Apologies from: The entire senior leadership team
Meeting held in: DR’s room, as he has biscuits
ITEM 1: Rationale behind updating the behaviour policy
The old one is 87 pages long and seems specifically designed to be so complicated that by the time anyone follows the procedure any kid will have stopped exhibiting any type of unwanted behaviour as they will have left school, grown up and died from old age.
“Guess that’s one way of dealing with it,” commented DR.
It has been decided that the policy is well overdue a renewal, especially given the recent behaviour of Y9, who are starting to exhibit character traits, attitude and responses seemingly inspired by post-apocalyptic literature and film, “and that’s not even on the scheme of work,” stated PT.
ITEM 2: New policy suggestions
Suggestions as to what the new policy should look like were taken.
PT seemed fairly enthused by this:
“What we need to do is create a space where students can air their grievances. Somewhere non-threatening without any sharp lines or corners. Some sort of circular construction maybe. A dome perhaps. And in it, we can place tools that will allow the students to manifest their aggression and…”
“We are not building the Thunderdome out of Mad Max,” stated LR. “For one thing, we haven’t got the budget for chainsaws.”
A card system was suggested where students would be given colour coded cards for infractions of the policy. Green for good behaviour, yellow for a warning and red for a punitive measure.
“I for one,” asserted AD. “am not waving a red card at Theresa in 9BB. Can you imagine it? It’d be like slapping an angry bull on its nose. She’d go mental. Start smashing up china shops and everything.”
There were a fair few nods and mutterings of agreement.
Whatever form was agreed, it was made clear that it would be essential that the senior leadership team should be visible at all times, taking the lead in carrying out and supporting any punitive measures, and allowing students to see that the entire staff are a cohesive whole and that there is consistency throughout.
ACTION: Find a member of the senior leadership team and inform them of this, seeing as none were able to attend the meeting due to them being elsewhere on important senior leadership team business.
Other suggestions included:
Krav Maga and small arms training for staff
Some form of pen/corral for Theresa
Restorative practice (“I need a restorative after 9BB, that’s for bloody sure”)
An emphasis on positive reinforcement
It was agreed that whatever form the policy takes, it needs to be clear, concise, easy to understand, and feature absolutely no chainsaws.
There were a couple of other things that were needed to be run by the senior leadership team but y’know. Meh.
Many thanks to DR for the biscuits
Meeting adjourned: in time for everyone to get down to the gym for some strength training in preparation for Teresa’s return.
Here’s another one for http://www.teachsecondary.com who promise to move me off the back page if I promise to stop stealing the individual sugar packets that they have next to their coffee machine.
So I’m never getting off the back page. Subscribe by hitting the link.
So the holidays are here (or just about over, or actually over, depending on when you are reading this – writing for magazines is a bit like being a Time Lord sometimes, only no one cares what gender you are); the old academic year is over and another is soon to begin. With the new crop of students comes a fresh crop of teachers, so what follows is some boot-camp advice for those grown-ups who are crossing the threshold of the school gates for the first time this September. Top tips, as it were, where I share my accumulated knowledge of how to be distinctly average.
1. Invest in a sturdy school bag.
Your bag will have to hold a veritable cornucopia of equipment, books, tech, pens, lunchboxes, folders, paracetamol, fluff, toot, vodka and broken dreams. Therefore, having one that isn’t bobbins is very important. I’ve found military style backpacks to be most effective. They’ve got lots of different pockets, are rugged, designed to be comfortable on the shoulders and are often expandable so you can feel even more righteous as you shove not two, but three sets of exercise books in them to mark on the weekend and promptly leave it untouched in the corner until you have to lug them back in on Monday.
2. This is not a movie. Movies about teaching lie.
Do not climb on any desks. Do not attempt to teach gospel singing to the disengaged. Do not try to be a renegade in an attempt to win the hearts and minds of the kids.
All these things will end up with you crying as the kids mock you mercilessly for the noob that you are. And you’d deserve it, dumbass. This is not a movie. A real movie about teaching would just be teaching, marking, planning on a 8 hour loop.
Oh, and meetings.
3. You are not better than anyone else. You are not worse than anyone else. You are simply at a different stage in your career.
Don’t go comparing yourself to every bugger. Leave your ego or your anxiety at the door and DO THE JOB to the best of your current abilities. Oh, and although you’ll be up against a screaming wall of information (and children) try to listen to the people around you, you might learn something important (or at least some extremely juicy gossip about Dave from PE and Sinita from admin).
4. Teaching is graft.
Is it an art? Is it a science? Is it a craft? Who knows? Not me. Nor do I care. These lofty questions can be considered at a later date because what I do know above one and above all is that teaching, as a profession, is absolutely rock hard. Nutter-in-the-pub hard. Junaid-from-Y10-hard. Mentally taxing, physically demanding and with little recompense, you have to be prepared for the sheer weight and variety of the work. What that preparation looks like is up to you, just make sure you go into it with your eyes open – you will be tested on all manner of levels. These tests can be hugely unpleasant. Be aware.
5. Eat well. Sleep well. Be well.
No job is worth your health. There’s a tendency for school offices to be magnets for crap food. Biscuits, cakes, limp and soggy sandwiches from the last managers’ meeting that have been sat there under sweaty clingfilm for an undisclosed amount of time. And even the last looks hugely appealing if you’ve only got five mins to shove something down your gullet before break duty. You animal.
Anxiety can also lead to loss of sleep that can lead to anxiety about loss of sleep and so on and so forth. Late night marking and planning don’t help either.
Do your best to eat properly and sleep for more than six hours. Your body and your mind will thank you for it. Think of the long game. And yourself. And leave the damn sandwiches alone.
6. Don’t let them mug you off.
Due to your inexperience, the chances are that there will be those who try to take advantage of you. I’m not just talking about the kids either. Just because you’re new doesn’t mean you have to let this happen. If you’re being unfairly overburdened (and you’re the best judge of whether that is happening, no matter what anyone else says) speak out. If the issues aren’t addressed, speak to your union. Many schools are still stuck in the mindset that you are lucky to be working for them. Given retention and recruitment this is patently utter tosh. They’re lucky to have you. Keep that in mind.
7. All teaching advice is highly subjective and context-specific.
Apart from the bag one. The bag one is a universal constant.
Thanks for reading
My in-school contact risks their career every time they hand over these docs. Subscribe to http://www.teachsecondary.com before their cover is blown. Which will be tomorrow morning if they don’t get me that tenner they owe me.
Prom Organisation Committee Meeting
Present: AR, RF, AF, GF
Meeting held in: the school hall, ostensibly to ‘get everyone in the mood’
Prevailing mood: cold, uncomfortable, reluctant
It was suggested by AR that instead of the usual recognition for academic, sporting and pastoral achievement, this year’s prom prizes should be awarded for ‘Most Inappropriate Dress’, ‘Strongest Deodorant’ and ‘Earliest Throwing Up’. RF countered that the first and second categories would have so many applicants as to make the judging nigh-on impossible, and the third would invariably be won by Devon, as he had already beaten all comers in that particular event on two field trips, not to mention the ill-fated County Basketball Semis.
It was decided that the more traditional awards categories were probably the way to go.
AF suggested that it might make planning easier if there was a theme so he’d know roughly what he was looking for when he went to the pound shop to stock up on decorations. This was agreed and a conversation ensued as to what theme would be the most conducive to having decorations available in the pound shop.
Gangsters and Molls (“But the classy gangsters, not the ones that need pulling their trousers up and mumble a lot” from AR). This was rejected on the grounds that the outgoing Y11 perhaps may need steering away from criminal activity rather encouragement to dive headlong into it, in full costume.
Rejected with reference to 11C’s infamous, if impressively profitable, Autumn term ‘casino’ project for Business Studies.
Back to the 90s
(“So we could call it a disco and forget about the limousines and the rest of that guff.”)
It was eventually decided that the theme should be: ‘Prom’. Again.
As per GF’s request that student voice be an important part of the event (“Oh God, does it have to be? They’re so loud already…”) the prom suggestion boxes that had been distributed across the school building were opened. A great many suggestions were of the extremely lewd variety, some with accompanying diagrams. However here are a few of the less filthy ones:
“Can we get Little Mix?”
In response, GF stated that although she didn’t exactly know what kind of party food little mix was, she was more than happy to work with the students to make sure their catering ideas were taken on board.
No-one had the heart to tell her.
There followed a number of similar suggestions that were variations on the same theme:
“Will there be booze?”
“Can we drink beer?”
“BEER BEER BEER!!!”
“Imma gonna get wrekt”
And so on and so forth.
AF said that there will be alcohol served in his office to the rest of the staff after the last one of darlings has been safely escorted off the premises and the gates have been locked. Quote: “I, for one, will certainly need to ‘get wrekt’ after all that.”
Transport was mentioned a number of times:
“I’m getting a limo for me an me besties!!!”
“Are horses allowed?
(“Allowed for what?” asked GF)
“If I cn get a helicopter, cn I land it on roof?”
RF at this point interjected with, “I know that handwriting, that lad can’t even park his scooter properly.”
It was decided that students would provide their own transport whether it be by limousine, helicopter or unicorn.
Different roles were assigned to members of staff. Under protestation it was made clear to AF that he would not be responsible for the music as the kids have actually worked quite hard and it would be nice if they could enjoy themselves and have a dance rather than stand there befuddled as another 13-minute prog-rock opus blares out of the speaker system.
Different roles were assigned, with AF meeting and greeting. This will involve him having to try and smile and be personable, which will add some much-needed comic relief for the rest of the staff on the evening. GF will be responsible for catering and will ensure that the students have plenty of little mix to eat, and everyone else will be on security.
Oh. Everyone’s gone already.
Meeting ended: promptly. NB – a grovelling apology to the caretaker will be required regarding unstacked chairs.