Deciding

Image

I discovered recently that deciding to leave teaching, is one of the best things you can do improve your teaching. Now, while I love a good paradox, you shouldn’t read on if you expect me to dissect the irony of this discovery in any huge detail. I’ve always known that ignoring the pressures that come with the job will in turn improve enjoyment of/performance in said job. Particularly when performance is managed by observations and the like. So, yes, that much I will take as read; that we’re all on the same page regarding the elephant in the room.

Did you just visualise an elephant reading a book in the corner of a classroom? Excellent. Now we really ARE on the same page.

So, instead of taking you on the journey of my discovery, I’d like to try to make the case for joining me. I’d, ideally, like to convince you all to decide to leave.

You don’t have to look far to discover that we’re not a happy lot at the moment and between the proposed changes to the National Curriculum and the day to day emphasis on performance, it’s easy to see why. As the Blackeyed Peas might say, ‘Where is the Love?’, (to which I might reply with any number of Motown hits but I digress and the fact remains) teaching isn’t as fun as it used to be for some of us and it’s about time we did something about it.

For me, it was the simple act of deciding to leave. I know I’m coming dangerously close to dissecting here but for the sake of signposting, I’ll say it: once I realised that the emails, the expectations and the disappointments were soon to be something that my future self could look back on, I stopped worrying about them. I just let them go.

It wasn’t immediate. The relief was but it alone didn’t immediately create the fix that led to me imploring anyone who would listen to do the same. No, the change took time and, to be honest, I’m still in the middle of making sense of it but if there is one thing I am absolutely sure of it is this: planning as though these were my last lessons with each class gave me a new lease of creativity that I hadn’t felt since I was a trainee.

And that was how I decided to stay.

You see, deciding that I didn’t care about emails I shouldn’t get, expectations I couldn’t meet and disappointments I couldn’t manage didn’t change me as a person but it did change how I felt about my job. I walked into my first lesson after deciding to leave and really enjoyed the time spent with the class. I had planned it as though I wouldn’t get to see them again, that we wouldn’t have the time to do it all so I just picked one thing I really wanted to be sure they did and did it. It was amazing, so I tried it again. I planned every lesson as though it was the last and each time.

That was a term ago and I’m still doing it. Once a week I plan a lesson as though it will be my last, every day I take some time to talk to a student as though I won’t see them again. Remind them what they are good at and why they are special, encourage them to try new things and tell them to take care and be safe when they leave. Every day I try to make life a little easier for a colleague who might well decide that this is their last term.

When you decide to leave, it changes everything. If you make the right choices once you decide, it can help you discover why you decided to ‘do something different’ in the first place.

Have I convinced you?

In the interest of preserving the profession for future generations, I have put together this short guide to ‘Deciding to Leave’.

1) Make a Pros & Cons list – if Cons outweigh Pros by more than 2:1 you must decide to leave.

2) Consider your next career. Education doesn’t just happen in schools.

3) Take tours of schools that are offering posts.

4) Write your letter of resignation.

5) Plan a lesson as though it will be the last.

6) Do Number 5 for a week.

7) Do Number 1 again. If Pros now outweigh Cons, stay.

8) If Cons feature anything about management, pressure, exams, tracking etc… consider teaching as though they don’t exist and stay. You won’t get promoted but your students and you will be happier for it.

9) Do Number 3 once a term. You’d be surprised how just going somewhere else for a day can help you decide to stay or leave.

10) Whatever you decide to do, do something. Nothing will change unless you do.

As I approach the final term of my current post and prepare for the next step; teaching overseas, I’m convinced that I will experience the opposite of this one day down the line but for now, I’m treating each day as though it will be my last.

 

4 Comments

Filed under Teach

Guardian post: “Those that… want something else?”

The following blog was featured on the Guardian Teacher Network on 31st August 2012.

Comments are closed over on the GTN but you can still comment below.

gtn

Something is different. Something is not the same.

In my first year of teaching you couldn’t get me out of Paperchase and WH Smith during the penultimate holiday week. I had a notebook for everything, a personal AND a school planner as well as every type of writing implement they offered. I even made my own planner with inspirational quotes when I couldn’t find a school one that I liked.

By the end of my NQT year I discovered, to the relief of my bank manager, that stationery made little or no impact on my ability to plan or be organised. So, being an adaptable soul, I turned my attention to shopping for dressing the part in the final week. I was my own Trinny/Gok and spent hours putting together the ultimate in ‘take me seriously but see that I’m a human really’ outfits. My favourite was my ‘Friday dress’ which allowed me to go straight from school to any social engagement that I might have the energy for.

The third year was different from the start. I already knew from September that I wanted to move schools but it took until the Easter break to find the right one. It also was to be my first promotion but, as it coincided with a house move, I was unable to shop for organisational or sartorial defenses.

I was on my own. I hit the ground running. I planned, implemented and reflected from dawn to dusk but still felt massively ineffective and, for the most part, like I was missing the point.

An idea took root; “maybe this isn’t the job for me?”

By the summer break, I was ready to fold but instead I elected to work for a week and then not think about school again until the last week of the holiday, that way I would catch up on what I needed to do, get ahead but be well rested. Perfect right?

Of course that isn’t what happened. I am yet to even log in to my school email. Instead, I’ve been evaluating why I feel the way I do and trying to plan for what I want to do about it.

Needless to say, I have not set foot in Paperchase nor a single high street clothing chain.

So what happened? Why has it taken three short years to turn me from someone who genuinely loved this job to someone who is ready to throw the towel in?

Was it the move? Partially. I would advise anyone considering a move at Easter, not to do what I did. Wait. Be new in September with all the support that goes with it. That said, you have to fly the NQT nest at some point and I couldn’t have asked for a better move.

Was it the promotion? While I’ll always miss the freedom that goes with being no where near where the buck stops, I was ready. If anything, the promotion gave me more time to do the part of the job I love the most; teaching.

What is it then?

I think I just want something else.

Something that doesn’t take up every moment of every hour of every day.

Something that doesn’t make me feel like my best isn’t good enough.

Something that works for everyone involved.

And maybe that just isn’t teaching?

Or maybe this is just an extreme case of the post-holiday blues?

I do know one thing for sure though, this job isn’t going to get any easier – for anyone.

We have a Minister for Education who doesn’t understand the way hereditary policies work, a work force that is under pressure and scared and a population who don’t really know why it’s not working but have their fingers pointed at teachers all the same.

Maybe some of us have had enough of all that.

3 Comments

Filed under Teach

Time to face up to workplace bullying in schools – Guardian Teach Blog

The following article was published on the Guardian Teach Network blog.

It was 3.45 on a Friday afternoon. The tears came almost as soon as the bell sounded and quickly became those choking sobs that prevent words from coming out, let alone making sense.

She sat at one of the desks where the PSHE lesson on bullying had just taken place and allowed the emotions to take over. It was clear that she had been holding them in for some time and the lesson content had triggered a reaction.

Sarah was being bullied and had been for some time.

When the right moment came, the teacher spoke in gentle but firm tones “Sarah, no one should have to go through this – let’s you and I go speak to the head now”.

Sarah blinked for a moment. Considered the offer and then declined. The risk was too great. Her tormentor was very popular in the school and the head would never believe her. It was too risky. No, she would say nothing and just make the best of it.

If Sarah had been one of the children taught in the lesson that afternoon, the teacher who suggested going to the head would have had a duty of care to report the incident that caused the tears. Instead, her colleague and friend was forced to contribute to the growing wall of silence that falls when a teacher admits they are being bullied.

Sarah declined all offers of taking the problem further and when she left the school to teach elsewhere, she never mentioned it again. Even now that it’s all behind her, she is reluctant to give any details other than “a difference of opinion” between her and her then head of department.

Then there’s Alison. Alison was an NQT in the same department. Disorganised and constantly battling the stress of this new demanding job, Alison looked to her mentor for support when things got difficult, which was often and mostly accompanied by tears. When pressed for why she was finding things so difficult, Alison cited the management style of her head of department. “She constantly emails me – six or seven times a day and many more at weekends and I feel I can’t not reply but I can’t do what she’s asking me”.

Finally, there’s John. A long serving teacher in that same department. It goes without saying that he’d seen many changes over the years but increasingly the one that got him the most concerned was what seemed to be accepted as “management style” by the senior leadership team was old fashioned “bullying” to him. He’s been on the receiving end of a few conversations that have left him worrying about his future at the school and he keeps finding out changes to school policy by accident, in one incident it was a child who told him. That child happened to have a parent as a member of the PTA. It was the closest John had come to being “in the loop” for some time.

To the sceptics, the incidents described here are real and they are part of an increasingly “normal” picture of working in a modern school.

But why? How come we’re willing to strike on pensions and working conditions years into the future but won’t say anything about our treatment in the here and now?

Let’s look at Carol. She’s the head of department responsible for all those tears described above. It’s not important to know anything else about Carol other than the following: she was thrust into middle management in her NQT year due to unexpected changes in staffing. She has no industry experience and she almost failed her NQT year. One more tidbit; Carol wasn’t very well liked. She was just one of those people who didn’t quite understand that it’s not always what you say but how you say it. “You have to get to know her” was the frequent accompaniment to any grumblings. Often coming from those she gave the hardest of times to.

To say that Carol was unprepared for the pressures of managing a department is an understatement. When she found herself floundering, she reached for the only management model she knew: the mentor/mentee relationship she experienced as an NQT and the actions of her predecessor. To underline that these were both negative models may be labouring the point here but I feel I must play fair. When she became the subject of her first complaint, she asked to go on a course for new managers but was declined due to funding. The message was clear: this isn’t a priority.

One final case study from the same school. Enter Tim. A 35 year old NQT who replaces Sarah in the department described above. He has previous experience in industry and manages an amateur football team in his, now decreasing, spare time. His first experience of Carol is a curt introduction at morning briefing and a promise to look in at some point during the day. It’s not until two weeks later when they experience their first “clash of opinion”. Carol arrived at Tim’s classroom to find a number of students had been sent outside. She opened the door and called out to Tim to ask what the problem was. Tim was in the middle of explaining an activity to the class and motioned to Carol that he would be with her in one minute. It appeared to Carol as though he had not heard her so she repeated her request. The class exploded in a mix of joy and uproar depending on what they thought of Carol. Tim would later point out how that had undermined him. Carol was mortified. Tim was the first person to directly challenge her management style and although she maintained that she hadn’t done anything that bad, she could see how it could have been interpreted. She thought back to the many complaints since she had first taken up the post and wondered if the same misunderstanding had occurred.

Tim’s entry to the school marked a turning point for Carol and the department. He brought an industry standard understanding of management that had been sadly lacking and, most importantly, shared it with Carol who was keen to improve.

These case studies are real. The names have been changed along with some of the finer points but the results remain the same. The comments the Guardian Teacher Network’s teacher survey shows that most teachers are willing to move schools rather than tackle the issue head on. In some cases they leave the profession all together.

Carol was a poor manager prior to working with Tim. During the most pressurised times of the year, she made working in her department unbearable but it’s important to remember that she was unprepared for the role and didn’t receive much in the way of feedback or support from her department or senior management. It soon became commonplace to simply shrug and say ‘that’s Carol for you’ rather than try to address the issue.

The clear picture from the various surveys available seems to be two fold. Firstly, the main issue appears to be no standard way to approach the issue within the profession without getting the unions involved and secondly, that the issue itself is often a direct result from the pressures involved in managing within the school setting. From middle to senior leaders.

The solution is not for me to suggest. I am just one of many “who can”. I can say though, that in the three years I’ve been teaching so far, I’ve experienced bullying at almost every point. From mentors to management and in each case I have opted to do nothing. I can only hope as I move into management myself, I will find ways to deal with the pressures and the people with equality and respect.

5 Comments

Filed under Teach

Gossip girls

While traveling home on the train this evening, I sat back to consider the day ahead tomorrow. I’d had a lovely Sunday day out and Monday loomed ahead.

My mind begun to order the tasks that needed ticking ‘done’  before any kind of sleep would be possible and just as I was reaching something close to a plan, four school aged girls entered the carriage.

‘No one passed that test, I mean no one, it has to be the teacher right?’

‘I heard she was engaged’

‘I saw she was engaged. On Twitter’

‘Well I heard that she was with Mr…’

‘Who would go there? She looks the same every single day’

‘The boys all fancy her’

‘Well I hate her’

I have not bothered to make up my own quotes. I have not bothered to disguise these girls obvious contempt for their teacher. I have  omitted the name of the teacher, her subject and the school she works at. All of which they disclosed, at volume on public transport. I do this not for the girls but for my beleaguered colleague who, did not deserve the very public reputation bashing she received this evening. A local train, a local school and local girls. Everyone on our carriage heard the same conversation.

Imagine if you will, the reverse. A Sunday night, four teachers travel home from a day out and discuss their common interest. School. Or, more particularly, their pupils.

They talk in low voices, they not disclose names and they do not utter anything that, if overheard, would damage their own reputations or that of the school.

‘I feel so bad that she doesn’t understand’

‘I don’t think they realise just how much work goes into it’

‘It feels like I’m hitting my head against a brick wall’

You may well reflect that this is how it should be. That professionals should exercise caution and control. Although we must also be honest and say that just as not all pupils on public transport are being so indiscreet, nor are all teachers modeling best practice themselves.

In an age where I could have sat with my Smartphone and Tweeted the details I overheard, we must be now be more diligent with encouraging our young people to understand that reputations are everything and can be damaged beyond repair by idle gossip.

Equally, the colleagues who enjoy a chat over a drink and a journey home must also be aware that the potential to open ourselves up to critisism is greater than ever.

There will come a time when to talk in public, even in hushed tones, is as great a risk to our careers as Tweeting.

Leave a comment

Filed under Teach

Educating Essex… and beyond

The world of education (probably) braced itself tonight for the debut of Educating Essex, a documentary that promised to reveal the truth about what happens in our schools. Featuring a secondary school in Essex, the documentary was produced using 56 cameras mounted at various points around the school. An exciting prospect for this teacher who can’t go two steps at a social function without being asked what is going to be done about our uncontrollable children.

For many viewers tonight, the events in the one hour episode will have been a source of concern, surprise and even humour. The demographic that would have experienced those reactions will be, most likely, parents and other members of the public that do not regularly frequent schools.

A smaller proportion of viewers tonight will have experienced pride and hope in almost equal measures. Those viewers will almost exclusively have been teachers.

If Twitter is any kind of barometer then it seems that the gamble by the team at Passmores has paid off. For now.

The general consensus of the #EducatingEssex twitter feed seems to be that Mr Drew, pictured below, is ‘a legend’. It seems many are seeing for the first time just what type of challenges teachers have to face every single day. There may even be some grudging respect within those early 140 characters. For now.

The television viewing public are going to bed tonight with a clearer picture of what their children contend with, or indeed perpetrate, on a daily basis and that can only be a good thing.

What I do think is more important to keep in mind is this: while those pupils were out of lessons creating what they no doubt thought was ‘reem’ footage for the show; hundreds of children were in their classrooms doing what they came to school for.

It’s very early days with the show. I can’t help but like it and be grateful for the light shone on what I do but I also can’t help but watch with bated breath. What direction will it take us, what will it bring to the debate around teaching and learning and, maybe most importantly for the children at Passmores, what will Mr Drew do when he inevitably becomes a celebrity?

Educating Essex is on Channel 4 on Thursday’s from 9pm.

1 Comment

Filed under Teach

The Temper Trap

During my PGCE year, my university often ran workshops during the study weeks that would supplement our classroom experiences while enhancing our ability to reach the Core Standards. One such workshop was about, or rather it was entitled, ‘Behaviour Management’. A frightfully misleading term used in professional practice to encompass everything from dealing with low level disruption to what to do in the event of a chair being thrown at you. It infers that you, the teacher, can ‘manage’ the behaviour of others. There is no other profession in the world that encourages this. Just look at any other work place that deals with people for comparison. Posters like the one below adorn the walls of hospitals, train stations and shops up and down the country. Their message is clear. It is the responsibility of those accessing the service provided to control their own behaviour.

By contrast, in teaching, we take the complete opposite approach. In the absence of such a policy we have adopted a culture of tolerance and understanding (try to remember that the people we deal with are children). We attempt to manage the behaviour around us and are encouraged to believe that we can. There is little discussion of the role of our own behaviour.

In life BT, I had little call to consider the behaviour of others or my reaction to it. The only time I ever raised my voice was to attract attention in a crowd or when the background noise required it. I don’t enjoy the process of shouting and I don’t like how I feel afterwards. I thought of it as being a loss of control and, if I’m honest, judged others when they did. It is only since becoming a teacher however that I really understand for the first time that while it is a loss of control, it is also a release of emotions. I have written before about emotional responses to teaching and again find myself asking how healthy it all really is.

I had my first experience of properly raising my voice last term when I reacted to a pupil’s constant interruptions by shouting. It had been a long day, my lesson wasn’t going as well as I’d have liked and this particular pupil often interrupts me and others. We had reached the third (or even fourth time) and I had had enough. It wasn’t just that I raised my voice, it was also that I sounded angry. It was completely out of character for me as a person and a teacher (I frequently separate the two) and my class reacted accordingly: with complete silence and shock. I sent the child outside and asked the TA to supervise the next activity. Once outside I did the only thing I could; I apologised. We had a restorative conversation about how we could avoid the same thing happening again and went back inside. The lesson moved on and while the pupil showed no sign of bearing a grudge, I couldn’t shake the feeling that, somehow, I had crossed a line. That I had fallen into the temper trap.

Not one of my behaviour management workshops addressed this. That at times I might have to manage my own reactions. All the strategies we discussed and role played were focused on the other individuals in the equation, the children. It was assumed that we, the adults, would be in perfect control of our own reactions at all times.

I have, of course, come to realise that everyone in the classroom is only human and with this humanity comes inevitable failings. For the children this will mean not being able to control their outbursts despite repeated warnings that they must. For the teacher this will mean losing patience when workshop guaranteed ‘behaviour management’ techniques fail them. The key for both is to have a way back. To be able to have that restorative conversation.

So how can we avoid the temper trap?

Here are some techniques I use in my classroom. They may or may not have been suggested at workshops.

1. Wait for silence. This is still the best advice I was ever given and I stick to it rigidly – I never talk when they are.

2. Have the starter on the table when they come in – there is a reason why this is recommended. When I haven’t planned this part of my lesson properly I really see it in their behaviour. 

3. Reward those doing the right thing. It helps create a positive vibe.

4. Give everyone a break. If it’s not going well, throw it out and do something else. 

Leave a comment

Filed under Teach

Clothes maketh the teacher?

Last week my school, like many hundreds in the country, suffered through yet another round of parents evenings. My form, true to – er – form, were exceptionally forthcoming in their opinions of what I had chosen to wear for the occasion. Their ruling: I looked like I was going for a job interview and, slightly uncomfortable to (kitten-heel) boot. One girl informed me that if she didn’t know better she’d think I “had a right stick up my…” Indeed.

Truth is, there is no hard and fast rule regarding dressing for parents evening. My school certainly doesn’t impose a dress code outside of the usual ‘smart casual’ and yet, we all turned up last week wearing clothes that our classes did not recognise as being our usual clobber. Reading between the lines, I would say this is because we know that our day-to-day choice of clothing doesn’t impress.

I am the first to admit that I put little thought into my school attire. So long as I can reach up, bend down and lean without revealing skin nor choice of underwear I am happy. I often look as though I have dressed in the dark and, in the winter months, this is actually the case.

Today, I attempted to remedy this and shop for a teacher wardrobe that is both parent and pupil proof. Given that I’m exactly half way into my NQT year and spent a year on a PGCE, you will be forgiven for judging me as slightly late to the party however, if you knew me at all you would actually see this as progress. Confession time: I am one of those females that hates shopping and I will do almost anything to get out of it. Including looking as though I rolled over in a pile of clothes covered in velcro and wore whatever stuck first.

The fruits of my labours today will remain under wraps but I can tell you this: not a single item of chord nor leather patched outerwear made it to the cash register (despite me trying them on for fun). I am also linen and comfortable shoe free.

My wardrobe update is not unlike this:

Do clothes maketh the teacher? A little bit, yes. In as much as I’m trying to educate the minds of my classroom that ‘we are what we do, not what we look like’, it’s not always the case. For the professional charged with the safe custody of those minds, we have to accept that our first, second and lasting impression count just as much as our words and actions. We all remember the sweaty teacher with the coffee breath. We all remember the unkempt teacher with the clothes from a by-gone era. So will they.

4 Comments

Filed under Teach