We are what we do

As well as eat, say and wear but mostly we are what we do.

And this is never more true than when you herd cats teach for a living.

Since becoming a teacher it is fair to say I have lost a few friends. Both figuratively and literally.

A number have fallen by the wayside through a mix of my complete unavailability on a week night and inability to talk about anything other than school.

I have also, it must be said, physically removed a fair few. More like 600 actually.

In life BT (Before Teaching), I worked in a very sociable industry and used ‘the’ Facebook for networking and exchanging information with friends and colleagues who were, to a large extent, the same people. Status updates were prefixed with ‘is’ and were, by nature, fairly self indulgent. If you were tagged with someone they automatically became your friend and it was a free for all on group membership; the sillier the name, the better.

I was eventually lucky enough to break free of said industry and travel to various corners of the world. Being on Facebook enabled me to keep in contact with my nearest and dearest as well as connect with new friends while informing old friends that life was much better now. It gradually became one huge 24 hour, multi time zone party that everyone was invited to and no one cared who was there first or who gatecrashed or even if they knew each other at all. It was one big conversation with me in the middle. At my ‘peak’ I had over 800 friends and was tagged in over 1,000 pictures. What did it matter that I never spoke to most of them directly? It was only Facebook.

It didn’t occur to me until I was well into my first term as an NQT that the people I’m connected to on Facebook matter and can effect how I’m seen as a professional. Not until I had friend requests from a few colleagues and then from my Head of Department did I consider this, looking back now I am slightly embarrassed about this.

The friend requests from colleagues made me feel a bit uneasy it has to be said but nothing close to how I felt when the first pupil tried to add me. Apart from the very obvious boundary crossing, if I had added them how long before the Random from Randomville (who seems to add all our mutual friends) had ‘poked’ her? I wouldn’t introduce my pupils to these people so why was I leaving them open to being connected to them, albeit tenuously?

Needless to say, I didn’t accept the pupil’s request but I felt I had to accept the colleagues (which is perhaps something to examine later in itself) and when I did I also removed many, many hundreds of people that I hadn’t spoken to directly for over two years. Why? Because they can still post on my wall and while I’m aware I can fiddle around with settings to prevent that, I’d simply rather just be connected to people I actually know and trust. I am now in a profession where I can be held accountable for the image I portray, or allowed to be portrayed, online and that is not to be taken lightly.

Teachers often speak of not living near school because they don’t want to bump into pupils on the weekend or that they make sure that they don’t go on holiday to places where they know families from school favour. So why then, if you do all that, would you then risk having your weekend or holiday becoming public property through not being careful on social networking?

As I close, the TES Twitter feed shows me that Headteachers might be ‘trawling the internet‘ for evidence of misconduct by teachers online. My instinct tells me that this might be a slight overreach on behalf of the article but I wouldn’t rule out searches prior to hiring or even promotion.

So yes, teaching has made me somewhat unpopular. I have just over 100 friends. I am not searchable/findable even if you know my email address. You cannot add me as a friend and if I’m tagged in a photo it becomes invisible to all but a select group of people.

Do I miss my old Facebook? About as much as I miss sitting at a desk all day pretending what I did was important.

We are what we do.

With that in mind, some friendly advice for NQTs/Teachers on Facebook:

1. Ensure your settings are at the highest level of privacy – this has to be done manually. For example, every photo album should be set to ‘Friends only’.

2. If your profile picture is visible make sure it is something that you wouldn’t mind pupils/colleagues seeing. Or take yourself off the search index.

3. Don’t post anything you wouldn’t want read on group walls. They are now searchable since Bing and Facebook joined forces.

4. Don’t add ex-pupils. They will still be friends with current pupils.

5. Make sure your status updates are also ‘Friends only’.

6. Be mindful that new Facebook means any of your friends can see the first line of what you have written on someone’s wall.

Teacher Sweats

Or, things teachers never talk about.

In my life BT (Before Teaching) I was a mild mannered human with almost no inclination towards swearing. Ok, so I enjoyed the odd curse word as part of a story or to relieve pain but on the whole, I was pretty much suitable for all the family. Mostly.

I also secreted what could easily be described as a perfectly normal amount of sweat in any given day. This all changed the day I took my first class. It was a Year 7 History lesson and I had no idea what I was doing. My lesson plan turned to early onset paper-mache in my hands as I attempted to do something other than ‘wait for silence’.

The internal struggle for ‘fight or flight’ in the face of the perceived enemy was winning the battle against the weaker, and infinitely newer, instinct of wanting to appear as though everything was going according to plan.

My glands appeared to believe I had been transported to a sauna and went to great lengths to demonstrate their proficiency in a ridiculously short period of time.

Within the first 15 minutes of the lesson, I was no longer able to raise my arms (the preferred method of getting children to stop and listen) and had to resort to ‘the dinosaur’ stance while continuing to wait for silence.  I broke the school record for this on that same day: 35 minutes.

Here’s the thing though. No one ever talks about it. The Teacher Sweats. Google it, I’m the only one and yet it is an almost universally acknowledged physical manifestation of teaching. Namely, excessive perspiration in response to excessive stress.

My ordeal on that day was brought to a close in the usual fashion for a trainee teacher. Bell goes, children leave without waiting to be dismissed and the supervising class teacher directs you to the safety of the staff room.

You remember the advert right? ‘Use your head, teach’.

Shame the small print didn’t mention the role of my armpits in that scenario or I would have bought shares in antiperspirant.

The Seven Ps

Proper Prior Planning Prevents Piss Poor Performance.


A frequently used adage in the ranks of, well, the ranks (you know, the ones that wear uniforms and charge ahead with no fear in the knowledge that *someone* has a plan). It came to mind as I rallied against my original/better instincts with several reluctant classes today.

I first heard it went I began my own uniformed service in life BT (Before Teaching). It was shouted at me from within an inch of my face by a short Scottish woman who rrrrrolled her r’s (impressive at any pitch) and was convinced of my utter inability to do anything but vex her. Her rrrrepeated attempts to impart the value of planning fell on (understandably) deaf ears. However, I had yet to venture into the front line of teaching and so yet to learn the true idiocy of being unprepared.

Back then, I interpreted the 7 Ps to mean that if the powers that be planned properly, I would be saved from a ‘piss poor performance’ (and, one presumes, death in some cases). These days, I am the powers that be and it has to be said, that poor mad shouting Scottish Sergeant was right. Generally speaking, the only thing that prevents me from crying at the end of every day is good planning.

Today is a case in point. Five lessons, five plans, 150 students, hundreds of activities, one frazzled TA and several partridges in a detention by lunch time. Why? Because I got disappointed and cross that they didn’t appreciate my planning. Never mind that I spent more time explaining how to do the activities than why they were doing them. Never mind that by the end of third period even my most loyal year 7s were at a loss as to what I expected of them.

And all because the teacher loves a shiny new resource…

It appears that I still like planning like I am a student with a significantly reduced timetable and infinite laminating time. I tend to find a resource, go ‘ooh, that’ll be fun’ and then spend hours trying to create a lesson that fits around it. It’s utter madness. The perfectionist in me won’t entertain the idea of using departmental plans and yet I know that if I don’t, I will lose my painstakingly regained will to live teach very soon.

With this in mind, I have rewritten the 7 Ps for teaching:

Properly Prioritising Planning Prevents Premature Passing

This and the following image will be laminated above my desk by this time tomorrow.

Those that can…teach.

Apparently.

I think this is most certainly how it starts out. With a bag of tricks (issued by the training provider) that includes best classroom practice, best intentions and (advice to) best forget your other life. By the time you finish your training, you will literally stink of a unrepentant desire to change the world.

Then gradually (over the first half term as a trainee) it becomes ‘those that still want to’. After a year of placements and university coursework that literally amount to nothing, this earlier desire to change can soon become a simple wish to survive.

By the time the first term of the NQT year is over it’s become a case of  ‘those that still have the energy’, culminating a few years later in ‘those that really should give up’.

Teaching you see, it’s a life style choice.

Sometimes that choice is about having no life at all just so you can be good ok at it.

No really. That is honestly how it works. You have to give up your life to make it work. Or at least that’s what countless NQTs up and down the country tonight will be telling themselves (and what remains of their nearest and dearest). That it will be all worth it in the end. That after they pass, things will be calmer, less stressful and – the biggest lie of all – that less will be expected of them.

This blog is about my journey through the NQT maze. The trials and tribulations of a non-core subject teacher in a typical ‘secondary modern’ in the UK.

Will I come out the other end as someone who ‘can’ or will I join the many thousands of NQTs that simply leave the profession for good and chalk it up to ‘something interesting’ to talk about in the next round of interviews?

I honestly don’t know. I’ve been alive long enough to have done a few other things since signing up to be a teacher and I can say that while it is the hardest thing I’ve ever done, it is also the funniest and most rewarding. It just takes up too much time. Last time I checked, we only get one turn on the planet and I have to ask myself, do I really want to spend mine being (mostly) tired and grumpy? Do I want my job to take up 90% of my life? Did I really go to university twice to feel this way?

Tonight is my last night off for seven weeks. I don’t mean in the typical sense of Monday to Friday, I mean it’s the last night where my thoughts and fears are not almost 100% based on what tomorrow will bring.

Over these next seven weeks I am hoping to document a few of those thoughts and fears as well as giving some practical on-the-job advice for any current trainees who will be in this position next year.

I may even find the time for social commentary. Don’t hold your breath though.

As the clock edges ever closer to midnight, I am resolved to enter this term with the ability to manage my work load, teach past behaviour and find time to see my friends.

Until then, it’s Big Fat Quiz of the Year time and the last of the Christmas wine.