How observation broke me.

A few weeks ago on Facebook, this came up in my ‘On This Day’ feed:

Lesson I thought was good = RI. Lesson I thought was RI = good.

I knew it was around the anniversary of this particular incident and I’m surprised that I’ve not written about it before. There are a few episodes that I consider to have broken me as a teacher and this was one of them, one of the final nails in the coffin.

 

But first, some context…

This was in the days of graded observations, which apparently are no longer a thing. I can’t remember the exact reasons why but following a couple of wobbly observations, the school offered some support / observation opportunities from a partner school, with the view of us learning from their good & outstanding practise. Fair enough (although at this point my confidence was already pretty low). So, a teacher came in and produced a very good, well structured lesson for my class. Afterwards, we discussed it, how her techniques could be implemented and we planned a sequence of lessons for the following week, during which I would be observed by my SLT and a teacher from the partner school.

The class were writing non-fiction reports about nocturnal animals and during the week, the class had researched different animals and written bullet point plans. In the observation lesson the kids were using their plans to produce their own non-fiction reports. Wishing to show willing and improve my teaching practise, I expended a lot of energy and effort implementing the other teacher’s advice and techniques (since this was held up as the model of good/outstanding teaching) and the class did me proud. Kids who, before this week, had never seen a bullet point, used them to plan and then write a decent non-fiction report.

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I knew it wasn’t going to be ‘outstanding’ but I was fairly certain – and the TA agreed – that it was good. I was feeling confident at the end of the day when I went for my feedback only to be told that the lesson ‘required improvement’. Maybe I was too crestfallen and defeated to argue my case but what got me the most was the feedback that

We didn’t understand what was happening in that lesson…and we didn’t expect the children to produce the work they did from what we saw.

Just re-read that: “…we didn’t expect the children to produce the work they did from what we saw.”   Excuse me, but who cares what you expected?  The kids did produce the work from what they saw, they clearly understood what was happening in the lesson and they were 5 & 6 years old. Why should your expectations, rather than their outcomes, be the grounds on which you pass career-defining judgement upon me?

 

So what happened next?

I know I can be over-sensitive but I think that was the point I really gave up and thought, despite all my best efforts, advice, feedback or seemingly evidence of good learning, I clearly do not have it in me to be even a satisfactory teacher. A few weeks after that I handed in my resignation. I plodded through the motions for the next half term, until I was due my final observation, during my final week at school. Maybe my heart wasn’t in it, maybe I was feeling additionally nervous and stressed but by my own admission, I produced a slightly shit one. My nerves were evident, I forgot key bits, it was a shaky lesson and the kids work was a bit crap. The example below is by the same child at the work above. As you can see, she really hasn’t tried and it’s far from her best.

 

IMG_3276The observation grading? Well, you can probably guess: ‘good’.

Maybe the school were trying to let me leave on a positive, maybe they wanted to show that their CPD had demonstrably improved a wobbly teacher. I don’t know. All I do know is that it made me believe that I have not got a clue how to plan and deliver a decent lesson. If engaged children producing good work that actively shows progress is less effective than a lesson where children produce half-hearted pieces of work while the nervous teacher can’t get his words out properly (but does put on a wizard’s hat), then I admit defeat. You broke me.

wizard hat
The secret of outstanding teaching.

My colleagues told me I shouldn’t let it get to me, that I’m a good teacher and I should find another school but the passion, withering though it was, really died that day.

 

 

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Under Nicky Morgan’s Skin

You may have missed it but Twitter caught alight yesterday when Nicky Morgan released a slightly weird video of her talking to her own subconscious about how unions are to blame for the DfE’s disorganised approach to assessment, or something.

Comment was made of the fact that she is standing in a totally black void, wearing black. Some people wondered where it was (there was speculation that it was the Death Star or that it she had been taken hostage). I think you’ll find that this is what was going on in her head (and Under Her Skin)…

Under Her Skin - edit

It’s been a while since I had a coincidence…

used to get them all the time (have a look at posts from about a year ago), where I’d bump into old pupils or former teachers and parents from my old schools but I’d not had one for a while…until today!

During phonics, one of my old pupils was in my group!

Paul Daniels
Maybe Paul Daniels was just missing the attention.

 

She was a bit of a troubled child with a not particularly nice home life but she did seem happy and her dad (who I thought always looked a bit like a smack-head) apparently it being really good and helping her a lot.  When I taught her there were gaps in her knowledge and while she did do some good sounding out, her reading wasn’t great but from our 20 minutes together today, she really impressed me.

She went back to her class excited that she’d seen me.  Sometimes the co-incidences are nice.

‘The number of snacks per pupil has never been better.’

SETTING: A staffroom (at a school, for the sake of ‘satire,’ we’ll call ‘Morgan Primary’).  After school, following an important twilight INSET about colour-coded marking.

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Something like this, essentially.

 

HEADTEACHER: Has anyone got any other business?

MR TEACHER: Its come to our attention that at breaktime, in some classes, there are not enough snacks.

HEAD: The number of snacks per pupil has never been better.

MISS Y1: Mr Blackpool’s class has only got four oranges for his class of 30.

HEAD: The number of snacks per pupil has never been better.

MR Y2: Mrs London’s class has got 45 apples for her class of 24.

HEAD: As I have stated previously, the number of snacks per pupil has never been better.

MR SUFFOLK: We’ve got boiled eggs, not fruit.

HEAD: The number of snacks per pupil has never been better.  The school has a real choice about which snacks are available, whether it is a traditional apple, carrot, orange or a newer approach, such as a boiled egg.  Let us not focus on actual snack distribution but on the quality of those snacks available.  The real problem here is that you teachers are talking down the number of snacks per pupil in the school.

Maybe I should be a teacher

A strange thing happened when I was supplying on Thursday. The class were nice, the children tried hard and they behaved well. Ushering them to get ready for lunch I had the feeling ‘I’m meant to be a teacher.’ I’ve not felt that for a long time and it caught me by surprise.

confused-cat-huh-e1438626439258

 

I know that I don’t want to be a full time teacher but I also don’t have a clue what else I would do. Maybe this is my body telling me that I’m doing the right thing for me and my family right now.

I have a tendency to be cynical and wallow in the negative, so today I will celebrate and enjoy this positive and perfect note on which to begin the half term break.

Why take on a teaching trainee?

I read this article about gender neutral nursery schools in Sweeden and good ‘gender practise’ and it reminded me of something from my PGCE. During my first ‘proper’ school placement I was at a nursery (not my ideal setting, I was hoping for Y2) and while discussing tidy-up time, my ‘mentor’ (I use the term in a loose sense of the word) recommended saying something along the lines of ‘I need some big strong boys to help move these blocks,’ which seemed a bit sexist but she was the mentor and I was to learn from her. A day or two later, at tidy-up time, I said to a few kids “I need some strong boys to help tidy up,” to which her immediate response was “Sexist! Big, strong children.”

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You actually listened to my advice and then implemented it?  Are you mad?

I was too dumbfounded to know how to respond.

I could write quite a few general moans about ineffectual teaching mentors but here are a few examples of her expert mentoring:

  • She once spent an entire planning session with her back to me.
  • My suggestions for the following day’s activities were often over-ruled, for no particular reason.
  • The first time she ever looked at my planning (during the final week of the eight week placement) her feedback was “You’ve not put your name on it.”
  • My plan for a sequence of three storytelling sessions (on which a large piece of coursework was based) was overruled after two sessions because the kids I’d done it with “wouldn’t be able to do it,” despite the fact they’d done it the previous two days.
david-beckham_1654205c
“I’m afraid, Mr Beckham, we can’t award you the World Cup as you haven’t put your name on the application.”

So, to pretend that this post isn’t just 100% rant (which it is really), it does make me think and wonder why teachers accept taking on teaching students. I guess there must be pressure from above to do so – and it must be a nightmare when you perceive the trainee to be ineffectual – but EVERY teacher should remember the pressures of training, what it is like and you would hope that they would been vaguely supportive. That mentor really made me hate the placement. The only thing that really got me through it was having a PGCE chum on placement at the same nursery.

I regret never having got to the point where I had a student as I really would have tried to support them. There were occasions where a trainee TA or work experience person came into my class and I always tried to help them because it is not easy and you need support!

I do rather wish that I’d had a friend in situ for the next PGCE placement though, things might have turned out very differently…but that’s another story.