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.

IMAGE0013

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.

 

 

Advertisements

Goodbye Mr Chips: Does supply teaching create anything permanent?

My dad, although ostensibly, is retired, seems to keep working. He appears to be as busy as he was when he was employed but I guess the difference now is that he can pick and choose the work he wishes (his problem being that he finds it very difficult to ever say no to anyone who asks – probably also a reason that for three years in a row, he agreed to come to talk to the children in my classes). The other day, however, out of the blue he was called with a new position that he describes as ‘the cherry on top of his career’. For anonymity’s sake, I’m obviously not letting on any more details but it made me wonder what does a supply teacher look back on, when they eventually retire?

01520mr-20chips20from20catchphrase
Wait a minute…that’s the wrong Mr Chips.

Like many teachers, I went into education to make a difference, help the children, create an impact upon 100s of little lives etc, etc. When I was working as a full-time teacher I felt – for good or bad (but mostly good) – I was making that impact. Having been back as supply for almost a year I do wonder what I’d look back on after a lifetime of day to day supply.

There’s no regular classes or schools, the supply agencies certainly aren’t that bothered about you, you’ve not got any regular colleagues and, perhaps, most sad of all, you’re not making anything of lasting impact. The kids might remember you for a few days but after that, you’re gone.

 

Three Greatest Hollywood teachers
Any excuse to reuse this picture.

 

 

I’ve said before that it is not the supply teacher’s job to be Robin Williams in Dead Poets Society or Michelle Pfeiffer in Dangerous Minds. The best you can hope for is to be Vic Racine in My So Called Life – and he ends up getting sacked. And at the end of his episode? [Spoiler alert] You discover he is a family-deserting bastard.

giphy
Really, the ending should be him on the phone, apologising to his supply agency for messing up an otherwise good placement.

Having gone – with very noble intentions – into teaching as a career, it can be hard to reconcile what that means with the realities of how teaching is now just a day-to-day job. At the end of the last summer term? There were no thank you cards or grateful parents. The kids won’t have remembered me and the parent’s didn’t recognise me. When I look back at this part of a teaching life, what will I say I achieved?

 

The black dog of planning. Or how support isn’t always supportive.

It’s been interesting being offered supply work by my new agency.  They seem determined to offer me unsuitable, Y6 full-time positions (bearing in mind they know I can only work part-time and hate teaching Y6).  What’s has been interesting is my reaction to their offers of longer term work.  Instead of being with the same children every day, a regular commute or the prospect of being with the same colleagues all the time, what really makes me feel angsty about longer term placements is the prospect of planning.

Planning…be it Y2, PPA cover, nursery or whatever, the prospect of having to plan really makes me feel queasy and unsettled in the stomach.

Some think he was poisoned but what killed him may well have just been the prospect of planning next week’s guided reading.

This reaction has been a bit unexpected.  Planning is one element of teaching you can just get on with in your own time and in your own head space but at the moment that is the one aspect of teaching that I really don’t ever want to have to do again.

In my first school, we were just kind of free to plan how we wanted.  As long as the kids were going in the right direction and no-one died, SLT appeared content.  I took this approach to my next school, to find that the SLT did not appear content with it.  From the off, my planning was dissected and deemed unsatisfactory, which lead to weekly ‘support meetings’ where every aspect of the planning that I’d spent most of the weekend producing was analysed.

“Why did you think reading We’re Going on a Bear Hunt was a good idea?”

It was down to me to justify each choice I’d made with, seemingly, a retort or response about why each choice was not satisfactory and questions about why I was doing what I was doing or why I wasn’t taking a different approach.  It got to the point that each Monday afternoon my anxiety levels would be raising as I anticipated this ‘support’ and then spent the entire meeting trying to second guess what the SLT would like to hear, so as to not have the next aspect of my weekend’s work torn to pieces.

You will note that I don’t feel like this was a particularly supportive experience.  It certainly didn’t help me improve my practise or make me feel supported.

I’m definitely not saying that teachers who are seen to be struggling should not be supported but often, in schools, support comes in the guise of more and more observation and deconstruction of the exact thing that you have been told is a weakness and, consequently, now feel insecure about.  For some people – myself included – that additional focus and attention just makes the problem ten times worse as you expend so much physical and emotional energy trying to second guess the correct response to questions you don’t know you will be asked.  Time and energy that could be better spent actually thinking about how to produce a better quality lesson.

To be honest, I’m not sure what the answer is to ensure that teachers that need support are given it in a supportive way.  I’m not sure how one would support an area of concern without drawing additional attention to that area.  Thoughts?

This man never had problems with his planning.

Someone out there reads me!

I didn’t think I was going to write this blog to be bothered about likes and comments and views but it is nice to know someone occasionally looks at it and might form a passing opinion of it.  “The Best Outcome for Our Child is When You Leave on Friday” post has dwarfed all the other posts on here, though.  Which is a bit weird (I did mention it on Facebook but its gone well beyond just my ‘friends’).  How lovely.

A blog about a teacher leaving teaching?  I can't believe the ground-breaking opinion, research and comment on this site!'   What have I done!? by  Miguel Angel https://www.flickr.com/photos/migueleveryday/5914092322
“A blog about a teacher leaving teaching? I can’t believe the ground-breaking opinion, research and comment on this site!'”

What have I done!? by Miguel Angel
https://www.flickr.com/photos/migueleveryday/5914092322

Someone else, who liked another posting of mine writes The Trying Project, evidently someone else who has also decided to quit teaching.  And despite her being a Korean American, in America, pregnant and a woman, her experience seems somewhat similar to mine.  Have a read of 5 Reasons I’m Happy I Quit Teaching, and 1 Nagging Reason I’m not and it kind of covers everything I’ve been prattling on about.  All those people looking at my blog can savetime and just go and read that one post!

So…er…what next…?

It’s all very well triumphantly declaring the desire to leave teaching (another thing entirely to actually follow through and do it) but that is what I’ve done but I still have a mortgage to pay, and children to grow, so what will I do to ensure I’m still vaguely solvent?

Hmmm, did I think this through properly? Gorilla by Steven Straiton https://www.flickr.com/photos/st33vo/4728123739
Hmmm, did I think this through properly?
Gorilla by Steven Straiton
https://www.flickr.com/photos/st33vo/4728123739
I’ll be honest, I’m not so sure what I want to do when I grow up but what I will do are the following:

  1. Supply teaching. This is in the immediate.  I supply taught for a bit after I qualified and, while I didn’t particularly enjoy it then, it will do for the moment. Supply teaching (and the associated experiences) is a whole separate blog post. Or ten.
  2. Possibly get a ‘normal job’. This depends on how well point 1 goes.

So, as you can see, I don’t have anything hugely concrete but it should be fine supplying again. While it may not be ideal, I’m in a different place, both professionally and personally, from where I was three years ago.  So, if it suits me personally, that’s what I want at the moment.

“The best outcome for our child is when you leave on Friday.”

That is what one of the parents said to me on Tuesday. Seems harsh doesn’t it?

So, let me set the context to this rather forward statement…

I will put my hand up, from the off, and say I did something wrong. I made an unguarded comment to another parent about the child’s behaviour, and I used the phrase “Pot. Kettle. Black.”  That was my stupid mistake, (even though, in the context, it was actually completely applicable and my wife, who works in HR says it was justifiable). I will let you decide if the child’s parents’ response was measured or reasonable.

Pot calling the kettle black by Petras Gagilas https://www.flickr.com/photos/gagilas/6090739229
Pot calling the kettle black by Petras Gagilas
https://www.flickr.com/photos/gagilas/6090739229

The child in question is a pain to teach, let’s call him X.

His behaviour is disrespectful to the adults, rude to the other children and, in some cases, potentially harmful (deliberately hitting, tripping, pushing and in one case, poking another child in the eye with a pencil). If he is told off for the aforementioned behaviours, after denying he has done any of it, he will usually have a screaming tantrum about it, throw his weight around and lash out, often knocking into other children “by accident”. X may still be only 5, but unlike some of the ‘challenging’ children who I have taught in the past, who maybe have SEN or are still developing socially, X is very switched on, very bright and fully aware of his actions.

This picture has nothing to do with poor behaviour but it’s lightened the mood a bit.

Any teacher will tell you that having to deal with a child like this, day in, day out and their unrelenting low-level disruption is very, very wearying. Couple this with similar behaviour continually demonstrated by another child in my class (who, in her defence, currently has a horrible home life, which is the cause of her behaviour issues) and it all builds up to a very draining and trying situation.

The particular incident happened at the end of a day of appallingly bad behaviour by X. He continued to make poor choices during the sharing assembly where parent’ are invited in to watch (flailing around on the stage on his back, for example, instead of sitting properly).   At the end of the assembly a parent (not X’s) came to tell off the girl sitting next to X because she had been poking X and apparently X had been trying to get her to stop, for five minutes. I don’t believe for an instant that X is guiltless in this situation.  At that point, feeling tired, stressed and frayed, I made the offhand comment “Pot, kettle, black, that child.” Which I shouldn’t have said but I sill stand by.

After school, one of the SLT happened to come into the classroom and I let off steam about the child’s appalling behaviour to her, which was fortunate, as I believe doing so gave me some grace the following day…

This also has nothing to do with behaviour management, I'm just sticking in anything that makes me laugh, now. http://www.popcrunch.com/34-pictures-that-defy-explanation/?img=176061
This also has nothing to do with behaviour management, I’m just sticking in any weird stuff, now.
http://www.popcrunch.com/34-pictures-that-defy-explanation/?img=176061

The next morning, having put it out of my mind, the child’s mum storms in and tells me “I’ve reported you for that incident.” Not sure what she was talking about she says that it is the ‘Pot, kettle, black’ statement and

“Why do we never hear anything good about X? Why is his behaviour only like this at school?”

I apologised for using the phase and asked if we could have a longer talk after school, which she said she couldn’t do and ‘if I was going to say something like that, it goes straight to the Head.’

Cryface.

Through the day, I thought what the appropriate thing to do was, I spoke to SLT, who were aware of what X has been like (thankfully, in part, due to the previous night’s conversation), admitted my mistake, explained the context and said I would try to make amends with the parents that evening. School, thankfully, were cool with that.

So, at the end of the day (which also happened to be the day it was announced I was leaving), I spoke to X’s dad and apologised again to which he grunted “You’ve said sorry, that’s enough.” I replied that it wasn’t and that we needed to put things in place to work out the best outcomes for X. Then he said “The best outcome for X is when you leave on Friday.” The shutters then came down and he would not hear anything more.

Lalalalalala. Can’t hear you.

So, you may think I did something wrong (and I did) and side with the parent’s point of view. But let’s look at this objectively:

  1. The parents were not present for the incident, so heard about it through a third party.
  2. They did not come to speak to me about it first (which, even if they are justifiably pissed off, would be the appropriate course of action).
  3. They went direct to the SLT, so they should allow me the right to reply and explain but they did not have the good grace to do that.

Having spoken to colleagues who have known the family for several years about it, the consensus is that X’s parents are unpleasant people who have (to quote one of them) “ruined that child”.  There was an incident in F2 when X was having a tantrum that he shouted “My dad says I don’t have to do what the teachers tell me.” That sums it all up.  If the parents think the sun shines out of X’s arse and are not on board with the school, it is fighting an uphill and losing battle.

The head, at one of the first schools I helped at, told me that ‘the parents can be the biggest children of all.’  It turns out they can also be the biggest arseholes.

Addendum:

Interestingly, a few days later, X’s big sister dropped him off at school and X was an absolute nightmare before registration: not making good choices, rolling around on the floor, doing other children’s morning jobs. His sister will have witnessed me speak to X several times and him ignore me each time. That afternoon, his mum, for the first time EVER, was interested in where X had ended up on the behaviour chart.

I don’t know if it’s related. I guess I never will.