Spinning plates and broken china

Reading a blog the other day, one of the comments linked to Terry Haydyn’s The working atmosphere in the classroom: a 10 point scale.

working-atmosphere-10-point-scaleIt makes an interesting read and worth a detailed look.  I hope he doesn’t mind that I’ve reproduced it here.

Every teacher has experienced most of the levels on the scale at some time in their careers (disclosure: by the time I resigned, my low ebb was leading me to sit at level 5).  What I thought interesting was applying it to day-to-day supply.  One day, you can find yourself at mired in level 3, then the following day enjoying a lovely level 8.

The other week, I had almost this exact experience.  Wednesday saw me teaching a slightly challenging Y3 class.  It started well, the majority of kids knuckled down to their starter tasks but as the day progressed the behaviour slowly disintegrated.  After lunch, it came to a head with the arrival of a massive child (‘Dave’) who spends the mornings with the Reception class.  This fact alone should tell you that he can’t cope with Y3.  He had no adult support, didn’t know or care who I was (although was amazed that I knew his name) and the lack of routine caused him to flip out.  This made another child, with ASD-like symptoms, act up too, culminating in ‘Dave’ doing a runner from the classroom, pursued by a passing member of staff, and not returning.  Unsurprisingly, after this I’d lost the class.  A level 3 day.


When one of your spinning plates crashes on the floor, it’s pretty hard to keep the others spinning while sweeping up the broken china.

The following day, I returned to a semi-regular school, expecting to be in the lovely reception class, only to be told I was teaching Y6.  Argh!  A sure fire way of having a grating level 1 day!  Fortunately, the awesome school re-jigged for me and I was in the lovely reception class.  The children were a delight (aided by the fact there is only 20 of them), they engaged, listened, tried their hardest and enjoyed their learning.  No question; a level 9.

There are so many factors at play that affect the level on the 10 point scale that you will experience as a day-to-day supply.  It could be the planned lessons, handover notes (of lack thereof), one particularly strong-willed child, or ineffectual classroom support.  What it is not, however, is a judgement level on your ability as a teacher.


Wolverine vs Mummy Owl

The other day, I found a piece of writing by one of an old class.  The brief being to write what they think Mummy Owl was doing while the Sarah, Percy and Bill were asleep in Owl Babies.

My question is, how can you possibly accurately asses such a beautiful piece of writing now we’re in the era of life without levels?
Wolverine- forest

Stickers: A Love Affair

One of my semi-regular classes has begun giving out stickers for good behaviour and work.  While this does seem to be making an impact with this class (I managed to convince a very ‘active’ child to sweep up all the sand he had chucked on the floor with the promise of a sticker), I have mixed feelings about stickers in the classroom.  I first encountered them on my very first school work experience when the teacher gave them out for good behaviour, being helpful etc.  It worked well but come tidy up time, I asked a child to put some games away, to which her reply was “Will I get a sticker?”

Another time I was on supply placement and gave some stickers for good behaviour, which prompted one child, during carpet time, to persistently say “Mr Thing gimmie sticker.  Mr Thing gimmie sticker. Mr Thing gimmie sticker,” for about 15 minutes.  My name is not Mr Thing.  I could have given him one to shut him up but it would have sent out the message that they way to earn a reward is to use auditory water torture techniques until the teacher submits.  That wasn’t the angle I was hoping for.

Mr Thing Gimmie Typewriter final

That’s my fundamental problem with stickers, in that the sticker can often become the end in itself, rather than the reward for doing the right thing.

Of course, some schools do employ sticker-based systems (including my first workplace) but I think they need to be handled carefully.  I have bugbear with random dolling out of stickers when I child does one right thing.  The child gets a sticker for tidying up, then immediately goes back to smacking another child around the head.

I prefer to implement a system whereby the children get themselves into a ‘sticker-zone’ (meaning they are eligible for a sticker on their chart at the end of the day) that they must remain in until home time.  If their behaviour falters, they come out of the sticker zone and don’t get the sticker.


To be fair, something like these would motivate me. Source.

It is different on day-to-day supply, however.  You need to get the kids on side from the off and, sad as it is, the promise of a sticker is one of the most powerful carrots you can have.  When greeting the class and explaining my expectations for the day I’ll let them know about the possibility of a sticker if they impress me.  I’ll then draw a smiley face on the board that the children can write their name under if they’re in line for a sticker (which doubles up as a helpful reminder of the kid’s names).  If their name is still there at the end of the day, they get one of the hallowed stickers.

I tend not to draw a sad face for the kids that have made bad behaviour choices as, not only, is it publicly shaming the kids but, from a certain contingent, there will be competition to see who can get themselves under the sad face the quickest or for the most impressive reasons.

This system needs adapting, depending on placements and your feel for the class, in the morning.  Children with specific needs are a separate case and if it’s a tricky class that needs lots of motivation, give the stickers at lunch and start again in the afternoon (with potential for some kids to get two stickers during the day).  It seems harsh but when I get a really lovely class, I actually end up giving out less stickers as I’m so engaged with what they’re doing to think about behaviour motivation, which is lovely.  On those rare occasions, I’ll often reward the whole class at the end of the day.

The main thing with stickers (or any reward system), is that you should aim for the reward to feel like it has been earned in response for doing something well, not just as the end in itself.

Parents’ evening parents.

Shortly before the Easter break, it was parents’ evening.  Having done a few years worth of them as a teacher, it’s now interesting to be on the other side of the table as a parent.

In no particular order, here is a run down of some of the parental archetypes you might meet (or be) at parents’ evening:

The no-show: My personal favourite.  The parents that insist on booking their meeting, telling you that they must have the 4:25 slot as they can’t get out of work any earlier and have to get off to something in the evening.  Then, when 4:25 comes, they don’t appear.

However, they will turn up at 3:45 the following day and request ‘a quick informal chat’ that lasts an hour or so…every silver lining has a cloud, and all that.

“Thank you for the quick chat, Mr Smith. We’ll let you get on now.. Mr Smith?”

Angry at school: A foreboding beast.  They are extraordinarily irked by some trivial aspect of your school which is probably well outside your control.  However, this won’t stop them spending the entire meeting berating you for the catering company’s dinner schedule of serving pasta on a Thursday.

“PE should be on a Tuesday afternoon, not Friday morning. Sort.It.Out.”

The prodigal parent: There is nothing prodigious about this parent but they have a prodigal child who can do no wrong, in spite of all evidence to the contrary.  Despite the fact that, in class, the child spends most of the day licking crayons, talking to the radiator and  stabbing other children with a glue stick, at home they fluently speak three languages, can effortlessly carry out long division and are working on re-plastering the garage.

“Tamara is an absolute delight at home, such an interest in extra-curricular activities.”

The insecure one: You must remember, it is not your job to just teach their children but you are also a shoulder to cry on and a compassionate listener.  You must compassionately listen while these parents regale you with details of their latest infertility issues.

“Johnny was conceived in spite of my low sperm count. How is he doing in phonics?”

The other teacher: A potentially dangerous creature, especially if hybridised with Angry-At-School, where, not only does their school does things better than you but they themselves do things better than you, despite the fact that they are a GCSE P.E. teacher and you’re teaching their five year old.

“I wouldn’t teach place value like that.”


Which parents’ evening parents have you met?  Which parents’ evening parent are you?

Role play games.

I was in a reception class last week which had its role play area set up as a doctor’s surgery.  This flyer was one of the props:


I know it’s good to have real world things in the role play area but I just picture one child saying to his five year-old friend “Come on Timmy, lets play another game of ‘Barium enema.’

That seems a bit weird.

My latest brush (under the carpet) with fame.

Last week I got an email from a chum who works for Channel 5 news, saying that they were ‘looking for teachers who are leaving the profession’ for a story the following day. Would I be interested in taking part?

Unfortunately, by the time I’d replied in the affirmative I was told that they had found someone else. While it might be the case that someone who was a more eloquent, experienced and geographically more convenient than I was found, I’d not rule out that it was, once again, the work of ISIS – just like the time they almost stopped me from appearing on Vanessa Feltz.


Nicky Hostage
The latest hostage video was particularly harrowing.