All good things come to an end.

All good things come to an end.  And while I might not be ending the blog, I feel like there has been a significant shift, personally, from my perspective from when I began it, back in February 2015, to now.

The main difference, I feel, is that I am far more settled into the role of supply teacher…sorry, freelance teacher, and I no longer feel half as embittered as I did back when I left full time teaching.  Maybe I’ve just gone through the processes of grief, from anger, denial etc all the way to acceptance.  Maybe it’s that I’ve recently got involved in another pet project that occupies a lot of my spare time but I don’t feel the inclination to write so much any more and I’ve certainly not the inclination to go on Twitter and get any sort of following there.  Twitter just seems to be a mire of people shouting opinions and insults or ranting on about the debate of progressive vs. traditional education.  A debate, I don’t think I’ve ever experienced voiced in the ‘real’ world (ie, an actual school).

As an aside, the trad/prog debate mostly seems to be people on the internet shouting that anyone who doesn’t follow a certain dogma of traditional education must be a ‘progressive’ who isn’t interested in teaching kids anything except how to discuss feelings (I’m obviously being belligerent, don’t bother responding to it.  I do find traditionalists to be appear quite reactionary if you say anything contradictory to their education worldview).

Maybe it’s because the agency I’m with have been great and got me placements in good schools that I don’t feel as pissed off about the whole experience.  Maybe I’ve accepted the different pace and work/life balance is much better for me and my family this way.  Maybe I enjoy going into difference classes without having to worry about being judged everyday, deal with some idiotic parent or attend an interminable staff meeting about marking in different coloured pens.  Maybe I’m just enjoying teaching, without having to be a ‘teacher’.

Whatever the reasons, I don’t feel I can or have as strong an urge to dedicate the time to the blog that I once did.  Back in September, I resolved to post an average of one post a week, something I’ve kept up with since then, during term-time (apart from an occasional issue with auto-sheduling), and intend to round that off as we close down into the end of July.  But after that?  I don’t know.

I’ll still post stuff but mostly silly stuff (you may have noticed that my last few months of posts have generally been frivolous or short silly things, not ‘comment’ [translation: moaning]) but I doubt I’ll keep to my personal deadline of one post a week or produce as many heavy handed posts.

It’s been a pleasure but I just don’t feel as angry as I once did.

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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 you shouldn’t buy your child’s teacher a thank you present.

It’s probably too late by now but if you have small child at school you may well have bought the teacher (and the teaching assistant) a present to thank them for the time and energy they have expended teaching your child. It is a lovely thought and the reasons to do this are many but so are the reasons not to.

Here is my list of why you should not buy your child’s teacher a present.

Cost

Times are hard. Life is expensive enough with out the expectation that you have to buy your child’s teacher a present. If you have more than one child in different classes? Two or three presents. Individually, it may not be a huge outgoing but add it up over time and it could easily get expensive. Teachers are doing their job and it’s what they are paid for. It is not fair that an additional financial expectation is placed upon parents.

“Somehow we must be able to afford a ‘Best Teacher Ever’ branded keyring.
What if we don’t buy any food this week?”

Expectation

I think some parents get a bit competitive with what they get their child’s teacher which can put some parents in a really awkward position.  If all the other parents are getting big presents for the teacher, are you going to want to be the only one who doesn’t? No, so you spend money getting something big as well. That is not a fair expectation.

“This present for Little Johnny’s teacher? Oh no, it’s just something I picked up from Aldi. What did you get?”

Appropriateness

“For data protection reasons, we must keep these documents in this special filing cabinet.”

At one school we had to declare any end of term gifts from parents, presumably to offset any suggestion of children getting preferential treatment (although I’m sure that the lists we wrote went in the special filing cabinet labelled B.I.N.). While most of the gifts were things like bottle of wine, mug and pen, biscuits, it did feel inappropriate to be given money. Especially in one case when it was a solitary £5 note. That just made me feel like a small boy on his 10th birthday.

A caveat being, a teacher I know who works in a very posh school – who has taught the children of celebrities and minor royalty – was once given £200 in crisp £50 notes and a scarf by a parent. The teacher also got invited to the celebrity (who you have heard of)’s Christmas party at her house, where the children had their very own floor! In that case, where the parent appears to have slightly more money than sense, don’t worry too much about accepting their cash.

If you must give a teacher a financial gift, this is one of those times that a voucher (even if it is a £5 voucher), is more suitable.

Tat

I will be honest, a large percentage of the presents you get from parents are tat. While the biscuits and wine will be appreciated for the short duration before, during and after consumption (although I always seemed to get red wine, which I can’t stand), anything you’re thinking of getting with ‘Worlds Best Teacher’ printed on will ultimately find its way to the bin and the teacher will have to say thank you through a pained demonstration of appreciation.

One family, bless them, got me a sealed certificate saying ‘Best Teacher Award’, which didn’t stay in my possession for a long time. Similarly I’ve had numerous ‘Best Teacher Ever’ mugs, pens, pads, keyrings and pencils. The sentiment is lovely, but I will be the first to admit, I am not the best teacher ever. If I had used any of those things, I’d be nothing but a fraud.

“Thank you for your year of 60-70 hour weeks, pointless box ticking, relentless observation and mental exhaustion.”

The problem with things like that is that they’re not personal, they don’t remind you of the child and they don’t demonstrate why the child thinks you’re the best teacher ever.

So what should you do if you want to say thank you to your child’s teacher?

Let me be straight, as Scrooge-like as I sound today, getting you child’s teacher a present to say thank you is a lovely thing and your teacher will appreciate the sentiment and like the fact that their hard work has been recognised. However, if you want both the present and the child to be remembered, make that present something personal. It doesn’t have to be anything special or expensive, just personal.

Me and TricycleOne of the nicest things I got was a lump of clay that a girl from my class painted. It sort of resembled an ashtray and eventually fell to pieces but I loved it. I still have drawings that my first class made me on my wall. The drawing of me that I use as my ‘gravatar’? Done by a child in my first class.

And if you, as a grown up, really want to let your child’s teacher know that they have made a difference, write a note saying so. That’s worth much more than a £2.50 keyring saying ‘Worlds Greatest Teacher.’

Out of these presents, guess which one was the most appreciated and valued.
Out of these presents, guess which one was the most appreciated and valued.

Bumping into an old pupil and her mum

I read this recent post on Leaving the Classroom about bumping into your old pupils and the respective emotional complication this can produce and it made me think of something that happened to me during half term.

I took my kids to a farm, and whenever we go there I think that it’s the sort of place I will bump into children from my first school (the one in the more affluent area, not the one I resigned from, you note). While I was thinking this, I looked over at the goats and, low and behold, there was the exact child and mum I thought I was most likely to bump into.

Paul Daniels
Feeling less reluctant than Leaving the Classroom, I did go and have a chat with them and it was lovely to hear how the child is doing now that she is in Y3 and growing up. It was interesting to have a chat with the mum too, as we didn’t always get on until I once complemented her on her hair, after which she liked me! The mum gave me the inside gossip on my old school (which seems to tally with what this parent said about it going down the drain). I had my photo taken with the child, to show to her Y3 teacher (who was also my NQT mentor) and it felt nice to catch up.

Here is that photo of me and the child.
(click for source)

I would happily talk to any of the parents and kids from my old classes (with the occasional notable exception). I acknowledge that I didn’t leave my school in the best circumstances but I certainly don’t feel any shame about why or how I did it. Most importantly, I cared about all the children in my classes and it is lovely when you get to hear how they are growing.

A refugee from my old school.

Today I had a placement at a school I last visited three years ago (it’s actually the one I refused to go back to because I got a parking ticket last time). When signing in I saw the familiar face of the woman whose classroom I inherited, at my old school.

Paul Daniels

Talking to her at the end of the day, it sounds like it was just as bad in her day as when I left. Microscopic observations, unfair gradings and stressed-out teachers. She seems much happier in her new school. For a moment I wondered if I’d be happier teaching full time again, just in a different setting. Then I came to my senses.

Almost famous: How I defeated ISIS, won the heart of Vanessa Feltz and convinced the nation of my vision for education. Sort of.

A strange thing happened last week.

I randomly checked my Facebook messages and there was one from an old colleague, who I worked with in a former life (meaning, prior to teaching). That colleague now works for BBC London and had heard that Vanessa Feltz would be talking about the fact that now 40% of teachers don’t complete their first year of teaching (a whole new cohort of 1ofthe40percenters, right there) and would I like to contribute? Sod it, I thought, why not?

So my poor parenting kicked in and I occupied the kids with some biscuits and Postman Pat: The Movie

(incidentally, it’s awful) and waited for the call back.

Unfortunately when I did get the call back it was to say that I’d been bumped as the programme was going to focus on school children doing cultural exchanges with ISIS in Syria because it’s the Easter holidays.

My first reaction was ‘Oh well, I was only doing my friend a favour’ but then my second was that we can not let the terrorists win like this! For ISIS to deprive me of the chance of appearing on the Vanessa Feltz show means that they have already scored a significant victory against the decadent Western infidels. We can not let the terrorists win like this!

translation

Luckily, the next morning (having travelled to London to see my parents and therefore becoming a much more legitimate guest for BBC London), while still in my pyjamas, I got a phone call asking if I’d be on air in a couple of hours. Why not?   So, having scribbled some prep and given the kids a couple more biscuits and the rest of Postman Pat: The Movie, I got called back and put on air.

I vanessadidn’t really know what to expect and Vanessa Feltz did get my name slightly wrong (which is good, I guess, for the continuing anonymity of this blog). I did my best to answer her questions coherently, even correcting her suggestion that most teachers are usually home by 5.30 instead of still working and I feel, having listened back on iPlayer, that while I mostly rambled on about being a dad and the main reason for leaving to become a supply was to spend more time with my kids, I wasn’t a complete shambles.

At one point she asked me, since I’d gone into supply, if I’d taken myself off the career ladder, missing the chance to become a Headteacher or Head of Department, to which I answered that I guess I had but also – and this is true – that I’d never seen myself as either of those things. I always pictured myself as in the class and the good thing about supply is that you leave your work at work. She replied that it was the first time she’d heard being a supply teacher considered a step forwards.

I’m not sure it is a step forward (and said so) but, as I also mentioned, my priorities have changed and would I reach retirement at 68 and say I was glad that I spent every Saturday working? I didn’t think I would.

So, you can imagine my excitement the next morning when I knew the papers would be full of the revolution that I had begun and job offers from the BBC would be filling up my email. Sadly, most of the press seemed to be occupied with talking about the leaders election debate and the heckler that got chucked out of the studio.

I suspect they threw her out because of the potent political message she had to spread.

heckler

I’ve done the right thing.

There is a school I’ve supplied at a few times over the past few weeks that has just confirmed to me that leaving teaching as soon as was logistically possible was, if not the wisest idea, definitely the right one.

Last week, having finished for the day, I walked past the staff room to see all the teaching staff sitting, stony faced in silence, doing what looked like a cross-phase book scrutiny (looking at other classes’ books, in lay terms). It the sort of thing you have to do as a teacher as it is one of the ‘things-you-do-as-a-teacher’. I partook in a few book scrutinies but all they ever did was make me feel crap that in comparison to what the kids in other classes were achieving (mostly due to me being too hard on myself) and use up time when I could have been prepping or marking or getting on with all the other jobs a teacher is loaded down with.

"This staff meeting will invigorate your teaching and ensure your class are engaged all day.  It is about APS points and differential progress." Bored by Jason Scragz https://www.flickr.com/photos/scragz/91147636
“This staff meeting will invigorate your teaching and ensure your class are engaged all day. It is about every teacher marking in green ink.”
Bored by Jason Scragz
https://www.flickr.com/photos/scragz/91147636

I don’t think it ever really helped me or improved my teaching practise. Add to that all the pointless staff meetings I attended in my time, just because it was staff meeting day not because there was anything valuable to do, and I’m sure I’ve spent days of my life in a room full of people who would much rather be somewhere else, with anyone else.

At the end of today, the class teacher and her TA were having a salacious gossip about their colleagues’ various personality conflicts, teaching approaches as well as griping about all the other staff that are fleeing the school in droves (mainly because of work/life balance) and how it might affect the impending OFSTED inspection.

"You'll never guess what I heard about Miss Williams in Y3..." Gossip by Jürgen https://www.flickr.com/photos/guerito/244632521
“You’ll never guess what I heard about Miss Williams in Y3…”

Gossip by Jürgen
https://www.flickr.com/photos/guerito/244632521

While we all love a good gossip (and it was certainly entertaining to have an academic eavesdrop) it just made me think that it is nice to be largely free of all the internal politics and the possibility of people slating your work behind your back (which, to be fair, you can get in any job). The cream was thinking also that I shouldn’t have to experience OFSTED to any great degree anytime soon.

Today, the teaching was a challenge but when you remember all the other crap that teachers trudge through, it puts that one day in perspective.