A letter from a child

‘To Mr *****, Your so kind to me you teach me good your the best teacher ever From Alex’

To Alex,

It’s ‘you’re’ not ‘your’. I teach you ‘well’ not ‘good’ and you’ve forgotten to use a single full stop or comma.

Sometimes I don’t know why I bother.

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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

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.

Nomadic teaching: Five good things about supply.

So, firmly back as one of the nomads of teaching, wondering, stateless, from school to school as a supply teacher, I present to you, five good things about supply teaching.

Hello.  I was told I'm teaching in Miss Williams' class today. Nomad with camel by Charles Roffey
“Hello. I was told I’m teaching in Miss Williams’ class today.”
Nomad with camel by Charles Roffey

1. Flexibility

You’re not stuck in one place. If you like, you can often pick the number of and which days you work. If you hate a class you don’t have to go back. If you get on with a class, they will often request you return. You’re not locked into a contract with a particular school, which offers you a lot of freedom. I am loving my three days teaching/two days parenting balance.

2. You can leave a school you don’t like.

As mentioned above, if you hate a school, for whatever reason, you don’t have to return. I once decided to not go back to a school because I got a parking ticket that day.

Perfectly acceptable reason not to return to a school. Charleston parking ticket by Charleston's TheDigitel
Perfectly acceptable justification for not to returning to a school.
Charleston parking ticket by Charleston’s TheDigitel

3. None of the rubbish that comes with being a teacher.

This week has been a revelation. While I’ve popped in and out of schools, I’ve seen teachers stressing about parents’ evenings, planning and one ranting about how he had to spend six hours on Sunday compiling half a term’s worth of attendance data. This is all the crap that only has a little to do with teaching but everything to do with being a teacher. I have loved leaving all that at those schools.

Change is good. loose change by ambert
Change is good.
loose change by ambert

4. You get to experience different settings.

If you’re interested in how different schools operate, day-to-day supply is brilliant. You get to see how so many different schools and key stages function. You get to see how days are organised, behaviour management systems, class routines, expectations of working, displays, approaches to teaching: so many different and complementary aspects of learning. The constant change can be stressful but at least it’s different.

5. It can lead to a job…if you want.

Supply was how I get my first permanent job. I made a good impression, was asked to return a number of times, a position became available and it was offered to me (no interview or trial lesson required – bonus)! If you want it, often something will come up.

To keep it fair, tomorrow will follow with…five bad things about supply.

5 good things about teaching

After the cynicism of recent postings, I promised to write something more light-hearted. So, I present to you, one, two, three, four, five good things about teaching.

1. Every day is different.

This was one of the main reasons I left my job to become a teacher. I was stagnating in a job which was extra-ordinarily predictable. I knew Monday morning and Friday afternoon would be really busy and Monday afternoon and Friday morning would be quiet. I knew Wednesday would be somewhere in the middle and I knew that when I spoke to the bloke from Norfolk, that he would be an utter bum-head.

Bottoms Up by Brian Scott (I’m guessing that this is what the bloke from Norfolk looked like, I don’t know, I only ever spoke to him on the phone)

Irrespective of whether your class has regular a timetable with the same lessons at the same time, on the same day, I can say – at least in primary – that no two days are ever the same.  It might be the something crops up and you suddenly have to switch phonics and guided reading, it might be that there is an owl handler coming into school so you shift Maths, or it could be that you have to manage the behaviour and learning of up to 30 children.  Just as we’re not in the same mood every day, the children definitely are not.

The constant change is not always good and sometimes you just want something predictable (and therefore easy?) but you don’t get that in teaching. And for that, teachers should be (and I was), thankful.

2. You can be creative.

An interesting way to learn about owls.
The child on the left was quite engaged.

There is less opportunity for creativity in the new curriculum (if anyone can tell me how to teach children to

‘understand which letters belong to which handwriting ‘families’ (ie letters that are formed in similar ways) and to practise these’

in a creative, engaging and non-Victorian way, I would love to hear it) but while you are told what to teach you are not usually told how to teach (unless your school subscribes to something like Read Write Inc or Maths Makes Sense).

If you want your class to get an email from Traction Man to ask for help with addition, you can.  If you want to teach story structure through Pie Corbett talk4writing techniques, you can.  You can always make fun, topic based resources and interactive whiteboards.  There will (I hope) always be opportunities for teachers to express their creativity.

3. Most of your colleagues are good people with the best intentions and children’s interests at their heart.

The teaching staff of your local primary school, yesterday.
The teaching staff of your local primary school, yesterday.
Trolls figbarf by Simon Schweyer

You would hope this was the case and it is usually true. If you didn’t feel that way and didn’t believe that you had the power to make even a little difference, why would you even go down the teaching route in the first place?

Of course, there are a lot of unpleasant teachers with misguided views who you don’t really wish to spend time around (I suppose, my colleagues may have thought this of me, who knows?) but in my experience, that’s the same in any job.

4. The kids can be the most lovely and delightful people.

Our children have lofty ambitions.

There are troubled ones, there are smelly ones, there are ones who are nasty to others, there are the ones that you wish would have a sick day and not come in but the children you teach can be the most lovely individuals. When they try, when they succeed, when they learn, when they look out for their friends, when they spontaneously say “You’re the best teacher ever,” that’s what makes it worth it. It is a privilege to work with kids.

They also say some blooming funny stuff:

Child: “When I’m older I want to be on TV.”
Me: “What programme do you want to be on?”
Child: The Jeremy Kyle Show.”

During my PGCE, one of my tutors once said ‘There are no bad children, only children in bad situations.’ And it’s true. Even for the child eating crayons and licking the boy next to him just to get a reaction…in fact, especially for him.

5. You get the very, very, rare and occasional snow day!

snow
This was taken around the corner from where they filmed a lot of Poirot.

I had my first one not so long ago, it was brilliant.

Can you think of any other reasons to love teaching?  Feel free to leave them in the comments.