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.

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

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.

 

 

The lies we tell ourselves.

I wondered aloud on Facebook today why negative thoughts appear so much more potent that positive ones. A few chums posted some responses but I’ll expand here why I raised the question. I’d been wondering this for a while but today’s supply placement prompted me to write.

Today’s placement was shit. At the end of the school day I felt defeated, a failure and was questioning why I bother to do this job. That sort of experience affects me and my view of myself. Why, I wondered, do I not feel such a strong emotional reaction when I have a good day’s teaching?

7adb3018d13cdce15042e89a21e0b0ff-166x250x1
To lighten the mood, here is a happy child with some broccoli.

When the kids are lovely, they try hard and do their best to behave and learn I’m happy but tend to say it’s because their usual teacher is awesome or their routines are well embedded. If it’s a crap day, I immediately tell myself it’s because I’m a bad teacher who can’t manage a class and isn’t an effective educator. How stupid is that?

The class today were a nightmare (in the afternoon, after I produced a perfectly good morning’s teaching) because they’ve had a load of different teachers, there has been no consistent routines, they are well behind where they should be academically, with an extraordinarily high proportion of children who don’t speak English and therefore really didn’t have much of a clue what I was saying to them. There was also no planning or resources (so I was making up the day as I went along), the school did Read Write Inc incorrectly (it should not be taught as a carousel), there were insufficient activities for the free-flow children, staff only get 25 minutes for lunch and on arrival I only had 15 minutes to get my head around what to do before being told to come to the 15 minute whole-staff briefing (supply teachers really don’t need to attend them).

Of course the class were going to act up. I’m amazed we got to lunchtime before they all kicked off (and each other).

I’m not saying I’m perfect because as soon as I raised my voice I knew I’d lost them (then I was pissed off at myself for doing so, so the cycle was exacerbated) but what I am asking is why does my brain focus on the negative and steamroll over, not only, the positive but the reasons behind the negative? It’s stupid, irrational and emotionally exhausting.

Bob montage final

Does anyone else out there feel the same?

What’s the problem with planning?

The other week I wrote about The Black Dog of Planning and how planning gave me the heebie-jeebies. Since then, I’ve read a couple of other blogs concerning planning and the sometimes onerous levels that some teachers have to go to produce a plan and it’s made me think about how much time can be wasted on overly detailed lesson plans.

What’s the problem with planning?

 

Planning is important. Do not forget that. It guides your teaching, directs a sequence of lessons and shows that you know what you are doing but that’s all it should be – a guide and some direction, not an overly prescriptive opus. When I started out (as, I am told many NQTs do, my planning was extraordinarily overly detailed) but as you get more experienced you can drop a lot of that detail and hold the additional information in your head as you deliver it. You might forget some pearl of wisdom from your plan but, to be honest, that happens even when you’ve ascribed everything onto paper anyway – it’s not like it’s good for the flow of a lesson to stop everything and check that you’ve used all the terms in the Key Vocabulary box.

pile of papers
Let me just check my planning to see if we have addressed all the target questions for the mini-plenary…

 

This old post on The Modern Miss encapsulates it perfectly and I especially like the following paragraph:

 

SLT don’t need long plans, and Ofsted say they don’t want them. So what’s the point? What can really be gained by spending as long typing a lesson plan out, as it does to teach the thing? Some schools insist that plans are printed out and handed to SLT or the Head weekly. The only purpose of this that I can see, is so that they can file them away, thus giving the impression that they’ve done lots of work as the shelves in their offices are buckling under the strain of 40 tonnes of pulped forest.

Bad Ideas Concept trashcan and waste papers
“Of course we value your efforts.  They go straight in the special filing cabinet.”

 

 

And it’s true. Ofsted actually say that ‘it does not specify how planning should be set out, the length of time it should take or the amount of detail it should contain. Inspectors are interested in the effectiveness of planning rather than the form it takes.’  They are actually saying they DON’T CARE WHAT IT LOOKS LIKE!  You could write it on the peel of a banana but as long as it’s effective, they don’t care!

 

 

It’s inevitable that if you have ten detailed boxes to tick (eg subject, objective, starter, main teaching, plenary, differentiation x3, resources, key vocabulary, prior learning, next steps, directed support) you are probably spending more time on details that the planning contains rather than its effectiveness.

But the fear is that if all that detail is not there in black and white for all to see, it doesn’t exist and you will be hauled over the coals for it! So it is decreed, from above, that all teachers need to include this almost spurious information in what should otherwise be a simple snapshot of your intended lesson.

 

 

A fresh approach:

I taught in a school a few weeks ago that used this as their planning:

Week plan

 

OK, I wouldn’t have wanted to start out using something that basic but just look how simple it is – a whole week of planning contained on one A4 page! Certain lessons (eg PSHE or phonics etc) would warrant their own individual plans but otherwise each lesson on that overview would be given coherence and detail by the resources and interactive whiteboards and any competent teacher would know the differentiation for each child in their class and be able to adapt their teaching accordingly.  Think of the time saved producing that one sheet instead of x number of pages and who knows how many more boxes.

And just to sweeten the joy:

 

 

In my first school, I was horrified to learn that we had to hand our annotated planning in to the SLT (duplicates of course, as we had to retain our planning and the school had to ensure the photocopying spend was twice what it actually needed to be). Consequently, a number of teachers annotated their planning retrospectively, at the end of the day, not because it was useful but to show that they annotated their planning.

Now re-read that sentence and consider the stupidity and futility of that exercise.

 

Now you might think I’m just moaning without practical solutions but I suggest that a lot of the (literal) boxes do not need to be ticked. A good teacher knows the class and knows who needs what support and differentiation. A good teacher will know if something has worked and what the next steps are. A good teacher does not need a box for resources, key vocabulary, next steps, shoe colour, trouser length or number of pets. By all means let a teacher add detail to the planning if it helps but don’t force everyone into that same box.

planning policy

 

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.