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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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 hellish commute.

Last week I worked a school down the road from my NQT school, about 20 miles from home.  After three days of the commute I was like a zombie.

Me during my commute, last week.

When I worked there, I used to leave at 7:00 to beat the traffic and be in by 7:30.  Then I’d leave after 5:30, to get home at about 6:20.  Leaving school any earlier than that just meant getting stuck in traffic and getting home at the same time.

How did I do that for two years, everyday, five days a week?

Bumping into former pupils – part 2.

After making this post about bumping into former pupils, I dug out my old class photos of my first two classes to see if I could remember all the children’s names. I’m pleased to say I could, even differentiating between the three Williams I had in my first year.

Image censored for reasons of child protection, including any identifiable qualities, such as gender, race, age, school uniform, height and hairstyle. But not sock colour.
My first class.
Image censored for reasons of child protection, including any identifiable qualities, such as gender, race, age, SEN, face, school uniform, height or hairstyle. But not sock colour.

Later that day I took my family swimming and in the pool I saw one of the kids from the class I was teaching when I resigned but I could not, for the life of me, remember his name. I racked and racked my brain and it would not come, even though I was teaching him only four months ago.

I also decided that a swimming pool is not the best place for a 30 something man to approach a six year old child, especially as he was with his dad, who I’ve never met before and who looked a bit scary. It would just raise too many questions, the answering of which would not be helped by the fact I could say what the child was called.

As he was leaving, the boy and I nodded a nod of recognition but I think that was one of the times and places it was absolutely fine to ignore one of my old class.

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.