Retention and Workload

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I often wonder if I am slightly more militant in my opinions than a lot of people. To me, it always seems the right thing to do and if something annoys me or I feel it is unjustified, I do feel real anger and frustration. Some might think it is the natural fiery red-head in me, but I do feel that it is our responsibility as humans, and as a professional body of people to care about what is happening within our profession, even if it is not happening directly to us. Today’s Education Committee report on the ‘Recruitment and Retention of Teachers‘ at least acknowledges that there is an issue in the profession, whilst not offering much in the way of a solution

I’m happy in my job. I love my job. But, like many, I do feel that the workload is becoming crushingly huge, but to get to the bottom as to why is like a tangled web of confusion…it’s been a general build-up of…well everything really. I’m lucky that I work in a school that is beginning to understand and acknowledge some of this. We have flexibility to trial marking strategies, and assessment, data and mock windows have been looked at in order to attempt not to ‘clog up’ any one section of the year with workload. We now have working groups looking at data, marking and feedback and planning and resources in an attempt to eliminate unnecessary workload. It’s not perfect, but everyone is trying and acknowledging there is a problem. My single biggest issue this year has been GCSE and the marking of mocks, but more of that later.

But I do know that this is not the case everywhere. I know people who are working in what I consider, shocking environments. I have a friend whose contracted hours are 8.30-5 before there is any sort of planning or marking, and their year 11 class results have to be above the national average or they don’t even get a rate of inflation pay rise. Try and go to the union about it…well, put it this way, they are all too scared. I was talking to someone the other week, who had left a job where they worked from 8.30-5 every day, all those hours directed, with their PPA being 4-5. Some of the things that this person was telling me about workload, made me want to explode with anger. How dare people be treated in this way? No prizes for guessing that these were academy chains, although I am equally careful not to suggest that this happens in all academy chains. But it still angered me how utterly horrifying this was and these were people, like me, who were just teachers, trying to do a good job.

The brilliant thing about Twitter, is that it has allowed me to connect with and meet people from across the country, people working in completely different schools and circumstances. There are people on Twitter that I find utterly inspirational, but more and more this year I am getting messages from people who are exhausted, who are spending holidays just trying to catch up with it all, and yes, I do count myself among them this year, and some of these are the people that I find inspirational and brilliant and the teaching profession would be all the poorer for not having them there. But it does give you an insight into the challenges others face and I’m trying not to be so insular in my understanding of what is going on in education. I get, for example, that some people work in schools where behaviour is horrific and can be frightening. I also understand that this is not the case in every school and that there are many schools where it isn’t an issue. I understand what works in one school might not work in another and that each has a unique setting and context and I try to keep an open mind.

So what is happening? I can only tell it from my viewpoint and the people I have spoken to. The first thing is the time spent actually teaching. I did a poll a few months ago asking how much PPA an average teacher gets. The results were pretty much as I thought, I have 3 which is about right for the amount of contracted hours and that’s what came out top, although, added together, 67% of teachers had 2-3 hours of PPA, with Primary seeming to be at the lower end of PPA hours.

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Now for each hour that you teach, there is planning and marking time, therefore it stands to reason that the more hours you teach, you automatically have extra hours of planning and marking and more time stood in front of children. It’s just a fact. And good senior leaders understand and respect that, not faff around with excuses. They get it. Now I do know that there are schools and some commented on the poll to say that they were lucky to have more than the statutory 10% PPA and that’s great, that’s as it should be, but I wonder for some, if that is something that will last over the next 5 years. Schools are about to suffer a crisis in funding. My Head is open and honest about the fact that money is going to be needed to be saved and has already put savings into place. We get it, it’s got to be done.  Just this morning, I was chatting on here about PPA time when someone messaged me to tell me that they had been told that the extra hour PPA on top of the statutory amount they had received for years was going from September. It was either that, or have to lose staff and when schools are up against it, it is kind of understandable. How many teachers are going to see time lost, or class sizes getting bigger? The irony is that this is one of the things that is breaking people. We need time.

So more hours worked means more marking, or at least more looking at students’ work. I am the sole teacher for everything but one of the classes I teach, so a year 7, a year 8, a year 9, 2 year 10s and 2 year 11s. Pretty average, apart from the 4…yes 4…gcse classes, although GCSE is my favourite, so I’m not really moaning. That sense of camaraderie you get with GCSE classes is something I  thrive on, and I think it’s where I ‘fit’ the best. Now, I think I am fairly savvy and I work in an environment where I can trial things, and give feedback in the way that I feel best. My department has been allowed to switch from half-termly assessment points to nine weekly units in KS3. We assess how we see fit as long as they are assessed on both reading and writing AOs in each unit and all AOs across the year. We have a huge range of ability across KS3 (my daughter, who goes to my school, said the other day after watching an intervention session, ‘oh my god there are children in year 7 who cant read the word ‘the.’Yep’) and a high migrant turnover, so it is down to us as professionals to think about how best to assess, and that’s great.  I’ve spent the last 18 months trialling lots of ways to give feedback and quickly, from code feedback to whole class feedback, to in class feedback etc. and it is generally working. I, more often than not, feel more on top of KS3, even though I have upped my game in terms of the amount of extended writing I expect from students.

KS4 however, is a totally different ball game. In English, we are in the first year of walking blindly into the unknown. It reminds me a bit of when I was little and played pin the tail on the donkey at friends’ parties, you felt that slightly sick feeling as you were being spun round and then weren’t really sure where you were. A new specification has meant an increased workload. We are planning from scratch, we are going back and looking at where things haven’t worked and re-jigging, we’re working out how to increase confidence in those skills further down the school, we are looking at how to help students retain lots of information, we have a huge amount of content to get through and we have 2 year groups who have to be continually practising for the demands of 8 hours worth of exam time in English…plus the extra 20 odd hours elsewhere. So it is all bit like a pin the tail on the donkey spin, without my friend’s mum to stop me if I walk into the wall.

And here comes the biggest single addition to my personal workload this year. Mock papers. Naively, I wandered into it thinking it would all be fine, it’s like any other mock…except it takes a million years to mark. We’ve now completed 2 lots of Language mocks, one for year 11 and one for year 10. We don’t mark our own (school policy) just the number of students we teach, so we had to come up with a way that was consistent and quick….code feedback. We have trialled it, played with it, fine tuned and now feel like we have a set of codes that work for us to cover both papers. It is also a really interesting thing to do – get your department together for an hour and work it out, it really helps to focus what is required for each question. So, brilliant, time-saving codes. Every question has a code on the bottom, this is what you need to do to improve for next time and a mark. What you ‘did good’ has a tick. Except it still takes forever to read the papers. This is English – the kids write…and brilliantly, even year 10 wrote an answer…to all the questions. With the greatest will in the world, one paper, therefore takes about 30 minutes. Each student completes 2 papers. That’s about an hour per student. Some of my colleagues said it took them about 40 minutes per paper. But for me, I have about 56 students per year group. So since November, I have had to find 108 hours of extra time to mark mock papers. I’ve experimented lots, with the best way for me being a question at a time rather than a student’s whole paper, but it still takes time. Will it get quicker the more familiar I am with the mark scheme? Possibly.And where has that time inevitably come from? What am I now spending my half term trying to claw a bit a bit of a handle back on? KS3.

When I go back after half term, year 11 will sit their Literature mocks. We will code again and see how long that takes. Each student will write 4 long essay answers and 1 short answer. I’m thinking quite a while. Then year 10 will do another mock, although by that time year 11 will have left, so slightly less pressure, but by the end of the year I will have marked over 400 mock papers. So there’s my pressure. So what’s the answer? The students need to be having a go in timed conditions, and be used to the routine of the exam hall. It’s one of the things they like doing want a much as possible. I have a timer on a ppt that times them writing paragraphs – they love it, because they  need to know their limits in the time available. Now, do we not mark it? I’d dare any school to try that at GCSE level and not get parental complaints. I’m a parent and I would complain. They need some form of feedback. Peer assess? Personally, I can’t stand a mark scheme written in student speak that still makes no sense and as my daughter used to say, ‘my work is always assessed by THAT kid and I learn nothing.’ Verbal feedback? To be done properly it still requires time. I don’t know what the answer is. We are toying with the idea of comparative judgement, but with a large cohort, need to consider logistics carefully and would have to start out small.

I am lucky that I work in a department that sees itself as a team and when things have got tough, the A level teachers have taken on some of the GCSE marking. We see results as team results not individual teachers…and that attitude works for us. In last month’s Ofsted inspection, progress in English was described as being ‘exceptionally strong’ and we know that we can do it, so we need to look at how we can tackle things like the sheer amount of time mock marking takes, without losing the momentum that we have made over the last few years. Because that is what will burn us out if we are not careful.

But I know that there are those that are struggling even more. I see others that are about to start on mock marking that consists of all 4 papers for English, teachers that have been told students need to sit a mock every 2 weeks, teachers that have KS3 assessments set in stone and have to be marked with summative comments, those who have to put data in every 30 seconds and who are teaching huge classes. My militant self gets angry for other people and I worry what will happen if something doesn’t give. We should also be careful not to think that what is happening to others, won’t happen to us. One of the people I talked about at the beginning was happily working one way, then new management came in, infrastructure changed and suddenly work was a very different place. How many schools next year will go into panic mode after GCSE results and feeling the need to prove that they are doing something, up the pressure and workload of teachers? It will take really strong leaders to think about how they can change results without adding to workload.

So time for me to get back to my planning and marking. I’m not a martyr, this constant referring to people trying to do their job as ‘martyrs’ is no good for anyone. I’d love nothing more than to spend my half term doing absolutely diddly squat and loving it and if you can, good for you, you have reached zen level and I’m happy for you, I really am. I’m just trying to get back in a place where I feel like I can go into the next, very busy half term as a fairly sane person, for no one else but me, and hey, during this week I get to do in front of the telly, eating crisps and watching endless episodes of Parks and Recreation so it ain’t all bad. But I will shout about things, and not for me, but for those that are having a really tough time of it, for those that can’t say anything for fear of their jobs, because they do exist and they do do matter because we’re a profession, not a load of people working against each other.

Back to that game of ‘pin the tail on the donkey’ – I’m the one that sticks it on an ear.

 

‘You’re only as good as the team that you lead’

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I’m writing this blog as ‘just a teacher.’ It’s a bit ironic really; a lot of the time I am quite opinionated, but there is always a little niggle at the back of my mind that I am worth ‘less’ or my opinion is of less value because I am ‘just’ a teacher. I wonder where this comes from? Does it stem from how I’m made to feel, or do I simply put this on myself? If I’m honest I think it is mostly the latter, but it’s there.

So anyway, this morning @Xris32 posted a blog entitled, ‘Saving time and ‘work-shy’ managers.’ The actual crux of the blog was examples of things that Chris has put in place within his department to ensure that they have a good work life balance and to ‘declutter their lives.’ It’s full of excellent ideas…but more of that later. I retweeted it with a comment about leaders leaving work before their staff, and received a barrage of comments back. I’ve since deleted it, simply because I didn’t want Chris to be tagged into all the comments, effectively disagreeing with what I said. But I wanted to make it clear exactly what I meant.

Now, in my defence, I am about to start a week ‘A’ in my timetable, or as I affectionately like to term it, ‘week hell.’ I have 2 PPAs in week A, 14 hours of GCSE lessons, a meeting after school and a revision session after school. This week I also need to mark 40 ish mock paper 1s (another 12 have been taken off me to ease my workload), mark for the 7 classes I teach, have year 9 parents’ evening, run a whole school CPD session on ‘academic vocabulary’, write year 7 reports and have some primary school teachers come and observe me to see how we teach literacy at secondary. It’s a busy week, but we all have busy weeks. I’ll be working hard. So I probably jumped too quickly at the mention in Chris’s blog that, ‘if you have a position of responsibility, you must work harder than those without a position of responsibility.’ Yes! I thought, exactly that. And do you know what, I do agree. If you want to be paid more, if you want to have responsibility, then surely, you have to accept that this comes with an expectation to work more?

Now, I’m in no way criticising the people I work for. At the moment, I have 2 HODs who are sharing the role for a maternity cover. They are utterly amazing, not only in their support, but in the fact that they are always there if you need them. They are also completely aware that the people that they lead have ideas and strategies that are useful and should be listened to and implemented if appropriate. They also, importantly know that a full-time teacher doesn’t get a chance to sit down, talk to others or reflect on the events of that day until they have finished that day and that therefore, there needs to be time at the end of the day to discuss any issues before the next day of teaching. This doesn’t mean staying until 8 o’clock at night, this means allowing a bit of time at the end of the day. Of course, there are days where they might go earlier, but they will also give a heads up that they are and suggest you drop them an email that they can reply to later.

I don’t expect everyone to work like me. I tend to stay late at school. I am not an early bird, so don’t go in early, but I have colleagues that are in at 6. I walk to school, so for me it is important that as much as possible, I am not having to carry a lot home. Therefore, I stay until about 6-7 o’clock so I only have planning at home. I tend to be the last, or one of the last ones at work, but that’s how I do it. The important thing is not that my leaders leave after me, but that they are there for a bit if I need them, and that they check before they go that I’m ok. Which they do.

As teachers, we tend to know other teachers that work in different settings, or we hear of things that happen in other schools. One of the best ideas that I personally have heard of, was that the SLT lead for each department, had to go round and speak to all the members of staff in the departments they lead at the end of the day and check that they are ok, or if there was anything they needed to support them. I liked that idea, and the teachers felt cared about and listened to. The worst examples were teachers where their leaders went home by 4’o clock, leaving teachers to support each other with mini crisis, field angry phone calls from parents wanting to speak to the HOD and generally feeling that it was ‘us’ against ‘them’.

Some of the comments this morning asked, but what about leaders with children? You could equally say, but what about teachers with children? Although this is perhaps slightly off the point, I think we have to be careful not to suggest that workers with children are any more valued than those without and it’s a very fine balance. I have children, yes they’re older but believe it or not, once they were young. I chose to have children, so to a certain extent, it was always my responsibility to try to balance both, as I has made the decision to do both. I had the added ‘bonus’ of being a single parent, and to constantly have to consider what was best at that point in time. It is hard, but that was my choice to be in that situation, and therefore my responsibility to arrange childcare, whilst ensuring that I could do my job. When my children were 2 and 4, I used to work in a department store from 9-5.30 and picked my children up at 6. Every penny I earned went on nursery fees and I lived off tax credits. I’m not a martyr, or claiming to be,  for me it was just important for me to be doing something to give myself some value other than being a mother. I didn’t have to, so it was important for me to remember that I owed the job that paid me, the same as I did my children and it was my responsibility to balance the two. I work with people with young children, and I marvel at how they manage everything, without letting go of the other.  As a teacher, I also have, what many people with children don’t have, and that is long holidays where I could spend time with them. As a child of a Headteacher and a Senco, I can assure you that it in no way damaged me, and in fact I considered myself rather lucky in comparison to my friends. But perhaps this is off topic…

There seems to be a movement, particularly on Twitter, of leaders suggesting that they encourage their staff to have a good work-life balance by going home early. I personally, have a bit of an issue with this. For example, if you have 2 non-contact lessons in a day, you might be able to get the majority of your work done then and not take much home. If you teach all day, then the first moment that you have to do anything is at the end of the day. This seems to get forgotten by *some* leaders who forget what it is like to have a full timetable. The teacher might feel that they have to leave early as that is what the leader wants, but then end up doing just as much work at home. Are the leaders therefore, sure that they have everything in place that their workforce are able to go home early? Surely, therefore, the mark of a good leader is that they introduce strategies, or remove things from the workload of a teacher to encourage work/life balance, but whilst doing so, ensure that they are there when the teacher needs support, and never ever insinuate that you deserve to have a work/life balance, more than considering how to consistently make sure that your staff do, and then wonder where the resentment comes from.

And that is where Chris’ blog is brilliant. He has looked at ways of reducing workload for his staff, and giving them the most important support that he can – extra time, and that is what it should be read for. Look at the amount of time Chris is saving his department – it’s phenomenal. Take that from the blog.  I’m lucky that my HODs too have started to look at ways to save time, or to make things more manageable. This year, all our assessments have been staggered to ensure that we are not inundated at any one time. Teachers have been given the autonomy to assess their classes where and when they see fit across a 9 week unit, as long a they do somewhere. In particular, we have introduced code marking and code targets for mock exams, an idea that I had read about and which my HODs listened to and introduced. I have the autonomy this year to mark exercise books how I see fit, whether it be code marking, whole class feedback, more intensive comment marking, verbal feedback, as long as the marking is useful and effective, it’s all fine. If I need to talk about anything, seek advice or support with classes or students then they are there, and they know and acknowledge, that the work pressures of a full-time teacher are no less important than their own. Perhaps the most important thing is that I feel as if I am part of a team, yes my team has leaders at the helm, but we only work well because we are a team.

So perhaps instead of simply shouting that ‘if I want to go home early, then I should be able to’, consider ‘have I done enough to make sure that my team can go home early too, if they want to?’ Instead of saying ‘I’ve never worked this hard in my life’, consider ‘are my team working too hard and what can I do?’  Surely that’s what good leadership is about, and as the saying goes, ‘you are only as good as the team that you lead.’

But what would I know; I’m ‘just’ a teacher.

 

 

Nurture 16/17

So, we come to the end of another year, and all things considered it has been a bit of a rubbish one if you consider it’s position in the annals of history, but there’s always good if you look hard enough, and here’s the good bits of mine. I’ve written more reasons than I should, but hey, I haven’t got this far in life by blindly following the rules.

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  1. My son is in his second year at uni and my daughter has 3 offers so far for September, including an unconditional. When I step back and look at the young adults they have become, I can’t help but feel immense pride at the utterly wonderful, kind, honest, funny, hardworking and loving human beings they have become. I’ve spent the majority of my life with them as a single parent, circumstances (they didn’t want to know) meant that they have had no contact with their dads, but they have risen above all that and, with the help of grandparents who have been an incredible support, have become the kind of young people that people just….well, like. They have also supported me through some pretty horrible bouts of mental illness – they are my superheroes. With the utter travesties of 2016 of Brexit and Trump, it has been interesting to see what a strong moral compass they both have, but also how unwavering that is. They are also completely and utterly different in personality; they are who they want to be. Stepping back and just watching who your children really are is eye-opening sometimes….do it.
  2. My personal life took a turn upwards. I’m not going to go into it, as it’s not the right time or place, but I’m happy and content…and hopeful.

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3. I wrote a blog the day after the Brexit referendum, because it was a bloody weird day at school. It was picked up by TES here, if you fancy it. What that day, and the weeks and months since, has taught me, is that there is hope for the future. Children are essentially kind and compassionate human beings, and the support and care that they have shown for each other since then, has reminded me of why working with young people is so brilliant. I’ve done other jobs; I wasn’t a qualified teacher until I was 36, trust me, teaching ain’t all that bad. Instead of constantly running down young people, and implying that none of them can behave and that they are all thankless, perhaps some should have a look at what our young people do without being prompted, or count the times that we’re thanked without being made to.There’s quite a bit out there, and I’m glad I noticed it.

4. I’m lucky that I work in a brilliantly supportive department. Yes, we work hard and long hours, but it’s like my second family; we take care of each other and laugh together, and I’m grateful for that.

5.I love Twitter too. There have been times this year when the negativity left me wondering if I wanted to stick with it, but Twitter is a fantastic forum for support and ideas, and there are those that just quietly go about sharing ideas and supporting each other. They are the real face of edutwitter and they are brilliant. There are way too many to possibly mention, but I did talk about some of them here, although this list needs massively updating. I spent a lovely day in the summer with @rachelrossiter @MissDCox  and @FKRitson where I had the pleasure of meeting Rachel’s bookcase beaver and chatting to three of the most inspiring, funny and strong women I could possibly ever meet. I’ve attended NetworkEd, Teaching and Learning Leeds and TLT16 this year and again met some of the brilliant people inspire me every day in the Twittersphere – there has been no better CPD

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6.This year, lovely @NooPuddles asked if I would run  @Team_English1 with her, the idea being that we used it as a space for teachers to connect and support each other and share resources. It has been a fabulous success and we now have 3857 English teachers connecting and sharing ideas. I love retweeting people’s pleas for help and seeing them inundated with resources and ideas. That’s what it’s all about: making people’s lives that little bit easier.

And so what do I want for next year?

  1. For my kids to be happy. My son is 20 next week and across his teenage years seems to have developed a ‘I quite fancy it, so I’ll do it’ attitude. He travelled around Europe over the summer and next year he’s signed up to do Camp America. He works hard on his degree (he’s been writing an essay today, I doubt many students are over Christmas) and works at a school motivating the more difficult year 11 students. He’s an awesome young man and I hope he has a brilliant year. My daughter is feisty and funny and wants to be an Interior Designer. She is one of the best friends I could ever wish for, and her cuddles always appear at exactly the right time. I really hope she does well in her A Levels this year and gets to go to the university she wants to…..and this will leave me on my own for the first time in 20 years, but I’ll be mega happy that they are doing everything that they want to do.
  2. I want the first of the new GCSEs to be ok. Like every English and Maths teacher across the country, I am plucking figures and data out of thin air and just hoping for the best. I want the students to be ok. I want their hard work to pay off and for them not to be used as political pawns for the government to make statements about standards. I want people to stop saying that the GCSEs are easier than the year 6 SATs. They are not. They are really quite hard and students have to sit 8 hours of exams in English alone, answering questions on language, the structure of a text, evaluating, summarising, creative writing and persuasive writing. They have to write an essay on a 19th century novel, an essay on a modern text, an essay on a Shakespeare play, an essay on a poetry anthology as well as analyse and write about unseen poetry. It’s not easy. These 8 hours of English exams are in the same 2 weeks as their Maths and Science exams and overall most students will be sitting 20-30 exams across a few weeks. It’s not easy in the slightest, and all I can hope is that students feel confident and prepared…then we’ll analyse the results to death.
  3. Next year I would love it if I had less conversations with students about racial abuse they receive in their daily lives. I work in a school where 54% of the nearly 2000 students are EAL students, with 71 languages being spoken. I’m proud of that, the school are proud of that and in our little bubble of a community, racist abuse just isn’t an issue. But since Brexit, something that to my mind is pretty horrendous has happened. Students have told me of times where they have been sworn at in the street, shouted at on buses, and in one case a student told me about how he and his friends had things thrown at them by grown adults and told to ‘**** off back to your own country’ because they were talking to each other in Polish. This student will get probably get a 7 or 8 at GCSE, probably more than the person who threw things at him. This is happening to children. Children. I’ve taught refugees, who have arrived here on their own, some with scars from shrapnel from bombs, and they’ve been treated like criminals. I hope for more from this country. I hope that the humanity comes back. I just hope.
  4. I say this every year, but I want to read more. I am going to attempt the 52 book challenge, but with 4 GCSE classes, I may have to count student’s essays in my reading 😉
  5. I’m not going to get involved in Twitter spats. I have this annoying habit of needing to defend people (see above) and just ‘have’ to say something, but when you end up being called ‘abusive’ because you simply comment that as a parent you wouldn’t choose to send your child to a certain school then the world has gone slightly bonkers. Rather than let my heart rate get scarily high with anger, I am learning to mute and be like the proper cool Tweeters who blog brilliant stuff, but whose opinion you are never quite sure of (until they DM you informing you that they actually find it all as ridiculous as you do.) But having said that it would be nice to see things being debated, rather than for people who have a different opinion simply being shot down by loud voices. Because we’re an intelligent profession, and there are brilliant things going on across the country, indeed the world, that we can all learn from…and we don’t all have to agree on everything.
  6. I’m looking forward to more conferences and more meeting and listening to spiffing people.
  7. World peace….I want that. Peace out.

Snakes Vs Iguanas! (circling like dementors). Edutwitter – A wonderful blogpost from @smithsmm via Twitter. 

Being Brave! a first time headteachers blog.

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After yesterday I decided to revisit a post I wrote in March about experiences on twitter. I have to say  we’re pretty much in the same place we were then.  The predators still hunt in packs  and round on unwary gazelles, or iguanas after seeing that stunning footage from Planet Earth 2. Some are desperate to tell others they are wrong and criticise.  This is what I wrote then…

I have been on twitter for a month, and currently have very mixed feeling about it. I feel it is an amazing platform for discussion, sharing and support. It is also great at challenging viewpoint and making me reflect on my practice. Conversely I also find it incredibly stressful, get really frustrated at trying to explain my views in 140 characters. It only ever comes across as glib and surface. This I feel creates tension and hardened position, everything is a…

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We get by with a little help from friends

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So, the Summer’s over and we’re all going back to a brand new spanking, shiny new school year. Last year was mega tough in English; we were teaching the new qualifications alongside the legacy specifications at both GCSE and A level. We were worried about whether the fact that it was the last year of the outgoing GCSE would have an effect on results, as well as wading through the unknown waters of the new GCSE. I say waters, at time it felt much like treacle. On the last day of term, I actually sat briefly in a state of shock, stunned by the fact that I had made it through the year alive. But we did, and we did it well.

 

So, I’ve sat over the last few days and contemplated the new school year. I’m your bog standard teacher, albeit an experienced one. I have a full timetable, and yet again due to mentoring demands, will only have 2 hours free a week. But that’s ok. I enjoy mentoring and you know what, I’m proud that I teach the teachers of tomorrow and I’m lucky that I am trusted and thought of highly enough to do so. I have 4 GCSE classes, but I like GCSE, I like those kids and the really intense relationships that we build together; it will be ok.

 

The photo above is of my daughter and her friends. It exudes fun and friendship and support and made me realise that I I didn’t get through last year alone, and the more I think of it the more grateful I am for the amazing group of people on Twitter that are there day in and day out, supporting one another, sharing ideas, resources and blogs that keep me enthused, make me look at things a different way and remind me on the most difficult of days, why I love what I do so very, very much. So I wanted to say thanks to a few people, to acknowledge their impact and explain why their presence makes the world a far better place indeed. So in no particular order…..

 

@fod3 The woman is an absolute powerhouse. Freya works so bloody hard and shares absolutely everything that she does. She is the founder of the indispensable #teamenglish dropbox and is an absolute bastion of the sharing and supportive community that exists on Twitter. I was privileged to be able to introduce her and listen to her speak at Teaching and Learning Leeds this year. The work she has done at her school is just outstanding. She also made me a very happy lady indeed by having flowers delivered to work on my birthday, something that I appreciate more than she will ever know.

@HeadofEnglish Caroline is a goddess amongst women. She is a consummate professional, constantly sharing her fabulous ideas and supporting and sharing others ideas. Her workshop on word wealth transformed my teaching this year, and I have ran CPD sessions based on her ideas that I then trialled in the classroom. She encourages debate without ever being rude and isn’t afraid to question ideas. She always has her students at the heart of everything she does and shares examples of how ideas have worked in practice with the students she teaches. She is as beautiful in real-life as here on the telly. I love that she pushes boundaries and for that reason am much looking forward to her workshop at TLT16.

@Xris32 I am pretty sure that Chris is perfect….well apart from his reversing which I was privy to in Leeds. Joking aside, his blog is an absolute goldmine of knowledge and his blogposts are written in a wonderfully intelligent and yet unassuming manner. Chris has helped me to get my head round the new GCSE after years of IGCSE teaching, just by writing blogs that make sense. I use his ideas daily, the multiple choice question lesson that I adapted for Great Expectations has to be my absolute favourite lesson that I taught over the last year. He just makes sense…and enthuses me as a teacher.

@FKRitson Fiona is just absolutely brilliant. She is possibly the most passionate and hard-working person I know. Fiona spent the last year with a much depleted staff, and when any of my collegues complained, I always told the story of Fiona and the masses of cover that she needed to produce. But what’s got me is that she has never complained, she just got on with finding a solution, and that says is all about Fiona; if you look at her blog posts, they are all ideas and resources designed as solutions to problems. She has spent hours looking at ehat was expected in the new AQA GCSE and breaking it down into pieces that are easy to understand and help the newest od teachers in her ‘Slave’ blog. On top of that she is one of the funniest and most talkative people I have the privilege to know….even if she thinks hugs are overated.

@mr_englishteach Mark’s blogs have possibly had the greatest impact on my GCSE teaching this year. Mark’s experience is evident in his blogs and if you want to really get your head round teaching Paper 1 for AQA, they really are a must-read. I used his ideas on structure and his GRANDDAD acronym to teach exam skills with both year 9 and year 10. Year 10 in particular are quite taken with the ‘man off Twitter that comes up with good ideas to help us.’ Mark has also looked at some examples for me and given me brilliant feedback, never being condescending about my lack of experience with AQA and instead given me constructive feedback that pointed me in the right direction.

@englishlulu Louisa is one of those teachers that you aspire to be. She has been utterly invaluable with her IGCSE examples, and I’m totally convinced that they helped my year 11 lovelies to succeed in the summer. She is super intelligent and her research on ‘stopping PEEing’ has persuaded me to move away from the formulaic approach and just get them to bloody write. She is also hilariously funny and brilliant to get drunk with, particularly on roof tops in Leeds.

@agwilliams9 Anne is quietly brilliant. She founded and runs @EngChatUk, whose Monday night chats are invaluable for ideas and support and I would encourage all English teachers to join in; you’ll feel supported and enthused. This year Anne organised Teaching and Learning Leeds, which was a totally and utterly brilliant day, in a beautiful setting, from which I took away loads of ideas and resources which will play a massive part in my teaching year this year. I’m sure that the whole day gave me the energy to finish of the year feeling still half alive. The next Teaching and Learning Leeds is on 1/7/17. I urge you to go!

@Positivteacha Matt is what I like to call ‘controversial’; he says things that you either love or hate…and that’s not a bad thing. We need people to encourage debate. But what I like about Matt is that he will listen, he might not agree, but he’ll listen and what I find refreshing on edu Twitter, is that he will change his mind if persuaded. He’s part of the quartet of @Team_English1 and is about to embark on a new journey as Head of Department. He’s an alright geezer.

@DoWise Doug is what I like to think of as the quiet man of Twitter. But read his blogs and look at his resources and you will see a supreme intelligence and very efficient teacher. I can’t recommend his resources enough, they are well worth checking out and everything, and I mean everything that he writes or produces is useful in some way or another….and he’s a jolly nice bloke to boot.

@MissL_Amos I spent 2 days in a hotel room in Leeds with lovely Lyndsey. We had a lot of fun. Both Lyndsey and @85teachergirl have been absolute god sends this year. When things get tough we get in our group chat and moan it all out….and I’m incredibly grateful for the support they gave me, in tough times throughout the year. They are my kind of people…and we had a lovely meal together in Stoke.

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@thebadpedagogue Williams is my surrogate Twitter son and fellow insomniac. He can pull quite scary faces at 3 in the morning, trust me. But aside from that, he is a master resource maker and bloody kind with it. The students love his resources and they bring a bit of life and colour to an exercise book. Use them!

 

There are so many of you that have inspired, supported and helped me this year, I really would be here forever. So here’s a little thanks:

@amforrester1 For being brilliantly supportive, making me laugh a lot and for being my partner in heavy KS4 crime

For helping me out no end with Blood Brothers resources, and just being generally brilliant  @books4kooks  @Kmst1Smoczynski  @SusanSEnglish  @englishcal @iago99

@thatboycanteach For being positive and brilliant all year round and reminding me that it’s ok to like my job.

@emmray For helping me out with resources and for being just generally a nice person to chat to. Best of luck in Italy! Jealous!

@FranNantongwe I met Fran for the first time for lunch this summer and she is just brilliant. She doesn’t know it yet, but she may have to become my new bestie

@CraftyEnglish Became a Twitter mummy this year but still finds the time to be supportive and stop in for a chat. She’s just brill.

@NooPuddles Nikki is my kind of gal. She asked me to get involved in @Team_English1 this year and it has taken off no end, so I think it was a fabulous idea and is hopefully helping English teachers across the country to interact and share ideas and resources. It astounds me how much is actually shared and between us we spend a lot of time retweeting everyone’s fab ideas. I met Nikki in Leeds and she is a bloody nice lady, with proper enthusiasm for what she does. I’ve also loved that she has started blogging more this year. More Nikki, more!!

@JamesTheo James is a man of supreme intelligence. I don’t always agree with what he has to say, but respect him no end for sticking up for what he believes in. His blogs are always informative and interesting, his blog on the evaluation question played a pivotal part in my understanding and teaching – the use of GBBO has crept its way into my lessons, and only bloody worked!

@DiLeed Di is a flag bearer for EAL students and as someone who teaches a lot of EAL students are find her ideas and advice invaluable. She’s one of those people that it is always wise to listen to, as she knows a lot about a lot of things.

@Bronte_32 Claire is a little mine of enthusiasm and support. She shares her brilliant ideas and resources and is just a generally positive person to have around. We must meet!

@Top_kat1 Kate is the most positive person ever. At several points across the year, when I have felt ready to drop, there has appeared a package on my desk with things in to keep me going and which have given me a boost. She is the nicest, kindest, loveliest woman in the world, but also one of the most intelligent women I have the privilege to know. I’d actually quite like it if she ran for PM.

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@atharby Andy’s blogs are just an absolute treasure trove of ideas and advice and his book Making Every Lesson Count has the honour of being the book with the most highlights and post it notes sticking out of it in my collection. If you are an English teacher, you really must follow. Utter brilliance.

@SaysMiss Kat is a Trojan of a teacher. The resources and ideas seem to flow continuously, and not only that but they are all shared, meaning that we all have privileged access to a huge amount of knowledge. She is one of those Tweeters that always make me feel positive. A great woman.

@TillyTeacher Whenever you need a scheme of work, or a lesson on something, Laura is the person that manages to pop up and shout, ‘I have one!’ She is one of those important women who has strong opinions and the knowledge and experience to back up her ideas. I’m glad she is on my timeline.

@carrutherssocks Nic is one in a million. Kind, supportive, lovely and she knows what it is like to see some very dark times indeed. I’m grateful that like me, she is happy to talk about it and support others. I love her.

@MattGovernor Matt is incredibly supportive. He is a real stalwart for sharing ideas in education and supporting the people that need it. I count him as a good friend.

@MissDCox I had the pleasure of lunching with Dawn over the Summer; she is rather awesome indeed. Her blog is an excellent place to go for really sensible and well-wriiten advice and support on a variety of topics. You really should be following.

@MissVicki_V Vicki is just utterly amazing. She is supportive and lovely and kind and…well just a bit special. I have a special drawer of ‘Vicki pens’ that she sent me at school and my lovely blanket that she made for me…excellent for cuddling up with when I’m feeling a bit low. I love her.

@rachelrossiter Rachel is intelligent and witty and clever. I love watching Rachel debating on Twitter because she is always utterly right and can shut everything down with a finely placed quip. She is on the same ‘humour’ wavelength as me…which is rather excellent for me; somebody gets it! I went for lunch at the lovely Rachel’s house this Summer and she was an absolutely awesome host.

@nancygedge and @LPLFlippedEng I had the pleasure of going to Network Ed, brought to us by these two lovely ladies and it was a brilliant and hugely useful day. Their knowledge and experience just astounds me. Nancy is a queen amongst bloggers and her honesty and integrity is what blogging should be about. Liane on the other hand, knows everything there is to know about English teaching. I always feel that she is an untapped mine of important ideas – blog more Liane!

@dutaut My favourite Frenchman. JL is is kind and honest and intelligent. He debates with people without undermining their position and ideas, but whilst intelligently and cleverly expressing his views. His blog writing is just beautiful. He crafts sentences and makes them a thing of beauty. If you haven’t read them, you really should.

@whatonomy His writing is just brilliant. If you need a little pick me up during the school year, just read his back catalogue of Michael Benzine blogs. Very funny indeed.

@Gwenelope Queen of napchats and just generally an all-round good egg. Gwen is supportive and kind and honest….and bloody hell, does she walk a lot.

 

I think that the world of English teaching might crumble without these people constantly sharing ideas and resources and I for one, am very grateful.@HuntingEnglish @stowdawn @RealGingerella @KGibson2605 @davowillz @Mr_Bunker_edu @TLPMsF @Emmsibo @londonirish83 @MissJLud @MrRDenham @Debsgf @RhiEllis @daveg5478 @NSMWells @KerryPulleyn @mrpeel @JenJayneWilson @evenbetterif @sherish_o

 

The napchat crew – positive, funny and brilliant. @Gwenelope @Top_kat1 @MattGovernor @LPLFlippedEng @treezyoung

 

To all these wonderful people that I have interacted with this year. You are all brilliant and amazing @MissDalyEnglish @stephanootis @RemusLapin @EmmaRadford4 @TeachEnglish146 @mrlockyer @Thisismarycody @cornishmaid88 @millward_miss @Mrs_Badham @tannytwoshoes84 @AnneTaylor100 @missfordenglish @dailydenouement  @DanielPacker1 @teach_smith @Bathsheba2 @Tom_Briars @MelodyMelodyyy @MrsSunder @teacherwithbike   @EnglishHOD @AnnieBlack01 @JoWebbTeach @MissLFrosty @sezl @llinosmj @cmpercybook @LisaFarrell3 @MrJamesCCC @Lisa7Pettifer @designerchaoz @alwayswright73 @LNell2020 @eltvasconcelos @beautifullyfra1 @MsMitchellOxon @saraclifford @RobertsNiomi @MrStaveley @rjw66rjw  @Cornishwelsh @CazGerrard @CharlieM_87 @rondelle10_b @LittleMissHill1 @SarahGi78263526 @nowMrsBeattie

 

For constant support and forever being kind. @KathyKelliott @lulalee1

 

Best of luck in your NQT year ladies! I will be keeping an eye on your progress @MissHaggerNQT @Arithmaticks

 

To the perennially positive of Twitter. I salute you for your constant smiles and brilliance. You are what makes life great @pennyprileszky @JackieOrton1 @smithsmm @RAVR68 @zoecaine @teachtinyminds @RaeSnape @SeanwelshBacc @isright @FlyMyGeekFlag @SharpeImages_UK @MrGPrimary @imagineinquiry @theback71

 

So here’s to a new year and thanks to you all for making my last year interesting, exciting, valuable and full of new friendships. I hope everyone has a brilliant year, but if times are tough, know that there are those of us who will always support when it’s needed. I for one, will always return the favour that you brilliant people have done for me.

I’ve had a rather nice summer, life has changed, and without getting too personal, I’ve learnt a valuable lesson: there is far more to life than just work and there are people that deserve your time and effort.  So make sure you find time to spend time with the ones you love, make sure you do things that you enjoy, don’t regret it later on – grab hold of opportunities. Try and remember to do that in the depths of winter, when the workload seems huge; that’s probably the time when you most need it.

I’m going into this term remembering that I do this job because I love working with teenagers; they’re funny and vibrant and have enquiring minds….yes even little Johnny who makes your life hell.

 

I’m going into this term remembering that I can only do what I can, that the most valuable asset in my classroom is me and that it doesn’t matter if I don’t have a flashy PowerPoint or a million resources; we’ll manage if I haven’t got the time to do it. I’ll do what I can and we’ll still learn. The things that always need to come first are those that help the students.

I’m going into this term remembering how important it is to laugh and have fun and I’m lucky to work with colleagues who are my friends and make me laugh constantly. I make no apologies for silly Tweets. We need to laugh….all of us, teachers, students, people and that’s the way I deal with things. Life is too short to take every minute of the day seriously. Let’s smile and have fun while we do it.

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I’m looking forward to seeing some of you at TLT16 and TLLeeds this year, where I know I will yet again be enthused and excited about the job that I do, and we need that occasionally. Please continue to share ideas, resources and blogs. The profession needs you to.

I’ll leave you with this. I don’t get nervous when I meet a new class, seeing posts on Twitter, I know a lot of people do, but I’m more likely to be stressed that I haven’t done everything I wanted to do. So I shall end with a little trick, when you walk into a class for the first time, imagine this going round in your head, and you suddenly become the coolest person in the room…….

 

Here’s to 2016/2017 – the year of the new GCSE

Money = Respect


I knew when I read it this morning that this article would highlight 2 schools of thought. I’ve read the comments on the article and I have read some of the tweet debates that are starting to come out of this and it has all made me feel a bit rubbish really. And here’s why. 

I have been a single parent for most of the past 17 years. I didn’t choose to be, it’s just the way that it worked out, but I have worked for the entirety of that time. I’ve worked bloody hard. Because I worked and because I always earned just on the cusp of the amounts needed to qualify, my children didn’t get free school meals, they instead went to school with packed lunches, but sometimes even that was a struggle. Yes, I worked, but do you know what? We don’t all earn enough to provide everything that we want for our families. There were days near the end of the month when I struggled to provide the basics, there were days when I went without meals to make sure that they had something and even then there were days when I sat up all night worrying about how the hell I was going to make sure that my family survived. And do you know what? Even now I’m an experienced teacher, supposedly a member of the ‘middle classes’ there sometimes still are worrying times and I have worked really hard just to get here. 

This morning I have read comments that suggest that schools should be ‘punishing’ students because their parents haven’t paid for meals, because it teaches them a life lesson. I have read comments from people who think they are saying the right things suggesting that it is not fair to punish children for their parent’s ‘failings’. Think about how the wording of that feels – ‘failings’ – despite working my butt off, because at some points I don’t have enough money I have been a ‘failure’ as a parent. Just think how it would feel if someone walked up to you, without knowing you and said ‘you’ve failed as a parent’, because that is what it feels like. 

I’ve been lucky. My children went to schools and had teachers that cared. They didn’t treat them like they were worth less because of their mother’s financial situation. I’ve known teachers that spent time and energy searching ‘pots’ to find funding to help my children to have experiences that would enrich and support them and NEVER did it in a way that made them realise that they had less than others. It was always done discreetly and without fuss. 

I now have one child at university and one doing A levels and about to go – that’s something in itself, because we’ve had to fight the statistic that says they won’t get there. I know that I have taught them some good values, I have taught them the value of working hard, I have taught them that them how to budget to afford the things they want and I have taught them to be grateful for every good thing that life throws at you. They know to be kind and never look down on people because they will never know the battle they are fighting, and they never know how others have ended up in the situation they are in. They know that hard work can get you places, they know their mum completed a degree despite giving birth and completing her final year with a newborn and they watched for the year their mum worked herself into the ground on the tough 80:20 GTP to get a teaching qualification – to make life better. I know that eventually both me and my children will be in a situation where we are able to give something back. I kind of hope that training to be a teacher as I was travelling along that road has allowed me to do just that, to provide education and care for children from a variety of backgrounds. 

So before you generalise, before you make sweeping judgments about people and the lives they have to live, just think. Imagine that your child was reading some of the comments about their parents having ‘failings’ or imagine it was said about you. 

I’ve actually gone past caring whether the story in the article is true or not. If it is, then I have serious concerns that children are isolated and made to feel inferior. I also have concerns at the levels of grammar mistakes in letters to parents. If it isn’t, great, wonderful. For me, I’ve inadvertently been made to feel rubbish by some of the comments in the debates surrounding it all and I’m sat here knowing that I couldn’t have worked any harder and yet because money makes the world go round, some people believe that my children don’t deserve to be treated the same. And that’s a bit soul-destroying. 

Today: 24th June 2016


I woke up this morning and cried. I cried because I was scared for the future; we don’t know what’s coming, we don’t know what will happen with our economy, or our government or, well anything really. I don’t pretend to know everything about politics, or what is happening. I’m really confused. But I’m an emotional being. I hate people hurting. And I hated today.

I’ve mentioned it before and I’ll say it again. My school is approximately 54% EAL, and many of our students are from countries within the European Union. The freedom of movement has meant a beautiful eclectic mix of students from around the world in one place. It’s a sight that is seen in many schools across Britain now – and it’s lovely.

 
I arrived at school just as Cameron was resigning this morning. I had a class of year 10 first thing. I walked into the room and the kids were silent. It was all a bit strange. I changed my mind on the lesson and thought that maybe a lesson in the library reading and chatting might be nice. So we did. Gradually they warmed up and I just carried on reading, listening to the conversations. I heard them saying how sad they were, I heard them saying it was really confusing and they were worried about their friends. Then I heard this conversation:

Student 1: I was going for Leave, but then I thought of you and your little sister, because she’s half Polish and I thought that Remain is better. It’s not the immigrants fault.

Student 2: Yeah, mum’s boyfriend is Polish – he’s really cool.

Student 1: yeah, he should stay. It’s crap that people think immigrants should go. They work like the rest of us.

Another student came and sat with me and watched the news with me on my laptop, “Miss, I’m sad. I don’t know what is going to happen to my best friend, cos she’s Lithuanian.”

 

 

After that lesson we sat in the office and talked. Everyone was worried; none of us really understand what it means for our day to day lives. People are worried about their mortgages, getting loans, keeping jobs, being able to travel and just generally how we will be perceived in Europe.

 
I then had another lesson with a different year 10 class. Again I took them to the library and  we sat and read and chatted. One of my Lithuanian students was sat very quietly. He loves reading and is one of those students that you have to tell to put their book away, but I watched him and he was slowly tearing up a tiny piece of paper. I asked if he was OK as he looked very serious and quiet. He said he was fine. Next to him a couple of my Pakistani Heritage boys sat, talking about Cameron resigning. They asked me if Boris Johnson would be the next Prime Mimister, so I explained what would happen next and how it all worked. The whole class was interested and asked questions.

 
Then came the question from one of the girls, “why do people hate immigrants so much?” I tried to explain what people are worried about, why it is something that causes people to vote. Suddenly, the Lithuanian student who had been quiet all lesson, looked up and said “I hope they let me stay to do my GCSE’s.” ….My heart dropped….the Pakistani Heritage lad next to him put his hand on the first lad’s shoulder…my heart lifted.

 
I tried to make it better. I tried to say the right things without making promises or instilling ideas that I couldn’t. I just tried to make it better. In the end it was two Muslim girls observing Ramadan that made us laugh again. They keep telling me about the samosas they are going to make me, and the curry they are going to bring me (although not too hot because Miss Wood can’t cope with too much spice) when Ramadan is over and they celebrate Eid.

 
The Lithuanian student laughed when I said that the lack of food was clearly making them obsessed with talking about food and then we had a fit of giggles about the feasts that were posted on snap chat at about 9.45 every night after the fast was broken.

 

 

It was just a strange day. There just seemed to be a sad and confused undercurrent. It wasn’t nasty – just strange and unsettling. But there is something that I think we really need  to remember: this massively affects some of our young people. They are in countries that are not their home country and they are trying hard to get qualifications, to fit in and live a normal life. Children naturally struggle with change; they like rules and boundaries (even if they think they don’t) and all this is really hard for those that have migrated and are now in a country where they can’t help but feel not wanted. They feel like people have voted against them, they hear people saying ‘it’s all the immigrants fault’ on the news.

 
I don’t for one minute believe that everyone who voted Leave purposely meant to hurt children. There is a whole multitude of complicated reasons why people did. It’s happened now – we can argue until the cows come home, but today I just hope that recounting what I saw today, will remind people that for some, this is a worrying and frightening time. When I was a teenager, the idea of not knowing where I would be living and whether I would have the same friends would have scared me senseless. Put on top of that, a feeling that people hate you for your nationality and I might have broken.

 
So let’s just keep that in the back of our minds. I’m going to try and make sure I know as much as possible so that I can answer questions and on Monday we shall be learning the brilliant things we learn every day and we will laugh and joke and prepare for qualifications that we WILL be taking until anyone says otherwise. We could have years of this and it is our job to make life at school as stable as possible for those who now feel like the world is turning upside down…and let’s be honest – that’s all of our young people…and many of us too.