Category: Children


One thing I just cannot handle is bad manners. It might make me sound like a complete ancient person but I’ve been brought up to be respectful and polite, and aside from that I don’t see any reason to be anything other than nice to people.

So, coming home from a gym class on Friday morning, I open the door to my apartment block and there’s an older bloke in a suit standing right in front of me. He’s got this lofty, annoying expression, like I’ve just rolled out of the recycling area, and keeps his eyes fixed on the door frame. As an act of habit, I smile politely, say ‘good morning’ and step to the side to hold the door open for him. I then watched as, in what I can only describe as arrogant slow motion, the man walked straight through the door without muttering a word. As stereotypical Brit, that makes my blood boil. And as a stereotypical Brit, I then fumed ‘Thank you!’ and took my frustration out on the stairs.

To grind my gears even further, I was leaving the flat later that night, and as I reached the electronic gate at the side of the apartments, I could see this young couple heading my way. Incidentally, they were a beautiful couple – they had style and looks that made me, dressed in shorts and old top, feel like something from Fraggle Rock.  Regardless, the politeness gene kicked in once more and I stood there for a few seconds holding the gate for them.  Instead of reaching out to take the gate from me, the couple walked straight past and I suddenly understood what it must feel like to be invisible. It was like I wasn’t even there.

My fury aside, it reminded me that good manners is a dying art form. I live in a town that has a reputation for hostility. Sadly, it’s all true. You only have to walk down the main street and, unless you conform to the town’s ideas of normal, you’re guaranteed to have some snide comment spat at you. I often have to nip down to the local co-op and, despite being a regular smiling face, I’m still grunted at and have to catch my change. I’ve been on the other side, working behind the till in a petrol station whilst I was at University, and that was just as bad. I could never bring myself to enjoy the seven hours stationary behind a till, facing toothless demands for fags, regular arguments and abuse about the price of petrol and just enough pleases and thank yous to count on both hands. It costs nothing to say ‘Hello’ and smile, and to most people working in retail, a friendly face is rare treat.

Being polite is learned behaviour, and it’s something I certainly push in the classroom. I’ll go above and beyond to praise the child who holds the door open for me (whilst I’m carrying a tray of fruit and the rest of the class stampede past, often causing fruity avalanches), or the child who thanks you after waiting patiently for their carton of milk, because they need to see just how important being polite, respectful and kind is. I feel like we’re living in age where it’s more natural to be hateful than kind. A few months ago, after teaching a performing arts class, one of the year six pupils came over and thanked me. I was so taken aback and surprised. How lovely! To be thanked, out of the blue. But isn’t it sad that something as simple as a thank you was rare enough to shock me?

If you look around it’s surprising how rare manners are. I’ve worked in schools where, in the morning as I greet the children and their parents, the children walk past without even acknowledging the teachers on the door. But instead of calling the children out on their rudeness and modelling how to behave, the parents do exactly the same. I know life is busy and parents just want to drop their kids off and get to work but, it takes seconds to say ‘good morning’, but in those seconds your teaching your child basic respect.

These values might seem a bit old fashioned but it’s so important that they are instilled in children and they are taught respect. Good manners and respects comes in hand in hand with kindness and imagine a world without that! It’s not a world I’d like to live in, so, regardless of how rubbish a day we’ve had, it’s always important to be polite and a positive role model to any little eyes nearby.

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Somehow the BBC documentary No More Boys and Girls managed to evade me but after a couple of prompts from people who know my interests, I managed to catch it this morning. And I’m so glad I did.

Using a focus group of year 3 pupils in Lanesend Primary School, Dr Javed Abdelmoneim uses a series of strategies to investigate how gender boundaries affect children.

Most disturbing is the opinions girls have of their own gender. The children saw men as strong and powerful whilst women were weak and emotional. According to the children, men could have ‘harder jobs’ – such as authority roles, like policemen or captain – whilst all women seemed destined to be hairdressers. One of the most memorable parts of the programme saw the children draw their own ideas of a mechanic, magician, make up artist and dancer. All of the children associated male characters to the first two professions and female characters to the second two. Of course, their preconceptions were changed when Dr Javed introduced a real mechanic, magician, make-up artist and dancer with opposite genders to the children’s ideas. The girls were in awe of the female mechanic whilst the boys enjoyed a tutorial from a male make-up artist specialising in SFX make-up. It was amazing to see the children understand that ‘anyone can have a chance to do what they like’.

The amount of times the children referred to males as ‘strong and successful’ was shocking, especially as they saw females as the total opposite. It’s sad to think young girls are starting their lives thinking so little of themselves. To show the children that biologically they were all as strong as each other, Dr Javed set up a fairground style strength tester. It was powerful to see one girl cry with ‘happy tears’ after she exceeded her expectations and one boy have a meltdown because he didn’t reach the highest score. It’s important to remember these children weren’t born with these ideas. As adults, we have programmed them to think that boys are stronger than girls. On supply, I’ve visited schools where boys were chosen to move the PE equipment because the teacher needed someone with ‘big muscles’ to help. I’ve seen girls left out of using gym equipment in high school, banished to the dark corners of the sports hall to do some aerobics instead. Is it any wonder the children breakdown when they realise these stereotypes aren’t true?

I’ve talked about my own experiences in school a lot, but it’s still shocking to think that happened just over ten years ago. Split PE sessions with ‘gender appropriate’ activities seems like such an old-fashioned idea but it was happening ten years ago! Although I may have been the victim of a bad careers advisor (and unenthused parents), I remember being told to choose another career path other than one in the theatre. It was heavily hinted at that the theatre was a world for women and, although I would have been happy to be involved in any way (actor, stage-hand, technician…anything!), I was persuaded to keep that dirty secret part of my social life, not my career. What struck me was just how excited the boys were to meet male role models from creative industries, from areas that are usually perceived as ‘female’, and vice versa for the girls. Why should they be denied the chance of following that route just because of the restrictions adults have put on gender? As teachers it’s our job to encourage and nurture each child. Breaking down ridiculous stereotypes and opening those doors to career paths should be part of that.

(As a little side note, I was at a course a few months ago where we were discussing curriculum topics. We were advised to think carefully to ensure the topic we choose inspired all learners and not to ‘choose fairy tales because the boys won’t be interested, or dinosaurs, because we need to keep the girls on board too.’ Well, in my opinion it shouldn’t be a case of choosing the right topic, it should be a matter of delivering the topic in a way that inspires all children. In January our class topic will be dinosaurs and I can already think of many girls who that will appeal to. I had lots of boys last year who loved learning about Little Red Riding Hood. The topic title shouldn’t matter, it’s the activities that draw them in.)

Having a quick scout on Twitter I can see that No More Boys and Girls has come under fire from a lot disgruntled people calling for an end to ‘gender neutral nonsense’. The Piers Morgans of the world are mistaking the programme for encouraging children to choose their gender, when that is not the case. The whole point of No More Boys and Girls is to break down stereotypes that are damaging our children’s view on the World and of themselves. Anyone who is happy for girls to believe they are the weaker sex and live a life feeling second-best, and for boys to live under the impression they must be strong and successful, then break down when they inevitably ‘fail’, needs to seriously consider their beliefs. It’s about raising a generation of confident individuals who aren’t afraid to embrace failures, and who can aspire to be whoever they want to.

Breaking down these boundaries is about nurturing confidence and self-belief, and it starts in the classroom and at home.

So, it was Sunday and I was in the cemetery. Not how I spend every Sunday but I ended up talking to a lovely lady. During conversation, she asked where I worked and when I told her she replied with ‘A teacher? Oh I couldn’t do your job. You all work so hard, hats off to you.’

It’s at that point that I realised this was the first time a stranger had reacted like this to my career choice. I usually get some sarcastic quip about holidays (honestly, come on, give me something original) or ‘your lot are always complaining, aren’t you?’. It felt lovely to be complimented. Then, as I was recovering from the shock of the incident, the same thing happened again tonight at the gym. This time it was another lovely lady who ‘couldn’t do [my] job. It must be very tough.’ (And…she was a nurse, so I reciprocated the sentiment!). So, twice in one week I’d had very rare positive comments about my career. I had to write about it.

Truth is, us teachers have a bad rep. Even my own mother thinks my job is easy. On passing my PGCE she said ‘And now you’re a part-timer. Finish at 3pm and for most of the year you’re on holiday.’ Great. Thanks, mum. I’ve got other family members who refuse to believe that I don’t walk into work at 9am and put my feet up at home by 3.15pm. I’ve joined a profession that is rapidly losing its respect. (Disclaimer: Thankfully I do have family members who know exactly what my job entails. I’m one of three teachers in my family.)

But why? We’re working harder than ever to provide an education for the next generation but for some reason what we do is seen as easy. A job anyone can do. Not only are we putting every effort into educating and caring for children (which is why we all went into the job in the first place) but we’re having to deal with deadlines, paperwork, red-tape and ever-changing schemes and systems. So, forgive me if I’m a bit insulted when people insinuate I don’t deserve my holidays.

Whilst I was training, the main point the trainees brought back to the lecture hall was how firm a grip parents have over classroom management. The craziest of actions are carried out all through fear of offending a parent. I’ve heard plenty of complaints of well-experienced teachers being forced to apologise to a parent for moves that were only undertaken with the pupils’ best interests in mind. I’ve heard many a rant about parents swearing and threatening teachers for ridiculous reasons. Thankfully, I haven’t experienced any of that this year and my bunch of parents have been very kind and supportive, but I know I wouldn’t have heard horror stories like these if I’d have entered the profession twenty years ago.

Then you’ve got the children. I thank the teaching Gods every day that I don’t really have to tackle this problem at Primary level as our behaviour strategies are always very effective, but hearing from colleagues in secondary schools is enough to keep me tucked safely in the foundation phase. It can be very hard for teachers to gain respect from their teenage pupils.

The fact is people just don’t regard teachers with the same respect they used to do. So what is it? What is causing people to think a teachers life is an easy one? I don’t have the answer, but as a profession we need support, from everyone, to ensure our work is the best it can be, because nothing is more important than educating the future generation.

And next time you meet a teacher, please don’t mention the holidays.

 

Last weekend I finished my first ever set of reports. It was a scary process, reviewing each child’s progress and writing my little summary at the bottom. It gave me a chance to think about each child, how they’ve grown, their little quirks and characters, and how they might continue to progress next year. Dangerous territory for a Sensitive Sidney like me.

My biggest fear in September was that we’d reach this point of the year and the children will have learnt nothing! Thankfully, that isn’t the case, and each one has progressed in their own way. They’re not alone, as I’ve picked up a few pointers for my own personal development too. I always knew that organisation was a key to this role, but I underestimated just how organised I needed to be. We’re talking way beyond the Monica-Gellar-Organised that I operate with. I’ve certainly upped my game this year and still feel like I’ve got a way to go.

Despite all the courses and meetings and observations and paperwork, my biggest learning curve has come from the children. It’s fascinating to see how their brains work and, as well as lots of laughter, we’ve had a lot of ‘wow’ moments too. I’ve learned so much about how a child thinks (and I’m sure this is far from the end of my learning) as well as how I operate. They’ve taught me that there’s no point being stressed or grumpy or miserable because it all works out in the end. On the (rare) days that I’ve stomped into work under a thunder cloud, they’ve helped me bring the sunshine back by 9.15am. When I’ve been flapping round amongst the paperwork, they’ve calmed me down. And on the days where I’ve felt like I couldn’t carry on, they’ve sung a song, told a joke, pulled a face, or come out with a cracking one-liner that has made me remember why I became a teacher. They always make me feel proud.

What has surprised me the most is just how much I’ve loved being in the foundation phase. I was tentative at first, being so used to working in KS2, but this is definitely my jam. I love the scope for fun (as well as learning) and watching the children grow and achieve has been a privilege. In September they were fresh into the system, coming in from Reception where things are a bit less controlled, but they settled in quickly and now they’re heading into Year Two with an exciting enthusiasm for learning and being creative.  We’ve had tears, hysterical laughter, wails of despair, cheers of joy, a missing aubergine, a magical postman, giant toilet paper, a wandering tortoise, terrible jokes, the odd tantrum, silly faces, serious faces, grumpy faces,…

…And at the end of it all, I’ve realised I really don’t want them to go.

 

 

It’s been a testing week at school with several big events culminating in the space of just a few days. Yes, it’s been exhausting and everybody is feeling the stretch, but I’ve started a new week armed with some interesting new knowledge.

For example, last week I learned that I am coping better with pressure. My diary was full and I jumped from job to job, day to day, with ease. In the past, the Monday morning of an action-packed week would have seen me flapping round the staff room scrutinising the briefing. But this week, I tackled each challenge calmly. So, I’m definitely getting there.

I also learned that I can speak Welsh. Surprise!  Hoorah! After an oral assessment which seemed to come completely out of the blue and with minimal preparation time, I managed to babble my way through each part of the test and, smugly, was pretty proud of my results.

Thirdly, I learned that the next few weeks are going to be tough on the heartstrings. I’m a sensitive sod and the reality that I only have 14 school days left with my class is starting to sink in. I know I’m going to struggle in the last week but I’m starting to realise that this is the nature of the job. I’m sure it gets easier. Seeing the excitement on their faces as they spent the afternoon with their new teacher stirred mixed emotions. I was excited for them, whilst faced thoughts of just how much I’ll miss them. But I also began to understand what other teachers have said – it’s a vicious cycle. At the moment you might be ‘the best teacher ever’ to them, but next year their new teacher will steal your crown and you’ve got another bunch to win round *sniff*.

Lesson four – you can get through anything with good work mates who know how to laugh.

And finally, over the weekend, I learned to take more notice of one of my favourite quotes:

‘People will forget what you said, and forget what you’ve done, but they will never forget how you made them feel.’ Maya Angelou

I’m not trying to be enigmatic and mysterious! Nothing dreadful has happened, but after a few unrelated conversations I realised just how true this is. It’s bloody hard to forget cruelty and we must always remember kindness.

Oh. My. God.

48hours left.

Months of planning and prepping and rehearsing have led us to this week. We’ve spent today on a last minute hunt for props and costumes before having our final rehearsal.

Everything is as ready as it will ever be. A tree has been erected in the dinner hall and the PE cupboard is now home to Excalibur.

With just one full day left before the performance, the children are far more relaxed than the staff (which is how it should be!). Although today’s performance was not quite as energy-fuelled as other rehearsals, the children have worked hard to put this production together and I’m sure they’ll dazzle for the school and their parents on Wednesday.

Strangely, for me, an odd calmness settled over me today. I’ve got faith in the children to pull it off but it’s also oddly comforting to know that I only have to days left to worry about anything performing arts related! Bring on the show!

Drama and performance is a passion for me so I was really pleased when I was asked to take over the Performing Arts club. We’ve got a bunch of very talented and enthusiastic children this year, and they’ve been working super hard since January to put together a show based on (a topic of their choice) Welsh Myths and Legends.

We’ve seen everything – from costume confusion to corpsing to totally improvised dialogue! Now we’ve got two weeks left until the performance date. Rehearsals are going well but that anxious ‘oh-my-goodness-two-weeks-left’ feeling is starting to trouble me. We’ve got a child who doesn’t know how to yawn, a tyrannical barber’s wife and I’m having to give lessons in villainy at lunch time. The children have done a fabulous job at learning their lines so I’m not too concerned about that, but I am concerned about what I can do to aid their performance. They’ve worked tremendously hard – fashioning a story, a script and creating some brilliant performances – so they deserve the best support they can get. So it’s a shorter blog post from me this week, because I’m neck-deep in music-editing, prop-sourcing and set-designing.  Wish us luck!

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There are two inspirations for this week’s post. The first is a festive memory, so let me take you back to Christmas Day 2016. Picture the scene:

Christmas dinner has been eaten. We’re all crashed out in the living room, Grandad flicking through the channels with the remote control. He stops at a cartoon meerkat and warthog. It’s Disney’s The Lion King. We’re all enjoying watching Timon and Pumba through the fuzzy full-of-food-ness when my Nanna pipes up. ‘What on earth have we got this on for? Load of rubbish…’. Me and my brother are obviously horrified. It’s The Lion King! Although our efforts are in vain, we try to convert her. We explain that it’s a classic that we watched as children and she sighs ‘Well, you’re not children now. I prefer things for adults. So should you.’ (My Grandad took a lot less convincing and he was soon gripped by Simba’s saga.)

Alright, she might have a miniscule point but my argument is – children’s films can be enjoyed by anyone. Some of the classics might seem fluffy and sickly on the outside but they are actually works of art. Someone’s livelihood has gone into creating this piece of film. The superficial piece of fluff my Nanna saw is actually the end product of many people’s hard work, so to class it as unworthy of adult attention isn’t very fair.

Many children’s films carry very grown up themes and dark moments, especially those that have taken inspiration from traditional tales. Look at Hercules, for example, Meg sacrifices her soul to the underworld. In Robin Hood, the villagers are being taxed into poverty. In Pinocchio the orphan boys are promised paradise and turneImage result for pinocchio gif donkeyd into donkeys! Some of these tales can be pretty grim (Pun fully intended. I make no apologies). And anybody who doesn’t cry during the first ten minutes of Up is simply inhuman. In The Princess and the Frog, the Ray the firefly dies! That’s right, Disney heartlessly kill off a character and audience members have to just get over it, whatever age they are. I was twenty when I was forced to watch the characters of Toy Story 3 accept their death in the incinerator and the tears still dripped from under my 3D glasses. Of course, before that, we had The Lion King, where Simba is led to believe he has killed his own father and lives with that guilt for years before learning the truth. Dark stuff for children to handle but they do so all the same. It might give us a few nightmares when we’re younger but it armours us for real life. The world isn’t sweets and bubblegum.

It’s a fact that as adults we get bogged down by all the life-stuff like careers and relationships and paying bills, we forget to let our imaginations stretch. Sometimes, opening your mind to a fantasy film is the perfect form of escapism. Sometimes after a day of work, when I’m flicking through my on-demand movies, I don’t want a gritty thriller that’s going to make me think. I want something that’s going to be visually appealing, some catchy tunes and perhaps a bit of magic on the side. That’s when I’ll unashamedly head for the family movies section.

Anyway, now that I’ve shared my Nanna’s disgraceful lack of movie taste, the second inspiration for this post comes from my favourite Disney film *drumroll* Beauty & the Beast. As I child I was desperate to be Lumiere. I love everything about the cartoon from the characters to the music so I was so excited to see the live action version this week (my review – perfect. My favourite character was the wardrobe. I’m only disappointed the wardrobes in my bedroom aren’t as fabulous.) Watching the new version transported me back to my childhood but I could also appreciate it from another point of view. I noticed the new variations on the score, beautiful visuals, easter eggs and subplots – stuff I might not have spotted as a child. Incidentally, this new version included Disney’s first ever ‘gay moment’ and first ever interracial kiss. So, in the world of film, it’s groundbreaking. Not bad for just a kids’ movie.

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Alright some of the old Disney stuff can hardly be seen as feminist (Cinderella and Ariel both changing in order to get a man? oi vey!) but a lot of these films can give good lessons to both children and adults. If you look at some of the more recent films, realistic relationships and moral dilemmas are being explored more and more. Big Hero 6 has the main character dealing with death twice. Up explores moving on after the death of a loved on. Frozen has Anna and Elsa realise they don’t need to marry princes, and instead the focus is on their sibling-love for each other. Things still aren’t perfect but the movie world is making small steps towards sending healthier messages to our children.

So I suppose I’m saying don’t judge a book by its cover….OR a film by its poster. Films for children were made by adults and it’s important we acknowledge the end product because some of them are works of art. Don’t be put off by their label. Release your inner-child, let your imagine run wild and be free!

Oh, and never diss The Lion King in front of me.

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The children in year one know who Eva Cassidy is. This is a recent development. They also know who Fleetwood Mac are. And ELO. And David Bowie. And they’re getting pretty good at their musicals too.

See children in year one are cursed (or blessed, depending on your point of view) of having a music loving teacher and a music loving TA, both with very eclectic tastes. We both can’t help ourselves. It’s a bit of an illness really. In the morning we often greet each other musically. We segue from conversation into outbursts of song seamlessly.

(Allow me to interrupt here with some case studies

Person 1:  Stop…

Person 2:  IN THE NAME OF LOVE!

Person 1: I’ll get an ice pack…

Person 2: *to the tune of Love Shack* ICE PACK! BABY, ICE PACK!

Person 1: For Chinese New Year I’ve made some red rice….

Person 2: *to the tune of red, red wine* RED, RED RIIIICE

Case closed.)

60% of the time the children are totally oblivious to our jokes and stare at us blankly but their musical education is starting to become apparent. Often, during guided reading time, we’ll play calming music in the background. Originally this was instrumental music but it’s developed into Mr H and Mrs J’s favourite music. Today, Eva Cassidy serenaded the children whilst they read. We’ve found that it promotes a relaxed environment and calms the children down. They’ve started requesting tracks and asking to hear more music by artists that we’ve mentioned!

Last week, during PE, we had a warm up to the Lion King soundtrack which went down very well. The children who usually are reluctant in PE were having so much fun they didn’t realise they were taking part. The week before we used Reiki music during our cool down to calm ourselves before we worked. Again, it calmed the children down and put them in the right frame of mind for returning to the classroom.

After seeing the calming influence it had on them, I started experimenting with what I play in the classroom. During focused tasked, on the topic of the arctic, I had whale music playing in the background (tenuous link I know!) but the children were much more focused and relaxed.

I’ve also used music to save my own voice! The children know when it’s amser tacluso because I play the mission impossible theme tune, which sends them into a frantic tidying frenzy. (But it gets the job done and motivates the lazy bones!)

I’ve been in schools where music is played in the corridor and you immediately get a sense of a lovely, relaxed environment. And we’re not just talking classical here, the last school I visited had some pretty funky pop music in the corridor.

Incidentally, we’ve used music to promote another great passion of ours – Wales. With the eisteddfod coming up we’ve made it our mission to teach the children our National Anthem because….well….because you’re never too young to belt that out!

We’re both musical people who just cannot imagine life without a song. It’s something that we feel passionate about instilling in the children and we’ve managed to find many ways to introduce music into the classroom. The response from the children has been great, and sometimes surprising (where else would you get a 5 year old asking us to play ‘Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep’?!), and we’ve developed a reputation for being the all-singing all-dancing class of the school.

Without music, life would be pretty dull. It’s there when we’re joyous and it’s there when we’re at our lowest. School life is one of the most important times of our lives so why shouldn’t music be present here too?

Mondays are hard. Especially January Mondays. So, in an attempt to sprinkle some cheer over a dreary start to the week, here are four classic moments from my (very short) time in the classroom. This is all for your benefit. Definitely not because I’m too busy to blog. Absolutely not. Enjoy.

  • In a class of five year olds, we were talking about what we wanted to be when we grew up. The usual answers cropped up – ‘A hairdresser’….’A footballer’…..’A builder’. I came to a quiet little boy and asked ‘And what about you? Where would you like to be in twenty years?’. He looked at me thoughtfully and said ‘On Tipping Point.’
  • When I was teaching drama classes about nine years ago we were discussing pirates and how we could act like them. The children suggested what a pirate would wear, how they would move and what they would say. When I asked what a pirate would eat one of them said ‘Tagliatelle’.
  • Whilst on supply I asked a year 6 child what 2×540 was, in all innocence, they answered ‘Yoghurt?’
  • Two very able boys were slouched across the table, bending the pages of their maths books and looking like there were about to have a mid-afternoon snooze. In half an hour they had answered two questions. ‘Look, boys,’ I said, adopting that annoying condescending teacher voice we’re all familiar with (but slip into so easily) ‘this isn’t good enough. You’ve had plenty of time. I suggest you both pull your socks up and get on with it.’ I realised my mistake immediately, and stifled the giggles as they both reached for their socks and yanked them up as far as they’d go before reluctantly picking up their pencils and returning to their maths.