Category: Foundation Phase


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.

A few weeks ago I had a burst of inspiration. I was adding to old material and creating new work for what felt like a whole week solid. It was just pouring out of me and I couldn’t (and didn’t want to) stop it. The last few weeks that wave of creativity has truly crashed and become a pathetic dribble of vague ideas, all due to that frustrating mess of distractions – life. In the past, when I’m struggling, I find I can take inspiration from music. I’ve said before that music is a large part of my life and, aside from the stuff I might sing along to in my car, I’ve got a bank of music I turn to if I want to jump-start a story in my head. Below are five of, what I think, are the most inspirational musicians for writing (as well as providing dramatic soundtracks for your day….or am I the only one who does that?)

Murray Gold – I’m a Doctor Who fan and Murray Gold’s soundtrack comes with a whole TARDIS full of inspiration. Tracks such as ‘The Master Tape’, ‘The Majestic Tale of the Madman with a Box’ and ‘The Rueful Fate of Donna Noble’ are awesome kick-starters for a dramatic showdown or fully-charged finale. A lot of Reset was written with Murray Gold’s series 4 soundtrack blasting in the background, particularly tracks from latter episodes. Not only has he composed some deliciously dramatic pieces, but his tracks, such as ‘The Dream of a Normal Death’, ‘Goodbye Pond’ and ‘The Long Song’ can also be beautifully poignant. I’ve used Murray Gold’s music to inspire my own work but I’ve also played it many times in the classroom to inspire creative writing (and the children always love it). It’s also worth noting that Gold has composed some wonderful incidental pieces for Torchwood, such as ‘Death of Toshiko’ which always makes me a bit damp around the eyes.

Scala & the Kolacny Brothers – I first heard their take on U2’s ‘With or Without You’ some years ago on an advert for Downton Abbey. It was such a haunting piece of music that I had to find out more, and I’ve since added their versions of ‘Use Somebody’, ‘Heroes’ and ‘Every breath you take’ to my writing playlist. Nothing quite tops ‘With or Without You’ when it comes to sending shivers up your arms, though.

Michael GiacchinoLost was one of my favourite TV shows and, apart from the bonkers characters and quirky mysteries, I loved it for its music. My favourite piece of incidental music from Lost is ‘Moving On’. I love how it rises and falls, from soft and gentle to a breath-taking crescendo that just makes you cry! (It’s also great for calming down rowdy Year 6s, I’ve found). Giacchino is also behind some amazing scores from films such as Up and Jurassic World.

John Williams – Speaking of Jurassic World/Park, I had to include the film’s original composer, who created that iconic theme tune (and, alright, I may have been guilty of playing it at full blast as I’ve driven around Wales). Whether you’re into dinos or not, it’s really difficult not to get excited when the music swells. Of course, Williams is also famous for the Star Wars soundtrack, which is equally as inspiring for dramatic writing.

Alan Menken – Responsible for creating some classic Disney tunes, I had to include Menken’s work. Regardless of the catchy songs, Menken’s back catalogue of instrumental scores alone is worthy of this list. From The Little Mermaid to Tangled , Menken has created many breathtaking pieces of music. One of my favourites is ‘Transformation’ from Beauty and the Beast. (Close your eyes, have a listen and feel happy!)

In my classroom, the word ‘No’ is used a lot. Never in an unkind way, but regularly throughout the day will I find myself saying ‘No I can’t do that for you.’ Alright, when a child is making an awful mess of gluing work into their books or tidying the role play in the way I don’t like, it’s bloody hard not to interject, But then I use the ‘no’ on myself to remind me that they need to learn.

In year one, it’s very easy to take over. It’s easy to do everything for the children. They do need more support than the juniors, obviously, but it’s so important to find the right balance between helping and hindering. It might sound cruel, but they need to learn to do things for themselves.

It’s a sad fact that the world we live in is not fair and not kind. Whilst I aim to make the time in my classroom a happy one, I don’t hide from the children the fact that things don’t always go the way we want them. I think some people might be guilty of over-protecting children from that fact.

For example, a friend of mine works in a school and is in charge of the football team. When choosing a squad for a match, he was faced with a backlash of complaints from parents of the children who didn’t make it. This made his job impossible. How was he going to please everyone? There more children wanting to play than there were spaces on the team. He couldn’t please everyone, so he chose the players who would work best in the team. Parents complained that their child hadn’t made it and took their anger out the teacher, who was only really doing his job. It’s sad that not everyone could get on the team, but it’s an unavoidable fact. Here is what should have happened – the opportunity should have been taken to explain to that unlucky child that although they didn’t make the team this time, there would always be other times, and if they continued to try hard, they’d get their chance.

When I was younger, I was part of a theatre group and there were occasions when I didn’t get the role I wanted. But I got over it. I told myself that next time might be different and I got on with it. I always ended up enjoying the part I was given. I needed to be told ‘No’ to learn and develop a stronger resistance to disappointment. My parents didn’t know I was disappointed and certainly didn’t march down to the theatre to have it out with the director…..and I’m bloody glad they didn’t!

When applying for post-grad courses at university I was rejected twice and had to spend a further two years in a part-time job that I despised. At the time it was the end of the world for me but as time ticked by I stopped seeing it as a failure and more of a learning curve. I worked harder on future applications, clocked up a lot of voluntary experience and did my research. I’ve achieved that goal now, and it might have taken me a bit longer than I planned, but I believe I’m better off for the setbacks. I appreciate my position more because I know just how hard it was to get here! I could have thrown a tantrum and given up. But I didn’t.

The children in my class know that the world is not perfect but they’re still very happy children. I think one of the kindest things you can do for a child is armour them with steely determination and resilience to disappointment. Not through cruelty, but by allowing them to grow, be independent and foster a realists view of the world.

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.

Sunday.

Paperwork, paperwork, paperwork.

My life, this weekend, has become entirely constructed by paper. My living room is awash with files and documents and post it notes and I seem to be drowning in the middle of it. I’m unshowered, pyjama-clad and all I’ve consumed is a piece of toast and a glass of orange juice. But I have been over powered by an almost supernatural entity. His name is Determined-G.

As you may have guessed, Determined-G is a force to be reckoned with. A whirlwind of frantic energy. Today he has been unexpectedly unleased. I woke up at 9.30 and he was there, staring at me from the side of the bed, hopping from foot to foot, eager to get going. He dragged me out of bed and shoved me into the living room, headfirst into my pile of school work. Seven hours later and he’s grown from an acorn of energy to a juggernaut. Absolutely unstoppable. ‘Just two more standards,’ he says, gesturing at my professional development file. ‘And then you can have a break.’

But, of course, he’s said this for the last fifteen standards.

Eventually, as the last sun beams of the weekend stream through the window, I reach a point in the paperwork where Determined-G is satisfied. ‘You’ve done well,’ he says, patting my aching shoulders. ‘Same again next weekend.’ And with that, he relaxes in the corner. Never actually leaving, just waiting, lounging on the sofa, waiting to be provoked. He’s been around for as long as I can remember, but he really got a chance to flex his muscles about four years ago. Most of the time, he’s an ally and a friend, but occasionally he can be a bit of a menace.

For example, Determined-G has helped me with my career, my living arrangements, my personal life choices…everything! But, on some occasions, he can be responsible for awakening Frantic-G. Like this morning, when I dashed into work early determined to start the week ahead of the game. Obviously, Monday madness struck, the game defeated me and Frantic-G emerged. By 8.45 I was having a mad rant about the photocopier a la Basil Fawlty.

My point is, you might have a Determined-G (they might be a Determined-K or a Determined-Z or a Determined-M) who helps you do amazing things but there’s no shame in taking your time. Sometimes in life there is just too much to do and putting pressure on yourself isn’t always the best way. So take a deep breath, chill the hell out and put Determined-G on low power. You’ll still get where you need to be, but it just might take a bit longer. And that’s fine.

‘Where are the Angels?’ ‘There’s just no time!’ ‘Is that sheep supposed to be there?’ ‘I’m one wise man down…’ ‘COSTUMES!!!!’

Just some of the phrases you might have heard in our school over the last few weeks. This week saw the final performances of our year one & two Christmas concert and, although at times it has been stressful, we were all a bit sad to see it end. I think we can all be guilty of looking at the Christmas concert with a negative view – mainly because there really is just no time! Think about it – we’re creating a full on production in just a couple of weeks on top of our usual work load – we’re performing a miracle! But, in its defense, I believe the Christmas concert has a lot to offer.

First of all, there’s Drama!  In a lot of schools, Drama is not a priority. Understandably, in some cases, as the pressure to bring other subjects to the forefront is high, so this is a solid chance to get your children acting. Our children put their heart and soul into this concert and all their hard work certainly paid off in the end. There were some classic moments which went down well with the audience. (Including a fabulous Craig Revel Horwood inspired King Caesar!)

The Christmas Concert also gives us a great chance to promote and observe team working skills. Who stands out during rehearsal? Who provides creative suggestions? Who takes the lead during music activities? Plenty of areas to observe, especially for those working on the the FP profiles.

Finally, it’s a chance to have fun! Yes, sorting costumes and props and learning lines and wrestling over the hall timetable can be testing but the Christmas concert should always be fun and a break from the norm. It’s the chance to get festive and enjoy your time with the children. After all, for the children, this probably the happiest, most exciting time of the year so we should be promoting that (as well as indulging in a little festive cheer ourselves. When I look back at school, my sharpest memories are of this time of year because my teachers made it special. So, we must make sure we create memories for this generation too!

So, although it may bring Christmas Concert Chaos to your classroom, I believe the concert is something to be embraced. Deck the stage the fairylights, throw glitter everywhere, get the children singing it multiple keys at the same time and enjoy!

Whenever I tell people I’m an NQT they always say ‘Wow that must be so rewarding’.

Of course, they’re right, it’s wonderful to see children learning and growing, but it’s also rewarding for another reason:  It can be a right good laugh.

I think it’s important to laugh in any workplace. You have to be able to see the light in any situation otherwise you’ll just go stark raving bonkers. Whether it’s in a grubby old petrol station populated by the rudest of the rude or in a classroom of energetic five year olds with firecracker imaginations, you have to be able to have a giggle. Thankfully, in all of my previous jobs and training I’ve ended up with some hilarious people. And some absolute nutters.

Both of my teaching placements were home to some real characters, in the classroom and the staffroom, and I heard stories that I could never ever repeat. This is where I learned that having fun is paramount in our job. It’s high pressure but as long as you are having fun along the way and able to relax around your peers then you can get anything done. I don’t just mean the adults – we know that children learn best when they’re enjoying themselves and the children benefit from a positive learning atmosphere where their teachers all get on. One of my placements was a great example of that. The teachers, whilst always professional, openly joked and played tricks on each other in front of the children who loved it! The teachers were modelling an honest, fun friendship and I think it was great for the children to see that.

I was equally lucky with my supply schools. I don’t think I went to one school where there was a frosty staffroom atmosphere. Although the level of jokes and banter was different, it was always there. I learned a lot from one school in particular, where I was the only male teacher, most of which I just could not repeat in a blog. But it was lots of fun and I always looked forward to another weekly visit full of laughter (and abuse).

In my current school, all of the staff get on. We go on staff outings and are constantly laughing with each other. It’s the best place to work and, even during the toughest times, we can always find a moment to cheer each other up and have a cheeky chuckle.

The funniest comments, though, come from the children. They are bonkers. Sometimes they can come out with the perfect observation to send you into a hysterical meltdown, or mispronounce just the right word to get you chuckling. We’re only five weeks in and one of my children says to me regularly ‘Mr H….you love to laugh!’. He’s right and I do count myself very lucky that there is so much scope for fun in my job. (Though it can be detrimental, especially when you get a fit of giggles mid-way through reading a story and have to abruptly finish it with ‘and that’s the end’ as your eyes start leaking and your voice turns suddenly soprano. Never done that.)

So, if you’re suffering from the Monday Miseries, I challenge you to go back to work tomorrow and find the fun. Look for it. Laugh at everything. Belly-laugh with your boss, be silly with your secretary, cackle with your colleagues and bring on the LOLs. Who says you can’t dress up as a Dalek or have after-school computer chair races across the hall? (Disclaimer: I have never participated in such unprofessional behaviour. Honest.)

To perk up your Monday, here are a few classic moments that, over the years, provoked sudden fits of giggles. (If you don’t find them funny then….maybe you had to be there!)

1) The moment you realise you make the sounds of the rainforest to get the children’s attention when they’re being too chatty. ‘Eeeerrrmm’, ‘OH!’, ‘tut-HUH!’ *long gasp*

2) ‘Mr *****, I drew this picture for you to take home to your grandkids.’ (I’m 26).

3) Explaining an activity and realising a child is staring intently at my teeth. ‘Are you a vampire?’.

‘No…’.

‘Then….why do you have fangs?’

4) ‘Sir, are you a lifeguard?’

‘No. I’m a teacher.’

‘Oh, OK. You look like a lifeguard.’

6) ‘Who can tell me what pirates like to eat?’

‘I know. Tagliatelle.’

7) Being unable to teach odds and evens because there is a child called Ethan in your class and you keep getting utterly confused. ‘Is it an odd or an Ethan?’ ‘What do you think, Even?’

8) That one poor child in the class who says ‘shhh’ instead of ‘sss’. I challenge anyone not to laugh when he tells you he sat on father christmas’ knee.

Note: I’ve vetted these seven and deemed them suitable to disclose. As for the rest, well, my lips are sealed.

Image result for fancy dress crayola children

‘And don’t be one of these teachers who lets boys dress as girls!’

Advice given to me a few months ago after I discovered I’d be taking on Year One. It might not surprise you to hear that this comment had come from a person of a certain generation. A generation where boys were expected be the epitome of strength and masculinity and certainly did not wear dresses.

From very early on I’d decided I wanted a performance area in my classroom. Drama is very important to me and I wanted to encourage performance and self-expression within my classroom. I started to collect bits of costumes and masks and puppets that the children could use, and it was whilst sorting through a pile of materials one day, that I was given this worldly piece of advice. I didn’t challenge this person, mainly because I care a lot about them, but also because I wasn’t in the mood for flying into a full on rant about diversity – I was floating happily on the news of my new job and I wasn’t going to let a stupid comment burst my bubble. That said, it took a lot to ignore it.

Well, I didn’t ignored it.  Instead, I let it fester for a bit and then I decided to turn it into something positive.

Now, I’m not saying we should encourage every boy to wear a dress, but neither should we make them think wearing ‘female clothes’ is wrong, if that’s what they choose to do. Clothes are clothes. Pink is just a colour. People are people. What bugs me is that this person would have happily told a dress-wearing-boy that what he was doing was wrong. He would have made him feel abnormal and ridiculed when really that boy isn’t doing anything wrong at all. He’s not hurting anyone. He’s not being offensive. He’s just wearing material. Material that could also be cut into a t-shirt and trousers. He’s still a boy, a person, with feelings and aspirations and insecurities, just like the rest of us. We’re all material, just cut differently.

In this person’s youth, girls wore skirts and boys wore trousers. I understand that this person was raised in a different time and it must be hard to acknowledge the change, I’m sure when I’m into my eighties they’ll be things I’ll struggle to understand, but, in my opinion, I’d rather live in an era where people can wear, and do, what they like. Nowadays, it’s perfectly normal for girls to wear trousers but if a boy wore a skirt he’d be laughed at. What is it about femininity that we just can’t handle? Regardless, if a little boy sees a pink cardigan or a flowery skirt, he’s not seeing something that ‘only a girl should wear’. He’s just seeing another costume from the fancy dress box.

It’s the same with toys. Boys don’t think that dolls are for girls until we enforce that opinion on them. Until we intervene, they just see another toy they could play with and take care of. I’ve witnessed genuine concern for a male three year old who was playing with dolls. He was happy whilst he played and cared for the baby but there was mixed horror and concern that this child shouldn’t be playing with “girls’ toys”. Why? It’s not going to damage him. In fact, having his toy snatched from him and seeing mad, panicking adults is probably more damaging.

Incidentally, I won’t be stopping a boy reading a book targeted at girls either. Or vice versa. I’m an avid reader, and I’m passionate about instilling a love for reading in children. I was in a school once were the library was split in two. You guessed it, ‘Books for Girls’ and ‘Books for Boys’. It made me feel pretty queasy. When I was younger, I probably would have wanted to read the pink book with the picture of a witch on the cover, but I would have been too shy to because it was clearly marketed at girls. Reading it wouldn’t have changed me in anyway, but the children and teachers in my school would have thought otherwise. (In reality, I would have read a few pages, realised it was a load of cheap crap and put it down. If only I’d have had the confidence to be seen reading a girl’s book.) In my classroom, I try and aim for gender neutral books but, if I girl wants to read a book about football or a boy wants to read about princesses, I won’t be stopping them. Just seeing them reach for a book is enough to make me happy.

Anyway, after thinking a lot about this comment over time, it only made me more determined give these children a place to be who they want to be. I want children to know that it’s OK to be whoever they want. I won’t enforce any kind of behaviour or opinions on them, but neither will I discourage their own interests or ideas. If they want to dress up in the mermaid outfit, that’s fine. If they want to play with the dolls, that’s fine. If they want to play football, that’s fine. If they want to play princesses or astronauts or builders or ballerinas then that is absolutely fine with me. Because they’re children. They have no preconceptions about what’s ‘right’ for a boy and what a girl ‘should’ do – that is all rubbish that we bombard them with as they grow up. (In my first week in this class, I had to assure a girl that boys could like butterflies too after she laughed at a boy in the class for saying how much he liked the decorative butterflies in our reading garden. She was totally confused. So, your insect preference now defines your gender. Do you like butterflies? You must be girl. Who has told her this rubbish? And why?!) For now, I want them to be able to explore their own identities, and, more importantly, play, learn and have fun in a safe, relaxed environment where they won’t be judged.

I won’t be a teacher who lets boys dress as girls. I’ll be a teacher who lets boys, and girls, dress however they want.