Category: Teaching


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.

Hourly tweets reminding us it’s baking. Near-naked Instagram pics coming in thick and fast. Snpachats of thermometers just in case we forget it’s warm. It all kicks off when the sun comes out.

I’m already sick of the summer moaners. A bit of sun and we get relentless groaning. ‘It’s too hot’. ‘It’s better to stay in doors’. ‘Oh, I can’t cope’. My advice – just enjoy it!

We live in the UK. 90% of our weather is rain. The sun will probably only be out for a couple of days and then it’ll be autumn. There’ll be cloud cover by the time you’ve dug out your espadrilles. We can’t change the weather – just enjoy it and chill out (pun!).

In school, the fans have been broken out of the outdoor store, my TA is draping fabric over the windows at a rapid rate so the side of the school resembles a circus tent, and we’re operating in darkness to stop any heat from the lightbulbs pushing us over the edge. But we’re not complaining. Because it’s summer.

The children are hot and sweaty and agitated, and at times it’s difficult to get any work done. Today, we knew we were up against it. Whether it was sticky, sweaty fingers or suncream running into their eyes, the children were fussing before 10 o’clock. So, we adapted. In the afternoon we armed ourselves with clipboards and headed to the field for some outdoor learning.

It was a lovely change to spend the afternoon working under the shade of trees.  The children were a lot more comfortable and enjoyed poking around the gardens of the school (luckily our science topic was plants!). When I got the job (a year ago!) I remember pledging to take the children outside as often as possible, so as soon as the sun shone this morning I knew we needed to get out into the fresh air. So make the most of it, and stop moaning, it’ll be over before we know it!

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.

Image result for colourful music notes

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.

Christmas Chaos!

Exhausting. Bewildering. Emotionally draining. But thoroughly magical.

All words to describe Christmas time in a primary school. This was my first proper Christmas as a class teacher and it was a time I had been looking forward to since I qualified. I was excited to create memories for my class, just as my teachers had for me when I was a child, as Christmas is the perfect time to do that.

I hadn’t realised just how exhausting it would be though. We’d survived the Christmas concert (and, of course, they did us proud) and I’d spent a couple of weeks organising Christmas activities, getting all the important stuff done so that I could enjoy run up to the end of term and avoiding (what felt like) every kind of illness you can name. By Monday I was prepared to hit Christmas Week with bags of enthusiasm. By Tuesday I had a sore throat, fuzzy head and fell asleep by seven. Thankfully, with the help of sheer willpower and a bag of medicine I managed to claw my way to the end of the week.

I feel like I’ve experienced it all this week. We’ve had everything from parties to tantrums in an action packed Christmas week. It started off pretty quietly, with early highlights being the mischief of our Elf on the Shelf, named Robin. The children have responded so well to his presence in the classroom and, to my surprise, they have stuck to the one rule: Robin was not to be touched. I was adamant from his first day with us that he would be touched by the end of term, but they proved me wrong. Every day we learn something! Robin has got up to all sorts of tricks – from zipwiring across the classroom on a candy cane, to creating a naughty and nice list (TA and I on the naughty list. Children will not let me forget that in a hurry), to chilling in a bath full of marshmallows. He’s done it all and it’s been so great to see the children react to his daily adventures.

I think the Christmas Chaos peaked on Wednesday, Christmas dinner day, when I entered a new phase – bewilderment. I was dressed as an elf (Don’t ask I why. I don’t even know myself. It just seemed like a good idea!) organising my class as they entered the hall for dinner. Children everywhere. Stressed kitchen staff working at full efficiency. Turkey and vegetables in every direction. Last Christmas being piped into the hall. It suddenly became too much and I had to sneak off for a paracetamol and berocca before my head popped. I’ve said it before, as much as I love this season, it can reach a nauseating stage where there is just too much Christmas.

Still, it’s not a complaint really, as it has been a pleasure to be involved in the children’s excitement. Seeing their eyes sparkle when they find the elf or hearing them talk about Father Christmas with awe in their voices has been wonderful. A perk of the job. This has been my first chance to be around children properly in the run-up to Christmas and it has rejuvenated the magic of the season. I loved hearing them chatter about their Christmas plans and I was really touched by the gifts and cards I received. Most importantly, I enjoyed just spending time with my class. In the last few days, I didn’t have the pressure of getting work done or meeting deadlines, I was just fortunate enough to have time to have fun with the children and strengthen that relationship. We’ve laughed all week and I hope it’s helped them see my classroom as a happy, positive place to learn and that they come back in January just as excited and enthused as I will be.

After I’ve taken these two weeks to recuperate, that is. *opens a box of Roses*

‘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!