Tag Archive: Education


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.

 

 

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‘I’m sending you on a physical literacy course…’

‘Great!’

I plaster a fixed smile across my face and barely take in the rest of the conversation. My brain is already swimming in flashbacks to high school and my stomach is doing somersaults. Physical literacy. Physical literacy. *gulp*

I wouldn’t say I have a phobia of being active. I’ll walk anywhere and I need no excuse to dance. At sports day I was the first over the high jump bar. I regularly hit the gym and I’m no stranger to the yoga mat. I’m just not very……. sporty. It’s not that I’m anti-sport, I just never really picked my team. I’m not very good with rules and positions so anything from tennis to rugby is just a total waste of time for me. But I honestly believe, and don’t laugh, that it could have been different.

Let me take you back to the nineties (Ooh. Wouldn’t that be nice?). I was in primary school and pretty active. I did all the normal child-stuff. After school I went to swimming and kickboxing lessons and during the holidays I was always found up a tree or in the middle of a field. My bike was never far away and we went on many adventures together. So far, so good.

Then, fast forward to the early naughties. High school. *ominous thunder*.

A striking memory of high school is that weekly feeling of dread as the PE lesson approached. I remember the vivid joy as I left the changing rooms knowing that that moment would be the longest lenght of time before I had to do PE again. Today, an hour goes by so fast, but as a 13 year old, that hour in the gym or the sports hall or the swimming pool seemed like weeks. I don’t know where it all went wrong but I’ve narrowed it down to two factors.

Firstly, I went to school with a particularly horrid bunch of people. If you were different in any way, you were ridiculed. I’m not saying I was bullied because it wasn’t just me. It was a bit like a rite of passage. Everyone suffered at some point. We all just got on with it in our school. Anyway, PE meant being teamed up with a bunch of cocky lads who happened to be sporty types and therefore could do no wrong. I didn’t get a chance to learn about the games because I was too busy focusing on making it through to the end of the session without being kicked, or whipped with a towel whilst I was getting changed, or being called a puff in front of everyone (including teacher). At the time I believed I hated PE, but I just hated PE at my school.

Secondly, my teachers didn’t help. Now, I don’t want to teacher-bash here, because I appreciate this is just my side of things. My teachers were always nice to me outside of lessons but, during PE, I just didn’t trust that they supported me. I didn’t feel like I could make mistakes (and therefore learn) because I would be ridiculed, if not by them but by my peers. My PE lessons were not a place were confidence could grow. I always remember one of them at parents’ evening saying ‘Sport isn’t for him, but I admire that [he] gets involved and makes an effort without any fuss’. Great. But I think I was labelled Un-sportworthy (new word) too soon. How did they know sport was not for me? I can’t imagine taking that attitude now or with any other subject. ‘Maths isn’t for him, but I appreciate he just gets on with it.’ It just wouldn’t happen.

Teachers should foster an interest in their subject and be facilitator in stoking a passion. From year 7 I didn’t feel like I could be one of the sporty types. It was already decided that I was a lost cause because my best friend was a girl and I sang show tunes at break time. For example, I remember in Year 11 a select group of boys were given the chance to use gym equipment during PE sessions. I was itching to have a go but, surprise, the boys chosen were always the boys from the football team. Our classes were divided firmly into the sporty and the un-sporty and us geeks didn’t stand a chance.

(By the way, don’t even get me started on the whole ‘boys can do football, girls can do aeorobics in the gym’ thing. It seems so old fashioned now but it was still happening for us ten years ago.)

I will always remember that feeling of dread – I’d give myself a pep-talk in the toilets before each lesson, reminding myself that I could get through it, and I always did, but it’s hard not to think about that horrible feeling whenever I think about PE. My negative experience in high school has had an effect on how I think about the whole subject, when really, I know there are elements that I enjoy. Physical literacy is all about reversing that and giving pupils positive experiences.

Anyway, the pre-course nerves soon dissipated and the course was one of the best I’ve been on. It was interesting and information and delivered by people who clearly have a passion for their subject. It was also A LOT of fun. I left with the message that Physical literacy is focused on creating an environment totally opposite to the one I experienced ten years ago. It’s all about getting children hooked on sport and being active, and encouraging a healthy lifestyle. It’s about providing a safe environment for children to develop their confidence and skills. As teachers, we were encouraged to provide diverse activities that encouraged all kinds of activity from sport to dance and we were provided with strategies for engaging the ‘un-sporty’ so that PE sessions are, importantly, fun for everyone. Although I wouldn’t say I was deeply traumatised by my experiences, it was a relief to see a shift in how PE lessons are delivered today. We shared many horror stories of our own experiences as pupils and were given hope that change was happening to challenge the attitude to PE. No longer is it battle of the best, but an inclusive subject where all can experience achievement and develop a passion to be active.

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.

Fair is Unfair

Picture it – the summer holidays (year and school undisclosed). I’d envisioned a blissful two weeks of games, songs, sunshine and fun. What I got was two weeks of moody children all playing by the same motto – ‘It’s not fair’.

OK, perhaps I’m not being fair there. Let’s just back track a bit. I realise that not all children are like this and I was just very unlucky to have ended up with two or three moaning myrtles in my summer club group (on the whole, they were a very pleasant bunch) but this lot were so sensitive to things to being ‘unfair’ they had me grasping at my hair in frustration. See, we appear to be obsessed with making things ‘fair’ and the children are picking up on it.

Every game, and this is no exaggeration, we played at summer club was scrutinised and torn apart if there was any hint that it might not be fair. When I was little, it didn’t matter whether the rules of the game were water tight or whether we all had a turn at winning because just taking part in the game was part of the fun. That seems to be something that’s fizzled out.

Case Study One – On one particular day, there were 11 children. We were playing a game that involved splitting the group into two teams. It doesn’t take a maths wiz to work out that, apart from asking a child not to participate (which I wasn’t going to do), we had to have one team of 5 children and one team of six. Cue ‘But that’s not fair!’, ‘They have more than us!’, ‘You can’t do that!’. Swallowing any sarcastic remarks about splitting children in half and plastering a pleasant, if slightly forced, grin on my face I gently reminded the children that it was just a game, lives were not at stake and that it didn’t really matter. Then came the bartering – ‘What if we get a 10 second head start?’, suggested one child from the team with the least members. ‘No, that’s not fair’, cried the opposing team. ‘We should have an adult on our team to make it fair!’ screeched another child. ‘No! Not an adult! That’s not fair!’ came the responding cry of horror. ‘Oh, I’m not playing! This is rubbish!’ cried the frustrated 26 year old club leader (I’m joking – it was one of the children, honest.)

My point is, do we now live in a world where the obsession with fair chances has led to our children expecting it? Please don’t get me wrong, I’m not talking about equal opportunities and differentiated work etc. as that is obviously very important but surely it’s healthy for children to experience some levels of unfairness? E.g. during play. The fact is, we don’t live in a fair world. It would be lovely if we did, but we don’t. These children couldn’t handle the fact that we were one player down – something that nobody could help – and it ended up spoiling their game (which ended disastrously when children from both teams began unashamedly cheating).

Case Study Two – On the hottest day of the year, we had organised a water fight. Children wore old clothes and were invited to bring water pistols. Only one child brought a super soaker. The other children were given miniature pistols which I had bought for them. Cue ‘That’s not fair! His water pistol is bigger than ours!’ ‘We should all take a turn using his water pistol’. ‘I’m not playing if I have to use this stupid water pistol because it’s not fair!’

Resisting the urge to soak every single one of them, I admitted defeat. The water fight lasted less than five minutes and was called to a halt when the two children who had fired the most shots began to cry because they didn’t like being squirted back.

How boring would that have been if we would have had to ensure each player had a turn with the water pistol, fairly timing each user and monitoring their number of squirts? That is what was expected on this day. I left disheartened, miserable at the fun the children had denied themselves and with wet socks after a child chose to pour all the water meant for refilling the water pistols over my feet.

I know this was a rare experience but it was also a learning curve for me. I feel that pandering to this obsession with fairness in play encourages an unsporting attitude and, let’s face it, spoils the fun. In some games, there has to be unfairness. Sometimes, that’s what spurs you on and encourages you to win. You might be the smallest basketball player but that doesn’t mean you can’t slam the most dunks (copyright- RebelliousG. Someone make it into a badge.) It’s worrying that this cotton-wool attitude can knock a child’s determination and ambition on the head. These children weren’t willing to throw themselves into the game and push themselves to win because they wanted it handed to them. If I had a pound for every time a child said ‘It’s not fair’ in summer club then I’d be on a beach with a mojito by now. I’m not saying we should make games deliberately unfair, but children need to be encouraged to embrace the factors we can’t do anything about. To make the best out of a bad situation. To acknowledge that, sometimes, life isn’t fair but we can’t let it spoil our fun. Because if they can’t handle uneven teams in a game of hide & seek, then the sad fact is, they’re going to have a huge shock as they get older.

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.

Image result for TeachingIt only seems like ten minutes since I wrote my last blog, on the eve of my first day as Year One teacher. I’ve been asked loads of times this week how my first week has been and I’ve answered firstly with ‘Amazing! I love it!’ and secondly with ‘It’s been so busy!’. And it’s true. I’ve been kept occupied for every second of the day and before I knew it I was being forced to stop thinking about school and have a glass of wine on Friday night. (That’s right. Forced.)

Anyway, rather than babble on about how wonderful this week has been (I really have been unbearable, I think), here’s 5 lessons I have learned in my first week in year one.

Number One – Never underestimate the power of the sticker box.

I have a very special sticker box which is decorated with comic strip style letters (‘boom!’, ‘wham!’, ‘pow!’). It was one of the first things the children spotted on Monday morning and I only have to reach for it during a moment of chattery madness and suddenly on the carpet before me are 30 silent statues, all sitting straight backed, arms crossed, fingers on lips (Isn’t it funny how they pick that up? It’s not something I’ve taught them…) Anyway, I’m hopeful I can harness the sticker box’s power and use it against adults.

Number Two – Toy Story is real.

It’s not unusual for me to be totes emosh but this week I had an influx of teary-eye-wobbly-voice-hormones, brought on at one stage by the sight of a group of children playing with my childhood toys. Toys and stuffed animals that have been locked up in boxes in my dad’s garage and mum’s loft for sixteen years. Seeing them get a new lease of life and actually get played with was magical. *sniff*

Number Three – Children will find magic anywhere.

It’s incredible how their imaginations work. One child has been in awe of an old plastic tortoise that I’d found at my mum’s house. His eyes lit up when I showed it to him after he told me his favourite animal was a tortoise. He’s named it (Taddy the Tortoise) and has enjoyed playing with the tortoise throughout the week. We’ve also been getting letters from The Jolly Postman (*ahem* *waves*) who has been setting post-office-related challenges for Year One. They’ve been getting so excited each time a new letter is pulled from our letter box, it’s hard not to smile.

Number Four – Being constantly animated can be exhausting.

I have not stopped doing, what I have labelled, Infants Voice. It’s a cross between Disney-hero and Morning-TV-presenter. I’ve noticed other teachers in the infants do it too, so I’m not alone in the madness (until I do it amongst family. Then it’s embarrassing.) It finally got to me on Friday when I realised myself and Super-TA were being totally over-dramatic about something very small (I can’t remember what – someone had left a lid off a pen or something) and the giggles began (hidden from children behind a Winnie the Pooh book, which didn’t help matters).

Number Five – You cannot, CANNOT do everything in one week. But that’s OK.

I had so many plans and, ridiculously, envisioned that by the first Friday my classroom would be all ready and everything would be sorted. WRONG. Although it’s looking pretty fine, there’s still a long list of things to get done and, those with years of experience behind them have told me to take my time. It seems I’ve spent a lot of time making lists, that have got longer and longer and then lost (and repeat). I think, really, that the fact everything will never be perfect and finished is a good thing. There will always be something to do, something to fix, something to tick off the to-do list – so my job will never get stagnant. I don’t cope well with stagnant so all this just confirms I’m in the right place.

Smaller lessons –

  • Don’t let the children collect their fruit and then put their coats on. Flying fruity cloakroom chaos will occur.
  • When looking for a speaker’s toy to pass around during circle time, don’t choose one that plays the Pokémon theme tune every time it’s touched.
  • If you’re hanging material over a surface with just one strip of cellotape, you’re a fool.
  • It is imperative that any cake in the staffroom is consumed immediately. (Not really a lesson, more of a Golden Rule. It doesn’t hurt to be reminded of this one. Very serious.)
  • Children remember everything. EVERYTHING.

 

A Diary of Day One

Sunday

The flat is silent. As it has been all day. I’m curled up on the sofa with a camomile tea and enjoying every moment of peace. My diary is on the table and it’s already pretty full of events, deadlines and meetings. So, today has been all about enjoying doing nothing. I don’t think there are many days like this to come because tonight is the eve of my return to work.

I’m all prepared – well, as prepared as I can be – because tomorrow is a big day. It’s my first day with my own class. After a year on supply, I’m relieved to be finally settling into my own environment and making my own decisions. But it’s a scary thought. I’ll miss travelling from school to school, working in different environments and experiencing all the staff room fun that I have in the last year, but I trained to have my own class. So tomorrow is a bit of big deal.

Strangely, I didn’t really get that ‘new job’ feeling until this weekend. I’m going to be working in a school that I have had lots of contact with over the last three years, in fact, I had my first school job, as a TA, here in 2013. So it’s always felt like I was just going home, back to my safe environment. It’s only been this weekend that I’ve realised things might be quite different.

I’m in control, which is a terrifying thought! On supply, I’ve followed the teacher’s notes or asked the TA for help if needed but tomorrow it’ll be down to me. (Thankfully I have an awesome TA who has been amazing already and we haven’t even started properly yet). My biggest worry is that I’ll forget to do something – Super-TA assures me that I will but it won’t be a big deal – but there’s just so much to do. I’ve heard teachers describe the job as being like trying to spin hundreds of plates and, looking through my diary, I can already hear smashing tableware. And what if we get to July and Blwyddyn Un haven’t learned anything?! Imagine the shame.

So, the challenge for this ambitious perfectionist is to remind himself that there is no such thing as a perfect teacher, and that he is still in the early stages of his career.

Tomorrow is just Day One.

Monday

I thought I’d be saying ‘It’s the end of a very long day’ but actually it’s the end of a very quick day! The (few) gears in my head haven’t stopped whirring since 7am this morning and the day has propelled along at top speed….but I’ve loved it. I love being busy and occupied and today I was certainly that, but in a good way. I started off frantically altering my classroom and provision areas, making use of my last few minutes of peace to improve anything. Then, the doors were opened and the children sheepishly drifted in. I was surprised at just how tentative they were. I’d covered this class several times on supply and they are a chatty bunch but today they were very calm and settled. I suppose it’s easy for us grown-ups to forget how daunting that first day in a new class is. We spent a lot of the morning explaining all the new routines and giving the children the chance to explore all the new areas. They were so excited to see the Reading Garden (complete with LED leaves – ‘Oh wow! That’s amazing!’). It was also lovely to see them playing enthusiastically with some toys from my own childhood – I felt a bit like Andy in Toy Story 3 at one point. Things took a bit of a chaotic turn at break time as children tried to juggle fruit with coats but lessons were learned and tomorrow break time will be a slicker operation (with a lot less orange peel on the floor).

So, it was an action packed day, but by 3 o’clock I’d realised just how happy I was. I’m far more comfortable in my own class, even though it might take a bit of time for me to find my rhythm and settle into the foundation phase. I’m really looking forward to teaching (and learning with) these children. They’re a great bunch and I can’t wait to get to know them. I’ve spent the evening researching and planning activities that I’m so excited to do (Note: That has been the word of the day – ‘Oh, I’m so excited to be here in year one…’ ‘Oh, children we’ve got lots of exciting things for you to do..’ ‘Are you excited to be in a new class?’ ‘How exciting!’– I would not blame the children for thinking I was an over-energetic madman who was obsessed with finding things exciting.)

So, a busy day but exciting times ahead. Now though, I’m very excited to get into bed, ready to tackle Day Two.

It’s one of my favourite times of year. The sun is shining, the sunglasses are on and school is at its most relaxed. These last few days are the memory makers. It’s when we reflect on the past year and look forward to the next. For me, this next year is going to be very important, and preparations within in my new classroom are beginning (how exciting!). For the children, they are preparing to say goodbye to some of their friends for the summer, whilst year 6 prepare for a final farewell to the school. Staff members are finally beginning to wind down, envisioning the six weeks of bliss ahead and appreciating all the hard work that has happened in the last year. Some staff members are spending their last few days at school before they move on to other adventures in the future. It’s an emotional time, but one of my favourites.

I’m very lucky, you see, because I have ended up working with the best people. You might think that your colleagues are the best, but I’m sorry, they’re not, because mine are.  You’re mistaken.

I remember the moment it clicked. I’d worked in a couple of places and always got on with my colleagues but this is the first job where I actually felt like I fitted in. I was sat in the staffroom, second or third week in, when somebody brought in this massive cake and another person suggested a staff trip to see Wicked. I knew from that moment that I’d come to the right place.

Anyway anyway anyway, gushing aside, the people I work with make this time of year special. We have someone who will be retiring on Wednesday. She’s going to be sorely missed and its lovely to see the rest of the staff (and the children) making sure she understands that. From gifts, to specially written songs and odes – this week is all about celebrating achievement. The achievements of those who are saying goodbye and those who are staying.

I’m not just talking about the adults. The children are fantastic – thoughtful, generous, hilarious – we are constantly thankful for the wonderful young people we teach every day. It’s lovely to watch them relaxing with their friends and just enjoying being children (d’ya remember that?) They can be capable of the most incredible acts of kindness and this is a peak time to witness that. Watching the year 6’s realise that they’ll have moved on in just a few days is touching, but exciting when you think of the adventures they have to come.

So anyway, just a short one this week, but my message is – embrace the end of term tears! It might get a bit emosh – whether you’re sad to say goodbye, overwhelmed by acts of thoughtfulness or just bloody relieved the term is over – take stock of what you’re thankful for and enjoy it!

The week started in London. Packed with people, jostling and bustling, the hub of everything. It ended in the middle of Wales, nothing but green, the odd sheep and the small matter of 24 eight year olds. My surroundings may have shifted but I was no less busy. This was not a jolly holiday where I could put my feet up and enjoy the view. This was a year 4 residential.

Now, don’t be fooled, I love residentials. I only have vague memories of trip to Fishguard in year 6, but I have clocked up four as a staff member so far, and each one has been brilliant. I couldn’t pick a favourite between Nant BH, Pentrellyncymer and Glanllyn – each has been filled with fun and, most importantly, fantastic food. (I mean it – you get fed well at these places. If I had to pick a favourite activity it would absolutely be breakfast/lunch/dinner time).

My home for two nights last week was Pentrellyncymer. As with all three residential experiences, the staff were brilliant, giving expert advice whilst acting as figures of trust (and fun!) for the children and staff. I’ve never met a miserable instructor and this latest batch were wonderful with the children.

I know I’m not alone in believing that learning cannot be limited to the classroom and there is so much that can be taken from residential visits. Children are given the chance to experience activities they may never do. How often do you start you day canoeing and end it gorge walking? Naturally, some of the children are a bit nervous at the start, but by the end they are converted to outdoors warriors. A stand out moment from the last visit was a girl pulling herself over a waterfall, waterproof trousers overflowing with large quantities of river, but with a great big grin across her face. She didn’t complain, she thought it was hilarious. She had transformed into Jungle Jane. Admittedly, I never thought I’d enjoy the kind of activities we undertake on these visits, but from my first trip I was addicted. I love watching the children’s faces as they learn a new skill or conquer a fear and I love getting soaking wet in the river or scrambling to the top of the climbing wall. It’s such a change of environment from a classroom. It’s great for the children to experience the beautiful Welsh countryside too. We’re so lucky to live a short car journey from stunning views and a passion for our country should be instilled as early as possible. Wales just has so much to offer!

It’s a tough job, for the instructors, to convert what can be a frightening experience into one of adventure and enjoyment. They always manage to do it with style. This trip was particularly successful, especially as it was Year 4’s first trip away.  We only had one or two tears and even they were quelled with a mug of hot chocolate and a piece of toast. It’s easy to forget just how scary that first night away from home is, but the centre staff do such a good job that it is rarely an issue.

My favourite thing about these trips (apart from the food….did I mention it’s amazing?) is the fantastic bonding opportunities they provide. You can see connections strengthening between the children as they take part in team building exercises and rely on each other for support during the more demanding activities. I also think it’s a great chance to develop that important teacher-pupil bond. Earlier in the year, I went to Nant BH with year 6 and I certainly felt like my relationship with some of the class had strengthened on coming back. You are their figure of stability and trust more than ever whilst they are away from home. Although the instructors know what they’re doing, they’re strangers to the children at first, whereas you are a figure of familiarity and they therefore rely on you to support them. Sometimes you find the ones you struggle to connect with in school end up softening on these trips. I’ve certainly seen that happen. You also see these children in a different light when they’re away from home. This week I’ve seen an often anxious and nervous girl reach the top of the climbing wall, smiling all the way. I’ve seen a quiet year six boy become the leader of a canoe fleet. (That’s right. He became a Viking.) The change can be incredible and wonderful to witness.

It’s not just the children the benefit! Those late night chats whilst you wait for the children to nod off are the basis for staff bonding – highly important, especially when aided by a buffet of chocolate. We always end up giggling at the end of the day, recounting our adventures and sharing tales. It’s a vital team building exercise!

So, a lot can be learned from a good residential. The children pick up fantastic skills and they also get a taste of independence – being given the opportunity to make decisions and look after themselves in a safe, supervised environment. For staff they are an endless treat and I can’t wait for my next one.

It’s been a horrible week. With news of senseless shootings and stabbings and deaths plastered all over the news, the cloud of misery hanging over our country is almost tangible.

In school, the shock has been palpable within the staffroom. We’ve sat in disgust, grasping at thoughts in an attempt to make sense of the headlines. It’s certainly left us grown-ups horrified, and I’ve been thinking about the effect this week will have on our children.

What I’ve been thinking is, should we allow children to be exposed to the hate of the world or protect them from it?  Do we run the risk of terrifying them by showing just how horrible people can be or do we trick them into thinking everything is jolly and Disneyfied. My answer hovers somewhere in between.

I think children should be made aware of the hate within this world as, unfortunately as this week has shown, there is a lot of it about. Mollycoddling them will only set them up for disappointment. However, there is also a lot of good that can be shown. We should be training these children to combat hate with kindness. We should be ensuring that they are not naïve or ignorant, that they are prepared and armed emotionally.

I’ve been teaching in year 4 this week and, as I’ve done on several occasions during those (rare) spare minutes at the end of the day, we’ve watched Newsround on the interactive whiteboard. The children love it and requested it. I was a wary of playing at first, aware that the events in Orlando may not be the most pleasant end to the day, but thinking on, I decided the children needed to hear not just about the horrific attack but also about the surge of support, respect and love that was sparked around the globe. Scenes from around the World, including Orlando and Soho, have been so powerful, I felt they should see that the majority of humans will not let hate win. The children weren’t upset or disturbed or frightened. They were sympathetic towards the victims and their families. They were shocked that another human could act this way. They were supportive.

Back in November, after the attacks in Paris, I was teaching in a school which mentioned the terrible events during prayer time. The children’s questions were answered honestly. There were no dramas from the children or fact-dodging from the teachers. In the classroom, the children constructed a memorial featuring the Eiffel tower and the peace symbol. The children weren’t forced into creating this, they did this themselves after hearing of the attacks and wanting to create a space of prayer and respect for the victims. They were showing empathy. They were just as disgusted and confused over the incident as the adults.

Last year I was in another school teaching RE. We were discussing Islam when a child raised her hand and said ‘My dad told me all Muslims are terrorists’. Wow. This is when I realised how important it is that we teach our children the honest facts. At home, they could be hearing rubbish like that comment or, just as damaging, having World events shielded from them. I gently corrected the little girl, aware this was not her view point, and a discussion followed.

These dreadful events should never happen, but when they do we should be taking the opportunity to involve children in a way that doesn’t scare them, but strengthens them. We should be developing their ability to empathise and care, to recognise hate and to connect emotionally. We should be encouraging the compassion that children are so capable of. It would be easy to shield them from the atrocities, hide the facts and pretend everything is wonderful. But what is that teaching our children? How it that helping them? In their lives, they are going to experience upset and pain. They’ll be seeing acts of senseless horror on the news. Whilst shoving that in their face and screaming ‘This is what the World’s like! This is what you have to look forward to!’ is obviously not what I’m suggesting, I do think it’s important to gently give them a peak at the reality of the World we live in. A focus need not be on the negatives, but the (for want of a better word) positives – in this case the touching displays of support for Orlando, Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Love is Love speech, the wonderful work of Jo Cox.

To finish, let’s go back to that little girl with the ignorant father. ‘What is a terrorist, then?’ she asked, and I carefully explained. ‘Oh,’ she said, when I was finished, nodding in understanding. ‘I thought it was someone who travelled the world and visited lots of places’. ‘No,’ I said, unable to resist smiling. ‘That’s a tourist.’