Tag Archive: 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.

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

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

(Allow me to interrupt here with some case studies

Person 1:  Stop…

Person 2:  IN THE NAME OF LOVE!

Person 1: I’ll get an ice pack…

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

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

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

Case closed.)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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!

‘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.

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‘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.