How to work in the holidays

Option 1: Don’t

Option 2: After doing three poorly attended two hour holiday revision sessions, completely re-write the whole of y7 8 and 9 schemes of work for next term, including the latest pedagogical nuggets and tips you have picked up from twitter, blogs and that excellent just-published book by the Professor of intricate and unnecessary classroom practice. Then edit and adapt in detail the perfectly decent scheme of work for y10 your colleague wrote last summer. Enthusiastically email them your suggestions and tweaks, receiving no reply – ever. Blog the feck out of all your efforts and tweet to death the link to your blog, hoping someone with 10 times more followers than you re-tweets it.

Option 3: Promise yourself to a) mark those 3 classes of books that somehow escaped your green pen for the whole of the last half term (or ‘term’ if you are under 26) b) get at least the bones of the first week’s lessons for the new GCSE planned and c) find out what you are teaching for the morning’s lessons up to your free on Monday which is either period 3 or 4. Or maybe just the first half hour of the day – after all you can plan the rest of Monday’s lessons if they are busy for 20 minutes in lesson 1

No one needs help with option 1, I have no experience at all with option 2 so you’re on your own there. As for the final possibility, the best way is to bring your marking home and leave it in the boot of your car so you don’t see it until the day you tackle it. Then do it one day with the music turned up loud and reward yourself with chocolate, or whatever floats your boat, every 15 books or so. Leave the planning part until the day before. This will help you focus your mind and you will spend less time faffing about looking for a good picture for your opening powerpoint slide (unless you work at Michaela). Then put out your work clothes for Monday morning, find your shoes and classroom keys and finish for the day.

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The Maths of Workload

Recent DfE report suggests teachers are working on average 54 hours a week. (see the TES article here)

There are 39 weeks in a school year

that is 2,106 hours

_______________

Let’s say the average worker does 48 weeks in a year at 37 hours

that is 1,776 hours

_______________

A difference of 230 hours

______________

230 hours is 6.2weeks of work for an ‘average worker’ doing their 37 hours a week

_______________

So an average teacher works a month and a half more each year than an ‘average worker’

_______________

Teachers also work in their holidays

_______________

If only this post wasn’t just being read by teachers

 

 

Pissed off by a poster

I know I should let it go, move on and worry about bigger things. But today this cheery poster got my goat.


First of all I will say that some bits I can go with:

  1. Pupils going out into the world to do wonderful things
  2. Imparting knowledge
  3. Listening without judgement (though this last one for me is an aim not an accomplishment)

But the rest are ridiculous and plain old exploitative . Look at these two

  • To be magnificent inspite of late nights and early mornings
  • To give meaningful feedback even if my pile of books seems endless

If these things are happening, then you need to be speaking to your line manager about workload or finding out if there is a shortcut you are uninformed about. Worse still, if you put up these statements in your class or staffroom, then you are normalising overwork and promoting the idea that teachers should put their job before the rest of their life.

I love teaching but that doesn’t mean people should take advantage of me and expect endless piles of books in my care to receive detailed written feedback nor should they demand I sacrifice my sleep for it. If you want me to “fulfil my side of the teaching and learning partnership” then give me conditions that help me do my job more effectively and more skillfully, don’t heap on the work and ask me to sign an allegiance saying I will complete all the work thrown at me no what impact it has on me, my partner, my family, my life or my health.

People who do or expect this are people who say teaching is a vocation not a job. And people who say such a thing are more likely than most to herd and harass teachers out of the profession.

This is an awful poster.

We know what we are talking about, so we should talk about it

Firstly let me make it clear that, rather than reading my version, you’d be better turning to

Looking back maybe it was obvious. I used to say I only got into teaching because I wasn’t brave enough to try being a stand up comic. I always like to lay out my classroom with space at the front for me to pace, to strut and to perform. I was never so good at standing off to one side. So, whereas I wouldn’t like to call myself a sage, I know I love to be on the stage. And I know I could teach children and explain to them things they didn’t already know in a way that (I hope) was often relevant and always done with enthusiasm for my subject.

Yet when I joined twitter I got dazzled by the lights. I couldn’t stop clicking on links written by teachers who had just implemented a newly developed idea that was flipping excellent. Innovators flying solo and above the rest of us with embellishments and gizmos to take the drab out of learning and engage those oh so disinterested pupils. Discussion and decision-making games to make children that distracted they were tricked into learning.  At the same time for various reasons, some that are documented on this blog and some not yet, I began to lose belief in my own ability to teach effectively. This double slap combination left me grasping at every suggestion I read. Surely the bold world of twitter, blogs and the world wide web could save me and my sagging, flailing career.

But all these ideas led to was a distant ideal I could never replicate in my classroom and an unshakable feeling I was failing. The harder I worked at mimicking these hero teachers the worse I felt about my job. After all, if I was putting all that effort in and still my pupils weren’t really learning or often even that interested,  I must surely be a poor teacher. I was working harder and harder, introducing new formats and plans every week for little if any gain. I was drowning under technique and forgetting my subject.

I can’t say there was some road to Damascus moment that saved me. I had already slowly realised how much easier it was to rely on myself as the expert and not some mysterious ever-mutating teaching strategy before I found the two books listed above. But when I read Daisy Christodoulou defending and promoting direct instruction and Jess Lund write about “no nonsense, no burn out” it wasn’t just me and a few others at my own school. What we were thinking, others were thinking and championing. Such a relief!

And so now I am confident enough again to tell my pupils stuff, to explain things to them, to introduce them to facts, to talk to all of them – from the front. I still rely on other resources too of course: youtube is my good friend and so is the text book (radical, eh?) Then I set them some work to support that learning and check to ensure they have understood it. I make sure these first pieces come with support so that they can gain confidence and then finally once they have that knowledge secured, I introduce some more challenging decision-making tasks. Maybe then, from time to time, I might plan in a game or a gimmick as well:)

How I became good at my job….. 

Go on, indulge me for a minute, allow me to show off just briefly: I am a good teacher, I have been practicing it for nearly a quarter of a century so I should be by now. I am not good enough for the headteacher unannounced to make a beeline to my room with an important visitor, but I know what I am doing. So allow me to pass on something I think I’ve done rather well in my career….

When my own children were of primary school age, the finishing times of my own secondary school dovetailed beautifully with theirs so that I could pick them up three times a week. Admittedly on one of those days I had to ensure a) I parked right by the school exit and b) leave my last lesson of the day as the bell rang and overtake my pupils down the steps. But I there and on time for my own children when they finished their school day.  It the bit I liked best was the 10 minute walk home, asking them about their day, talking about whatever was in their minds that afternoon before they forgot it all. I f I hadn’t been present to ask I would never have known about their day and that of course made all the rush and planning worthwhile. Of course I still had the same amount of work to do and many afternoons I would really be just ignoring my own children as I marked books and they played or watched the telly, but I was making a statement to myself about where my priorities should be. I was refusing to let the job push further into my own life. I was drawing a line.

I was frequently restless for a new job in those years. My nose was in the TES website and newspaper every Friday. But I never moved either on or up. At sometime in each application process, maybe as late as the drive to the school for the interview, the thought of the extra commute and the wasted time I would be spending in the car made me realise I wouldn’t accept the job even if I was offered it. I would be giving up so much I could never claim back.  So I stayed put; working five minutes drive from my own front door and my children’s primary school gate beat all career temptations hands down.

Now most managers find this attitude both  a mystery and a disappointment. After all, they have climbed up the greasy pole, so they normally make the mistake of assuming that everyone should want to as well. If you choose not to chase promotion, you have to be patient with senior leaders who only slowly realise that you are not what they hoped you would be. Instead they will prefer to talk to, to swap ideas with, those teachers eager to implement a whole school strategy that will feather their own CV. Once they perceive you as just a teacher and not an aspiring leader you lose your lustre. The length of time you spend at a school isn’t seen often enough as a source of experience to be utilised. It’s as though you are seat blocking in the staff room like an elderly patient bed blocks in a ward.

But that’s easy to deal with. I don’t worry about that. I am a happier person, both in personal and my professional life. I know my children are getting a better father from the choices I have made and I my pupils are getting a better teacher. I don’t want anyone to think that any of this has been some sort of selfless sacrifice; that I have laid down my own ambition for my three children. Most definitely not. Everything – for me, my family, my children and my pupils has benefited. And as I said I am even good at my job.

You are doing a fantastic job

It’s strange to say but I loved being reminded of school this Christmas Day. At the end of term a wrapped book-shaped present was placed in my pigeon hole. I didn’t open it then and there and so I waited till the 25th. Then, amongst all the family gifts and Cava and child excitement, I unwrapped it. The book was a really thoughtful gift.

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I have started teaching mindfulness to Year 10s in September and this fits right in with that. But it was the card that came with it that made me melt.

img_0034It is so rare as a teacher that you receive such a meaningful thank you from parents or from anyone else. But what I really liked is that this student is not one of those to demonstrate how she is feeling. So without the card I would have had no idea she was profiting from the lessons and implementing what I had been teaching.

Now if this has happened to one my pupils then it has almost certainly happened to others too. But more than that, it must have happened to many of yours too. Which is something you teachers shouldn’t forget. YOU’RE DOING A FANTASTIC JOB -EVEN IF NO ONE HAS SAID THANK YOU FOR IT.

Would you dare to watch the TV in the last lessons of term?

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Since we are now telling all pupils how important attending as many schooldays as you can, it would seem hypocritical to spend a day or two in the last week of term watching DVD’s and colouring in. Also if your headteacher happens to be predisposed to dropping in just to see how things are going on the last Wednesday of term you may not have considered slipping in a DVD and pressing play. But then again, you are screamingly tired and can’t even get order out in the right words.

Well fear not! Here is a plan that means you can educate, engage, play a DVD (well BBC iplayer) AND tick some boxes toward achieving your whole school literacy policy.

Next week I will be re-using an old plan that always worked well with Key Stage 3 classes. Thanks go to Julia Skinner (@theheadsoffice ) for her original idea of the 100 word challenge which this is all based upon.

I use the following resources:

  1. BBC iplayer and the Planet Earth 2 series, though a box set of planet Earth (1?) works just as well
  2. One pen and one exercise book per pupil

Here’s how it goes:

  1. I ask the class to write down 6-8 words that come to mind when they think of “deserts” or whatever the title of the episode is that they are to watch. They have to draw a line under those words.
  2. Then I tell them we are going to watch a DVD on this topic for about 30 minutes and afterwards they are going to produce a piece of descriptive writing on the landscapes they have seen and what happens there. (I emphasise landscapes because as a geography teacher, this works better than the animals they would go for without any guidance, but you could choose any other facet of the programme). I say they should write down some words and ideas for this during the DVD, but not many as actually watching and listening is more important than taking lots of notes.
  3. I stop the video with about 20 minutes to go of the lesson (ours last for an hour) and tell them to complete their piece of descriptive writing. The only two rules they have to follow are:
  • It must not exceed 100 words (I am strict on this)
  • They cannot use any of their original 6-8 words they wrote down at the start of the lesson

As this is the last lesson of the term chances for peer and self assessment are not available, but I know this idea could be extended further to allow for more redrafting and improving of their work.

But as a stand alone end of term lesson that both challenges my pupils to learn and think and is also a bit different, this has so far worked very well.

and it has David Attenborough in it – so you cant go wrong