She-Ra, A Feminist Icon?

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Within my first few weeks of arriving at university it was decided that we would go out in fancy dress, just for the fun of it. There was only one choice for me – She-Ra, Princess of Power. I bought and fashioned a cheap white dress, found a gold belt, created arm sleeves from the legs of gold shiny leggings and then made a red cloak from fabric bought from the local market. I found a tiara from a fancy dress shop, but it pinched my face so tightly that my forehead almost covered my eyes and I decided to leave it out. It gave me as much satisfaction at 20 years old as it would have done thirteen years before – for those few hours I brought back some brilliant memories from my childhood. Granted, I may have been a beer drinking, chain smoking version of my idol, but I’m sure even She – Ra indulged in a pint from time to time.

Like lots of children born in the 80’s, I looked up to her – she was the ultimate  icon for my seven year old self. She was a fighter – a member of the rebellion who sought to overthrow the evil Hordak and his army in Etheria, and she did it with style. She could heal the sick, communicate with animals and kick ass, and she managed to do it all with perfect hair and make-up in tact whilst brandishing a magical sword and flying atop her magical unicorn, Swift Wind.

Unlike many cartoons of the same era, She-Ra was female focused (you only have to examine The Smurfs to see what I’m talking about here). Instead of the being the ‘token’ woman in the show, she was the leader of a whole army of strong, equally leggy and fabulous woman. An earlier, more flamboyant Spice Girls, if you will, without the autotune.

She maintained her femininity while being as strong, if not stronger than her male counterparts. Instead of being the ‘damsel in distress,’ She-Ra frequently rescued her male friends – in particular the moustache sporting Bow, who was clearly still in the closet. She was smart and independent, held her own with any male character and did so without wearing pants.

She-Ra might have lived in the Princess of Power Palace, but she certainly didn’t sit in it’s walls and wait for a handsome prince to rescue her. (However, as a side note, the gas and electricity bills can’t have been cheap, although I doubt that Whispering Woods and the surrounding areas had a council tax band rating. Her Sword of Protection also allowed her to keep in contact with her brother, He-Man, thus saving on an enormous phone bill, so there were at least some benefits).

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There were also a few perks that clearly came with the job. Her transformation, complete with more lights, fireworks and wind machines than a Beyonce concert, left her with brushable hair extensions, a gold tiara and bright red lipstick. For free. I was also jealous of her ability to communicate with animals. Although I can usually guess how my cats are feeling by the ‘stop poking me and go away’ expressions on their faces, it would be quite amusing to find out exactly what they’re thinking.

At the end of each episode there would be the message, or the moral of the story, that told us why it was important to love each other, look after each other and respect the environment around us. I don’t see that very much in cartoons anymore. Certainly not in ones where women kick ass in hot pants…

Suck on that, Dora.

A Long Awaited Teaching Buzz…

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I earned my wages today. I’ve taught five lessons, sent letters out to the entire Year 7 cohort, ran rehearsals with my sixth formers and the day culminated in a very successful concert in which the students kicked ass.

And do you know what? I loved every minute of it. I’ve been so stressed out with the sheer level of coursework I’ve had to print off and file after being ill and tired for so long, that I almost forgot why I do what I do.

I must admit – I was dreading it earlier in the week. The students that I work with, while talented, are not exactly the most motivated when it comes to practising in their own time and I was concerned that we would get to the rehearsals and have lots of work to do, but they were absolutely brilliant, to the point where I had to stop myself from running over to them all and giving them a massive hug. They had invited their friends and family, who all applauded and cheered them when they had finished and the look on their faces when they were leaving was that of sheer pride. And I was proud of them too – I’ve watched them grow from squeaky 15 year olds into young adults, and I’m going to miss those that are leaving at the end of this year.

This. This is why I do the job. This is why I lose sleep, why I’m up early and go to bed late, why I have dreams about being in a school and not knowing where my classes are, why I have had to turn down nights out with friends… Days like today have reminded me that the sheer buzz that is to be gained from observing students achieving things far beyond even their own expectations makes it worth it.

I’ll sleep well tonight, and I’m sure they will too!

You can also find me on Twitter and Tumblr @suzie81blog

Lies I Tell My Students

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I’m in the lucky position that I work at a well – managed school with lots of wonderful children and supportive staff. Generally, I like my job, but over the years I’ve become increasingly frustrated with certain aspects of the role that has left me feeling like I am doing a disservice to my students.

While my job title states that I’m a music teacher, I often take on parental duties and in my career as a Learning Mentor and later as a teacher I’ve dealt with issues with different students that have shocked me and made me appreciate how lucky I was in my own childhood. Our children are exposed to graphic things at a younger age than previous generations and are often more ‘street-wise’ than I certainly ever was. However, despite this, I believe that we don’t truly prepare them for the life ahead of them, and in some cases I feel like I outright lie to my students. While this may seem harsh, we may be setting them up for a fall…

 

liar1Lie 1: If you work hard and follow the expected route of GCSE’s, A Levels and Degree (or equivalent in other countries) you’ll get a well paid, satisfying job.

Truth: While good qualifications may give students a slightly greater advantage in the pursuit of a job, it’s not guaranteed that they will secure the job that they’re actually qualified for, particularly in the present economic climate. Additionally they are almost certainly likely to start at the bottom and will be expected to work their way up.

 

tumblr_m3ggbcT1hv1rrdiwlo2_400Lie 2: If you want something and work hard enough, you’ll eventually achieve it.

Truth: A goal or ambition is always a fantastic thing to have, but it is also important to be realistic. As a music teacher I’ve worked with several students who genuinely believe that they could have a professional singing career (programmes like The X Factor and The Voice have a lot to answer for). Admittedly, they can sing in tune, but even after extensive vocal lessons they haven’t shown much improvement in their expression or musicality and simply don’t have the natural talent that is required to be a successful singer. Ambition is wonderful, but sometimes certain careers require levels of talent that often cannot be taught, and the sad fact of ‘making it’ in the entertainment industry is that sometimes it comes down to not what you know, but rather who you know.

 

tumblr_m8kbsqUdtp1qb9fucLie 3: Once you leave school, you’ll never have to deal with bullying again. (I heard this nonsense spouted a few years ago at a school I was visiting).

Truth: Children that bully often become adults that bully. My current school has a strict anti-bullying policy and responds swiftly to allegations, but this isn’t the case everywhere. It’s likely that students will have to deal with bullies in the workplace, and I feel we need to make aggressive students be responsible for their actions and equip weaker students with the tools to deal with it in the future.

 

tumblr_m4tf1etWU21qm6oc3o1_500Lie 4: A simple apology will make everything go away and all is forgiven.

Truth: An apology is a good start, but it doesn’t automatically make things better. I always believe that each lesson should be treated as a ‘fresh start’ and if student has had a bad day, I’ll accept their apology and move on. However, in the real world, an apology won’t always resolve issues, and if someone had truly felt aggrieved by the behaviour of another they certainly won’t be able to move on and forgive in the same way.

 

Will-Ferrell-Elf-You-Sit-on-a-Throne-of-LiesLie 5: Deadlines can be repeatedly extended if you can’t be bothered and it is still possible to get the same grades as those who have handed their work in on time.

Truth: I’ve lost count of the amount of times where I’ve sat individually with students in my lunch times, after school and during the holidays to allow them to catch up on work that they didn’t fully complete in a lesson because they weren’t ‘in the mood’. After extra time, they passed the course and some achieved a grade equal to those that worked considerably harder during lesson time. In the real world, deadlines are there for a reason, and if they aren’t met there are always consequences. A missed deadline may cost somebody their job.

What are your thoughts? You can also find me on Twitter and Tumblr @suzie81blog and don’t forget to check out my Facebook page http://www.facebook.com/Suzie81Speaks

This was originally published on my blog last year – as I approach my year anniversary I thought that I would share it with you again – It has been one of my most popular posts!!

Inspection Exhaustion

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Meh

My absence (hence the amount of reblogs and my lack of replies to your comments) recently has been due to the fact that my school has been undergoing a massive inspection. It isn’t the dreaded OFSTED, but may has well have been – my school is an outstanding Academy and therefore we also have routine inspections from the company that sponsors it. To say that I am exhausted is an understatement.

I don’t believe in ‘show’ lessons – I don’t plan anything that I wouldn’t normally deliver on a daily basis – but the added stress of triple checking paperwork to ensure that it is correct has resulted in about ten hours sleep in the last few days. I had everything in place and organised into specific folders, I printed off plans, seating plans, important information about individual students and overviews of the content of the lesson. I went into work earlier each day, making sure that everything was set up to the highest possible standard. The anticipation of everything gave me an enormous loss of appetite.

I wasn’t observed.

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Double meh

It’s always a double – edged sword in situations like this – I’m pleased that I wasn’t seen as the process is quite nerve-racking, but at the same time I was a little disappointed as I had some awesome lessons over the last few days and I spent hours printing off paperwork that I didn’t need to. However, I’ve watched some of my colleagues go through the process with various inspectors and I was pleased for them when the general feedback has been really good. In my last observation I was given an ‘Outstanding,’ so I was concerned that there would be a high level of expectation from an inspector entering my classroom and so I have been extremely tense for the last few days, so the plan for this evening is simply to relax and do absolutely nothing. I’ve been doing quite well on the diet that I started at the beginning of the year, but tonight I am going to indulge in some hot, buttered toast and a chocolate bar the size of my face.

Normal blogging will resume at the weekend, when I’ve got through tomorrow’s lessons and choir and caught up on some sleep and I’ll get on with replying to the fantastic comments that you’ve been leaving recently. In the meantime, don’t forget to check out the blogs that I am advertising at the minute on my sidebar – simply click on the buttons for links to their sites. I promise it will be worth your time.

You can also find me on Twitter and Tumblr @Suzie81blog – I’d love to see you there!

Image credit 1: tucoo.com
Image credit 2: lolwall

Never Underestimate the Resilience of a Teenager

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Image: Little Britain, BBC

Teenagers get a bad rep. Daily media reports are littered with stories of stealing, assaults, stabbings, underage pregnancy, a genuine lack of respect for the rest of human society and their intimidating presence when hanging on street corners in groups, smoking, drinking and being raucous has earned them the title of ‘chavs’ here in the UK. Parodies of these are immensely popular in comedy sketch shows such as ‘Vicki Pollard’ in Little Britain and ‘Lauren’ in The Catherine Tate Show.

After nearly ten years of working with teenagers, these reports annoy me. Of course, there are bad eggs in every element of society, but I have been privileged to work with thousands of wonderful young people who are fantastic role models with supportive families and I genuinely enjoy witnessing their development during their education. They work hard, offer intelligent conversation, have ambition and make me laugh. I’m proud of them. Despite the demands and the pressures of teaching, it’s an extremely rewarding aspect of the profession.

However, there are some students who aren’t as lucky. There was one particular student who stood out for me today, to the point where I felt a little emotional. To protect his identity, I’m going to call him X.

X is an older student and in his short lifetime he has experienced more than most, with very little family support and guidance. Obviously, I have to refrain from giving details, but after hearing his story when I first began teaching him I was left with a feeling of anger at the way he has been treated. I shouldn’t be judgemental – I don’t have children of my own and therefore couldn’t possibly understand how difficult it is, but in my career I have witnessed several examples of parents that simply shouldn’t have been allowed to reproduce.

X has such parents. Lots of children in his situation would act out. Lots would have an anger management problems, get into the wrong crowd, start to get into trouble with the law and essentially would give up. Not X. X arrives on time, has a good attendance record, is polite, respectful, hard-working and friendly. While he struggles with some of his work, he tries really hard and genuinely wants to do well. He turns up, on his own, to parents evenings. He participates in lots of extra-curricular activities. He associates with lovely friends and has a brilliant relationship with his teachers. He’s one of the most resilient teenagers I have ever met.

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Image: brightside

Today the students were in the process of finalising some of the last pieces of their coursework for a project they have been working on all term. They’re all excited about the impending holidays and have spent a lot of time discussing what they expect to receive for Christmas. Their work is certainly not a priority. X looked tired and I asked him if he was ok. His response?

“I’m fine, just tired. I was up late last night doing my coursework because I want to get a good grade. If I email this work to you, can you let me know what I need to do to improve before Christmas so I can do the work over the holidays and get above my target grade.”

If I was allowed to hug him, I would have done. What an amazing kid.

Twenty-One Ways To Annoy Your Teacher

Inspired by the latest Freshly Pressed post from The Trombonist’s Mouthpiece, I started thinking about things that irritate me within the classroom on a daily basis. I’ve been a qualified music teacher for seven years now and at times I think I’ve seen and heard it all. I work in a fabulous school with amazing staff and supportive management, but there are still a few occasions where I am still caught off-guard. Most of these are from my own personal experiences or things that my teacher friends have told me over the years. Continue reading

Three Months Holiday a Year: The Common Misconceptions of Teaching

Yesterday I had a conversation with a friend-of-a-friend. This is how it went:

Them: So, what do you do?

Me: I’m a music teacher.

Them: Oh, so you’re on half-term at the minute?

Me: Yes, I’ve been on half-term over the last week.

Them: It must be great having three months off a year…

Suffice to say, the conversation didn’t last very long.

I’ve been a qualified music teacher since July 2007 and have been employed in secondary schools on a permanent basis ever since. This is not the first time I have had the ‘three months a year’ comment directed towards me, usually by people (friends included) that have no experience or understanding of the profession. I used to be furious at this, now I usually just roll my eyes and change the subject of the conversation, but for some reason the comment really irritated me yesterday. Continue reading

Reflections Of Summer and The New Academic Year

Like most teachers I am aghast at how quickly the summer has passed. It seems like yesterday that I was sat in the end of year meeting, desperate for it to be over so I could start my break.

The summer hasn’t been a bad one – I’ve been to birthday parties, a wedding, visited London, been for meals, shopping, seen several films at the cinema, saw Mum, done lots of schoolwork, househunted, organised my current house a little more, blogged almost every day, I’ve done the usual holiday maintenance (doctors, dentists, hairdressers) and I’ve been able to get a clearer picture in my mind as to where I would like to be in a year’s time.

At this point in two days time I will be sat in the middle of a LONG data analysis presentation given by the Headteacher and SLT. While it may sound a little silly, I actually enjoy this part of the INSET days – it’s always a good opportunity to celebrate the achievements of our students. I know that the results have admirably improved this year so it will be a positive meeting to kick-start the new academic year. My timetable looks good, I’m going part-time so I won’t be working on Monday’s (and looking forward to the long weekends) and I have some lovely classes. Continue reading

How You Know When You’re A Teacher

How you know when You're a teacher

Updated August 2018, originally published July 2013

1. Regardless of where you are – shopping, the cinema, in a restaurant, even on a beach on holiday – you’ll almost always hear ‘Hi Miss/Sir’ or hear your name shouted out at you and instantly know that a student is standing in the immediate vicinity. The event of this happening is even more likely when you’re wearing your scruffy clothes and haven’t washed your hair.

2. You are called ‘Mum/Dad’ accidentally at least ten times a day.

3. You’ve learnt not to complain about your job to your non-teacher friends as this will always elicit a ‘but you get three months off a year, you have it so easy’ response from them and you don’t wish to get into yet another confrontation while you’re trying to drink your cocktail.

4. Excitement can be found in the discovery of attractive stationery, and hours of fun can be had purchasing supplies before the start of a new term – ring bindersPost-it notes , biros and multipacks of highlighters are some of the favourites. You also know which are the best whiteboard pens to use and are highly protective of lending them out to coworkers as you know you’ll never get them back. Continue reading

Why Aren’t Students Allowed To Fail?

Yesterday I had a bad day at work. Normally I like my job, but yesterday was a really hard slog. It was all caused by one student.

This student wasn’t in the mood. For anything. All day. As part of his coursework he had to participate in a drum workshop led by a highly experienced and enthusiastic drum teacher, and the most he could muster was to put his head on his hands and tap the drum as quietly as he could. He was talking, messing about and generally being a nuisance. Continue reading