Teacher Mode, Even When There’s Blood

This. With more snot.

After teaching for nearly ten years and working with thousands of students it is inevitable that I run into them from time to time as I am going about my daily business. Generally, it’s a relatively painless experience- they either say hello and stop for a chat, look past me as if I’m not there and carry on walking, and the odd few will ignore me yet feel the need to shout my name out at me from a distance. The name-shouting is something that has always baffled me – I must give the impression that I regularly need reminding of what my name is – but I generally ignore it until I’m ready to leave, shoot them my nastiest teacher expression and walk away. I don’t teach anymore, therefore I don’t need to pretend to like any of the little cherubs who wish to cause trouble when they see me like I had to before. Continue reading

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I am Batman…

BatmanAfter a wonderful (and busy) half-term (more on that in a later post), I’m back at work. Even though I’ve been doing supply and freelance workshops for six months now, I’m still adjusting to the changes in my schedule and the difference in workload, but I’m predominantly loving it.

The students also find it strange at times – some I have worked with for years in the role of their music teacher and have found it quite confusing to see me in their maths, Spanish or ICT lessons, but I have been incredibly lucky in that my history with them means that they know my rules and expectations for each lesson, regardless of the subject: they sit down, get their stationary out, work in silence, and ask either myself or their peers as many questions about the work as they like if they find it challenging. Continue reading

Questions I’ve Been Asked Today

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It’s been an interesting and enjoyable day mainly for the fact that I have had some opportunity to observe students as they complete their work, which something that I rarely get to do. I’ve been covering an outstanding teacher who is away on jury duty, and the classes have been an absolute dream to work with – silently getting stuck into every task with enthusiasm, asking intelligent questions and reflecting what they have learnt at the end without any prompt. If I’m being honest, it’s one of the best working days I’ve ever had, and if every day could be like this I wouldn’t have quit in the first place!

However, the kiddies still like to keep me on my toes, particularly as I’m walking past them in the corridor, by asking me a whole host of random questions… I thought it might be a fun idea to keep a note of them.

Here’s just a sample…

What’s a cobbler?
How do you spell raisins?
Is Scotland in Jamaica?
Do you like Justin Bieber?
So, if you paid into a pension and the company went bankrupt, would you get your money back? (I was quite impressed with that one)
How much do you get paid?
Are you wearing eyeliner?
Are you going out with Mr…?
Do you like my shoes?
Have you heard of MAC?
Are you teaching us today? (I always have to bite my tongue and stop myself from answering this with ‘No, I just thought I’d come and stand outside your classroom for the fun of it…’)
Why can’t we do cooking today? (We were in a history room).
What did you get for Christmas?
Have you got a hamster?
Who’s David Bowie?
What’s an exhibition? (I’d told students I’d been to the Bowie Exhibition in 2014)
(All by one student) How many years are in a century? So, does that mean we’re in the 21st Century or the 22nd Century? How old am I going to be in the 23rd Century?(My response to the last question was simply ‘dead.’)

What about you guys? Been asked any random questions that have made you smile today?

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, my Pinterest page http://www.pinterest.com/suzie81speaks and my Instagram page http://www.instagram.com/suzie81speaks.

A Smile For £4.60

imageIt’s a muggy, dreary day and I’m on a train up to Manchester to spend the weekend with the family, as its my sister’s birthday. We’re off to the same place we went to for Mother’s Day, so I’ve got some lovely food waiting for me this afternoon, but rather selfishly I’m looking forward to catching up on some sleep.

Normally at this ridiculous time in a morning, the train is quiet. However, today I’ve been treated to a group of loud, obnoxious students who are returning home after a night out in Birmingham. It was clear from their conversation that they had deliberately stayed up all night and waited for the train because they didn’t want to pay a £15.00 taxi fare, and loudly shared with the rest of the carriage the tickets that they had bought and what a rip-off local taxi companies were, interspersed with how hard they have worked this week. Fascinating.

However, when the train manager came to check the tickets, it became obvious that they had got the wrong ones, and after a lengthy debate the conceded that they would all have to pay a further £4.60 each, which in total came to £27.60, nearly double what they would have had to pay for a taxi. They were obviously quite gutted about it, and while I almost felt sorry for them, I couldn’t help but smile to myself after listening to their obnoxious ramblings for the last twenty minutes.

I’m a bad person for finding this amusing.

What about you guys? How has your week been?

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 and my Pinterest page: http://www.pinterest.com/suzie81speaks

 

Things Teachers Want Parents To Know

imageThe other day, I attended Parents Evening for a cohort of my students. After nearly ten years and about seventy similar events, I realised that this was my last ever set of parental meetings. It was quite an unusual revelation. Of the thousands of conversations that I have had with parents over the years, there are things that, from a teacher perspective, I and many of my friends and colleagues want them to know.

1. I genuinely care about your child and their well-being. I believe that your child has the potential to become a well-rounded, successful human being and I work hard to help them in their journey.

2. Teacher training days are important and aren’t there for the purpose of inconveniencing you. Most professions require training and professional development on a regular basis and we have them to develop our ability to support our youngsters in every aspect of their lives.

3. Your child isn’t stupid. Even at the age of thirty-three, I still struggle with maths. If you asked me to sprint 100 metres it would probably take me longer than most. My attempts at drawing and sketching real life would make Picasso look like an amateur. None of these make me stupid, I just have talents in other areas. Your child has their own strengths and weaknesses and telling them that they aren’t clever or good at something could possibly result in self-confidence issues that may affect them on a long-term basis. Levels aren’t always everything – if your child works hard and does their absolute best, I can’t ask any more from them.

4. Discipline and manners begins at home. I shouldn’t have to explain to a sixteen year-old why rolling their eyes, tutting, huffing and snapping ‘what?!’ at me is not an appropriate response when I call their name in a lesson, or remind them to use ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ during their interactions with myself and their peers.

5. Correcting your child when they make a mistake doesn’t mean I dislike them or am ‘picking on them.’ If a child makes a mistake in a lesson, I will speak to them about it and give them the opportunity to change their behaviour. If I have to speak to them more than once, I will issue an appropriate sanction that is consistent for every student I teach. You may believe that your child is an angel, but telling them that they don’t have to do a detention I have set and that I am clearly being biased is teaching them that their behaviour is acceptable.

6. Allowing your child to play on their XBox until 1.00am does not help me. When I’m tired, I lose concentration and motivation and I’m far more irritable than usual, even as an adult. An eleven year-old who has had five or six hours of sleep may as well not be in school – by lunch they have switched off completely.

7. My job is to facilitate learning, not to actually do the work for them. Your child is not finding the work too difficult, they’re simply lazy. I set differentiated tasks in each lesson to accommodate the needs of the entire class and I try and challenge each individual as much as possible. I set weekly coursework catch-up sessions, detentions, I ring home, send emails, I even remind students of impending deadlines as I’m passing them in the corridors. If your child doesn’t complete their coursework to the standard that they are capable of, it is because they haven’t put the work in, not because I am a bad teacher.

8. I am not perfect and I make mistakes. Move on. I treat each new teaching day as a fresh start and if a child has had a bad day we start again with a clean slate in the next lesson. Reminding me of the time I upset your now sixteen year-old when they were twelve is not relevant or productive to their education.

9. Your child is not being bullied, they are a troublemaker. This is perhaps the most difficult element of the profession that I have dealt with in my conversations with parents. I experienced years of bullying when I was at school, and as a teacher it is something that I will absolutely not tolerate. However, I have been in many situations where a child has deliberately gone out of their way to cause trouble amongst their friends because they like to create an element of drama in their lives and have then accused others of bullying them when they have retaliated. Of course, any parent will want to protect their child if they feel they are being threatened and I will always do my best to resolve any conflicts amongst students regardless of the circumstances. However, yelling at me without listening to the whole story first is not going to teach your child that deliberately causing trouble will have consequences.

10. I want us to be a team and I appreciate your support. My job is made much easier with the knowledge that I can share your child’s achievements or my concerns without fear of judgement or blame being placed in my direction. Thank you.

What about you? Is there anything that you’ve always wanted to say in your profession, but can’t?

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 and Pinterest page http://www.pinterest.com/suzie81speaks

 

Social Media: When Teachers Become The Targets

It was reported in the news today that the number of teachers facing abuse via social media has more than doubled over the last year, with staff being subjected to personal and professional insults and pictures and videos of them being uploaded without their consent. Worse still, 40% of this online abuse came from parents.

Only two days ago, a picture of a very attractive maths teacher went viral – one of his students at UCL had discovered that he also worked as a model and the student had taken a picture in the classroom and uploaded it to his social media sites. It seemed to be taken in a light-hearted manner and jokes were being made about suddenly developing an interest in algebra, but I was really annoyed on his behalf. The poor teacher may have been absolutely mortified. The question I asked that day to my Facebook friends was this: Continue reading

I Quit My Job Today

I quit my teaching job today

Throughout my life I have done everything that I felt was expected of me. I worked hard in school, achieved good grades in my GCSE’s and A Levels, went to a respected music conservatoire and then was lucky enough to find myself in a full-time job as a Learning Mentor almost immediately after graduating. Within a year, I was offered an opportunity to train as a teacher, and I’ve worked as a qualified music teacher for nearly ten years. I’ve always played it safe, followed the expected path, and never taken any risks. I can say that I’m happy to an extent, but not as much as I know I could be.

At the beginning of 2015 I made one promise to myself: if things were going to change, it had to be now – I was going to take the risk.

For some, teaching is a vocation. It isn’t mine. I’m a good teacher. In fact, according to my last three years worth of lesson observations, I’m an outstanding teacher, but I never set out to join this profession – my personal circumstances and being in the right place at the right time meant that I fell into the role rather than actively working towards it as a career choice.

I’ve been lucky to spend the last three years in an outstanding academy, with an excellent and well-respected principal, a great management team and a lovely faculty. Over the course of my career, I’ve worked with thousands of teenagers, most of whom are wonderful and who I have always had excellent working relationships with, and I feel like I’ve done it all. I’ve attended every parents evening, open evening, celebration evening and awards evening and I’ve hosted or participated in hundreds of concerts. I’ve supervised the day trips, evening performances, week-long UK based residentials and visits to France and America. I’ve played the role of teacher, parent, therapist, doctor, personal banker and seamstress to my students. I’ve laughed with them, cried because of them and mourned the few that I’ve lost. I’ve returned home at the end of a day on a huge high after brilliant lessons, and had endless sleepless nights after bad ones. During times when heavy deadlines have been looming, insomnia and I have become good friends.

I’m a firm believer in the idea that total career satisfaction is unattainable for most; some days will be good, some days will be bad and others will make you question every career choice you have ever made whilst glugging on a bottle of wine and crying on the cat, but I’ve always presumed that as long as the good outweighs the bad then you’re generally doing the right thing.

The good has not outweighed the bad for a long time. Today, I took the risk.

Today, I quit the teaching profession…

Despite the amazing opportunities I have been offered from my headteacher and support I have received from some of my colleagues over the years, I genuinely can’t remember the last point where I had a consistently positive period of time in teaching. To put it quite simply, I can’t cope with the pressure, and it’s making me ill.

In an ideal world, a teacher’s role is to teach, to support and to guide their students. It is our job to offer advice, to ensure progress is made, to make learning interesting, to inspire and to listen to their needs.

Unfortunately, in the real world, I’ve found that many teachers work far harder than lots of their students. Modern day teaching, even for those that are employed in effective schools, is not about fostering and encouraging a love of learning and a passion for a subject, it is about getting students to pass an exam or a course using criteria that is set by an exam board whilst being bombarded by data and outcomes, none of which the students will be held accountable for if they fail. It has now become a teacher’s job to almost do the work for the lazier kids because they’re scared of how the results will look. The kids know this too – I was even once told ‘you’re not allowed to fail me‘ by a smug student when I informed him that his grades weren’t good enough – and one of my biggest worries for them in their future lives is that when they do fail for the first time, it will be at a much higher cost and there won’t be an adult to step in and make everything better. Our lessons and the ability to do our jobs effectively are decided based upon a twenty minute observation and the data that demonstrates our students progress, our wages now depend on it, and I have seen accomplished and respected members of staff reduced to tears at the mere mention of OFSTED.

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The pressure of the job has intensified every single year that I have been in the profession, and eventually it started to take a toll on my health. A year ago I was hospitalised with a severe kidney infection and a virus for nearly a week, followed by a further five weeks off in order to recover. This was caused because I ignored a urinary tract infection, mainly because of how busy I was. I can’t and don’t blame the school for this, but it is a common part of the job that members of staff within a school environment will work through illnesses because of the workload and worries about the detrimental impact that time off will have on their students.

My school and colleagues were very supportive and I returned in reasonable physical health, but that didn’t change the fact that the workload was there, and mentally I was sinking. I missed deadlines left and right. I had so much to remember that I forgot everything. However, what I found to be most frustrating were the pressures put on me with the older students and the achievement of their target grades, pressures that were not set by the school, but by government based targets. I started to feel constantly anxious and suffered from minor panic attacks, something that I had never experienced before. My mindset changed. I found it increasingly difficult to tolerate the laziness and apathy that some of my students demonstrated on a daily basis. I bent over backwards and exhausted myself hosting further coursework catch up sessions almost every night after school, repeatedly remarked coursework that was substandard due to the fact that some of my students didn’t bother to listen in the lessons and as it got closer to exams I became a verbal punching bag for stressed out teenagers. I rang parents, got other members of staff involved, praised, sanctioned and gave up a lot of my personal time to drag them (often kicking and screaming) to the finish line. Worse still, I started to take it personally and really dislike some of my students attitudes, particularly when they threw my hard work and support back in my face during their moments of stress. This is a common problem throughout the British education system, and is one of the biggest issues that all of my teacher friends have experienced in their careers. I remember that one friend in particular remarked that one of her most difficult classes was more focused on crowd control, not teaching.

At Christmas I realised that I simply couldn’t do it anymore. I had no idea what I was going to do instead, only that I knew that this was not how I wanted to spend the rest of my working life. Perhaps I am looking at life through rose-tinted spectacles, but I believe that happiness is more important than most things, and I was desperately unhappy. I was doing myself, and the students, a huge disservice.

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I discussed it with The Bloke. We’re not married, we don’t have children or a mortgage and my only financial responsibilities are for my half of the rent and bills, the cat’s medication and vet treatments and a small loan I took out a few years ago. We’re not rich, but I have enough in savings to cover everything for a few months. At the age of 33, if I was going to do anything, it was now, and while I could see that he was (and still is) nervous about it, he has been steadfast in his support. Having witnessed what I’ve been through in the last few years, he wants me to be happy, and I’m grateful.

I am going to work until the end of the academic year, which is July and then that’s it, giving me about six months to find another job. No more data analysis and unrealistic targets, no more reports, no more relying on the performance of demotivated teenagers to prove that I am good at my job. However, I’m going to miss the school, my wonderful colleagues and most of those fantastic cherubs that I have been privileged to work with over the years. Taking such a huge risk is terrifying, but not nearly as terrifying as the thought of having to do another year in a job that could potentially destroy me both physically and mentally. I need to be happy. I’m walking away from a secure ten year career with an excellent salary, a brilliant boss and a strong pension, without another job to go to yet…

… and I couldn’t be more excited!

What about you guys? Have you ever taken a huge risk?

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

An Adult? Me?!!

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When I was seven or eight years old I was asked by a school teacher the question ‘What do you want to be when you grow up?’

It was perfectly timed – I had contemplated this just a few weeks before and had made my decision after watching the film ‘Splash’ on the television.

“A mermaid,” I replied.

I don’t remember the teacher’s response, but I knew at that point that I had it all figured out. All I needed was some salt to put in my bath water, and after my tail had formed I would swim around in the ocean and eat fish. I wouldn’t have to answer to anybody, be told what to do – my life would be my own.

However, there were a few things in my carefully crafted plan that I hadn’t taken into consideration:

1. I was a proficient swimmer, but hated swimming in sea water of any kind.

2. I was (and still am) desperately afraid of a particular sea creature, to the point where pictures of these things will send me running and screaming from the room.

3. I don’t like raw fish.

Admittedly, it wasn’t the best idea I’d ever had in my life.

At the end of a lesson the other day, one of my student’s, who usually likes to keep me on my toes by asking me random questions, was complaining to a friend of his about the fact that his mother had taken his XBox as punishment for not doing his homework. He turned to me and said “Miss, I’m sick of being told what to do – I can’t wait to be an adult.” I smiled and informed him that being an adult doesn’t mean that you stop being told what to do by others. He looked a bit confused and thought about it for a while.

“So when do you get to be a proper adult then?”

Truth be told, up until that point I hadn’t genuinely given it much thought. I don’t actually see myself as being in the ‘adult’ category – I tick the 25-40 box on forms, I’ve gained all the qualifications I need to for a while, I have a full time job, I maintain my own house, I’m in a long term and committed relationship, but mentally my mind doesn’t feel like it has changed since I was eighteen. However:

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I now eat dessert even if I haven’t finished my main meal… and then some. I have my cake, and I eat another one too, because I can!

Evenings are spent wearing sweat pants and hooded sweaters – maximum comfort is needed after a long day at work.

My mother, while still offering advice when I ask for it, is no longer my legal guardian, and has her own life in which she can make her own plans without having to consider us. I can do the same.

I can have an alcoholic beverage without worrying that somebody is going to yell ‘have you been drinking?!’ at me.

I used to almost enjoy being ill as a child because my mother would look after me and I got to miss a few days of school. Now, being ill sucks – I have to look after myself. I still get to miss a few days of school, but now I return to several hundred emails and have to catch up on everything that I missed.

I’m always a little envious when I see a child walking down the street in their favourite Disney princess or superhero outfit. However, they don’t make Iron Man outfits in my size. I checked. 

Shopping for items for my house is now an exciting experience, as is buying new kitchenware.

I teach children that have mothers that are younger than I am.

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My wages used to be spent on really good things that I wanted. Now it’s spent on bills. And bills. And more bills. And cat food. 

Loud music from my neighbours annoys me.

I use specific brands of toiletries, washing detergent and fabric softener, and have been known to have discussions with my friends about it. 

I spent most of my childhood trying to extend my bedtime to a later point in the evenings. Now, the earlier I get to bed, the happier I am.

I used to constantly watch the clock during outings so as not to miss my curfew. Now, I don’t even wear a watch – I’ll get back when I get back.

I have suddenly developed an appreciation for music by The Smiths.

I worry about my credit rating.

The cupboard fairy that kept our cupboards stocked with food at my mothers house must have run away – my cupboards seem to be endlessly bare. Similarly, the laundry and ironing fairy disappeared many years ago too.

I don’t have shop assistants giving me ‘beady eye’ glances when I buy cigarettes or a bottle of wine anymore, except for one man who still asks me for I.D. even though he’s seen my passport on several occasions now.

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I suppose, looking at the evidence, I am an adult. However, I don’t think that there is an age that can be associated with adulthood, more a mentality. I’m not exactly the mermaid that I wanted to be, but I’m happy, so I’m grateful. And being an adult doesn’t stop you from occasionally participating in childhood indulgences.

So, if anyone sees a slightly overweight, 33 year old woman dressed as Iron Man and happily swinging on the swings at the local park, then that may possibly be me…

What about you? At what point did you start to realise that you were an ‘adult’?

 

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

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Image 1 Credit: Imgur

 

One More To Go…

imageIt’s the end of the Autumn term tomorrow and I have just one lesson left. At 12.30 I will be out of that door faster than I’ve moved in a while, and on Saturday you will be able to find me, just like Daisy here, fast asleep under a warm duvet.

It’s been a long term. The assessments have been completed, the concerts have finished and I am knackered. I attempted to try and write a list of everything I had achieved over the last four months and after two sides of A4 paper had been filled I gave up – it’s easier just to say that it’s been intense, busy and, at times, extremely stressful, and I’m looking forward to the opportunity to take a little bit of time to get myself together again.

However, this week has been particularly rewarding. My students absolutely nailed their performances throughout the various awards assemblies, the atmosphere in the lessons has been lovely, and I was recognised for some of the work that I have done in the last few months. It doesn’t matter how old you are, sometimes it’s just nice to be praised by people that you respect.

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I also received a lovely surprise in the post from my very good bloggy friend. Jolene, from Valley Girl Gone Country was one of the first connections I made when starting my blog in 2013, and she has become a friend and confidante that has helped me through some difficult times. I returned home after a long day to find a package waiting for me, containing a lovely card, a very sweet cat ornament for my tree and a little felt stocking. We live thousands of miles away from each other, and she took the time to send me something that made my day. Jolene, you’re a legend – the card is on my shelf, the ornament is on the tree and the stocking in above my fireplace… Thank you x

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Aside from a few last minute Christmas cards, I think I’m pretty much prepared for next week. The decorations are up, the presents are wrapped, the food has been ordered in preparation for having dinner at my sister’s house and I’m ready to spend a few days snuggled up on the couch with The Bloke and the fluff monsters. It will be the first Christmas in years where my family and I will sit around the table and hopefully enjoy each other’s company – the strained and volatile relationships that have marred every celebration as long as I can remember have been improved by my sister’s wedding a few months ago – we were almost forced to spend time together and it had a very positive effect on us all. I’m actually looking forward to having a Christmas that I’ve always envied of others, and with the addition of my new brother-in-law (who is also a music teacher) I’m sure that it’s going to be a nice day.

I also have a few meals planned with friends who are spending the festive season in other parts of the country, starting with tomorrow night at my favourite tapas restaurant (after I’ve got thoroughly sloshed at the German Market with my colleagues).

We don’t celebrate Thanksgiving here, so this is the time of year where I am thankful. I’m thankful for The Bloke and the life that I share with him and the cats in our home, good friends and a supportive family, however disfunctional we can be at times, that I can spend my Christmas with. There are so many that aren’t as lucky.

What about you guys? Are you prepared for the holidays?

You can also find me on Twitter and Tumblr @suzie81blog

 

Excuses, Excuses

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Every registration in a morning is the same process: register students, check uniform, check stationery, give announcements, ask individuals to stay behind if they’ve got it wrong. I like to speak to them individually as it’s impossible to predict whether something bad has happened outside school, so it provides students to opportunity to talk without their peers being present. I like my tutor group and I have a good relationship with them so I find that we can talk to each other easily, but I do often have the same conversations and say the same things every single day to students:

“Why are you late?”

“Why don’t you have a pen?”

“Where’s your tie?”

“Why did you get a detention for…”

 

I’m also frustrated at hearing the same excuses every day:

“I woke up late”

“I forgot my PE kit so I had to go home and get it”

“I went to the toilet”

“I lost my bag”

The excuses are never original, the only difference being that it is a different child daily that gives them and after hearing them repeatedly for years I feel like I should be in the ‘Groundhog Day.’ These conversations are always followed by sanctions and phone calls home.

However, occasionally something will snap me awake and make me smile:

A few weeks before ago one of my tutor group was late. She’s twelve and I had seen her walking into school about thirty minutes before school started, so I already knew that her lateness was caused by her messing around on the yard with her friends. I decided to take a different approach with her. This was how the conversation genuinely went:

Me: Why are you late?

Child: (Thought for a bit) I had to take my little sister to school.

Me: Oh, I didn’t know you had a little sister. How old is she?

Child: Six.

Me: What school is she at?

Child: (named a school that is miles away).

Me: So if I were to go and ring your mother now she’d back you up?

Child: No, I’ve just remembered, I didn’t take my sister to school.

Me: Why did you tell me you did?

Child: I had a dream that I took my sister to school. I was confused.

Me: So you’re late because you had a dream you took your sister to school?

Child: Yes, I mean, no.

Me: So why were you late?

Child: I was on the yard and didn’t hear the whistle.

Me: Why didn’t you say that in the first place?

Child: (shrugs shoulders) dunno.

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Most original and yet pointless excuse ever. Perhaps I should have showed her this quote:

“It is better to offer no excuse than a bad one.” ― George Washington

What about you guys? What’s the best lie you’ve ever been told by a child?

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