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

 

Advertisements

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.

image

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.

image

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

How To Survive Your NQT Year

It’s the end of summer and in a few days time I will be sitting in the school theatre, surrounded by my colleagues. Among them will be faces that I’m not familiar with, sitting awkwardly in their new departments, making polite conversation about their summer adventures and desperately trying to hide the fact that they are terrified.

These people are the Newly Qualified Teachers. They’ve successfully completed their training year, whether it be a PGCE, GTP or equivalent, and they are now likely to be in a role of responsibility for the first time. Continue reading

The Start of Summer: Christmas in July


When I was a child, the best day of the entire year would be Christmas Day. I would count down the days leading up to it for weeks in advance, growing more and more excited as time passed. The night before, on Christmas Eve, I would be desperate to go to sleep so that I could wake up early, but I was so worked up that I often counted sheep until the early hours of the morning and would wake up every half an hour after that.

As an adult, today is my Christmas Day. It’s the final day of the school year, we said goodbye to the students for six glorious weeks and wished the staff that are leaving the best of luck for the future. And then, in a dignified and mature manner, I shot out of the school like a rat up a drainpipe and joined my friend in the pub.

I’ve worked in the British education system for eight years now, and this has been the toughest academic year I have ever experienced. I like my job, and I’m lucky to work in an excellent school with staff and students that I enjoy spending time with. However, in the last year the changes in curriculum and the growth of the number of courses and students at my school have meant that my workload has almost doubled. In my personal life, I have moved house twice, my elderly cat died, I was in hospital for a week and off work for a further five and another of my cats was diagnosed with diabetes, requiring twice daily injections at 6am and 6pm. It’s been stressful, and I am feeling physically and mentally exhausted.

However, this particular day and the weekend that follows is the one weekend of the year where I do absolutely nothing and don’t feel guilty about it. Of course, I have a mountain of work that needs to be completed over the summer, both in my personal and professional life, but for this one weekend I am going to relax, put my feet up and just breathe.

It’s the best present I could ever wish for.

You can also find me on Twitter and Tumblr @suzie81blog

Lies I Tell My Students

image

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!!

Work to Live or Live to Work?

To say that this week has been tough would be an understatement. I received potentially bad news about my little friend earlier in the week, the kids at work were a nightmare, a set of external moderators have requested work early and to add the proverbial icing to the cake we were informed that the dreaded OFSTED would be present next week, this news reaching us just two weeks after we had very successfully undergone a similar inspection with a different group of people. At one point, my whole body felt like it was buzzing and my brain was on the verge of exploding. Those of you that follow my blog regularly will know that I don’t deal with stress very well and I feel like I’m performing a balancing act to get everything done.

image

Stuffonscoutshead.com

However, I decided that the best thing would be to tackle the workload head on and went into work yesterday and today. Despite having to work all weekend I am pleased that even though I am nowhere near finished I have certainly made decent progress. So, for the next couple of hours I am going to make a little bit of time for me.

When I initially qualified and started teaching at my very first school I remember being amazed at how tired and cynical a lot of the older staff were and I often heard them loudly complain about the various objections that they had with the British Education System. Unfortunately, eight years down the line I find that not only am I tired, but I understand their cynicism.

Teaching is a rewarding, inspiring and mentally challenging profession. It is also stressful, fast-paced and at times can be utterly soul destroying. The idea of a work/life balance simply doesn’t exist – I know that I could work for 24 hours a day / 7 days a week and I still would have a million things that need to be done and it isn’t uncommon for me to receive emails at 11.00pm most evenings and the over the weekends. With marking, data, reports, external moderators, filing, and planning I have now reached the stage where I lie awake in the middle of the night worrying about things I have or haven’t completed. I thought that going part-time would change the situation, and it did for a little while, but the feeling of anxiety has started to creep back in and I have started to find myself working on my day off.

image

Stuffonscoutshead.com

So, I have decided that the end of this week is the time where I need to start taking my life back and working to live. This doesn’t mean shirking my responsibilities within my professional life, just creating more of a balance, just like Scout here. In the same way that I prioritise my workload and follow a timetable in my professional life, I am going to start scheduling in time to do things that make me feel good – having ‘date nights’ with The Bloke, blogging, reading the books I bought at Christmas, watching the films I have yet to see, spending some quality time with my friends and family, and most importantly, giving myself the opportunity to relax.

Why? Because life is short (the loss of people close to me over the last few years has taught me that) and I owe it to myself and those around me to live it.

What about you? Do you find that work is taking over your life?

You can also find me on Twitter and Tumblr @Suzie81blog

Never Underestimate the Resilience of a Teenager

Image

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.

bright-side-greeting-card-completely-totally-proud-of-you

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.

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