Ten Things That Teaching Has Taught Me

image1. I have more patience than I ever believed possible. As somebody who possessses a nasty temper when pushed, I’ve surprised myself by usually being able to remain calm and speak in a slow, positive tone even when faced with the most challenging of behaviours. Usually.

2. I am capable of adapting to unforeseen circumstances at the last minute.

3. I am never too old to be able to learn new things and develop skills, and I enjoy doing so. 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

Anxiety Central

imageI don’t deal with high pressured and stressful situations. My whole body tenses up, my stomach starts to churn and as it gets worse, I panic. I stop sleeping, I start getting irritable and have an overwhelming urge to eat anything with a high carb content and covered in grease and smoke a packet of cigarettes. Stress is not my friend.

This week has been anxiety central. Important multiple deadlines at work has meant that since Monday my routine has included 15 hours of teaching and paperwork, four or five hours of sleep and, towards the end of the week, about half an hour of tears each day, including on the day that was supposed to be my day off. At one point, I was so worked up that my skin felt like it was buzzing all over my body. There was no fun, no relaxation and no chance to sit back and just breathe.

Thankfully, everything was completed by the end of today. I left work as early as I possibly could, avoiding taking my laptop with me, treated The Bloke and I to a celebratory McDonalds and even though it isn’t yet 6.00pm I have changed into my jammies and have snuggled under a duvet with him and the cats. He’s been absolutely wonderful – he always is, but I couldn’t have got through this week without him.

I’ve missed the blog so much this week. I’ve missed you guys and I’ve missed reading all your stories, poems and admiring your photographs. The interaction that I gain from this community and the process of writing things down helps me to maintain my sanity…

So, for the next few hours, I’m all yours. Tell me about your week, share with me your favourite posts, give me tips for dealing with stress, anything.

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

Would You Like Fries With That?

esq-burger-081009-lgI worked at a well known fast food restaurant for nearly two years in my teens. It wasn’t my choice, more my mother’s, who marched me down to the job centre at the age of sixteen, demanding that I start earning money and stop treating her house like a hotel. This was the only job that was suitable for my age and skillset at the time, and even though I would have rather poked myself in the eye repeatedly than set foot in those doors I soon I found myself standing behind a till, sporting my newly ironed uniform and a fake smile that would have put many Hollywood actresses to shame, for the princely sum of £3.20 an hour.

It wasn’t where I was working that was the problem – a job is a job and I was lucky to be working in the unstable economic climate of the last twenty years – it was the horror stories that had accompanied my place of employment. I had a number of friends that worked in similar places and they had regaled me with stories of rotten food, bodily fluids and aggressive members of the public, and I dreaded what was going to happen.

You may have heard the stories yourself. And I’ll tell you – they’re absolutely true, or at least they were when I worked there. Every one of them.

1. If I were given £1.00 for every time I saw the kitchen staff openly cough and sneeze on the food, pick patties up off the floor and continue to cook them and not wash their hands after they had come back from a break, I could have retired by now.

2. The smell of grease permeated everything – my skin, my clothes and my hair. A bath wouldn’t make the smell go away.

201303215-245815-hardees-carls-jr-jim-beam-bourbon-burger-reality

3. After a busy shift, a man ordered a sandwich without mayo. As we were just about to close, we had emptied the vats ready for cleaning and the only sandwiches left were the ones that had already been made. I witnessed a manager scrape the mayo off, lick the sandwich clean and serve it to the customer. He laughed as he watched the man eat it, telling us to ‘get a sense of humour’ when we told him he was wrong.

4. I served a customer a drink. I watched him drink half of it, and then he came back and asked to speak to the manager, claiming that I had only filled his cup half way and it needed topping up. After lots of arguments, the manager gave in and gave him a new one, filled as full as possible. As he walked away, the customer winked at me.

5. I frequently saw customers order chicken nuggets, eat one or two in the box and then claim that they hadn’t been given enough and request more.

6. A man used to come into the store every Sunday and he would order a burger with no meat. After a few months I asked him about his order. He smiled and said: ‘I’m a vegetarian.’ I told him that we made vegeburgers and his reply was one of the best things that I’ve ever heard. “I don’t like vegetables.”

7. I had five stars on my badge. I didn’t earn a single one of them.

8. I was asked to help out with a children’s halloween party at the store, which involved my face being painted to represent a scary pumpkin. Unfortunately, the person responsible for doing the face paints wasn’t particularly artistic and when she had finished my face looked like Jackson Pollack had been experimenting with black and orange crayon on my face.  After the party had ended, my manager put me on the Drive Thru window and wouldn’t allow me to wash my face. I had to endure two hours of abuse from car passengers as they were ordering food. Some of them threw things at me.

9. A woman threatened to sue because there weren’t any Mr Men toys in her children’s meals. The Mr Men promotion had finished the year before.

8cf1b255dd84544f2d4935be1303777ea305af69f5eaed0a222a12b5a18df4b4

10. A woman had a screaming fit at a manager because she couldn’t hear the employee in the drive-thru and ‘our speaker system was faulty.’ She didn’t take into consideration the four screaming children in her car.

11. A man threatened to ‘kick my head in’ because he waited a few minutes for a burger.

12. A small child didn’t like gherkins, but his mother hadn’t ordered a burger for him without them. When he discovered them, he took it upon himself to throw them at the staff behind the tills. He then started throwing everything he could from other peoples tables – cartons, left over food, drinks. When my manager yelled at him, his mother screamed at him that we were all ‘racists’ for picking on her son.

13. You don’t want to know what goes into milkshakes and ice-creams.

14. I worked at another store in the centre of town for a few weeks as they were short-staffed. A really rude young girl started working at the store, caused lots of trouble and had lots of complaints made against her, only to be promoted to Floor Manager within a few weeks. We discovered that she was sleeping with the one of the assistant managers.

15. The staff regularly sneaked into the stock room to steal the Cadbury’s Flakes that were put into the ice-cream during their shift. In fact, the staff stole food all the time.

funny-mcdonalds-meme-pictures16. The managers regularly changed the time cards on the food even though it was technically ‘out of date’ to avoid throwing it away. Some people were served with food that had been sitting there for hours.

17. A couple decided to have drunken sex on the benches next to the drive-thru as we were closing down in the early hours of the morning. Little did they realise, they were directly underneath a security camera and were being watched by half the staff.

18. The staff used the customer toilets if they had a stomach upset, so as not to stink out the staffroom.

However, the good news is that when I visited the store last year, fifteen years after I worked there, I can happily announce that not a single one of the former crew remain. It was clean, it was a positive environment and it is now possible to see the kitchen from the seating area, which appeared to be well managed and under control. What surprised me was how familiar the place smelled – one whiff of those vats and all the memories came flooding back…

It also reminded me just how grateful I am not to be working there anymore – I’ll take angry teenagers and data spreadsheets over that any day!

What about you? Have you got any secrets about a former place of work?

You can also find me on Twitter and Tumblr @suzie81blog

A Revelation

Image

I went back to work yesterday.

After feeling so ill for the last few weeks I was surprised at how nervous I felt about it, but I was lucky in that it was a light teaching day and I received lots of support from my colleagues and the students, who surprised me by welcoming me back.

However, being ill doesn’t remove the pressures surrounding the submission of coursework and after only two days I feel absolutely shattered and quite anxious about the looming deadlines. I’m in the middle of packing for the house move in the next few weeks too, which doesn’t help, and this means that I won’t get much of a weekend to myself.

The last few weeks have been quite a revelation as to my goals, ambitions and expectations of what my life should be like, and at 32 years old I have the opportunity to do something about it. I don’t have children and I don’t have a mortgage and aside from student loan repayments I am not in debt, and so the options that are available to me are wider than I initially thought.

I know what it is I want to do, and for the first time in years I feel like I have a direction and something to work towards. While I’m not giving too many details as yet, I’m looking forward to the possibility of making this become a reality. 

What about you guys? Are you happy with the life that you’re living? 

You can also find me on Twitter and Tumblr @suzie81blog

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

Motivation Needed

ImageI saw this quote from Karen Lamb and it really resonated with me this morning.

Currently, it is 1.00pm. I got out of bed at 8.30am, went to the shop to buy bacon, cooked The Bloke some bacon sandwiches, took them to him so he could have breakfast in bed, and ever since then I have been sat in bed, blogging. I started to write a post about one thing, I got bored and saved it for later, and then repeated the process with something else.

This would be fine, except for the fact that I have a monumental amount of marking and planning to do for next week and three major things in particular need to be finished off and emailed to my line manager by the end of today. I have several loads of washing to do, I have to put away my clean clothes and the upstairs part of the house needs vacuuming.

This is a nasty habit that I have developed over the last few years – my life has become procrastination central. The main issue isn’t that the marking and planning doesn’t interest me – once I’ve begun and ‘in the zone’ so to speak, I find that I can get quite absorbed with what I’m doing and feel a sense of satisfaction when it is completed – it’s getting the motivation to start doing it in the first place.  This morning I had a thought:

If I had started this work yesterday I would have been finished by now…

If I do nothing else this year, this is the thing that I would like to change the most over 2014. So much so, in fact, that I am going to now put down my laptop, pick up my school laptop, do the work and then reward myself tomorrow with an uninterrupted blog fest in a tidy house, guilt free.

http://dailypost.wordpress.com/2014/01/27/daily-prompt-barriers/

What about you guys? Does procrastination work for you?

Don’t forget to check out the winners of my Week 4 New Year Competition – their buttons are in my sidebar.

You can also find me on Twitter and Tumblr @Suzie81blog

I wrote this earlier, but it applies to the current Daily Prompt so I thought that I would link it in…

 

Triple Happiness

ImageHave any of you ever had an impending, persistent feeling of dread about something, only to find that the thing you were dreading was actually brilliant and you wished you hadn’t wasted all that time worrying about it?

This happened to me yesterday. I’d been dreading the return to work for a while and although I tried to keep myself busy I couldn’t shake the little anxious bubble that had seemed to manifest itself in the pit of my stomach. Getting out of bed yesterday was tough.

However, when I arrived I found that I was actually in quite a happy place – my colleagues are great and we all talked excitedly over each other about our holiday experiences, our exam results have improved massively since last year and so the data presentation given by our principal was positive and celebratory and we were provided a beautiful lunch as a thank you.

I love the idea that things happen in three’s, and yesterday afternoon was definitely proof of this. I was going through some assessment criteria with my boss and we were interrupted three times:

1. My faculty line manager walked in to show me an email that he’d received from a teacher at a primary school that I’ve been doing some workshops at. It was the nicest, most complimentary email I’ve ever had.

2. The ICT technician walked in to hand me a new iPad that the school had bought for me.

3. My faculty line manager’s boss walked in to tell me that as I’d come into work when it was technically my day off (I don’t work Monday’s) I could have Tuesday off instead.

What a brilliant day!

So here I am! I thought that I would take the opportunity to catch up with you all as I feel like I’ve barely looked at my blog. I’ve been delighted about the response that I had to my recent Blog Party so I’d like to thank all of you who submitted entries and reblogged various things – it was a brilliant opportunity to meet lots of new people and read some amazing stories! I’ve decided to make it a regular thing which will take place on the first day of each month. I also still have quite a few Guest Posts that I need to put up.

I’m off to catch up on all the posts that I’ve missed. If you are interested in following me on Twitter: @suzie81blog

Happy Blogging!

Do I have to?

Back to work tomorrow. Luckily it is only a training day so I have chance to get my head into work mode again.

After seven years in the teaching profession. I’m still undecided. It’s one of the most disrespected, undervalued jobs around, along with those who work in the NHS. I’ve lost count of the amount of times I’ve complained about something that has happened at work to a friend, only to have them reply with “well, you get six months off a year”, which isn’t true.

I’m lucky in that I work in a school that is well organised and effectively managed by an excellent head teacher and a strong management team. My colleagues are fantastic, and I have a superb boss who is calm, discreet and an excellent role model. However, I have worked in places that aren’t as good, and the negative impact that it has on staff morale becomes quite all-consuming. I think the reason for this is because teaching requires the individual to care. Yes, there are teachers who do the bare minimum and who see it as ‘just a job’, but the majority of the staff are there because they see it as a vocation. Some of the teachers I have worked with have been in the profession as long as I’ve been alive. Continue reading