Category Archives: teaching

The Pro’s & Con’s of a Snow Day

Oh the joy of the snow day!

Snow Day. Two words that will bring glee to many a teacher and every student across the land. They are those golden days, where a teacher wakes up early, looks out the window at the white stuff covering the ground. Before anything else, they reach for their laptop & opens the following pages on the Internet:

Their school website
The local radio station website

And so it begins. The kettle is on, mobile phoned charged with texts & tweets flying between teachers in all different areas.

What are the roads like where you are?

Treacherous! I’m not driving on those! How about you?

Covered! Snow, ice & I’m pretty sure I just saw a polar bear walk by! Too cold for school. Surely!

The mouse clicks on refresh, every 30 seconds. Then, fear creeps in. What if they don’t call a snow day? I’ll have to go in! The kids will be on a snow-high. The paths will be slippy. It’ll be exhausting! *Hits refresh another few times, checks Facebook* Waits.

Then. The moment has come. The notice has appeared on the school’s website. School is closed due to snow and adverse weather conditions.

Result! Back to bed with a cuppa and the mass-messaging of other teachers. Day off! No teaching for me! Will probably do some marking or planning later, or just watch daytime TV. Because I can! Snow Day!


Why do schools call snow days? Here’s a great interview on the BBC explaining why. It’s not an easy decision management make, but sometimes it’s the safest. Not everyone will be happy – parents who have to take a day of unpaid leave to look after their children because of the closure won’t be. I remember a parent interviewed a few years ago on local news, who complained because her child’s school was shut due to staff not being able to get in. She thought it was wrong of teachers to live so far from school! Love that!

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Boys v Reading

Last week, I was very interested to read the article on the Guardian blog post about the issues surrounding boys and reading by Michael Morpurgo. Towards the end of last year, I was involved in 1-to-1 tuition in school and was assigned two Year 8 boys. It was quite interesting as they were both uninterested in reading, but for very different reasons. One was very busy – into sport, music and different outdoor pursuits. The other played on his games console. That was pretty much it. But both struggled to find something to read and enjoy reading, yet both stated that they wanted to read more & enjoy reading. So someone had clearly instilled in them a love of reading, they were just finding it difficult to translate this into actually reading something. The biggest challenge for them was finding a genre that interested them. I struggled a bit here, I have to be honest. I enjoyed reading as a child, and still do. But the types of books that I read were not going to interest these boys! So off to the library we went.

The library was pretty well stocked with a variety of books for teenage boys. I roped the librarian in and we were both suggesting different books, writers, genres etc. It was a process of trial & error. I asked them to try different types of books to see what they liked. That way we could at least remove certain books from the list. They did find some that they liked, but more often than not they didn’t enjoy the stories.

Part of the reason I think is that these boys had a lot of things vying for their attention. One had a lot of commitments and finding time to read was a real struggle. He would often only be able to read at bedtime, but was so tired that he couldn’t do it for any sustainable amount of time. The other didn’t really want to find the time. The other thing is that it didn’t seem ‘cool’ to read. There was always a group of students reading in the canteen. They weren’t the ‘cool kids’ and I think that is part of the problem. You can have as many posters of celebs& sports people reading books around the school, but they aren’t really effective. With so many devices & different ways for students to entertain themselves, reading just doesn’t fit in to that. And with so many books being turned into films, you can always just wait to see it in the cinema!

Schools do  a lot to encourage reading. Whether it’s celebrating World Book Day or giving students time to read in tutor time or English lessons, there are already lots of great initiatives going on. It would be good if some kind of recognition was given for this. I agree with Michael Morpurgo’s ideas about more fathers getting involved in reading groups in primary school. Reading has to be seen as something acceptable for boys to do, and not just the geeks. But children also need to be introduced to other methods of reading – audiobooks, for example, would be great on a paper round, or ebooks. Kids love gadgets so why not, as a local school did at the end of term, give them out as prizes or do a deal with a local supplier & get discounts for parents. Have a ‘book group’ wall or blog where the students can review books and recommend new ones. Right now, whatever initiatives are brought into schools need to be cost effective and not burden the students or teachers too much.

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The Supply Teacher

I have to admit that supply teaching is pretty good. It help keeps the wolf from the door and it helps me keep my hand in the profession, should I ever wish to return to it in the future. I have also found it quite interesting and have made some observations recently so I thought I’d share them with you. I hope it makes you smile!

  • Kids are kids. If you’re in a state run secondary school, chances are you’ll have children from the local area. They’ll be of all kinds of abilities with various strengths and weaknesses; they can either make or break your day/spirit/will to live!
  • Teachers come in all shapes, sizes and competencies. There’s that moment that I’m sure every supply teacher dreads…when you walk into a classroom and read through the cover. A lot of the time it is either good or decent. However, there are times when it can make your blood run cold. One of these times is when there isn’t any! That’s never good. This is when you rely on your wit to get you through the time until the child you’ve sent to the head of department to ask for help returns. Games are good here. Going through last lessons work and writing out questions for each other also work. However, if they are a difficult group, just containing them works just as well! Then there are those times where the teacher off has assumed you could access the school network, which you can’t, and has left a computer based lesson. Here you again send little Joe off to find help. The worst, and almost inexcusable type of cover, however, is bad cover. Cover that takes the class 5 minutes to get through, yes, even the weak ones. Cover that they’ve already done. Cover where you’re supposed to be the specialist. These are times where you wish you had gin in your water bottle and you constantly check your watch, telling yourself, ‘It’s only an hour – you can do it. Think of the money.’ Why teachers do this to their colleagues is beyond me but they always have and they always will and nothing will change this. It’s as certain as death and taxes.
  • Year 7 make me laugh. I’ve never been a huge fan of teaching year 7. For most of the academic year they resemble their primary school selves far too closely. There’s a reason I never became a primary school teacher – children at that age are quite annoying. But they are great for comedy value. This week I covered a Year 7 English class. As they were busily working away, I watched over them. It made me smile to think that at this point, they are full of potential. They haven’t decided what group they want to be in, yet I had some fun grouping them for myself. Girl who had lost her planner – indie group. Girl with tons of colouring pens & pencils – Art group. Girl who tried to give me her homework – Geek group. Boy who couldn’t do his tie up – loner. Now, this is just for fun and I do generally love people watching anyway but it did make me wander, as a girl with a massive fringe she won’t thank her parents for when she’s older kept checking with me it was okay for her to use colouring pens, when do they stop being so keen? Why do they stop being so keen? Is the ‘Kevin the teenager’ syndrome? Is it still uncool to be clever? Do their lives just become too full? When do they stop being bovered?
  • Kids grow up too quick. As supply teaching is just one of my jobs, I’m always keen to check my email/twitter at break and lunch. I’d never check it in the corridor or the classroom or anywhere in front of the kids. I just don’t agree with it. But what makes me smile is that when the lesson is over – Boom! The majority are straight on their phones – texting, tweeting, updating their FB status. This astounds me. I remember being a teenager (I was a geek/goody two shoes & I’m proud of that!) Granted, we didn’t have mobiles then. But I cannot fathom out who these guys are contacting! They’re in school with their friends. Why do they need to text them? What can they update their status to? ‘Just had my maths lesson covered by someone who knows nothing about Maths. Totes gonna fail now! OMG!’ What are they tweeting?! ‘Heading to the canteen – gonna get a cheese & tuna panini for £2! LOL!’ I don’t get it. Their thumbs move like lightening. It makes me feel like I’m 100 years old, which is probably why it bothers me so much!
  • Teaching is exhausting. When I’m freelancing, my day consists of my sitting in my grown up & serene study typing away on my iMac. When I’m doing supply, I’m on my feet from 8.30 – 3.15, surrounded by noise. Now lets not forget that I used to do this for a living! But I’ve done two days of supply this week and I’ve had to sit on the sofa for a good while, drinking copias amounts of tea, before I felt human again. How on earth did I do this full time? Because I, as a supply teacher, get to leave at 3.15. Full time teachers don’t. They have my sympathy because they then have marking/meetings/planning etc to do once that bell goes at the end of the day. I get to go home and watch Gilmore Girls on 5*.
  • Teachers don’t think you’re a ‘proper’ teacher. When I was teaching full time, I can’t say I mixed with the supply teachers much. There wasn’t any real need to plus, if I actually got to have my lunch, I was going to spend that time gossiping with my mates. But it was only when I was chatting to someone the other week that I realised a lot of teachers don’t think I’m a qualified teacher. She actually said, ‘Oh! So you’re a real teacher then?’ Yes. Yes I am. This is because a lot of schools now have ‘cover supervisors’. These are people who are employed by the school to cover lessons. They are not expected to have QTS but they are expected to have a clean CRB and be able to not get walked over by kids. This has its pros and cons. Pro – they are cheap and most schools don’t pay them much. Con – they haven’t been trained in behaviour management. For example. (This is a generalisation on my experiences). Supply teachers are not cover supervisors. We have to have QTS. We get paid more. We are REAL teachers. Either way, teachers/schools need us both. (Thank goodness!)

Wow. This has turned into quite a massive blog post. I didn’t intend that but it has felt good to share some of my observations. I will try to add a few more as I get more supply.

If you’re a supply teacher, I’d love to hear some your hilarious experiences. Feel free to leave a comment!

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My First Day of Supply

It finally happened. I did some supply teaching! My friend works at a local secondary school and asked if I wanted my details passed on to the person who organises cover. I said yes because, without using an agency, I get more money. Awesome!

My friend texted me over the weekend to say that I should expect a call during the week from the school. I was on tenterhooks! Tuesday morning – the call came. Could I go in the next day to do some supply? But of course!

To say I was nervous was an understatement. I woke throughout the night. Did I still have the touch? Could I still do it? The answer is: Yes!

I had a fab day. I did four lessons in textiles, an RE lesson (my specialism) and finally some product design. I was lucky to have some lovely groups and had the pleasure of spending break and lunch time chatting to my friend. It was the perfect introduction to supply teaching. I’m not so naive to think that all my supply days will happen like this, but it was the best introduction that I could possibly have.

It’s quite likely that they’ll use me again. This is fantastic news as supply work enables me to earn a bit more, but keep on doing the other bits and pieces at the same time.

During the day, I also received two emails, telling me about RE teaching jobs. I took one look at them and discounted them immediately. I like my life at the moment, there’s no stress or responsibility and that’s alright by me!

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Sabbaticals for Teachers?

Image courtesy of anitafrances at Flickr Creative Commons

As I was scanning my Twitter timeline, a tweet from @schoolsontap made me stop in my tracks: ‘Teachers should have ‘sabbatical’ to avoid burnout and return ‘refreshed’, says incoming Ofsted head’ and it linked to this Mail article. I couldn’t believe it. I thought, finally, someone gets it. Why would I support such a costly idea? Well, it’s clear from the article writer that they think the holidays are enough. But what if they aren’t?

It’s true. Teachers have three months of holidays a year. And when summer comes along, well, lets put it this way, the MasterCard advert has it spot on! So why aren’t the holidays enough? Most teachers work twelve hour days – at least. They’ll do this for five or six days a week. Teachers aren’t paid for these hours. The salary doesn’t cover work at home in the evenings, weekends or during holidays. You can’t bid for overtime or take time off in lieu of the work you’ve done outside of school hours. You can’t book a medical appointment during school time, unless it’s an emergency. You can’t even go to the toilet when you want.

Why do it? If you want to be a good teacher, or pass threshold & add to your salary, you need to have the results to show that you’re worth it. This requires time and effort. Most teachers teach 21 or 22 hours a week, giving them about 3 hours to do all their Planning, Preparation and Assessment (marking) in that time. If you want your PPA to be good, and by that I mean marking with comments; different resources for your different abilities; lessons that are engaging and challenging, then three or four hours isn’t enough. Lots of teachers in the schools that I’ve worked in have either come in early, stayed late or both. I used to do both. I’d be in by 7.30am and stay till 5.30pm, always working during break and sometimes during lunch. I’d then head home and work until about 9.30/10pm. I’d do this almost every day. And then work for at least 5 hours on the Sunday. Then add on a trip or an off timetable day which your planning for, parents evening, open evening, and the workload increases. Or say the National Curriculum or exam syllabus changes…again. This is not that uncommon.

And those holidays – yep, I’d work in those too. Usually from home where I’d plan, make resources, analyse results, write reports, etc etc. I rarely went back to work feeling refreshed. A friend of mine said to me at the start of term this year, ‘It’s like it never ends – I feel like a hamster on a wheel!’ And that’s the problem. The pressure to perform remains. Every group has their own challenges and each teacher has to show, not only can they get those students to achieve their targets, but that they’re adding value as well.

It was suggested that I take a sabbatical this year, but I knew the school couldn’t afford it. There is no way schools could. What it will mean is that sabbaticals don’t happen. Teachers continue to work themselves into the ground helping students to achieve. They’ll be vilified for the ‘pensions’ strike, which isn’t just about pensions. It’s about standards. It’s about the pay cuts. It’s about job losses. And it’s about teachers standing with other public sector workers saying No. Enough is enough.

So glad I got out when I did.

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The Joy of Learning

I loved school when I was a kid. I was happy in every subject with the exception of maths. (Numbers & I don’t play well together!) I enjoyed learning & still do, no matter what it is. At the moment I am enjoying learning about new knitting stitches & web design. Inspired by the @ukedchat debate on independent learning got me thinking about why I enjoy learning & others don’t. It was the most frustrating thing as a teacher. Some teachers are being told it’s them, and sometimes it is. Teachers are under more and more pressure to get their students to ‘perform’ well. I know of schools that are telling their teachers if a child doesn’t meet their expected grade, it is simply the fault of the teacher. I am boiling with rage as I type that.

This morning I also noticed a debate on obesity levels led by Zest magazine & how it can be reduced among children. I was disturbed by the number of tweets from people saying ‘schools should teach them how to eat healthy’. Um…they do!

And I guess the thing that angers me the most, still even though I’m no longer teaching, is the perception that it’s always the fault of teachers, schools and education. If I don’t eat fruit or veg, it’s up to me. If I decide to close my mind to new learning experiences, it’s up to me. Even children choose whether they want to eat their greens or do their homework.

I learnt all about food at home. I watched my mother and my grandmothers cooking and baking. Fatty foods were ‘treats’. Homework was done before anything else. It was at home, growing up that these lessons were learnt. Why is it so different now? (I’m only 31 after all!)

How many families sit down to a healthy dinner in the evening and how many won’t? How many children will be given books and educational toys this Christmas and how many will receive computer games, mobile phones & make-up? I was always given presents that encouraged me to do or learn something new. I had (& still have) a huge imagination and relished being creative.

I think my point is this. I wonder when we’ll stop blaming schools for the failings of society. It’s not one teachers fault if a child doesn’t achieve 5 A* – C grades. It’s the whole school, the family, the authorities, government, media & society as a whole. If childhood obesity is on the rise then it’s the fault of everyone, for thinking we can eat fatty foods and not exercise much and children won’t notice. By the time most children reach secondary school they are set in their ways. They’ve watched their family and other people, how they behave, what they do, what their attitude is. By the time they reach key stage four, the battle is almost over and their paths can rarely be changed. If Mr Gove wants education to change, simply forcing his own schooling on the nation’s children isn’t the way to do it.


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Educating Essex

I have been avoiding the new documentary series on Channel 4, Educating Essex. I couldn’t bare the annoying way that the teenagers would be speaking or the frustration on the teachers faces. But I couldn’t hold out & watched all three episodes today. I found it very interesting.

There are loads of lovely teenagers in the education system, who want to learn & get on and be successful. And there are loads that aren’t. They are annoying & frustrating but they’re usually the students that you feel satisfied with when/if they turn it around. I don’t miss being shouted out or spoken to like a second class citizen. But despite this, it wasn’t the students that made me want to leave. It was a number of things.

I think the series really highlights the challenges that most schools feel today. It is so difficult for schools to teach when students have so many distractions, such as mobiles but also there’s so little support in the system. Education psychologists, social services etc have all had their funding cut. Schools have had their budgets cut meaning they’ve had to cut back on the support that they can give to the students. It all means that all staff within schools will have to work even harder to maintain & improve standards and help students increase their life chances.

It is refreshing to see tweets like these from teachers & the public alike, for everyone to really see and understand what it is like to teach in Modern Britain: @Jonsieboy wrote “I hope viewers realise that all teachers deal with stuff like the Vinnie story. And it gets to us all.” @PivotalErica wrote “For any of you who doubt how difficult it is to be a #teacher just watch #educatingessexTeaching is tough, but worthwhile. And people need to respect that & support it as much as possible.

I just hope Mr Gove was watching.

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Money Money Money

All you here about these days is the economic crisis. Greece not meeting deadlines; high unemployment; Tories blaming Labour (still); Labour saying what they’d do differently etc etc. Everyone is making cutbacks. So when you’ve handed in your notice in without a job to go to, cutbacks are going to have to be made.

This morning, while in the shower, I was listening to BBC Oxford & they had David Kuo from Motley Fool on talking about cutting credit card (from 2:10 minutes in), in response to the original draft of David Cameron’s speech. I’ve had credit card debt since I started working as a teacher. I was lucky (poor) enough not to have any debt from university because I didn’t have to pay fees & I worked from the age of 13 until 21 in a gift shop in my home town. My Granny set up blue & grey post office savings books for me & my siblings when we were small so I have always known that saving is essential. But I like pretty things & didn’t see why I should go short. There would always be another month’s pay to help sort it.

I agree with David in that debt is like a monkey on your back. It’s always there and I had to make a change. I had to clear my credit card. I didn’t know when I would be getting a regular salary in & cutbacks weren’t enough. I had some savings that I could use but I mainly paid it off by cutting back. I’ve made huge changes – shopped around for a cheaper haircut, joined Groupon etc & only buy essential things. Over on A Crafty Chai, I blogged about making my own salt scrub in a bid to save money. As a family, due to the drop of income, we’re having to cut & save where we can. Fewer meals out, reduce the film rentals from Apple TV & of course, ‘brand down’. It’s going to be a tough old time, but according to Big Dave, we must all do our bit. Practice what you preach Mr C!


Autumn Tinted Glasses

It’s funny but recently I’ve been thinking about teaching. I am a great teacher. I’m not just being big-headed! OFSTED judged me ‘outstanding’ in a recent inspection back in May. I was amazed, especially as I’d handed in my notice by this point, knowing that I didn’t have another teaching job to go to. I haven’t regretted this decision one little bit. Well, I miss the money obviously! But I knew what I was doing. I am very much out of my comfort zone at the moment and teaching is what I know.

I do love teaching. Being in the classroom is great & there’s nothing else quite like it. If that’s all teaching was, I think I’d probably still be doing it. But it isn’t. It’s so much more than that. Difficult students that can wear you down; difficult parents that can wear you down! Policy after policy after policy…then there’s the staff! I know it’s not saving lives or going to war but it’s a tough & often unrewarding job. After nine years I need a break. I need to keep reminding myself of the permanent exhaustion I felt, looking haggard & the constant anxiety that I wasn’t doing enough. The fact that I now look rested, despite poor (!), is a good reminder that teaching isn’t what I see when looking through my autumn tinted glasses!

Courtesy of Pink Sherbet Photography

A change is as good as a rest

One of the questions I’ve been asked a lot recently is why did I leave teaching. My response is simple: I needed a rest. Don’t get me wrong. It’s not only teachers who work hard & work long hours (& not all teachers do!) But even after the long summer holidays last year I hadn’t fully recuperated. So I knew that something had to change. I handed in my notice & only freaked out a few times about the prospect of not returning to school in September for the first time since I was about 5!

So the job hunt began. With very little luck. The biggest problem was that I didn’t know what I wanted to do beyond working from home, at my own pace, setting my own hours. For over four years I’d been working a minimum of 12 hour days, usually six days a week. I often felt guilty about the time I spent working & away from my partner, family and friends. And I know…teachers get loads of holidays so what am I complaining about?! I worked almost at the same pace throughout these too. And I had to deal with teenagers!  Beyond not wanting to work directly with teenagers anymore or work ridiculous hours or have a stupidly long commute (yep, I had that too!), I don’t really mind what I do, as long as it’s creative. This blog is about my journey after teaching, the highs & lows. Who knows how it’s going to turn out!