Tag Archives: teaching

Myths about Teaching

While writing my previous post, I  became incensed by the comments I read in response to Sir Wilshaws comments about teachers pay. And it got me thinking about what people think about teaching today. Everyone has an experience of school, but being a student gives you a very different perspective to that of a teacher. My OH regularly defended my profession to people who ‘joked’ about it being easy and all about watching videos, by saying he’s never seen anyone work so hard. He had no idea what teaching involved until we got together and he saw it for himself.

  1. Teaching is a 9 – 3 job. False. If a teacher is only working from 9 – 3, then within the first day, they’ll be behind. A teacher has to plan all their lessons every day. Depending on the number of classes they have (a teacher of English will have fewer classes than an RE teacher, but have to plan more lessons), the amount of time they spend doing certain tasks will vary. When teaching, not only to you have to stand in front of the class for 5 – 6 hours a day, you also have to plan each of these lessons. You then need to mark the work from each of these lessons. You’ll have to do 2 duties a week and organise the pastoral care of your tutor group. Throw in meetings before and after school, as well as training, parents evenings, open evenings and other possible events depending on your subject. I’d like to meet these teachers who only work 9 – 3 and ask them how they do it!
  2. Teachers get tons of holidays. True. But how many people do work during their holidays? Not many I’ll bet. Again, not every teacher will work during the holidays. Some might, some won’t. But in order to stay on top of everything, there are an awful lot of teachers who work during at least some of their holidays. The only time I didn’t work during my holidays was when I went abroad. As my OH wasn’t a teacher, we didn’t go abroad every holiday. So I would work during Christmas, Easter, at least one half term and half of the summer holidays. When I was Head of Department, I would go into school during the first week of the summer holidays to sort things out from the end of the school year & prepare for the new one, and then again at the end of the summer holidays for results day and getting things ready, like displays, organising books, getting to know the students who had specific learning needs etc.
  3. Teachers get a good deal with pay & pensions. Mmmmm…kind of. Teaching can pay very well, depending on your cost of living. In the last few years of my teaching career, the money I earned for being Head of Department (all £200 of it) went on my diesel. No joke. The pay I received for being head of department in no way reflected what was entailed in that job. And this is thing, teachers might get a decent amount of holidays but they do an awful lot outside of their contracted hours. Day trips, residential trips, buying things out of their own pocket, getting in early etc. If I calculate the number of hours I worked on average during term time, and not even factoring in working on the weekend, it boils down to earning just above minimum wage. Now I know not every teacher worked like I did, but something tells me that working as hard as I did for effectively minimum wage, means I wasn’t getting a good deal. I wish Wilshaw had brought up this idea of pay rises for hard workers when I was still there! Do teachers need decent pensions? Probably not, because the statistics of teachers dying early in retirement is shocking. Raise the retirement age even further, and they’ll be dropping in front of their white boards.
  4. Teaching is a job for life. False. When I started teaching back in 2002, I thought teaching was a secure profession to go into. Who had ever heard of teachers being made redundant? They’re essential right? True, to a point. Due to the ‘economic downturn’ or whatever you’d like to call it, times are very tough for schools. Even making schools academies isn’t the silver lining in the Tory Government cloud. It was only a few years ago when the school I worked in called for voluntary redundancies. This year, only a tiny handful of teachers will be replaced after a massive handful left. Teaching is not secure at all.

My Granny considered teaching to be a noble profession. But if you look at the comments on newspaper & TV websites when anything to do with teaching comes up, you’d think that teachers were the scum of the earth! And that they alone were the cause of everything that is wrong in the world.

I don’t understand at what point teachers became the root of all evil but I wish it would stop. Nothing in life is fair & I don’t think that lots of people who work hard in their various professions or fields get a good deal either. I don’t think its fair that sections of the Armed Forces or other public services are so underpaid or have rubbish pensions. The same way that I don’t think its fair for the Government to claw back money from those who are most vulnerable in our society because the wealthiest created a massive financial black hole. Sadly we live in a world that isn’t fair & there will always be people who think teachers have got it easy. They are wrong, obviously, because none of us who work hard & don’t see an equal financial return for that hard work, whatever it is, have got it easy. But hey ho, that’s just how it is.

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Sixteen years ago, to the day, I received my GCSE results. I’d worked very hard to achieve 1 A, 5 B’s and 4 C’s. I even managed a C in Maths, which I really wasn’t sure I could do, but needed for university. I cried as I opened my results, and can picture my Mum sitting next to me in the car, double checking them because I didn’t think I had read it right the first time. For years after, I waited for a letter for the exam board saying they had got it wrong!

At this time of year, education is under intense scrutiny. If results exceed expectation, people accuse exam boards of ‘dumbing down’. If they fall, like they have this year, people blame exam boards for ‘harsh marking’. If a student fails, their teachers are asked to explain why. What could they have done differently? Did they do everything they could for that student? It’s the most soul-destroying part of teaching I have ever experienced. You are accountable for the successes and failures of your students. Not the students, I hasten to add, you are. This makes me so angry. And why I think performance related pay is so dangerous. You can do everything in your power to prepare your students, then they can go into the exam hall and write nothing. And this does happen, not very often, but it does happen.  When I was preparing for my Maths GCSE, I had a tutor. We did this because I was struggling. Maths has never been my strong point and I needed extra help. At no point did we blame the teacher for lack of attention or the school for not preparing me, I just needed 1-1 help and this wasn’t possible every lesson at school.

“The key question is, are [GCSEs] fit for purpose for the economy today?”

The quote above is by Graham Stuart, the Conservative chairman of the Commons’ Education Select Committee. For once, I actually agree with a Conservative politician! I don’t think they are. I think GCSE’s lack the very things our young people need for going into the world. Skills, entrepreneurial ideas, innovative thinking, being ready and able to adapt should be at the forefront of qualifications, but they aren’t. Sure, we need to know the basics, but we also need to remember that young people need qualifications that prepare them for their lives, not just to give us statistics to play with. Some GCSE students today will work in jobs that don’t necessarily exist yet. Very few will only work in one sector. There is no such thing as a job for life and schools need to be able to prepare them as best they can for this.

GCSE’s don’t do this, but neither will Gove’s idea of reverting back to O Levels. We need to harness the best minds in education, business economics and government and come up with something new. Otherwise we’ll all fail our young people.

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Hello TED

Education in Britain does seem to be in a bit of a mess at the moment. There’s always discussions about standards, especially at this time of year, but with curriculum reviews taking place left, right and centre, I think that we have to ask ourselves: What do we want our young people to know? How do we want them to be when they leave school?

The most obvious answer is that we want them to be skilled, well educated, decent functioning members of society that contribute positively to society as a whole. It would be easy for me to say that this isn’t happening, and that would be wrong. The vast majority of young people today have these things. But that wouldn’t grab any headlines now would it? It wouldn’t exacerbate the already-strained relationship between Gove/Ofsted and the teaching profession. Having said that, and under the belief that ‘every child matters’, the education system doesn’t always get it right. I’m not going to complain (again) about over-worked teachers and under-funded schools, despite these being a constant issue. There are ways around this and some schools are doing amazing jobs at helping our young people achieve. Educators need to be innovative and that’s why I’m writing this post. I wish I’d come across TED while I was still teaching. I’m ashamed to say that I didn’t but I can see so many uses for it across the whole of the school experience.

If you’re not sure where to start, then have a look at this list of 8 Great TED Talks about the Future of Education and Learning. They will inspire you and give you hope that all is not lost. My favourite is the top one, by Ken Robinson. It affirmed my own thinking that not all is well with education. But it also makes me think that we shouldn’t despair – maybe we should vote better, but not despair! If those involved within education speak up during curriculum reviews, like the A Level one that is going on right now, do what they can to be innovative, teach beyond the test and support one another (I’m including SMT’s in this too!) then surely the future of education needn’t be all doom and gloom (or led by Gove!). There are great resources out there and TED is just one of them.

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My first ever Guardian blog post!

So there I was yesterday, sitting at my desk, writing some resources for a project I’m working on. I always have Twitter open on my desktop, just so I can keep up with what’s going on. Plus, when you work at home on your own it’s nice to talk to people online.

Anyway, @GuardianTeach tweeted and asked if there were any RE teachers interested in blogging. Naturally I retweeted but I also replied saying that it was a shame they didn’t tweet last year when I actually was one. They replied, suggesting I get in touch anyway. So I did. I love a good blog and was definitely interested. They wanted a response to Professor James Conroy’s report on the state of RE in schools today. I was able to be honest in my response to the findings within the report.

To say it was easy is an understatement. I know budgets are tight within schools, always have, always will be. But I’ve been on the side where you have to make your budget stretch more than most. I wasn’t shocked by the findings. I had to fight RE’s corner many times. It’s not always respected by most of the other staff. And that’s what makes the RE teachers job harder. No matter how hard you stretch your budget, how many pens you ‘borrow’ from certain Swedish furniture shops, you feel like you’re fighting a losing battle.

I can remember on inset days after the summer holidays when the whole staff would meet & we would go through the exam results. As someone who was super conscientious & worked incredibly hard for her students, this was torture. At times, RE is taught by non-specialists who don’t always have the subject knowledge. And sometimes it doesn’t matter how hard you work, students don’t always do the work. So sitting with the results up on the PowerPoint, I wanted to jump up & say, ‘But you don’t know how hard I’ve worked, it’s not fair, we don’t have any money, there are only 2 of us, we only have an hour a week, we teach everyone, we did our best!’ I never did shout this out, but I have mini-panic attacks over it.

I’m not saying other teachers don’t work hard or have tough times or difficult working environments. But if RE is as important as the Government suggests then they need to back it up. Come on Gove, put your money where your mouth is!

To read my blog post, have a read of it here. Let me know what you think. My budget for the year was about £800 for way more students. What are your experiences? What’s your budget like?

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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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