The September Germfest

When kids go home for the summer, I’m convinced that they become little distilleries for mega germs which they store away for September to launch at unsuspecting teachers the minute we return and set them homework.

My personal downfall this year was looking at past social media statements I had made over the past few years about how awful ‘freshers flu’ is and the general germiness of the Autumn. As I read these, I chuckled to myself at how terrible my immune system must have been last year and how I’d escaped scot free because I’m soooo much healthier now. We all know where this is going….

I left school at 5.30pm tonight feeling a bit scratchy, but clutching my box of marking. By the time I got to the kids’ trampolining lesson, I felt sort of heavy, but I’d had a full day with no break (hall & lunch duties made sure that I ate on my feet and just about got a loo break). No biggie. Probably just need to sit down.

Trampolining is a full hour, so out came the marking and I ploughed in with my notaredpen, got the stuff done and actually quite enjoyed the task (mainly because this first programming task was to write a program that tells a joke – wow, they know some REALLY nerdy jokes!). As I got up to collect the kids I sneezed. Oh crap. It’s not hayfever season… Dust? Yes. Dust. Please let it be dust….

7pm, we drive to the station to collect the other adult who’s been in London all day and is on the train back home to us. He’s tired and hungry, but in a good mood and texts me updates on the station as he goes. I sit in the car listening to the kids singing really flipping loudly & wonder why my eyeballs are throbbing.

8pm, kids are in bed. The other adult has been sent out on a mission to fill the car up with fuel & locate soup based food. I change out of the new super smart teacher clothes into slouchy pjs and sit on the bed with the iPad to check emails (nervous parents with homework questions – I have no issue answering them) & put together a bit of a blog post. Then it hits me. Oooh soft bed. Hello bed. Throat sore, head fuzzy, nose itchy. Oh bugger. They got me with their germ warfare.

What they didn’t bank on is me having my own ammunition… I have a bag of pain killers, throat sweets and tissues. I will survive, but will they after I’ve sneezed on their homework?

Let Sleeping Teachers Lay

11pm – laying in bed rolling over possible ideas of how to get ‘that class’ to knuckle down to some real work. They’re clearly learning something, but the behaviour leaves a lot to be desired.

As I stand at the front of the class using positive language and body language to show that I’m waiting for them to shut the hell up be quiet and let me speak, I am mentally channelling this guy:

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In my head I am repeating that these are not bad kids. They’re really not. They have no idea how important the time that they are wasting actually is and it’s my job to drag them all the way through to the end. Mr Drew is a bit of a hero of mine. I draw on that mental image of him greeting each child personally in the corridor as I enter ‘that’ classroom. I make sure I start with a smile – there’s a lot to be said for expecting the best. These kids are not grades on a bit of paper, so no matter how much they ‘banter’, I am not giving up.

At the start of last year, one of them announced proudly to me that they’d got every teacher they’d had as a class to leave within a year & I was next. Bless them. I made it through last year & this year, well, this year I’m back in true terminator style. And this time I’ve got handouts.

My mission this year is to find that tactic that breaks down the teenage bravado exterior and feeds the intelligent child inside that was swallowed up by testosterone and overly liberal deodorant. There have already been lessons where I have needed to breathe deeply (not too deeply, remember the deodorant) and rationalise that not every battle can be won. But every victory on my part brings them a step closer to succeeding.

This week’s small victory was to set a test, where they all scored over 50%. Every one of them. I chose five of them to give verbal feedback to in the form of a video where I talked them through their paper, the rest were marked traditionally. Verbal feedback is personal, but can be embarrassing when you are a teenage boy with a reputation to uphold. Easier then to have a video that you can watch when your mates have gone away which praises your efforts and shows you how to move forward. This is diplomacy at its best – I’m meeting them half way, but on my terms.

There will always be lessons where I may feel like this inside:

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But that’s only because I can see this big picture. I want them to do well, and it upsets me to see them waste the precious little time they have left at school.

Sucking at Something is The First Step To Becoming Sorta Good At Something

Excellent quote from my favourite cartoon dog.

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As the term really gets into swing, one of the things I seem to be repeating in every class is that I don’t mind if they hand me a piece of coding that doesn’t work. What I want to see is that they’ve created it, rewritten it, shouted at it, looked on the Internet and tried everything then handed it to me with wild hair as they mutter about how much they hate the program. Because you know what? That’s what programmers do. We get hold of a problem and roll it around in our heads like a insanity ball that eats away at our souls until BINGO! We get it. Then the joy can commence.

Getting stuff wrong isn’t bad. Repeatedly sucking isn’t the goal. The idea is to suck a little bit less each time until you’re basically bloody awesome. But that takes practice.

I’ve met a few students who got the bug early and made it their mission to practice at every given opportunity. I love the lunchtimes when they bounce into the classroom to show me their latest ‘thing’, all sorts of weirdness from nods to Pokemon to 8 bit music programs, to card games. Every one of these came from them taking it on themselves to bend their heads around the code. All I did was show them the yellow brick road – they followed it. I’m stupidly proud of them.

The same applies to how I see my teaching ability. The more I do this, the less I suck. I’m not scared of trying some new stuff this year, because if I suck at something to start off with, it’s just the first step to being sorta good at it. And so far we’ve been in the zone.

What time is it? Adventure Time!!

Thanks Jake.

Blasts from the past

Over the summer I had a crisis of confidence. I’d just agreed to take over as head of computer science and when the exam results hit, one particular set knocked me sideways.

There’s a lot recently about teaching kids to be resilient and stand up to failure, pick themselves up and carry on. Sometimes the teachers could do with those pep talks too. For a good few weeks there I felt awful. What had I done wrong? I’d put my heart and soul into that course & I’d failed. Or rather they hadn’t got the results that we had hoped for, but that became one and the same. I mused for a while about whether I was actually the teacher I thought I was. Should I walk away? I think I owed it to my students to think really hard about this. If I wasn’t up to it, then I shouldn’t be doing this. But, after a good mental arse kicking I picked my self pitying arse back up off the floor and started on an action plan to get things back on track. School started back and the more I’ve been back in the classroom, the more positive I’ve felt.

So resilience is hugely important. It’s accepting that I didn’t get it right, but I can’t take the exam for them. I’m just the one leading them to water. I will continue to work twenty times harder than they do on their exam preparation, stalk the corridors demanding coursework when they “forget” it, email & tweet them things that they might find interesting (ok, I’m living in denial there) and make such awful jokes in the classroom that they cringe for me. I will find a way to make this work.

Then I received a message from a past student… from a particular class that it broke my heart to leave them when I moved on. Timing there wasn’t great – just one more year would’ve seen them through (but would’ve probably finished me off). That class probably taught me more about teaching than I taught them about computing. Never before, or since have I had a denary – hexadecimal conversion showdown.

That message restored my faith in what I do. It reminded me that this isn’t about that one day in August where a piece of paper determines their fate. It’s about making a difference to an actual person, not a grade. It’s about knowing that this isn’t just a job – these are kids, and actually it’s ok to think they’re amazing (generally, because they are). It’s not a bad thing to feel like a parent seeing their child ride a bike for the first time when you see them get that lightbulb moment. Investing emotionally is ok. It means you care. It also means that when things don’t go so well, you grieve alongside them.

The difference is that I’m the grown up. So whilst I’m all swan at the top, the legs are furiously paddling under the surface.

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Day 1 – Let The Madness Commence!

First day of term. I went to bed with end of holiday butterflies in my tummy and woke every 30 minutes in a don’t miss the alarm panic. Why? Today The Children came back…

5.50am Alarm goes off. Arm flies out of bed. Hit snooze.

5.55am Alarm goes off. Urgh. No. Snooze.

6am Alarm goes off. You’re not going away are you? Get up.

Some blur between 6am and 7.15am inhale coffee. Lay out newly labelled uniform for the girls and attempt conversation over “breakfast” (a yogurt and more coffee). Conversation fail. I can’t discuss the finer points of who chewing loudest. I just can’t. Plait girls hair. Realise I haven’t actually brushed mine yet. Shit shit shit.

7.30am run out the door in new shoes and posh work clothes. Run isn’t quite the right word. Walking a bit like Tina Turner as I’ve been in flip flops for 6 weeks. Can’t actually remember how to walk in heels. Arse.

To work!

Emails emails… Hall duty & greeting all the kids (are they getting taller or am I shrinking?). Collect kids planners and register. Feeling organised. We can do this!

Tutor time. Feeling a bit sad that I’m missing seeing my girls going into school. Cheered up massively by happy & genuine greetings from my form. Seriously, proper “Morning Miss!” type stuff from year 10s! These teenagers don’t conform to the stereotype. I love them.

The next 5 hours is a blur of welcome back lessons in which we hit the ground running rather than ease them in. I’m back in The Zone. There was a sandwich in there somewhere.

3.30pm It’s all gone quiet. Suddenly realise that my feet REALLY hurt (bad new shoes) & my throat is sore. Standard stuff.

Update the links on my scheme of work to the new folders, answer a few more emails & talk to some colleagues who have inherited my classes. Print out the resources for tomorrow’s lessons… Last minute parent email pops up. Better to leave without it hanging.

Time check. 5.30pm… Kids home on 30 minutes… Drive home 30 minutes… Shit shit…

7pm order pizza.

7.30pm Answer homework question emails. Bless them. If they’re keen, I’m not going to ignore them. Update blog with a post reflecting on day. Actually, after all that stressing over exam results and planning in August, today was a remarkably good day. Mainly because the children came back.

Zey. Like Za Soop!

So this evening my dearest mother announces she has bought Sainsburys best pre packaged chicken breasts ready seasoned with unidentifiable green stuff and fatty bacon.

You may have detected that I’m not keen on packaged bung it in the oven foods. So I did what any sane person would do when presented with the prospect of processed dinner delights……. I made soup.

Cue:

An onion chopped and fried in butter
3 dinky slightly old carrots (it’s nearly shopping day) chopped up and stuffed in with the onion.
Then 500ml of water with 1 chicken and 1 veg stock cube
About 4 chopped parsnips (about because they were frozen… Could’ve been 5)
Some coriander ground and leaf and a bit of medium curry powder.

Boil. Well, simmer for however long the others decide to leave their dinner to shrivel into an overlooked abomination. (Currently standing at 40 mins)

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When it’s finished boiling, then stick it in a blender and smooooooothe it out.

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Nom.

Why State Schools Work (aka Why Gove is Wrong)

Why do I feel the need to publicly defend the state school system? Why? This article http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-26015535

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Mr Gove (excuse the twitching as his name is used) thinks we should change our state schools to be more like independent schools. Well, I guess they perform better and he must have experience in teaching in both sectors to have formed such an opinion…. Oh. Hold on, he’s not taught in either? The Minister for Education hasn’t actually taught a single lesson? Yes, this is true – there’s actually a petition in action to get him to try out teaching! (There really is, it’s here: https://you.38degrees.org.uk/petitions/michael-gove-to-teach-for-a-term)

So why do I feel qualified to publicly say that Mr Gove’s daily spoutings are the rantings of the politically insane? Well, because I have more teaching experience in both sectors than the UK ‘s Minister for education. (That in itself is just plain wrong)

So, I’m going to look at some of his latest ideas:

- open schools from 8am – 6pm
Let’s put the staffing issues aside here. I’ve seen first hand the effect that an 8am – 6pm day has on a child. Young teenagers end the term in tears from sheer exhaustion. Fights break out (yes, that’s in a ‘posh independent school’) because boys are tired and in close proximity to each other. Quality of work diminishes significantly because the mental health of the child is precarious to say the least.

Thankfully, in independent schools, these exhausted teens are only expected to handle this for 5-6 weeks at a time with significant holidays in between – the summer being on average 9 weeks.

Except Gove is suggesting reducing the holidays to 6 weeks in total. It doesn’t take a genius to weigh up the impact this will have on the children involved.

- teach more like an independent school
I am a firm supporter of our state system. Why? We are producing an increasing number of stable, resilient young people who know how to learn for themselves (not just remember facts) and who move on to university with an understanding of their responsibility for their own learning. This does not happen in every case, and there are still examples of a real need for resilience. However, state schools are far less prone to spoon feeding a curriculum in order to get the ‘right’ exam results. Four A*s at A Level may look impressive, but when consideration is made that independent schools will ensure those results through one to one lessons, coaching and coursework help, they no longer seem so impressive. Even less so when university progression is looked at – whilst acceptance to university may be high, the drop out rate is significantly higher for those who were hand held through exams at school.

There is another significant reason why independent schools achieve such high results – common entrance exams cream the top performers. Is this Gove’s suggestion? Should schools become selective? Should we just give up on the less academically inclined? Or should we provide education for ALL?

I am far prouder of my state school cohort who achieve Bs and Cs and I some cases very hard fought for Ds through their own hard work and determination whilst I facilitate their learning. There is nothing like seeing a student receive their exam results knowing that this is a result of that child’s hard work. That is the kind of learning that stays with you. That is lifelong understanding of how to learn.

Ok, now we can mention the teachers (not too much though)

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When will I prepare my lessons? I already work each evening and every weekend?
Am I to be driven purely by exam results and see these kids as numbers rather than amazing individuals? If so, tough, because these kids are awesome. They are not numbers.
Why am I so pro-state? I am a better teacher because of my state school. They support my teaching. They support me. I have had more CPD in a single term than in three years in the independent sector. I am encouraged to lead and my ideas are celebrated. My ability to teach is recognised as a craft which we spend time honing. I get sworn at an awful lot more and on occasions I become disheartened because of the verbal abuse from students, but I feel valued as a person because of the support from my colleagues.

What about parents?
Well, it doesn’t seem that they have been consulted at all. Of the parents I have spoken to, they are horrified at the prospect of longer days. Questions are asked : When will I see my children? How will they attend their clubs? What about quality of life / family time? What if I actually want to look after my children?

This is when I look at the argument from a different perspective. As a parent. I no longer fear for the education system as a whole, but for my own children. As a parent, I simply would not put my children through the trauma of long hours away from their family (currently, they have a wonderful set of grandparents who very much make up for us being out at work). I would not expose them to the stress levels placed on children who are put through many independent schools. This is not a reflection of all independent schools and like Mr Gove, I can only talk from my own experience of teaching in both sectors.

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With this said, should these reforms come in, in direct contrast to what the government hopes will happen, (that is mothers returning to work), as much as it would break my heart to do so, I will remove myself from my beloved profession and put that to good use through homeschooling my children.