Working 9 to 5… and 6, and 7

Teaching is less of a job than a calling. It’s in our bones. We just can’t help ourselves.

This year I made the momentous decision to join the other 50’000 UK teachers who left in 2015 in stepping down as a full time secondary school teacher. Over the past two years, I’ve done that job on wheels and through a lot of painkillers, but in the end it wasn’t my crappy health that sealed the deal. 

I’m not actually leaving teaching. Instead, I’m moving to pastures new where the only grazers are sixth form students, retaining a very part time role in my current place, and offering online private tuition. It may seem bizarre to leave one full time sensible job to combine part time roles, but hear me out:

  • My sixth form teaching is the highlight of my day. But my subject is niche & in its infancy at my new college so whilst I build my little empire of nerds, hours are reduced. A Level Computer Science students challenge me mentally and I love seeing them fan the first flickers of a flame that grows to so many of them ending up in the industry, or at Uni studying the subject I love.
  • Leaving my current school is bittersweet. Here, I have friends, comrades, family. There are many things that try my patience to the bitter end, but parting was such sweet sorrow that I couldn’t leave completely. 
  • Private tuition brings a whole new dynamic to my teaching skills. In some respects it’s much easier than classroom teaching as there’s no rushing around dividing your time, or dealing with behaviour issues, and you get to develop a strong working relationship with tutees that is difficult in large classes. On the other hand, it’s much harder as you are giving constant input – there’s no quiet purposeful practice when “on the clock”, and many students who come to you as a tutor are there because they’re not keeping up for one reason or another. The stakes are high, but the rewards are enormous.

So that leaves me in a bit of a pickle for now. I’m winding down my full time role, whilst also not winding down at all as there’s still 7 weeks left to go, I’m preparing for my new role in September, and I’m already knee deep in online tutees in the evenings and weekends so I can hit the ground running (or wheeling) in September.

I’m exhausted. But therun up to the big jump to a new Lilly pad is an awful lot of fun.

So, for now you can find me here: www.TeachAllAboutIT.uk doing my thing & quite literally teaching Computer Science to the world!

There’s Something About Sunday… It’s the Yorkshire puddings.

There really is something about Sunday that makes it realistically essential to my sanity. This stems from a mixture of time to sort out my life & food.

I got up late this morning after LSH let me lay in until 9.30 (bliss!) as I’d been up half the night coughing like a plague victim. I needed sleep. I needed my body to just get on and heal itself.

So at 9.30 I dragged myself downstairs to drink the final cup of coffee from the machine and commence on the standard Sunday morning homework marathon (them doing it, me marking it!). I find this quite relaxing now as they know Sunday is homework day – there’s no arguments, just get on with it. And now beanpole likes her teacher, she’s throwing herself into her tasks!

LSH took the girls over to his mum & dads at around 11, leaving me at home due to the evil germs that I really don’t want to share around. So, I carried on with various prep & marking bits until 2 then put away some laundry until they got home.

Our afternoon was spent with TinyPants drawing, making dens and playing strange computer games whilst Beanpole and I made a start on her take home task (like homework, but long term) which she’s chosen to do on dinosaurs (huge surprise)… The task is to chose a time and place in history that you would like to travel back to & make a scrapbook about what went on there. She’s throwing herself into this one!

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The best bit about Sundays is that we have time to cook. Traditionally, it’s a roast, and today we’ve got roast chicken with all the bits. Especially Yorkshire puddings.

These are my domain & today’s are sage & onions yorkshires.

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They start off looking a bit weird, but then I sit in front of the oven threatening to maim anyone who dares to open the oven as they start to rise….

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Wow, my oven needs cleaning… Well that’s on the list!

After this stage, it’s basically witchcraft to get them to this stage….

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Cue one big family dinner, bath time all round and ready for another week at school 🙂

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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.