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!

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I’m Unlikely to Be Making Anyone a Sammich

Over the past few weeks I’ve been following a story relating to the continued threats made to Anita Sarkeesian. These have ranged from the standard troll comments to detailed death and rape threats, and now to a threat against a university if they allowed her to speak. (Link here)

This woman must be about to unleash some awfully sensitive or dangerous information… oh. Hold on. No. She made a series of videos and blogs about feminism in gaming.

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I don’t particularly agree with some of the things she says. Having played games on various devices since I was tiny, I don’t think the games industry is trying to put women off. Those games that have become more and more misogynistic… I don’t buy them. Nor would I buy them for my kids.

I am a massive advocate for parents actually clueing themselves up on what a PEGI rating is and why buying an 18 rated game for a 10 year old is basically damaging.

I’ve gone off on a tangent…

My point is that I spend a large percentage of my life trying to show young people that anyone can enjoy tech, that being a geek is awesome (just try telling my kids that cryptography is boring – they have been getting encrypted messages from Dr X all week :p ), that girls can code just as well as boys, and developer creative hissy fits are a well recognised phenomenon.

Then I read the news.

Then I dwell on the dark corners of the world I’m encouraging these kids into.

With every living breath I try to pass on the absolute love I feel for Computer Science. But there’s that nagging doubt that it’s going to be tough for the outspoken.

What do I do? I keep going of course. If a pair of breasts close to a keyboard is such a threat, then that is not the fault of the breast-owner. That suggests some deep Freudian insecurity on the parts of these keyboard warriors.

Tim Berners-Lee created the internet to be a vast network of shared thoughts and ideas. By trying to silence one woman, they made her message go global in the national news. It seems the internet bit them back.

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.

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.