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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Introducing Students To Disability- Year 2

Last year I wrote about how I explained to my classes why their teacher who was previously using a stick, then crutches, was now using a wheelchair. Or for those new students, why the person in the wheelchair was in fact actually their teacher.

https://thehippygeek.wordpress.com/2015/09/22/the-easy-way-to-introduce-260-students-to-a-big-change/

I’m starting to look at how I should update that message to reflect where I am now & what I learnt from last year (yes I know it’s the start of August, but yes I’m also already planning for September).

The past year has taught me a few important things.

  • Discipline is harder from this vantage point – set boundaries and [insert deity here] help them if they cross it. 
  • Kids are often curious. Often a question about me is really about a family (or even them) that they’re worried about.
  • Kids adapt – after a few weeks, you’re just “Miss”

We use Google Classroom & as such I will post this to each class which allows them to read it in their own time & stops it eating into lesson time.

Dear students,

You’ve probably noticed that Mrs Geek has evolved wheels & you might have a few questions. Our lesson isn’t the time for this, but you can always ask me questions during break / lunch! Until then, here’s the biggies:

Why are you in a wheelchair?
I have a genetic condition called Ehlers Danlos Syndrome & POTS. EDS makes my joints & organs more stretchy than they should be, so I get hurt quite a lot and those injuries don’t heal very well. POTS means that when I stand up, or get too hot, my heart beats too fast & makes me dizzy. I’m using the wheelchair to stop me from hurting my joints, or dizzy, & getting too tired to mark your homework! People use wheelchairs for lots of different reasons. I love teaching you & this will help me to stay teaching you for longer:)

Can you walk?
Yes, a little bit. Don’t be surprised if you still see me stretching out my legs in the chair, or stand up. You’d be achey too if you sat down all day! Lots of people who use wheelchairs can still stand, but it’s safer for them to use the chair.

Why do you sometimes have other bandages?
You might see me wearing various different neoprean supports. I can damage my joints very easily & these help. Lots of you have noticed my knee brace (yes, you may call them Robolegs. I do!). Sometimes you might hear my joints cracking or pop – don’t worry!

What do I do if I need your help?
In some rooms it’s hard for me to get to you, but you can come to me & I’ll take control of your screen. We’ll keep using Google Classroom & that should help us lots! If you are at all worried that you’re not getting enough of my attention,  please come and talk to me.

Is it OK to ask you questions about your disability?
I don’t mind you asking outside of lessons. I can’t promise I can answer them all, but being with someone disabled isn’t something to be scared of. Even adults aren’t always sure what is ok to ask. I promise not to be offended as long as you are polite.

How fast does your chair go?
The powerchair you see at school goes 4mph which is a quick walking speed. I’m much faster in my racing wheelchair. Keep an eye out for me at sports day!

Can I have a go in your chair?
No. I rather need it:)

Can I help in the classroom?
Sometimes I may ask you to carry books / chrome books for me & holding the door open is always appreciated. Please keep your bag & coat under the desk & your chair tucked in to allow me to get around the room. Other than that, our classroom is business as usual.

Chronically Optimistic

I quite often feel bemused when people look at me just getting on with life and exclaim “I don’t know how you’re so cheerful”, or “I don’t know how you do it. You’re really brave.”

Anyone who actually knows me, knows that rather a lot of the time I’m angrier & more irrational than a wasp, and spend an unnecessary amount of time holding pity parties. Generally this is in the privacy of home where Mr Geek can appreciate the full spectrum of my whining. God, he’s a lucky bastard.
But as I trundle out of the door, Mr Geek gives me a kiss & grumbles something about dinner and I slap a smile on.

Because, you know, if you take a deep breath & smile…. it confuses the living shit out of people. I smile at people because it makes people feel nice to be smiled at. I love my good morning routine as I roll past the ladies in the front office, the premises guys, & the happiest maths teacher on the planet. 

It doesn’t matter that I’m struggling with increasingly uncontrollable pain levels. I’m more than my body. I might not be physically dancing about in a snorkel anymore, but I’m still me. Weirdly, the end of term approaching has reminded me that I’m more than the sum of my parts. Rather than finishing this year haggard and wondering what a bloody stupid idea it was to become a teacher, this year I’ve been a wreck anyway so actually I’m ending it appreciating all the ways that teaching allows me to be a real person.

Next year, I welcome my new form (my last lot have now flown my nest after 3 years of growing into adults!). Each of us in the year team have a special reason for students to be placed with us – think of it like a teacher talent tree. Mine is routines & extra TLC. Our routines are visual and planned in advance – I am happiest when everything is structured & my kids tend to be those that thrive on similar. The TLC bit applies to a whole range of reasons. Kids arrive with a spectrum of issues that reflects the adult world, from shyness to mental health to physical health. There is no child that doesn’t benefit from someone who welcomes them as part of their extended family. In turn, I get to witness their successes, their soap opera style relationships, hand out birthday cards, read to & with them, I’m the sympathetic ear when they need one, and the kick up the backside when they’re being a knob. My last form witnessed my health decline rapidly over 3 years & they used it to forge intensely empathic responses to others who needed help. I didn’t think I could be prouder.

Then I was when I met my new form. I ended our induction day by showing their parents photos of our day together where they’d overcome fear of school, of new places, of sensory overload, of looking silly (posing for selfies with our form teddy bear when you’re 13 wipes out any Alpha male ideas). Just like having another child, you don’t divide your love, it multiplies. And stealing the words of an old headteacher “you’ve gotta love em. Children, no matter how old, need love”.

So as one academic year ends (in a week and 1/2) & another is right around the corner, I’m optimistic. By September, I’ll have my Master Teacher badge which sadly is just that – gone are the days of elevated pay, but it’s nice to be recognised as a subject specialist & be involved with training new Computer Science teachers.

Making it through the tough bits means I reap the rewards of being a stubborn arsehole who’s still got more fight left in her. And, well, Mr Geek, that lucky bastard gets at least another academic year of me falling asleep on my marking & being a diabolical wife.
Maybe this year will be the year I finally get around to submitting my fellowship for the Society for Education… dream big 💖

Meh

Today was meh. Actually, it was more than meh. It was a megalithic shitstorm. And yet I kept my temper.

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We’re now 4 weeks past the final final coursework deadline. So far I’ve marked & moderated all the GCSE controlled assessments  (again), all of the AS structured tasks, and most of the A2 projects… apart from the few that aren’t finished. 4 weeks past the extended final deadline.

If they worked for me, they’d be fired. As it is, one particular student waltzes in today & demands that I mark his 4 week late project tonight so he can make improvements. As it is, I did mark it. Then sat there horrified that the month long extension produced no additional code than that copied from my tutorials. So here I am between the rock of a kid who has barely worked for the past 12 months (seriously, we started this in June 2015) who deserves the grade he gets and the hard place of being judged on the value added that he brings to my class results which utterly wipes out the amazing hard work that the other kids have put in with some achieving incredible results. And here is the teacher conundrum; do you go with the moral high ground of allowing them to learn the greater life lesson of results actually require hard work, or do I go with the gnawing fear of our results being pulled down by the kid failing & give him yet another chance?

The day that gnawing feeling leads me to over help (delicate way of saying do it for them), is the day I leave teaching. But I hate that I have to put my morals and the important lesson of allowing someone to fail aside because ultimately, I know that my pay grade is weighted against my classes performance. By performance, I mean how many grades above their predicted results at the start of the course are they by the time they leave.

Today, I have watched my daughter stay up til past 9 trying practice papers for an exam for 11 year olds that ultimately benefits the school but not her, have been made to feel unsupportive because after a year of trying to extract work I took longer than 4 days to turn around some marking, worried more about departmental stays than a human being, and my bones hurt. I dragged myself out of bed this morning despite lightening shooting through my back & legs, but I’m not wholly sure why now. We visited Squeezy my SIL for her birthday this evening & trying to enjoy the company, I could barely sit in my chair because of the pain in my pelvis despite all the opiates. As I sat squirming, I could feel myself reaching blackout levels on the pain scale as my bones turned to lava & all feeling left my feet. As Mr Geek lifted me back into the chair when we got home, I couldn’t hold myself up anymore. Welcome to not pacing.

I’ve lost some of my fight today. This isn’t a closed mindset – I genuinely believe that they could reach the stars with enough hard work. But I won’t do the work for them. My challenge now is how to instil that growth mindset into those final few kids who year on year don’t heed the advice of start early & do little & often. I fear this isn’t an easily won battle.

When The Going Gets Tough, The Tough go and have a little cry in the corner

I don’t often blog about the reality of teaching. It’s what one would describe as a CLM (career limiting move). But despite that, here I go nonetheless. Mainly because I need some sleep which means this scenario rolling around in my head needs to be fed to the ether and go away.

I profess about being fine and dandy in my wheelchair. And to a degree I am. It’s my safety net, my means of mobility, and a damned fine piece of equipment. It’s also a bit of a prison. It makes me physically lower than any child I teach who stands up. It makes me feel vulnerable…. And like hyenas, kids in senior school can smell the fear of a teacher.

This particular class is year 8 (that’s 7th grade in the US), so one of the youngest  years in the school. I’d had two hours of incredible lively and productive lessons with them where they are creating animated videos about how words and images are stored as binary. The kids were lapping it up and I was throwing house points about like it was Hogwarts.

Then it changed. My classes have a seating plan so I know who sits where and I can manage behaviour. These two particular boys were not going near each other (a few weeks back  I’d already had to put myself physically between them as they went nose to nose, and that was going to happen again over my dead body). So anyway, my classroom, my rules.

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Or not apparently. At age 12, we deem it acceptable to shout across the room “I’m not moving, what are you going to do about it?”; at age 12, we deem it acceptable to square up to a female teacher with clenched fists; at age bloody 12, we deem it acceptable to be physically threatening towards a member of staff and then verbally threaten them. What a charmer!

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Because of the physical surroundings & availability of staff at that time, I had to take a decision over whether I backed down and lost authority for the rest of the year with them, or stood my ground and face what I perceived to be the very real possibility of being physically assaulted. (I’ve been working with volatile kids for long enough to tell which ones are mouth & no trousers and which are ready to swing). I trusted my gut on this and ditched any respect – this was the first time since I left youth offending that I’ve felt genuinely concerned for my physical safety. My decision was based very much on the images in my head of the level of damage that child could do. If standing up can take out a hip, what would a punch thrown in anger do? I certainly don’t have the speed or mobility to duck.

And so here I am at nearing 1am with the scenario rolling around in my head.

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Legally & contractually I cannot refuse to teach this child. That’s not the way through this anyway. There is an inception style level of issues that this has raised for me.

Top level: What string of events has led this child to think that it’s acceptable to be physically threatening in order to get his way? I’m angry at myself for backing down as any threat I make now is useless (I threatened management, but they never came).

Dig deeper: What have I missed that could give me the key into a positive dialogue? What if that had been another student he tried to intimate?

Dig deeper: I allowed myself to be intimidated by a 12 year old. And the class saw. Most are just used to him & roll their eyes – how is that fair on them? What if we’re not seeing this happen to others? If I was scared, how does a tiny year 7 feel?

Dig deeper: is this about one child kicking off, or a deeper fear that I don’t have the same authority that I had as an able bodied teacher? Without the same mobility or ability to physically defend myself, should I be teaching?

And there’s the big question. This year I have seen a marked increase in aggressive behaviour, but also a marked decrease in support from parents (gone are the days of a phonecall home resulting in punishment – it’s now more likely that they’ll be a complaint about you picking on their darling little thug
Before you grab your pitchforks, 90% of the kids we teach are amazing. They shine. I love spending my days with them, but that 10% is killing your child’s chances of getting the new, harder levels expected because of all the disruption. If your child is that 10%, I’m here to help you, but if you fight me as much as your child does, the overseas job sounds much rosier, as does developing that app.). If there are not systems in place, not just in school, but at home as well, to demand a level of respect for those adults in charge, is teaching a career for someone with a physical disability? In fact, is teaching something anyone would want to do?

Edit: this took me a few days to post as it shook me. I’m still questioning my personal safety, but moreso my competence as a teacher, because it’s what we do as teachers…. WWW & EBI (what went well & even better if)

Character Education – Judging Myself First

There’s a lot going on at school, and in the general educational circles about character education. The idea in a nutshell is that you can nuture kids to work on the traits that make them better learners. There are 24 of these babies,  but 8 specifically for learning.

Part of this process is to be introspective as a teacher and look at how these 8 traits apply to me personally. So, seeing as I’ve been rather introspective lately,  I thought I’d give it a go in a space where I’m less likely to get fired!

So here are the 8 in no particular order (OK,  in the order that I remember them):

Grit

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This is the ability to keep going even when the going is tough.
People, I have this one covered.

Bust my spine? Give me those crutches.
Dislocate various limbs? Hand me the bandages & I’ll teach like a dead Egyptian on wheels.
Give birth ridiculously early to tiny child who forgets how to breathe? Stick an alarm on the kid,  whack a boob in it’s face, and… yeah, sign me up for university. (What was I thinking?!)
I am the terminator. 

Optimism

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This is the ability to be positive. The glass is half full.

Ok, not so much. Optimism has bitten me on the bum one too many times.

Instead I am stoic. I hope for the best outcome, but prepare for the worst.  That way, I can consider what the worst possible outcome is, and be prepared even though I go for it anyway. 

Resilience

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Not the same as grit. This is being able to pick yourself back up after failure.

Oh it took me a long time to work on this. I still am. Some days I can take an utter disaster and look at it like a learning experience. Other days, I still require a blanket and some sweet tea.

I’m good at looking at things like a puzzle, but when it comes to other people, I can’t stand failing in front of people. In class, I’ll admit when I don’t know or I’m wrong, but if my class doesn’t get the grades I’d expected, I feel like a shoddy teacher. I’m a contrary soul.

My resillience comes from waking up in the morning and wanting to just laying here until the pain subsides, but dragging my arse out of bed and into work. It’s not crying because my arms won’t push my chair up the ramp without popping out. It’s suggesting to the kids that we dress me up as a Darlek for Halloween.

Curiosity

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I love learning. Not just about computing, but just learning. I love reading people’s blogs and learning about their place in the world and what makes them tick. I want to know what happens if you press that button….

What once was nosey, is now curiosity.

Self Control With Work

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Do I watch cartoons with my kids, or will I get that marking done? Invariably I’ll do the marking. Is that because I can self regulate or is it because I have a ridiculous fear of deadlines? A little from column A, a little from column B.

Do I eat the cake, then yes. Why are you even asking me that question? The cake is eaten. Duh.

My self control is variable.  Don’t bring cake into this.

Self Control With Others

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This is all about Social Intelligence.
I don’t lose my cool with people readily, and when I do, it’s in a quiet & controlled manner which suggests that you’re in a whole world of shit you hadn’t bargained for.

I vent in appropriate environments (here).

I’m equally able to hide a massive percentage of the pain I’m in for a good portion of the day. This slips and sometimes  (quite a lot) I do snap. And I snap at those closest to me.

I’m also a massive control freak and this escalates when I feel vulnerable. Case in point being my zero tolerance on behaviour with classes : as I can’t physically get to the kids misbehaving, I need to make full and frequent use of my death stare.

Zest

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No, not the outy bit of an orange. Enthusiasm.

I’m British. I feel far more affinity with Raven than Starfire. I am The sarcasm. Over enthusiastic anything isn’t part of my genetic make up, unless you ask me to talk about code, or World of Warcraft… then you unleash the unholy nerd.

Gratitude (finally)

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This tends to be the one where people get all religious. Except I’m agnostic. At best. (I was actually raised Catholic,  but I refuse to believe that any deity would want us to kill each other just to prove them right.)

I am grateful to still be working, even if it is trashing my body.
I’m grateful that I have a weird little online support network for my roller coaster ride of a diagnosis.
I’m grateful for my family.
I’m so grateful to have Mr Geek.

I’m grateful to have had the good fortune to have been born in a place where I’m safe and have the option to be independent.

Right now, I’m particularly grateful for my bed and extra blanket.

And those are the main traits of a good learner. I’m aware that I vary wildly on these scales, perhaps my introspection will help me give them a bit more slack when they don’t hit my super high standards.

I Love You Guys

One of my kids today looked into how much a dev who can use the variety  languages I teach can earn and flat out asked me in front of the whole class “Miss, why the hell are you killing yourself teaching us and not out there earning this kind of money?”.

I don’t need to think about this much. I love programming,  I love the development cycle, I love battling the code. I can also say with a fair amount of certainty that I know my shit.

My answer : “Look around you. You guys are worth way more than an impressive pay cheque. ”

They may drive me bat shit crazy some days, but there is nothing like seeing a kid suddenly get coding and suddenly their mind is blown.

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This is one of the biggest reasons that as I get slower and more wobbly,  I go into utter and absolute denial about not being able to work.