Working in a Pupil Referral Unit

I have made the move from mainstream education into a Pupil Referral Unit and I must say that it has been THE best decision that I have ever made regarding my career. My work/ life balance has improved, I am happier going to work and I enjoy my job immensely.

Saying that though, working in a PRU is not a walk in the park. It is not for the faint hearted, the sensitive, the easily offended and most importantly, easily scared, because it really can be scary at times. You are dealing with children who cannot be taught in a mainstream school- they have been permanently excluded and nearly most of the time, they have been excluded for bad behaviour.

So what can you really expect to encounter on a daily basis in a PRU?

Well the first thing you should expect to experience is bad language. I am told ‘I’m not fu*king doing maths today?’  ‘This work is sh*t.’ ‘ Miss, I’m not fu*king working with that tw*t’. I had never heard such shocking language from school children before, and I’ve worked in some rough places. I could not believe what I was hearing and couldn’t believe how the rest of the teachers didn’t even bat an eye lid. After day three, I wasn’t batting an eye lid either.

You should also expect personal insults. Deep personal insults. When the children get angry, they will say anything in their heightened emotions. You need to have a thick skin- or grow one fast. They will be racist, sexist, homophobic, mention your wife/ husband, kids, dress sense. Anything. During my time at my job I’ve heard, amongst other things, all aimed at the teaching staff, ‘you f*cking immigrant’, ‘you f*cking fat slag’, ‘f*ck off you heroin fa*got’…. and much, much more. The staff have dealt with the personal insults amazingly well, like water off a duck’s back. They remain calm, let the insults wash over them, but at the end of the day after incessant personal insults you can see the strain on their faces. All the staff are definitely ready for half term when it comes.

Expect small class sizes that are treble the work of a class of 30. I have a class of 5 KS2 children but they are more physically and mentally demanding than my class of 30 year 2s. They sometimes need to be restrained by two adults and taken out of the room, they will sometimes rip up the work set in front of them, they will sometimes be the best model students then turn into aggressive monsters the next day. You are on edge when you have a lesson that involves scissors. Cooking lessons are always a nerve wracking experience, especially when the fires are lit on the gas stoves. Break times will always involve arguments, tension and some cases fights. 5 children really is enough for a class in a PRU.

Expect to think on your feet and be more flexible with your creativity. You will spend time creating an exciting lesson only for the children to not understand it at all (a lot of PRU children are behind academically or have an additional SEN need), this will then cause then to ‘kick off’ out of frustration and your entire lesson is useless. You then have to switch up the lesson and think of something there and then that will engage them before any more disruption is caused.

Expect to not have a break or guaranteed PPA time. You are more personally involved in your class so you go out on all play ground duties with them, a morning break is unheard of. They also don’t have assemblies so you don’t even get 10 minutes to yourself in the mornings. You have lunch with them as they need to be supervised. At times you can dismiss the class at hometime and realise that you haven’t actually had 5minutes to yourself- you’ve not even had time to go to the toilet (just the same as mainstream really). You will have a PPA slot but then one of your pupils will have a melt down in the cover lesson and you’ll spend your ppa trying to calm them down.

Expect to not socialise as much with your colleagues. You will have a chat to them in the morning and at the end of the day, but there will be no early morning talks in each other’s classrooms or popping in for a chat at break or saving a seat for your work bff at lunchtimes. There is just no time for that. You are on the ball constantly regarding your children, talking about what you did at the weekend with your workmate is the last thing on your mind when one of your pupils is eyeing the door preparing to do a runner.

Expect your children to run. Run out of the classroom on a daily basis, run out of the school, run away on trips. They will run. And if they can’t run then they will climb. I haven’t worn heels since I started my new job. I wear shoes that I can run in.

Expect to take your work home at times and I don’t mean marking or paperwork. There are always reasons why a child is displaying negative behaviour and not always, but a lot of the times, it is to do with homelife. Most of the children in my care have outside agencies involved with them, be it social services, the police, health care workers. Sometimes you will read harrowing reports from social services regarding the children’s homelife or they will say something that makes your heart bleed. At times you will be thinking about what has happened or is happening to certain children long after they have left your classroom and that can be difficult.

However….. as I have said before, I like to keep my glass half full, so now on to the good bit.

Expect less paperwork. Your classes will range from 2-6 pupils so marking literally takes seconds and can be done during the class times. Planning is also less intense as the school understands how things can change and that the needs of the children come first, not a fancy proforma. I do not envisage taking any marking home for the foreseeable future.

Expect to create a close bond with your class. In mainstream school I just did not have the time to give each child my full attention. I couldn’t ask 30 children how their weekend was and did they enjoy that shopping trip that they mentioned last week. With the children in a PRU you can give them quality time and really get to know them. They will cling on to you and you really can make a difference to their lives.

Expect to have more freedom. The children in a PRU would find it difficult to follow the national curriculum, so this means that you are free to be creative and tailor lessons that are all about their needs and what will excite them the most. I have loved doing my long term plan- I’ve chosen subjects that not only the children want to learn about but I want to teach. We’ve got The Vikings, The Victorians and even the David Wallims books! I’m excited about teaching about. I have also been able to say no maths when the sun is out and instead go outside to look for wildlife or decide to take them out for the morning because someone in class mentioned that they had never been to such a place.

Expect to finish the day earlier. The children in a PRU cannot cope with a ‘normal’ school day. Lessons are 45mins each and they go home at 2.30pm. It has been amazing getting home at a time when I still would have been teaching in mainstream.

Expect less pressure. My management is amazing. They are so supportive. They understand that yes, targets need to be met and children need to make progress but they know that children in a PRU make progress in different ways. There are no monthly book scrutinies, medium term planning feedback, informal lesson observations that were always followed by criticism about what didn’t go well. I am no longer pressurised to teach to test.

All in all, like any job there are pros and cons to working anywhere. I hope this post gives you an honest view of what life could be like in a pupil referral unit. Remember, every place is different and not all PRUs follow the same format, but I think this gives you a little idea of the good points and the bad points.

 

 

 

 

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Be a teacher, they said. It’ll be fun, they said…

Other teachers always ask me ‘would you recommend being a teacher?’ I always have a short think about the question and then I answer. ‘No.’ They look at me and say, ‘no, I wouldn’t either.’

People looking in from the outside (having not a single clue what being a teacher actually entails) always think we teachers moan too much, exaggerate our workload, make excuses for poor results, blah, blah, blah, let’s get the violins out. Well, let me tell you. We don’t exaggerate. Not even in the slightest. And let me tell you another thing; unless you have worked a term- or even a week- in a mainstream school under the current conditions, I can tell you that you have no idea about how a modern day teacher feels.

Now I have my own child I will never encourage him to become a teacher. Never. And here is why:

  • The starting wage of a newly qualified teacher is currently £22,244. That doesn’t sound bad for some people. But once all your deductions have been taken for NIC, pension, student loan repayment, tax, you are left with a paltry wage for the amount of work you do. The Metropolitan Police graduate scheme offers around £29,000, dentists start around £30,000, graduate jobs in IT are around £28,000. Hmmmm. You see what I mean?

 

  • Funnily enough, you don’t actually teach that much. The majority of your time will involve marking, setting up things for your lessons, marking, resource making, marking, assessment, marking, planning and yep, you’ve guessed it more marking. And if you have a bloody star spangle marking policy that involves two stars and a wish, green pen for positive, red for improvement, pink highlighter for what went well and the tears of a unicorn for what could be better, then your marking time will most definitely surpass your teaching time.

 

  • You will be criticised. You will be told ‘this is not a criticism…’ right before you get heavily criticised. Your learning objective wasn’t clear enough, the lower table didn’t understand what they had to do, behaviour management wasn’t quite what it should have been, the new EAL kid that arrived from Latvia last week wasn’t fully engaged in the lesson. No matter how strong you are as a person, it does affect you when it feels like nothing you do is ever good enough.

 

  • The hours can be horrendous. During my NQT year I was in school from 7.30am until 5.30pm and I would then do more paper work/ planning when I arrived home. Then there’s the working every weekend and all through most of your half terms.

 

  • You’re constantly tired. Constantly. It didn’t matter what time I went to bed, I would always wake up in the morning thinking about going back to bed that night. I felt like I was constantly living in a fog. You never, ever feel fully awake or energetic. It was draining.

 

  • You always feel guilty. Guilty about the work that you should be doing instead of watching ‘Real Housewives’, guilt because you haven’t the energy to read a bedtime story to your own children, guilt that you are cancelling dinner with your friends again because you’ve got work to do… the list of guilts are endless.

 

  • No one will understand your ‘stress’ or the pressure that you are under. Friends not in the profession always say, ‘but what are you actually stressed about? You’re teaching seven year olds?’ Everyone hates us, from the media, the government and your class parents who don’t understand why you have chosen to strike. Again. People think teachers are spoilt, with too many holidays, a good pension and part time hours. If only they knew the truth.

 

My list could be endless, but that’s enough negativity for tonight- my glass is close to becoming half full.

The current situation, (not helped at all by the government and the media), is a very worrying affair. I do not see how the profession can withstand the new changes and implementations created by privileged individuals who have no idea what the real life day to day challenges of a mainstream teacher faces on a daily basis. The fact that schools can now choose to employ unqualified teachers (?!), not award pay progression and set their own standards is not just a huge worry for current and prospective teachers, but more importantly parents. I wish that as many parents who criticise teachers would get behind us and support us, then maybe, just maybe we would have a fighting chance in saving education in the UK and answer ‘yes’ when somebody asks us if we would recommend becoming a teacher.

Writing a resignation letter

You may have been offered a new dream job, you may have just decided to quick; either way you will need to formally resign from your post.

I was a little taken aback when my Head mentioned about a resignation letter straight after I told her about my new job. The word ‘resignation’ sounds so scary. I had only ever encountered it in negative situations; a teacher who resigned a term before me because of stress, a Deputy who was being forced to resign over a safe guarding issue- it never seemed to be a positive thing to do.

However, I soon realised that when you have told your current Head that you will be accepting a new post you must resign, it is a legal requirement. Here are the term dates that teachers must abide by:

To leave at the end of:                                        Teachers must resign by:
Autumn Term (31 December)                            31 October
Spring Term (30 April)                                         28 (29) February
Summer Term (31 August)                                   31 May

I got my new job in the first week of December and my Head was encouraging (almost pressuring) me to hand my resignation in by the end of the Christmas term, round about the 21st December. I hadn’t yet signed my new contract so I didn’t want to be left without any job if something was to fall through with my new job so I wanted to resign officially as late as possible. My Head kept reminding me when she saw me about my letter and she only backed off when I showed her the above dates. Eventually I resigned around the 20th February as with half term I would not have been in school to resign on the 29th Feb. It was a scary time as I had still not signed my contract but I had to resign or I would not have been able to legally start my new job.

Which brings me to the next point- the actual letter. People may disagree but I think that no matter what the circumstances are of you leaving, you must always, always leave on a positive note. If that is impossible to do (i.e. if you said positive things in your letter it would come across as sarcasm) you should always be professional.

Now I didn’t have the best last term in my school (more to come on that in future posts), in fact it was one of my worse, much worse than my whole NQT years. There were numerous occasions when I would cry in my classroom, cry on my drive home and cry at my home and I am angry that I would let another colleague (bully) affect me in such a way. I did complain, management knew about my problems (nothing was done due to different factors). On one particular low day I decided that I would name and shame this bullying colleague in my resignation letter, I would mention how she had ruined my last term in school, but then I came to my senses. No. I would not do that. I would not let any individual have that much power over me, I would not have people think that she had affected me that much. I would leave on a positive note. And I did and it felt SO good to leave with a smile on everyone’s face.

And teaching is such a small world that you never know when you are going to bump into ex colleagues again. So I wrote a nice professional letter with some personal touches. Below is a draft of my letter:

 

Resignation from post of teacher at X Primary School.

Dear Mrs X,

Please accept this letter of resignation from my post of year 2 teacher effective from ____________. My last day teaching in school will be _______________.

It is with sincere regret that I am leaving X Primary School. My time at X Primary has been a very positive and enjoyable experience and I have enjoyed being a part of the school for the past three years.

Thank you for giving me the opportunity to be part of your staff and all of your support since my NQT year.

Yours Sincerely,

Mrs G.

As you can see I kept the letter very positive, I thanked my Head for the opportunity and I didn’t mention anything about my negative experiences with an individual colleague. I don’t know what the previous teacher’s resignation must have said but my Head came to see me at the end of the day after I had handed in my letter and thanked me. She said she was ‘really touched’ with what I had written and that made me feel really good inside. And she is right- I might see her again sooner rather than later. At a training course, a CPD session or even at a future OFSTED inspection. I’m glad I kept it positive 🙂

Leaving main stream = inner peace restored

inner-peace

I always said that I was only going to do 5 years maximum as a teacher in a mainstream school before leaving the profession. I wanted to move into a pupil referral unit, but knew that those jobs are very few and far between. I didn’t really have a plan, I just knew that I could not physically or mentally continue past 5 years and Im thanking my lucky stars every day and night that I was able to leave after 3 years.

The current bleak statistics show that around 70% of all new teachers leave the profession after 5 years. That is in no way surprising. Teaching has always been a difficult profession for me personally, but once I went back to work with a new baby, it was almost impossible. I felt like I was very close to having a nervous breakdown. I was neither a good teacher or a good mum. I was a mess. I was sleeping for 4 hours a night in-between night feeds, then getting up at 6am in the dark, maybe seeing my baby for 30mins tops (sometimes not at all if he was still sleeping), then I was somehow making it through the day on auto pilot. Marking up to 60 books a night, driving home for an hr, picking up baby but not actually having the energy to interact with him and then planning throughout the night, then finding it difficult to switch off before bed because I was so stressed before waking up to do  up to two night feeds before waking up like death at 6am to do it all again. One morning I actually said out loud ‘this isn’t how life is supposed to be.’ It was relentless. I knew that something had to change and only I could make that change. The final straw came when I had a lesson observation in my SECOND week after coming back from maternity. With the Deputy Head and numeracy co ordinator on a new maths scheme of work that I had only just taught for 8 sessions. The feedback was patronisingly dire. ‘We need to do a lot of work with you…. Don’t close down, don’t put the barriers up…. you are our priority… we will do lots of lesson study sessions with you. (Code for ‘informal’ lesson observations). Keep trying…. I mean X’s lesson was brilliant, just fantastic, but she’s been teaching for years, you on the other hand….’ I felt like utter sh*t. But more than that, I felt angry. Furious. How dare they? How dare they absolutely drag someone down like that after only two weeks back? Where was the support? The encouragement? That was the night that I made up my mind. It was time to leave.

As a teacher I didn’t feel well. I’m not afraid to say that at times I didn’t feel emotionally or mentally well. It was a mixture of hormones too after the baby, but teaching was definitely playing a part in my mental UNwellbeing. And it wasn’t me. I am not a depressive person. I am very strong. Happy and positive, but it was just dragging me down. I had another awful eczema flare up all up my legs again, something I hadn’t had since I was a little girl. The backs of my ankles were broken skin, bleeding and weeping. No amount of cream was working. Thank goodness it was winter and I didn’t have to show my legs. I finally made a Dr’s appointment when it hurt to walk as the cuts were cracking every time I moved my feet. The Dr said it was one of the worse cases he had seen on someone so young. I told him it didn’t matter what he prescribed, I knew it was down to stress from my job. ‘You need to get a new job.’ Didn’t I know it?!

The moment I told my Head that I had got a new job and I would be leaving I felt a huge weight lift off my shoulder and the impact on my well being was instant. By the time I left, my eczema had cleared up and it is still the best my legs have ever looked since I started my NQT post.

Now, I am a completely different person. There are many reasons why:

  • The 5 minute commute- you don’t realise how travelling for an hour each morning before you start work can have such a negative affect.
  • No pointless marking policy- at a PRU everything is all about the children, if it has no  positive impact on the children it should not be done.
  • Not having to mark 60 books a day- amazing.
  • No horrendous lesson observations- the teachers at the unit understand the children in the school and understand that lessons cannot be taught in the traditional way.
  • No cliques at school- there is no time for staff breaks (we have breaks with the children) so no cliques can be formed.
  • I leave work at work- I completely switch off when I get home as lessons are all prepped in the afternoon after the children go home.
  • An extra hour in bed- this is my favourite. The closer commute means that I can have this fantastic luxury each morning.

I could go on and on but I won’t. But what I will go on and on about is how important it is to assess your job if you are not happy. Your mental well being is so much more important. Do not be afraid to say that you are struggling, that you are not enjoying the job that it isn’t for you. You are not alone in feeling like that, but better things are out there for you.

I got the Job!

Champagne

So, my last full post was in December when I wrote about how I had gone for an interview and the lesson observation part of the process went really well. I desperately wanted the job. It was 5 minutes from my house (the hr commute to my old job was really getting me down), it was more money due to an SEN point and most importantly, it was in my desired field- a Pupil Referral Unit.

I have worked with children due to go to PRUs on a 1:1 basis in London before I did my PGCE and I absolutely loved it. Now they are not for everyone, they are certainly not an ‘easy’ option and there are tough times, but ultimately I have always, ALWAYS wanted to move from mainstream into a PRU. The problem was that there are just not many of them around and jobs don’t come up that often, especially in Yorkshire! However, I just so happened to find the interview for my new school one random night and as they say, the rest is history.

There is nothing worse than waiting for the phone to ring. I also had the added pressure of informing my current head at the time, how the job went. She did come to speak to me at the end of the day after my interview and asked me how it went. I was honest with her and said it went well. She then asked me about pay and said ‘I’m assuming they will also be giving you an SEN point?’ When I told her they were, she said straight out, ‘well you would obviously take it, then.’ She is a mother herself and knows how challenging it is with a new baby after being on statutory maternity pay.

Anyway, back to the story. I went home, wrote on the blog to get the news out of my system (I hadn’t told anyone apart from my Head, TA and family). I then went food shopping and my phone rang while I was at the tills. It was just before 6pm. The Head on the phone didn’t give anything away, she was very neutral, and I was setting myself up for the ‘I’m sorry, but…’ I mean, I had heard it so many times when trying to get my first NQT post and then she said ‘so, we would like to offer you the job.’ Her whole voice changed when she heard how enthusiastic I was. I couldn’t help it. It was an amazing feeling- it is really sad to say, but it felt better than when I was offered my NQT post as this time I was just so much more relived. No more marking 90 books every night. No more weekly scrutiny about my marking, my WALTs, my displays. I was absolutely ecstatic! I was then worried about my starting date as my Head had already said that I would need to give a whole terms notice or I would have to pay back my maternity! But my new Head must have been a mind reader as the next thing she said is ‘I know legally that you need to work a terms notice. We’re happy to wait.’ With a huge grin on my face I rang my parents first and told them the news.

It didn’t even feel real until I started 10 days ago because I got the job so long ago, but I had to continue working for three months at my first school. But now I’m at my new school I can only say that leaving my first school was THE best decision ever.

5 months since my last up date… so much has changed!

laptop-

Wow! 5 months since my last post and SO much has changed. I haven’t even got time to formally write about all the things that have happened- it would be a borderline novel, but I will be including details in posts soon.

Here are the things that have changed since December:

  • I HAVE A NEW JOB! (and I’m loving it. LOTS more info coming up on this…)
  • I had my first job interview after 3 years.
  • I handed my notice in at my first NQT post after 3 years.
  • I left my teachers union and joined another one.
  • My last 3 months in work were made horrendous due to a bullying colleague.
  • I have realised that teaching is really not sustainable in the long term, due to the constant (almost unachievable) targets from Head teachers, SLT, government etc.

I hope that everyone coming to the end of their NQT year keeps plodding along- not long to go now! Keep it up, don’t quit!

 

Love Mrs G xxx