My first twinge at missing my old job.

Now I really don’t regret leaving my my old job. I would never, ever return to my NQT post for love nor money. I struggled, but I didn’t hate it. It just wasn’t the place for me. There were too many cliques, I never felt good enough, every lesson observation was ‘just not there yet…’, the work load was unbearable, the hour commute even more so. There was constant changes to marking policies, book scrutinies, unachievable appraisal targets, constant pressure and humongous stress. I didn’t sleep at night properly, I could never relax- always feeling guilt that I should be lesson planning, marking, in putting data etc. Plus, I had the constant challenges of working in a deprived area of Yorkshire with a 92% EAL intake. I felt like I was constantly treading water, using all of my energy just to keep myself my drowning. There was no way that I could have continued like that. At times I felt like I was loosing my sanity.

Fast forward to now: A class of 5 children, an earlier finish time, an exact seven minute drive from my house, lovely colleagues who don’t know the meaning of the word clique, an unnaturally supportive Head, a higher paying salary, more creative control, no traditional assessments, time to do planning each day and genuinely a much more rewarding job.

However, today my old colleagues were told which year group/ class that everyone would be having from September and it was all over Facebook (I still have a love/ hate relationship with the thing). For the first time since I left I felt like I was being excluded from this really cool club. Everyone was commenting on each other’s statuses, saying how excited they were for next year, how they couldn’t wait for September and how ‘amazing’ it was going to be. I realised that I have truly and once and for all left the place where I did my NQT and RQT years and that I was no longer part of ‘The Family’. And I must admit, I felt a little bit sad. I no longer had a right to comment, I didn’t know what the little in jokes were that people were mentioning and if I’m honest, I don’t really know my old colleagues anymore and they don’t know me.

But after a guilt free cup of tea while watching telly, a nice after work stroll with my baby, then playing with him in the garden, plus only writing 6 reports- I realised that yes, I did feel a little twinge of sadness that I was no longer at my old job and that it’s ok, because I did have some good times there. But ‘some good times’ can never compare to my job now, where I have a lot of good times in my school life and many more good times in my home life. Plus my sanity.

I am no longer tread walking. I was doing a nice leisurely breast stroke and it feels so, so good.

I’m now on Twitter!

I’ve just joined the world of Twitter! I must admit, it’s taking me a little bit of time to grasp the whole concept. But it’s great for finding out the latest changes to education and following some really inspiring people.

If you’re on Twitter give me a follow: Ms PupilReferralUnit @teachingtantrum

I’ll follow you back- once I’ve got the hang of the bloody thing!

Small one form entry or large 4 form entry school?

Most people graduating from their PGCE will have already secured employment for September. Others will still be planning on what they want to do next academic year. Supply? Maternity contract? It doesn’t matter, it’s all experience.

I know that with competition so high for jobs, no one can be as choosy as they would like. But one thing that is worth seriously considering when looking at jobs, is the size of the school.

I have worked in both extremes and also in the middle. I have worked at a school that was 3 form entry and moving into a 4 form entry. I have worked at a school that was 1 and a half entry moving into two. And my current job at a pupil referral unit has 5 teachers. We aren’t any entry! What I thought I would love was actually my worse. And what I thought I would hate has been my favourite.

Initially, I thought that I would be more suited to a larger school. A large school does have many positives. I thought that it would be great to work in a large school as there would be more teachers my own age, there would be more people to socialise with and support each other. I liked the idea of having other teachers to share the planning workload and bounce ideas off each other. I thought that they would be a great chance of working with the three classes in my year group and collaborating on things. I also thought that there wouldn’t be as many ‘eyes’ on me and less pressure as there were more teachers to observe and keep an eye on.

Some parts of my time at a large form entry school were great. The staff were mostly my age, we had lots in common, when we were socialising they all wanted to go to the same places I liked, they dressed like me, we could talk about similar interests. The planning was shared out with the other teachers. I certainly did not have as much medium term planning to do as I would have done if I’d been on my own. I made three very good friends, who again were my age, my type of people (and I’ve just been whatsapping before I started writing this post).

However, there were some things that I didn’t like. With large groups, inevitably, cliques form. I was never in the ‘in’ clique, The group of girls who had been there for years and started at the same time. The other teacher in my year group treated myself and my class as competition. She never wanted to do joint assemblies, Christmas songs. Neither would she share resources or lesson plans. She would go to the phase leader, behind my back, about my planning, which always contained something that she thought was an error. I didn’t like the way she did her planning. I couldn’t understand the way she set it out, or the ideas that she had. I felt like I wanted to be more creative but she was a lot older than me and had quite old fashioned views. There was never a strong sense of ‘family’ in the school. It was just too big. We never had whole school assemblies or even got together as a whole school, and so there was always a feeling of separation between KS1 and KS2. There were huge personalities and it was sometimes difficult to be heard in meetings or during the staff room. Moving onto the staff room, it felt very impersonal. It was large and quite spread out, so different groups and key stages were at certain tables. Not everyone used the staff room because the school was so big it took ages to walk over to the other side of school where the staff room was and there wasn’t enough room for everyone anyway. Considering the school was full of lots of people my age, at times I felt very isolated.

Moving on to a smaller school. The first thing that hits me is the sense of solidarity. We are a ‘family’, there is definitely a sense of togetherness. We have daily meetings each morning, we can all fit around a table and air grievances, support each other, communicate. You know what is going on in the school and with the pupils. There are no cliques- the whole teaching staff is a clique. Everyone supports each other. There is no competition because no one is doing the same as you. Everyone is there for the children. There is no time to gossip or get involved in office politics. I mean, who would you gossip about? Yourself? I also like the fact that you know your Head teacher very well and they know you. You have a good relationship with them and they have time for you.

There are some negatives. There might not be anyone that is the same age as you, I am the youngest by far at my current job. You have to do all the paperwork yourself, but I have found that liberating. I have been the most creative that I have ever been- and I love it! There is no where to hide in a small school either.

All in all, surprisingly, I am more happier in my smaller school, than I was in my larger school. I feel more confident, more appreciated, more supported, I know the staff more and I find my job more rewarding.

It’s a lovely change.

My problem with the Year 1 Phonics test.

Now, I’m going to talk about the Year 1 Phonics screening test and why I think it is a load of **** and just another added pressure for us teachers to hit targets that don’t actually mean anything.

I’ve not mentioned about me teaching in Year 1 before, I didn’t want to help give my identity away and I also never felt the need to mention it. Now that I am no longer in my mainstream school I feel like it is time to air my grievances about this new test that was only very recently invented and has just been taken in every school in England.

Let’s get one thing straight. No one cares about the phonics test. It’s really not important in the grand scale of things. A six year old who is unable to read the word Sprock correcty is not going to fail their GCSEs; just like a six year old who can read the word voip without any problems is not automatically going to be a NASA scientist. It’s all irrelevant.

The phonics test measures nothing apart from how well a teacher can ‘teach to test’ and get her class of children (who, by the way, should be learning through play and experiences in year 1) to pass another pointless test.

The test is that pointless that I honestly will not care if my child passes or fails the test, it means that little to me. In my previous school a middle class teacher’s son had failed his phonics test the first time around and had to retake it in year 2. She said ‘how they expect the children of our inner city Yorkshire school, with 90% EAL to pass this phonics test, when my son who speaks English fluently and is at an outstanding little village school still can’t pass it.’ And that is the thing- the phonics test does not matter about ability. It does not prove that a school is a good one just because it has a high phonics test pass rate, just like it does not mean a school or a teacher is ‘inadequate’ if they do not get all of their class to pass the phonics test.

So, in good ol’ fashioned Teacher Tantrums style here are my bullet points on the problems with the Year 1 phonics test.

  • It puts pressure on Year 1 teachers. I was told that I would not make pay progression if my target of a 72% pass rate in phonics was not achieved. The year before (when I had been on maternity leave, may I add) Year 1 achieved 42%. The stress and panic I felt after receiving my targets was unbelievable. Could I possibly achieve 70%? What happened if I didn’t? Should I start doing mock phonics test eight months ahead now? What will I do if I am denied pay progression? I’m not afraid to say that I had a few sleepless nights worrying about this issue.

 

  • You start to ‘teach to test’ from around February. In my school we were told (and knew he just had to, to get the results) that we had to stop teaching all topic work in the afternoons- geography, history, art etc.- to put in extra phonics sessions. Teachers were expected to teach extra phonics during assembly times, breaks, lunch times and for ‘just 10mins’ before the end of the day. It was so soul destroying hearing 5 and 6 year olds groaning when you announced that they were going to be practising their real and nonsense words. They just wanted to play!

 

  • The test itself has many flaws. It is not regulated, so how do you know that stressed, pressurised teachers are not just ticking yes that their children can read certain words correctly, when they haven’t? Who is ever going to check? The test is done in a room with just the teacher and child- teachers could hear the word read incorrectly and help and guide the child into reading it correctly- who would ever know?

 

  • The test seems to try and deliberately confuse and trick children. Some ‘nonsense’ words are extremely close to familiar real words; when I did the phonics test my children kept pronouncing the nonsense word ‘broun’ as ‘brown’. Lots of the children were high ability who could read fluently and were just using their prior knowledge to try and make sense of the words in front of them.

 

  • The test is difficult for EAL children. They are struggling to understand a new language and are just learning how to read real words that they can comprehend- then next minute here comes a bloody ‘alien’ word that they then have to decipher. Try explaining what a zoit is to a six year old kid from Yemen who keeps asking ‘what is zoit?’. #realsituation.

 

  • The test has taken away the fun, enrichment and experiences from year 1. Once Decemeber is out of the way then there is no time for choosing, free play or using the role play corner. Making Easter cards? Are you mad?! That’s 45mins that could be spent going through the jolly phonics songs and playing Obb and Bob for the sixty millionth time.

Myself and my TA worked tirelessly to help my old class have the best chance to pass the phonics test. On finding my new job one of the things I was pleased about was getting out of having to do the phonics test. However, I still wanted my class to do well for my sake. I left at the Easter term with only 5 weeks to go before the children took the phonics test, so I knew that I was still responsible for the children’s results, the teacher who had taken over my job would not be held accountable and my new school would be contacting my Head to enquire if I had met my targets. So I was still worried and thought about my class on June 13th when they took the test.

My former TA texted me at the weekend to tell me the results. My class had got 82% definitely and if the pass rate remained at 33 like like year ten it will be 85%. I was absolutely, genuinely over the moon! But I was even ore over the moon that I will not have to go through all the phonics bull crap next year.

What happens when you get ‘The Call’ from the Big O?

I am finally getting around to writing about my first OFSTED experience. The first and main thing you will be pleased to hear is that it’s actually not that bad. Honestly, it’s really not. And in a weird, strange way, I kind of enjoyed the experience. Don’t get me wrong, I’m pleased we’re only subjected to inspections every three years, but I survived my first OFSTED and it wasn’t too bad.

Our school had been ‘over due’ an inspection for over 12 months, so our school was already in OFSTED mode. We were constantly waiting for ‘The call’. We were having constant reminders and emails and memos where it got to the point where everyone was actually wishing for OFSED as the pressure from waiting was getting too much. ‘When OFSTED come… OFSTED will be looking for…we’ve put this in place for OFSTED….OFSTED will want to see…’ The build up was actually much worse than the actual inspection.

We eventually did get The Call  on a random Tuesday at 12.15pm. I was happily eating my lunch in the staff room and as sod’s law would have it, was talking to a work colleague about how my baby had been up all night and so I would be leaving at 4pm dead on the dot as I was exhausted. Suddenly the door opened. I thought someone had died on the premises as the Head suddenly came into the staff room at 12.45pm with the assistant Head and other SLT members, followed by other members of staff who had eaten their lunch and then left previously. ‘What’s going on?’ I asked. The year 6 teacher next to me whispered that we’d had the call and mouthed the word ‘OFSTED’ and I just remember saying ‘Oh, you’re joking?!’

The Head was very positive, calm and collected and gave a good prep talk. ‘We all knew this was coming…’ She then said that school would be open until 9pm and everyone knew that no one was going home anytime soon after 3.15pm.

There was a buzz around school. Widened eyes, shaking of the heads, stressed out faces, laughing. A text message was sent out immediately to the parents and so they were aware of the situation by the time we let the children go at sometime. Then it was preparation time. Luckily, I knew what I was teaching for maths and I decided to jazz up my literacy lesson. I was fairly certain that I would only be observed in literacy and definitely in my afternoon phonics group as our year 1 phonics results test last year was shocking. I rang my mum and told her that I wouldn’t be coming home to pick up the baby as we had OFSTED the next day. I actually laugh when I think about that now- talk about priorities! I was more concerned about OFSTED than actually seeing my own child. (I’m so glad I’m out of mainstream and can put my family first again). I was also very lucky that I could do that. My mum didn’t even bat an eyelid, she just said good luck and to let her know how it goes. (Thank you mum!).

Anyway, once the children had gone it was a great atmosphere in school. Everyone came together and there was a real Dunkirk spirit about the place. My TA was an absolute star, she stayed until 4.30pm checking the displays and helping tidy up the classroom. She apologised profusely that she had to go, but she too has young children and she had to go and pick them up. I then concentrated on getting everything ready for the lessons the next day so that I could just come in and not worry about anything. I stuck worksheets in every books, made sure the books were in the correct groups for the tables, made sure the were layer out correctly and good to go. A huge tip I would say to anyone who is due and OFSTED, is to keep up to date with your marking- this was the most time consuming thing for me, marking books that I had fallen behind with.

Around 7pm is where I got a little disheartened. It was silly really, but I suddenly felt, dare I say it?, a little lonely. As I had explained in a previous post, my work bffs were not in school; one had left to go to a different school at the end of our NQT year and my other one was luckily for her, on maternity leave. My school is very cliquey and I could hear other staff members making plans to go and get a Nandos take away, others were driving to McDondalds, others were chatting behind closed doors and I just remember looking down the empty corridors and feeling a little lonely. I was starving and had mentioned to a few members of the staff that I would come to get dinner with them, but they had obviously gone without me (cue violin music lol). Anyway, I was looking at the displays when I suddenly heard ‘right, what do we need to do next then?’ My amazing TA was back! She was changed in sports clothes and ready for action. I’m not exaggerating when I say that I nearly cried for joy. She had returned as soon as she had put the children to bed- she’s a star, and I’m pleased that we’re still in touch. It was a great morale boost and I spent the next hour and a half chatting, discussing the plans for tomorrow, going through the lessons.

I eventually left work around 8.40pm, my TA, bless her, was still there fixing up displays. I passed the Head’s office and she was sat at the back of her room eating a McDonald’s with the assistant Head.

I drove home, thankful that I had managed to set up everything for the next day, thankful that I had parents who would look after my baby over night and thankful that I had handed my notice in, as I felt like the pressure was off me.

 

I had a good lesson observation!

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So, I always thought that my NQT year would be quite straight forward. Not easy. But seeing as I had sailed through the PGCE, I didn’t expect it to be quite so soul destroyingly difficult as it has been so far. I haven’t had the best start to my NQT year, each lesson observation was deemed ‘Requires Improvement’. Which has been hard. Even though I knew that the outstandings I received on placements were not the based on the official OFSTED (spit on the floor) outstanding gradings, it was still difficult being told that you are no where near up to scratch. Factor in an absolutely abysmal observation four days before the end of the Christmas half term, ‘I mean you’ve passed, but only just’ and I had to admit to myself that my confidence was being slowly but fiercely chipped away from me. I had visions on the school asking me to leave after my NQT 1 year contract was up, I was feeling low and the worse teacher ever when I heard of others in the school who had been observed and got good, with elements of outstanding. I thought, maybe, I’m just one of those people who thinks that they are quite good, but are actually sh*t. Oh God- I’m a sh*t teacher!

So with all these negative thoughts/ feelings and my confidence at an out of character all time low, I had my lesson observation for this term, four days ago. And guess what. It was good! It was actually, really good, which made me feel really good. I can’t believe that grown people are turned into grinning, children again just by being told, by other grown people, that what they saw them teach was good. Ludicrous.

Anyway, I’ll tell you a little bit about my observation. It was literacy this time. My first literacy lesson and because my mentor has been so busy this term, it was two days before we broke up for half term, which meant that if it had gone terribly wrong, then there would not have been another opportunity for me to redo it before the end of half term. I knew that whatever was going to happen in my lesson observation was going into my official NQT assessment. But thankfully, it went as good as I had hoped and prayed it would. The children’s behaviour was exemplary, no one let me down. Even a last minute borrow of my TA for the yr6 practice SATS exams couldn’t dampen my spirits. I kept calm and carried on. 

The main difference with this lesson was that was confident in the lesson, I was looking forward to teaching it and I wanted someone to see it, because I knew it was fun, engaging and that the children would definitely learn from it and make thier bloody ‘progress.’ This enthusiasm for the lesson was contagious, the children fed off it and wanted to learn. I was more free to be creative than with my numeracy observations and i could be more flexible. I didn’t have to ensure I followed a strict, rigid format: starter, main, plenary. I could show my personality in this lesson and I feel that is why I ‘shined’ last week, so to speak. And I honestly cannot tell you how amazing and utterly relieved I felt after my observation. It was such a lovely way to end, what has been my favourite term so far.

I just wish that teacher’s happiness and stress levels were not determined by how well another person judges our lesson.

This term I’m coming back fighting!

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So I’ve decided that it’s time for the old me to come back. The old me who was positive, happy, stress free, the eternal optimist- because this week I realised that somehow teaching had crushed my spirit and turned me into one of those people that I have always hated- the moaner. It hit home this week when a friend came around for a catch up and asked me ‘how’s the job going?’ I didn’t even answer at first, I just let out a huge sigh, I felt my shoulders slump and I just said ‘it’s so stressful. I don’t even know how to begin to explain how stressful it is.’ I couldn’t believe it- I had turned into that friend who you want to avoid because nothing happy ever comes out of their mouth, they sap your energy and they just drag you down.

Well no more. I am back. 

This term I am coming back fighting. I am banning the word stress/ stressed from my vocabulary. Even just saying the ‘S’ word puts you in a negative frame of mind. I’m not going to let the new government requirements let me feel like I require improvement- I am outstanding in my own right. I love my class, I want them to do well and they are progressing. That means I am doing an outstanding job. I challenge Mr Gove to come and work in a deprived area of Yorkshire with a class of 30 children (28 EAL), and prepare 5 sets of differentiated work for 5 subjects, 5 sessions a day for 5 days a week. I do this on 6hrs sleep a night. Therefore I don’t need you to grade me. I will grade myself. I am outstanding.

This term I will work like a bi*ch. I will do work every night, even if it’s just for 30 minutes. And I will do it because I want to. If I want to that means that I will have no resentment towards my job. I want to do this work, which means I have made that choice, which ultimately means that you will not dictate to me what work I have to do outside of the school hours. I will decide. 

I am also going to get ‘dressed’ every morning. This past term I really let myself go. One teacher even said, ‘I’ve never noticed it before- but your complexion is quite grey.’ No, you hadn’t noticed it before- because I used to have a healthy glow, but since September, that glow has slowly, but surely been replaced. Well, screw you grey complexion, there’s foundation for you. As well as eye shadow, mascara and blusher. In fact I am going to put a full face of make up on every day. I am adamant that I will stick by this. I will also wear nice clothes, heels, make sure my nails and hair are done because as they say, if you look fabulous on the outside, eventually you’ll feel fabulous on the inside. Fake it, ’till you make it, right?

I am going to become super organised. My work will be marked that day. I will plan my lessons vigiously for the next day so that I know what I am doing and I will put 150% into my lesson observations. I am going to cheat. For that one lesson I will do what the government feels is best, I will tick their coffin boxes, I will kill creativity with lessons that cover all of the ludicrous standards. Then the next day I will go back to being a teacher who teaches my children in a way that truly is best for them. I will no longer feel I require improvement because some rich middle class t*at who has never stepped foot in a class room like mine is dictating how best to run my class. Are we as teachers actually allowing this is happen?!

Anyway, tomorrow is the start of a new term BRING IT ON!