The A word (ambition)

I always find it strange how the word ‘ambition’ has different meanings in education depending on the gender of the person who displays it.

With males, to be ambitious is seen as a positive trait. I know lots of male teacher friends who will brazenly tell me ‘well, I’m not going to be a classroom teacher forever. I’m going to be a Head within 5 years’. They usually achieve this in 4.

Male teachers can be extremely confident, loud, sometimes arrogant and it will be brushed off as ‘banter’ as ‘just the way he is’ – said while playfully rolling your eyes. A man without ambition is seen as weak, a bit wet. I worked with one male teacher who was ‘happy just where I am.’ He was the loveliest, kindest caring teacher I had ever met, but he wasn’t popular. Eventually he was ‘pushed out’ amid whispers in the staff room that he wasn’t very good, too soft, too quiet, he didn’t fit in with the ethos of the school etc. When in reality he was none of those things, he was just a genuinely nice guy who didn’t fit in with the other almost aggressively ambitions males in the school. The other males in the school were seen as attractive, people wanted to be around them like moths to a flame. No one wanted to be around Mr non ambitious. As I’ve said in previous posts, the very ambitious Head I worked for as an NQT was treated like a Rock Star on our Christmas do- the young female staff flocking around him, trying their best to gain his attention by dancing just a little too enthusiastically on the dance floor. He was loved, but I doubt he would have been as popular as he was if he was a non ambitious, quiet, Head. Love them or hate them, there’s just something about ambitious male teachers.

But now let’s turn to females who are ambitious. ‘I’m only going for assistant Head jobs from next year’ one female teacher stated loudly in the staff room when I was an NQT. This teacher was young, ambitious and female. She was disliked by pretty much everyone in the school. Unlike the male teachers, her ambition was seen as the unattractive type of arrogance. Who did she think she was? She’s a bitch. She’s full of herself. She’s too confident. All these things were said about her. And she’s not the first female teacher I’ve heard people speak negatively about just because they want to better themselves and be the best. And why not? It’s 2017 women teachers can be Heads, assistant Heads, Head of departments and be just as, or even more successful as men. Ambitious women shouldn’t be frowned upon. Is it because we still expect female teachers to be the nice, quiet, caring class teacher for their entire 35 year career without joining the SLT? How dare a female teacher talk openly about wanting a promotion?

My current boss is Head of the 3 PRUs in the borough. She power dresses, speaks assertively, is bloody brilliant at her job and is always talking about ambitious plans for the school’s future. And she is hated by the majority of the staff.

I am in the minority. I like her. I respect her for owning her ambition and giving us women starting out in this career path a role model and inspirational figure. The A word shouldn’t be a dirty word when coming out of a female’s mouth.

#womensupportingwomen

Advertisements

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.

 

Starting the new year after a good lesson observation!

Jumping woman silhouette

It finally happened. After a dreadful, stressful NQT year. A failed final observation and the morale of a depressed goldfish, I finally got a ‘good’ lesson observation just before we broke up for the Christmas half term. And even now, it feels bloody great.

I think teacher’s morale, outlook on their job and general well being could be improved dramatically by just a few simple positive words of praise and encouragement. I do not understand why SLT members in school feel it is productive to belittle and constantly criticise other teachers in schools, then get confused when said teachers don’t suddenly pull out ‘outstanding’ lessons with the high energy and jazz hands of a West End Performer. Simple fact. You will get more out of teachers if we are shown a appreciation, praise and constructive criticism.

Anyway, back to my lesson observation. The school is way overdue an OFSTED visit. We were due one in April 2014, never happened. We were determined we would be visited in the summer term, like the school behind us. Never happened. ‘It will be in Autumn term’ subject leaders were saying. We thought it would be the third week in September. Never happened. In fact, the call never came at all last term, and at 1.30pm on the last Wednesday of the week we all breathed a sign of relief.

Mangement are feeling the pressure, as unannounced and without, the second to last week of term we were all told that we would be getting observed. Lesson observations were to take place for everyone in the school that week. Either the Headmistress or Deputy head would be observing us. I was nervous to say the least, especially as I still have my own personal stuff going on and had a hospital appointment straight before the observation. But the main reasons for my concern were; One, the headmistress had only ever seen me teach for 15mins during my lesson observation at my interview, two she knew all about my struggles last year and three, she is the person that deals with my appraisal/ performance related pay. I was more than nervous.

However, it went fantastic. It was a writing lesson, which is always difficult with younger children, but there was no major criticism; behaviour was in place, children used talk partners, there was role play to help them with their writing, work was differentiated and I effectively used my TA. To say I felt on cloud 9 was an understatement. I was elated, I felt the weight of my last observation lifting, in the space of 10minutes of feedback I felt my confidence in myself growing. I was happy. I had job satisfaction and even though I’m dreading the alarm going off at 6.30am on Monday, I am looking forward to going back to work. I want to go back. My confidence is returning and I no longer feel like I made a mistake becoming a teacher.

Wouldn’t it be nice if all teachers could just have 10mins a day being praised by their management? What a wonderful, yet unrealistic, thought.

I had a good lesson observation!

Image

 

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.

Lesson observations are Sh*t. Just Sh*t.

Image

Excuse my language, but lesson observations are shit. Just shit. And I’ve had two in the past three days and now I feel shit. Just shit.

Firstly, my first two observations were fine. Not outstanding, but fine, I was on the right path. Then the Headmistress decided that she wanted to come in and watch a lesson with my mentor and absolutely just slaughtered it. My mentor was in a panic as it was obvious that she got slated too and was putting her stress on to me, as to be fair, when i went to the Headmistress about my worries, she was actually really great, saying that she understands the pressure of teaching now, and how she couldn’t be a teacher in the classroom now.

So I had this term’s observation with my mentor three days ago and the pressure beforehand was unbelievable. I couldn’t sleep, I was worrying and I couldn’t relax. I just kept thinking how this observation HAD to be better than last time and that I didn’t know what I would do if it wasn’t. So straight after the lesson, my mentor said it was great, gave the thumbs up and said I had actioned the things I should have done, my behaviour management is amazing (at least something’s working) and that I was using my TA more. So why then, did I come out as Requires Improvement? I hate this new term. What actually was wrong with satisfactory, really? Anyway, there were 6 boxes with good and I think around 9 with Requires Improvement, so majority wins. But I was pleased with her feedback and the fact that she said I was improving all the time. I slept great that night.

Roll on yesterday. School paid for an OFSTED inspector to inspect me, the other new NQT and another member of staff that missed the last OFSTED. And I got my feedback. And it was rubbish. Well, the inspector said ‘the lesson started off as good, but the children didn’t know what they were doing at the tables.’ He then went on to say, ‘but there was nothing more you could have done as the teaching was all there.’ So…..? He then said that the higher ability children didn’t get what they had to do- but when I marked the books, all the children got everything correct. So….?

There were other silly things that I was kicking myself for, I forgot to give the children an extension activity, I sat too long with the lower ability children etc. But the worse thing about it all is that the other NQT got outstanding, which just makes me feel like an absolute failure. I hate that this career just encourages low morale, chips away at your self confidence and leaves you doubting your ability. I’ve realised that I probley wont ever be an outstanding teacher; because 1. I want a life and i am not prepared to work 10hr days and then stay up until 2am creating fantastic resources and 2. I don’t think I could live with the pressure of being classed an an outstanding teacher. At least the only good thing about being in the requires improvement category is that now, the only way is up. Silver lining, and all that.

So now, it’s bed time. A chat to the best friend (who is also an unhappy teacher lol), a hot water bottle and a bar of Galaxy chocolate should do the trick. After all, tomorrow is a new day 🙂

The things that I changed this week to improve behaviour.

Like I said in my previous post- I was bringing in the Trunchbull this week and it definitely seemed to work. I had a terrible lesson observation before Christmas but my observation for this term was two days ago and the first thing she said was ‘excellent behaviour management, you’ve really got them under control now’. I didn’t dare tell her how they were last week. But by changing a few things, there has definitely been an improvement. And I understand that every class/ school/ teacher/ NQT is different, so read over the tips below and tweak them to your own needs and class.

1. No smiling. I’m a naturally smiling person and so this probley had the biggest impact because the children are so used to seeing my smiling. When I started with the serious face on Monday, they knew instantly I meant business. It shows the children that you are not to be messed with and what you say needs to be done. The serious face also sets the ‘tone’, they know now is a time to listen and behave- it’s not laughing and joking time.

2. Names on the board. This was so simple and effective and I wished I had started it earlier. I simply drew a sad face in the corner of the board and when someone wasn’t listening or had not done as I had asked. I would slowly go and get my whiteboard pen and slowly walk over to the board with a disappointed face (the key to this is the ‘acting’ the drama. Dragging out the process.) The slow walk over to the board also got everyone’s attention ‘who’s name am i going to write?’ I then wrote a name on the board and said oh dear, how disappointing. Now when anyone walks into the room they will see your name on the board. You better try and improve your behaviour so I can wipe your name off the board. I would not want Mrs E. (Headmistress) to walk into this class and see you name.’ Don’t shout, but do look cross and disappointed. The best thing about this is that the names on the board don’t mean anything but the children hated seeing thier name and would ask me if I would wipe it off if they did x or z.

3. Set line places. Again, I don’t know why I didn’t do this from September. Lining up and walking through the school was always a problem because children would be pushing in, there would be shouts of ‘Miss, he pushed in!’, then children would end up with thier friends and that would mean laughing and joking walking to assembly and talking throughout. Now they have set line places, all that has been cut out. Some teachers like boy, girl, boy, girl in the line, but by doing set, specific places, you can really take control of the situation and spilt troublesome partners right up by putting them far away from each other and the biggest help for me, was stopping all the fussing when it was lining up time. They just went to thier places, and surprisingly, they remembered their places quicker than me.

4. Refusing to talk over anyone. I knew I had to do something, when i was increasingly finding myself talking over children on the carpet when I was teaching. Some children were blatantly not listening. They were having their own merry time and I just felt like a failing comedian who was slowly loosing his audience at a rowdy working men’s club. They were being disrespectful. But what I have realised is; children will only get away with what you let them. So the zero tolerance approach was brought in. I refused to talk over any noise- that included shuffling chairs. I would stand and wait, then slowly walk over to the board and write a name. Eventually the children knew that they could no longer talk on the carper.

5. The 5 dash rule. I explained to the children that every time I had to wait for them, I would put a ‘dash’ on the white board, if I got to 5 dashes, they were missing their play. They had wasted my time and so I was wasting theirs. It’s quite a harsh one and i only use it as a last resort. The key is to not let them become blasé about it. As the dashes increase, you can see the panic set in if someone is not behaving ‘James! Ssssh! Miss is going to put a dash on the board!’

6. Praise positive behaviour. ‘Wow! Just look how Nina is sitting on the carpet.’ All the children look and then instantly sit propley on the carpet. ‘I love how Ali was the first person to put his pencil down and listen.’ This means you don’t have to address the children who haven’t put thier pen down and bring in a negative atmosphere, because they will instantly know what is expected of them and do the same.

6. The thinking spot. I’m not the biggest fan of this, but it definitely works. But I only use it for a child who really needs to know who is boss in the classroom, not for behaviour that is actually quite low disrupting. It is a small round mat from Ikea, and when a child has been warned repeatedly, I get it out and make them sit on it for 5minutes. I explain that I have to get the Thinking Spot out and how it is from the nursery, but some children are acting like they are still there. They have to sit on it for 5 minutes and think about what they have done. They hate this one as well, because they are separated from the class and they are exposed. Like I said, it shuldn’t be used all the time as I don’t believe in embarrassing children, but sometimes certain behaviours need to be nipped in the bud and children need to know what is and is not acceptable in the class.

7. Get your TA on board. The last thing why I believe last week was so successful is that myself and my TA worked together. I told her what i was doing, she also backed me up, ‘Goodness, you do not want your name on the board.’ She acted disappointed with the children and reinforced all of my expectations- and I felt more confident. As they say, there’s safety in numbers!

Behaviour management is a biggie- OFSTED rate all teachers on it and it makes a difference to how well you feel you are teaching and getting through to your class. Sometimes though, no matter how much you do, you still have a bad day- but take it for what it is, a bad day. Go home, have a glass of wine, a long hot soak and a talk with a loved one and remember, we’re doing the best that we can. Teaching is a difficult, difficult job and we’re still doing it- so we’re stronger than most!