The Demon Head Teacher

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I have been lucky to always work under ‘good’ bosses. I didn’t love them, I wasn’t best friends with them, I saw their faults and I could see their weaknesses and bad decision making at times. However, I always liked something about them. They had a certain likeability factor for me. I know countless people who worked with them who would disagree, but the main thing above all, is that I respected them.

My first boss was very unapproachable, so to speak. His office was at the far end of the school and you were always scared about knocking on in fear of disturbing him. He was very professional. He didn’t make jokes in staff meetings, there was no banter and he dressed in a full suit, waistcoat and tie every day. He came on Christmas staff parties but it always felt like your dad or granddad was there and I never felt I could drink on these work dos. He was also expressionless when you were asking him something; careful not to give anything away on his face. You could never tell what he was thinking, but you knew that his mind was working overtime processing what you had just told him.

However, saying all of this he was so knowledgeable. His behaviour management was excellent, he was fair, was a strong manager and very supportive. He is still the Head teacher that I contact for advice when I am thinking about moving schools or need a reference. He knows his stuff and puts the school first above his own ego. He was in no cliques at school and so would not let weaker teachers get away with things that I have seen other Heads do because they are friends outside of work.

My second Head teacher was very different. He was younger and more ‘modern.’ He had an open door policy; teachers were always hanging out in his office. He was very charismatic, treated like a Rock Star around school. At the Christmas party he would buy rounds of shots and dance around with the best of us. He definitely had his favourites though and again, his was expressionless and didn’t give much away. But he was supportive and reassured me in tough times. He knew his stuff and could give great advice.  He was also good in hard times for the school. He pushed through and believes in his school strongly. He loves the community and the families from the school.

The Headmistress I was under was quite ‘scary’, not approachable and I always felt like I was being spoken down to, like I was never good enough. I realised that this was just her way of speaking to people and once I realised that it wasn’t personal, I started to understand her. She was very critical during lesson observations but she did know what she was talking about and I could always see her point when she gave me feedback. This headmistress was a different person out of school. She was very professional in school but much more relaxed out of the school environment and once I became pregnant she became so warm towards me- that common ground helped our relationship.

My last Head (before my current one) was a lady at the pupil referral unit. She was Irish and 65years old, so had seen a lot. She had a lovely nature and was the most supportive Head I have ever come across. She refused to criticise and her lesson observations were all about uplifting teachers and giving them confidence in their jobs. She started each day with a group meeting and ended each day with a group meeting, acting as a sort of counsellor to the staff. She held everyone together and definitely had a ‘we’ not ‘me’ mentality. Yes, she had her bad points. She liked to say ‘yes’ a lot, then would realise, actually we can’t say yes to that. She had her favourites and she over spoilt the children, bribing them with sweets and chocolates. But she was well respected. By staff, families and the children and she still kept that professionalism. Power dressing every morning even though she would be restraining a child by lunch time. She knew her stuff inside out

Then comes my current Head. I could leave it there, but I’ll give you a brief description. She is very insecure. This insecurity is affecting everything. She will bad mouth the TAs to the teachers to get the teachers onside, then she will bad mouth the teachers to the TAs to get the TAs on board. She wants to be ‘down with the kids’ so is using slang when she speaks to them, the boundaries have been eroded, which means that the children do not have that respect for her. She wants to be popular so will swear in staff meetings, talk about drinking at the weekend, try and have ‘banter’ with the staff and be too friendly. It makes me uncomfortable. She wears t shirts and plain jogging pants to work- she would be the last person anyone would say was the Head teacher. There is zero professionalism. She will slag off other members of staff in the staff room, make sly digs about people to others, make bitchy comments and then wonder way people are no longer openly talking to her. I wouldn’t mind all of this if there were any redeeming qualities but the worse thing about everything is that she is shocking at her job. She forgets to do things. Important things. Paper work won’t get done, questions get ignored. There’s no communication anymore and we feel like we no longer have a leader. I am struggling to have any trust in her and I am worried about the future for everyone’s staff morale.

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!

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.

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.

 

 

 

 

Leaving main stream = inner peace restored

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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.

How much does an NQT really earn?

Wage slip

When I was an NQT I searched high and low to try and find the exact (or a rough guide) as to how much money an NQT takes home each month after tax. It was near impossible. For many reasons really; money is still not openly talked about in Britain- you can’t just ask somebody how much money they earn each month. It really is different for everyone; depending on how much student loan you took out, did you pay for your own fees etc. And it also depends on your pension and national insurance contributions.

So, seeing as I am no longer an NQT and this blog is anonymous I am going to break down my entire NQT wage into what I got monthly. Also bear in mind that the pay scale has increased by 1% (how generous), so it will be ever so slightly, but not by much, higher for NQTs this year.

So here it is; What an NQT really earns and how much they take home each month:

Basic Pay:      £1,817

Sounds and looks good, right? Yeah, it doesn’t ever make it to your bank account.

Employee NIC:    £119.77

Tax:   £250

Pension:   £131.92

Student Loan:   £37

Total Deductions:   £538.69

MONTHLY TAKE HOME PAY: £1278.31

Above is the take home pay that I received each month during my NQT year. Now, I know it’s not bad, but it’s not brilliant and considering the amount of hours I actually did, I was not even making minimum wage at some points during the year. However, there are a lot of people who never receive anything like that amount each month and the positive thing about teachers is (hopefully) we will all go up the pay scale each year. Yes, performance related pay now means that it is no longer a guarantee, but luckily so far I have not heard of any of my teacher friends or colleagues being held back. Remember, that if you do have student loan repayments they also increase each year. My loan repayments have now jumped up to £87. Ouch.

You can make the take home pay work. I managed to buy a house and go on holiday during my NQT year. Plus, I felt like a millionaire after having no wages for a whole year while I studied for my PGCE.