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.

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.

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.

 

 

 

 

Overwhelming response to my last post.

I just wanted to say a quick thank you to the over whelming response that I have had since I posted last night about failing my final NQT observation. I have read through every single comment and got so much advise. It is great/ upsetting to hear that I am not alone. some of you have had horrendous times and as a whole my NQT year has been tough, but not soul destroying (until yesterday) and I have genuinely enjoyed my year. Yes, I am pleased that I have passed my year, but as one blogger posted, it’s a shame that an NQT goes through so much stress only to dread year two and be put under more intense pressure.

I have had 24hrs to think about what has happened and unfortunately, I am still not fully over the ‘blow’ and I found myself quite down and unenthusiastic today in school. When I was teaching I almost had a ‘what is the point?’, it has really knocked my confidence but most importantly my drive. At the moment (and I hope this will change) I feel like it has dampened my spirit and they have dimmed a little bit of my light. My mum rang me at lunch time and when I answered the phone she commented on how ‘disheartened’ I felt. She too said get the union involved, but I agree with Toby when he said getting the union involved would ‘mark my card’, my card has already been marked somewhat because of me speaking up to the TA who was belittling me. (She just so happens to be best friends with the teacher who did my observation. Petty coincidence? Friends sticking up for each other? Getting their own back? Maybe. But I don’t want to start going down the paranoid route).

I have reflected and spoke to lots of people regarding yesterday. The facts are, I have never had an ‘outstanding’ observation this year, although I have had good, positive ones, and until my final observation, I was making progress. I have only had negative observations when my mentor observes with another higher level member of staff. I personally don’t respect my mentor as a teacher, I have seen her teach and it was one of the most shockingly bad lessons I have seen in my life. At the end of it she said ‘sorry, I’m so embarrassed. I’ve not taught RE for ages…’ Anyway, it seems to me that she just goes with whatever someone else says. It is annoying that to save her own back she has put the blame on me. I am also kicking myself because she offered to look at my planning for the lesson and I said it was ok (HUGE mistake) as in the slating she said ‘I mean, you don’t even want advice, I offer to look at your planning but you refused.’ I didn’t refuse, I just said I would have liked to try myself and see how it goes, so now she is scott free on the responsibility front on that account. I still think my lesson was not a fail. The children were engaged, loved the lesson and learnt something. I don’t agree with the intense planning scrutiny and observations that are to come, but I have come to realise that it is all a game and if it means three months of hell to get them off my back after Christmas, then so be it.

As the eternal optimist I will now state the positives:

*The first, most important one is that I PASSED. I have passed my NQT year. I survived. My salary will increase and I don’t need to go into the new academic year with unfinished business, so to speak.

*I am still in year 2 next year with the same TA. We work together well, she is extremely supportive (my school rock), and I have all my planning and will have a better idea of what to do.

*My headmistress has been so supportive, to be honest. I went to see her this morning. She told me that she had heard about my bad lesson observation (that’s just great, isn’t it?), but she is going to have a meeting with me tomorrow afternoon to go through how she is going to help me come September. (A bit embarrassed about this- but pleased with the support). As my TA said, she wouldn’t be putting all this in place if she didn’t want to invest in me.

*My children have made progress and moved up the appropriate APS points. Not everyone is on track, but they have made great progress and a few have made huge jumps.

*’What doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger.’ All this pressure next year will make me the strongest teacher I can be. I will be a ‘better teacher for it.’

I know it will be hard work. I know it will be tough. I know that there is no chance of trying to get that elusive work/ life balance come September. But the positive thing is, I’m ready. I’m expecting it. And I am going to prepare for battle in the summer holidays.

I can and I will do it!

Last observation this week…. why am I so nervous?

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Well, to say my NQT year has zoomed by, that would be an understatement. One minute it was September and I was full of enthusiastic energy, then it was December where I was questioning my abilities and sanity, fast forward to Easter, where things were looking up and now I’m here; three weeks to go. And one final observation.

I am nervous. Very nervous. This is my last chance to prove that I am a good teacher with elements of outstanding. If only it could be that easy. I have been told that my lesson this week must be ‘sparkly’, and have lots of ‘sprinkles’. Yes seriously. I have been told to do a Science lesson that is sparkly and has sprinkles. My face must have shown what i was thinking as my mentor said ‘don’t ask me what a sparkly lesson is… but you know…. make it big and lively’. All this was said with large accompanying hand movements. 

So now it’s a Sunday afternoon and I have 4 days to go and my mind is a blank. I haven’t got a clue. But one thing I am sure of, is that I will get my good with outstanding if it bloody kills me, because I have to. I cannot deal with the stress of being ‘RI’ (requires improvement), my self esteem has taken such a battering this term, that I have to finish the year on a high. I’ve been there on both sides of the scale. I’ve had a nearly inadequate observation and i’ve had a nearly outstanding, and it doesn’t take a genius to work out which one doesn’t cause sleepless nights.

So, yes, I will go out all singing and all dancing, I will create a lesson that is false, not a true reflection of how I normally teach and go way over the top with what little energy I have left and I will show my mentor what sparkly means. All teacher’s find that they have to become West End performers to jump through the hoops that this current government is setting for them.

Gosh, it’s all so fake and artificial. 

Welcome to education under Michael Gove. 

5 weeks to go… we look 5 decades older.

1-woman-older-and-tiredWe had a staff meeting today. A meeting about how the government is changing the levelling. How we will still use APS points, how the families have only just gotten grips with what a 3C and a 3A actually means, how this is all anyone needs right now. I had been in school from 7.30am and was now being expected to be fully awake, engaged and enthusiastic in a meeting that was going to last until 5pm.

As my mind drifted, I looked around the room and realised, quite shockingly, was that we all looked bad. I mean, we honestly all looked ill. Our headmistress is a young headmistress- she has a 5year old daughter- but today, I looked at her hair that is riddled with grey, I saw deep, deep lines in her forehead (they looked like worry lines) and saw prominent wrinkles around her eyes, which I doubt would have been there if she was a manager of a library or baked sausage rolls in Greggs. (Oh to work in Greggs, where the only thing you think about after work if whether you left the meat and potato pies in the oven for too long today). Anyway, my Head didn’t look good. I turned to a glamorous SLT member. She looks like she plans her outfits with precision each morning, her hair is immaculate and she wears pointed stilettos all day every day. Surely it’s just my Head who is having a bad day? But no, this SLT leader looked grey. Maybe it was just the lighting? No, she was definitely grey. This morning she had been mixed race.

Another teacher’s hair was so greasy it was bordering on obscene. She had no make up on (when does the stopping of make up happen? Year 3-4?) and she looked exhausted. Another had deep lines creased around her mouth, another looked like the walking dead. And I’m not to be excused from this line up either. My hair is just scraped back, I have an unhealthy yellow tinge to my skin and I just feel exhausted. It’s like we have all switched off, like we are coming to the end of a prison sentence and we can see the light.

I don’t know. But what I do know is that we all looked absolutely horrendous, and if greasy hair, grey skin and deep wrinkles are all I have to look forward to, then I seriously need to make sure that I am not in this profession long enough for that to happen.

On the home run!

I actually cannot believe that I only have 6 weeks left of my NQT year. One observation is all that stands between me and passing my NQT year. What can I say? In some respects it seems like a life time ago since I started at my school, but in other ways, it has passed in a blink of an eye. 

Have I enjoyed this year? Yes. Yes, I have. There were times when I honestly thought I had made the biggest mistake of my life. I thought I was just sh*t, I was rubbish, I was an ‘inadequate’ teacher. There were times when I didn’t know how I was going to get all my paperwork done, or mark all of the books that need marking or deal with everything that needs dealing with. But the good news is, things DO get better/ easier. I still hope that I will finish this year without any dramas. The TA, Steph, who I spoke to has resurfaced this term and could easily manage to make life difficult for me (post to follow with this on going drama soon), I still have 30 reports to write and get all my files in order to pass onto the next teacher (who is the phase leader- so everything has to be in tip top condition!), but I am pleased with my choice of doing the PGCE.

I am also glad that this year has made me realise that I no longer regret taking those years out after uni to get life experience before starting in education. During my course I was thinking I should have done it straight away after uni, I had left it too late (?!), I would have been over all this stress by now and on a really good wage up the pay scale without all this performance related pay. However, I realise now everyone needs to have life experience, reckless years, carefree jobs, because honestly, I would be bloody depressed if I had come into this career at 22 and realised that I was staying here for the next forty years! Not that I would have lasted that long. I already know that I do not want to be a head or deputy anymore, I do not have the desire or stress levels to chase that. And yes, I will be in the statistics of teachers who leave the profession in 5 years.

Well, fingers crossed I can get out that soon and with my sanity in check…:)