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

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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.

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.

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.