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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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!

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.

 

 

 

 

Writing a resignation letter

You may have been offered a new dream job, you may have just decided to quick; either way you will need to formally resign from your post.

I was a little taken aback when my Head mentioned about a resignation letter straight after I told her about my new job. The word ‘resignation’ sounds so scary. I had only ever encountered it in negative situations; a teacher who resigned a term before me because of stress, a Deputy who was being forced to resign over a safe guarding issue- it never seemed to be a positive thing to do.

However, I soon realised that when you have told your current Head that you will be accepting a new post you must resign, it is a legal requirement. Here are the term dates that teachers must abide by:

To leave at the end of:                                        Teachers must resign by:
Autumn Term (31 December)                            31 October
Spring Term (30 April)                                         28 (29) February
Summer Term (31 August)                                   31 May

I got my new job in the first week of December and my Head was encouraging (almost pressuring) me to hand my resignation in by the end of the Christmas term, round about the 21st December. I hadn’t yet signed my new contract so I didn’t want to be left without any job if something was to fall through with my new job so I wanted to resign officially as late as possible. My Head kept reminding me when she saw me about my letter and she only backed off when I showed her the above dates. Eventually I resigned around the 20th February as with half term I would not have been in school to resign on the 29th Feb. It was a scary time as I had still not signed my contract but I had to resign or I would not have been able to legally start my new job.

Which brings me to the next point- the actual letter. People may disagree but I think that no matter what the circumstances are of you leaving, you must always, always leave on a positive note. If that is impossible to do (i.e. if you said positive things in your letter it would come across as sarcasm) you should always be professional.

Now I didn’t have the best last term in my school (more to come on that in future posts), in fact it was one of my worse, much worse than my whole NQT years. There were numerous occasions when I would cry in my classroom, cry on my drive home and cry at my home and I am angry that I would let another colleague (bully) affect me in such a way. I did complain, management knew about my problems (nothing was done due to different factors). On one particular low day I decided that I would name and shame this bullying colleague in my resignation letter, I would mention how she had ruined my last term in school, but then I came to my senses. No. I would not do that. I would not let any individual have that much power over me, I would not have people think that she had affected me that much. I would leave on a positive note. And I did and it felt SO good to leave with a smile on everyone’s face.

And teaching is such a small world that you never know when you are going to bump into ex colleagues again. So I wrote a nice professional letter with some personal touches. Below is a draft of my letter:

 

Resignation from post of teacher at X Primary School.

Dear Mrs X,

Please accept this letter of resignation from my post of year 2 teacher effective from ____________. My last day teaching in school will be _______________.

It is with sincere regret that I am leaving X Primary School. My time at X Primary has been a very positive and enjoyable experience and I have enjoyed being a part of the school for the past three years.

Thank you for giving me the opportunity to be part of your staff and all of your support since my NQT year.

Yours Sincerely,

Mrs G.

As you can see I kept the letter very positive, I thanked my Head for the opportunity and I didn’t mention anything about my negative experiences with an individual colleague. I don’t know what the previous teacher’s resignation must have said but my Head came to see me at the end of the day after I had handed in my letter and thanked me. She said she was ‘really touched’ with what I had written and that made me feel really good inside. And she is right- I might see her again sooner rather than later. At a training course, a CPD session or even at a future OFSTED inspection. I’m glad I kept it positive 🙂

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.