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!

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.

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.

What happens when you get ‘The Call’ from the Big O?

I am finally getting around to writing about my first OFSTED experience. The first and main thing you will be pleased to hear is that it’s actually not that bad. Honestly, it’s really not. And in a weird, strange way, I kind of enjoyed the experience. Don’t get me wrong, I’m pleased we’re only subjected to inspections every three years, but I survived my first OFSTED and it wasn’t too bad.

Our school had been ‘over due’ an inspection for over 12 months, so our school was already in OFSTED mode. We were constantly waiting for ‘The call’. We were having constant reminders and emails and memos where it got to the point where everyone was actually wishing for OFSED as the pressure from waiting was getting too much. ‘When OFSTED come… OFSTED will be looking for…we’ve put this in place for OFSTED….OFSTED will want to see…’ The build up was actually much worse than the actual inspection.

We eventually did get The Call  on a random Tuesday at 12.15pm. I was happily eating my lunch in the staff room and as sod’s law would have it, was talking to a work colleague about how my baby had been up all night and so I would be leaving at 4pm dead on the dot as I was exhausted. Suddenly the door opened. I thought someone had died on the premises as the Head suddenly came into the staff room at 12.45pm with the assistant Head and other SLT members, followed by other members of staff who had eaten their lunch and then left previously. ‘What’s going on?’ I asked. The year 6 teacher next to me whispered that we’d had the call and mouthed the word ‘OFSTED’ and I just remember saying ‘Oh, you’re joking?!’

The Head was very positive, calm and collected and gave a good prep talk. ‘We all knew this was coming…’ She then said that school would be open until 9pm and everyone knew that no one was going home anytime soon after 3.15pm.

There was a buzz around school. Widened eyes, shaking of the heads, stressed out faces, laughing. A text message was sent out immediately to the parents and so they were aware of the situation by the time we let the children go at sometime. Then it was preparation time. Luckily, I knew what I was teaching for maths and I decided to jazz up my literacy lesson. I was fairly certain that I would only be observed in literacy and definitely in my afternoon phonics group as our year 1 phonics results test last year was shocking. I rang my mum and told her that I wouldn’t be coming home to pick up the baby as we had OFSTED the next day. I actually laugh when I think about that now- talk about priorities! I was more concerned about OFSTED than actually seeing my own child. (I’m so glad I’m out of mainstream and can put my family first again). I was also very lucky that I could do that. My mum didn’t even bat an eyelid, she just said good luck and to let her know how it goes. (Thank you mum!).

Anyway, once the children had gone it was a great atmosphere in school. Everyone came together and there was a real Dunkirk spirit about the place. My TA was an absolute star, she stayed until 4.30pm checking the displays and helping tidy up the classroom. She apologised profusely that she had to go, but she too has young children and she had to go and pick them up. I then concentrated on getting everything ready for the lessons the next day so that I could just come in and not worry about anything. I stuck worksheets in every books, made sure the books were in the correct groups for the tables, made sure the were layer out correctly and good to go. A huge tip I would say to anyone who is due and OFSTED, is to keep up to date with your marking- this was the most time consuming thing for me, marking books that I had fallen behind with.

Around 7pm is where I got a little disheartened. It was silly really, but I suddenly felt, dare I say it?, a little lonely. As I had explained in a previous post, my work bffs were not in school; one had left to go to a different school at the end of our NQT year and my other one was luckily for her, on maternity leave. My school is very cliquey and I could hear other staff members making plans to go and get a Nandos take away, others were driving to McDondalds, others were chatting behind closed doors and I just remember looking down the empty corridors and feeling a little lonely. I was starving and had mentioned to a few members of the staff that I would come to get dinner with them, but they had obviously gone without me (cue violin music lol). Anyway, I was looking at the displays when I suddenly heard ‘right, what do we need to do next then?’ My amazing TA was back! She was changed in sports clothes and ready for action. I’m not exaggerating when I say that I nearly cried for joy. She had returned as soon as she had put the children to bed- she’s a star, and I’m pleased that we’re still in touch. It was a great morale boost and I spent the next hour and a half chatting, discussing the plans for tomorrow, going through the lessons.

I eventually left work around 8.40pm, my TA, bless her, was still there fixing up displays. I passed the Head’s office and she was sat at the back of her room eating a McDonald’s with the assistant Head.

I drove home, thankful that I had managed to set up everything for the next day, thankful that I had parents who would look after my baby over night and thankful that I had handed my notice in, as I felt like the pressure was off me.

 

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 🙂

Leaving main stream = inner peace restored

inner-peace

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.