Sunday, 31 July 2016

Dream House

  As the school holidays are now in full swing along with birthdays, days out, pretend-you're-loving-it-instagram posts, weight gain and money-splurging, my boyfriend and I have had much more time to focus on selling our house. We took a gamble when we put off marketing our own home whilst casually 'browsing' the housing market ourselves, only to stumble across Dream House. We spent the next 2 weeks running around like crazed lunatics: painting walls, sprucing up the front door (it's all about  curb appeal apparently) and actually getting our hands dirty taming the hedges and shrubs in the garden.

Within 2 weeks of spotting Dream House, we were For Sale and Dream House still was too. With a high five, my boyfriend and I have waited patiently for an offer on our house after several viewings. Today, we've had 2 viewers come by and share their enthusiasm for placing an offer on our house and my boyfriend and I have spent the day feeling somewhat excited at the prospect of selling in time and becoming the proud owners of Dream House.

Showing potential buyers around our home has been a strange experience for us both: just today, my boyfriend asked me if I too wondered why we were selling our house after highlighting all of the positives to prospective buyers. I laughed and said I'd felt the same way, but then pointed out that if we're managing to sell it back to ourselves, then we must be doing a really good job of selling it!!

This afternoon we went to see Dream House again, knowing that nobody is currently living in the property as the vendors have left, we pulled into the driveway and looked out onto the garden. It didn't feel quite the same as it did the first time, we noticed that the slope of the garden could propose potential issues, that there were loads of huge conifers that would need chopping down because they were so close to the house and that actually, the lawned part of the garden was quite far away from the house. We then shared the few reservations we had both had about the layout of the inside of the house. We shook off our thoughts on the journey home and found ways around and over the little hurdles of Dream House, they were all aesthetic after all.

Dream House however had begun to feel more like House.

Bizarrely, my boyfriend browsed at the house on the internet this evening and bolted upstairs shortly afterwards to deliver the news that Dream House was apparently now SOLD STC. We looked at each other shocked and a little silent, in an effort to judge each others reaction, at which point we both said "it's actually ok." Maybe we have lost our one and only "Dream House," but even Dream House had it's flaws. Sometimes, things seem to happened for a reason and us driving to the house just this afternoon and feeling somewhat differently about it really helped soften the blow.

 You can guarantee that we'll now receive an offer on our own home and be desperately browsing the internet in search of our next "Dream House!" Who knows, maybe the sale of Dream House the first will fall through and we'll end up with our original flawed Dream House.

Telling ourselves that everything happens for a reason is a bit cliché, but maybe, just maybe it does.

Monday, 25 July 2016

Hardworking teachers and big hearts

This week, I have been lucky enough to spend some time working with teachers from other departments,  offering a range of activities to the children within our school.  I enjoy opportunities like this to branch out from the crevasse of my own classroom whilst getting to know other members of staff as they peer out from the crevasse of theirs.

One lady I am working with is a teacher I have admired since I began teaching at my current school; she really goes above and beyond the call of duty and instigates many social activities between staff. However, she avoids any sort of "clique" and is inclusive of everyone. She soldiers on with what often appears like an unwavering optimism; we all envy her faultless dedication to her work and efficiency. I'd never be able to work that hard.

Anyway, this week she appeared exhausted and deflated, pessimistic even. She had clearly been reflecting on her many years of teaching and for the first time shared her regrets about working so hard over the years. She said that she had spent "hours and hours marking key stage 3 assessments" for the children to glance their eyes over the feedback she had given for 2 minutes before their attention was diverted elsewhere. She went on to say that the worst part of the process is that "nothing changes, the feedback makes very little difference." She appeared quite sad about the hours of her life she had lost through the mundane, marking of endless pieces of work for seemingly no benefit. She then went on to tell me about the amount of money she had spent out of her own pocket on materials she felt were required to perform her work well.

Her words made me think: is all of that time and energy really worth being "faultless" at your job? Or is being "ok" ok? Being a great teacher won't help you gain more friends, infact you'll probably lose a few, it will cost you financially no doubt and precious, precious time will be lost. Perhaps cutting corners really is the key to surviving teaching?

I think about the posters, resources and stationary I've invested in myself to help my students and to spruce up my own classroom with in the last few years; was it really worth it? Did anyone thank me? Did it change a lot? No, I guess it didn't. The posters were ripped from my classroom walls as soon as I entered my maternity leave or thrown into the annual school skip, or barely acknowledged and lost by students, only to be replaced by the good intentions of a replacement teacher who experienced the same thing.

Teachers often set out with big hearts, that's why they become teachers in the first place, but often within the stifled, bureaucratic ruins of education, the good intentions in our hearts eventually gets lost.

Saturday, 16 July 2016

6 weeks of Summer approaches

Sitting in my garden during nap time, abundant and busy with nature, basking in some glorious and rare British sunshine, I feel the end of the academic year 2015-2016 approaching. Being my usual tormenting self, I reflect on the year that has passed and beat myself with a stick for the things I haven't achieved.

There was no promotion; I never managed to mark and hand back the last piece of homework my top set produced; I had too many days off sick, whether it be my own ill health or that of my ear and chest infection prone daughter's; I didn't get around to finishing off my displays or decorate my classroom with enough brilliant work; I divulged in too many school-canteen-custard-smothered-puddings and I didn't speak to adults enough, choosing my safe and solitary classroom to spend my breaks alone. All of this aside, I did survive another year, just about and my first year as a part-time teaching career-mum. It could have been a lot worse. In terms of the teaching and learning that went on in my classroom, I've done a good job and I know it's this that's important.

Teachers live for the Summer holidays, many of us atleast. However, the last 2 years have taught me that the 6 week "holiday" isn't exactly all it cracked up to be, particularly once you have children! Many teaching and SAHM mothers I know have told me that they even "dread" the holidays, regardless of them being "off" for 6 whole weeks. 

I can only empathise. Going to work when I have a toddler at home often feels like a well earned break; it's even better when you get to talk to real adults. Then there's the added pressure of 'entertaining' toddlers; always feeling like you're doing a crap job of keeping them occupied, comparing your own experiences with other parents' social media snaps. 

I often create a social media album called "6 weeks of Summer" to capture as many moments of the holidays as possible; I even did this before my child came along. At the end of the holiday, I look back with smiles and longing at the captured moments, but I'm also knackered.  Absolutely knackered. This year is going to be more knackering than ever now that my little beauty has entered the phase of toddler-dom; we even have potty training to look forward to! The photographs I take are little snippets of nicety in between tantrums, arguing with my partner about what activity we're doing today; snippets of life taken an hour after I've walked off in a huff or after I've screamed the house down because it's filthy and more time in it means more filth to clean.

As my partner is also a teacher, I will often expect him to take on half the crappy cleaning work during his 6 weeks off, but I often find that he engages in leisurely pursuits of his own and "forgets" that there are actual jobs to do. When this falls on my shoulders, I become dragon-like. I often end the "holiday" despising the dragon lady I've become and happily skip back to work again by the beginning of September. 

I hope the Great British 6 week holiday is different this year; I'm preparing. I'm going to speak to my partner on the first weekend about doing his fair share; I'm going to embrace time at home, rather than filling time with endless activities in attempt to match the instagram fun of fellow teachers. Instead I'm going to tell myself that between their happy snaps are tantrums and outbursts, even from the adults! Whilst family time is important, I'm going to prioritise time alone and time for me, Afterall there are two of us to share the heavy work of toddler-dom. I want to do lots of walking; nowhere far, lap up the views on offer metres from my back door step. Just this afternoon, I stood to appreciate the beauty of the semi-rural walks right at the back of my home. 

Maybe this holiday, I'll even upload a mid-tantrum instagram shot to show a truer side to life as a family during the 6 weeks of Summer!

Friday, 15 July 2016

Taming the young

A teacher I hold in high regard once told me that he'd given up on trying to give quality education in return for giving quality "edutainment" in order to pass his classroom observations. "This is what they are really asking for" he laughed, uncomfortably.

My role as a classroom "entertainer" has developed somewhat over the last few years and my lessons are more entertaining than they used to be. But I can't help but feel cynical having ticked the box on my observation form (which of course comes under some other name like "engaging" or "interesting"). Most of my students may have been engaged during the lesson, most of them probably enjoyed it in some way, shape or form, but to create such an entertaining and engaging lesson requires hours of preparation. Hours and hours that can only be "used up" for this purpose every once in a while, because it takes so much out of you, your time and your family life.

I once attended a wonderful course called "Outstanding teaching" and low and behold, over the course of the day, I was taught how to become an outstanding teacher by an outstanding Teacher. She was unmistakably a wonderful teacher with some great ideas, but at the end she explained that outstanding lessons are impossible to teach all of the time because of the amount of preparation required to create them.

So the "outstanding" lessons that we fabricate to pass our observations are not true reflections of our everyday  teaching at all.

If this is the case then what is the point of observations? Why does ofsted implement such an impossible, unreasonable criteria for us to "pass" the teacher test? The test is not reflective of our everyday teaching; we would have to burn ourselves out to achieve such consistent standards so why does it exist in the first place?

My daily classroom battles consist mainly of challenging low level disruptive behaviour: twiddling with the blinds on the window, pen tapping, book bashing, nail painting with marker pens, note passing, fidgeting, demands for attention such as needless questioning, shouting out, chatter and lack of focus. Getting a child to sit still and straight for any length of time is a challenge, whilst taming the energy of 30 children to focus and control themselves in the modern day is draining.

During a time where travel opportunities are endless, where children are constantly entertained by ever-changing modern technological advances, where children live in a graphics infused world of make-believe and screens, how is a Teacher supposed to compete with this, entertain and engage them? Some of these children have travelled to places I can only ever dream about and experienced things that I've never even heard of. Yet within the 4 walls of my uninspired classroom I put every child down the same conveyer belt of education, following the syllabus, marking their written work and yet the world gives them and cries out for so much more.

I find it ironic that in the many modern advances of technology and of living, I am still expected to educated over-stimulated children within the confines of 4 walls, expecting all of my identically clad students to sit still, to focus, to pay attention. Outside of the classroom, family and modern-society demands freedom, individuality and self-expression; how do teachers compete with this in the ethos of the classroom today?

Every year we receive a fresh intake of faces from the nearby primary schools and every year the restlessness that sits before me grows and strengthens. It is not their fault as children are only acclimatised to what they know and how they live. What is the answer? Do children need to learn self control or is it time that education evolved to fulfill the hyper-stimulating needs of the current generation?

Ofsted are aware of this higher need in the classroom, but they lay this burden at the feet of teachers who already have huge mountains to climb. They lay unreasonable expectations in our paths, knowing that they are not achievable, knowing that we will only be able to meet the criteria in order to pass the test. So what happens to the children? The restless future generations of children that require more stimulation and engagement than ever? Many of them become disengaged, bored, tired and uninspired.

Now and then, I flip a 'lesson' on it's head and we opt for something a little more reflective of real life; we talk about relationships, politics, government, managing a budget, family life or nature. For a time, I see them engage with a lesson that has had little preparation and added entertainment, because we speak about real things and we all open up. These life affirming lessons are the ones I'm sure they'll go on to remember as they make their way through life and it's challenges; these are the lessons I remember from my own time at school.

Taming the young to sit still, to concentrate, to exhibit self control, for me is the hardest battle of the classroom. There is one of me and 30 of them, 30 individuals full of super-charged modern energy craving high-level stimulation. Modern advances that accompany their 'real' lives just don't coincide with the calm, focused behaviours required in a class room environment. Taming the young is hard work; our methods of education are out of date and our children are generations ahead of it.

Is it then acceptable to expect our teachers to tame our children to adapt to the confines of a classroom environment? Or are teachers destined for a career of further "edutainment" to adapt to the ever-changing needs of the young?

Tuesday, 5 July 2016

When I grow up

On a recent family outing to an adventure playground, I overheard an older lady make a point that I've heard mentioned in various forms over the last few years: You never lose the child inside you. Even with her old bones and aching muscles, I could see a yearning on her face that so many of us can only relate to when we watch children playing with the care-free zest we once did.

The way that life disables us from living as we age is a sickening truth to digest.

In a writing task I initiated with a class recently, they were given a series of questions and unfinished sentences to get them thinking creatively and imaginatively. One of the incomplete sentences stated simply, "When I grow up I will..." and this statement for many students, formed the basis of an exciting discussion about the future.

If I had been given that very statement at aged 12, I doubt I would have been able to finish the sentence; I may have written something down to fit in, but honestly, I hadn't a clue what I wanted to do. I think back to 12 year old me and wonder what she would think if I could tell her that I would eventually become a Teacher, would she be happy? I'm not too sure that she would. I'm not sure it would have filled 12 year old me with much enthusiasm or inspiration back then, regardless of what I know about the profession now. Growing up always appeared such an attractive prospect at age 12: the freedom to make decisions, a world of choice being so readily available, the idea of money and parties, driving, alcohol and the option to eat fast food whenever I should desire.

All of these things are great; freedom and independence is liberating, but of course, responsibility comes hand in hand with independence. At age 12, you somehow have this confidence in your future adult self that you will find responsibility a doddle and that you will know exactly what you want to do with your life; that you will somehow navigate your life into a safe and exciting destination with ease. I think back to 12 year old me who had no idea of what she wanted to do or be when she grew up and I know that the child inside lives on. I still don't know what I want to be when I grow up.

I know that I love taking my child to the park and jumping on the swing alongside her to blow away all of my responsibilities for a moment or two, I know that when she has her first trampoline, I'll be eager to get on it myself, I know that licking the bowl after making cornflake cakes is just as fun as it used to be. What better proof is there that the child inside lives on?

Maybe if I could sit next to 12 year old me now, pen poised in a similar lesson to the one I taught recently, I would tell her that when she grows up she will want to do all of the things that already make her happy. That when she grows up she will enjoy playing on the swings, collecting shells on the beach, she'll still love glitter pens, singing into the hairbrush and reading and writing stories.

I also know that I put far too much stock in the future grown up me now who will at some point make the decision to break away from teaching in the pursuit of something more fulfilling and fun. I feel guilty in writing that, as what could be more fulfilling than teaching the children of our future? But I guess that's another blog entry. I know that when I grow up and grow old, I'll be happy to have lived a successful life, but all I'll really want to do is to play on the adventure playground.

The Juggling Joke

Nothing could have prepared me for the juggling act of teaching and parenting; teaching part-time couldn't be more full-time and parenting doesn't currently allow for much sleeping on the job.
I'm exhausted.
One allows little head space for the other and I long for physical activity to give me the opportunity to switch off; thinking dominates my time. By the end of the day, when teaching lessons, marking, data crunching, planning lessons, chasing homework, detentions, after school clubs, cooking, meal time, playtime, bath time, bed time is over, I struggle to face the physical activity I so long for and crumble under a duvet before 9pm. I'm mentally drained and I've no head space left for the world, I also need to sleep before the long wake-up calls of the night begin.
I've so little head space for thought in fact, that I even have to cut my blog entries short.