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A teacher writes… via @teacherROAR

December 19, 2014 Leave a comment

Saw this on FB this morning.

This week has been REALLY difficult.

It started on Monday morning, with a year 11, a cheesy Clintons-esque bear and a card with a grateful but not too scmoltzy message.

I’d only told that group I was leaving on Friday afternoon, so it seems that my news was big enough for her to voluntarily take up a tiny part of her weekend, which as an old drammy, clearly makes me blush.

Of course, I had only told my year 11’s I was on my way as they were going out of the door on Friday afternoon. I let them know as a matter of courtesy – this is their GCSE year after all, so I figured they should know a little in advance of the others. It turns out that was enough for all 950 pupils to know by Monday morning. You think a teacherroar can move quick? You try keeping up with‪#‎tweetinggcsedramakids‬.

The bear is lovely, although what a 36 year old man with a bald spot and no real receptacle for housing bears is to do with it I have no idea. My 7 year old has become custodian of ‘Lucky’ for the time being and I’m sure and the card will prove to be a happy reminder of some of the better times from my teaching career.

The week went on mostly as normal, although both on Tuesday and Wednesday morning and Thursday morning I was given some chocolates. Tuesday’s offering of a box of Milk Tray was from a Year 7 girl I’ve only taught for 12 lessons. It was only a couple of weeks back that I finally learned her name and stopped referring to her continually as “Terry’s sister” so I was a little taken aback by her teary eyed goodbye at the staff room door as I tried to shuffle the bleary eyed masses to their form rooms at 8:40 in the morning.

(The chocolates on all days you will be pleased to know were duly shared in the workroom amongst those marking hard before break time. I may be leaving teaching but the rules surrounding chocolates received from kids stay the same. Share them with your colleagues – NQT’s take note.)

By lunchtime Wednesday, things had got ridiculous and yes, I don’t mind saying I had to take a moment to really consider whether I was doing the right thing in leaving after all. It was the mother of all heartbreakers – the home made card. Our lunchtime club which meets next to my drama studio had found out on the grapevine that Jenkins was on his way this Friday and had acted accordingly.

Just to give you a bit of context, the lunchtime club is for children who are considered vulnerable in school and may not survive the day to day stresses of being out on the yard with the sprawling masses. Those on the ASD spectrum, pupils recognised as having emotional difficulties and those who for whatever reason have found themselves on the edge of school society are given a safe haven to chat, talk, eat their lunch, do a bit of homework – that sort of thing.

I recently took a few of the kids with me as part of the Shakespeare Schools festival, so we’re best buds clearly. I had the ‘card’ presented to me after lunch, when I got in from my duty. Words I’m afraid could not describe the design which can I think would possibly be described as cubist. It was the oddest looking collection of cutting and sticking I’ve ever seen but it was signed by every kid in the unit. I’m keeping it forever.

All this goodwill leads me to doubt. These people – these small, as yet unfinished people are holding out a hand to me and saying a simple “thank you”. Some of them have openly stated that they are not going to LET me leave on Friday afternoon. There was talk of sellotape and a chair from one of the year 10’s but as I pointed out, that would just make me a museum piece and unable to actually teach her drama anyway. She has since retracted her threat. I think.

Why would I turn my back on a profession that can fill you with such simple, no holds barred nice-ness?

Well, it’s simple.

I am too tired.

I have been doing this now for eleven years. That’s 55 parents evenings, 11 open nights, 161 sets of monitoring data, 22 observations, countless referrals/phone calls home/detentions and most importantly – 2 breakdowns.

And number three was on its way when I finally threw in the towel and said last month that enough’s enough. When you leave the house in the morning dreading going in and come home too tired to hold a coherent conversation with your family, you know that your time has come to your job. (That’s right it’s a job. No, I’d never really thought about it like that either…)

It needs to be said here that it isn’t the school that’s the problem – yes, we have our challenging pupils and yes we’ve been in special measures and yes the results of my department haven’t been great and yes etc… All of those factors are definitely contributors but I know in my heart of hearts that it isn’t the school. It’s the culture.

As I’ve already said, the kids on the whole are fine, there are a few that test your patience, but mostly my days are filled with instances like the ones above. And the staff are the most supportive group of people I have ever come across. If you’re faltering (and I’ve had that on a fair few occasions recently) someone steps up to the plate to give you five minutes to get your head together. If you need five minutes to deal with a child who is struggling with stuff that doesn’t fit into your usual tick box, then someone will be there so that you can give them your time. Teachers never work in isolation, their shared experience and professional attitude is what allows them to survive on a day to day basis.

My real reason for going can almost be boiled down to my experience of one child. The pupil in question comes from an extremely difficult personal situation and has suffered from severe bouts of ill health during her primary years. She has missed cumulatively around four years of her early education and as a consequence is as close to illiteracy as you can get. The cat as they say in learning support is barely sitting on the mat. Her target level, which is as low as can be for my subject of drama is still too high for her to attain as she will need to demonstrate a basic competency with a provided script.

We have been prompting, learning by rote and generally getting round things in best way that we possibly can. I have seen her develop in twelve weeks from a physically inward and mute young girl, into a nervous but committed young girl, who always gets on stage with her group, smiles her way through the lesson and has begun answering carefully structured questions that allow her to achieve without worrying about something as pesky as being able to read.

And her report from me? A letter and a number. She is a 2c. She is red. She is underachieving.

Her work, effort and progress have been encapsulated into a figure in a column. And I’m ashamed of that. Her parents didn’t attend parents evening so I was unable to explain their daughters apparent ‘failure’ to them in person. I phoned them to explain but to be honest it felt hollow. That was when I knew I was in the wrong job and I went to see our head to tender my resignation.

I understand that you need standards, I understand that pupil progress needs to be measured and I know that in order to build a society that is founded on a strong sense of achievement you need to be rigorous in your approach. But I honestly believe that we’ve forgotten the the very essentials of what it is to be a teacher. It’s not to create hollow vessels that can hold a mountain of information ready for an examination. It’s much, much bigger than that.

We hold in our classes individual children and we should be looking at every single one of them as such. Teachers instinctively know how to do that, it’s in their DNA and I hope that maybe one day before I get too old to stand up for long periods of time that the job becomes like that again.

On 5th Jan when you all go back to complete your latest INSET or welcome back the kids for their first day back after the holidays, I won’t be among you, which will be a little weird and more than a little scary, but I know that this is the right thing for me at this particular time. I wish all of you every luck, you are amazing people who put up with so much and I promise I will continue to fight hard against those who want to bring the profession to its knees.

Teachers are cool – remember that.

All the best

Paul

Categories: education, teaching

In no particular order… 2014

December 13, 2014 Leave a comment

Lists are good, yeah? I did this last year so I’ll do it again and blow the dust off this sadly neglected blog – 10 albums that have pleased me with a track from each. Go!

Gruff Rhys – American Interior

Gruff went to America following the footsteps of the intrepid John Evans who 200 years earlier set off from Wales to search for a mythical Welsh speaking tribe of Native Americans. One album, book, film and app later…

East India Youth – Total Strife Forever

Are talented people getting younger or is it just me?

Metronomy – Love Letters

Love a bit of synth pop, me, and Metronomy are damn good at it.

Caribou – Our Love

I love Dan Snaith, I really do. Beautiful music and plaintive, almost fragile vocals. He can also make you shake your booty.

The Pale Blue Dots – Lots of Dots

Bunf from SFA gave us this EP/mini album. How can there be so much talent in one band?

Run the Jewels – Run the Jewels 2

The sophomore album from this pair of hip hop veterans who joined forces in 2013 – this is angry, political, loud, articulate and not for the faint hearted. A future classic?

Aphex Twin – Syro

He’s back.

Shit Robot – We Got a Love

Not an album of great depth, but groovy as fuck.

Busdriver – Perfect Hair

Driver’s been working hard at his craft for a long time now and it shows on this album – one of the best rappers of this century despite his records only selling in Anchorage, Alaska.

Milo – A Toothpaste suburb

A rapper I discovered as part of Nocando’s underground West Coast collective, Hellfyre Club (alongside Busdriver and Open Mike Eagle who both appear here) – Milo’s flow is laid back compared to Driver but no less lyrically dense.