12 years a teacher.

Sorry I have been a bit quiet lately. I haven’t posted for a long time. I haven’t lost my love for education or pastoral care but I have had some developments which I will share with you all over the next few months but let me start, not at the beginning but in the middle to latter part of last year.

I started a new job in August 2014, joining the Senior Leadership Team of a prestigious school in Bangkok. It has kept me inordinately busy- much busier than my previous post in a smaller, less established school but it has been fun and I genuinely love going in everyday.

My writing has been gaining more support and I have been invited to be a speaker at the International Parents Conference in September and asked to contribute to more and more magazines published here in Bangkok – writing for Expat Parents in Bangkok and Teacher Horizons   to name two. I have sadly neglected my personal/professional teaching blog here at Milk With Two. It’s because my life and career is facing a new and exciting direction, I still keep up with the education news from the UK- it makes for depressing reading almost daily but I don’t chase Miss Mcinerney’s blog or religiously follow the Head’s Round Table anymore. It’s not wholly relevant to me being abroad, I don’t have any plans to go back and teach in the UK.

As teachers we have all held long  conversations about leaving teaching, usually fantasy-filled with idyllic plans to retire somewhere far, far away but more and more of my colleagues are leaving the profession and not for pastures abroad or academies different but for new careers entirely. I know I have spent many a day dream wondering what I could do outside teaching. I have always wondered what life would be like if I no longer taught. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not ready to leave the profession just yet but am wondering more seriously, what next?

I am in a school which values, supports and cares for its staff where the voice of the teacher is listened to- a rarity. The intake is for children from age 3 – 18 which  is providing new learning and challenges for me each day. I work alongside inspiring colleagues and pupils in a diverse, international school which truly values education. I adore my Year 10 class who provide me with a deeply satisfying teaching experience, they take challenges to a new level and go to the depths of homework and beyond. They have taught new ways to (www.pollev.com) to reach them and I have left some lessons in awe. After one poetry lesson, they bought me an imported Lionel Ritchie CD as a joke of course- but they will never know how much I loved driving home that afternoon, 80s power-ballads all the way, smiling at their humour. Teaching is still a real love in my life.

But I find myself looking to the future and whether I climb the ladder further towards Headship or not, I realised this passing year that the one thing I have been teaching my students each and every day since 2004, is the one thing I have neglected to do myself.

Follow your passion, dream big, aim high.

So I did. I collaborated on a children’s book called Peculia Fright’s Awful Night alongside my friend and former Art teacher Rachel Harker- we created a children’s rhyming picture book. We both have very creative little boys of the same age and we spent a lot of  our maternity leave together in Starbucks, ‘dreaming big and talking of leaving teaching’. Through the pleasure of our sons, we have pursued our passions. Rachel opened Rachel’s Art Shop an online personalised art store for gifts and I write.

Teaching is still fundamentally what shaped and shapes us- a desire to impart knowledge or creativity, to inspire, to keep learning.

So through the eyes of my son, I have been learning about Early Years and Foundation Stage development- the acquisition of language and retention of words through rhyme,  a linguistic fascination of his learning spurred on by countless hours reading Julia Donaldson’s The Gruffalo. I created Peculia Fright to take the everyday and turn it extraordinary because my son loves a rhyming story. The story aims to capture the slightly scary side of imaginative young children- a book they can read themselves or have read to them as a bedtime story. Rachel illustrated it creating captivating images perfectly.Featured image

When we left our school in SE London, where we first met, I headed to Thailand and Rachel went home to Liverpool. She left teaching altogether and I carried on in a sunnier, Ofsted-free climate of 36 degrees.  As we were no longer forced into multiple entry data drives, losing the will to live on 44/50 timetables, cursed with paperwork and long hours of marking, something magical happened…

Our Starbucks dream.

Peculia Fright was written and illustrated. At first we looked into an i-pad app and got as far as having it developed but it fell through. Determined not to give up we went on exploring other opportunities, possibilities – isn’t this what we teach children? Resilience and to work through disappointments and failures?

I researched self-publishing and decided the costs were too high with little return. And then as coincidences happen, I came across Mrs Vyle  via Facebook and it inspired me to submit our manuscript to Britain’s Next Best Seller a crowd-funded startup which launched in March 2014.

Dreaming big, aiming high

A huge amount of support came in the first week shifting over 200 copies in pre-order sales. We have to get to 500 before we secure that publishing dream but we are nearly there!

It’s still going great- we have two months to go. We have offered schools freebies to go with our book- schemes of work and ideas sheets in drama and literacy and art. Interest has come from America, Australia, Thailand, Turkey, Malta, Dubai, Ireland, Singapore… the dream becomes overwhelming with reality that we might just make it as an author and illustrator- the foundations to both of our degrees.

I have often said that leaving [UK] teaching was the best decision ever made, Rachel says the same, it has restored the creativity, passion, vitality and  self-discovery left on the doorstep of the overly-enthusiastic (and knackering) NQT year; when teaching was all about limitless passion enthused lesson planning, overcoming lobbed chairs and tables to secure the taking of a register or the hallowed ground of a written-down lesson objective.

To survive, you become hardened and have a grumpy- teaching face which lasts beyond the 3:30pm well into drinking time with colleagues. I knew my time was nearly up when I sat in the car park on a grey Friday watching the younger NQTS swing their school bags to the local whilst I texted hubby to see if it was me or him picking up the baby and he needed to decide between a ready-made lasagna or pizza from Asda.

Teaching in the UK took away things that I didn’t realise were gone until they suddenly reappeared. Family time, relationships, creativity and ambitions beyond the classroom. I have found them again and am hopeful that I can keep on using them to keep my teaching and learning imaginative and exciting.

Peculia Fright’s Awful Night is available to pre-order from http://www.britiansnextbestseller.co.uk  for 4.49GBP.

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2014 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.

Here's an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 3,600 times in 2014. If it were a cable car, it would take about 60 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

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A new start

milkwithtwo:

I was asked by Teacher Horizons to write about how international teaching has affected my family and career following on from our move in 2012.

Originally posted on We've moved!:

I am a first time mum (Fabien is three now) and some of the decisions that other parents have to make, such as where to send your child to school, have been made for me.

Being able to send your child to the Early Years provision at your international school is just one of the perks of the job – seeing them grow and make new friendships. It’s been an absolute pleasure to be able to drop my son off at his nursery and know that I am steps away if needed.

 Julia Knight-Williams is an international teacher living and working in Bangkok.  

It’s these little anxieties that being an international teacher has removed. Talking to friends at home, I have not had the worry of where to send my son nor have I worried about expensive child care. I found a local Thai lady to collect him from…

View original 488 more words

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Safer schools- knife crime and how to detect it without knife arches.

The tragic death of Mrs. Maguire highlighted the unpredictable nature of being a Head of Year. She was pastoral leader of 10 years, there was probably nothing she had seen or witnessed in her career which spanned 40 years. Her death brought home a few truths about the dangerous aspect of our jobs and my deepest sorrows go out to her family, friends, colleagues and pupils. The tributes left are testimony to her dedication and hard work.

I have read lots of articles this past week or so and an excellent blog by Peter Monfort about searching pupils safely but in my experience, the student who carries a knife can conceal a knife in a number of different ways.

Calls for more detectors and knife arches are not the solution but a proper understanding of your cohort is essential to deter knife crime from appearing in your school. Carrying an offensive weapon and being caught with it, results in Permanent Exclusion and, without exception, reporting to the police.

Fights between the local secondary schools were becoming less frequent. By 2010 the local council had taken steps to stagger the finish times of all the secondary schools in the borough and they liaised with London Transport to ensure more buses were scheduled for key times but the biggest difference was successfully implementing the Safer Schools Teams- basing police officers in schools.

This caused alarm at first; the reaction was similar to knife arches but as they became more and more established, teachers including myself saw an enormous benefit to the school and the wider community. They crucially reduced the number of in-school incidents.

Our in school PC was everything the Metropolitan Police could be proud of; she was firm but fair, tolerated no nonsense and spoke candidly to pupils. Pupils grew to respect her and trust her because she used her experience to bridge the gap between the street, the school and the law. She was part of pastoral planning meetings (sometimes formally, sometimes not) which provided her with up to date information about students who were flagged cause for concern and whose faces might be known to the police.

She did her job well; skilfully providing ‘back-up’ to pastoral leaders on every issue from bullying to theft. She was on-hand to provide pragmatic and sometimes legal advice from a police perspective as well be the required legal guardian so the School could interview pupils which significantly reduced the ‘fear’ factor in CP referral cases. And when it came to searching weapons, she obviously had the law on her side. When the austerity measures started to affect the MET police, she was one of the first to feel the effects and was redeployed to the local custody suit.

The impact of which was immediately felt.

~~~~~~~

Advice and techniques for detecting weapons band other illicit items:

1) Check the girlfriend (or boyfriend) and their friendship circle.

It’s not unusual for the knife carrier to pass his or her weapon on to someone to hold, especially if they know they are about to be searched. The partner is usually the first person I would search. The in-school police officer would speak to them, ensuring they understood the full consequences of carrying a weapon, aiding and abetting etc and what their future would look like if they didn’t help now.

2) Best friends will never give their mates up

It is best to isolate the best friend of the offender but not speak to him or her. Make sure you remove their mobile and search their belongings to ensure there is no second mobile in use.  There is no harm in allowing the student to sit quietly without knowing what is going on.

3) Search the toilet cisterns, ceiling tiles and any out of bounds areas

The toilets are an obvious area for disposal of any suspicious items. But as weapons including guns and knives are for readily available for hire (from £10-£50 upwards) the pupil can not risk throwing them away. It’s more likely they will be placed somewhere high up like the cisterns or in the ceiling tiles.

4) Separate groups, take phones away and don’t let them turn them off.

Time is of the essence and SLT need to collect and round up as many of the friendship groups as possible. As soon as they have been removed from classes, confiscate their phones. Do not allow them to turn them off. The news that pupils are being collected will spread quicker than SLT can walk so it’s vital to make sure the phones are in your possession. Check their phones to see who is messaging them and round those up too.

5) Younger groups often will be far more frightened of teacher intervention than older year groups.

If information is short coming, collaborate with other Heads of Year to speak to younger pupils who may know the suspected pupil in or outside school. The younger pupils tend to be a little more frightened of consequences, especially police intervention than older, more cynical and street wise young people.

 

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British International Schools- a cultural imperialism?

I was teaching a year 8 class yesterday about Victorian England in preparation for Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol; the Horrible Histories excerpt which depicted an advert for a Victorian Maid in the style of a well known (in the UK at least) cleaning product was lost on my 15 Thai pupils, as was Victorian Wife Swap and Made in Victorian Hertfordshire.

It happened again in my Year 7 lesson, we are writing children’s books for KS1 and I asked them to tell me their favourite childhood book- they said the generic fairy tales interspersed with cartoons such as Tom and Jerry, failing to mention any of the classic children’s books. So I suggested literary vintages such as Meg and Mog, Funny Bones et al- they looked at me like I had just fallen out of a coconut tree.

I went home to look at the reading matter of my 2-year old. His aunt Melissa had sent him some books recently. Toddle Waddle by Julia Donaldson is the new favourite – it is a ‘follow the leader’ style book using onomatopoeic and rhyming words (hence the name) The pictures are all based around a seaside resort and pier. The characters all reflect the diverse ethnic backgrounds of modern Britain but this doesn’t transcend to a Thai pupil’s understanding or knowledge of a quirky seaside town in Britain complete with foibles and an innate character.

Last week’s favourite was Barry the Fish with Fingers by Sue Hendra. It’s a picture book about a fish with fingers which resemble the British dish of fish-fingers. I find this book hilarious, as does my son but Thai children don’t eat fish-fingers for tea, do they? The cultural significance is lost and there is no cultural equivalent or way of explaining it – Barry the Fish with Fishballs… doesn’t quite work somehow.

I often wonder about the morality of a British education for Thailand’s international school pupils which are mainly Thai or Thai mixed. Where is their cultural relevance? Their literary legacies? The moments where they connect a memory to a place or taste and belly-laugh with contentment that only resonance can bring.

Are we international educators the new imperialists? The new missionaries taking Britain and its culture around the world? Demanding, imposing, subjecting, inflicting the likes of Dickens, Austen and Hardy? Do we offer a superiority in language and literature that no other (or Eastern?) tradition can offer? Or are we teaching to an antiquated examination board’s view of literary supremacy?

It’s Book Week next week and the English department are attempting to make it intercultural- the new moniker for multiculturalism. We have given each year group a country, genre and an era. For example Japan, Manga Comics, 20th century. They will have to research and create a classroom display for other students to visit, a bit like a mini-museum curation.

We are a diverse school, some of our students hail from Japan, Korea, China and Indonesia as well as mixed heritages from Europe and America. So Book Week this year will reflect this and send a message of value, worth and respect to all our global learners that there is an alternative to ‘the only way is Britain’

First blogged on http://www.ajarn.com October 2013

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Coming out in School- a young person’s story

Being gay and deciding when and who to ‘come out to’ can be a very traumatic experience leading some young people to self harm and depression. As Head of Year, it can be extremely difficult to tackle especially when the young person maybe displaying other signs of turmoil such as a drop in grades, poor attention span in classes, a sudden lack of interest in things which used to be a hobby, reluctance to go to PE or avoiding social situations altogether.

So how do you deal with students identifying themselves as gay or lesbian?

The 16 – 24 year old age group are far more likely to identify themselves as gay and this number declines as the age rises. This potentially means that more young people are comfortable with their sexuality as society becomes more tolerant which is fantastic news. However, research conducted in Northamptonshire , suggests there has been a rise in homophobic bullying, with  82% of teachers ‘aware of homophobic language’. The Year 9 and 10s surveyed suggested that 64% of pupils had seen others being bullied.

There were several gay young people in my year group. Each told a different story of when and how they came out. There were some surprises and others, well, not so surprising. Interestingly, the girls who came out seemed to be in need of less support than some of the boys. However, the degree to which each were accepted varied (and that depended on individual self confidence and esteem) but in a predominately white, working class school, the number of reported bullying cases I dealt with amounted to one or two.

The bullying revolved around language such as gay or queer.  The language around sexuality I found extraordinarily hard to deal with. Calling someone ‘a gay’ became a daily occurrence. The implied meaning was that person was soft or weak. Being called a ‘pussy’ referenced the female gender and perception, again, of weakness tended to be used more towards boys more than girls. The subculture of youth language meant a lot of it was ‘gang related’ and had crept into the vernacular. As an English teacher, the etymology behind such language is fascinating and makes for an interesting lesson or assembly but how can you stop young people from using derogatory remarks?

Generally, I found black pupils were less accepting of gay peers and again, I wonder if demographics plays a part in a young person’s decision to come out? Anecdotally, I never came into contact with a gay or lesbian pupil who was of Afro-Caribbean heritage. The reasons why may revolve around cultural and religious beliefs which conform to very conservative and traditionally held views probably making it harder for young people from those communities to ‘come out.’

In a lesson which consisted of both white and black pupils (who were mainly from committed church attending families), there was an interesting discussion around being gay and comparing it to the civil rights movement. If we interchanged black for gay and vice versa, would we still accept the prejudice? Some held very strong creationist views and others accepted that times change and move on. I had the same discussion with a teacher who is of African-Nigerian decent and he thought it incredulous that the issue could be confused.  For him being gay wasn’t the same as being black but my point, very much simplified here, was the comparable societal treatment and language towards being black, in say 1970s Britain, held as much potency to cause distress as the treatment and language directed at the gay community.

We shouldn’t underestimate the power of these words (or any words) to demean and induce fear but we live in a paradigm of heterosexuality and subliminal messages are sent to young people from an early age about what’s pink and blue. I am not breaking new ground here but when I reflect on the every day portrayal of gay men and women- from sporting icons to Hollywood starlets- the number of gay men and women represented are few and far between. Even innocuous films like Despicable Me 2 (where Margo falls in love with Antonio and Gru’s happy ending is a marriage to Lucy Wilde) it occurred to me there are lots of missed opportunities to explore different types of love and relationships.

It is even more disheartening to watch programmes like Dr Christian Jessen’s C4 Cure me, I’m Gay, to see messages like ‘childhood trauma causes homosexuality’ and that there are numerous people and religions which are anti- gay being presented almost as valid arguments. At one point, Dr Christian’s father expresses a level of disappointment in his son’s sexuality, which was clearly distressing for the Doctor. I know the intention wasn’t to confirm the fears of young gay men and women, but it did. It corroborated the trepidation and apprehension felt; the fear of being cast out and unaccepted even by loved ones.

It would be more helpful for young people to see positive, diverse and realistic representations of relationships. There is much to be celebrated such as fifteen countries enshrining same-sex marriage in law, amid criticism and despite fierce opposition. Children from all backgrounds regardless of sexual orientation, need to see loving and caring relationships in order to understand and model them. Children must view same-sex relationships with the same equality afforded to opposite-sex relationships and not to regard it as abnormal especially when the number of same-sex families are on the increase.

Figure 1: Families by family type, 2013

When I first started teaching, the Tory led borough still upheld the Section 28 clause. I remember M coming to tell me she was a lesbian and despite the complete trauma she was clearly suffering, I was told by the SLT that I could be disciplined for speaking about it. Thankfully 6 years later, I was inviting the Stonewall Foundation in to talk to another pupil who was also struggling with his sexual identity.

The way he told me was through an initiative whereby I had invited pupils to write to me about anything that concerned or worried them about school. They were to be totally anonymous, although it didn’t stop some pupils putting their names on them! The issues raised ranged from problems in lessons and with teachers to school dinners to makeup. I read through all 300 plus letters, some were deeply personal and some laugh out loud funny.  X’s letter was do with homophobic name calling and wanting the word gay banned and for pupils to be more tolerant of each other because there might be gay people standing next to them.  I knew who the letter was from. I recognised the spidery handwriting instantly.

In a quiet moment, I took X aside and spoke to him. I explained that he wanted me to know, as he must have realised I would know his handwriting. We discussed through tears what being out would mean, the homophobic language wasn’t confined to school but also used at home by his dad. He revealed that he had been cutting himself and once he revealed this, I had a statutory duty to report it. We brought his mum in, she had found blood in his bedroom and didn’t know what to do. She was supportive of his decision.  He spoke at length to our school counsellor who was amazing. Stonewall also came into school to do specialist counselling with X. And through this support, the self harm came to an end and he was able to enjoy his passion for sport again. He was able to reconcile the stereotypes of being gay and sporty with the help of Stonewall and talk through all the possible and impossible endings.

In my conversations with Stonewall, it became apparent that we were one of a very few schools that actively sort their help. Through the support of an amazing Assistant Headteacher, we became school champions and promoted positive attitudes towards sexuality. It encouraged debate and questions from the entire school community which in itself raises awareness and sends the right message to young people that is more than ok to be who and what you are.

Links:

http://www.stonewall.org.uk/about_us/

 

 

 

 

 

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International Schools- what to expect, look out for in your first international school.

International Schools recruit via Skype and then overseas in cities across the UK. How do you know the exciting job offer and contract that follows is all that the enthusiastic Headteacher says it is?

Everyone always says ‘research’ is the number one thing for teachers hopping off to a far away teaching nirvana and they would be right, but it isn’t until you are deep inside the doors of an international school that you suddenly have a plethora of questions you probably should have asked.

Visas:

Who is responsible for you and your family’s visas? If the answer is the school will take care of visas, confirm for who. Some schools only pay for the teachers – and they expect you to go to immigration and sift through the bureaucracy and pay for the privilege with no help from school admin. Some schools will pay for a spouse but not a dependent and vice versa. If you have to pay for your own visas, you might want to question why you are paying to work for the school. Shouldn’t it be the other way round?

Health:

Similar to visas, a good healthcare package should include the family and be a well rounded package covering accident and emergency as well as check-ups. Always ask the school to add your spouse or dependent if they aren’t covered. Medical expenses are exorbitant and it goes without saying they should be the least of your worries when a loved one is poorly.

Website:

Make sure the website is full of useful information and not just pretty pictures and promises of up-coming events or plans. The website should have regular updates from the HT about recent events. Look for the messages for unusual events such as a forced closure – the wording can be a good indicator of sentiment towards staff. The website should have live links to different aspects of the school but remember it is another ‘sales’ technique to attract students and staff.

School Places:

What does ‘free’ actually mean? There are hidden costs in some school’s ‘free’ offer. Some schools charge a fee for school dinners or ‘material costs’ which if, you have older children sitting their IGCSEs, you will have to pay for exam entry plus the cost of text books (which presumably are re-used). You may also have a child who requires AEN, so worth checking these provisions as an indicator of your future school.

Online Forums:

Can often be a difficult and inaccurate place to glean information from. Some forums are designed so that teachers can say what they feel about individual schools but caution is always advised as the background and circumstances may not be included in the ‘truthful’ account of a school. Others refuse to allow naming for legal reasons but with some tweaking to wording and through private messages, you might find them useful.

Curriculum:

Find out what your school actually offer. Ask to see a timetable- does it offer a full range of subjects at all levels? Are tried and tested methods such as guided reading part of the daily schedule in Primary? Does Secondary offer Art and Music? If the school are reluctant to release a timetable or a bit vague, have a look at the website- are some subjects given fancy names? Is the IGCSE for English- English as a Second Language or First Language for native speakers? Do they offer English Literature? A ‘British style school’ is not the same an international school offering a full British curriculum.

Staffing:

A good international school should include a balanced contingent of staff both female and male and in leadership roles. They should be from a variety of international backgrounds, with perhaps more from the country of curriculum origin. There is no way to gauge salaries but again researching forums and websites comparing costs of living are very helpful.

Accreditation and Add-ons:

Look for the accreditation and dates obtained but do not rely on an accreditation to be a testament to a school’s morale level. High turnover and frequent advertising of jobs is usually an indicator that all may not be well underneath the veneer. You should always ask what duties, if any are required aside from your teaching commitments. Some schools pay overtime for ECA (extra curricular activities) and some expect you to do more than one per week including staffing for Breakfast and Homework Clubs.

Support and Good Practice:

Mentoring and support for new overseas arrivals is a must, if the lady from reprographics turns up to greet you at the airport and doesn’t speak English, you may well be in trouble. Staff Inductions and Inset days will throw light on areas of CPD (Continued Professional Development) and demonstrate the seriousness of the school- always ask about this in your interview, if anything it shows your commitment to improving practice.

If you are able to visit beforehand, ask to look at places such as libraries and classrooms- check the equipment in rooms, is it in need of a refurb? Or are resources up to date and in good condition?

International schools are money-making businesses with profits to be made and shareholders to please, however there are some excellent schools with good governance and reputations. My advice is research and ask lots of questions- if the answers are sketchy or you are put off, you might have to rethink your plans. Utilise all social networking and internet search engines and good luck in your search.

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Saturday detentions and litter picking…

The Guardian’s Secret Teacher spoke candidly of how behaviour management affected his/her classroom and about how Gove is misguided if he thinks that children who ‘climb out of windows’ will turn up to Saturday detentions.

The problem of behaviour is much wider than the classroom door and is two fold. Firstly statutory school isn’t for every child and secondly, the current system of inclusion isn’t working.

If we accept that children respond to different learning styles in a classroom  (visual, auditory, kinesthetic)  then surely this could be applied to whole school learning too?

We offer a range of different pedagogical approaches in Early Years (Montessori, Steiner, Reggio Emilia etc;) and parents can choose (albeit with their bank balances) which provision suits their child best. But no such choice exists from KS1 onwards.

Imagine if we looked at school from a child’s perspective. What would school actually look like? The youngest TED talks speaker, Logan LaPlante has a view on school hacking in which he selects and chooses what to learn and more crucially how to learn.

I accept that this view of school is radical and perhaps an ideology only open to those who can finance it. The lifestyle Logan is afforded comes from homes where money is no object. Sadly poverty will always be the single, biggest barrier to education achievement.

Gove wants a radical overhaul of the UK education system. Well here’s a utopian dream for the future of education…

  • Every parent has the right to choose their preferred school based on a method of teaching which suits their child’s learning style.
  • A child would be assessed accordingly and parents given the option of schools best suited  to their child.
  • Every child would learn in an environment which was built on his or her strengths.
  • Each [wishful] place is [magically] granted.

My radical overhaul of the UK education system would require it to become child centred and not Government centered. The Reggio Emilia approach is probably my most favoured in terms of ideology and its back ground. It was developed in post war Italy to heal a scarred generation of children and promotes ‘respect, responsibility, and community through exploration and discovery in a supportive and enriching environment based on the interests of the children through a self-guided curriculum’.  It suits the inquisitive nature of Early Years and Primary aged children, it teaches them resilience and ownership of their learning. It also promotes learning at the child’s pace not at the teachers.

In a state system where testing and assessment is the preferred measure of education, how about children are ‘tested’ for the pedagogical approach which is best for them? We apply for secondary schools based on results. Wouldn’t it be fantastic if schools were selected for children’s different learning styles and not the other way round?

But I am a realist. And I have taught in the real world of teaching. I know the challenges faced in the classroom because unlike Gove, I have been there. Behaviour management is an area where there is no magic bullet. No singular approach will work every time and what works once may never work again.

If you have read my last post on  Tough Young Teachers you will know I am all for the child’s behaviour to be challenged by looking at the root cause. There is always a back story to a child. Some may consider this a soft option but actually a school that addresses its poor behaviour is paving the way for a safe and secure learning environment for all its learners.

A child’s behaviour is influenced by a myriad of social, economic, physical and emotional factors;  but what can a classroom teacher really do beyond school policy and SLT intervention? A child who is willing to climb out of windows or throw chairs, isn’t going to set his alarm for 7am Saturday morning.

The answer lies in specialist behaviour teams or units which operate outside the school system. In my role as Head of Year, I worked alongside a team of professionals who  would meet to discuss which service would be best suited to a child’s needs.  Pupils were selected based on a traffic light system of pupils in need and we took into account issues raised by staff, the number of classroom withdrawals and call outs. 

Statutory school doesn’t suit every child and, while I understand the premise behind inclusion and one school for all, it doesn’t work. There are some students who just can not cope, for whatever reason, with school.

Young people require all their facets to be nurtured and for some a large comprehensive just isn’t the answer. Behaviour teams should be used to target the toughest pupils in a school and used to support staff. I have witnessed best practice and outcomes by professionals who really do make a difference.

Strategies from Support Staff are vital to teachers like the Secret Teacher. Help from TAs to support ESBD pupils is essential. It’s shameful that Gove doesn’t regard their invaluable contribution to education. Nor does he recognise that Saturday detentions and litter picking wouldn’t be necessary if funding for support staff wasn’t cut and/or under threat.

Pupils that are withdrawn for one to one support with the SENCO or TAs do benefit but if that support isn’t working then provisions such as the PRU are a next step. 

But permanent exclusion followed by attending a PRU shouldn’t be the only ‘alternative’ educational route for disaffected young people. It also should not be seen or used, as a punitive step. There needs to be more ideas outside of the school box to accommodate those for whom, school isn’t the answer. 

If I can’t have my utopian school system, then I will settle for a school system which respects the individuality of young people by providing support to teachers and pupils when they need it most.

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Tough Young Teachers: “I would have cared, if he did.”

I have been watching the Tough Young Teachers with mixed feelings. This week in particular I felt compelled to write about it. The episode focused around two pupils and their relationship with their teachers, Charles and Claudenia. Both starkly different in their approach and both failing miserably to engage ‘challenging students’. I do realise there is careful and clever editing involved and we, the viewers are not privy to the whole story.

Charles, the RE teacher whose contempt for his students is obvious, he barely hides it under the guise of aloofness. I can’t help wonder where the support for Caleb is/was. A student like Caleb is a hard nut to crack, he is suffering from low self-esteem which he angrily exposes in his words and actions. He gets ranted at from the moment he steps into the classroom (he is cocky but it is all an act) and I do think Charles missed a trick when Caleb first acted up. He could have harnessed the confident Caleb by a simple and manly chat, not the belittling and demeaning talks and detentions. I would have played to Caleb’s ego, told him that he was a strong character and the class needed his views. Caleb is street wise so Charles would have need to back up his words with actions like calling Caleb’s mum for something positive. There is always something positive that can be relayed home, that would have curried favour for Charles.

Caleb’s confidence is soon shown to be nothing more that a cover up for low self esteem. After his chat with the SLT member, Caleb is clearly upset and angry. He doesn’t ‘give a f**k about teachers, family, friends’. Without knowing too much about Caleb apart from what is shown. He is from a single-parent family ( and mum does well in her parenting) but that doesn’t in itself produce angry young teens who are excluded from school. He clearly mistrusts adults, especially those in authority. We only know he is from the PRU but not why he was placed there. My guess is Caleb’s experience also clouds his and Charles’ view. There is suspicion on both sides and quite frankly Charles does nothing to appease, change or challenge Caleb’s views. In fact, I would be so bold to say that Charles actually exacerbates the situation. He made an audible comment about some students caring more about their exams than others, which students who are as life-savvy as Caleb will pick up on. This further alienates Caleb.

Here’s my issue with Teach First, just because you are a bright graduate with a first, it doesn’t not automatically convert or equate to being a good teacher. Empathy, sympathy and kindness are key to unlocking students like Caleb. They relish in words of support and praise. Good teaching isn’t just about subject knowledge, there is no magic formula, what works one day might not work the next. But a lot of it is rapport and people skills which can’t be taught. It is a skill to command a classroom, and everyone who teaches for the first time will testify it is a scary experience especially when there are strong characters in there.

I do wonder where the pastoral support was for Caleb and Charles. Caleb quite obviously needs help with anger management. I don’t doubt the subsequent fight and permanent exclusion could have been prevented, Caleb comes with a long history that teachers like Charles can’t just step into. There were several poignant moments in Charles and Caleb’s relationship that could have made a difference. The point where Caleb says he is dumb and questions why he was even given one mark out of the four available. I never once heard Charles using positive language towards Caleb. A child can be perceived as overly confident and combative but really deep down he is feeling miserable about himself and his low self esteem is rock bottom. The behaviour then resorts to anger and the fight is the end cause of Caleb’s frustration with authority. Charles could have been humble but his defence of his own actions are indefensible. “I would have cared, if he [Caleb] had”.

No sorry, you get paid to care. Teaching in a school like Caleb’s is never just about the learning objective and exams. It is about guiding young people to become adjusted citizens too. Every one of those children will have a backstory and barriers to learning that [un] fortunately Charles has never had and yes, I am judging that purely by the family silver.

In Caleb’s case, his school failed him. But it won’t be just Caleb who doesn’t complete the course, I very much predict Charles will end up as one of the statistical casualties of the ‘Teach First graduates who are 5 times more likely to leave the profession’.

The other side of the flip coin is Claudenia. She went down the road of being ‘bredrins’ with the girls from 10D3. And the girls make some valid points about how she spoke to them. Slang and colloquialism can be used with great effect but only once the relationship has been established. It certainly should not be used in chastisement. We didn’t see the part that led to Claudenia to thinking that the girls were treating her as they knew her ‘from road’ but the girl felt humiliated and uncomfortable by it. Girls are much trickier to get onboard than boys but who tried to engage their point of view except the camera person?

When the ‘girls’ favourite teacher’ and Claudenia met, there was no mention of the real and under lying issues. Neither teacher tried to get underneath the problem. The girls are clearly articulate, they seemed able to offer plausible, if not mature, reasons why they exhibited the behaviours even if they couldn’t link it. The lesson observation highlighted the weakness in teaching and learning and things will quickly unravel if a child doesn’t understand or see the relevance to their learning but this is a small part of building relationships with pupils. It is a smile, positive praise and an apology that would build bridges here. Claudenia would only have to listen to the girls, make an agreement and stick to it for her situation to be instantly better.

Claudenia’s tiredness also plays a crucial part, she is so tired she falls asleep in her room and in front of her class. She is at breaking point and actually needs someone other than her friend to tell her to go home and rest. Teaching is not a job that you can do on empty, it drains and tires you. I do feel sorry for her and her tiredness must be affecting her ability to stay neutral and calm. Where are the Teach First mentors? Where is her in school guidance?

I had an amazing mentor in my NQT year, she really cared about me and the pupils. We had a resonant relationship where I felt able to expose my weaknesses and concerns. She always pointed out the merits but this was over a year and after a 18 months of training. Again, I don’t know what happens beyond and away from the edited film but the Teach First graduates need a robust mentoring system (and not just when they are in trouble like Meryl) The Tough Young Teachers rely heavily upon their network of teacher graduates which is fine for off loading the day and providing drinking buddies but for real development, they require formal mentoring. Mentoring which unpicks the nitty gritty of the day, the week or term. It’s those difficult conversations that lead to effective practice.

I have to agree with Caleb that ‘respect is earned’ and both Charles and Claudenia need to take heed if they want to be successful teachers. Because in both cases, pupil knows best.

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Meditation, mindfulness and positivity: Dr.Brad’s guide to behaviour management.

Dr Brad Mc Gregor or Dr Brad Kavie as he is known to me, has left some very interesting comments on my blog mostly critiquing my defence of ‘white working class boys’ and my post about GCSEs for ‘factory fodder’. I ignored and deleted some of his more offensive comments but I left his questioning whether of not we should educate the masses for free. However much he dislikes my views, he continues to read my blog. His latest comment on my Reflective Journal hit home. He said I was ‘rubbish at my job and no wonder I was fired’.

These comments really hurt, not that I know Dr. Brad and not that he knows me. The last statement is most definitely false and I hope that 10a1’s 100% A*~C proves that I am not a rubbish teacher. His words hurt. But why?

So I pondered upon them, mulled over and justified myself to myself. It got me thinking about how many times I had said something in a classroom that I considered a ‘throw away’ remark that stayed with a pupil beyond that lesson, that day, that term. Even something as small and untrue as the comments above left me feeling quite miserable. Dr.Brad had evoked what is called the ‘negative emotional attractor’ or the NEA. It was not because his words are true or even a remote resemblance to the truth. It is because the words forced me to think about negative teaching situations I had found myself in. He had dragged me into negativity and I let him.

In June last year, I completed a course called Inspiring Leadership through Emotional Intelligence offered by Case Western University a freebie from Coursera. It was about how leaders use words and actions to produce negative and positive reactions and outcomes from employees. The course determined the difference between positive and negative leadership styles and which ones had the most impact upon a company’s results. Obviously, a leader who is emotionally intelligent and resonant with their staff will be more effective than one who promotes negativity (even unintentionally) and fosters low morale. It provided insight into mentoring and mindfulness.

As a behaviour management tool, positive feedback results in happier pupils. Everyone likes to be told their work is excellent, they have made you smile, even adults want to be told they are good at their jobs. A leader who inspires you through actions and positivity can reap the benefits from shared goals. As the old adage goes “people leave managers, not companies”. This is so true, when I think of the reasons I left my previous job; it wasn’t because of my trusted colleagues or the pupils.

The same is true for the classroom. If you instil a sense if achievement, stick to positive outcomes and continually tell your class they are amazing, they will want to work hard. I liked to have fun with 10a1, they brightened up my Monday mornings. They bought into every ‘silly’ idea that I came up with, singing, dancing, laughing, standing on chairs cheering and when it was time to buckle down they did. There wasn’t a pupil in that class that could ruin the atmosphere- I had total control over that as do all teachers. We make choices which can shift pupils from the NEA to the PEA- positive emotional attractors with our words, actions and reactions.

So I am mindful of my words and my actions. I remember getting some feedback from one of my very first GCSE classes (2005) and Joe…. Joe was a difficult character but he had a truth about him that was scarily accurate. After a difficult lesson, I asked the pupils to tell me how I could improve my lessons; what it was that I could do to improve their lessons. Joe wrote simply: don’t be so moody.

That hit home. And he was right, what was I doing bringing into the class my electric bill worries, my annoyance with the lack of tea bags in the staff room and all the other worries that come with teaching. I decided to be more mindful of my actions and be positive. In other jobs, you can sit quietly at your desk or pop out for walk or a coffee, maybe even ask for some impromptu leave but not in teaching. There’s barely time to go the loo let alone take time out for yourself. Don’t get me wrong, it is really tough to be happy every day, every lesson. The timetable, particular classes and the pressures from SLT are difficult to cope with and let me tell you I am still perfecting this positive outlook.

But meditation and reflection are really useful tools in teaching. I have a little notebook filled with scenarios that I can look back on. It is great for aspiring leaders too, you can reflect on best practice and write down your own ideas of how to handle those tricky situations. Ask your students to evaluate you and your style of teaching. Each year group and class will tell you something different that you can learn from. Even the bits that stick in your gut, the ones that make you think… They are the best ones to learn from.

Success comes in many forms and one of my favourite sayings is ‘that it isn’t a problem until we can’t find the solution’. Resilience is key to both teacher and student because it does get tough. It is probably the one thing that helped 10a1 to succeed as they did. I did cry once in their class when I told them I was leaving that year but that was a positive too.

I am not perfect, I have made mistakes and the great thing about making mistakes is that we learn from them and move on. Thanks Dr. Brad.

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