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Tuesday, 7 October 2014

Life happens. Deal with it.

Once again it's been a little while since I've written a post. As usual the last few months have been ridiculous - but what can I say asides from c'est la vie. Apparently moving house, changing jobs, setting up a business and relationship break ups are in the top ten most stressful things that a person can go through. So in my wisdom I decided to embrace all of that in one go. A few years ago, I went through similar and went slightly mad. In fact, I ended up in hospital in the style of an elderly person, totally unable to cope with the stress and was reduced to a wheezing, drivelling mess. I can assure you, being in such a bad place that someone else has to wipe your bottom for you is not a good situation for anyone to be in. I highly recommend not allowing yourself to get in such a state. This time however things are different. I have approached things very differently with a whole different mindset. People have suggested that I have grown up, however I find this highly unlikely. 

To cut a long story short - life was not going quite the way I planned. I am sure there are many people out there that had/have a life plan as they are growing up. If I were to follow the plan my friend's and I made in our teenage years, by now I should be married with a baby on the way living in a lovely little house with a puppy. 

Needless to say, that hasn't happened.
There is a huge amount of pressure in our society to follow a certain path and complete a check list. House, marriage, babies etc. This in turn creates a surge of panic in many people (mostly women) if you get to 30+ and you haven't achieved these things. I certainly went through a moment of thinking, 'I'm nearly 30. Unemployed. Single and essentially homeless.'  Things were to say the least rather bleak and I could've easily ended up in the elderly bum wiping hell again, however I stopped and thought about things differently.
I can't express enough the importance of giving yourself time to stop and think. During a Relax Kids session we teach the children to know how to stop, take a moment outside of their heads and come to terms with what's going on around them. We're all amazing at giving advice but don't often listen to it ourselves so with this in mind I decided to practice what I preach. The aim is to become an observer of your own thoughts without judging them. It's a bit like sitting in a cinema and watching your life on a screen - whilst sitting back and getting an objective point of view about what's happening. Then you get to weigh up what's going on and hopefully make some better, more rational decisions about stuff. So often we run around like crazy people without paying any attention to how things are making us feel. Instead of dealing with an issue, sometimes I can be found in flat denial and usually on Facebook. By actually giving yourself dedicated time just to be on your own each day (no phone, no books, nada) can make a huge difference to your perspective about things.

As my darling Dad so often asks me when i'm in a flap, 'Have you got your head stuck up your bum girl?' Usually the answer is yes. Therefore - take it out and look and look after yourself. 

It is vital to anyone going through anything - to surround yourself with positive, happy people that want the best for you. You'll know when you're around negative influences. It drains you. There are times where we all have to suffer fools but if you have the option, choose to be around people that will treat you in the same way you want to be treated.

Naturally I have eaten my body weight in chocolate and wine...  I could start banging on about how this is bad for you etc, but sod it. Sometimes you just need to eat the bl**dy cake and enjoy yourself. 

Jobs can make people miserable. I understand we all need to make money, but sod spending all our time doing something that makes us thoroughly miserable. Life is too short. Be happy now. When I left my job I was terrified and as my close friends will tell you, I get ever so windy when i'm nervous. It has been a windy time. However, I am determined to make a living out of something that I a) believe in  b) brings me joy c) brings others joy too. Sure, i've been tight for money but I'm getting there and it's worth it. 

Where you live can have a positive impact on life. I lived in London for nearly a decade and made some amazing memories and even better friends, but it was exhausting. I missed the sea and green stuff, so I left. Sod it. Why not. Now i'm out in the countryside paying a third of the amount in rent and living closer to my family. When you're around people that have known you your whole life, you've got no choice but to be yourself. Sure, I'm approaching 30 and living with two complete strangers but they turned out to be amazing.

One of the biggest things that's helped is gratitude. Sometimes life is bloody awful, but there's always something to be grateful for. The more you are grateful - the more good stuff happens. Gratitude is key. 

I'm aware that i'm banging on about my life - and quite rightly so you might not care about my cliche approaching 30 ramblings.I've been able to change things for the better because I have got an incredible group of friends, supportive family and have taught myself to be mindful and stop when I need to. But what about the people that don't have access to all that?

How are children prepared for such life events? I have to admit that when I was trying to cope with all of this at no point was I grateful for algebra or getting a 1A when I was 6. Don't get me wrong; obviously being numerate and literate are essential for day to day living. I also understand that parents have a great amount of responsibility in this area but let's remember though that some kids don't have that luxury.

However, I can't help but think that by ramming learning down children's throats in the way that we are isn't exactly going to help them with the big top ten stressful events. There has to be a place for teaching children about their emotional wellbeing and resilience. I have been supplying in some pretty rough areas of late and have witnessed a child be forced to stay in his soiled clothes after wetting himself, because he should've known better and bought his PE kit.(Age 5) I've seen children cry their eyes out because they can't do the maths test they were forced to do.(Aged 7) I've seen a little boy punch himself repeatedly because he 'hated school so much'. (Age 6)

What skills are we teaching kids that will help them get through the horror of being a teenager? Or getting bullied? Looking for a job? Self esteem when you get dumped? Confidence to get out of something when you know it's plain wrong? Losing someone they love? I'm fairly sure that 15 minutes of PSHE when we can fit it in, isn't covering it.

My point is (Finally! I hear you say...)is that we all need to teach these children the tools they need to get through life in general. 

Teach them to take time out, make a change when they need to, deal with their emotions, be grateful, be themselves and enjoy life.

I'm not suggesting for a second that I'm old and wise now. I will continue to make mistakes and be a wally for a long time to come. But hopefully I'll deal with it better now.  

I am delighted that I'll be offering Relax Kids classes soon in various forms. It as a shame to leave London when the momentum was strong, but life happens. East Anglia is about to have the love spread all over it like a big bit of buttery toast ... And I can't wait.  

Thursday, 26 June 2014

Business Time/End of Year/Chuffed.


April seems like a ridiculously long time ago. Since taking the terrifying plunge of leaving my job I have been a very busy little beaver. I have, as the title suggests become a 'business woman' - I say this in the most delicate sense of the word. In my experience there are a lucky minority of teachers who are able to dedicate time to the emotional well being - and if i'm honest any sort of imagination and fun to their classrooms in the way that they'd like to. I am determined to do something about this. 

Setting up a business sounds very grand. I could walk around saying, 'Oh hey, I own a business. I'm a business woman.' The temptation to wear an 80's power suit and some stilettos is UNREAL, however this would be less than productive. Owning a business means sod all unless you've got some big balls, determination and can accept that initially you will be a poor little church mouse. After registering the company I had to go to the bank to set up an account - I feel very old school about this, in that I dressed smartly and tried to look responsible with my folder of documents. 

Miss Honey - Business Woman

Bank Lady: Ok. What does MHOAM stand for?
Me: Miss Honey on a Mission.
Bank Lady: As in Miss Honey from Matilda? Wonderful. Tell me more. 

All was going well until the bank lady called another branch to verify something, I decided in spectacular fashion to send my cup of tea flying, all over myself, all over the desk, all over my folder of documents, and all over her. As she was on the phone, I started doing that bizarre thing that people do when you can't talk out loud; mouthing words as if you are deaf. I then had to run around the bank looking for a cloth. This may surprise you but there aren't many cloths available in a bank. Eventually a man found me, soaking wet, and retrieved some toilet roll. I managed to creep back into the room, to find the bank manager still on the phone. I then had to dab everything I could see with some very poor quality toilet roll, apologising in deaf speak. Luckily, she still opened the account for me and said;

"Well Miss Honey, we won't forget you in a hurry." 


As mentioned in last blog I have trained as a Relax Kids coach, enabling me to go into schools, community centres, hospitals etc etc... and offer children and their families and schools a bit of relaxation and mindfulness. The Director of Relax Kids, Marneta Viegas - is a hero. Absolutely inspiring and believes in the same as I do, that children have a right to a magical and happy childhood. There are a huge number of Relax Kids coaches, 1500+, and with mental health being very big on the new government agenda I can tell that this movement is about to get BIG. I am extremely excited about proud to be a part of it. (See more at www.relaxkids.com.)

I had the extreme honour of delivering a lecture at one of the UK's best teaching colleges,   (St Mary's University in Twickenham) to a group of 180 PGCE teaching students last week. It was their final ever lecture before finishing for the summer and going off to embrace their new teaching careers. I did this alongside my very dear friend Amy, who is still giving teaching her all in a primary school in Greater London. When we did a little survey  before the lecture, to ask teachers their top tips on surviving the trade, 70% said alcohol. We were tempted to stand at the front and shout, "RUUUUN! RUN WHILST YOU CAN!" However, we decided that this probably wasn't the most positive message to send out. Instead we focused on being realistic and telling these new teachers that the job is blooming hard work - but it is a powerful and special job if we all work together to make it so. We told these teachers to remember that the children are children - to remember they are individuals, not percentages. 

"I believe that children are the future.."
Amen to that Whitney.
Ps. RIP.

As the late and great Whitney Houston said - "I believe that children are the future". They are - and what we teach them now in terms of technology may be entirely irrelevant in 20 years time when they are out in the working world. With that in mind we should aim to give them the tools to cope with and have the confidence to work with whatever it is they want to by that point. 

Many teachers will be in assessment/report writing hell at the moment. There is a lot a pressure to make the right amount of progress. I won't harp on - I did that in the original post, but take a moment to remember that children's lives, nor their education is linear. How many of us are actually working in direct relation to the university degrees that we specialised in? Not many of us. So then why should a child's grades in aged 6 - HAVE to match up with those aged 11? It's a nonsense.  The current education system is creating an army of robots, forgetting about children's individual talents and creativity. Celebrate each child's talent - teach them to believe in themselves. That was our message in our lecture- alongside encouraging these teachers to remember themselves, to take time out and realise that you are more than your job. Inspectors, children, parents, head teachers... they can throw whatever they wish at you. At the end of the day if you are a TEACHER (or work with kids) this by nature makes you kind, creative, caring and generally awesome. 
I am currently creating my website, which will explain of what I do and the services I can offer to schools, community centres, hospitals and families. Relax Kids classes, Imagination Workshops and Private Tutoring (at the moment). Thank you to all of you who have been so kind to me on my journey so far! 

If in the meantime you want to know more, or know someone that does - email me at tilly@mhoam.co.uk - or follow me on twitter... https://twitter.com/tillywilko - I look forward to hearing from you!

This is a terrifying but exciting venture - if I can make the difference to just a few children, i'll be chuffed. And what a fantastic word chuffed is - say it out loud, go on. It'll make your day better.


Friday, 30 May 2014

Miss Honey Says Relax Kids II

The wedding of the year has been and gone and it was probably one of the best weekends of ALL TIME. Watching two people you love dearly share their promise to love one another, surrounded by nearest and dearests, was a real honour. The bride looked absolutely stunning. I found myself staring at my oldest friend, finding it hard to believe we weren't playing make believe - thinking I have never seen her look happier. Rachel's dreams came true that day and I hope it stays that way for her and her lovely husband. Of course, this has nothing to do with my blog, but it was so joyful that I had to write about it. In other news, Irish people are awesome.

On Monday when we all arrived home after too much food and not enough sleep - it was a shocker coming back to earth, but knowing I am venturing out on my own makes it all ok again. As I said last week I've recently completed my Relax Kids training. It took place in Ilfracombe, Devon. As I headed away from London and drove over the brow of a hill to be greeted with the ocean on the other side, surrounded by trees, cows and flowers, I knew it was going to be a goodun'. Over 3 days I was introduced to some already practising Relax Kids teachers, three ladies about to take the training like myself, the owner of the company Marneta, and her dog called RONNIE BARKER. I think that says it all really... 

What really surprised me was that there were coaches who had travelled from Holland, Germany, Canada and the United States to further their training and become trainees for their region. This speaks volumes to me about how much of an impact this is having, not just in the UK but internationally. These ladies who had been training for a while had only good things to say about the positive impact that the Relax Kids work they had been doing. These ladies aren't exactly your average Joe's either. They are teachers, counsellors, psychologists, successful business owners... and all raving about how positive Relax Kids is.

There's a lot to Relax Kids and I suggest you go to the website to have a look to find out more, but as a coach, I can now work with children in a vast number of ways. I have been approached by several schools to do class sessions, 1:1 sessions, Mum's who would like me to work with their children in the holidays, Staff sessions, ... The possibilities are endless and it is SO exciting to have the chance to spread the joy in a different way. 

In a typical class, the idea is that we work with the children through a 7 step programme, working from a high energy to low energy state. This way the kids get to work through their energy systems and basically chill out. This is the way they explain it on the website;

• Dynamic warm-ups and exercises 
• Exciting games
• Relaxing stretches
• Calming breathing exercises
• Soothing peer massage
• Positive affirmations
• Creative visualisations, mindfulness and meditations

It sounds a bit hippy dippy doesn't it.. but it is MARVELLOUS. As an adult engaging in an example class I had the most joyous of times and felt SO relaxed at the end of it all. It's wonderful to know I can go and do something I believe in, that includes magic and make believe but is so good for the children. 

I now have a lot of work to do to get certified so I can ready to rumble... Eek! Wish me luck. 

Thursday, 22 May 2014

Miss Honey says Relax Kids

In 2014 I've been on a little rollercoaster ride that's taken me to all sorts of marvellous places. I've learn a lot about lots of things - about what I think education should look like, about what it actually looks like, about what I think life should look like and what life actually looks like. In honesty, education can sometimes be rubbish and so can life. I was very close to sitting around and just letting life and a job I hated take over - lounging around in elasticated waste bands, eating cake, moaning about how awful it all was. A miserable porker. 

ALAS. I am not a miserable porker. I decided to go away and sort my life out. In January I went away for the weekend - whilst I was there I found a book called   "Aladdin's Magic Carpet" by Marneta Viegas. 52 visualisations/stories/mediations for children, all based on classic fairy tales and designed to help children relax. They are so busy. The poor little mites don't have a moment, as a typical day in school looks like this:

8.45 - White board work
9 - Literacy (5 ability groups) 
10-Guided reading (5 ability groups) 
10.30 - Play
10.45- Phonics (5 ability groups) 
11.10-Maths (5 ability groups) 
12- Lunch
1-Foundation subject 1
2-Foundation subject 2 
2.45- Assembly 
3.05- Home 

Not forgetting for some, they start at 7am at Breakfast club and finish at 6.30pm with dinner club. Or any other amount of clubs after school. 

Where possible, in my classroom I always tried to use lots of different techniques to allow the children some time to breathe. So we'd aim for 3 very short 'brain breaks' a day to help them calm down and remember who they are for a second. Every morning we'd start with some stretches, breathing and forgetting our worries - blowing them out of the window. My TA's and I always let them know when they're at school, they are safe and will be looked after.  On a Friday I had them all laying down, listening to some music and giving them a chance to actually reflect and think about what they'd learnt that week - there's no time for consolidation otherwise.

Sounds daft - but the children relish the opportunity for this. Sometimes we'd go off to a make believe  land, all whilst sat on the carpet. I'd watch the kids, their arms stretched out like wings, flying them off to another world inside their head. Magic. "Please Miss, can we do that again?"

The children in my class always made progress. Sometimes phenomenal progress - I believe it was because they were happy; happy children learn.

Back to my Aladdin's Carpet book. When time I bought it I remember thinking, I wish I could do this for a living. Go into schools and focus on making the children relaxed, happy, confident - ready to learn. As I said, when I went into teaching it was because of Miss Honey - she saw the magic in Matilda, gave her confidence and love and all the things she needed to defeat The Trunchbull. WELL. It bloomin' well turned out I can do it for a living. The lady who wrote the books, the lovely lovely Marneta, owns a fabulous company called Relax Kids. 'Calm Kids in a Chaotic World' - is their motto and you can train to be a relax kids coach, learn about their methodology on how to help the little darlings out in today's busy world. So guess what? I found a course - booked it - and just got back from a glorious training weekend in Devon. 

I don't have time to write about it now, as I'm on a train on my way my best friends wedding (so excited I could wee) but, I look forward to writing about the GLORY of my training weekend. 

As I've said before, I'm not here to slate the government. I'm not about muck spreading. I'm about JOY spreading. If we can't change the system from the top, get in at the bottom and do it, on the front line with the kids.

Friday, 16 May 2014

Lunging, huogliens and SATS.

A lot has changed since the first blog post I wrote here. In January, I was a class teacher unhappy in my job. I have since left that job and am as the blog title suggests, lunging towards my destiny

At first I went into a minor meltdown - holy moly - i'm unemployed. After the blog entry about quitting teaching, I suddenly had lots of people telling me to find a new school to teach in. I was extremely fortunate to receive offers to interview for different class teacher positions. Sadly, I just know that class teaching isn't right for me - sadly I don't think it's right for many people, but I won't spend time harping on about that.

A fabulous lady I know, Mrs Hope (I think there's something in the name there) offered me the opportunity to take on some one to one tutoring at a local school. This seemed like the perfect break away from class teaching, but I still get to use my skills and most importantly, work with children. I work with 15 children across three days, ages 5-11, for an hour each. The real beauty is I get to tailor the learning to their individual need and personality.

Something concerning has come out of this though. My first sessions are about getting to know what makes the children tick. With the boys, it appears there's a theme. Their main interests seem to be Chelsea FC (which I will leave you to cast your own opinion on) or more worryingly, the Xbox. What's even more worrying are the games that are most popular appear to be Call of Duty, Assassins Creed and Grand Theft Auto. I'm no expert on this but I'm fairly certain that killing, stealing, prostitutes and money doesn't make for friendly childhood viewing. I'm approaching 30 and I remember getting an original game boy was marvellous as a child. However it was still more exciting making a den with my brother, playing in our sweet treehouse, hanging out at the castle... playing with real, 3D objects and people in that magical place called... the outdoors. 

It's not just the kids though. I was at the train station on Monday, watching the sea of faces stare blankly at their screens. There was joy though, in the form of one woman. She was wearing bright orange tights and embracing a very deep lunge on the platform. She didn't stop. She had her eyes closed and moved between what I imagine must've been  different yoga poses, phone nowhere to be seen. I'm not suggesting we all start lunging instead of looking at our phones, although that'd be great, but it does make me really sad. I'm guilty of forgetting totally what's going around me because i'm very engrossed in what's happening in my group chat on Facebook. (You know who you are.) At least i'm not 7 years old, playing Call of Duty, shooting naked ladies running around on the TV.  My other half made a valid point that he ran around with sticks, pretending to shoot people when he was a boy, but did he get points for murdering them? Was there visually any blood or guts? Were there any naked ladies? I really hope not. It's no wonder kids are so angry. This brings me on to my next venture.

For a while now I've been studying mindfulness. Meditation. Some of my friends rib me for being a hippy. Some people ask if the amount of food I eat is because i'm working on the Buddha belly - cheers for that, but no. I think people presume that I sit in some kind of kaftan making 'ohm' noises - I don't at all. Generally I'm just trying to get my mind to pipe down for a moment so I can calm down.  I'm nowhere near mastering it, it's really hard work. We're all so busy and stressed but we're not the only ones..

It's been SATS this week and I know a lot of children have had struggled. I've over heard Mums in the playground saying there's been tears, tantrums and all sorts. I know a number of children have been to counsellors to try and deal with the pressure. In a big school, where there's 120 kids in Year 6 - that's a lot of potentially unhappy children. What about in a tiny countryside school, where one child makes up for 20% of the school's grades at SATS level. Imagine the pressure on those guys. Then there's the children that aren't submitted for entry as they don't have a chance to make the grade. They're not that silly, they do know what's going on. What's worse - taking the test and failing? Or knowing you're not taking it because you're stupid. This would all be worth it, IF it was beneficial to the child. However, the children will go to year 7 and be re-assessed anyway in most cases. So then, apart from putting the schools in position on league tables.... what is the point of putting an 11 year old through that?

This is one of those moments where I want to stand on a cliff and shout loudly - but this doesn't help. I mentioned in my last blog the theory of, if you can't beat them, join them. I am one woman. I can't change the world on my own, but I can get myself into schools and be nice to the children and try to help. I am VERY excited to be going on a 'Relax Kids' course this weekend, it is about teaching children the art of mindfulness, building self esteem, helping them to chill out and mostly to enjoy being a child, when all else around them is failing to let them do so. My plan is to go into schools, teach teachers how to do this alongside working with children to help them out in a schooling system that is in places quite simply, mental.

There is one child I'm tutoring who doesn't care about the Xbox. The first question he asked me was;

'What planet are you from?'

I really, desperately wanted to say 'Uranus' - but remembered this would not be appropriate. I said, possibly not earth and asked what planet was he from. He told me he was a 'Huoglien' (human/dog/alien) and that he was from JasonPlanet* - that he wasn't born here and when he was younger he was an entirely different colour. One day he plans on going home. This was a child with an imagination, someone who doesn't rely on a screen for it. His Mum is a teacher - then it made sense.

I am in the process of setting up my own business. This requires being a grown up and is terrifying - but it means I am taking control of my own life instead of letting Mr Gove do it for me. Please remember what is important - feel the joy! FEEL IT. I mentioned in an earlier blog how my friend Rachel and I used to play dress up when were children and this would sometimes involve wearing our Mum's wedding dresses. Next weekend I get to watch her walk up the aisle as her maid of honour - and I can't wait. It's these moments in life that count and really matter. 

Finally, here is a embarrassingly deep and meaningful quote from good old Dalai Lama. After convincing my other half to take a day off work as he had turned green with sickness, it seemed fitting.

“Man surprised me most about humanity. Because he sacrifices his health in order to make money.
Then he sacrifices money to recuperate his health. And then he is so anxious about the future that he does not enjoy the present; the result being that he does not live in the present or the future; he lives as if he is never going to die, and then dies having never really lived.”

Enjoy the weekend everyone!

* I have changed the name of the planet to protect the child's identity. 

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Gove Waltzes In...

My fantastic friend has composed a piece about his feelings towards Mr Gove. 

Please listen. Whilst wearing a cape. In your pants. 

Thank you Mr Chapman! 

Miss Honey on a Mission (MHOAM)

My last blog entry, much to my surprise, seems to have hit a nerve with many people. When I wrote it, I felt a little guilty at having such a big old moan. I am incredibly flattered by the response, but more than that it's emphasised what a huge problem education is facing at the moment. 

Shortly after handing in my notice I received an email from my old university asking if I would be interested in contributing towards the final lecture for the PGCE students before them embark on their teaching careers, to give them an account of teaching and aim to inspire them. I had to laugh and asked if it was a good time to tell her that I was leaving the profession at Easter... Interestingly enough when I met my old lecturer for a coffee she explained to me that she too left part way through a school year and that the world of education, like fashion, can often be cyclical. This time however, it's worse than it has ever been - with the most enthusiastic teachers being beaten by the system. One of my most influential undergraduate lecturers once told me I would be a great teacher, but beaten by the system - turns out he was right. In the end I agreed to do the lecture, I will take the positives with me and if nothing else try to encourage the students to hold on to what believe in. If there are enough of them out there doing it, it may just make a difference.

Many people have approached me, lots of them I don't even know, relating to the issues in my last blog entry, some even saying they were reduced to tears - which sounds dramatic but shows that so many people are feeling the same. Downtrodden and fed up with it all. A few people have told me 'it's just the school you're at' and to some extent I am sure that's true. However, it's not long before the claws of Ofsted reach into those schools who are doing it right, I hear regular reports of the most inspirational head teachers giving in to the powers that be, because they have to. 

A few weeks ago a new report came out about the education of our real little ones, the children in nurseries. The main issue being that apparently children from 'disadvantaged backgrounds' are being let down by teachers. As I said, I'm no expert on politics and this is just my opinion.

"Unfortunately, even when the most disadvantaged do access early-years provision they rarely find the support they need because too many practitioners are afraid to, or simply don't know how to, teach," Wilshaw said.(Richard Adams, Guardian Thursday 3 April 2014)

In a nutshell, the man is saying that poor kids aren't being taught properly because the teachers are either afraid or not up to it. He is also saying that 'middle class' kids are getting a better chance at education. 

"It is a middle-class prejudice for which some of the most disadvantaged pay the price." 

There are obviously many, many things I could say about this. I could ride around on my high horse all day long. There are some things though that I feel I must point out;

A) It seems that Sir Wilshaw has labelled all children from 'disadvantaged backgrounds' in the same way. (They do love a one size fits all approach this government.) Does this also mean that all parents that aren't middle class are doing a bad job of it? That for some reason not having lots of money means that your children won't do well at school? That because of your social status your children should go to school earlier? It doesn't matter where you come from, or who you are - there will always be children that struggle. Just like there will always be children who want to learn and will succeed. I can't deny there might be more issues in some demographics than others, but surely those children have just as much right to a childhood as others?

B) It has been suggested there will be a checklist of things that all children should be able to do by aged 5. These things include, toilet training, putting on a coat and shoes, speaking in sentences and simple counting.

Will there be an exam? Will there be points of progress? What will happen at parents evening?

 "Jimmy has only made 1 sub-level of progress in Nursery. One of his next steps is to aim his willy at the back of the toilet and fold the toilet paper instead of scrunching. Then he will make his target."

C) I like to believe there are some parents in the world who still think it is their responsibility to teach their own children these things. Sure, teachers have a huge influence on a child but there has to be a balance on the responsibility of the families and teachers. I fear for the next report from Ofsted...

'Teachers are now responsible for babies in the womb and their development.'
Scrap that.
'Teachers are now responsible for sperm. All sperm must reach a level 6 by time of... take off.'

In ten years time, teachers will be there at the time of conception with a clip board, ready to make their observations. "Come on little Jimmy! You can do it! A little bit further and 
you've made your 3 points!"

In considering my next adventure, the first step will be to do a bit of a supply and hopefully reassure myself that there is joy in some schools out there. I do need to pay rent after all. I also intend to tutor children individually, meet their needs and give them a chance if I can. I will be taking a course with an amazing company called Relax Kids and hopefully once qualified will be able to work with different children in various schools, small groups in the holidays, 1:1 if needed. I have realised that if we can't change the system, then for now, I have to work with it the support the children in it. They will be going through a lot in the next few years and will be under a huge amount of pressure, as will the teachers and parents. By helping the kids to calm down and remember who they are outside of their targets and levels then hopefully I can make a small difference. My biggest next step though is to quit ranting and look for the positives and to keep remembering that there is always a choice, in whatever we're doing. One voice alone can make so much difference, so lots of us together can change the world. (In my mind, I am wearing my pants over some tights, a cape and stood on a clifftop somewhere right now and it is GLORIOUS.) I am Miss Honey on a mission.

One final thought. 

"So let us not pander to those who think children's childhoods are being stolen," Wilshaw said. 

Fear not Sir, I will not be 'pandered' to, nor bullied by you. A little boy in an old class of mine was being picked on for his size. He is a wonderful child, I admit quite rotund and of the most incredible nature. I witnessed another boy call him 'fat' then continue to pick on him. I sat back for moment to watch his response before I intervened. He replied;

"I am strong" - flexing his left bicep.
"I am powerful" - flexing the right.
"And this is where my magic is stored' - rubbing his belly.
"My heart is bigger than yours and always will be."

I don't know who taught him that, but he believes it. He isn't middle class, lower class or upper class. He is determined, hard working, believes in himself and is happy. 
He is a child - and that's what he needs to be. So please, let him have his childhood. 

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Sunday, 30 March 2014

Miss Honey Vs Teaching

I can vividly remember dressing up in my best friend Rachel's bedroom, wearing blue eyeshadow and pink lipstick, heels that were too big and shoulder pads, pretending to be teachers when we ourselves were still at primary school. I can also remember being a child in a primary school and luckily for me, most of my memories were very positive. I had a string of wonderful teachers, starting with Mrs Finn, who played a magical rainbow flute. When she played it, we would all take off to a different land, our imaginations running wild. All I really remember of my really early days were school plays, the magic flute, being taught how to spell London by the Headmaster, getting caught firing beads out of my nose in the playground, and generally having a lovely time. As my school career progressed I remember starting to realise that girls could be really nasty, boys could be a pain and teachers could either make or break you and your love for a subject.

I learnt to read, write and count. I don't really remember how, but it worked. Strangely, it seemed to work for well, nearly everybody that came out of school at the same time as me. Sure, the education system must have had some flaws - but I don't really remember any apart from being made to do PE in your pants and vest if you forgot your kit.

I've loved working with young children for as long as I've been old enough to. It probably started with caring for my little brother as soon as he was born and from there developing into work experience at a local Primary School, then becoming an Au Pair, until after fannying around for a long time I finally trained to be a primary school teacher. One of my biggest influences, was of course Miss Honey from Roald Dahl's Matilda. She was the literary figure who first inspired me to teach, to see the remarkable, magical things in all children and do all I can to nurture them. With that in mind, I began my training in earnest and set out to be the best teacher I could be. 

In my personal statement I innocently claimed that the use of imagination was paramount in my teaching, that children should learn through play, be able to explore, create and excel in what they're good at. That a good teacher should care for and take time to understand children, as for some, we teachers are the only caring person they might see all day. I genuinely believed that having been so lucky as a child myself, that if I could share even a small amount of the love I received and offer the fun I experienced with my pupils through teaching, then I would be halfway to becoming a good teacher. I wanted to be an inspiration to the little darlings, and let them go out into the world wide eyed and excited to learn. 

I don't pretend to be politically minded, and if I'm honest I don't know 100% of the facts about the changes in education. (Mainly because, there are too many.) What I do know is, I am a young teacher in the first three years of teaching and due to pressures on staff to meet targets and grades, I am unable to live out any of the above beliefs and values. 

My timetable is so rammed that there is barely time to go for a wee let alone share my favourite book with the children. My targets are so unreasonable, that the little 5 year old in my class who lost her father suddenly this year has to make those 6 points of progress regardless of the fact she doesn't sleep at night for missing him. My lesson plans are so detailed, that I can barely keep up with paperwork. Differentiation means 5 different lessons within one plan - and we need 7 plans a day. Thats 35 different lessons, a day. 

I work in a special measures school, which means Ofsted has deemed our capacity to operate as a school as failing, so we've been turned into an academy are being observed like rats in a test cage. With every visit the staff morale dips and the fear and bitterness worsens. Bearing in mind I had been asked to go for a job at the school, I then went from good/outstanding to failing, then back to good/oustanding in a matter of weeks - the whole process is so subjective its embarrassing, inspectors on the same team can't even make the same observations and gradings. One inspector managed to pull my lesson to pieces, and afterwards say; "You took that remarkably well, I'd say you were broadly average."  Nothing like motivation and inspiration for staff. I wonder if it occurs to the powers that be, that we are constantly told to remain positive with the children, give them productive guidance and feedback in order for them to improve, maybe this would work for us as adults too? 

I am a Year One teacher but this is relevant to most year groups, especially KS1. Not one inspector, head teacher or consultant has been able to answer this question. If you are working with a focus group as a teacher, and your TA with another, then how do your other 18 children show progress when working independently? I've tried every which way and just get told by various people that it isn't working. I give up. If none of you can agree on an answer, then cut my class size and I might do a better job. When you've got 30 kids in your class, 5 severely special needs, 2 that don't speak any English, and on the other end of the scale 3 that are working years above their age group, what the bl**dy hell do you expect me to do? Let's not forget that all of these guys have to make those 6 points of progress because one size fits all, doesn't it? I'm fairly sure that if a child (God forbid) got hit by a bus, no one would say "And he was all set to get a Level 6 in his SATS..." I'm hoping people would remember the child for who they were and what they loved.

I can just about cope with parents evening, writing 30 reports, marking 120 sets of books in day, completing 90 assessment folders, lesson plans, incontinent children, rude children, children that projectile vomit all over the classroom, children that defecate on your new trousers, oh and the actual teaching... but one thing happened which disappointed me so bitterly that I knew something had to change.

In a lesson observation I was told that I 'Required Improvement'. (This means you're not very good, basically.) I was heavily criticised for calling the children 'darling' or 'sweetheart' and told that it was 'damaging' to them, because apparently if they are then told off it is extremely confusing for them mentally. "They are children!" they said,  "not pets!" 
I politely explained that, it was in my very nature to be kind to the children and that it could be blamed on my mother, as she is the kindest person I know. It certainly never did me any harm to be referred to like that and do you know what? THEY ARE FIVE. And no, if one of them breaks an arm,  (or cuts their finger off in a door, like one of my little ones did last week) I will not ask if it is 'ok to place my hand on their shoulder'  to comfort them-  I will scoop them up and tell them it's all going to be alright, darling.

The poor things are so tired, as a result of constant over exposure. TV, computers, a million lessons at school, assessments, after school clubs, homework, sports teams... when do they get a moment to relax? Asides from this - the pressure and stress exudes from the teachers and the children are picking up on it.

From that point on, I was fast becoming one of 'those teachers' that just moans about the profession. I always said I wouldn't do that. I'm tired of the constant groaning and moaning everywhere, I'm tired of being so knackered and fed up with the job, feeling negative and having no confidence in what I do. So I quit. When the moaning becomes more than enjoying, it's time to get out. Life is far, far too short to be stuck in a job you don't believe in. When you spend so much time doing it, it's got to be worth the effort. I have no idea what I'll do but i'll find a way of giving the children I work with the chance to dream, explore, play, learn, relax and find out who they are.  I'll find a way to pay the bills somehow! 

If you are lucky enough to be in a school where you can make this happen then for Pete's sake stay there and make it happen. If not, don't give up on what's important to you and remember you always have a choice. This was a terribly serious blog entry and more of a personal purge, but so many people are finding teaching horrendous out there that I just had to say something.

“Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.” - Albert Einstein

So if you're privileged enough to work with young people, aim to put the fish back in the sea and teach them how to swim.

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Monday, 10 February 2014

Nosy Crow

As many of us do, I sat down on January 1st 2014 to write my New Year's resolutions. This year I decided on a few things.

A) Give up giving up on stuff.
B) Under no circumstances try to join a gym. (Again.)
C) Just get on and do the things that make you happy.

Then of course, I had to work out what it was that made me happy and so came up with this list.

A) Writing.
B) Cheese.
C) Chocolate.
D) Cheese again.
E) Having lots of fun.
F) Lunging.
G) Making other people happy.
H) Singing.
I) Cheese.

Sadly, I had to accept that I can't actually 'do' cheese for a living. Or chocolate. Although goodness knows I'd like to try! Unfortunately this is in no way realistic, mostly because dairy products set my asthma off...and asthma attacks are neither becoming or pleasant for anybody.

This leaves writing, singing, making other people happy and lunging. 

Singing: I do this all the time, to myself (fabulous audience) and am in a band.

Making other people happy: This is just a nice thing to do, be kind - it isn't hard. Being a primary school teacher means doing this a lot. Being part of a family means doing your best to do this a lot. But I like making people smile, it's a good feeling.

Lunging: Favoured dance move and power stance. My solution to avoiding breakdown during Ofsted - sneak in a lunge during a lesson. At the end of the day, tally up how many members of staff managed the 'secret lunge'. It is empowering I tell you.

Writing: Ah, writing. Writing makes me the happiest. I wake up in the morning thinking about writing, I go to sleep thinking about it. When i'm not thinking about doing it, I'm doing it. There are many characters having merry dance in my head waiting to burst out onto a page... it's just making the time to believe in yourself and to actually do it that's hard. I did know however that it was now or never and I had to make it happen.

Immediately after I'd made these resolutions I got an email through entitled: Guardian Masterclass - Children's Writing and Publishing Course with Nosy Crow.

I couldn't help but feeling this was the way forward, immediately I signed up and got my place on the course - I was excited and not really sure what to expect. Finally, the weekend arrived and before I knew it my brand new satchel was packed with snacks, a pencil case and a notebook. I was 5! Hooray.

  • Arrive at the amazing Kings Place - feeling very cosmopolitan.
  • Meet a lovely man called David, Saturday 9th is also 'National Dave Day'. (It was only ever going to be a good day then, surely.) 
  • Enter the meeting room with a table headed by Lucy Coats and Mary Hoffman. Fabulous, experienced, generous ladies. I have read several of their books and am currently teaching using the Grace series written by Mary, who was kind and extremely approachable when talking to her about it. 
  • Lucy and Mary were later joined by Michelle Lovric. Between the three ladies they offered a funny, clever and real account of being an author and shared some valuable tips on how to write for children. I felt comfortable to share my ideas during writing tasks, which were all responded to with kindness but more importantly constructive criticism where needed. They offered a practical and creative approach to what we were there to learn.
  • Ultimately I felt very priveledged- 3 extremely talented and celebrated authors shared their craft with us, it was an experience I won't forget. I also really enjoyed the difference of opinion between the ladies on a number of books, it reminded me that so many things are subjective!
  • Boom! We met Kate Wilson, founder of Nosy Crow. Kate is a force - an exciting, exceptionally knowledgeable and passionate force. I get the feeling that if Kate doesn't know something in the publishing world... you probably don't need to know it.
  • We then met Kirsty Stansfield (editor) and Helen Peters (author). Gifted, gentle, clever ladies. These both gave me a real insight into the editing world that I had no idea about, a realistic and genuine insight.
  • Tracy Corderoy (author) and Louise Bolongaro (editor). Eccentric, funny, talented ladies. Tracy's story made me want to buy a small cottage in Wales and write! Louise gave me  some very valuable pointers and direction in what I want to do. (She also had a fabulous jacket on.)
  • Tracy then spoke about live events - Tracy might be a writer, but my goodness is she a primary school teacher too. (A marvellous one at that.) I want to get out on the road with her!
  • Hilary Delamare. Multi.Talented.Lady.  I hadn't even considered getting an agent - Hilary made me think that I NEED one. 
  • Melissa Cox (Buyer at Waterstones). Kind, powerful, bookworm. Melissa made me feel like I could believe in Waterstones again.
  • Suw Charman Anderson. Tech savvy, whizz kid/lady. Made me reconsider using Twitter - in 2 days I've become a bit obsessed.
  • Back to Kate - well as I said, what she doesn't know isn't really worth knowing. Despite her kick a*s publishing power, what I liked about Kate is that I could feel her passion for children's books and what it was all about, "I love a rhyming picture book, it's one of the things that makes me happy." 

As soon as it had started, it had ended. All I knew was that all the things I had heard meant something, and that I had to go off and, as Lucy Coats said, "Get your bums to seats and get writing!" So, I have started with this blog and am mindmapping the first book... Let's go! 

To those of you that ever read this that were on that weekend- thank you for helping in the first lunge towards my destiny!

And now, I feel only Lionel can say what I want to say. Take it away, big man: