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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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