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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.


Please follow me on Twitter:
@tillywilko 





24 comments:

  1. A brilliant post, I feel for you, I really do. I was exactly the same, I got into teaching to bring learning to life for children, to make it fun and engaging, to let them learn through fun activities not just rote or books. Not a chance. I lasted 4 years before I quit but probably only because I was in 'good' schools. But I see it now when I visit schools every day, teachers are demoralised, stressed, crying, exhausted. I hear tales of heart attacks, nervous breakdowns and suicides. Nothing is worth that

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  2. Fabulous post. I'm not a teacher (although had the privilege of being one briefly). Recently when the fun had gone, the moaning had started, the assessment upon assessment, i too quit.

    I have no idea how i'll earn money just yet, but like you I have gone back to what drives me most.

    I think we're on to a new world it's just not here yet in 'the powers that be'.

    Check out Sir Ken Robinson if you haven't already. I think you'll love it.

    Good luck, but you won't need it!

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  3. Well said. I believe the education system is in disarray and it's very sad. We are forgetting the true value of things in our search for ticking boxes and meeting targets. Good for you for standing up for what you believe in. This world is going mad I fear.
    Mandy

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  4. Hello there, I don't believe I know any of you in person so thank you for taking the time to comment. Richard, yes I am a big fan of Sir Ken. He's a hero! Holly and Mandy, the world has gone mad, but hopefully there are a few of us left - that are the right sort of mad, to do something about it! By all means follow the blog for updates. Thanks again :)

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  5. This was a really heart-felt and powerful post. You are a great writer! Thanks for sharing your heart and keep doing so...You will lunge towards your destiny big-time as a writer. Will miss you though :(

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  6. This strongly written and really needs to be shown to the powers that be. I am aware of the negative effect that many professions have had lately, but teaching seems to have suffered very seriously. Well done.

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  7. This is so sad Natalie and so beautifully written! My instinct is to say STAY STAY STAY! Don't let the fudgers get you down! Lots of love. Xx

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  8. I'm sorry you had to leave teaching but I can understand why. Such a shame, you are the kind of teacher I would want teaching my two boys. Both my sisters are primary school teachers and, from what they tell me, your experience is not atypical. Something has to change in the way education is measured and teachers and children are assessed within an inch of their lives. Will the Education Secretary ever listen to the people who really know what it's like and what could be done for the better? I doubt it. Good luck with your next adventure x

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  10. This really is very moving to read and sounds so familiar. I think I'm in my 8th year of teaching (I've lost track a bit after returning from maternity leave)! :-) I've mainly taught 4 year olds but am currently teaching yr 2 too. Like you, I've wanted to teach for as long as I can remember. During my own education I took every opportunity to work with children and when I started my job I loved it!

    Teaching has changed so much over the 8 years but this academic year in particular seems quite tricky. I don't experience the whole situation as I now work part time but I have enough to do and can see the amount of work full time staff do, the levelling, the observations, the expected progress, the many levels of differentiation expected in each lesson and can not see how the work is sustainable long term.

    It is such a shame that teachers like yourself leave education but no job that causes stress and upset is worth it. Life is too short. No matter how much you love working with children and seeing them learn so much, there comes a point when you have to look after yourself. Even if that means just taking a break for a time.

    Thank you for sharing your experience. You are not alone.

    Good luck in whatever's ahead for you.

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  11. Like you I have always wanted to teach. So I worked hard and became one a few years ago thanks to a great school I worked in for over a decade. They taught me everything I know and became; A GOOD TEACHER! Then I decided to jump ship and do supply work in a school where I was made to feel very small and inadequate, with no support because supposedly I was an experienced teacher! My confidence plummeted; in fact its gone! I doubt my self as to whether I really was a good teacher in the first place????? So I know exactly how you feel.......

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  12. Amazing post! I ABSOLUTELY full heartedly agree! I am as you a person who adores children. I absolutely wanted to be Miss Honey! Trained as a nursery nurse and then became a primary school teacher (early years) and left before I had really even begun. It's too much! I feel for you. And I feel for the children. It is such a desperately sad and ridiculous situation. Try becoming a play therapist? I am and I absolutely love it! Thank you for writing such a wonderful thought provoking post.

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  13. Thank you all for your posts. It makes me sad that you all agree in a way, I want someone out there to be really experiencing the joy! I am determined to find the joy in working with children, and getting it back in to schools where it belongs. You're all heroes for reading! x

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  14. The joy of teaching is out there! Honestly, I left the UK but not the profession. I still love my job. You'll find the joy again!

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  15. Oh heck - the kids NEED PEOPLE LIKE YOU. It's just the same sort of thing here Downunder - remember, you're there for the children not the adults who have forgotten what it is like to be a child!

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  16. I have returned to work this week from maternity leave, and already feel the frustration of teacher stress and external pressure. Each one of the children is as precious to someone as my own dear lovely baby I've spent the last year gazing at in wonder, but instead of enjoying their ideas and smiles I have to test them constantly, harass them into ever higher exam results, and change my methods over and over to fit whatever political agenda is in fashion. It isn't what I want for my own children and it isn't what I believe to be best for anyone. I do love being in the classroom, but the overwork and stress makes it hard to enjoy the whole job. You expressed it really well, but what a sad loss to teaching that you had to leave.

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  17. have you looked into alternative schooling methods, like http://distancelearning.montessori.org.uk/?gclid=CLLJhpG7y70CFRCWtAodam4AZg or http://www.steinerwaldorf.org/steiner-education/what-is-steiner-education/ :)

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    1. Lots of interesting feedback! I'm determined not to give up on the kids. Will certainly look into other routes, so thank you Carmen! x

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  18. keep up the good work Tilly. I feel for you.

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  19. You need a new school. I was on my knees in my old one feeling exactly as got describe but also suffering from stress requiring treatment. After just 2.5 years teaching. Something had to change. I was so lucky to change schools, year groups and go part time. I am in a good school where chn are valued BUT the pressure is filtering down. Head increasingly interested in numbers not names. We are not trusted and constantly measured, as are the chn. So unhealthy :-( Good luck and thank you for sharing. Please consider staying if you can. Teachers need thick skins but it is not the way we are made.

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  20. I can't believe you've left teaching! You were an amazing teacher for Ciel and got him off to the best start at school. He found his glitter dipped wand in the car the other day and was reminiscing about his time in Maple class. I really hope you find something to continue your gift for working with children.

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    1. Dear Alexa,
      Thank you so much for your comment. It means a lot! I have indeed found something and I think Ciel might like it. I tried to text you with no luck, would you mind dropping me an email to tilly.wilko@googlemail.com? Thank you, again! x

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  21. Oh Tilly!
    I could have written that myself. I too am a KS1 teacher who has quit. I have also done the Relax Kids training. I think it's wonderful. I have used it with my own children and when working 1:1 with children. I run a company called Well Kids. It would be great to join up with you.

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  22. I'm in a special needs school in NZ where I have worked for 8 years. I also have seen an ever increasing mountain of paperwork + un-needed protocols, over the last few years, although I'm a teacher aide the stress always filters through to everyone. The craziness is most people can't see the implications, on the poor children, who just hunger to learn through fun and movement. I'm a radiant child yoga enthusiast, who adapts individual programmes to suit each childs needs, and would also love to join something like well kids, I couldn't think of anything more wonderful for kids to grow up with. my e.mail is karendaw12@hotmail.com

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