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Saturday, 1 August 2015

Let them know they are loved.

Thanks to my dear friend Marneta, (the lady behind Relax Kids) I have been challenged to write everyday. I'm not sure I can do that just yet as I a) don't want to bore people to death or b) usually I wait till I've got a fire in my belly about something. The last post was particularly fiery, I was so very sad about what's going on. However, now that I've had a week to regain my sanity, I am beginning to remember all the lovely, joyful things that teaching is all about. So I aim to share a few things as I think of them... As there are lots of positives about working with little ones. 

Something I feel very passionately about is making sure children know how great they are. That they can't be defined by a percentage or a grade. At the end of this year I held a little ceremony, where I invited each child up to the front of class one by one. I handed them a mix tape of our favourite songs and that we've listened to thorough out the year and a little card. More importantly though, I told each and everyone of them what was brilliant about them. What their strengths are, and that they are loved. I just hope they will remember all those things as they get older. As she took her CD, one little girl thanked me for loving her so much, bless her. 

As I said in the last post, being kind and working hard was what we focused on this year. I read the following quote and it resonated with me as it's the kind of thing my mum, and her mum (Nanny Pam - the hero) would say and do. 

"Spread love everywhere you go. First of all in your own house. Give love to your children, your husband or wife, your friend or your neighbour. Let no one ever come to you without leaving better or happier. Be the living expression of God's kindness, kindness in your face, kindness in your eyes, kindness in your smile, kindness in your warm greeting." 

Go on Mother Theresa! Yes, I just quoted the big MT. You can ignore the God part in that if you want, I'm not preaching. The important part is the rest of it.

Now that we've all chundered everywhere at how sickening this post has been.... My friends will agree; I am not one for sweetness and innocence but sod it, the world could do with a bit of love! 

Sunday, 26 July 2015

Age and Circumstance

End of term is here. Most of us teachers are in denial, drunk, look like ragged hobos, delirious with tiredness. We know that you resent us for having six weeks off but rest assured we are really grateful for having it. However, I challenge you to not only 'babysit' 30+ kids but actually teach them, for more than one week and then tell us we don't deserve a break. 

This year i've been teaching Year 2 in a big academy school. In a nutshell for those that don't know, their teacher abandoned them, they were off the wall, I came in as supply, ended up becoming their class teacher, taught them how to chill out...and now it's end of the year.

As we all know by now, in most schools there is an outrageous push for data and progress regardless of the children's age or circumstances. I don't need to bang on about that, it's happening all over the country and we all know it's bloody ridiculous. As i've just stated, my class are Year 2 and have had an extremely unstable start to their year, as well as a stream of teachers leaving throughout their school lives so far. Year 2 (age 6-7) is a SATS year group, which means they are tested and given a level that will predict what they will achieve in Year 6 (age 10-11). Of course, when you're say, 30 it seems perfectly reasonable that you could take a test and that could predict what you would score in a similar situation 4 years later. Of course, life wouldn't change at all in those 4 years. You wouldn't move house, no one would die, you wouldn't get sick, you wouldn't have relationship changes. It would all be a direct upward curve into you getting exactly what you are predicted, right?

Of course it bloody wouldn't. Life changes, sh*t happens, and for a child who is less able to control these factors it seems exceptionally unfair to put them under these pressures. For example, if your parents separate in-between Years 2 and 6, your life can change dramatically. In many cases with little ones I've worked with, it doesn't change for the better and this will obviously affect what the government mean by 'progress'. More simply, a child's hamster could die on the day of the test, leaving them distraught. Then the result is awful and we all get it in the neck. 

  • These results are not showing us what the children excel in or enjoy. What about those who aren't academic? Where are we going to get out designers, artists, musicians, actors from? These guys will never have the confidence or skills to succeed in these areas because they are taught from a young age to pass tests in maths and English that mean sod all. I haven't taught the arts this year, because i've had to get the little blighters through exams. 
  • The results from primary school are generally ignored when they get to secondary. Most secondary teachers will tell you that they largely re-assess using their own judgements in the children's first year anyway. So, can anyone tell me what the point is?
  • Oh yes. So we can have league tables and all judge each other on the performance of the schools.
  • Wait - these aren't accurate though because data is largely fixed. I, as a class teacher made judgements on my children on what levels they were on, having worked with the kids every day - I know what they are capable of. This however, didn't fit in with the data profile the school wanted to meet - so on my day off, my levels were moved up.  You may as well have put a jacket potato at the front of the class, because if you are going to make my levels up at the end of the year, then what the bloody hell has been the point of me working my arse off to teach the children for the past 10 months.

Top quotes from management this year:

"But if you don't move put the children at that level our data won't look very good."

SLT - "I need your predictions for what levels the children would have got on the new curriculum."
ME -"Ok, but we haven't taught them the new curriculum, so...it won't match up."
SLT -"They are the levels I need to show your pupil progress."
ME -"So why have I been under so much pressure to make these levels if YOU'RE NOT EVEN USING THEM NOW? Might as well have rolled the old jacket potato out again."

No response.

*and breathe*

"If the moderators come in then we'll just have to blag why we've put them there."

My personal favourite:

"Just leave the SEN ones on the back burner, don't worry about them, they won't make it anyway so we'll focus on the group who can make a level 2." 

Sure. I'll just ignore the SEN kids, chuck them on the back burner. They don't matter do they - I mean, it's not like they're humans, or have feelings or anything. They're 'stupid' so they don't count. Right?

I will NEVER discount a child in my class, and don't you dare ask me to do so. Every single child in that class deserves the same amount of education, love, care and respect as the next. They might not be able to 'make progress' in the eyes of the government. However, if they can do well their own eyes, and believe in themselves, not because of a test result, that is what's important. That stands for all my children. All of them.

My headteacher told me that my data was disappointing and that I needed to send her an urgent action plan with what I was going to do to improve it. Here are some suggestions: Come and meet my class, get to know the kids. Understand that most of them come from broken homes. Understand that a lot of them are unfed or unwashed for days. Understand them some of them have gone into care. Understand that 23 kids in my class are spring and summer born children. That is why they are not making the same grade as the national average. Age is important to remember in teaching, really important. Two of my dearest friends have had babies this school year, one in September and one in June. September baby is crawling, communicating, dancing, eating with his own hands, causing havoc and requiring cupboard locks. June baby is still very much being breast fed, a gorgeous little 7 week old, choosing between laying down in a cot, a buggy,  or in someones arms. Imagine if I asked them to both perform the same action - say, crawl from one end of the room to the other. September baby would smash it, whereas June baby quite rightly, wouldn't be able to achieve it at the moment. She will be able to, in her own time. Please don't get me wrong, I understand that there will be exceptions here and things change as children get older. However when 74% of your class are significantly younger, yet asked to achieve the same thing, the likelihood is the results won't be the same. 

Needless to say, (the urge to quote Alan Partridge here is phenomenal but I shall hold back) my children DID achieve great things this year. They have all learnt how to relax and be mindful. They are all able to tell me what makes them happy and that the good things about themselves. They all understand that in life they will have to do things they don't enjoy at times. They all know the following, as I made sure they could all tell me what our motto was before I left.

'Be kind and try your hardest.'

If at the end of the day you can say you did that, then you're doing a good job.  I'm aware that life isn't all roses and they do need to learn maths and English! If I was allowed to I would teach the children about the real world, and prepare them for that instead of for a silly test. But for now, I remember that they are children. 

Kindness and hardwork will get them further then a SATS paper, any day of the week. 

Friday, 13 March 2015

Mindful Kids...Taking Over the World

Hello again everyone. Where were we...? 

In my last post I mentioned that things had taken some fairly meaty twists and turns. I had worked really hard at setting up my own little business - Miss Honey On A Mission, which was marvellous and all very exciting. I then ended up being spat out of that phase of my life to somewhere entirely different. My main priority at that time was to make enough money to live and ended up supply teaching for a while, which was a real treat to behold. The things I have seen. The things I have heard. *shudder*

I ended up finding a job in a big, academy school in a 'underprivileged' area. My predecessor left the class half way through a term because of 'illness'. It later transpires that teacher left because the class were in honesty, bloody hard work. Year 2, 31 kids, 19 on the pupil premium register, in a mobile classroom, with no resources and a TA till 11.30am. They had had several different supply teachers in a short space of time, no routine, no consistent boundaries; needless to say when I arrived they were MENTAL. Absolutely mental. In an ideal world I hoped to supply a few days a week whilst getting the business off the ground, however after meeting these little guys I felt so desperately for them that I decided to dive in and embrace teaching again for 4 days a week. 

Holy. Moly.
Lord give me strength.

I see this as the Whoopi phase of my life, where in true Sister Act 2 style I am determined to transform the little herberts and give them a chance. (To the All State Music Competition!) I'm delighted to report that 6 months on, it's working. I saw the opportunity to use all the mindfulness and meditation techniques in full force with an entire class of children. More than anything these guys needed some down time and discipline. For a lot of them I know i'm the only constant in their lives, so even though there have been moments where I want to lie face down in the sandpit - I am hellbent on making it a positive experience for them. 

Straight away we implemented 'relax' moments three times a day; as soon as they come in to school, after play time and after lunch. These are the moments where they most need it. For those of you that haven't experienced it, the playground is practically a jungle of death. Chaos beyond all measure, fighting, biting, screaming, crying, cold, rain, kiss chase, bull dog... 'BUT SHE'S BEEN ON THE CLIMBING FRAME FOR AGES FOR AGES AND IT'S MY TURN'.  

To begin with it was a total shambles, about 3 of them could stand still and none of them could close their eyes. The lack of trust was unreal - it was as though they were afraid of being attacked if they shut down their senses for a moment. I explained to them that they have a little wise owl in their heads that decides what they are doing. They also have a big box in their heads that stores all the information they need, all their memories and learning stuffs. I have told the children that if the little wise owl is in a flap, he can't access that box of learning - but if we teach the owl how to chill out, then everyone can learn, everyone is happy, everyone is chilled. (There is scientific reasoning behind the wise owl madness, however I shan't bore you with it now.) All the kids fully embraced this and began talking about whether their wise owls were chilled or not - and how it was affecting them. Essentially, that's 6 year olds being mindful.

The turning point for me was when a little boy with severe learning difficulties said to me 'Miss, can I do the relax?' So he stood at the front of the class, and led his friends through some stretches and breathing exercises. He has a massive lisp, we could barely understand what he was saying, but it was one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen. This child was constantly in fights, socially very awkward and yet there he was leading his class to a calmer place. Now the children take it turns to lead the 'relax' and it's wonderful. 

Of course we are a SATS year group so the pressure is on, but these children all recognise now how to get into a good place. There are some children who are never going to get the grade but, they will hopefully go through school and beyond knowing how to look after themselves a little better. We now have a full hour on a Tuesday of full mindfulness and meditation sessions. Stretching, affirmations, massage, the lot. They absolutely love it. Behaviour in that class has improved beyond all my expectations, their results and progress are getting better by the week. They are living proof that mindfulness has a positive impact in every area of a child's life. One little girl who has an extremely hard life at home wrote me a letter to me that said,

"Dear Miss,

Thank for teaching me to breathe and go somewhere different in my head. When people are shouting I close my eyes and turn into Peter Pan and then I take over the world."


When I arrived at the school I said I would stay until the wind changes. (Mary Poppins.) I have sung "If you want to be somebody, if you want to go somewhere, you better wake up and pay attention" (Sister Mary Clarence/Whoopi) Next I am aiming for some Maria of off Sound of Music action. I WILL LIVE THE DREAM.

I am confident when I leave I will have hopefully made a difference to those children, so i'm happy with that.