24/7 teacher? Can I be a 10/5 teacher?

It’s 3 years since I started my blog – aptly entitled 24/7 Teacher since I have found it almost impossible to find the time to write much since my initial blog in 2014. I’ve found that any spare time I have, once the teaching, planning, marking, assessing, meeting and analysing is done, is reserved for my family or just spent in a semi-coma state in front of the TV.

But this year something has changed. I’m in my 5th full year of teaching; my 4th in my present setting and I’m happy to say that things have gone well for me this year. I’m a now valued member of the SLT in my capacity as English lead, I was recently awarded SLE designation through a highly respected teaching alliance in the North of England; I received impossibly fabulous feedback in an LEA review (still can’t quite believe that it happened but I’m not making any apologies for that here – I work incredibly hard, I did my thing and the inspecting team loved it). Things are falling into place a little more. I am managing my time better than ever – perhaps it’s because this is now my third year teaching Year 6 so I just ‘know’ what I’m doing; perhaps it’s that as the years pass you learn what works and what doesn’t work – I ditch anything that has proved to be time-consuming and has little impact on pupil progress and embrace practice that has long-term, positive impact on both the pupils’ learning and my workload.

One other change for me is the fact that wellbeing has rightly featured highly on the agenda in the education world. I’ve made a conscious decision to put myself at the centre of my teaching rather than the pupils for a while. My thinking is that if I’m rested, relaxed and positive about my teaching then it will be nothing but beneficial for the pupils, my work colleagues and my family. Luckily, I have a new HT who very much supports work/life balance and so it’s time to see if I can make this switch from 24/7 teacher to something a little more reasonable. This of course will mean some minor changes to my daily practice:

  • Ensuring I give as much verbal feedback to pupils as I can during lessons to limit the amount of marking I have after school (the most effective form of feedback anyway so it’s a win/win)
  • Continuing to make use of my favourite innovation this year – using traffic light boxes to help me target my marking. Children colour code their books in one of our Gratnells plastic boxes in red/orange/green at the end of lessons, Maths mostly, depending on how much more practice/support they feel they need after the lesson. I always target the ‘red’ books first and this has proved to be a true game-changer this year. It means I can have a quick check on the ‘green’ books without having to do a deep mark each day. In our school, we have done alot of work on growth mindset so that children confidently put their book into the ‘red’ box without feeling ‘stupid’ or ’embarrassed’. I’ve been amazed at how accurate their self-assessment has been since the very first week.
  • Marking during lunchtime but only for 30 minutes – the other 30 minutes will be spent in the staffroom away from the classroom eating my lunch, having a cuppa and enjoying some downtime.
  • Continue with my ‘homework club’. I’m not sure why it’s called that as it’s essentially a ‘marking club’ for me and a colleague. We both grab a drink at 3.15pm and then sit in my classroom until around 5.15 and simply mark our books. The rule is that we limit talking and actually we sit mostly in silence. The benefit is that we both feel that we are not isolated in our classes at the end of the day with a pile of books and it also ensures that we don’t waste an hour chatting in the staff room after school. It’s very focused and has proved effective this year, in particular because we are both members of SLT so our opportunities to mark after school can be quite limited with staff meetings and SLT meetings each week.
  • Don’t bring any more than 6 books (essentially one table of pupils) home per night if I’ve not managed to get through the books at school. I adopted this rule last half term as I was fed up of hauling up to 30 books home only to mark 4 or 5 before I was too tired/fed up/busy with the kids to do any more. So now I limit myself to just 6, try my best to mark at least 12-18 books in the lesson with pupils, my TA marks another 6 from her groups and the final 6 I work with next day or mark when I get to school. So far, so good.
  • Have one night off a week during the week. I think Tom Sherrington mentioned this in a blog last year on effective time management. I tend to do it on the night I’ve had PPA in school. It’ s not always been possible due to the natural workload peaks and troughs during the school year and I have to be honest and say that I tend to feel overcome with guilt if I’m not doing ‘something’ work related every night (a very bad habit I must break!). I’m working on mastering this one.
  • Try to do any planning on Friday after school or Friday evening when my brain is still in work-mode. I am feeling increasingly resentful at giving up Saturday or Sunday (mostly both) to plan/mark. I always, always feel better when I have had a weekend off; I think I teach better lessons too but only if I’ve organised myself on the Friday.  I think I’ve cracked the marking now so now it’s a case of using the marking to plan using whatever format works for me. Sometimes this is just notes in a Pukka Pad. I’ll also stop feeling bad about using quality schemes of work (there are loads out there, why do I still guilty if I don’t create my own from scratch…?!).
  • Carefully pick what Social Media I read. I have made a conscious move away from some groups on Facebook as last Summer I felt overwhelmed by the daily posts about amazing resources people had made, fabulous displays, gorgeous classrooms and frankly endless boast posts. I felt guilty and began to question my own ability because I wasn’t as productive as these bright, young things. Since then, I’ve moved more towards following positive bloggers and tweeters and quietly block those who make me feel anything less than good about myself.

So, here we go on the final push towards SATs, writing assessments, preparation for Year 7 Transition, (which always seems to take up more time than it should for Year 6 teachers I feel), leavers assembly, residential, enterprise project and beginning to get my head around next year’s Year 6.  The question is this: can I become a 10/5 teacher? Can I make enough adjustments without compromising my effectiveness as a teacher to reduce my workload to 10 hours a day, no more than 5 days a week?  Watch this space.


Changes changes

We are approaching the end of another school year; the dog days. SATs are already a distant memory as teachers of Year 6 across the country come up with inventive, fun and (don’t panic, OFSTED and SLT) educational ways to fill the days until they depart for pastures new.

It’s an odd term as it’s centred around one week in May and I’ll be honest when I admit that since the tests finished it’s been difficult to find that same push, that mojo. I wanted to enjoy my final, less frantic half term with my challenging, lively class who I have come to regard as my extended family having taught them for almost two years. More of that later. In fact, I have been drafted in to teach Year 5 each morning. Their teacher had left rather suddenly and the SLT suggested it might be a good idea for me to take over teaching their Literacy and Maths now, in readiness for next year. I had sort of set that ball rolling myself, as I took my current class with me from Year 5 to 6 and had commented on how easy it had made the transition in September. Note to self: keep one’s thoughts to oneself next time!

I felt a little bit stuck between a rock and hard place – it was probably a good idea to go with the Year 5 option (as it turns out they are behind end of year expectation and I am already setting class rules and expectations in place) but I am missing out on those more laid back lessons that my old cohort are enjoying each morning and then having to pick up a rather fractious bunch of Year 7-ready pre-teens after lunch! Hey ho – only 30 odd days to go and the transition visits are already beginning for some.

The other reason I always find the final half term a little odd is that mentally the teachers and SLT are preparing for September with class lists, stationary orders, end of year data and handover meetings taking place everywhere you look. The end of year assessments will be completed in the next fortnight and the reports done the week after that. In that way school is always an interesting place to be; it’s never static, always moving forward. Thanks to the terms we have, I tend to think of the school year as divided into several chunks. The settling in period in early September, the push towards those all important end of Autumn 1 assessments (where I always find myself asking: have they gone backwards over the Summer? Have they gone backwards with me, meaning the data will say that I’m a poor teacher…?), the first half term break of the year (the one where everyone is too exhausted to do anything) and then the countdown to Christmas otherwise known as silly season. I love the festive season at primary school – best place to be on Earth in December!! After Christmas it’s the darkest, hardest months of the year. Last year I made myself a list of things to try and do each week to keep me smiling through the cold, dismal mornings. I called it ‘January Sparkle’ and it included small things that would just lift my mood such as: have a fancy Costa coffee once a week (Gingerbread Latte anyone?), read for 15 minutes before bed each night, get up 10 minutes early and just enjoy a quiet cup of tea before the day truly starts, buy a new, colourful scarf to wear for playground duty. It worked. January and February seemed to pass by without the usual gloom.

After February half term it’s the more optimistic drive towards Easter and the return of lighter evenings. We are now past the midpoint of the school year and staff room gossip turns to job hunting and idle talk about who you will be teaching next year. For me this year’s Spring term was a non stop blur of booster groups, interventions and repeatedly looking at the deadlines leading up to SATs – I was terrified of missing key dates and finding that my class would not be entered!

Soon after the Easter holidays, as we ploughed forward on that SATs Express which is non stop revision and writing assessments, I had that wonderful realisation that the pupils were on track and some were beyond where I expected them to be. We were doing it! “Please God let the real life SATs papers be kind to us!”. It was this fear, this mantra that kept me awake at night – I dreaded (prior to a new style SATs test in 2016) that this year’s papers would be ridiculously tough and the children would sit in tears unable to do anything.

D Day came at last and it was huge relief when I realised that I’d done all I could for these children. There was nothing on the papers that I hadn’t taught them (my other fear!) and I knew that many of the topics covered in last minute revision was there in black and white on the paper! It was perfect. Results are out on 7th July and unfortunately that’s the day of celebration or damnation for me, the pupils and the school. After an RI at OFSTED in March, anything other than good results (and maybe some outstanding ones) won’t be good enough. This is despite this class making incredible progress both academically and socially since they came to me in September 2013.

I inherited an almost feral class of pupils who had managed to see off their previous teacher and reduce many staff to tears in their 4th year at Primary School. This information I only found out on my first day;  ‘you’ve got THAT class’ said everyone with a sympathetic smile. I quickly realised that the main issue with the children was a total lack of understanding about whose class it was. It was mine. I am the teacher. These are my rules. I lost count of the number of times I said that between September and Christmas. I lost count of the days I sat in traffic on frosty mornings on the way to work asking myself if I could really survive beyond my first term. I decided to spend Term 1 focused purely on behaviour management. I went for zero tolerance, clear explanation of expectations and lots of praise for those who did what they should.

Somehow I quickly won these children over. They liked me. They liked me alot and the key to my success seemed to be that the toughest nuts in the class thought I was amazing. I’m not ashamed to say I used that to its fullest advantage. The last thing they wanted to do was disappoint me and so they changed their behaviour . That’s not to say they magically became the perfect class – far from it and there still remain several boys with more serious behaviour and social issues – but on the whole this class that could make experienced teachers quiver were starting to shine like stars.

Best of all, their academic achievement mirrored their evolution. I’m so proud to say that several of the class (7) sat Level 6 papers for Maths, SPAG and Reading. A school record in itself. Whilst some of these individuals, who are now tall enough to look me in the eye or even stand over me, are ready to move on, I know that the majority of them are beginning to feel the pain of the pull towards their new schools. They know it’s coming, they know they’re leaving their school, their friends, leaving me. I have felt more than once that a few of the children look on me as a surrogate mother – even their own mothers have told me!!

At no time was this more stark and apparent than when pupil B had walked away from his umpteenth physical altercation with his nemesis. He had sought me out in the staffroom over lunchtime, as I had asked him to do if he felt he might ‘do the wrong thing’. He sat with me in the school hall having 5 minutes to calm down. We sat in silence and I said to him, honestly, “I don’t know if I can let you go back outside. How do I know you aren’t going to hit X?”. He took a deep breath and looked me in the eye and asked me “do you trust me?”. The fact that my trust meant so much to him stopped me in my tracks; as tears filled my eyes, it took quite a lot not to take him in my arms and give him an almighty hug. I had never been prouder of him (which I told him subsequently). And true to his word, he had a peaceful lunchtime and kept out of trouble.

And that, readers, is why I do my job. The days when I lug 60 books home to mark, the evenings when I am still preparing resources at 11pm, the weekend spent hunched over my laptop when the rest of the world seems to be on days out to the coast or the local playpark. They literally melt away at times like that and it’s the reason I remain at 24/7 teacher.

Roll on September!

A new beginning

So it’s half term – a long awaited break after 7 weeks working through the darkest, gloomiest months of the year – and I have decided that rather than talk about teaching and my loves and loathings 24/7, I would start a blog where I can spout forth to anyone who is willing to read it. Parents, fellow teachers, SLT, children. All welcome.

Who am I? A career changer in my 2nd year of primary teaching in the North of England. I was a Teaching Assistant in an ‘Outstanding’ (old framework…..) school for 4 years before embarking on the GTP (Graduate Teaching Programme). I vowed, as I wept with joy on the day I got my letter of acceptance onto that course, that I would never ever moan about the amount of work involved once I was a qualified teacher. True to my word, I am determined that this blog will not become an anti OFSTED, anti 21st- century-teaching platform.

I hope to blog about my day to day life as a modern teacher with all the associated highs and lows that come with it. There may be moans, there may be cheers of joy or tears of desperation. But hey, every day is different when you teach and so the peaks and troughs of my own emotional well-being and enthusiasm for my chosen career seem quite fitting really. Don’t get me wrong – although I have spent several hours recently pondering whether to return to my previous, well paid career; I feel an indescribable buzz when I teach. It’s hard to verbalise and perhaps something only other teachers can understand. Despite the stresses and strains of being a 24/7 teacher, I know I am in the right career. I am a good teacher. My pupils achieve excellent results and we have incredible fun in my class. My pupils become like an extended family during the school year and like my own offspring, I know I could never turn my back on them.

So, in a bid to find a release for the anger and stress of the tough days and the unmitigated joy of the ‘outstanding’ days, I thought I would use my new blog as an outlet to record my thoughts and feelings.

Today, for example, day 1 of half term I dragged my own 3 children into my school to pick up 60 books that I will be marking over the half term holiday. I bumped into my fantastically committed and talented TA as I arrived; she had come in to school to do a few filing and display jobs as she doesn’t get time to do them within her normal working (paid) hours. These days TAs are integral to the teaching in the lesson, which means that unless they are prepared to work for free over their lunch or after school, these fundamental tasks fall to the bottom of a long list of other tasks. Of course I don’t get a chance to do them myself, as I am otherwise engaged; marking books, planning lessons, preparing resources or at staff meetings. That’s not to say I am not thinking about these things 24/7 because I am. These thoughts arrive halfway through the night’s slumber and push other thoughts of “how I will get Child I to reach his impossibly high writing target by June and what questions will be asked of me in he doesn’t?”.

Oops, this blog is already beginning to sound like another dissatisfied educator having their say, so I will quickly counter balance the low with a lovely high. The email I received from a child yesterday to thank me for some supportive words I had given him. 24/7 teacher has read his plaintive e-mail in the wee small hours and noted his distress at something. Without pausing, I replied with the words of encouragement that I knew would help assure him. Spending 6 hours a day with these children means that by February you know each of them pretty darn well.  Needless to day, shortly afterwards a suitably cheery and re-assured email arrived in my inbox and I could carry on my Sunday without fretting about this child. 24/7.