No-one ever said it would be easy…

Newsflash! Sometimes teaching can be really hard, really mean, and really horrible. But most of the time, in most schools and for most people it isn’t like that.

I don’t think I’m the only one who’s a teeny bit fed up of negative blogs like today’s Secret Teacher which take an experience and then extrapolate to suggest that it is common and widespread. It seems to me we are in danger of being drowned in a tide of this woe-is-me stuff as though we are somehow perennial victims who must forever suffer and who are unable to help ourselves. And I’m a bit fed up of the concomitant SLT bashing as though progress to SLT sees colleagues suddenly undergo a change of personality and professionalism.

As a profession we are constantly subject to negative publicity – as I type I’m listening to a young woman bemoaning the fact that she got no help from her school with an apprenticeship. I’ve lost count of the stories in the media of people who were off the rails but found salvation and the problem don’t–you-know was the bullying at school that no-one did anything about. Then there’s our erstwhile SoS and his henchman at Ofsted who have done nothing but criticise the profession. Now we’re doing it to ourselves.

Of course there are schools out there where leaders are inadequate or weak or bullies; of course there are schools that don’t always deal with things as well as they might…scratch that. At some time, every school has not dealt with something as well as they might. And, of course, sometimes colleagues aren’t as helpful as they could be. But is that the sum total of our profession?

No. It isn’t. I have had many difficulties in my very long career – I blogged earlier this year about bullying at the hands of a truly horrible headteacher (I can’t do the “here” thing but it’s called “I was lost and now I’m found”!) but there were other horrors along the way:
• Being assigned to an upper school at LA reorganisation with a new role and huge promotion and suffering suspicion, contempt and sneering from colleagues because of my middle school background
• Gaining an important promotion only for a coven of Heads of Faculty to write to the Governors to demand that I be unappointed
• Watching as some colleagues eroded my rather difficult teenage son through their nasty behaviour as they got sly digs at me through him

But those experiences and the colleagues responsible for them are in the minority and, I would argue, made me stronger and more compassionate to others. I survived them (as did my son) and have had many, many more good times than bad. How?
• Through the care and support of the majority of my colleagues
• Through working hard, educating myself and refusing to be beaten by them
• Through making sure I asked nothing of others that I didn’t do myself and earning respect for my work ethic
• By caring for and supporting others wherever whether it was a shoulder to cry on, helping out when marking overwhelmed younger colleagues, or a quiet £20 placed in a pigeonhole for a struggling youngster
• Through the hours spent in that best of all places – the classroom. My theatre and kingdom where I am privileged to work with young people in all their glory every day of my working life
• Through the pleasure derived from knowing I helped those young people get their grades and believe in themselves; that I helped them realise they are better than they think they are
• Through the sheer joy of seeing them years later as they allow me to see their success and thank me for my part in it

And I fail to believe I am the only person who has done these things.

So, as individuals, we can understand that similar hard times happen in all areas of employment and decide to help ourselves – and others – when the going gets tough which the law of averages suggests it will from time to time. We can be masters of our own destiny even when things look grim.

And it’s not standard that SLT= ogres! In fact, there are many Tweeters and bloggers who are Heads – SLT – and held in high esteem – @john tomsett, @vicgoddard, @headguruteacher @mishwood1 to name but four. Their work is well-known and shines a bright light on our profession – I would love to work with any one of them. Our Head does not Tweet or blog but a better human being would be hard to find and it is his compassion that sets the ethos of our school. From that, good things tend to flow. Here’s an example of some work undertaken recently in my school.

One of our faculties had been causing concern for some time with poor practice and very poor GCSE results– C+ was hanging around at the top thirties, low forties mark. Relationships in the faculty were poor, nothing much was being done and the staff were floundering. Then calamitously in the last six weeks of the school year there was an instance of exam malpractice. Suddenly, we had a faculty in crisis and a lot of upset and scared people. Did we all turn away? Walk on the other side? Wring our hands? Not quite.

First the standards issue. A new SLT link was assigned to them this year and worked with them to forensically analyse why results were so much poorer than our data suggested they should be year on year. A particular issue was identified with answering exam questions for which some training was put in place. The faculty was taken off timetable to work with one of our senior staff to look at ways they could improve this facet of their work. This summer results doubled with C+ at 80%. How flipping fantastic.

Then the malpractice. The SLT link and I worked together with the faculty. First, we took them apart by investigating the issue and laying bare their procedures, processes, shortcomings and faculty dynamics. It wasn’t nice to do, it wasn’t pretty and it lead to a very bruising report which, to her credit, the Head of Faculty took on the chin and declared that she wanted things to be better and would do whatever it took.

Then, we put them back together again. We listened to their concerns and issues and took away some of them to deal with while making them face up to others and thinking about what they needed to do. We organised time for them to go back to basics and think about their faculty and what they wanted. They wrote a new mission statement (no doubt this will cue some sneering but it’s actually not like Brain Gym or learning styles) and came up with an action plan.

And the result? When we finished for summer we had a team who were pulling together, working together and enjoying themselves for the first time in quite a while. We had people who came to ask for help, advice and support. I haven’t seen them since results were released but I’m pretty sure heads will be held high and they will be coming back to school with renewed determination to build an even better faculty.

No-one ever said it would be easy but it’s always worthwhile for all the frustrations and disappointments. I’ve said it before: ours is a noble profession, it’s a privilege and pleasure to be part of it, warts and all.

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My #Nurture 13/14 Updated

 

@jillberry started this when she challenged – or should I say goaded!! – me when I said I couldn’t face updating this blog as Id’ done nothing. Her view was that I’d probably done more than I thought and so I had a quick look. And, do you know what? I think she might be right although some of it seems like a swizz as bits of it are more a wish list than things I could actively do. Still….

 The 13

  1. I yearned for my son to have a successful interview for a TA post…and he did. Wonderful achievement for him after a long disheartening period in his life.
  2. I was pleased with my classes’ exam results to date – and they’ve improved. All of one group have achieved C+ and 80% of them have achieved B+ in English language while my amalgamated group of C/D borderliners all now have at least a C+. Well done them – they have one of the important “golden keys”. Let’s hope their literature results match next week.
  3. The IT tecchies continue to love me and are downcast that I am dropping to 4 days from September.
  4. Terrific T (subject of another blog) got a D with me from a standing start of absolute zero and an opening statement of “I can’t read”! We await her IGCSE result and hope for a magic C.
  5. I’ve been working with a fabulous group of young, brilliant AHTs who are also Faculty leaders. They re-generate me and have worked wonders within the school as a whole. This goes from strength to strength.
  6. I found Twitter – finally. And I almost lost my entire life to it as I looked at just one more Tweet! I enjoy it and like the blogging when I can overcome my sloth and actually write something!
  7. I was thrilled at actually meeting someone I follow on Twitter – David Didau, The Learning Spy – and still am. Now it’s great when someone well-known responds to a Tweet. I’ve had a few!!
  8. I did my first blog and I’m still going strong although it’s true to say I’m a tiny little mini-beast in the great blogging jungle!
  9. Our new school building should have a mention here. It’s up and we’re in it. It was hard work and quite traumatic and I was right – it’s not big enough!!

10. In the original blog I wrote “Loving my job has to feature here. I’ve been doing this for a long time now – when I look at Twitter I feel I may be like something from the Dark Ages compared to what seem to be the bright young things on there! But the thing is, I still love it. I still feel enlivened by it. I still feel full of enthusiasm and curiosity and a desire to keep learning about this craft of ours. I feel privileged every day that I am a teacher and I’m not prepared to let Gove and his Forces of Darkness spoil that for me!” If anything this gets stronger the closer I get to the day I hang up my chalk.

  1. One great thrill for me was paying off my mortgage! I have had and lost houses and probably paid enough in interest charges to buy a property in London. It was a long slog for me to finally pay off my mortgage. Now, I can hardly believe that I am poised to buy and apartment in the village in Spain where my dad lives!!! And yes, it is a blog on its own.
  2. I wrote about our town’s first Literacy and Ideas Festival and I’m pleased to say I now have an enduring friendship with Ikram Butt and The White Ribbon Campaign as a result. Even better we are having another festival this October.
  3. The rugby club continues to thrive and turned a profit for last year – a massive achievement. Sadly we will be relegated thanks to a change of league structure but we are confident we can get straight back up again.

So that lot looks great. Now for the 14…

 My 14 – in no particular order

  1. “Do my best to make the new building work for everybody- no easy task but essential. Some areas have gained greatly and some have lost hugely we need to look for equilibrium.” This proved difficult at first –ironically for me more than most! To be fair, I was having to move not only classroom but floor practically every lesson and fulfil a full roster of duties – basically every morning, break and lunchtime!! We are overcrowded, there are not enough classrooms and people are having to teach in all sorts of nooks and crannies, the much-vaunted air circulation system doesn’t seem to work on the top floor which is unbearably hot, stale and fetid. We are to have some additional building so these things should ease over the next few months.
  2. “Working with colleagues to design a new curriculum for KS3 will be hard work but exciting and worthwhile. It’s long overdue.” Our little group of five has done this and, after a lot of heartache, blood, snot and tears, we’ve made brilliant progress. We are going for a much more challenging and enriching curriculum and not before time.
  3. “Working with my Assessment focus Group to design new assessments now we have no levels is a priority and links with number 2. Exciting.” This proved quite hard to do and needed a lot of thinking! The same group has worked hard on assessment post-levels and we are pleased with what we’ve come up with – we just have to make it work now!!
  4. “Working out how to deal with the new accountability measures without putting undue pressure on the staff while keeping us off Ofsted’s radar is a must!. Enough said!” We’re still working on this but we have been helped by the changes Ofsted has already made to their framework – as well as the appointment of a new Deputy Head with a brief for standards who is already working on these issues.
  5. “Continuing to work with our bright young Assistant Heads before they inevitably move on to Deputy Headships – sigh.” I’m still doing this although one has already moved on – he’s the new Deputy mentioned above. One also applied for the job and will inevitably move on during the course of this year. She’s too good to stay anchored at AHT level.
  6. “Oh alright then – I want to lose weight. I’ve been saying this for about three years but I really need to do this.” After spending most of the year trying to persuade myself on this one, I did have quite a bit of success and lost 5 pounds. Sadly this was right before I came away on holiday so the losses are now gains I suspect. Isn’t it hard though when there are so many lunches and teas to be had out with friends????
  7. “Fervently hoping for the demise of Gove and his right hand man Wilshaw.” Job half done!! Although I can’t claim personal credit for this, more’s the pity!!
  8. “Helping AJ to find a job which will enable him to have his independence and self-respect back will be a challenge but after nearly 4 years of limited employment it is vital.” He did it!
  9. “Watching the re-generation of my town and seeing it grow and flourish.” It’s well under way and I’m hopeful the town will once again flourish.
  10. “Improving my Spanish and not copping out because I’m tired!” Erm no – not yet!! Although being in Spain does improve mu usage.
  11. “Finishing the bloody mystery blanket! This is a knitting project I started 3 years ago but have yet to finish because of time and the inability to do Swiss darning! How hard can it be?” Not yet. However, from September I will have an extra day to do my own thing so my first project is the mystery blanket. I have an added incentive as in December I will be gaining a genetic granddaughter – who may be called Peggy, although I’m hoping not! – and so I have a recipient for the blanket.
  12. “Working to ensure my rugby team don’t get relegated after all the hard work last season. It won’t be easy but we will leave no stone unturned in the quest.” We will be relegated probably only because of a change in the league structure, which is very annoying. I think we can still be proud of what we have achieved.
  13. “Taking more exercise by doing more walking and dusting off the bike I haven’t seen for the last two years! And when I try and excuse myself I will think of Tim Taylor and his inspiring, humbling blog and get my carcass into gear.” No! However, I have done a lot of swimming. Whilst in Spain I am swimming about 1500 metres a day and I swim a lot at home. The bike can be dusted off when I get back home and need to shift the holiday weight! Makes Tim’s dedication look even more impressive.
  14. “Weaning us all off ready meals and having more home cooked ones instead. Started that one already. Well done me!” No! Maybe I’ll get round to it when I have an extra day a week to ply with. I’m just not a cooking sort of girl – it’s lonely in that there kitchen!

 

So there it is. A bit of a mixed bag but as @jillberry102 suggested, I have done more than I thought.

 

The Seven Questions Experiment

1.

I chose my blog name in a bit of a rush. I was on holiday determined to set up a blog and diligently following the instructions. I hadn’t considered I would need a name for the blog so was a bit startled. The first thing I thought of was Love Learning as I do love learning. It was months later that I realised that someone else – @debrakidd – has exactly the same name for her blog!! My next move is to work out how I change the name to Love Life Love Learning to broaden its scope.

 2.

My one bit of advice is to do a bit of watching and waiting before blogging and don’t be intimidated by the bloggers who think they are the only people with a valid view.

 3.

One of the strangest things that’s ever happened to me was a trip up Spain’s highest mainland mountain – El Mulhacen – on a horse at midnight! This was my father’s crackpot idea on the grounds he loves the mountain and I rode a horse when I was a kid – about twice. There’s a blog in it so perhaps I shouldn’t spoil it!

 4.

I love you, Grandma.

 5.

When presented with the Time Machine I would return to the week before my mother died in 2001 and do what I was unable to do – make her seek medical treatment. Maybe then she would have lived to see her gorgeous great grandson.

 6.

I’ve always liked my first name but given the chance to choose one, I would choose Lily or Rose.

 7.

If I were a B movie it would be called The Nearly Woman.

 

My Life in Books

For as long as I can remember, I have been a voracious reader. As a child I was seldom without a book and it is only on coming to write this that I have considered why this might be. At primary school I loved it when once a week, while at a primary school in Monifieth near Dundee, we walked to a different building and a nice lady read us classical stories from Greek and Roman myths. Perhaps that is where I developed my love of the spoken voice – a love that might explain my addiction to Radio 4. I loved the Famous Five and Secret Seven books written by Enid Blyton and read most nights under the bedcovers by torchlight!

 When I transferred to secondary school in Broughty Ferry, I haunted the school library and had moved on to the lone Pine Club books by Malcolm Saville – they seemed a bit more grown up that the Enid Blyton fare – and Kathleen Fidler historical fiction. I went frequently to the library at lunchtimes to change my books and caused amazement in one of my peers when I revealed I read at least two books a week. I think what I loved about these books was the belonging, the being part of a gang and being able to have adventures. I had a peripatetic childhood, a product of my Dad’s job changes and the breakdown of my parents’ marriage – a rare happening in those faraway days. I’d had a tough time generally, culminating in Scotland with some nasty bullying and while I had friends, I was perpetually the outsider, the Julie-come-lately. It was hard to get in, to get accepted, to become part of the gang. Please note this is not a bullying-made-me-what-I-am whinge or a complaint about schools not dealing with it. The school did deal with it when my Dad finally found out and went to see the head teacher.

 And so through secondary school, college and early days of teaching. I read generally, a lot of tosh and plenty of good stuff. A particular memory is lying on the settee to finish a Tale of Two Cities and dissolving in to great gulping sobs as Sidney Carton sacrificed himself for the woman he loved. I loved Jane Eyre and felt a visceral grief when I finished it. I can’t help it, I’m in love with Mr Rochester. I hated Wuthering Heights – all that chomping around moors and digging up dead bodies. I just couldn’t hack it but keep promising I’ll read it again with a more mature eye since I seem to be out of step with the whole English literati!

 I read lots of children’s fiction so I could review it and recommend it to the kids I taught. One day a girl kept snickering in my middle school class and when I made enquiries I discovered she was reading Are you there God? It’s Me, Margaret by Judy Blume. I immediately borrowed it and giggled all the way through. Cue lots of Judy Blume reading and similar. I liked the sharing of books I enjoyed with the children.

 Then I signed up for the OU and my reading was kick started again. Plenty of poetry and Shakespeare – which I turned out to be good at! Do they count? There were novels but my strongest memory is of how much I hated Flaubert’s Madame Bovary. God, it was tedious. Lots of holiday reading when I visited my dad in Spain and had to amuse myself during his long siestas and early nights. Some great – lots of police thrillers, Jonathan Kellerman a favourite, Faye Kellerman ditto – though she did start to get on my nerves a bit, Patricia Cornwell – you can see the way it’s going. Some absolute rubbish – I’ll name no names in case I get sued but suffice to say, I wondered how some of them ever got in print.

 Then, joy of joys, my local Waterstones started a book club. I signed up straight away and it was great. It ran for seven weeks and the tutor paired books via themes or genre or other criteria and I learned and absorbed and wondered. I was in a gang and our adventures were books. It was a tough gig as we had to read two books each week and then go and have a discussion about them. I vividly remember dashing to read The Color Purple on the train to Manchester. But I learned to be more discerning, to see that Alice Walker couldn’t hold a candle to Zora Neale Hurston and Their Eyes Are Watching God. I discovered writers like Kate Chopin – The Awakening, Flannery O’Connor – Wise Blood which I pictured as a black and white movie while I read, William Faulkner – As I Lay Dying. I might have come late to this party but I loved it. We had three cycles of the book club and then, calamity. The plug was pulled. I was heartbroken.

 I’ve passed through the Harry Potters, loving them but seething with resentment that I hadn’t thought of it first and onwards to The Hunger Games Trilogy and Malorie Blackman and a range of the classics as I set them for extra reading for my Key Stage 4 groups.

 I could not be without Lionel Shriver’s We Need to Talk About Kevin – and if you haven’t read it you should. I’ve always been interested in the families left behind in these American high School massacres. What if your child is the assassin? It is beyond imagining but Lionel Shriver nails it. I can be a bit slow and I didn’t see the end coming until the last few pages. Cue more tears!

 And so I tumble onwards. Holiday reading this year has encompassed Laurie Lee’s As I Walked Out One Mid-Summer Morning with Gerald Brennan’s South from Granada waiting in the wings for a second read – these two a nod to my holiday life in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. I’m trying not to finish The Saints of New York by RJ Ellory because I’m loving it so much and I have Gulliver’s Travels lined up next because I’m not sure I’ve ever read it.

In the village where I spend my summer holidays most people of my father’s generation cannot read or if they do it is pretty rudimentary. Many in my generation seem to be not a lot better. In all the time I have been coming here – ten years – I have rarely seen a local reading a book. I can’t imagine what this must be like.

 

Books open worlds, ideas, possibilities. They are friends, bolt holes and safe harbours.

The die is cast

 

I am in contemplative mood as I sit high in the Sierra Nevada Mountains hiding from the afternoon heat and thinking about next year. It’s that dread thing: my last year in teaching – unless the Head offers me an eleventh hour deal I can’t refuse! And so, my contemplation is about retirement which at present is a puzzling state as I work out what it means – or more correctly what I am determined it won’t mean! Here, in no particular order, are the things that won’t define my retirement (I hope!):

 Beige

As I take more notice of the people around me who are evidently retired I have noticed an alarming tendency for them to wear beige. A word here to clarify that stone, cream, sand and chino are NOT beige. We can all recognise beige – it’s colourless, soulless and even more ghastly when worn in double or triple style: top, bottom, shoes. Why anyone would want to wear beige is beyond me. It seems to suggest a desire to hide away or fade into the background as a sort of non-person. Not me. I’m with Jenny Joseph and wearing purple will just be the half of it!

 Clothing

Anything in Marks and Spencer labelled Classic, elasticated waists, shoes fastened with Velcro or similar, windcheater jackets (especially beige), tartan slippers, twin set and pearls, glasses on string. Enough said.

 Tight perms and blue rinses

Well really, any hairstyle that shouts “little old lady”. And that includes grey!! I know it happens but we don’t have to give in to it. I have a horror of grey hair – mine started in my very early 30s but has never been seen. I think it’s a family thing – we go grey early and we never, ever admit it! My nana was 88 when she died and I never saw a grey hair on her head. Ditto my mum who died in her early 70s. My fear is that as soon as your hair is grey you are easily pigeonholed and then ignored as feeble-minded.

And the only acceptable rinse is the kind sported by the saintly and beautiful Helen Mirren.

 False teeth

NO!

 Golf

I don’t really get golf and the rush to retire to get on the golf course.  I am baffled and as one with Mark Twain in viewing it as a good walk spoilt. The game seems fairly pointless to me but worse than that is the whole golf club ethos with its Lady Captains, proper Captains (one assumes) teeing off ceremonies and an infinite set of rules governing conduct, dress and – for all I know – the way you hold your mouth when putting, not to mention who can go where and when!

 Bowls

See above – except for the walk bit. White clothes, voluminous skirts, hats, flat shoes and, of course, the ability to roll something in a desired direction for the desired distance. I can’t do that so maybe I’m biased!

 Walking in swimming pools

What is that all about? I am lucky enough to swim in a pool that is a uniform depth and increasingly there are people walking up and down it. Now, I realise that this is not the exclusive domain of the retired – bald, tattooed twats do it too but as I’m not ever going to be a bald, tattooed twat that doesn’t count.

I mean, the clue is in the name “swimming pool”. It’s for swimming. If you have trouble weight bearing then swimming – proper swimming where your head gets wet rather than pokess out of the water like a periscope – is ideal exercise. No need to take up valuable space walking up and down.

 Food Shopping on Saturdays

It’s for people who work all week and have to do their shopping on Saturdays. The retired should not be cluttering the supermarkets and Marks and Spencer – they have all week to do it and really, going on Friday won’t make much difference.

 Voting Tory

Seems that’s where the grey vote is. Well, not mine. Not ever.

 Holidays

I shall be away a lot – I hope – but can I really call that holidays when I won’t be working? Holidays are those things workers look forward to all year as a respite from the daily grind of toil and worry. Some of us have been lucky enough to be able to have multiple holidays or little breaks each year but from next September I won’t be having holidays. I’ll be having time out when flights are cheap! It’s not holidays and it feels like cheating. And I promise I won’t be gloating.

 Room 101 awaits the above! But there is something else I want to put in there. Now the die is cast, I can’t hide from it and the dreaded “this-is-the-last…”. When we return in September, it will be last first-day-of-the-new-year and the last ever headteacher-state-of-the-union-speech. And so it will go on throughout the whole year with a series of lasts. No. The “lasts” are going in Room 101 to avoid provoking the melancholy that threatens to overwhelm me every time the R word comes to mind.