Sunday, 9 May 2010

The long view

Too many times.

A situation where the student has behaved badly and rather than remember the long view I've reacted in that moment, forgetting that the student's feelings and relationship with me are not defined by the previous few seconds of mischief but the many experiences and exchanges over a long time.

It's embarrassing really. I am the professional (supposedly) after all.

However.

I got it right this week. There is a student who never does any work in my class and yet despite this seems to have taken a shine to me. She seems to hover at the end of lessons and waits in places inside the school when I'm on duty that will guarantee her being sent out but prior to that having a conversation. And yet, frustratingly, I can't get her motivated. But then I have managed to do that other great feat, that is provide more than knowledge (or access to it). I think I've managed to offer the girl solace.

I was teaching a year 7 (12 year olds) class when I glanced outside my room and saw her standing facing the wall, face in hands, sobbing. I invited her in and told her to take a seat at the back of the room where she sat, face still very much in hands. This was surprising as hitherto she had seemed immune to any type of emotion other than apathy and nonchalance.

I had to send for someone to come and collect her, (it turns out she had walked out of a maths lesson on the other aide of the school and people were looking for her), but she returned at the end of day. She walked to the local nursery with me where I picked up my son and walked back to my house where she waited outside whilst I dropped off said child. We then walked back to school and to the pastoral manager for her year group. She didn't tell me why she was upset but I did manage to elicit that there was something at home that was troubling her and left at that.

She returned again sometime later, this time with a friend who did the talking, and I advised them to go and find somewhere quiet to sit - I was giving a revision class and could not come away at that time.

Why did she come to me? I think it might have been because despite my frustration with her lack of effort, despair at her apathy and even punishments for disobedience, she knew that I cared and have always been polite and fair.

I just wonder how many other children haven't come to my door that would have done if I had had more perspective when dealing with them. How many more children are crying out for help?

Monday, 12 October 2009

Little things..

In teaching it isn’t often the big things that make the real difference.  I mean, yeh, getting results is a big thing and can be immensely satisfying and fulfilling.  But, actually, the bread and butter of the teachers experience is the little comments and events that put a smile on your face.  I give three examples below:

Today the year 9s (13-14 year olds) were chasing a frog around the edge of the playground.  I wondered what they were looking at and fearing for the life of the poor creature I went to have a look.  I scooped the little mud speckled chap up and took him to the school pond, where I was able to put my hand through a hole in the fence and put him down.  On the way of course I was able to say to some younger girls that they should have a look in my hands.  The sound of me chuckling to myself could long be heard after their scream had faded.  Interestingly they all wanted to have a look once their shock had faded.  I love that spark and interest that kids have – even in the face of slimy green mini-monsters.

The other day I asked a girl why it was she was well behaved for me and yet was on a behaviour report for what she was doing around the school.  She simply said, “because you deserve it, Sir”.  Brilliant.  And I probably don’t.  But it felt good.

Finally, I have been struggling with a difficult class this year.  Although they are getting better I am always trying to make the classes more interesting to make it worth their while behaving.  Last lesson several of them said “thank you”  as they left.  That made the several hours of planning for their course all the more worth it.

You could argue that I am far too concerned by what my kids say and that I should have more confidence regardless of whether or not they respond.  But it makes such a difference when just a few make the effort to appreciate you and respond.

Friday, 28 August 2009

Preparing to go back – Save time using OCR

I’m a fair bit lazy.  So when it comes to going back to school and having to write out 10 or more class lists over and over AND type them up in order to put them into a spreadsheet to track marks etc. I start to pull my hair out.  Especially when I write the name down wrong or within a week of being in school the class gets an extra student or even worse when after a month the new kids are reset having just been tested and have to completely re-write everything.  Well..  here’s what I do to save loads of time, keep my planner neat and also be able to update my class lists easily when people change classes..

Most scanners that you buy will come with Optical Character Recognition (OCR) software (even if you don’t know it does.  All this software does it look at the images you scan and convert whatever it finds into a Microsoft Word like document.  It also works on handwritten text and any image really that you put into it.

I use Omni page 4 and find it fantastic.  However, if you don’t have this or similar software there is an option in OneNote to do the same but it doesn’t produce quite as good results.

The image on the left is the scanned image, the one the right is how it appears once OCR has been performed.

image

As you can see, the data can then be manipulated and put into an excel spreadsheet.

image

For the 20 minutes you have to play with it to figure it out it it is well worth it.  And if your planner has pre-printed grids like mine all you have to do is change the excel spreadsheet cells to fit and it will line up perfectly.

Sunday, 16 August 2009

Positive Psychology: Negativity in Term-time

So, Term-time may not be correct and may not even need the hyphen but I’ll use it anyway. 

So I’m reading the Guardian (that great bastion of British liberalism) (and I’ll stop saying ‘so’ I promise) and I came across a wonderful section about positive psychology and thought it had some excellent ideas that were very applicable to the prevailing attitude of teachers during Term-time/term time/Term time.  my interpretation is as follows:

In life we tend to wander from the moment and constantly think about things that are going to happen or could happen or would be nice to happen.  Say if we’re playing with the kids but thinking about the following day at work.  By not living in the present we stumble into a familiar trap of planning and then grading our lives;  ‘when the kids are in bed then I’ll relax’, ‘I can’t wait for the weekend’, ‘once I’ve taught this year 9 group I’ll be okay’.  As Emma Cook, author of the article, points out, when we do this these are all moments of our life we are not living.  I also think that we then set some impossibly high standard for what a satisfied life will mean.  If I’m only happy when all the work is done and the kids are perfectly behaved and all the lessons are planned for ever that I’m never going to be happy.

And if teachers aren’t the worst for it then I don’t know who is!  We spend all the time saying, ‘just one more week of this half term and then I’ll be fine’ or ‘almost through the second term now –not long ‘til the summer holidays’ and worse yet, ‘I can’t wait to finish this 6 weeks holiday – haven’t done anything, can’t wait to get back and get my teeth into it properly.’  The teachers who are worst at doing this sort of thing are also the ones that always seem the most tired and frustrated as well.  I’m not saying they are only teaching for the holiday benefits but it seems that the holidays become some sort of reward for teaching rather than the time to rest so you can do a better job of teaching in the first place.

So, (I might as well finish how I started) when I do go back I’m going to focus more on enjoying teaching for what it is:  helping children grow and learn.  And focus less on what it isn’t:  a fair bit of paid free time between half terms.

And I promise to cease starting sentences with ‘and’, ‘so’ or any other erroneously used prepositions (as well as ellipses).

Wait a minute..

Furthermore?  …Finally?  …Just so you don’t get mad and never read my blog again?  …On a more grammatically correct note?

Finally, I promise  to cease etc etc.

Saturday, 11 July 2009

The real question is why this hasn’t happened before..

A teacher will appear in court today charged with the attempted murder of a pupil.  Having been taunted and verbally abused he “snapped” and hit the student around the head with a 2 kilogram weight. 

The surprising thing about this story is not that it happened but that there appear to be mitigating circumstances.  The man had suffered a stroke recently and had been acting strangely.  The stress he was was already under was exacerbated by the extreme behaviour of the students. 

Why is that surprising?  Because I’ve been waiting for something like this to happen but without any apparently mitigating circumstances behind it.  Although I don’t teach in a particularly difficult school by any means some of the abuse I have had to take from students has been terrible at times.  Where else in our society, other than in schools, is there a place where a young person is allowed to shout at, spit at, hit, swear at and intimidate their elders with little by way of punishment.  (Letting them stay at home for 3 days to play computer games isn’t really a punishment).

Let me give you an example.  The following was reported by national news paper "The Daily Telegraph” on 26th October 2007 and highlights just how much power is given to students:

“A TEACHER taken to court and suspended from his job after being accused of assault following an attack by a teenage pupil cleared his name yesterday.

Tony Bown, 40, was left with a broken nose, a black eye and a swollen face after he was attacked by the 15-year-old six months ago.

He was also scarred for life after his tooth was knocked through his lip, but he soon found himself arrested and charged after the boy, who was unhurt, complained that Mr Bown had assaulted him.”

We live in a country where teachers are put under more and more pressure and expected to perform at the top of their game day in and day out.  This is coupled with below standard pay, constant scrutiny, and little appreciation for the many long hours they put in (including in the so-called holidays).

The assault on this reportedly rude, abusive and aggressive young man by a trained professional cannot be justified.  It is also unjustifiable that teachers that are in no condition to teach, whether physically, mentally or emotionally, are not intercepted earlier. 

However, the greatest problem lies in the poor discipline of students and the current culture of anti-social behaviour.  Teachers by and large stay the same and have the same restrictions.  But if the kids become dramatically worse then……..

Tuesday, 7 July 2009

Praise (it really is a wonderful thing)

I once knew someone who wouldn’t have known what a compliment was if one came up, bit them on the bum and said what nice experience that had been.

I know someone else who, without trying too hard or being false, makes you feel like you’re doing a good job and that you are appreciated.  They motivate you.

The difference is that one was my boss and the other is a teacher in my department.

Is it any surprise that my teacher colleague was recently promoted after only 6 years of teaching to the post of assistant head.  And no there shouldn’t be a question mark on the end of that sentence.  It isn’t even rhetorical.  It’s a statement of fact.

Schools need good managers.  More important is that they have excellent leaders. 

Managers shuffle paper.  Leaders sort problems out.
Managers ruffle feathers.  Leaders soothe souls.
Managers cause perspiration.  Leaders kindle inspiration.
Managers incite.  Leaders ignite.

There is one more rule of thumb for what makes a good leader:  You work hard for them because you want to impress them and go the extra mile to get things done – not because you are scared of getting in trouble for failing but because you are afraid to let them down.

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Further reading:  The parable of the wind and the sun.

Saturday, 4 July 2009

N-Q-T and a D-a-d

Wife and kids are back from their holiday and the house is filled with much noise, laughter and tantrums.  And the kids haven’t been too quiet either.

Just this week I passed my Newly Qualified Teaching year making me a fully fledged, tried and tested (very, very tested at times) professional.  Or a at least a proper teacher in any case.  During the review with my tutor it was noted that only once had I ever mentioned the kids with regards to a problem (I had been two minutes late to school one morning).  Funnily enough I had been two minutes late on my first day during the summer although my wife had gone into labour, which I was confident would last the rest of the day, and so this seemed reasonable.  Anyway, I guess the question was how do you cope as a new teacher with all of the planning, marking, assessments and general jumping through hoops that accompanies this year in addition having done the same during my PGCE year?!  I suppose to answer this I will refer to what I have done and accomplished this week whilst they were away.

Nothing.

Or at least very little.

How could I have a free week and not manage to get much done.  Two reasons:

1)  When you sit on your own with your own thoughts and a very quiet house it can be very draining, not to mention demotivating.  Just like to point out that I am aware that I have in fact mentioned demotivating despite it being something “not to mention” and think that as a phrase/idiom/colloquialism it really is rubbish.  Anyways, the contrast from full to empty house can be disconcerting.

2)  The main reason I get less done when they aren’t around is because for so long now, whether through finishing Uni of PGCE or this year, my family has been my primary motivation.  I get things done because in the long run doing things well now will enable me to provide for them all the more in the future.  Me on my own is simple; I don’t need much to keep me happy and am fairly contented with just drifting through.  But that doesn’t put clothes on your kids’ ever growing backs or food in their hungry little bellies.  And it doesn’t give them the chance and upbringing I had, which surely they deserve as a minimum.

In conclusion:  I have not had a good couple of years in spite of having a family but because of them.

(I’ll still tell my wife she’s a pain in the butt though and that the break was nice!)