Monday Period 6 – Extra curricular? NO – vital lifeblood

A previous Headteacher at my school set out our 1265 hours (in the days that it applied) he carefully calculated that after teaching supervision and meetings we all had 65 hours left and announced to us to “do something with children” clubs, sports, music trips. It began a culture of what was then called the ‘hidden curriculum’ is now called extended day or extra curricular.  I’ve come to see it as part of an essential and vital oxygen supply to the life of our school.

0913-230913-23Clubs activities and trips and visits have huge value in their own right. Great wonderful opportunities: Places visited, skills learned, social mixing and making new different friends, role modelling and aspirations, teamwork, independence, curiosity spurred, performance demands recognised and celebrated. But it is much more than that – most activities bring ‘volunteer pupils’ along, well maybe some arm twisted pupils but the keen and enthusiastic. Then of course there is no   the activity, no league table pressure on pupils or staff. I’m not saying sports teams don’t have some pressure, we all know it’s not the taking part but the winning. It’s not as if we would accept a sloppy musical performance so we still have standards but not exams, not grades.Then at the heart of these activities just as at the heart of the school are relationships and they are somehow a bit different. I don’t know I can describe the differences:

  • Teachers still monitor behaviour
  • Teachers still work with parents ( they get cross when parents turn up late to collect their children and forget the old “thank you)
  • Teachers still do health and safety checks
  • Teachers still plan and think of the worth of the details drawn from the activity (hey and some activities take so much planning and paperwork we all wonder that they ever happen)

0913-23But there is something magical about this relationship, pupils often really love those activities and therefore their teachers. Older pupils do for the most learn to genuinely appreciate the effort, the time and the contribution and so too do their parents ( OK not always I know). I wonder if we (me) as SLT appreciate the effort , energy and contribution. It’s not just about publicity, the head being able to say we do DofE and sport and yoyo club…and …and…..obviously that does happen and should do with a huge pride, because it is a source of rich cultural endeavour. It’s not just about the school website looking attractive with photos of trips and music and sport ( you can check ours!) In my view it helps with a much deeper question.

0913-23A lot is written about behaviour and behaviour management and we all have to learn our own ways to keep discipline. I sometimes disagree with SMW but he is right about discipline and low level disruption he just doesn’t articulate his complaint so well or the media distort it.

If children like school and like the staff and like the activities surely they are beginning to like school to such a point that they are therefore less likely to disrupt, to mess about to skive or be absent. The extra curricular life blood is critical. Pupils begin to appreciate their institution because of the people, not the building.  So those caught up, attend school and then when they find themselves in a geography lesson, well they might try and might just learn, a skilled teacher can exploit their commitment to the school. So we all benefit from the contribution of those who run after-school, or lunchtime clubs or weekend trips. Recently SMW and OFsted have published materials about low level disruption and if you have ever had to work out which ‘benefits to remove’ or ‘punishments to give’ to a pupil – an after school detention, or isolation, or even lines, there is nothing to compare with the statement “you can’t go on the trip, you can’t play football this week” Express this morality will have a powerful effect.  Even if you have to explain the vitality of taking these opportunities by spelling it out to pupils and parents do so and some poorer behaviour will become less of an issue.

0913-23I often look at our pastoral staff, and they are good, very good I think and they can be excellent with some potentially difficult pupils getting them to conform. Why? Often because they took the same pupils in y7 in a sports team, or encouraged them to learn an instrument and congratulate them on successes within the school day but beyond it too. They went with them on the battlefields trip or the trip to France or organised a trip to LIncoln, hey supported their interest in the HET visit to Auschwitz. Or just maybe stand alongside them digging in our allotment, or….

0913-23Our old head was spot on. Don’t use teacher hours in endless meetings, encourage them to do things with children. After all for most of us doing things with children is why we came into this job in the first place. It makes for a rich experience, and it helps pupils learn to really love school and love teachers and that done behaviour will be better and then learning improves and teachers can get on with that other job – teaching and learning.

Some links:

Sutton trust articles on extra curricular consequences

BBC on tuition and hobbies helping richer children

Some questions to consider

Q1 How can we share and highlight the importance of extra curricular opportunities to parents, pupils and teachers?

Q2 Is it right that the worth is greater than the intrinsic value of the activity?

Q3 What do schools do to ensure staff have the energy and resources to sustain extra curricular activity, when they are under enormous pressure already?

For those in a church school

Matthew 5:40

if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. 41 If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. 42 Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.

Galatians 6:10

Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people

Ephesians 5:16

Making the most of every opportunity

Ecclesiastes 7:27

“Look,” says the teacher, “this is what I have discovered:

 

7 YBA Chemistry Teacher

In my blog yba teacher I confess to a small white lie or being economic with the truth – teaching is a great job but Chemistry teaching is the best!

[Now I know there are frustrations, problems, annoyances, SLT (hey I’m one) BUT here are my positive thoughts.]

What it is about Chemistry and teachers?  It’s a great subject to teach, though not easy (are any?) so what do I think makes our subject unique , intriguing and beguiling.

It has a great intellectual capacity and challenge. There is no doubt there is a lot to know, a lot to understand, a great deal to work out,  a challenge of how it all applies but at its most basic Chemistry is about ‘problem solving’. From the exam questions to the global problems and from the latter the history of discovery, serendipity, heroes and well a few anti-heroes too, some absolutely lifechanging discoveries and developments and some we are overwhelmingly embarrassed about. but it generates huge curiosity. One of my first ever lessons with a brand new shiny y7 and I added acid to indicator, then added alkali and as it went from red back to green a small child open-mouthed, staring from a silent audience in my lab said “bl**dy hell that’s amazing” and the whole class and me gasped, his face said it all, one of astonishment and yes we had a word about his words. but who couldn’t read about our subject and not be curious. There are patterns and themes and exceptions and rules and maths and observation and theory and practice, what could be more intriguing?

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For me the real highlight is that it has great stories : of discovery, of changing the world for the better, of poison and intrigue, of dedication, of enviable cleverness, of battling against the odds. Stories of people (too many to list) and materials. it has a great history, it’s involved in culture, it is …everywhere. If you are a non chemist reading this get hold of ‘Chemistry world’ from the RSC in a local library and I defy you to read two or three copies and still not agree: medicines, dyes and paints, fuel, energy, food, agriculture, materials from plastics to metals, detergents, cosmetics, …..just soooo wonderful. I might even claim the history of mankind is driven by Chemistry, you can’t fight a battle against warring invaders in a bronze age without..bronze, and you can’t fly aeroplanes to escape without Aluminium. I can only tease you here, otherwise it’s a book on the way!

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Resources: the subject has come along way in classrooms since I learnt in the 70’s from a textbook and the occasional copy of “New Scientist”. There are fantastic books and blogs, magazines and great stuff for children like the wonderful “Chemical Chaos” We have great writers like John Emsley, how could you read anything he has written without being desperate to share the story. But it creeps in elsewhere in Physics and Biology from DNA to solar panels…we are here, there everywhere –  #loveChemistry. I have taught Salters’ Chemistry since it was first piloted in the 1990’s but if you don’t teach it, get the Chemical story book and I’ll refund your money if you don’t make good use of it

People: The subject is a living one and so we study past, present and future at school and then there are graduates, PhD’s  and post docs, researchers and professors, retired Chemists who blog and write and tweet, there are Uni researchers sharing their research. Check out the RSC Learn Chemistry  and make sure your school is involved. If you are not on twitter get started, and follow the likes of…actually it’s not fair to mention a few here, there are so many keen to help and half the fun is finding them on twitter, some may even retweet this blog. In due course I might get around to listing the bloggers and tweeters. Alternatively search for #Chemistry or #lovechemistry. There are also the phenomenon that are twitter chats such as #asechat. Over my 30+ years I have had the great genuine pleasure of meeting all sorts of academics, industrialists and educators. They have always been willing to share and help and support. I’m not sure I have capitalised on this but it can be done. My school had a wonderful industrial link with Boots locally for many years when industrial visits were part of the specification – Boots were hugely helpful and my students found the visits to….essentially pipes and pots…fascinating. How? The whole visit was around solving problems in production of Ibuprofen and hey….they were good. [see ofqual there is more to teaching than assessment ut your is a critical role!]

Web based resources. In recent years we have seen a growth in resources on school websites and university websites and fantastic links to be pursued and followed. Organisations well preeminently the RSC but also the ASE. Local sections, paid staff and volunteers, publications and websites and the most wonderful CPD.There are foundations like Nuffield, organisations like CIEC, NSLC and University departments too numerous to mention, my experience is that these people are always willing to respond and support too and I’ll add in any more if you let me know any obvious one’s omitted. I have though to mention @RSC_Eic because their website and magasine has a special place in my work but it is always an inspiring read with something to make you think and something for you to try and use. stuff for students, events to take students along to and great ideas to use with them. I can’t leave this section without referring to videos ( hey we watched the Christmas lectures in my day) and of course youtube has great links. You really must store periodic table videos from the University of Nottingham in your favourites but here is my all time favourite video all the way from 1947.

Practicals: From demonstration to class practicals through to investigations. I still love demo’s, yes a few bangs and a few ‘ooh agh’ colour changes or explosions but also the finer details, demonstrating a titration properly and seeing youngsters learn and do their own, aiming for really good results. Class practicals, especially if we keep them a little open ended and coax some extra curiosity. No not those we have to use in coursework or controlled assessments, just great practicals. If you get a chance make use of local companies or Universities willing to show/use some of their big kit too. I am still scared when we start our Investigations with Y13. Perhaps ten or twelve different experiments over 3 weeks, carefully planned, executed only to find this is Chemistry and sometimes doesn’t do as it should, written up, analysed and evaluated and all that for 90 UMS, and they enjoyed it. Not sure where this is going in future Ofqual!

Making nylon

Exam questions ( well applying Chemistry) I mentioned intellectual curiosity and once pupils have learnt enough basics ( although my University tutor claimed that took 3 years as an undergraduate) we can then solve problems. I refer readers to OCR specification assessment materials, they are a major challenge as pupils look at their problem solving in a new context. All the exam boards have stuff like this. You can’t really look at solutions to an ozone crisis without understanding bond energy. You can’t look at fuel replacements without a deep knowledge of thermodynamics and despite the interest in a manufacturing process you really do need to get a good grasp of equilibrium and kinetic Chemistry. I recall one bright A Level student say to me after their exam “Sir that was really hard, you never taught us about poisoning deer” which was true, the derivation of course was Arsenic chemistry (also not taught but worked from the pattern of N and P). I love those new and different contexts and I always reckon one of these young pupils might just be able to replicate photosynthesis in a test tube one day.

Frontier stuff: Yes we can share the here and now, sure we have to cover atomic models established back at the turn of the last Century but we can look at the major modern progressive stuff too:green chemistry or clean technology, computer modelling and yes we can read about whoever won the Nobel Prizewinners in Chemistry (another brilliant website) and we can think why and what it might mean.

Chemical education research it’s not just a subject with diverse, interesting and challenging content from the worlds of Industry, academia, research, Art, culture. But we do have proper chemical educational research, and like the content it’s not just a UK tradition. if you need a starter, try this site, but do look at stuff going on in Higher Education too as much can be brought down into secondary.for example there is a lot of discussion going on about ‘flipped classrooms’ bet we can draw from that. ( oh and they might learn a bit from us too). So lots of wonder CPD and commitment, including the RSC’s latest paper on Chemistry teaching and I added a positive but challenging voice in a recent endpoint, whatever happens the commitment is there for the profession.

Rare orchid, smells of chocolate, makes the milk of cows that eat it turn blue!

Rare Swiss orchid, smells of chocolate, makes the milk of cows that eat it turn blue.

Activities  Pupils do love their practicals but we are richly blessed, we can stimulate great data analysis, we can develop and try out micro scale practicals, we can turn to molecular and computer modelling. Back in the day I tried so hard to think in 3D and I think my inability prevented my progress but then along comes molymod models and then computer graphics. This will light up the Chemical world. I have a few old OHP I drew to explain electrolysis, atoms with a bit missing (cations) and atoms with a little extra electron being picked up and I flashed these up quickly to make a video. Laughable now as we can see so many animations, we can even do ‘play’ experiments in school altering the temperature and pressure etc of complex reactions or processes.

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Ah – the Element of surprise

Careers– I think Chemistry qualifications show some sort of standard even in this ever changing time. Our pupils are well served by a GCSE in Chemistry, an AS or A level and BTec’s in linked areas ( though I wish the vocationals could be sorted properly!) and of course a massive variety of degrees and linked degrees. But we chemistry teachers can get great careers too, after all these teachers are good problem solvers ( theoretical and practical) they are good communicators, they know about research principles and hopefully they are a touch eccentric and they share great good humour: need I say more! Interestingly the fantastic Chemistry teachers I have met and worked with, very often still think of their classroom lessons as the highlight, they really do #lovechemistry.

Colleagues – I work with and have always worked with great chemistry colleagues, sharing ideas, learning from each other, thinking how to improve what we do or frankly working out how to use some new spec or new assessment model to advantage. Just discussing Chemistry with another person interested in the world of Chemistry, is frequently uplifting.

Students– best bit of the job, trying to teach them, trying to help them learn, coping with their lows and highs, getting them through mocks, tests, exams, answering their questions, moving their ideas, challenging their understanding, helping them solve problems, sharing the stories, working out how to motivate this one, challenge that one and support them all. The best being when they get it, when the proverbial penny drops, when they see the bigger picture. The other reward when they enjoy chemistry, decide to choose it into y12 or y13 or HE. Especially those having chosen it as a ‘ best of a bad choice’ who find they too #love chemistry and then think of HE or employment in the world of Chemistry. Seeing them sailing off into the Chemistry sunset….or sunrise 🙂

So if you are a prospective chemist wondering about teaching at school or in HE…go for it, you won’t regret it, and if you are a Chemistry teacher in the broadest sense:

Q1 What else do you think makes it a great subject?

Q2 Are there other things professional bodies could do to help us?

Q3 What obstacles that stand in the way do we need to shift?

Q4 How else can we share our enthusiasms?

IMG_1235

7YBA Teacher

[Like all set liststhis one may change by those annoying SLT i.e. me; Mainly if you reply or tweet me anything forgotten.]

Some of the best things about being a teacher:

You get to work with some great pupils. those who want to learn are in the majority, they are keen to hear from you, your knowledge and keen for you to help them understand, to apply knowledge and yes sure to pass exams. In secondary there is a massive variety of ability and also of ages. There is a huge difference between a y7 and a Y9 and a Y11 pupil. That is a major challenge. At the heart of the job, good relationships with your pupils, and an opportunity to open their minds, challenge their minds and do much the same for yourself.

You get to work with some great teachers. People of wisdom about the school or about the job. Hey and you need to aim to be like that yourself one day. It is a profession full of intelligent and clever people, but the best are the witty ones! you will also get to work with great support staff, secretaries who understand you can’t speak to a parent just now, exams officers who sort your error, and ICT technicians who we call “superheroes”. Those many interactions are, in the best places full of witty banter.

You get to share your subject. That means you share your passion, enthusiasms and you learn about your subject. It is difficult to teach a topic without mastering in so whatever subject you love you get to love it more.

You get a specification or a curriculum to teach. You get some guidance from schemes of work ( which you can contribute to) and to try to fathom out the best way to deliver the objectives. Lots of colleagues will help you and also be willing to learn from you. You need to learn to make good use of resources

You get to be creative./ OK, so there are Powerpoints and worksheets but there are also activities and practicals and a massive host of ideas. Some are in your school, some on the internet and some in your head. You can also contribute to that wonderful pool of resources. Hey and you get to share your humour.

You have to look out for data. Yes, you have to mark books and assess work and get depressed about mock results. But mostly you use any data to help you engage with pupils and help them learn and improve. You do really assess for helping learning. In fact other data…forget it. You get to see the wood for the trees and the trees in the wood, individual pupils progressing and growing up, under your guidance.

You probably get a pastoral role. Looking after a tutor group is another twist to the wonders in the job. Checking they attend, they have the correct kit and uniform and do their homeowrk. It might sound a routine but there is nothing better than helping youngsters in your tutor group. They have bad days or bad things happen, they have birthdays and good things to celebrate – you can be involved. They get pleased with a report, they get disciplined, they need someone keeping an eye.There will be some pupils who your involvement, helps keep them engaged and helps see them achieve. No one forgets a good tutor. You’ll meet them later in life, you will.

Professional support. Well there is CPD and courses and INSET stuff but there are also subject associations, twitter, blogs, teachmeets. meeting colleagues in other schools hearing their moans snaffling their ideas.Though for some, nothing better than a conversation in the staffroom at the end of the day

You get a career. You can move into all sorts of areas. You might get interested in SEND pupils, or EAL, or gifted pupils. You might get interested in careers advising, pastoral work, running a dept or in assessment and examining, or writing books, or educational research or teacher training…the list goes on. Develop your interests

You get to do some extra curricular stuff. Maybe your own interest or a hobby well you can share it, even if it is a bit obscure, but it might also inspire someone at your school. The obvious, run a football team take the basketball, run the orchestra, organise the drama, help with the technical stuff. But there is also the yoyo club, the chess club, organising the charity fundraising…..nothing will go unnoticed, well it might be a Head or SLT ( it shouldnt) but it ont by the children neither their parents

You get to work as part of a team. As a subject teacher you are in a dept, others to chat to about your subject, about your class, about their progress. Stimulating, challenging and usually supportive. If you want you to can learn a lot from this group. But you are also in a pastoral team. Watch and learn how well some staff deal with those apparently difficult or vulnerable pupils

You get to work as an individual. Frankly when the classroom door closes despite observations or even cameras, you are the adult in charge of the learning. It’s your room, your timings, your decisions about following the plan or abandoning a bit. It’s where your reputaion is made and respect is created. You get to perform, to act, to entertain, to control, but most of all to teach, to inspire, to help children learn and progress and get a qualification and begin to become an autonomous, independent confident young person

Magic moments i got that, ive understood that, Ive got this right, I can do this. A smile a look a decision to do your subject in options or post 16 or even in HE. A parent thanking you, a pupil thanking you. A pupil achieving their dream. Lots of ‘little lights’ going on, and many ‘Oh Agh” moments.

You get support (usually). Support from colleagues from pupils, from parents and from your local community, the village the district, or if a faith school it might be a parish). Usually local people and businesses are supportive, they might employ your pupils or take them on work experience. Teachers get a good press ( try being a politician lawyer, estate agent or banker) we are trusted. Your view might actually count, in a classroom and community if not in whitehall.

You get paid. The pay isnt so bad ( unless you live in London and/or want a lavish lifestyle) the pension is OK but might be deteriorating. The holidays are good but maybe not quite as they appear from outside the profession. Despite any moans most teachers enjoy going back to work.

Hey there are drawbacks: you need stamina; despite all your effort a class gets you down; pupils can behave badly or sometime they behave well but just do not appreciate your effort (on the face of it). Leaders sometimes don’t help they interfere, then annoy, they rearrange things, they tell you off. Some parents…well perhaps the less said the better. Governments interfere..let’s say even less about that. Resources can be short in comparison to a neighbour school or another dept.

You will have avery busy days. Very intense and lots of interactions but you will never be bored. There are no two days the same, and frankly no two lessons the same.

It’s a great job, lots of us, old and young still #loveteaching

If you wish for a glimpse, take a look at the easy to read stories of life at a school (Trinity, mine)

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Trinity Lower courtyard

Thanks for all the tweets and messages and for version 1.1to the following

@Mando_Commando
@Ramtopsgrum
@Ngoalby

Friday Period 7 – A worthwhile job

Twitter, blogs and some newspaper articles are failing to balance the good things about the job of a teacher as well as the pressures, and I think I’ve done that in my blog too, so this post is to remind me and others what a great job it can be.

This time of the year I seem to be at various events where I come across ex pupils, including some such as parents (who I once taught) of our new Year 7. It’s also a time when emails drop in from those graduating with news of degrees, of firsts, of jobs and “please can you do a reference?”If I had a facebook account I might keep up better but I might never get any work done.

Friday evening and I had an invite to a party – not really me after an exhausting week but out I went. It was to celebrate a local company achieving over 10 years of business, and it’s run by a former pupil. I went with a few other colleagues and could not have anticipated such an uplifting evening, not least the gratitude which greeted us just for being there. During the evening several others ex pupil peers were there and I caught up with their activity but they just wanted to talk about school days, for some almost 20 years ago. Another little generation appeared through a connection and off we went again as they enquired about teachers, reminisced about their time. Spookily it was almost a self assessment reflection : what I did well, what I could have done better, what I am working on….

I was interested that they were still looking for some approval too but it was genuinely lovely to see them, to hear about their families, their work and their lives, and of other ex-pupils too To hear they made business decisions seriously influenced by the ethos we tried to share, was quite significant too. I recently had contact with two others now involved in the media, they still call me Sir, they still laugh about the funny moments and they have a huge pride in their school, oh and they pull my leg. I’m not naive, there will be many ex-pupils not in touch, who hated me, hated school and may or may not have been successful, I might never know, but what I do know is those I bump into remind me of why I do the job I love, even those whose life took them in a different direction.  Oh and I do know it’s not all down to school, schools are complex places, so too are people, the influence of family and friends and their own integrity are often much more important, but we play a part.

Two other ex students are both involved in teaching and they wanted to reminisce but they also wanted to pick brains, each other’s and mine. How sweet I actually thought, you still want to hear my ideas, my thinking, I would have thought you had more than enough of that – not so!

So fellow teachers and especially those starting in the job, or going on as NQT’s or moving into the early years of the job, my post is a bit of an antidote to the Guardian’s “Secret teacher” oft complaining ( sometimes rightly) of the job. Sure there are issues, battles, problems, massive frustrations, stuff out of our control BUT the job is about education – educare “lead out” and meeting older pupils after Uni or after a period of work or after parenthood and seeing them having blossomed and fond of their old school (and their old teachers) does make for a reminder that the job is worthwhile.

My two ex pupils are now in education ( trainer and teacher)  both had sat in A Level Chemistry with me, I can recall both as clear as if it were last week, the marking of their coursework and the stuff they did which annoyed me, and getting them to listen, dragging stuff from them as we always do (don’t we?) feedback and probably a hundred other things I did whilst teaching them hey they are so worthwhile. We often say we look for pupils to ‘fulfil potential’, we have all handed out results at KS4 or KS5 which have seen the pupils dream from Y7 come true ( even when it felt a very long way off in Y7) and to see them now…..well it made sitting down to that work then seem all the more worthwhile, and spurs me on to the next tasks I have to do too.

So the purpose was to remind me and you, reader, what a great job teaching is. Oh I know this is all anecdotal there is plenty more to notice:

  • pupils who manage to learn
  • pupils who progress and achieve
  • pupils who turn things around
  • pupils who take responsibility on
  • pupils uninterested in a subject becoming fascinated or curious
  • pupils who discover and exploit talent
  • colleagues who make ideas work……my list could go on but it’s Friday 7: forget school and enjoy a beer. Except that…..school, well it just never really goes away.

Some questions to ponder

Q1 What are the long term rewards of the job?

Q2 Do we share the better aspects, the philosophical reasons why we do this every day, to encourage the next generation of teachers?

Q3 Give me a child until they are seven……and I will give you the (man) adult. Discuss!

For those of us in a church school

Luke 6:40

The student is not above the teacher, but everyone who is fully trained will be like their teacher.

Ecclesiastes 7:27

“Look,” says the Teacher, “this is what I have discovered: “Adding one thing to another to discover the scheme of things

Proverbs 3:1

[ Wisdom Bestows Well-Being ] My son, do not forget my teaching, but keep my commands in your heart,

Friday Period 1 – Simple? Not really

Schools are not simple places

There is a cynical view amongst many teachers that there are many experts on education because “we all went to school once”. A particular and probably unfair criticism often made of Secretaries of State, after all they do get to visit schools, just maybe not enough and with a very specific view and not the view from the chalkface. I’m not sure it is true but there is an impression that some Governments and some politicians and maybe others think schools are simple places. Along the lines of:

  • Teachers prepare lessons (same year on year) deliver lessons (to a class) and mark the work produced.
  • Teachers teach to a specification or syllabus.
  • The children learn (or do not) and pass (or do not) exams.
  • The curriculum is clear
  • The best teaching methods are very well known and agreed
  • Assessment models are clear and effective ( oh hang on for all audiences: parents, employers, HE, schools themselves, teacher, Ofsted LA…)
  • The exams are clear ( well a bit too easy or hard here and there).
  • The governors will monitor.
  • Ofsted will double check and publicise but sum up the school in one or two words (Outstanding, Good, Requires Improvement, Inadequate).
  • Parents will support the school because they chose this school for their children.
  • Government can fund (I am talking maintained sector) fairly both revenue and capital works. The end

In the heady days of Bakers national curriculum the government thought a grade could be given to a pupil each year from year 0 to year 11 on a scale from 0 to 10, simple. It would allow parents to see their children progress ( or bring pressure if they didn’t). Anyone can teach, some think, don’t waste time with QTS, in fact a recent idea is to bring in retired people to teach English and Maths. Is it such a simple job?

I’ve just taught a lesson, I did prepare it, despite 30+ years and even several times teaching this lesson it needed preparation. Could I make it better, is there a video an animation , something which helps with this difficult concept? What did my notes from last year say? Can I make the practical work this year? should I do a demo before letting them loose? I’ve also got student work to hand back which, unsurprisingly I’ve marked, and I will go through the common errors and have added a few comments for others who struggled a bit more (this is called feedback). I am looking to see I make enough challenge – push the brightest, stimulate the G&T, support the weaker ones, differentiate, I’ve made sure the pupil premium peeps are getting a fair (or maybe extra fair) deal, oh and looked after those middle of the road pupils who are more tortoise than hare. So after the lesson did the students learn? MMmmm well that depends, some are better Chemists than others, some enjoy my lessons and get it, some enjoy them and don’t and well there are others who hate the lesson but at least try. Some will show they got it in problems they do and in the tests and in their exams. Some I think have grasped concepts today, lose them tomorrow or at least the day before the exam! Some don’t do their work well at home. Learning,it just isn’t linear, it’s just not simple.

Then the learner: some of my students don’t have English as a first language, some have had a difficult time at home, some have recently faced bereavement, and some are distracted, not bad behaviour just stuff on their mind. Some are preoccupied by another subject which has an important test next lesson. Some didn’t understand last weeks build up, some were away ill ….it’s just not simple. I’m not making excuses, I’m in a real world of dealing with learners, learning.

Then there is me, I have already taught this lesson to a different group and whilst I do much the same it goes better. Why? Oh: it’s the morning, oh: it’s a nicer day no wind blowing, Oh: I was more upbeat and smiley as the previous occasion I had a very difficult issue on my mind. Oh I praised them a bit more, no in fact I got cross with them today. [Parents have you tried that spectrum of reactions? Being nice, being mean, being harsh, allowing it, disallowing it and all to see if behaviour might improve –it worked, it didn’t work. Oh it’s complicated being a parent.]

So we come to exam results and those arguments about performance related pay. Great my class did really well. What do you mean? Their progress? Compared to whom? Their achievement? Compared to whom? Their new love of Chemistry? In any case you shared the class. Look at the data – well there is plenty to look at..results, Alps, 4matrix, Raise, FFT..if ever twas true there are lies damned lies and performance data. Hang it this is a person. ( and that rant from someone who tries to use data)

Well that little lad John , he did well in my subject compared to his other grades. Yes but that was his KS3 teacher , no in fact his primary teacher, no in fact the Head of Year who helped him, no his Mum who was keen he did well in Chemistry or damn, it was all down to the private tutor they got for John. No it was his mate in another class who helped him. In fact John hated school but back in Y7 he was in your football team, and he got to like you and because you picked him and gave him a chance he will do anything for you. Pity the other 10 didn’t react like that, I wonder why….oh it’s not simple. Anyway he did meet his target, what target? My target, his FFT target, his DfE target, his EFA target his funding target, our dept target his own target, his families target…… STOP. Wait. He is a person and a complicated little person growing up in a very complex world. I hope someone is keeping an eye on that and not just making him into a simple data point, meeting a target. Is he happy , healthy, outward looking, optimistic, unselfish, knows his moral duty etc ? WHAT? You can’t measure that it’s not simple. Hey and that is one of the 25 in my class! SO shall we discuss the next child along?

So can we measure teachers performance, we have those teacher standards but if I judge myself I hit some targets on some days and ….well it’s a bit complex, some I do but only with help from other people. I have read about what schools are doing since Mike Cladingbowl’s Ofsted article on the use of observations. People seem to be considering lots of factors (as many have written in blogs recently) we can make some judgments about teachers via observations, reputations, results, children’s responses, colleagues response’s but I’d like a lot of evidence because I think it’s complex this teaching and learning. Now don’t misunderstand I’m not arguing against accountability, not at all, nor ambition, nor driving aspiration – I will always do that, I am not comp[lacent< I came into the job to make a difference but please, please, please it’s a complex job.

Schools are complex communities. They aren’t a business, we don’t have clients or customers and a product, we have people. People with all their ups and downs, their hopes and fears, their bad days and good days. We have teachers who are great but human and get ill, or inspiring, or now again we teachers also have a lot to manage in our lives and despite this  I am working hard trying to develop curiosity. We have children who want to learn and some who don’t, we have some who have chaotic lives at home and school presents a consistency and hope. We have some pupils who have very,very difficult times at home – if you are a teacher reading this you know some or many – and we probably only know the half of it. Some pupils need lot of help from EAL staff, SEND staff, pastoral staff, senior staff, tutors and teachers. This is what makes the job a challenge and frankly makes it enjoyable, we can bring hope. Some pupils need to be watched because of their behaviour; some mature and learn some don’t. Yes the learning is not simple. I got cross: my lesson got hijacked by a concert rehearsal, the concert was wonderful. I got cross: my lesson got cancelled because of (competitive sports day) the day was wonderful – some pupils I teach I didn’t know that side of them, they are brilliant, their peers cheer them. I got cross: my lesson got cancelled whilst they set up to raise money for CAFOD – they raised £400 –it makes a difference in the world. AND tomorrow in my lesson they’ll have their heads up in the air and they will actually learn better, I couldn’t achieve that alone in my class. Mmm this taking part, contributing, this extra curricular, this paired reading, this charity fundraising, the time spent prepping our form assembly, hang on where was all that in my training. Ah well schools they aren’t simple they are a community…..of people.

I wonder is it the age? Let’s sum up the complex in a tweet, let’s make the pupil be a data point x on a graph. Let’s sum up in a sound bite, move on. 140 characters, then next? Let’s do it because we can measure, and those we cannot measure let’s give in because that’s complex. Let’s sum up the 80,000 odd formal lessons and maybe another 10,000 extra curricular, outside of lesson hours as…..”good” Ohps sorry “requires improvement”. I agree with Sir MW we make a difference we can bring hope, it’s why I was and still am a teacher but it’s just not simple. There are sometimes simple things some schools need to do and common sense isn’t so common and such changes make a difference, just recognise jobs are often complex.

I am happy to be made accountable, but I resent the media (including some politicians and Ofsted) summing up my work in one word, or summing up our children like that. Most of the time, most of my teaching and most of our children are ……………..sorry it’s a complex world and Iv’e got lessons to prep, staff to support and a school (a complicated living organisation ) to try and look after. BUT if you wish to know about my school, give me an hour and read about us on our website. It’s a little glimpse into our little community of 1200 pupils, and 120 adults, it might not be simple but I reckon it’s great.

Links
Here is a great article from Tom Sherrington (@Headguruteacher) which takes my very basic points into a much more serious arena, and hits the right tone.

Some questions to consider
Q1 What accountability measure should be used for schools?

Q2 How do we reflect the complexity of the job to help policy makers think about Education sensibly?

Q3 When the job in the classroom feels over complicated what are the simple things which keep us going?

Q4 Here is an INSET bug – give four things which would simplify the job>

From someone in a Faith Community:

Deuteronomy 4:9
Only be careful, and watch yourselves closely so that you do not forget the things your eyes have seen or let them fade from your heart as long as you live. Teach them to your children and to their children after them.

Thessalonians 1:3
We remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labour prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope

Tuesday Period 4 – Subversive activity

So if, like me, you are a teacher preparing for Tuesday period 4 here is something to help us. Do not be caught out, just be prepared, make sure you have planned and stay calm.

Hang on! For what?

If you are reading this you are a good or outstanding teacher, or you support them or help create them, and sustain them. I want you to imagine you preparing your  most liberated lesson. Yes imagine no Ofsted telling you what to do (in fact I’m not sure they do really). Imagine no governors or Head telling you what to do ( that may not be difficult if they don’t really tell you) and imagine no SLT interference. I am SLT so I know we really do tell you what to do, because each of us often tell you something different.

So this time the only matter to worry about is you and the class. Bet you are smiling, this is what you came into teaching for, this is the dream and vision you had all those years ago (or not so many years ago). Now I want to warn you, want to do so big time because now you are about to discover the subversives, yes now stripping away accountability you spot the subversives.  Not the subversive staff,  the subversive pupils, yes whilst we all worry about all those we are accountable to, there are those cunning individuals preparing disruption on a potent scale. They are in the disguise of older pupils usually matured and effective by Y13 but equally competent in Y12 and mastering the art in years 9 to 11. The art of teacher distraction , played out to avoid….a test, an e=assessment, a topic which feels “hard”

This is not silly behaviour issues, of course not,  they know you and me are good, they won’t mess us around, oh no they have discovered a more subtle approach. Operation Distraction.

I first learnt this at school myself. Back in a Grammar School in Coventry ( note Coventry; bombed, blitzed, historical Cathedrals new and old, Coventry) I was in the first generation to learn German and French not Latin and French (oh Mr Gove where were you?). Our German teacher (strictly our German Master) gave us a mini lecture on the Weimar Republic, the rise of national Socialism, and practical matters such as why the salute was so deeply offensive and why we mustn’t bring any light heartedness about such into the classroom. One occasion when we did, he changed, he halted from being our teacher, he reran his lecture taking almost the full hour. We were stunned, but we noted how he was riled, and whilst one of us had to suffer a Saturday morning detention it was worth it, not for the lecture, but to avoid the planned lesson , especially the vocab or grammar tests. (another blogpost will reveal the results at O Level of such a tactic from a class of 32 boys taught in the same class for every subject every year for 5 years).

So dear reader watch for the subversive, they come in various shapes and sizes

1)    The very personable polite enquirer (PPE), the pupils equivalent to the progressive teacher. These take an interest in the everyday lives of teachers “How was the weekend Sir? How is your sick kitten? Sir we have all been wondering as no one has mentioned her again. The affable subversive

2)    The educational politicist subversive. (EPP) These are able to draw out us to distraction by picking up the debates from twitter or even a quick look at the TES.  “Surely you agree with Mr Gove’s latest idea Sir? Do you really think the GCSE is harder?” “Do you think Ofsted would…?”

3)    The pseudo academic subversive (PAS) shows a more subtle approach, by bringing stuff up during the lesson rather than at the start. Their’s is a distraction tactic. “Miss, didn’t you say we should have all read…. only it made me seriously consider…?” “Miss can you remind me where was that article about what an unpleasant if brilliant man Haber was?” Especially colleagues you must be very aware of the A* grade PAS who can also pick the topics which so much more easily get the teacher riled. Along the lines… “My great Uncle is a Chemist, he says the most important aspect of Chemistry is pH Sir, not atoms and bonding, which you occasionally mention.” (Note the politeness). “This is based on his study of Anfinsen when he won his Nobel prize, stated every young man who wants to be a scientist should study pH, Sir.” This sends you into Wikipedia whilst you set some hurried task to the class, in response to your part embarrassed (Who? Did he? Is this Unlce correct?) and in preparation for the return volley. All of which really deserves a QED because the test you were going to give…well it just doesn’t happen

4)    My last group are the wind up subversives (WUS). I have to say I have a secret admiration for these pupils. They are a mature version of group one. They discover your Achilles heel, for example that you are a Coventry City supporter. Mid lesson as they see you about to announce the test having given a few minutes to “check the notes” they come out with. “Sir, what did you think about Coventry buying back their ground thanks to that huge donation from Qatar?” These comments have enough truth to stun , to stop you in your tracks.

 

Of course none of us really fall for this, we know how important are relationships with children, we know the delicate balance of getting them involved and getting them thinking outside the box of the classroom, in fact we are actually hoping to create subversives because we come from a PGCE course where we all read…..”teaching as a subversive activity” but from now on colleagues do not allow a single chink on the armour of making those carefully made lesson plans be executed according to your plans, not ever ever distracted by subversive pupils. They are a much bigger problem than Ofsted will ever present.

I once planned a technically challenging and innovative practical for my Y12 Chemists. Like you I then thought long and hard about the students and the lesson and just knew many wouldn’t be able to get it to work with such complex kit. I then face the rare and unusual comment “oh this experiment didn’t work” so my decision was in addition to demonstrate the set up. So after looking over the instructions with them, there it was a demo of how to connect up the kit to make a conducting polymer. “Now just before you get going…are there any questions?” “Yes Sir?” What’s that Anna ?( not her real name she’s a fully qualified Dr now, and you never know…) “Yes Sir……..where did you buy that necktie, in fact where do you buy all your wonderful neckties?” …and by the end of the explanation and the rant…she didn’t get to the practical.

 

NB for those of you who are outstanding teachers you will have spotted more subversive pupils, click on reply and add their styles – let’s get them back.

By the way Sir “how did you enjoy Warhorse at Bradford Alhambra?”

Some questions to consider

Q1 How do we encourage pupils to “think”, to “question” and “argue” without hijacking our planned lesson, and without it becoming effectively low level disruption?
Q2 Teaching has relationship at it’s heart, we like to take an interest in our pupils, so are we surprised when they take an interest in us? We can say “not now” or “not about this particualr matter” Of course we can, but how do we keep the balance?
Q3 Some points made by pupils bring spark and life to a lesson so how can we foster this to make progress and help support achievement?

For those in a faith community
Moses and Aaron got into trouble in the OT when the suggested to Pharaoh they take a break Pharaoh wanted none of it.
Exodus 5: 4 -5
“Who do you think you are?” Pharaoh shouted, “distracting the people from their work? Get back to your jobs!”
In the NT Jesus wanted a focus on the call people felt was from God. Ultimately Jesus himself had to be fairly single minded in approaching his work on Earth
Luke 9:62
But Jesus told him, “Anyone who lets himself be distracted from the work I plan for him is not fit for the Kingdom of God.”