Ten years ago the internet was an amazing and ever expanding resource for teachers it still is. Even the least engaged students often remember when you put the two minute clip from youtube on that showed the strange situation experiment in action. The kid with no ability to analyse can still get a grade from obsessively learning key words on memrise to try and beat their friends in the ratings. And most importantly – when a teacher has had no time to plan Thursday morning’s lesson because on Monday night they got called into an unexpected progress meeting, on Tuesday they lost all their PPA time to doing catch up with the students who were identified as not performing well enough in Monday’s meeting, then had parents evening all night and by the time they got home on Wednesday they just do not have the strength or energy to plan when they get home.
In the past you would go online to TES and look for a resource, produced and provided by teachers, find one you like, download it, tweak it to sort your style and class and then off you go. But now when you do that on TES you are very likely to find you have to pay for it. Teachers are monetising their resources. And honestly I don’t know how I feel about that morally. Of course it’s fair enough you would say. Especially as this started mostly in the USA where teachers are paid so poorly they often have to take a second job to maintain a living (see Breaking Bad for a deeply factual portrayal). But the real problem is not who is profiting from the resources but who is paying for the resources. Others have made the point that it should be the school department who provide the money to buy lessons and resources but that is not the case or two reasons. Firstly in the time it takes to get a school budget approval or reclaim petty cash you could have made the resource yourself. Secondly UK schools have no money. Seriously. I don’t know how much you follow this but increases in contributions to national insurance and pensions, combined with no real funding increase means schools are broke. Teachers are being made redundant, teachers who leave are not being replaced and CPD courses are not being paid for because schools do not have the money. In that environment you cannot expect somebody to sign a document to give you the money to download a resource of TES. As the costs are small it becomes like micropayments. A drip drip effect means teachers end up shelling out more and more.
That is why I cannot quite be comfortable with teachers selling their individual resources. By all means if you have a good enough load of resources – write a book, put the whole lot together into a package that a school department will shell out for but don’t use micropayments to get a little bit here and a little bit there for a worksheet or a powerpoint. Excellent free resource sharing sites exist like Resourcd.com – that’s what day to day resources should be going on, not being charged £1.50 for a powerpoint on TES.
Get in the sea 2016!
Did 2016 not pay it’s electricity bill?
2016 – the year everyone cool died
There is a shared consciousness on the internet that suggests this year is being particularly harsh in taking away beloved celebrities. Stephen Fry must be checking his blood pressure daily as a result. The more interesting phenomenon that is happening is a collective fear of mortality. More specifically a fear of our parents mortality.
The ONS states that 16-54 year olds are the most frequent internet users but you look closely at the data what you see is that the key group is 16-34 year olds as roughly 99% of them use the internet daily. If we assume (rather offensively) that the 16 – 24 year olds are using it to boast about how much they drink and swipe along on Tinder then the content driven writing on the internet is dominated by people on either side of 30. Which means their parents are roughly speaking on either side of 60. And what do all the celebrities who have died recently have in common? Prince (57), Victoria Wood (62), David Gest (62), Alan Rickman (69) and of course David Bowie (69). Some deaths are older such as Ronnie Corbett (85), Denise Robertson (83), Paul Daniels (77), Frank Kelly (77), Terry Wogan (77). But then again some of those hanging about on the internet are also older. And with the exception of Terry Wogan the response to those deaths has been slightly different to the others in my list.
Average life expectancy in the UK is 81, across the globe it’s 71. Yes these people are dying young but not to the point where it’s unbelievable. An average is of course an average – some are above and some are below. The peak age of cancer diagnosis is 69 to 74. Most of the deaths above were caused by cancer. What were are looking at is stark normal facts about death in this day and age. So why does the internet react so angrily? It’s not just a response to the wonderful careers of these individuals (well most of them – I won’t be spiteful enough to point out which ones I’m pointing fingers at), it is an outpouring of grief that is normally reserved for those who are taken in a violent incident in their 20s. Why the true grief response?
When I was about 7 or 8 years old I found my parents will in the filing cabinet (yes I was the sort of 7 year old who went through filing cabinets and could read what I found there and understood it. I’m that nerdy). It was the first proper understanding of mortality I ever had and I wept inconsolably for hours. Luckily my mother (who does not ever want to be mentioned on the internet so don’t tell her!) is fabulous and said all the right things. Those of us who have lost a parent know how traumatic and challenging it is but we all at some point have known the fear of losing our parents. The inevitable truth that at some point our parents have to die is upsetting and challenging to face. So I propose that the collective 30 someethings of the internet, as they come closer to facing this truth, are transferring their helplessness and anger onto the death of Prince and David Bowie. These figures they grew up worshipping, adoring and respecting for their wisdom and talent. Sure they did stupid things at times but we still looked up to them. And in losing them we look at our parents and realise they will not be around forever either.
I know a lot of angry cynical people – the type who will go on the internet and abuse these people for suggesting they are upset over the death of a celebrity. Before they do so I think they should consider the deeper meaning for this grief. In reality they are not just upset over the celebrity – they are fearing the mortality of their parents and that is totally reasonable. So cut them some slack.
When I was at school my long suffering friend Danielle used to make me go to gymnastics club before school once a week. She was very gymanstic. I was not. However over time and through PE lessons I built up to a stage where I was able to take the B.A.G.A awards. Fine I probably never made it past four but still I got one or two of them and I was very proud of that. In sixth form I took driving lessons for months. My driving instructor was a very patient man and put up with me throwing tantrums when I did not get thiings right. When I booked my original test he thought it was a hasty move and said it was probably too soon. We will never know if he was right because it got cancellede same and moved back 6 weeks. He probably was right and I passed first time – largely because of the extra six weeks practice. It was the same with music exams. I took graded singing and piano exams (you’ll note the lack of a number. It’s not impressive enough to share) and I took them when my teacher thought I was ready.
You probably see what I’m driving at. One of the biggest problems teachers face is getting thirty very different students all prepared for the same exam at the same time. Right now the date of the first GCSEs is fast approaching and most teachers will have given up at least one day of the Easter “holidays” to cram as much revision into students heads as possible. If only they had more time.
Is it so impractical and impossible to imagine a system where students progress at the pace they are ready for and when they are ready for it? As schools have progressed into giant factories with 1500 pupils being the standard for a secondary school it would of course be a logistical minefield to change to a system where students have individually tailored curriculum but is that a reason not to do it? One has only to look at the 18 year olds who are still taking their Maths GCSE in addition to their A-Levels to see the devastating affect on morale it has to students to take an exam before they are prepared for it. Having sat the exam six or seven times and still not achieved the grade C, while constantly being told they should have done so by their age leave them feeling it’s not worth trying and they will never get it when in fact all the research points that they can of course achieve it.
So is it feasible? Could we ever have schools that allow students to take exams when they are ready and not when the exam factory culture says they should? It’s definitely something worth considering.
One of the most exciting things for me about leaving teaching is that I will be reclaiming my name. No longer shall I be called “Miss” – a name I hate. Finally I shall be an individual with a name that feels personal and specific to me again.
Firstly I must explain my point of view on the word itself. It is what the rather old fashioned of you will consider misplaced (yes I giggled while I typed that) feminism. I consider it to be the height of ridicuolusness that women are still expected to designate their marital status on being addressed and have to change their name dependent on it. Call me a grumpy old spinster if you like, but I have (and always will be) Ms Hunt. It sends a ridiculous message to young women that marriage is somehow a status that must be attained in order to “upgrade” your name. Boys all grow up knowing they will be Mr forever and they do not have to be questioned about it every time they give their name. Women find themselves in perpetual state of gloating, apologising, being strident or whatever suits them when giving their name. The point is not the emotion they display but the fact they have to display an emotion to justify their status. On more occassions than should happen in the 21st century, me saying my name is “Ms” has led to the response”are you a lesbian or divorced?” as if those were the only possible options.
However I digress. I will not begrudge a room full of schoolchildren calling me “Miss” as has been the tradition for hundreds of years. It is how the convention goes and that is fine. In the world of busy secondary schools with high staff turnover many students genuinely do not know the name of their teacher and so “Miss” or “Sir” is the only option. Now say those two words out loud and think which would you rather be called. One conveys a sense of authority, one does not. I am with Captain Janeway on this one. It is better to be called Sir any day of the week than Miss. Google has quickly provided me a definition of Miss “a girl or young woman, especially one regarded as silly or headstrong”. It does not make you feel in control to be called “Miss” day in and day out.
But the real cuplrits are not the centuries of tradition or the small children too confused to remember a name. No it’s the adults. The other members of staff. Now if you work in a large organisatin of course you do not know everybody’s name. However you still smile and say morning in the corridor (or at least I hope you do!) but in a school colleagues will walk past and say “morning, miss”. It’s not necessary. If you do not know my name just smile and say morning. And if you do know my name USE IT! Yes there is a professionalism that dictates (for some weird reason) we do not say each other’s first names in front of the students but that’s no reason not to use my full “teacher name” in the corridor.
And then finally in the ninth circle of hell are those members of staff (and yes they are largely male) who call you “Miss” behind closed doors. In meeting or emails when there is no possible way they do not know your real name they still refer to you as “Miss”. For seven years I have pushed down the anger I have felt every time I have sent an email to a male colleague, starting it with “Dear Bobby” and ended it “from Caroline” and received a response that starts “Miss”. I have refrained (wisely) from telling members of SLT that I will not carry out their request until they address me by given name rather than a generic one that suggests they have no idea who I am. But now I am finally free to stand up to people and say “please – call me Caroline” once more.
And it feels blooming awesome
I was a little annoyed when I read this article in the Guardian today as it covers a lot of the ground I have been wanting to write about. Essentially the gist is a state school in this country cannot allow students to develop wider skills and at their own pace because they are nothing short of exam factories. Big surprise you say but the difference between state and private education is an area that is truly shocking but not very well understood by most people. Mainly because most people do not have experience of both. A strange stigma exists in teaching that means once you start a career in state or private education you are stuck in that route forever. However I was fortunate enought to have a private education (I used to curse it but realise now how lucky I was) and have worked in state education for eight years.
The differences are not what most people think. The general lazy assumptions are that private schools get clever students as they can be selective and have better teachers as they generally have masters or PhD qualifications. The unspoken reverse being that state schools are filled with thick kids and that their teachers are barely literate eejits who scraped a bachelors degree. Firstly these assumptions are not true and secondly even if they were they would not be the reason that state school teachers are not inspiring the top actors and politicians in this country.
The real reason is that as a state school nothing else matters other than hitting targets. Incredibly challenging, aspirational targets. Not that the teachers and senior leadership do not care about the students as people. They do – desperately and exhaustingly all the time. But all that a school is judged on is the exam results and even more importantly all that a teacher is judged on is their class hitting their aspirational targets. And this is the key point.
Whereas teaching used to be a job for life now it is very possible for good teachers to be sacked. Not outstanding teachers but good teachers. Teachers who probably do the job far better than teachers in secondary schools did twenty years ago, teachers who work every hour that they can and give children their all. However if the students they teach do not reach their aspirational target grades then they will be let go. Or have exam classes taken off them. Or be put under such pressure that they suffer mental health problems.
Excellent – says the Daily Mail reader.But they should be able to do that AND inspire tomorrow’s leaders and actors. Well lets compare the private school teacher and the state school teacher facing a GCSE class and see if it’s a fair comparison. Private school teacher has class of around 20-25 students, state school teacher has 30 students. Private school teacher gives each student a textbook that they can take home and work with at all times. State school teacher has 15 textbooks that they can share one between two in each lesson. Private school teacher can photocopy as many revision aids, worksheets etc. as they feel necessary. State school teacher has their boss breathing down their neck about the photocopying budget and is told to do everything A5 and one between two. Private school teacher sees a school trip opportunity or revision conference, sets up the trip, the parents pay, the students all go. State school teacher sees a school trip opportunity or revision conference, works out how to make the trip as cheap as possible (coaches are out of the question for anything less than 60 kids), convinces SLT that they can take the kids out of school for the day only if it does not interfere with a core subject lesson, has to send home a letter saying the trp is voluntary and costs £25 per head, half the class can’t afford that, not enough sign up to make the trip financially viable and then it’s cancelled.
But the most important factors are these: Private school teacher has a class of students whose parents are all motivated to support their students education. State school teacher has a lot of students whose parents think anything beyond the basic required GCSEs at grace C is a waste of time. Private school teacher has a class of students who have parents that are able to (and do) feed, clothe and provide a safe warm envirionment for them. State school teacher has a class where many of the students will not have had breakfast, where they can’t guarantee they have enough money for the bus (free transport only exists in London) and where they do not know if they are going home to dinner or not. Of course abuse exists in all levels of society but deprivation is rarely seen in a private school.
Yet the target grades of both those class are based on the same primary school data (ok postcodes are taken into account but do not get me started on that) and the teachers are held to the same standards. So as a teacher in those state schools where your pay, or even your job, depends on you hitting those targets are you going to spend time allowing students to explore their creative inner selves? Let a lesson pass that is not devoted soley to passing the exams that you will be judged on? Of course not. Not only would it be self destructive, it is positively not allowed in schools where learning walks are a day to day event.
So why do state schools have no hope of developing multiple students who excel in an unusual walk of life? Because they are too busy getting every student their targeted 5 A*-C GCSEs in order to keep their jobs. So our actors and politicians will continue to all be privately educated, maintaining the status quo until state schools are given some freedom and trust in how to educate young people.
In October 2008 while completing my teacher training, I wrote on this blog the following:
But there are others [teachers] who have a permanent look of disgust on their face, are brutal and cruel to kids and whenever others are out of earshot will tell you that frankly they hate kids and you should get out of the profession while you can. I just have to wonder – why the hell are they still there? Do they think they can’t get another job in the “real world”? Do they see themselves as some sort of martyrs to the cause? Or do they just stick around for the job security and the pension? I hope I never become one of them or if I do I’ll have the good sense to get away from the job and leave teaching to those who can inspire kids rather than take out their bad humour on them.
Well it is just over eight years later and I am leaving the teaching profession and those words fill me with confidence that I have indeed made the right choice rather than sit around becoming one of those teachers I hated.
Since I plan to link to this on Facebook and most of you who are going to read this probably don’t know that I have ever been much of a blogger I feel a quick bit of context is needed. If you don’t want the context and are just going “Huh? why is Caroline quitting teaching?” feel free to scroll down past the next two paragraphs.
Many moons ago, before I was a teacher, I used to be very active in the Conservative party. In 2005 I ran for National Chairman of it’s youth movement Conservative Future and as part of that campaign I started a blog as it was very much the done thing for any campaign in 2005. Anyway I didn’t win (and I shall refrain from commenting on anyone involved in that for legal reasons) but I carried on blogging. Writing is a process which I truly enjoy and I have always done whether anyone can read it or not. I have an embarrassing collection of writing all the way back to my childhood – a lot of which is on floppy disk and hopefully not accessible by anyone as that series of Mills and Boon esque stories set in Roman times I wrote during my GCSE Latin days is frankly a) appalling and b) worryingly explicit. In 2007 I really hit my peak and wrote over 200 posts in that year and developed a small but loyal following. I was even privileged enough to make it into Iain Dale’s book of most influential political bloggers (albeit rather far down the list but still). However as I started my teacher training it dawned on me that I could not feasibly continue to blog for a number of reasons but the key ones being time and the fact that should any of my students / employers find it, life would become particularly difficult. So I stopped but missing writing I cherished a hope that I could keep writing anonymously as an undercover teacher. This is when I set up the blog you are currently on. Sadly the aforementioned factor of time meant that I never got round to keeping that going.
So that sort of brings us back to the present day where as I have quit my job as a teacher and only have a paltry three weeks left in the role I am free to indulge my desire to ramble on about my views on anything and everything in a carefree style so I am resurrecting this blog. Why this one rather than the original Caroline Hunt blog spot of the 2007 heyday? Well frankly my views have changed rather a lot since those days and I do not fancy putting the link back up until I’ve checked through it for the worst of what I said. Also some of it actually may be legally wobbly these days considering how many of my former CF colleagues have faced or are facing varying allegations.
Teaching – its a funny old game. Well on a day to day basis it is. In the last eight years I am confident that I have laughed every day in at least one lesson because working with young people is frankly aweseome. Today I was taking a GCSE Sociology class through an explanation of what the budget is and how the coverage of it varied from newspaper to newspaper dependent on their political leanings. The class followed attentively to what a budget was, asked intelligent questions about whether that affected how much their parents got in tax credits and how much the school got funded but they also had one other burning question, “Miss, is George Osborne related to Sharon Osborne?” – at which point I cracked up laughing picturing that family reunion. I love talking to students and I love introducing them to new ideas and frankly I have had so much fun in lessons over the last eight years.
But that is obviously the side that I will miss and is not the reason I am leaving. The reason I am leaving is that teaching in lessons is the tip of the iceberg you can see above the water. It is what people think teachers do all day and if that was the case sign me up for another eight years. But none of that happens without individuals sacrificing their evenings, weekends and holidays to prepare those lessons, mark the work generated by those lessons, reteach those lessons to students who were not in the first time or just did not get it the first time, adjust those lessons for the students who have different needs in the classroom, create model answers to the exam questions done in those lessons, design meaningful homework that will reinforce the lesson, mark the homework done after the lesson, create a model answer for the homework done after the lesson and then finally create data tracking spreadsheets to record all of the above. And that’s just a bogstandard classroom teacher – do not get me started on what happens once you take on a role on top of your day to day teaching. It has to be done, it should be done but to do it to the standard that students deserve under the current conditions means you can have no true work life balance and I do not feel any individual should sustain that level of work for their entire working life. So I’m out.
I leave with the utmost respect and admiration for my colleagues and former colleagues who are still doing this day in and day out and as long as you are still happy and healthy please keep doing it as long as you can. But please remember what I wrote eight years ago. When you no longer love what you are doing and you are not making those kids feel inspired every day then it’s time to move on and make space for those who still have the ability to do so.
“Great holidays” – that is the most comment response I get when I tell people I’m a teacher. Usually followed by how jammy it is that we get around 12 weeks off a year. And it does indeed on the face of it sound jammy. However if teachers didn’t get that much holiday I don’t think there would be any teachers. At least not any emotionally stable ones.
This week alone I have worked 60 hours and my timetable is a few hours under most peoples. However I know there are plenty of people like bankers and lawyers who work just as many hours and aren’t compensated by statutory regular holidays. What do I do that they don’t that means I get to have this much holiday? I am emotionally drained, I am at the beck and call of 150 (that’s just the ones I teach regularly) 11 – 19 year olds five days a week for nine hours at a time. I deal with tantrums, emotions, crying 11 year olds and swearing screaming 16 year olds and I can’t escape them or avoid the situation – I have to be the adult and resolve the situation.
I’m not complaining – I chose this job and I adore it but by 3:45 on a weekday I normally feel like I’ve run a marathon and I don’t think that’s just because I’m an NQT, everyone else in my department seems to be the same. I’m so snowed under with marking and reports and all the other endless list of things we have to do but I’m not having a nervous breakdown because I know the week after next I will be off in the countryside, relaxing, recuperating and catching up on anything thats still not been done. If it wasn’t for half term I think I’d be curled up in a ball in the corner of my living room screaming that they can’t make me go to work.
So next time you mock a teacher for having an easy life with their holidays stop and think – would you rather have good teachers or gibbering wrecks looking after your children.
So one week down. I’ve survived. Just. Some of my lessons were so boring I had trouble staying awake. Not feeling quite as fabulous a teacher as I did in June. In fact I’m feeling downright rubbish. But the kids have stayed in their seats and written down stuff so I guess I’ve achieved something. Which is more than can be said for my ability to socialise with the teachers. I know we teachers are an odd bunch – that’s why I like teaching. It feels normal to be odd. However nobody seems to be odd in the way I am. I’m starting to see how lonely and isolated teaching can feel. You go off to your lessons and nobody else is with you. You could easily get through the whole day talking to no-one but the students. Luckily they are the entertaining ones.
Anyway this is a very boring post because that’s how my life is at the moment – boring. So boring I’m sitting listening to the Great Western Customer Service line ring endlessly on my mobiles loudspeaker. They don’t even have hold music or your in a queue messages. Just “ring ring” endlessly over and over and over. Until you get cut off. Bleak.
So I didn’t do too well at updating the blog last year. What can I say? PGCE was busy and stressful. Whereas of course this year is going to be a breeze…yeah right! NQTdom is terrifying – as of next week I shall be teaching classes, all on my own, with total responsibility for making sure they shut up and learn. I’m bricking it.
I remember how I felt the first time I taught last year. I was scared, feeling sick and absolutely terrified it would all go wrong. In general it didn’t. Disaster didn’t really strike. Sure it was rough at times but I got through it. But that was the thing – I wasn’t their teacher. There was invariably someone else in the room or at least down the corridor so when they got out of hand there was somebody else to back me up. Now I have a job at a very rough school and I have loads of key stage 3 classes as well as my A-Level students who are going to run rings around me. How do you deal with rioting year 9’s when youu don’t even know their names! By the end of next week I should have an answer to that.
Anyway I intend a weekly update from now on. With any luck that shouldn’t be too ambitious. By it’s very nature the NQT year is going to be a lot more solitary so I’m going to have to rant somewhere. By the way – all those horrible PGCE people I was bitching about turned out to be some of the best friends I ever made so I’m not going to go with my first judgement of hating most people at my new school. I’m sure they’ll turn out to be lovely and fascinating. Here’s hoping anyway.
I cannot believe I haven’t posted since 21st October. I keep thinking it was only a few days ago and therefore it doesn’t matter that much. Sadly time seems to be slipping away from me now faster than complaints about Russell Brand are flying in to the BBC. As you may have guessed this means I’ve started teaching a few lessons now. And by few that is all I mean. I’m teaching half my timetable, which is itself half of a normal teachers timetable. God knows how anyone is meant to plan that many lessons and mark all that work. I’m barely coping with what I have. But then again I suppose teachers don’t always have to submit lesson plans 48 hours in advance, or write lesson evaluations after every lesson, or spend ages filing all that inforation in a specific file for college, or working on pointless essays about pedagogy or doing stupid school based studies.
Ahem – rant got ahead of me there sorry. But you see my point. I’m loving the teaching and the lesson planning and marking is arduous but I can do it (unlike spellinng arduous which is giving me real hassle) and I really enjoy it. All the PGCE bits that college demands we do is just seeming to get on the way. By all means constantly supervise my lessons and observe me all day long. I need all the feedback and constructive criticism I can get. If I didn’t have that I’d be drowning. But why on earth do I have to write stupid bloody essays all weekend on stupid bloody theories written by stupid bloody educational theorists.
This is where being in the system rather than a commentating political junkie shows you the difference. A year ago I would have been ranting about the shocking state of Secondary school teachers and demanding they be forced to write Masters levels essays on pedagogy to prove they know what they’re doing. Now I am of a very different mood. Watch teachers in their classrooms all you like to check how they’re doing but get out of their way and let them get on with their bloody job.