“You call it grey hair… I call it stress highlights!”

In the run up to my wedding last year I found my first grey hair, and was filled with many feelings – mainly of the ‘Oh no! I’m so old’ variety. Of course, I am actually only 27 and, despite the thoughts of some children in my class, I am not old. This academic year, though, has seen even more of these grey blighters popping up all over my head. Although this year has been stressful beyond compare, and even beyond what I had imagined, I thought this would be a good time to reflect on some of the highlights of my NQT year so far, with only 58 school days left before the summer holidays.

 

1) I survived my first residential!

Despite sleeping very little, and cooking for 64 fussy 21st Century eaters, I had the most amazing time away with the lovely Year 3 and 4 children: exploring Birdoswald and Hadrian’s Wall; playing Hide and Seek in the dark; and dressing up as a Roman soldier. Another plus for this trip was spending time with colleagues in a less formal setting, allowing friendships to form.

 

2) “I think Sweden has the largest population because it has less mountains and lakes than Norway and Finland.”

This is just one example of a repeating highlight which makes the days brighter: when a child understands what you wanted them to understand. In this instance, we had spent the afternoon looking at physical features of Scandinavian countries. We started solely with maps, thinking about what we would see if we were stood on certain points of the map. We then moved on to pictures, with the children making educated guesses about where each photo was taken. The children seemed on the ball and interested, so I threw them a curveball: “Which country do you think has the largest population, and why?” And they blew me away with their answers – one of which is the above quote. On days like that, it’s easy to be a teacher.

 

3) My first class assembly – WOW!

There are no words, just pride and joy. My children did themselves proud, and me proud, especially when they sang Goodall’s The Lord is my Shepherd so beautifully.

 

The truth is I have been blessed with a lovely class, supportive managers, and hilarious colleagues. Every time the job gets hard, there is yet another moment which reminds me why I’m doing this job: children come to me with their triumphs and tribulations; someone tells me I’ve done a good job; a child suddenly grasps a tricky concept; all of it, so worthwhile. So, you may call them grey hairs, but to me they’re stress highlights. Highlights in a stressful year, but highlights none the same. And I will cherish them.

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“Tell me, what is it that you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”

This beautiful line, taken from a poem on today’s Daily Post, is the pressing question in my life; the theme over the last 18 months, haunting me in the triumphs and failures of both my final year at university, and my NQT year so far.

 

At first, it was so important to answer because I fell into the belief that God has one single plan and final destination for my life, and that I needed to make sure I made the ‘right’ decisions so as not to put off this plan. This led to me deciding early on that I wasn’t going to do my NQT year, as I knew I didn’t want a career in classroom teaching. But… then my questioning mind started to wonder, “What if…?”

 

What if… I am just running scared?

What if… I am wasting my training and investment of time?

What if… I am meant to be a teacher?

What if… I have heard God wrong?

 

Out of curiosity, I visited the Local Authority’s Teaching Vacancy page, and saw an advert for a school that I had driven past many times, but knew very little about. So, I went to look around, after much persuasion from my dad. And I loved it. So, I applied and waited, and was invited to my first teaching interview. I was terrified, even more so after the interview when I thought I had put in the worst possible performance. I left the school, deflated, and cried all the way home, knowing that I’d be absolutely devastated to receive that disappointing call later on that day. It was only once I thought I’d messed it up, that I realised how much I wanted the job. After a stressful afternoon, I was offered a position teaching Year 4. I couldn’t believe it!! Once again, my questioning mind started to wonder…

 

What if… I was just running scared?

What if… I was to invest my own learning in children?

What if… I was meant to be a teacher?

What if… I had heard God wrong?

 

I realised then, probably not for the final time, that there is a possibility that God has a plan that includes flexibility and deviation from the original route. I remembered then, that God promises his people a plan for prosperity and hope, and not for harm. So, you may be thinking, why have I continued to question what my plans are for this wild and precious life?

 

Because teaching is hard. Because I have never done anything, in my whole life, that is so all-consuming and exhausting. Of course, it is not even that simple; nothing ever is. The truth is: I love my class; I love the variety; I love my workplace; I feel supported; I LOVE teaching. Yet, this is not everything to me. This may be dangerous to admit, but I have dreams outside the classroom. I have dreamed for 5 years of teaching in Sierra Leone; I have dreamed for 7 years of writing a book (though the subject often changes); I have dreamed for 3 years of studying a Masters at Harvard University. Yet more recently, I have dreamed of reading for a Masters in Global Development and Education, at Leeds University. And this, this is what has caused me to question what I will do with my life. The few people I have talked to about the programme in Leeds have all asked, why? What would you do with it? To be honest, I don’t know. I really do not know what I want to do, not even in the slightest. Right now, I want to teach. I want to invest everything I can in the children in my life, so that they may grow up to have questioning minds. I do not know what the future holds, and it unnerves me… because I no longer even know what I want my life to look like ‘when I grow up’.

 

Life is precious. We get one shot at living it… and I don’t want to waste one moment. That is why the question has been, and will continue to be, so pressing. But right now, in this moment, I know I need to focus on giving my children all they need, and all they deserve.

Teacher’s Pet

Normally I don’t feel all that inspired by The Daily Post’s prompt for the day, but yesterday’s really struck a chord with me, as an educator. Of course, I’ve known for a long time that a teacher has a larger impact than just imparting knowledge. I’m not sure I knew the influence some teachers were having on me at the time, but on reflection I can see very clearly now. Throughout my training I aimed to become more and more like some of my former teachers, whilst becoming less and less like others.

 

I have 2 favourite teachers… Mrs Sneddon and Miss Wilson. They were so different, but yet so similar.

 

Miss Wilson was my teacher for 2 years at a British Services School in Germany. She reigned with a fearful reputation, and I remember waiting to be told whose class I would be in that September… and internally wishing ‘please not Miss Wilson’ over and over again. I’m not sure why, after all she had never taught me before. I’m almost certain, though my memory is foggy, that she had, in fact, never spoken to me before, either. Neither of these things mattered, though, as her reputation as a mean and strict teacher went before her. Except, she wasn’t mean; she was fair. She wasn’t strict; she had boundaries. She was an exceptionally talented teacher; one who made me work the hardest I had ever worked before… and probably since. I adored being in her class, and I like to think she enjoyed having me. Imagine my delight when she stayed with my class for Year 4! I can only remember a few actual topics, but I do remember that it was in her class that I learned to write with legible cursive handwriting. I learned to spell, and I fell back in love with reading. She nurtured me as an individual, and took an interest in my life after we moved away, back to the UK. All in all, she was just fabulous. I wonder now where she is, whether she is still teaching, and if she remembers me.

 

Mrs Sneddon was not really an actual teacher to me – I think she maybe taught me a PE lesson once upon a time. She was, however, an incredible influence in my life. Firstly, she was my housemistress when I was an unruly teenager who didn’t want to do their homework. Secondly, she introduced me to sailing – my opportunity to both enjoy and achieve something outside of normal academic life. What an enormous boost to my self-esteem, and my emotional wellbeing! Mrs Sneddon was always there, cheering me on, even when I didn’t want it; even when I messed up and made her working life very difficult; even when I left her care and school and went elsewhere. Amazingly, I was able to invite Mrs S and her husband Mike (who helped teach me how to sail) to my wedding in the summer, where I got to tell her of my First Class Hons degree and my impending NQT year. I finally felt like she could be proud of me… but she encapsulated a truly excellent teacher and mentor when she said ‘I’ve always been proud. I’ve always known you could do it’.

 

Two exceptional teachers; two different periods of my life. I hope that in my teaching I can inspire and nurture my children in the same way Miss Wilson and Mrs Sneddon did for me.

Who I am and why I’m here: Redefining my blog

A recent conversation with my husband about finding enjoyment whilst getting through my NQT year left me with a question: what is it that I miss most from my pre-teaching life? The answer: writing. The solution? Get on with my blog this year. So, I have joined Blogging 101 on here, to encourage me throughout the year, whilst providing a variety of writing assignments that will, hopefully, make me a better writer at the same time. My first assignment: to write and publish a ‘who I am and why I’m here’ post.

It is 2015. I am a newly qualified primary school teacher in a large school in the North West of England; I am a wife; I am a homeowner; I am a Christian. Life has its challenges, as it does for everyone, but it also has its blessings, which I am grateful for. Outside of writing, I enjoy cooking, reading and singing. I do not enjoy marking, or housework. I also dislike inequality and injustice. I am still interested in academics and research, but I’m also interested in the day-to-day intricacies of teaching in a modern British school. I’m becoming interested in how my dislike for inequality and injustice fit into those intricacies.

 

Originally, this was a blog set up as part of a module in my final year at university. It was a way of engaging with educational topics, whilst also allowing space to continue any internal dialogue or debate from lectures and tutorials. At the time, I was a final year trainee teacher with more of an interest in academics and research. Now is the time to reflect on what I’ve achieved so far, and where I’m going now. Since I started my blog, I have been genuinely surprised and encouraged each time someone has left me a comment, or even just visited my site. It is hard to choose a particular highlight, but finding that a very personal post about bullying has had 127 views is encouraging. What I would like to achieve this year, is more views from a wider audience. I would like to reach other professionals, student teachers, and academics. I would like to become part of an online community of educationalists; to learn more; to read more; to know more. I would like to encourage just one fellow NQT, or to spark an interest in one person somewhere in the world.

I am writing publicly for two reasons: I hope my ramblings will entertain, amuse or inform someone; and by writing publicly I am making myself accountable to others, to get better and to keep at it. If I do keep this up for the rest of this year, my hope is that I will have more friends with similar interests to mine; that I will have a better understanding of social justice and education; that I will be a better writer, and a better teacher.

New Year’s Resolution

It is that time of year; that moment when people across the world resolve to do things differently in the new year. It got me thinking: does anyone actually hold to these resolutions? If not, why not? Are our aspirations for the year ahead just too hard to achieve in reality? Or do we just give up once we go back to work and things get us down? I’m not sure I believe in ‘Blue Monday’ (see previous link), and I have certainly never achieved a new year’s resolution. This year, though, I am determined. I am determined to intertwine my intricate life of faith and failure with my all-consuming life as a teacher; I am determined to be purposeful in my resolution, by making my resolution about who I am now… and who I want to be throughout 2015.

 

“Fear less, trust more; take less, give more; whine less, thank more; talk less, say more; hate less, love more.”

 

I purposefully resolve to do the above, to be the above, in 2015. I recognise now that there will be times when I fail. I am certain that I will whine at least once even within the first week back. But this is where I must remember that this year is the year I interlace my faith in God with my job: where my faith saves the day once more. Why? Because God is in the business of endless forgiveness and umpteen second chances; He works in me to make good changes, to make me more like Him; He gives to me, and loves me endlessly.

 

Of course, this might be a little controversial. I am a teacher in a state-funded primary school. I am also a Bible believing, Jesus loving Christian. But I am convinced that this can work – my all-consuming life as a teacher, and my all-consuming faith. And that is the first hurdle, to give God room to make my faith all-consuming.

 

This week, I will look at each part of my resolution, in an attempt to show how each makes me a better teacher, and a better me.

National Curriculum (2014) – Modern Foreign Languages

“Liberation from insularity.”

“Provides an opening to other cultures.”

“Deepen understanding of the world.”

These are things that I am delighted to see included in the MFL section of the National Curriculum (2014). Mainly, though, I’m just happy that MFL is finally statutory from KS2 – that is from age 7, for all those who aren’t from the UK. Although I’d prefer to see languages offered from a younger age, I am glad they are now available for children across the country.

The Department for Education states that some of the aims are: to foster pupils’ curiosity; for children to communicate in speech and writing; and to discover and develop an appreciation for language and culture. This last one is interesting, because it gives the impression that the government aren’t in favour of rote learning. Whilst, generally, the curriculum is good and seems to be based on current good practice models in language teaching and learning, there are just two problems I have with it.

1) Children will read great literature in the original language
What is great literature? Do the government really think that our children, who aren’t learning languages through immersion, will be reading ‘great literature’ by age 11? Do many of our children read great literature in English by age 11? What is great literature???

2) Children will have a continuing development of pronunciation
Will they? Doesn’t this require their teachers to have good pronunciation and speak with the correct intonations and accents? I know that, from my teaching trip to Germany this summer, one of the girls I travelled with spoke German with a strong Lancastrian accent. As such, much of the pronunciation was wrong and she felt that many people struggled to understand what she was saying. She had this accent because her teacher at secondary school was from Preston, as she was too. So, does this development of pronunciation and accuracy require specialist teachers? If so, is that wise? What message does it send to children, if their class teacher doesn’t teach them particular subjects? Will they think that those subjects are as important?

Now… the good stuff.

There is so much that the government have got right with this provision of MFL. For example, almost 60% of the focus is on practical communication skills – speaking and listening. Schools can offer ANY modern foreign language, OR an ancient foreign language. This is excellent because, as the curriculum says, learning an ancient language can: provide a linguistic foundation for reading comprehension; develop an appreciation of classical civilisation; lay the grammatical foundation for learning a modern foreign language at KS3 (age 11+). Schools will no longer provide a random mixture of several different languages, but focus on one language. For children, this means that they are more likely to make substantial progress. Of course, the progress of children in these languages will depend very much on their school’s priorities – something I will be looking at in my small scale research project at university.

I truly believe that learning a language does ‘liberate you from insularity’, and also ‘provides an opening to other cultures’. These are things which are needed now, more than ever, as we live in multi-cultural communities and interaction with other cultures is made easier with the ever expanding technologies of the 21st Century. Will children who have teachers who value languages and are fairly proficient do better? I think so, but it is probably too soon to tell.

Bullying

Short disclaimer: there is an ongoing investigation into the incident I write about at the moment. I will not name names and will try not to be too specific. I’d hate to be seen as unprofessional. This is a reflection on the effects of bullying, not a witch hunt for blood.

Recently at university I was the subject of a misplaced joke. Some might call it bullying, whilst others would just say it was a misplaced joke. I’m not sure what I call it. I want to let you in to how this ‘joke’ made me feel – immediately afterwards, and over the following weeks.

#fugly #slut

These were the words left for me on a board when I came into a study room to do exactly that: study. I had booked the room for 3 hours, with some friends, so we could work together on a presentation. As I walked into that room, I was breathless. I felt winded. And as I turned to look at my friend who was with me, I cried. This was followed by a brief lull in the emotions as we waited for the rest of our group… but when they walked in, I cried again. In fact, the afternoon was not a productive study session. It was interspersed with crying, paranoia, anxiety and great sadness from within me.

That night, at home, I sobbed down the phone to my mum. She was horrified that not only had it happened, but that it could have been written by someone who is training to be a teacher. To her it wasn’t solely about the nature of the words and how hurtful they were, but also about professional conduct. I went to sleep, feeling soothed, thinking ‘tomorrow is a new day!’ And it was. It was a Friday. I wasn’t in university, my housemate was away, I was alone. Or, at least, I felt like I was alone. I spent the entire day watching Geordie Shore (which is atrocious, but highly addictive) and eating rubbish. I just sat and let the waves of sadness, waves of anxiety and waves of inferiority wash over me. I didn’t believe the words they had used to describe me, but I felt insecure. I knew then as I know now, I am not a slut… but I felt dirty and weak.

For me, you see, the story actually begins 5 years ago. 5 years ago, I was a different person. I was insecure and weak. I was paranoid and anxious. I was depressed. Not as a result of bullying, but as a result of having the wrong priorities in my life. I had absolutely hit rock bottom, which included a brief encounter with suicidal thoughts. Thankfully, because of my ever-loving parents, I was able to move home and begin to fix myself. It was a very long process but, with their love and support, and the love and support of wiser friends, I was able to get back on my feet once more. Earlier this year I took the final step I needed to heal: counselling. I was able to, with a supportive professional, come to terms with my angers and anxieties; my insecurities and paranoias; and I was able to leave it where it belongs… in the past.

If we now jump back again, into the present, you may now begin to understand why I spent a week feeling sick and crying. It wasn’t all the time. It was, like I said before, waves. I was fine, until I wasn’t. The misplaced ‘joke’ broke me in the immediate aftermath. It brought me back to my teenage years. I was insecure. I definitely didn’t think I was pretty. Those insecurities were never things that I was bullied for at school. But they were insecurities which were never dealt with. And they did control my first few years as a young adult, from 18-21 years old.

I’m done, now, with this incident at university. Obviously, I hope there are certain outcomes, but the best outcome for me would be that the perpetrator realises that it was never about offence. If you take me out of it, it is about what is ok to say, and what isn’t. It is about professionalism. If you leave me in it, it is about this misguided thought process of the 21st Century. It is about people thinking they can say and/or write what they want, without thinking more deeply about the person they’re talking/writing about.

For me, as a professional, this is the challenge. Michael Gove, I know you won’t read this… but I wish you would. It isn’t about the facts which we fill children’s heads with. And it isn’t about how well they will contribute to society, economically. It is about working out what each child’s insecurities are, and tackling them. It is about teaching children to have respect and empathy. It is about guiding children and teenagers and young adults away from those feelings of anxiety and paranoia. Finally, it is about how well children today will contribute to society, emotionally and socially. I believe that all practitioners need to reflect on the new National Curriculum (2014) and upon their own practice. We all need to work out how we can develop children’s emotional and social intelligence; how we can nurture each child’s health and wellbeing. For me, that begins in the classroom. It begins with the teacher.