Wednesday, 29 May 2013

Not good enough: The highs and lows of being a teacher...

I've had a tough last few weeks. I told myself I was fine, but I clearly was not. I think I'm fine now, but who's to say that I'm not wrong again?

The last three weeks have been interview and marking test papers at both KS3 and KS4 in the build up to GCSE examinations and the aftermath of end of year assessments.

We'll start with the interview. I applied for a job at my current place of work as assistant curriculum leader. I've been working above my current responsibilities for the last year and a half, taking new things on and working myself to the bone in support of my application. The day was a typical interview day and after my interview I went tutoring and was left a voice mail on the way home as I drove. At some traffic lights I called 901 and put the phone on speakerphone and the voice on the other end asked me to text a number to have a chat about my interview. As I got home, I grabbed a pen and post-it note and started to write the number down '07...'. Unfortunately, my ear hit the number 3 on my keypad, deleting the message, and this began a thoroughly uncomfortable two hours of waiting for a phone call after sending an e-mail explaining the situation. A 20-minute conversation followed about my unsuccessful interview, most of which I didn't pick up, but much of the feedback was that I didn't sell myself well. I was very disappointed - I still am - but I went to bed and woke up at the normal time the following morning and went in to work at the normal time too. Everyone was very apologetic about my failure to get the job and expressed their surprise at this, which was nice. Truth be told, though, I really didn't want to be at work. I resented the place and I resented speaking to colleagues and being asked for my opinions on the interviews the next week and what the applicants can deliver. The only time I did forget about my resentment was when I taught.

Feedback wasn't quickly forthcoming due to a plethora of interviews ongoing at the school and senior staff's involvement in those. I spent over a week stewing over my resentment, doing nothing at home and struggling mentally to get myself 'up' for teaching my classes until I'd started. On the morning of the Thursday afterwards I had a 30-minute meeting with a senior colleague who I have a lot of respect for - she told me that since I had no responsibilities currently then I would have always struggled when up against an applicant with responsibility points. I was told that I am a very good practitioner with excellent ideas, but that I need to sell myself better in interviews. Unfortunately, words of praise aren't anywhere near as good as the reward of responsibility for your efforts.

I didn't come out of this meeting entirely positively - I felt rather angry, and still do, that a member of staff who puts themselves out there and works so hard in support of an application is not given a chance simply because they don't have any responsibility points currently. Not only that, but the main thing that I picked up from my feedback was my inability to sell myself and that if I don't go in to an interview and dance on the tables and sing about how incredible I am that it's unlikely that I'll get a post that I deserve - the thing is, I'm just not that guy.

The following day wasn't my finest. It followed an evening of marking year 8 tests - a class who are targeting level 5s, achieving 3.8s and 4.2s. I was thoroughly dejected and did not look forward to period 4 when I met with them. I told each of them their score, each pupil making me more and more dejected. I tipped when one pupil began crying about their score of 8/60 and felt completely worthless and useless. I referred to a pupil as 'pathetic' and she walked straight out of my door and did not return. I didn't feel good about that and I'm still ashamed. I asked her friend to send her back to me at lunch and she strode to me with a smile on her face. I apologised, but that was the only thing I could say - things had got too much for me... I was tearful, and she and her friends saw this. I walked away, grabbed my lunch and sat in a small group classroom. The problem with the BSF schools is that there's no privacy anywhere - rather quickly, a good 20 pupils appeared at the door and 8 or so came in to talk to me and counsel me. The results weren't the only thing that pushed me over the edge, but this will come soon. I left them and didn't want to teach my wonderful year 9 set 1 - I set them the Dara O'Briain puzzles and rewarded pupils with mini Crunchies for the fastest correct answers.

I played football after school and went home - my parents took me out to eat and my girlfriend and I watched the first Star Trek film that night. I didn't share how I felt until after the film and quickly took myself to bed. My girlfriend, god bless her soul, stayed up and marked a set of year 9 papers for me, finishing at 2am.

The other major factor in my meltdown was an e-mail I'd received the night before. In order to improve our maths results, all year 11 students will have 10 extra lessons in a week prior to their terminal exams - the upshot is cover teachers for KS3 and cover work to set, more resources to find/create and more time with some kids that have already had, and wasted, more than enough chances at improving their GCSE grades. I replied to the e-mail asking about the upshot and the response to my simple question of 'What are the implications of this for KS3 teachers? Setting cover and planning extra lessons?' was 'You just have to do it' - straight out of the management textbook, right?

Over the weekend I planned some lessons that required little from me for the following week whilst marking the remainder of my year 9 papers. I made a phone call as soon as I got to work on Monday morning to the mother of a young lady in my class who had scored 99/100 on one paper and 94/100 on the other - 10 marks better off than the next best, who was 5 better off than the next.

Having had my meltdown, I felt better. Having let it all out and accepted that I now need to do less, I felt better. Having marked my year 9 papers and seen that 6 pupils are working at a grade B, and only two pupils having achieved below their target (as expected), I felt much better.

The point of this blog is to put into words the feelings that I have about my last three weeks. That I'm now becoming more aware that however much you do as a teacher, you'll always be able to do more. That as hard as you work, you'll always be asked to do more and expected to do more. That as much as you do, as much of an impact that you have, education is not like a normal job and promotions are not given unless you brag about how incredible you are at what you do - regardless of whether you are or not.

It's also a promise to myself that as long as I am not recompensed for my extra effort and extra time, for my hard work and for 'giving myself selflessly' (a quote) I certainly won't be continuing with everything that I have this year and last.

Monday, 6 May 2013

A bit more on The Mathia and Maths Rock Stars...

This has been a long time in coming and I'm still needing to write a proper post dedicated to The Mathia and our Young Leaders Initiative, but I've got about 10 minutes to spare and wanted to update on Maths Rock Stars.

This started last week. We met the Thursday before to brainstorm and organise, work out who was in which form and get some questions down on paper. We agreed to meet on Wednesday to go through the task at break time and 3 pupils didn't show - they did show to revision, however, and we covered it then. I gave the pairs their folders and gave them strict instructions to be there are 8.40 and no later - this had to go well, given the time and effort that I'm putting in to it and the amount of 'airtime' we're giving it in school.

I left pupils to it on the morning, waited until my cover arrived to register my form and then went on my way. I found that, unknown to the Year 7 office and our staff handbook, there had been a reshuffle of classes in Science. I went to RE, up to Humanities and then on to English. All pupils there, all positive signs and all getting on. Ace, I thought.

The task was this:
The pupils are now 21. They're in a band and they've got a gig - in the pub across the road from school. They listen to music and answer questions from a sheet - the music of choice: Frank Turner - I Still Believe and Blur Song 2 (giving them 5 minutes and 46 seconds). The questions...

1. The Band
You are in a four-piece rock band – 2 electric guitarists, 1 bass guitarist and 1 drummer. An electric guitar has 6 strings and a bass guitar as 4 strings. How many strings are there in total? (1 point)
You are 21 years old. The other guitarist is 2 years older than you, the bass guitarist is the same age as you and the drummer is 27. What is the total of the ages in your band? (1 point)

2. The Gig
The gig is in a small pub near the school you used to attend. You will play the gig in a rectangular room that measures 5m by 10m. What is the area of the room? (2 points)
You set up at one end of the room. You take up 5m by 2m. How much area is left for people to watch the gig? (1 point)
If people take up 2m² each, how many people can attend the gig? (2 points)
17 people show up. Each of them pay £3 to watch. How much does the pub make from the gig? (1 point)

3. After The Gig
After the gig, you want a drink. You have £10 and you offer your friend a drink too. A pint of Coke is £2.20 – how much change do you get after ordering 2 Cokes? (1 point)
You set off home at 11:08pm. It takes you 34 minutes to get home. What time do you get home? (1 point)

Extension: The Next Day
You start to plan recording your EP. Studio time will cost £30 per hour + £50. If you need 4 hours in a studio, how much will this cost? (1 point)
A pack of 50 CD-Rs costs £10, 50 CD wallets cost £2 and printing for 50 CD sleeves costs £1.50. If you pay for them with a £20 note, how much change will you get? (1 point)

The feedback from form tutors was generally positive:
Just sat in registration with my two maths leaders delivering their session and i have to say i am so impressed and upbeat by what they have done, even in the short time they have been in so far! Brilliant activity that lifts the mood and an excellent start to the day for the students (and me!). To see how engaged my form are and how confident and supportive the leaders are. Just saying. (PE Teacher)
The session was excellent. The students explained the task well and clearly in my opinion.
The work was good and so was the atmosphere in the room while the kids worked.

The only improvement needed would be the timescales as there was not enough time to feedback all answers for the kids there and then.

Great idea, great music and a great way to start my day!!

Well done to all involved. (History Teacher)
The leaders were really good. The problem is that the weaker pupils really struggled with the work, I have about 5/6 really weak pupils and they found reading the questions very difficult as well as calculating the answer. I sat with M but could do with some more support maybe from room 39? The leaders assisted as well but it still was not enough. So yes, loving it, it was enjoyed by all. (PE Teacher)
Now we've to look at timings, which should hopefully be sorted out in the second week as no need to introduce the concept any more. That, and the need for the weaker students to be supported, which was always going to be a problem with the leaders not being teachers... Perhaps some more kids in with that form...

Since last week we delivered it's English's turn this week, so Thursday morning will be our time to meet and discuss. I'm thinking that some chocolate or some toast from freshly made bread might be some way to get the day started well.

I'm very proud and won't hold back from mentioning this as often as I possibly can during my interview tomorrow.