Monthly Archives: July 2015

My #summer 10

Ok, so Jill’s done one, Sue’s done one, Rachel’s done one, and any other number of people too and as I was too lazy (and immensely touched by all the people who nominated me – thank you) to do the #twitteratichallenge here’s my plan(ish) for the summer.

1. Boats, boats, boats and more boats. In particular sailing dinghies. Bring it on (and lots of sunshine please, it’s all better in the sunshine).

2. Reading. I have a stack of novels to read. And some books for my course, but I’m not thinking about that right now.

3. Spend time with my children – if at all possible, some time just me and one of them. 

4. Attend a funeral for a very elderly relative.

5. Clean my house. Ugh. I might fail at this.

6. Garden.

7. Write a column. *skips about*

8. Write a book. *gulps*

9. Sleep.

10. Keep calm.

And somewhere in that I need to catch up with my friends, my wider family, who I haven’t seen for far too long.

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Bad Parenting

Mr Wilshaw has been at it again.

Some parents are bad.

 

Some parents just don’t give their children the opportunities, from the earliest of days, for them to get ahead.

Some parents take their children to group after group after group and their kids never get to spend a moment at home.

 

Some mothers give their children milk in bottles.

Some mothers breastfeed their children far beyond the age acceptable in polite society.

 

Some fathers don’t get back from work in time to put their children to bed, or read them a story.

Some fathers don’t go out to work.

 

Some mothers put their children’s needs before their own.

Some put their own first.

 

Some mothers keep their children far too close for far too long.

Some contract out the job to boarding schools.

 

Some parents check their children for acceptability before they are born.

Some refuse to take any tests, or worse, take no notice of test results.

 

Some parents allow their children to watch or play games or films inappropriate to their children’s age.

Some parents wrap their offspring up in cotton wool.

 

Some parents don’t help their children with their homework.

Some parents do it for them.

 

Some parents drive their kids to school.

Some make them walk all the way on their own.

 

Some parents let their children eat their meals in front of the telly.

Some parents sit at the table and shout at their children because they won’t eat their vegetables.

 

Some parents smack their children.

Some parents use emotional blackmail to control them.

 

Some parents favour one child over another.

Some parents treat all their children the same, regardless.

 

Some parents send their kids to bed too early.

Some let them stay up too late.

 

Some parents, but not very many, don’t love their children.

And that’s got nothing to do with being poor.

 

 

Reality Check

When I look back over my teaching years, there are a whole load of children who have influenced me, in one way or another.  If I was asked to choose one to tell you about, it would be very difficult.  Take ‘Jessica’.  I met her on my very first teaching practice (yes, I am that old, old enough not to call it a placement, which, to me, always reminds me of something you would put on a table, but I think that’s just me); she was in Year 5 and she wasn’t very good at reading and had what we teachers call an Attitude.

I was told to go and do some reading with her, getting some experience, like, and she taught me a very valuable lesson.  She picked out a book, it was a book of bible stories I remember, and it was well above the level of text that she was supposed to be able to read.  She told me that she had wanted to read it for ages, and, thinking ‘nothing ventured, nothing gained’, I agreed.  And she read it.  Not without stumbles or mistakes, but she read it.

Lesson 1:  motivation.

And then there was ‘Jack’.  I met Jack after I had been teaching for about five years, and he was in my class when he was in Year 4.  He was dyslexic, with memory problems and colour blindness.  I liked him a lot, he was good at art and he worked really, really hard.  I gave him the starring role in our assembly and he rewarded me, when he left in Year 6, by telling everyone that that was his best memory of primary school.

Lesson 2: someone believing in you can make more of a difference than you thought.

That class was an interesting one.  ‘Daniel’ was in it, and he had dyspraxia.  He was a bright boy, but he was always in a muddle; always covered in splodges of dinner and his handwriting was, well, put it this way, it wasn’t as bad as A’s.  His parents had sought outside advice and got him a writing slope.  The thing is, though, that the slope spent the vast majority of its time under his desk because he hated it.  He hated being marked out as different and would rather make a different sort of effort.

Lesson 3: feelings about yourself matter.

During that time, there was a lot of investment in schools, there was the National Strategies (oh, how I hated the Literacy Hour, I didn’t wear a watch for YEARS afterwards), and I was sent on the training for additional literacy support.  We got it up and running in my class, and I learned a whole load about how to teach phonics and that the children messed about a lot less when I was the one who was teaching them rather than the TA (who was lovely).

Lesson 3: it’s not just the method, it’s the who.

And then there was Sam.  Along came my own child, and he brought with him a whole load of other lessons to add to the ones I had already learned.  I learned about child development from the very earliest of stages, from smiling, to laughing, to sitting, crawling, communicating, riding a bike.  I learned about blending activities together, so that every moment mattered; there was never a Time for Doing Portage.  We just lived.  I invested everything we did with meaning.

I learned about targets and breaking them down, I saw spiky profiles grow before my eyes, and that there are some things you can see (like low muscle tone) and some you can’t, like understanding.  I learned that the foundations for learning in school need to be long and wide and deep and strong and that even when they are, some children will still find the reading and the writing and the maths hard going.

I learned that labels are powerful.  That some people see them and think they describe everything there is to know about a person.  I learned that some labels are misunderstood and limiting.  I learned that some people use labels to help them get help, some people use labels to explain situations they don’t understand and give them peace and some people use them to get them off hooks.  I learned that sometimes, the weight of that label leaves people feeling powerless to do anything and other times it makes people roll up their sleeves and thumb their nose at fate.

I learned that parents matter; that they know things, that they have invaluable experience and insights and that the vast majority of them want to work with the people who are paid to work with their children.  I learned that some of them are angry or afraid or confused.  That every single one of the people who works with a child, with or without SEND is emotionally invested and involved.  I learned that behaviour is never just that.  I’ve even learned a bit about the law.  That SEND can bring us together as well as it can split us apart.

And now Sam is fourteen years old and I’ve been teaching a long time and I’m still at it.  I’m still learning.  And the one thing I can be absolutely sure of, without a shadow of a doubt, is that I don’t know it all, and just because you can’t see it, or you can’t take a blood test or a pill, or because those labels are used in all sorts of strange ways, ways in which I don’t approve or understand, that like pain, it’s invisibility doesn’t mean that SEND isn’t real.

It’s way more complicated than that.

Tippex

I reckon I’m a better writer than I am a speaker.  The thing about writing is that it gives me time to reflect.  The process of writing itself makes me slow down, consider my words, think about what it is I actually think.  The process of writing for publication, whether it is here, or elsewhere, makes me pause for longer.  How will what I write be received?  Who will be reading it?  What will they think of my words; will they hurt them?

When I’m talking away my mouth has a tendency to run away with me.  I get nervous, or excited (I don’t get out much), or too easily muddle my internal, ranty world with the external every-day one.  I say all sorts of silly or hurtful or insensitive things, and, once I’ve said them, I have no idea how to dig myself out of a hole, especially if I’m talking to people who I don’t know very well, or the social situation leaves me unsure.  Friends and family are well used to my verbal attempts to untangle myself, accustomed to the apologies and stumbles, the blushes when I realise I’ve put my foot in it, or walked into a piss take.

There isn’t a delete key in conversation.

Thank goodness there is one on this computer.

When I was younger, and computers were things that your dad had and you weren’t really allowed to use them because they were for work, I used to be well acquainted with Tippex.

The Comeback Queen

I am an expert in not being the one who gets the job.  I always have been, for some reason.  Even before I was all grown up and applying for the sort of jobs that would pay my mortgage as opposed to pocket money, actually getting the job (and then keeping it) was a skill that eluded me to a great degree.

Once I was qualified and had the PGCE in my pocket, I kind of assumed that a job would be forthcoming.  Back when I was sweet sixteen, as wet behind the ears as they come, a man sat us down in a classroom, when I went for a look around the local college, and told us that if we went to university and got degrees we would be guaranteed a better job (subtext: a better life).  It turns out he didn’t quite tell the truth.  He reckoned without 1992, and ’93, followed by ‘4 and ‘5, or 2010 and 11.  Financial downturns have dominated my employment chances right from the start.

When I read about recruitment crises in teaching, I can’t help but wonder where they are, because I’ve never seen hide nor hair of any.  Maybe it’s because I’ve always lived in the kind of places that are both nice places to live and containing an overabundance of teacher training colleges churning out lots and lots of competition, I don’t know.  Or maybe it’s me.  I’ve always been the wild card.  The candidate who has to prove a point, the one you have to take a chance on.  The one who doesn’t quite tick all the boxes.

At first it was my Letter of Application.  When I came back to work after my long absence, I had to get a couple of head teacher friends (while I was busy having babies, they were busy getting on with careers) to look them over and tell me where I was going wrong.  ‘Nancy,’ they said.  ‘No-one will care one way or the other what you have been doing for the last few years.  The only thing head teachers care about is whether your experience relates to the World of School.  No-one cares what happens outside of that.’  They were right, too.

Once I started down-playing everything I had been up to, the interviews started coming – and I started realising how much the landscape of education, if not the reality of life in the classroom, had changed.  (I can categorically state here that primary children are much the same as they have ever been – even down to the smell – and they still need to learn much the same things, like the names of shapes and how to spell.)  Back in 1994, when I was taking my first steps on the Interview Trail (once I had got my application letter sorted), it was a half hour interview with some Hard Questions, and you were in, or out.

There was none of this going home and staring at your dead phone, jumping out of your skin while you waited for it to ring with the news of success or failure.  Back then, the nervous candidates had to sit in the staff room together, making small talk and comparing questions and answers, looking either terrified or smugly self-satisfied, until the Chair or Governors came out of the head teacher’s office and called one of you in.  I got so used to being one of the also-rans that the day I actually did find myself offered a permanent contract as a class teacher I sat there for a while in a sort of stupefied daze, feeling awful for the girl I had promised a lift home to.

It was always the Chair of Governors who came out to give you the bad news.  They were always terribly nice about it, always encouraging, and I got into the habit of asking for an appointment to call the head for feedback later, which, over the years, proved very useful.  These days, you know you haven’t got the job when it is the head who gives you a call.  The giving of the bad news has fallen to the most senior member of staff.  The offer of feedback comes right at that moment when you are feeling at your least polite and most disappointed.

And it isn’t a half an hour interview (or 45 minutes if it’s going well) any more.  These days, there’s a whole ‘nother set of hoops through which the job seeking teacher must jump in order to gain the prize of employment.  And, as a seeker of the most rare of all things in the primary teaching world, as rare almost as the droppings of the rocking horse, the permanent part-time post, I’ve been to a rather larger number of the things than you might expect.

I’ve taught 20 and 30 minute lessons to unknown children, where I haven’t been at all sure what it is the observers are actually looking for.  Do they want me to actually teach something meaningful, or are they wanting to see how I interact with children?  Do they want differentiation?  What subject would they like?  After watching me teach a bunch of strange children, what do they want me to say about it afterwards?  That it all went well?  That the children learned loads?  That it was a disaster?  (No one wants to look arrogant.)  I never know, partly because, in 20 minutes with a group of children you have never met before, what can you know?

And then there’s the Interview With the School Council.  I may have done myself out of a job the day I was asked for my best joke (What’s brown and sticky?  A stick) and whether I was strict or not (yes).  Or the written task, or the lunch with the staff and school tour with more members of the school council.  I don’t mind doing an in-tray exercise for an SLT job, but for a part time temporary intervention one or maternity cover it all seemed a bit much.

And then there’s the interview itself.  Should I crack jokes? Probably not.  I’ve had those interviews where everyone had a good time (well, what was I supposed to say apart from cakes when I was asked what I could bring to the staff room?) and no-one was appointed.  I’ve been left in some sort of cupboard for what felt like hours while the panel wondered what had happened to one of their members and nobody felt like telling the candidates.  Thankfully I’ve yet to experience one where half the candidates get sent home before they even get to that stage, because, frankly, at the level of job I’m going for, that would make me a bit cross.

Because, you see, I don’t like to have my time wasted.  I’m a busy lady, what with having three children of my own and a home to run and a job to hold down (and a blog to write) and I can’t bear the thought that I’m just there to make up the numbers.  Oh, I’ll be keeping my eyes out for the next opportunity, I suppose.  I feel a bit flat at the moment, no one likes to be the reject, after all, but I shall pick myself up eventually, dust myself off and carry on.

Because I don’t believe what they said.  I don’t believe that experience outside of school, not mine, where I live and breathe SEN, where I’ve learned all sorts of things, all sorts of outside of the school world kind of things, has no relevance.

I’ll be back.