End of an era. 

So today was my last day at the school I’ve been teaching at for the last 15 years. To say it was all rather sudden would be an understatement. At the February half term, I had no expectation of leaving the profession for several years. The threat of capability changed everything. 

I decided that I just did not have any energy left to fight, nor could I work any harder or put in longer hours in order to meet targets and jump through hoops. 

So here I am. Sitting at home after the most traumatic working day of my life. The parents were wonderful saying  so many  wonderful things that they made me cry. My colleagues told me how they valued my friendship and support. Children I had never taught gave me cards and presents.  Children I had taught bought me cards and presents. Children I taught long ago, grown up now, made contact to say how I had made their school life so positive. 

I realised that the time I’ve spent in this school has been valued by those that matter. That I have made a difference in the lives of many, colleagues, parents and most of all children. I will take that knowledge with me as go forward on my new adventure. 

Not everything of value can be measured: not everything that is measured is valuable. 

Back to work thoughts of a ‘failing’ teacher. 

It’s been twelve days since I found out I am going to be put through the capability process and ten days since I was signed off sick. I should say I didn’t give my HT the chance to explain the procedure but having seen other colleagues go through it, I’m assuming I’ll get a period of ‘informal support’ before officially being placed on capability. 

Being 55 in July, I’ve pretty much decided to take early retirement and cover my bills by doing supply work from September. 

However I just don’t know if I can continue teaching the next fourteen weeks in a school where the SLT consider me to be failing. Being told I am holding back children’s progress is killing me. Partly because I don’t think it’s true but mostly because what if is it true? In 6 months I’ve gone from being ‘good’ to failing. How can that be? How can I be getting it so wrong? 

I’m due back to work tomorrow and for the first time since my NQT year, I don’t know if I can teach well enough. 

The Rise and Fall of a Teacher

When I started teaching, a mere 17 years ago, I walked around the school expecting someone to tap me on the shoulder and tell me I was rubbish at teaching. 

Today was the day. 

Three years ago I was so confident in my teaching that I began to apply for Deputy Headships. I had already been drafted in as part of an LA initiative to support teachers in other schools. So successful had I been, that I was asked to present at the rollout of the initiative in London schools. 

Well how are the mighty fallen. Pride goes before a fall. 

Today I was advised, that although he really didn’t want to, my HT was going to have to start capability with me. 

I resigned as a member of SLT and as staff governor. And now I have a choice. 

Stay and fight or take early retirement. 

Which would you choose? 

With respect to @Sue_Cowley Knowledge: What I know as a teacher.

Shamelessly borrowed from Sue Cowley a response to her poem. https://suecowley.wordpress.com/2015/02/17/knowledge-the-first-five-years/
I hope she’s not offended!

Knowledge: What I know as a teacher

As a trainee teacher
I didn’t know much
I knew how to listen
I didn’t say much.

I wasn’t sure
Who the big people were
But I read a lot
About Chomsky and Bruner.

As an NQT
Things weren’t much better
I followed instructions, schemes
And plans to the letter.

A kindly mentor
Hurried things along
And the year went quickly
Though I got things wrong.

As a middle leader
I managed a team
Working with colleagues
I followed my dream.

Sharing ideas,
Plans and resources
The highs and the lows
The late night discourses.

As an experienced teacher
I should be top of my game
Driving improvement
Everyone knows my name.

But what’s this you ask
How old fashioned you are
The minister you see
Knows better by far.

Work longer hours
Stop moaning and listen
Get the progress we need
So that PISA will glisten.

After 17 years
Teaching in schools
This much I know
We’re being led by fools.

End of Term Reflection or Thank Goodness it’s Christmas!

As I waved goodbye to the last child on Friday at 3.20pm, I heaved a heartfelt sigh of relief. The Autumn Term was finished. It had been challenging, exciting and fulfilling but mostly it had been exhausting!

The best thing about finding the education community on Twitter has been the sharing of ideas and successes. The realisation that I am not alone, my school is not alone, in struggling with the demands of teaching in the current climate.

This term I read a post about the use of questions in place of learning objectives from a secondary school colleague. Could this work in a primary school setting I wondered? I tried it. Rephrasing learning objectives such as ‘Start sentences with conjunctions.’ into a question, ‘How does starting with a conjunction affect the punctuation of a sentence?’ has led to a huge improvement in children’s understanding. I have noticed a marked difference in achievement of the  ‘lower ability’ children compared to previous years. This year the lower ability groups are producing  work of a higher standard than before, although the quantity of work is less than their more able peers, the quality is as good. So it seems to be going well. Is it a successful strategy? Well so far, so good is all I can say now. I am lucky that we have a peer coaching model in operation at my school. I will be working with my colleague next term. I want to look at whether it is as useful a strategy as I think it is.

I had an epiphany on the day when the first four children I asked a question about the parts of a plant, could not give me an answer, despite us having just completed the lesson on the same work. I looked at their blank faces and realised that they had not expected to learn it. They took part in the lesson, they listened to me, they watched the clever DVD clip, they worked with their peers making and labelling the parts of the plant but they had no expectation of themselves in terms of remembering any of it. Then I realised, that maybe the reason was not their expectations, but of my expectations. Had I accepted that these children were ‘low ability’ and ‘well she’s EAL’ as a reason to allow them to not remember? Was it my expectations holding the children back?

I decided right then that whatever the reason, no longer would I allow any child to say, ‘I don’t remember,” as a ‘get out of jail free’ card. I explained carefully that it would no longer be acceptable to ‘forget’ things. I was expecting them to remember. We had a few ‘rabbit in the headlight’ moments but gradually we had more and more successes. Nothing breeds success like success and this has certainly been the case for my children. They love being able to answer my questions, and in my ‘Quiz of the term’ assessment, the majority of the children could recall all the work covered in a variety of subjects. They may not of remembered all of the functions of the parts of a plant, but they all remembered some of them. And that, for me, was the best Christmas present ever!

I therefore say ‘Thank You Twitter’. I have had a fantastic Autumn Term but now it’s Christmas, pass me the prosecco! Happy Christmas everyone.

Random Thoughts of the Night.

Last night I couldn’t sleep. As I lay awake staring at the ceiling, I reflected on a post, purportedly written by a primary school teacher, that was the object of a Twitter storm. Reading through the tweets was an interesting experience, trying to follow the various arguments/discussions to make sense of the different points of view. It seems to me that a) the blog is a spoof (since posting this blog, I was asked to think about how I would feel is someone said my blog was a spoof-a point well made and I apologise to @quirkyteacher); b) the purpose of the blog is to engender debate about some educational practices; c) other people have very strong views which can make it difficult to see any other point of view and d) I realised that I often ‘sit on the fence’ and watch, rather than get involved.

So here I am getting off the fence.

In the original post, the teacher was describing the culture of rewards in her school. Essentially that every child should be ‘Star of the Week’ at some point, so that sometimes minimal effort was rewarded. Many people felt that this was wrong, and I find myself in agreement with this view.

However, I started to look at my own context. How do I reward children? In my Junior school we have a system of rewards: Team Points, Merits and Golden Time. Team points reward the whole team; Merits reward individual effort and achievement and Golden Time rewards individual good behaviour. Every child is able to earn any or all of the rewards. I believed that the systems encouraged effort and good behaviour but since reading the blog, I am questioning that belief. Surely that was the intention of the blogger; to invite us to examine our reward systems, our beliefs and evaluate the effect they have on our pupils?

Like other Tweeters, I question the emotive language used by the blogger, however would the post have inspired such a debate without it? I will certainly be looking closely at the effectiveness of my rewards this week.

First Proper Blog – The Year from Hell.

Well here I am trying out something new and at 50 something that’s not always easy. So forgive me if this first Blog is clumsy!

I had the worst time in my teaching career last year. It was quite honestly like having the rug pulled from under my feet. It felt like any other September, any other September in a year which Ofsted was due anyway. With a new Head in place, things were moving forwards, consistency in marking was finally looking possible and in Literacy (my subject) the picture was not irretrievably awful. In fact, the introduction of outdoor learning had contributed to real progress and engagement for the disengaged children in my previous class. I was riding high and looking forward to another good year.

Then we had to implement the new criteria for lesson observations. In which every child had to make ‘rapid and sustained progress’ in every lesson. My first lesson observation was carried out by the Head and the local ‘Superhead’ in the interests of validating our Head’s judgements. I confidently planned a maths lesson outdoors introducing measuring length to my Year 3 class. I wanted to see if they could choose the appropriate equipment to measure with. I thought the lesson had gone rather well, the children explored all the available equipment, chose appropriately after a few mishaps and all managed to achieve the learning objective. My only mistake was not moving the children on to develop accuracy in measuring in the 5 minutes I had left before the plenary session, in which I explored the need to measure accurately for the next lesson. My lesson received a ‘requires improvement’ judgement. I was devastated. I am part of SLT and my lesson was RI.

That was the start of a downward spiral. I had to deliver similar judgements to other colleagues and it was awful. Morale began to suffer, people began to feel hunted. In January came Ofsted. They could see we were a good school, but the data didn’t support this. They observed many lessons, mine among others was judged to be RI. In my case, not enough differentiation was the problem in my 15 minute spelling activity, prior to the main lesson which was not observed. The school received a ‘requires improvement’ judgement. Morale nosedived.

My next lesson observation was a total disaster. I knew it was awful but couldn’t stop myself continuing the lesson, my confidence was gone. The Head was sympathetic and agreed to another observation. This time all the children made progress and achieved the learning objective, some made greater than expected progress, but the more able children could have made more progress. Another RI judgement. By now I was ready to resign. As a member of SLT, on UPS3, I now needed to be outstanding, at least good, but definitely not RI. Other teachers managed to get ‘good’ judgements, or ‘good enough’ as they are now known in our school but many previously outstanding teachers were still being judged as RI. Morale was now at rock bottom. A school with mostly good, some outstanding and a couple of satisfactory teachers, was now a school with mostly RI and some good and a couple of outstanding teachers. This was after the two ‘satisfactory’ teachers had left the school and been replaced with NQTs.

By Easter, I had had enough. I explored the possibility of taking on a part time contract in order to lose UPS status but this was not possible. I achieved UPS3 through my contribution to whole school development and sustained impact on children’s progress across the school. Now I felt like it was being used to get me out of teaching. (Not by my Head, by DFE) This was (is) a worrying trend across the profession, experience is being driven out by using unrealistic expectations in order to reduce the pay bill, in my opinion. However, a chance conversation with a colleague from a different school made me stop and think. What progress had the children made since September? I knew it was good so I went to find the evidence to prove it. In fact their progress was better than good. Now I began to feel in control again. Now I was using the data for me. Spelling progress in my class was outstanding as was reading. Maths progress was good and writing was better than expected. By the end of the year progress in all areas was good or outstanding.

So I ended the year not on a high, but at least on an even keel. I felt more in control of my destiny there is no way the children could have made that progress if my teaching was less than good. This year, when lesson observations happen, I will be ready!