Category Archives: Discussions

Discussion: Teaching Outside Your Comfort Zone

“You don’t have to answer me now, just think about what I am about to say to you and come back to me with an answer when you’re ready. You completed your induction year in Year 5, and have worked really well in the two years since in Year 4. We have been really pleased with your progress, and want to help you gain as much experience as you can. How do you feel about moving to Year 2?”

 

I’m a man. To a certain extent, there is a stigma that comes along with that when working in a primary school. People tend to make assumptions when they think of males in the primary school. Often men have the Physical Education curriculum thrust upon them, are expected to be expert disciplinarians and tend to find themselves working with the older pupils in the school. To a certain extent, when training I had fit the mould of this description and upon taking up my position at my current school I was happy to slip into Year 5 and take on sporting extra-curricular activities. This was very much within my comfort zone. KS1 had never really been on my periphory, it might as well have been in another world. After completing the obligatory KS1 placement on the first of four years of my initial teacher training, schools were keen to see me complete my other placements in the upper reaches of KS2. As my placements grew in length, I found myself placed in Year 4, Year 5 and finally Year 6. Even in the pressure cooker of Year 6 SATs, I thoroughly enjoyed what I was doing and felt largely comfortable. This ensured that in my short career in KS2, I have been developing well within my comfort zone. And so, seemingly from absolutely nowhere…

 

“How do you feel about working in Year 2?”

My bubble burst.

 

I suppose, rather selfishly, my first thoughts were of my own progression and how helpful such a move would be to my own career. Having already had one eye on a possible future in school leadership and knowing that my headteacher supports me fully in this (it was her idea and she is guiding me down that road), experience in KS1 will undoubtedly stand me in good stead for the future. It will also force me to learn how to teach phonics and adapt my practice to meet the needs of a much younger and more demanding group of pupils. I will learn new skills and teaching strategies that will make me a much better teacher in years to come. Both in terms of my professional development, and my future aspirations, there is the potential for great growth in the coming years due to such a move. When I allowed myself time to mull it over, I then began to consider what it would mean for the pupils. For them, they will have their first experience of working with a male. I cannot recall the last time (if ever) a male has taught in KS1 in my school. There is no reason to believe that the pupils wont react positively to working with a man, and I actively do what I can to ensure that I am positive role model for all the pupils who I work with. They will also have a young(ish), (relatively) energetic and hard-working teacher who will do all he can to ensure they develop to the best of their ability.

 

So what is the problem? Well, there are SATs. There are children much smaller and more immature than I have ever taught before. There are parent’s who, during their experience, have never had a male teach in the infant section of their school before and may come with preconceived attitudes towards me. There is no time to settle in, as in Year 2 results are expected from the get go and excuses matter little and there is the fear of being completely out of my depth.

 

I firmly believe that teachers should remove themselves from their comfort zones once in a while in order to stay fresh and to ensure they don’t fall into the pit of routine and becoming stuck in a year group. I had made my decision before leaving the room that day, and agreed to the move almost instantly. Upon seeking reassurance that I had made the right choice, a good friend of mine advised me that there is no growth in comfort, and I agree with that sentiment hugely. However, I would be lying if I said I didn’t have apprehensions about the road again and so I ask for your advice. Have you moved to teach outside your comfort zone? Do you have any dos/don’ts? How can you help enable a smooth progression for yourself? Do I have anything to be worried about? Is there anything I can do to minimise disruption to routines or structures?

 

Thanks in advance,

Secret Teacher

 

Discussion: Should we fine parents who holiday during term time?

In September 2013 a new rule came into effect which prevented schools from granting pupils time off school, except for in ‘exceptional circumstances’. As such, parents who make the decision to remove their children from school to take them on holiday are doing so in a manner inconsistent with the law of the land and risk a penalty. Previously pupils could have been granted up to ten days leave without ramifications; however that is no longer the case. As a result, the number of parents being fined for taking term time holidays has increased by over 70%. Surely, this seems resonable. You break the law, you get fined.

 

That is, of course, until you consider why parents choose to take holidays during term times. Of course there are some parents whose holidays are previously prescribed to them or who simply cannot take time off at any other period of the year, but for the vast majority the decision is a financial one. Peak holiday demand drives up prices for flights and accommodation and many argue that the only way they can afford a family holiday is to take one during off peak periods, such as term time.A trip to Disneyland in Paris costs almost £400 more during school holidays for example, while a trip to Centre Parks last year would have cost you £890 more during the summer break. Such savings may be unlikely to deter you from the possibility of a £60 fine per child.

 

The fine, however, is not the only cost we should really we counting up. Despite the argument that holidays are for a relatively short period of time, a child who misses one week of school for holidays each year would miss at least 70 days over their years in education, amounting to three months of school. The DfE have stated how damaging poor attendance can be and pointed out that pupils who attend school regularly are nearly four times more likely to achieve five or more good GCSEs than those who are regularly absent. They also closely monitor school’s attendance figures and put pressures on head teachers to ensure that these figures remain high.

 

When the issue was debated by MPs, not one member supported the call to put pricing caps on holiday firms cashing in on the school holidays. In balance, such a cap would be incredibly difficult to enforce and may result in further difficulties booking holidays. It is, after all, a simple case of supply and demand. The solution put forward by MPs was to give schools the power to stagger their holidays. I remain unconvinced, however, that this is a viable suggestion. Certain times of the year are always going to need holidays placed around them: Christmas, Easter, a portion of the summer etc. Furthermore, a family with pupils at different stages of their education will still require all the schools their children attend to be on holiday at the same time for such a solution to work. If schools decide their holiday dates independently, this may not be the result.

 

For me, the solution lies with the schools and those who run them. In my school, this problem of holidays is minute compared to the amount of regular absentees and late pupils. These issues seriously impair the education a child receives. In my primary school, if a child is an hour late two times a week, they will miss 40% of their maths provision. If this is a regular occurrence, it has a significant impact on that child’s progression. In such cases, I fully support bringing fines or legal action against the parents who persistently fail their children, which borders on neglect. I believe the decision on holidays should have a more ‘common sense’ approach. Perhaps if the child’s attendance is above a certain percentage, for example 97% for the previous academic year, and the family wish to take their child on a holiday realising that this is not a luxury to be afforded to them annually, I believe the school should have the authority to authorise that on a one off basis.

 

There are no easy answers in this debate. It is possible for a parent to receive a criminal record for taking their children on holidays. However, for some, a ban on term time holidays means a ban on holidays altogether. Is a holiday a basic right? Should schools have the authority to fine parents for taking a holiday during term time? Does the solution lie in changing term times? How far behind will a child fall in a week or two? Do the skills acquired on a holiday potentially outweigh the lessons missed in class? Should children be allowed to holiday during term times?

 

Secret Teacher

Discussion: Would You Recommend Teaching?

As a new feature on this blog, I wish to generate an educational topic to discuss on a fortnightly basis. Readers can then feel free to add comments to the discussion at any time and we can gain a general consensus on the issue. To kickstart this process, I would like to ask you: would you recommend teaching?

 

Last week I was in the company of old friends when we found ourselves discussing our chosen professions. A younger sibling of a friend chose this time to tell me that she was thinking of embarking on a career in education and asked me a simple question; would you recommend teaching? I must admit, I stood looking at her for an awkwardly long time as my face made an expression that suggested I’d bitten a lemon and my eyes looked as though they were searching for the moon on the ceiling before I came to an answer. ‘Yes’ I eventually replied, ‘but only if you know what you’re letting yourself in for’. For the next half-hour or so I explained my thought process to her.

 

Remembering back to when I was in that position, all the teachers I spoke to warned me away from the profession. I recall thinking it must be some kind of ‘insider’ teacher joke. I thought maybe one day, when I was a teacher too, I would get it. And in many ways now I do, except of course I realise now they weren’t joking. There are many reasons to avoid teaching. Firstly, there is the simple fact that a lot of those who consider teaching simply aren’t cut out for the job. Either they lack the social skills to talk to and not at kids, the determination, focus, drive, resilience, hard skin or reliability. You must also consider the fact that it is more so a vocation than an occupation. You must be determined to sacrifice a great deal of time, work and energy to simply get by (especially early on in the profession) and understand that there will be times where you work until you sleep, get up and repeat the process; there will be holidays where you work everyday; there will be periods of exhaustion and emotional turmoil and there will be times when personal relationships are forced to take a back seat (and this is just your teacher training; the NQT year will knock you for six!).

 

Frustratingly there are also the politics, bureaucracy and blue tape which ensure that at least half of your time working will be without a child in sight. There is no way of looking back at my first two years in teaching without conceding that I lost two years of my life. Not so much the weekends and the nights out, but from Sunday afternoon until Friday evening I was working. I wonder sometimes if I was mature enough to enter the profession when I did, but also am thankful that I didn’t have a wife or young family to distract me. My sole purpose in life at that time was to jump through hoops and become the teacher people wanted me to be. It was far from easy and my time was anything but my own. I was so busy I often met myself coming backwards and this was simply to scrape by achieve the bare minimum standards expected of a teacher. The prospect of a life in the profession was a daunting one indeed.

 

Yet, if you are prepared to accept that some degree of what is written above will become reality (at least initially), then the juice is worth the squeeze. It is cliché to say that no two days are the same, but it has only become cliché because it is true. The pupils will challenge and motivate you in a way which inspires you to do the same for them. The positive relationships you build with pupils and the influence you have on their development is truly incredible. Life in the classroom is a rollercoaster but I have yet to wake in the morning dreading the day ahead. No matter what, at the end of the day you know you are having a positive impact on somebodies life and that is why I teach. Most people make a living, teachers make a difference.

 

So, back to the question. I would recommend teaching but only if the candidate is coming into the process with their eyes open, fully aware of what’s to come if they are to successfully embark on a career in education. It’s tough, but there are few better or more important jobs out there.

 

Do you agree with me? Are there any important points I have left out? Should teachers wait until a certain age to enter the profession? Is teaching a career to turn to later in life? Was my experience of induction extreme or perhaps you still work in that way deep into your career? Is teaching a career to turn to later in life?

Please feel free to share your thoughts below.

 

 

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