Note to self: don’t quit teaching. 

Being a teacher is a bit like your favourite celebs Instagram page : we always want to celebrate, show off and promote the highs but neglect to expose people to our lows. (Cheesy use of metaphor – I know).

I’m writing this post because last week for the first time in three years my self-belief as an English teacher in the further education sector collapsed; it crumbled like a house of sand. I sat on the train home mid-week feeling tired and overwhelmed. I toyed with the idea of pursuing an alternative career.


Shortly after sharing my new ambition I received comments from my teacher friends. Some shared similar sentiments, others offered pick-me-ups or their frustrations with bureaucracy. My favourite comment came from an inspirational Headteacher who implied I have to claim over thirty years of teaching before my need to leave the classroom was justified.

I appreciated the comments and the efforts to cheer me up but it did not neglect the fact that I was still drowning in deep despair and I had not anticipated the downward spiral that was to follow.

Things didn’t get better for me; they got significantly worse. Deadlines were fast approaching but my spirit, confidence and positive energy were leaving. Pride did not allow me to ask for help. I suffered in silence, immersed in misery.

I was struggling with a particular aspect of my job. I did not ask for help as I had the ingrained belief that asking for support would show a sign of weakness. Becky Dunsby wrote in The UKFEchat Guide Staying Motivated, “People who work in education are some of the best actors and actresses.” I knew this all too well. I wore my pearly smile which I complemented with red lipstick and continued my dramatic performance called the destructive path of denial.

It was not until early Friday afternoon that the darkness surfaced to the light. I sat in the office with my manager, who I have a great relationship with and I knew a difficult conversation was going to take place.

I cannot detail the events of that discussion but it did end in the emotional response of tears. The floodgates had opened. I had finally cracked and crumbled. I sat and cried. The tears started in her office and continued at regular intervals throughout the rest of the afternoon.  I hadn’t been looking after my mental health or managing my workload and I had reached breaking point. 

I am not a huge advocate of anyone showing their emotions to that extent at work but it taught me that we are all human and we are not all able to control our feelings at all times.

On reflection it was not the difficult conversation that had resulted in my mini meltdown. Neither was it the feeling of being weak or intimidated as I usually survive, defend and thrive in high pressure environments. It was the feeling of being too strong for too long that had got to me. My perfect teacher persona had been ripped off.

I cannot really say much more than that however the experience of the past week brought to mind a few things.


A busy week is no reason to quit

I quickly learned that I do want to continue with my career in education. I really do enjoy my job as I am good at it and I love being in a position where I can make a difference to the lives of young people.


Talk it out

I reminded myself of the importance of talking. In The UKFEchat Guide Staying Motivated I professed that talking through problems is an imperative feature to enjoying your job. “If you notice your passion or drive dipping, confide in a trusted colleague.”  

The UKFEchat Guide Staying Motivated

My colleague and friend sat with me in their staffroom on Friday afternoon and we talked away all the negative feelings. He reminded me that I might be feeling bad now but when I get over it I will still have my fantastic record of student success and achievements. I will still be an amazing teacher and I will still have excellent subject knowledge, great awareness of pedagogy and genuine interest in improving the literacy skills of young people.

Get some exercise

Taking part in exercise is great for mental health. It helps with the relief of stress and tension and improves confidence. I had not been making time for this and it had really affected my wellbeing. I have put this back in my weekly regime and I hope to keep this up.

Do not tell your friends

I confided in my best friend who allowed me to talk through my feelings. She was really supportive. However, I have since been the subject of many jokes and banter. (It is funny really).



Remind yourself of the good times

It is so easy to get caught up in the stresses of the present and forget the distance travelled. I learned that whenever things get too much I must remind myself of the good times to date and remember that more are yet to come.



Diary of an unseen text

Summer 2017

Concealed. Hidden. Masked.

I waited; minute after minute as mere words on a page, to be read, detailed and criticised. I found out that perspectives, imagination and carefully structured words and phrases are the very being of my creation. Did you know that my recipe is structured with methods of conscientious craft split into forty? I am a moment with extreme tension. I am a source that aids the development and growth of my readers through constant engagement.

Patiently I waited; for my audience to furnish their pages with information. The marvel of my creation was unveiled. My beginning was simple. My characters were identified by their most obvious traits. I learned four things about Tom.

  • He was a sturdy man.
  • He was thirty.
  • He had a husky voice.
  • He had a supercilious manner*.

As time moved on, I became a challenge. My lines were separated for a maximum of 12 minutes of close examination by a varied audience. I was dissected. My key features, form and phrases were taken out, detailed and their effectiveness explained. In this moment, I knew that this textual examination would be the baseline for future reference.

It was never my intention to have a structure so complex. You see, my kind has been studied in the classrooms for many years. My predecessors warned me, “things will be easy at the beginning. Your audience will approach you with the utmost confidence. However, you were crafted, arranged and organised to be analysed as a whole. Never forget you are the subject of interest and your audience will eventually struggle to see that.”

My structural features were the main focus of attention.

  • What does the writer get the reader to focus on in the first sentence/paragraph? How could this be important?
  • Are there any instances of extreme tension within the source? What are they? Why do you think the writer has chosen to heighten the reader’s experience?
  • What effect is created by the last sentences of the source? What does it leave the reader thinking about?
  • What is the most interesting structural feature in this source? Why do you think this?

The final part of this analysis warranted a personal response; a distinctive view; an individualised opinion. I think some students felt like this was the easiest part. I could feel the temptation to argue my writer’s craft with limited understanding but my literary beauty commanded closer analysis. I wanted my audience to become perceptive; I wanted my meaning to reach and delve far beyond the obvious.

I’m not sure what will happen on the day of anticipation. Was my examination better than those of my predecessors? I am definitely the subject of enthused debate.

Reflections from Patrice

Diary of an unseen text was written as a very descriptive resource which would remind me of how to approach the new 9-1 GCSE English specifications.  It’s very simplistic in its form but details, in a chronological order, the requirements for all four questions.

The exam starts with very low order skills, which do not require deep analysis of the text. The assessment objectives just want learners to identify information or ideas within a text.

As the paper develops, the skills need to successfully respond to the questions develop too. Learners are expected to explain, compare and evaluate the source using appropriate textual references.

I have engaged in many debates about how this new exam paper is structured. Sentiments are often shared and a lot of teachers I have spoken to seem to be relieved. No more marking controlled assessments.

I do not fall into the category. I am enjoying teaching the variety contained within the new specification. I have looked at several different unseen texts. Texts that promote equality and diversity, texts rich in history and texts that are noted as GCSE English classics. I cannot wait to try Suzanne Collin’s The Hunger Games. I am ready to bring the fun back into reading. What exciting unseen texts are you using?

I made this awhile ago and it was my most popular meme ever. Just trying again to see what happens. | ¨ YOU'LL SUCCEED AS LONG AS YOU DO YOUR BEST ¨ FAILS YOU BECAUSE YOUR BEST WASN´T GOOD ENOUGH | image tagged in memes,unhelpful high school teacher | made w/ Imgflip meme maker

Like many I do have my reserves. I am of the opinion that the questions are designed with a cut off point. Every single GCSE student I teach will be taking the same exam. My greatest fear is that there will come a time during the examination phase where my least able students will lose stamina. I fear they will be unable to attain the required mark to achieve a preferable level. Are they then destined to a cyclical notion of resits?

*Taken from The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins (2008)

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Bigger in height, louder in volume and determined in spirit”

Many of you will remember my chapter, in the third UKFEchat guide book; What I learned from my worst lesson. I openly recalled the excruciating memory of my level one plumbers, who “exhibited some of the most challenging behaviour that I had encountered very early on in my teaching career.” I shared the memory of this group being “bigger in height, louder in volume and determined in spirit” to do whatever they wished.

They have returned; reincarnated.

How could that be?

I will apply some context. I recently resigned from my teaching post at a large further education college in Essex. I was given an interim opportunity to teach IGCSE and GCSE English, in a male-dominated school, whose students are studying on STEM related courses. These learners are between the ages of fourteen and nineteen. Unfortunately, a lot of these teenage boys are dispirited, disengaged and full of disdain. They remind me in so many ways of the “most challenging inheritance” I had eagerly but blindly received from a colleague of the past (you have to read my chapter to get the joke).

Faced with this challenge and poor experiences of teaching this type of learner,  the universe called to answer my professional development needs. Within a couple of weeks of being with my new old learners I was able to attend an in-house training session, delivered by an external facilitator, on raising the achievement of teenage boys. The session could have not been more timely.

I had landed, in a new role, mid academic year, ready and gearing to take sixty learners through their level two English qualifications. This in-house training session afforded me the opportunity to land like a plane. I received a change of attitude and speed; I gained a real understanding towards challenges that accompanied teaching boys.

The session began with a series of statements. Take a look. How would you answer? True or false?

  1. Implementing strategies that work for boys will not cause a negative impact on girls
  2. Underachievement of boys is often associated with poor literacy and language skills
  3. A strategy that works for one boy will not work for all boys
  4. One the whole, in school, we tend to treat boys and girls differently
  5. Boys take up much more teacher time in the classroom than girls
  6. Boys respond well to teachers who are passionate and enthusiastic about their subject
  7. White, British, FSM boys are more likely to underachieve than any other group
  8. Boys achieve better when they are closely monitored by teachers
  9. Lesson objectives and long-term overviews of learning are especially important for boys

The task was intended to be a quick thinking; first response counts activity. I scanned the list of statements; I then gifted each qualifying box with green ink.

Once I had deliberated over my answers I eagerly anticipated the facilitator’s confirmation as to which statements were truths and which were mere myths. I found the answers to these statements perplexing. They were all apparently true.

I questioned the validity of some of these statements because not all of them needed to be gender specific. For example, question six, “boys respond well to teachers who are passionate and enthusiastic about their subject.” My initial judgements were, “well, so do girls.” I did not think possessing ‘passionate and enthusiastic’ attributes needed to be exclusive to the education of young men. It was at this point I carefully considered the title of my bestselling book; Genderism and the English classroom.

The final statement which suggested that ‘lesson objectives and long-term overviews’ are more important for boys was also a notion I criticised.  Surely they are equally important for both sexes as boys and girls alike as both genders access an identical education system.

Despite my controversial views the statement above allowed me to reflect and make a sensible comparison between my recent experiences with teaching boys and those I had previously encountered.

First I identified some internal pressures that teenage inhibit achievement in boys. In no particular went like this: Sex. Football. Sex. Social media. Sex. Friends. Sex. School. Sex. Puberty. Sex.

I next contemplated the following questions: Why is it that boys are most likely to struggle with literacy and language? Why do teachers, treat boys differently to girls? How can I plan, devise and create lessons which improve motivation in teenage boys? (How do I handle a teenager who repeatedly defaces their English book with penis artworks?)

I do not have the answers but I am really keen in reading into what research has evidenced, in education studies of teenage boys in the British education system. If anyone knows of notable studies in this region, please point me in the right direction.

What I do know is that many of these learners have troubling family lives, negative schooling experiences, autism, ADHD. They are battling with the need to be socially accepted and trying to fit into the social norms and burdens that society places upon them as young men. Surely this is bound to affect their levels of engagement in the classroom?

I’m happy to have embraced this “challenging inheritance” with positivism.  I’ve returned back to basics and decided to refresh the behavioural management area of my teaching practice. Managing Very Challenging Behaviour by Lousia Leaman has become bedtime reading.


I’ve also engaged in constructive and regular dialogue with some really  experienced colleagues to find new and innovative methods of managing behaviour and reengaging the most disengaged boys.

It is still early days. I am learning, developing and reflecting every day.  I have mirroring levels of determination as my learners. I just choose to use it differently.

I am “determined in spirit” to play a crucial role in combating and stamping out the culture of disdain and apathy towards English that currently exists among these young men and many alike.

 

Books, glorious books!

DEAR Book Lover

Stocked in well-ordered piles on the white-washed, storage shelves were every English teacher’s dream. John Boyne, Yann Martel, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and Robert Swindells sat proudly besides the romantics, modernists and the cherished Dickens and Dahl. The room glorified the written art of writers from all around the globe. It celebrated reading.

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The year-nine students within the room had adopted a reading culture. I almost fainted when I heard the words, “Miss Miller, can we read our books?” during one tutorial session. It was a revolutionary moment.

I was in the presence of students who did not consider reading to be social suicide. Everyone owned a book. Reading was too school to be uncool.

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I did not understand. Every student in the whole school was in possession of a book. Reading for leisure was developed during English lessons. Every other week was DEAR time. Every student literally had to drop, everything and read for forty-five minutes. I was a bit pessimistic when I heard that this was a regular practice especially as I was going to be overseeing a low ability group. Instead of anticipating literary enthusiasts I immediately applied every poor behaviour stereotype. I was confident that silent reading was a myth. If you happened to be close enough you could almost hear me muttering, “read for forty-five minutes my ****.”

The narrow-thinking that consumed me had underestimated the power of DEAR time. Each of the twenty-four young people in my room had entered lands where everything and anything was a possibility. I saw expressions of love and hate, tears and laughter, disbelief and approval. The only sounds I could hear were pages turning or the occasional giggle when one student showed the other the word penis. I quickly learned that:

Everyone is a reader; some just haven’t found their favourite book yet.

I asked myself the following questions: If this class of young people enjoy reading, at what point during their transition through education does reading suddenly become uncool? When does their Matilda die? Why did I not pack my book?

I had a similar experience at another school where I was invited for an interview. The school had a similar ethos. Thursday afternoon was a time for every student to read. The clearly posted sign read, “We are a reading school.”

Literacy is a problem in England. The OECD reported that teenagers in England have the lowest literacy skills out of 23 developed nations. Can developing and encouraging leisurely reading improve these statistics on a small scale? This is definitely something I want to explore further. I would love to measure the growth in literacy skills and academic English achievement if students were to be encouraged to read excerpts from teenage literature that appealed to them.

I dd57702dac74edb4c627eefcc36c91875on’t have all the answers and certainly do not profess to knowing them all. I just really want to see reading encouraged more, especially in post-16 education. I want to see a culture or a practice of reading for enjoyment built into the academic year. Would it not make better English teaching lessons? Could it enhance literacy skills? Would it not inspire and expose our learners to wider dreams, ambitions and experiences? Would promoting reading for leisure encourage better thinking, questions, passion and creativity?

Please share your thoughts.

I am currently reading Pigeon English by Stephen Kelman.

The semicolon; death by irrelevance

Death mark’d punctuation

A fresh topic at the start of a new term is always one teachers often approach with lots of enthusiasm. It’s often viewed as an opportunity to assert and re-establish some of the classroom propriety that may have been lost at the close of the previous term. It is a time where class groups reflect and gain perspective on their course progress.

The new year, new term has always been my favourite teaching block. This year was no different, especially with the way my team and I structured our GCSE English course delivery. This year it synced with a time where we would analyse a popular, American literary text. A time where I would often notice that even the most disengaged of learners will engage and passionately compete in their learning and knowledge of the novella Of Mice and Men.

I remember beginning a particular GCSE English session. An engaging starter activity took place and Happy New Year pleasantries were exchanged. Then with a burst of energy and rush of enthusiasm I made an Of Mice and Men announcement. I was so excited to be teaching my favourite part of the course; my introduction sounded like I was opening an awards ceremony. Disappointingly, nobody was listening.

As I scanned the room, I could not help but notice that some learners were whispering. Others were pointing. The remainder had taken up the role of investigation officers.

What had caused the diversion?

It was the semicolon tattoo on my arm.

My initial response was to run to the nearest body decoration parlour and honour this moment by adorning my arm with permanent full stops, commas, and quotation marks. I reasoned that maybe if basic punctuation were to be inked on my body, I’d significantly reduce the disheartening experiences of marking yet another controlled assessment where textual evidence had not been appropriately punctuated because the learner ‘forgot’.

My second reaction was to celebrate. My learners were genuinely interested in the existence of the semicolon. What is it? Why do we use it? Does it replace a comma? These were just a few of the comments surrounding it that had circulated the classroom. I say it, as at this stage the vast majority of students in the room had dismissed the idea that just like every other punctuation it actually had a name.

Instead of my planned discussion about the most marginalised communities during the Great Depression a discussion on the most marginalised punctuation was boiling. Who was I to deny the crème de la crème of punctuation, used by many literary greats, its right for consideration? After all the semicolon has experienced a long, notable and successful career in connecting independent clauses.

The majestic semicolon had arrived; it was here to stay.

What did the experience teach me?

In order to score exceedingly high marks in the assessment objectives candidates are expected to “use a full range of punctuation purposefully, effectively, assuredly and accurately[1].” Doing so would impress examiners and those that either externally or internally mark Unit B, Part 3 of the controlled assessments.

Reflecting on my own practice I concluded that it is a poor assumption that students on a thirty-six weeks, resit course, have strong prior knowledge of a wide range of punctuation. I can say this because like the semicolon the ellipsis often suffers the same level of insignificance in the English teaching classroom, often being referred to as dot, dot, dot or worse still, ignored.

The semicolon has experienced a long, notable and successful career in connecting independent clauses.

Secondly, it taught me that when the team and I built our scheme of work, the weekly timetabled hours and the amount of weeks the resit programme runs for did not lend time for continuous revision of punctuation that last for a whole lesson’s length.

Where do we go from here?

If it was up to me it would be a mandatory requirement that all English teachers ink “a full range of punctuation” on their arms. That way punctuation is always visible, students remain impressed and as a bonus may actually use them. I am joking.

During a resit course English teachers need to be continuously building and planning lessons surrounding punctuation, emphasising on its importance. . Not doing so is costing learners valuable marks; they are not meeting the assessment objectives. The teaching and learning focus is heavily centred around subject content and punctuation use is taken for granted. Thankfully, an advantage to the 2017 GCSE English specification is that it allows more time for a more in depth revision of SPaG.

It’s all too easy to assume that the learners, who sit in our classrooms, with a D grade or a functional skills English qualification, are already proficient in their use of punctuation. More often than not, they aren’t.

It’s time to move away from teaching punctuation in its simplest form out of fear our learners won’t grasp the concept. Maybe encourage texts that use the full scope of punctuation used in the English language. There is more beauty to writing than a full stop, comma, and question mark.

Patrice x

 

[1] AQA, 2014. GCSE Specification. GCSE Specification English 4700, 1, 36.

Mark my words

I have a confession to make. An announcement. A proud declaration. I’ve been courageous. I’ve stepped out of the comfort zone.  I’ve removed all elements of fear, trepidation and dread. I’ve done what most would not. Are you ready?

I’ve named my first blog post after a Justin Bieber song. Mark my words.

Jokes aside; I’ve finally decided to write.  I’ve been toying with the idea for a while now, way over a year to be exact, but have always found the notion of thoughts aloud so cringe. Why the sudden change?

As a child I used to love keeping a diary. It was a space where I regularly kept a consistent record of events and experiences. It was an expanse where I was able to carefully construct and craft sentences that communicated my innermost thoughts, ideas and feelings; an area where I documented my own version of events. When I hit my late teenage years it suddenly became uncool to express yourself in a reflective form. Now that I am at the stage where I am less concerned about the opinion of my peers, I felt it was time to rekindle my love and passion for writing.

Secondly I am an English teacher. I have been for almost four years. I’ve been zealously teaching my students modules on writing creatively. I have been instructing my learners to use the most sophisticated styles and language devices in successful writing but have failed to write and publish much myself. I never want to lose my love for creative writing so after careful consideration, adrenaline rushes and positive peer feedback I decided to put my words to paper.

Finally, I have enjoyed and taken advantage of the #UKFEchat team spirit. I have met and engaged with some of the most amazing professionals whom I consider to be leaders of change in further education. We have all shared some great memories and valuable CPD together and regrettably I never recorded any of these events. Whilst I often reflect on the impact #UKFEchat has had on teaching and learning I find it very difficult to calculate the distance travelled as it is not chronicled.

These three reasons have been the motivating catalysts behind why I have finally decided to give writing an attempt.

So what will I be writing about? What could I possibly have to say? What insight can I offer?

Well I want to create a space where teaching and learning is celebrated. A place where I can share those valuable teaching moments that we often forget to remember. Somewhere I can share my experiences and serve as an exemplar. I have plenty of know-hows and I cannot wait to unleash my practices to the universe. I have often feared that by sharing my experiences I will be perceived as a miss-know-it-all. A famous quote changed my view:

“If you knew what I know about the power of giving, you would not let a single meal pass without sharing it in some way.”

How often will I write? I’m aiming for once a week.

My next post is about teaching sophisticated punctuation; I oddly owe this experience to #projectsemicolon.

Mark my words.

Patrice