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Anxiety? A battle every day.

I am a lucky man. I wake up every day and the only battle I have is the normal small annoyances of my alarm, the journey to work and actually getting on with my job. I find it easy. I have stresses but my personality and mind allow me to compartmentalise them.

Imagine waking up and those small annoyances turning into huge challenges. Imagine your mind not allowing those small annoyances to be compartmentalised. Imagine each decision in your life being so huge that it picks away at you even after you have made it. You worry, you stress, and you get angry as to whether you have managed a situation, a conversation or a decision correctly. Imagine your anxiety having a physical effect of itchy legs that you just HAVE to scratch even up to the point where they bleed.

Anxiety is a battle every day and until you witness it first-hand, you simply cannot put into words the affect it has on a person. I am in awe of the person in my life with this illness who battles every single day, even the smallest task of getting in the shower can move them to tears as they worry about the day ahead. They battle with the fight or flight decision every day and every single day they win and carry on.

I will not lie and say it is easy for me to witness, as I feel helpless and hopeless to information they give me which I simply cannot understand – and yes I have been guilty of just saying ‘calm down’ and ‘why are you so worried about small things?’. It has been a huge learning curve for me as I realise that people’s minds take over and it is simply not a case of ‘forget about it’. Your mind is so powerful it can cripple your dreams and take over your body.

I was inspired by all the #headstogether information which is leading us into the London Marathon to put down on paper the impact this ‘hidden’ illness has on a person and the small things we have done to say “Come on then anxiety, I can’t beat you in to submission but I will push back and I will take back control.”

As I write this, I am conscious that our experience may be no use to others as anxiety is personal, but these processes have worked for us.

  1. Admit it is a problem – while it is normal, it is simply not something you can handle on your own! See the doctor, admit to a loved one – there are amazing programmes out there, the first one we did was ‘Talking Changes’ supplied by the NHS – it was an online course and gave superb coping techniques, which we use to this day.
  2. Buy a dog – This is very personalised but we bought a dog which gave them a responsibility every day to get up and go for a walk. The change in them from this was unbelievable, not lying in bed considering everything that is to come in the day. Also a dog is always happy to see you – you just cannot help but smile.
  3. Exercise – Get up, get out, do as much as you can whether it is running, cycling, jogging, swimming or going to the gym. It is a release of energy and if you go with someone else it can have an unbelievable affect.
  4. Leave work on time – This is not possible all of the time but at least a couple of times a week leave work as soon as that clock hits 5pm. Get out of there and do something different.
  5. Write down your worries – this helps put them into some sort of priority list.
  6. There will always be more work to do – try to accept you will simply never get everything done and from that learn that you have to have an end point in your own mind.
  7. Socialise – don’t let your anxiety or work load stop you from being part of your friendship group. Say ‘yes’ to midweek drinks or cinema.
  8. Positive thinking – develop a sense of what the positives are in your life! You endure this to enjoy that.
  9. If you have to work – controversial but if you simply can’t get that one thing out of your mind, do it, even if it means 2 hours on a weekend, if it is a one off you will enjoy your weekend more.

I cannot put into words how inspired I am by the journey they have made to get to a point where they control their anxiety every single day! It is not a fix, it still rears its ugly head and still takes over but now it is a case of how do I deal with this? How will I take you on? How will I squash you?!

Why I am in awe of Teaching Assistants!

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Why I am in awe of Teachings Assistants and WHY they need to be respected.

One of my biggest bugbears in teaching is the incessant inability for some to see the role of a TA as key to the classroom. It irritates and boggles my mind that these fantastic, inspirational (NOT PAID ENOUGH) people are used to laminate, photocopy, stick or even worse ignored and not planned into a lesson for learning.

My experience with TA’s started as an enthusiastic and little annoying NQT. I had an incredible TA in one of my classes called Dot. For the first few weeks I simply let Dot sit next to the child she was in there for. As an experienced TA Dot got on with her job and ignored the total lack of direction and respect I gave her – the turning point came when Dot was off on a course one day and I had that class without her!! Ensue an absolute disaster, car crash of a lesson – the type that make you really consider your role as a teacher! I had a quick soul search and realised that Dot was the glue holding my teetering lesson together.

The day after when she came back in – I went to her, cap in hand and explained the poor lesson we had. In a kind way (the only way TAs know) she suggested a few ways we can tackle this class – one of which was to involve her in the lesson.

Since this experience I have been obsessed with making sure I use TA’s in every lesson I am lucky enough to have them in. I have a separate plan for them and will often ask them how they think the class are working, they have become my extra pair of eyes and ears and are an absolute ASSET to my classroom.

However TA’s do not stop in the classroom, they take people out of lessons, they mentor, care for, give first aid, join school trips, sort intervention and generally do any other job that gets thrown their way. They work with some of the most difficult pupils in the schools and develop a relationship with them that can be invaluable to that child succeeding. THEY ALSO HAVE THE PATIENCE OF A SAINT!!

I implore all teachers and everyone in the school community to respect TAs and do not ignore their presence in the classroom. I also hope that those in power see their incredible dedication and their undoubtable irreplaceable skills and make sure they get better PAY!!

NQT’s stick a door stop in the door and be proud of your teaching.

 

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NQT’s stick a door stop in the door and be proud of your teaching. Everyone struggles with behaviour.

All too often in schools we shut our classroom door and make them incredibly private. For all the NQT’s who, often reluctantly, have had to listen to me drone on during our weekly mentor meeting the next phrase will not come as a surprise.

“Chock that door open and be proud of your teaching”
(said in a broad Yorkshire accent)

I love my door being open, I don’t know whether it is the PE teacher in me trying to get some fresh air or the fact that I, like many, am just incredibly nosey and like to know what’s going on around me. I will stop at nothing to keep my door open, a laptop trolley, a folded piece of paper, a pile of text books, a student sometimes or if I’m super organised an actual doorstop (though, mine never last long).

While I do like the fresh air, I do have another point. The more open and reflective we are as teachers, the better the teaching and the learning is. I do not mind who comes into my lesson. In fact I will often invite SLT in as they walk down the corridor, this openness and willingness to share my classroom means that I am not afraid of any lesson observations, I don’t mind OFSTED, my pupils expect people in the classroom, my department know I am teaching exactly how I have asked them to teach and people can see me, at times, struggle with behaviour just as much as they are.

PE teachers are often advocated as a bit of a behaviour gospel. Don’t get me wrong it is very flattering and I can see where people are coming from. We generally have an easy ride when it comes to the ‘naughty kids’ but I also believe it is because of the open nature of our lessons. To get to my lesson I have to walk through two other lessons and all of us have to walk through school with our classes to get out onto the field. I strongly believe the more presence there is from teachers, the more we come as a strong one team mentality and I think behaviour improves because of this.

Too often we hide behind classroom doors, hoping the poor parts of our lesson are not seen. Trust me I have done this and I hated it. I am not ‘outstanding’ all the time, in fact I will often struggle to be ‘good’ or even ‘requires improvement’, and as a HOD and NQT mentor I would expect all my staff to have bad lessons and expect them all to have that one pupil or class of pupils which they struggle with on a weekly basis. That is not a problem, but hiding them away is!

Be brave with your teaching, open that door, keep it open and show off the incredible learning which goes on in your classroom. Every teacher you meet will struggle, at some point, with behaviour. But we must be open about it. If you are open about it you will find a friend nearby who has the solution to your problem.

Opening that door creates a team of teachers. I regularly stick my head out the door and see what’s going on. If I hear someone telling off a pupil I will stick my head out, one for reassurance to that teacher but also to show the pupil that it has been noted so that they see we are a united front.

Keeping that door open will make lesson observations so much easier, the OFSTED call will not be so daunting, you will have a much more sociable day and ultimately your teaching will improve!!

Go on ‘Chock it open!!’

What to do on the first day in September – A note to teachers and middle leaders.

So September is coming, whether you are a new teacher or an experienced hand we all feel that bit of anxiety, that want of just one more day and if we are honest quite a level of excitement about the year ahead.

After a short conversation on twitter on Friday I wanted to post about what I do in my first few days in school. I thought it would be useful to see if others do the same and hopefully to pass on a little bit of what I think works. I am going to do it in my two roles, first and foremost as a form tutor and teacher and then with my head of department middle leader head on.

Form Tutor/Teacher

I love being a form tutor and I really do enjoy my first day back with them. This day normally consists of a lot of time with the same pupils. In my short time teaching I have had two form classes, one was the model of perfection, all very well behaved and not a jot of bother, the other – Well, let’s just say my email count went up when they arrived. For both classes on the first day I did the same thing and most notably I do it with a relaxed tone and a smile, all of us are adjusting to being back at school and I always feel pupils respond to friendly faces not stern expectations.

  1. No sticky labels here – I have always disliked sticky labels, they make me feel uncomfortable. Any course I have been on it exposes my awful handwriting and just makes me feel like I am the unknown. I would prefer to learn names in a game. My game involves a small basketball and the ability to rhyme. I start with the ball and I say my name is “bob and sometimes I sob”, I then pass the ball to the next person who rhymes their name with a word. We do this for the whole class with some laughs on the way. The trick comes when it gets back to me and we have to throw the ball to the same person we threw it too but say their name and rhyme at the same time. Great fun, much more relaxed and gets the job done.
  2. Children make the rules – Every classroom does need rules and expectations. I though would prefer them, within reason, to be created by the children. We brainstorm rules and expectations and then vote on ten which get created on an A3 piece of paper and we all sign it to say we will abide by the rules, including me.

    This can be to do with general uniform expectations or how we treat each other. They also come up with the three ways these rules will be enforced. My last form class decided on three enforcers who would monitor it every day. Pupils or teachers found flouting the rules would have to place their hand in the ‘cup of death’ and retrieve a forfeit. The one everyone wanted to avoid was the boredom of sharpening pencils for 5 minutes. Again these were created by them. By involving pupils you will get the respect and the good learners to go with it because they believe in it.

  3. Children make the rules for you – I had to quickly put this one in. I then ask the pupils what they want most from me each year and I will abide to this. This is great fun and one year meant I had to go buy a suit. My form class had decided I am not smart enough everyday as I teach a few different subjects, including PE! So they said I had to have one day a week where I was the smartest teacher – ensue the creation of ‘Tidy Friday’ where each Friday for a year I turned up in a full three piece suit.
  4. Form rooms should be relaxed – For the 15 minutes a day that pupils spend with their form teacher it should be relaxed, fun and pupils should know you are there for them. They will talk to you about their problems if they feel comfortable. Therefore I never have a seating plan in my form class. I do move children where necessary, but for the most part I want them to sit and talk to whoever they want to, as like in our staffroom we all migrate to those we have most in common and this relaxes us for the start of our day.
  5. Make a wall for them – Many form classes are just bases and don’t reflect the class that belongs to them. Therefore half an hour of my day is given to the pupils to create a cartoon of themselves these cartoons can be drawn by the pupils or they can use one I have drawn out for them. This shows their individualities and once finished they go up on the wall as one big group. I also do my own pretty poor version!
  6. The Bucket List – A few years ago I was inspired by Stephen Suttons Bucket list, this young man was an inspiration to many people and I always talk about him before doing this activity. The children, on buckets, write down three things. What they want to achieve this year? What they want to achieve for a job? And what would they like to do in their lives? Again this leads to great conversations and these go up on the wall for the year.

These six items are by no means exhaustive but just a taste of the activities I think create the relaxed friendly atmosphere I want in my classroom. Gone are the days of do not smile till Christmas – Pupils need to feel comfortable and relaxed so that they respect, respond and learn in any classroom.

Middle Leaders

As a middle leader the day before the children come back is the most important. It is that day that I make sure I see each teacher who is part of my team. Actually it starts at 7:45 on the way to school when I stop at the supermarket and get the team a few supplies to get us through the day.

I was on a course once when someone asked me to write down how often I see the teachers in my department in a week. I was disgusted to find that due to some of them not being within an office of me I had not seen them for over a week during that school term. Something I quickly rectified and something which is always in the back of my mind!!

This day normally starts with a school briefing so we all catch sight of each other there. I then call a short team meeting to set out where were up to and then let the teachers have the time to actually do the things they want to do. During this time I will go round and have individual conversations to make sure the team are happy and to see if there is anything they need. However there are 5 golden rules to being a successful team leader on the first day back:

  1. Make sure the copier is full of paper and there is spare next to it.
  2. Bring the coffee, tea and milk.
  3. Bring donuts.
  4. Give the teacher time to prepare for their job.
  5. Have time for them, when they need you.

 

If you have got to the end of this then I hope you have enjoyed it and may take something from it. I would welcome any ideas from anyone else and I have many other things I do that I think work!

Most important for me – SMILE! The pupils and staff will always respond to a smile and a fun classroom or working environment.

When pupils enjoy school.

I have never really had the urge to be the best in class. I never, ever made it at School, College or University and funnily enough I have now married the girl who always was. At school I could never understand how she had the drive to work hard, the enthusiasm for each subject and the capacity to consistently do well.

Now I am a teacher I realise the difference between us could not be more obvious. I lack attention to detail, I struggle to keep focus, I did not put my best into everything and I spent more time trying to work out how to get out of a lesson rather than the work in front of me. My parents evenings consisted more of ‘he needs to focus’ than ‘what an excellent pupil’.

This all changed when I became a teacher, because I love it. My own experiences prove to me more than ever that school has to be enjoyable, has to be something which pupils care about and want to be there for. I strive to be the best I can be because I enjoy my job and this would most certainly be the same if I had enjoyed school. I strive to know my pupils, to relate to them and I change my teaching, just slightly, every day because of them.

How do I do this? Well, there is no exact science, and I get it wrong, (note the moment I thought I had a good enough relationship with a pupil, to ask ‘why have you been sent out, you wally?’ – and was consequently told where I should go, it was not a pleasant place).

The times I get it right are when I really know my classes and I have given them as much freedom for their learning as possible. Earn their respect by letting them know their opinions count. Our year 8 curriculum is completely based on responses from the children in Year 7 when they completed an end of year online survey produced on Google forms.

I also regularly end a half term with a post-it note asking:

  1. What did you like?
  2. What do you want to know more about?
  3. What have I done to annoy you?

The answers are such an insight to my teaching, at times I have felt guilty with the responses. But it is better to know them rather than to keep bashing your head against a brick wall and not understand why!

Well there it is my first blog, the first of many I hope!

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