5 Top Transition Tips

By now you will have found out which secondary school your child has been allocated – an exciting and scary time! It is also an exciting time for the team who will be helping you and your child through this big change – Team Transition. Please be assured that they cannot wait to meet you, and their sole mission is to support your child as they move from primary to secondary school.

As a Head of Year 7 I know first hand how stressful this time can be, and also that you may need some reassurance. I hope to provide that with my top tips below:

1. Accept your child’s place

You will have been asked to accept your child’s place  – this can be done directly through their new secondary school, either over the phone or by letter. This must be done as soon as possible for a few reasons, one being that if you do not accept by a certain time limit the school may retract the place, and also so the school can make plans to meet you and your child to find out what needs you may have, and what support you may need.

2. Get to know Team Transition

In different schools the makeup of their team is different, however it will usually include a Head of Year/Head of House/Year Manager. This person will be looking after your child not only through the Transition period, but also through the start of their journey at their secondary school. They will be responsible for all pastoral issues, and getting to know them and their name will mean you know who to contact if you have any queries during this important time.

3. Read all communication carefully

You should receive a letter from your child’s school soon after they are offered a place. You will need to make a note of any parents’ evenings and Transition Days that are coming up – these will be crucial to welcome you and your child to their new school! If for whatever reason you will be unable to attend any of them (eg family holiday) please let the school know ASAP as they will try to arrange alternate dates for you to make sure you don’t miss anything.

4. Create a list of questions and concerns

You will be offered a chance to meet with the staff who will be caring for your child – most likely their form tutor. If you have any concerns specific to your child this is a good time to bring them up – for example if your child is dyslexic, or has social anxieties. This information will have already been passed on from their primary school teacher, but it is always good to add more information, as after all, you know your child best! This list will make sure you don’t forget anything when you have the opportunity.

5. Keep in touch

If (understandably) you cannot hesitate in sharing some important information about your child – get in touch! If you have a worry or concern, no matter how big or how small (questions about what they will need in their PE kit are absolutely fine!) please ring and ask.Equally, if you are pleased with something their Transition team has done, do feel free to let them know!  Just remember, their new school is as keen as you are to ensure a smooth and happy transition for your child.

So there you have it – my 5 Top Transition Tips! What are your biggest concerns about your child’s transition from primary to secondary?

How to Survive Parents’ Evening

Parents’ evening is a rite of passage all teachers have to go through, from your very first ‘Ooh you look too young to be a teacher’ comment (sigh – I miss those days – I even used to get ID’d in supermarkets, now the cashier takes one look at me and flinches), to the time when you’re recognised by ex-students bringing their children in. With a few years of learning the hard way under my belt, I thought I’d share some of my mistakes with other teachers in the hope that it will spare at least someone some embarassing blushes/potential ‘ground swallow me up’ moments. Make no mistake, this is my guide to surviving parents’ evening – for teachers. For any parents reading this, I can only apologise – and promise that we do actually care about your child and their progress!

Remembering student’s names

Perhaps for my primary colleagues this is slightly less of an issue, but for a secondary teacher who can teach up to 250 different students in one year group it can make parents’ evenings a bit of a minefield. The non teachers among you may wonder ‘why not just ask the parents for the name of their child?’ but what you may not be aware of is that some parents bring their child with them – something I’ve always been a fan of as it means you can all have a discussion about progress, but it can cause more than a little awkwardness when you look at the child in front of you, draw a deep breath and…nothing. Below are some tried and tested techniques by myself and my colleagues which I’ve rated for success and how professional they make you look:

  1. Class photos

Some colleagues like to have their class photos in front of them – just a quick glance and they can speedily identify the child in front of them – however this does flag up to parents that you don’t know all your students.

Success rating: 2 (good)

Professionalism rating: 3 (requires improvement)

2. Find the surname

I have used a surname approach, ranging from the ‘remind me of your surname’ query to allow me to hastily scan my data to the risky ‘how do you spell your surname again?’ approach. With the latter question I have been subject to funny looks as the child awkwardly recites ‘J – O – N – E – S’. Overall I have found this useful once I tweaked my opening patter.

Success rating: 2 (good)

Professionalism rating: Ranging from 4 (inadequate) to 1 (outstanding) depending on your smoothness and charm.

3. Just ask

‘Remind me of your name again’ said with a smile could work – but I’ve never had the (Ed) balls to try it…

Success rating: potential 1 (outstanding)

Professionalism rating: 4 (inadequate)

Suit up

I find that dressing smartly (or as smartly as possible after a long school day full of inexplicably laddered tights and somehow rubbing off all my makeup til my skin is a dull grey colour) helps me feel more professional – until the moment when a) I look down and realise that I have toothpaste all over my black top from this morning or b) I catch sight of myself in a mirror after talking to several parents and I realise that I have lipstick on my teeth. But in all honesty I am a big fan of slapping on the makeup to avoid looking like the crypt-keeper, spritzing a bit of perfume and giving my teeth a good brush – not, I hasten to add, in anyway trying to give off a ‘come hither’ vibe to an unsuspecting hot dad, but in a way that helps me feel confident and presentable. I’m sure there are some of us who have a staffroom suspect for deliberately trying to put off parents with a less than attractive outfit, or sour odours, in order to speak to them for as short a time as possible – but let us remember, innocent until proven guilty.

Fuel up

Ensure your table/desk is piled high with cups of tea/coffee/water (other beverages are available) and biscuits (custard cream, thanks) before starting. Parents’ evening is particularly taxing on the voice, so keeping your throat well lubricated (not a euphemism) is a must. My top tip for avoiding spraying poor parents with crumbs as you scoff your much-needed sugar? Rummage around in your bag as you down your chocolate hobnob in one go (still not a euphemism).

Be organised

Before you start, make sure you have all the relevant info on your students to hand – recent data, work examples if necessary. There is nothing worse than ‘flying blind’ to a parent who is clearly wise to your sweeping generalisations, or the narrowing of their eyes as you turn to the students and sweetly ask ‘how do you think you’re doing?’ while trying to hide the panic as you manage to forget EVERYTHING you’ve ever taught this child.

Schedule breaks

Parents’ evenings can be really long, and in a rush of goodwill to try and fit all your students in for a chat you may suddenly realise (when it’s too late) that you’re going from 4pm – 8pm without a wee. Couple that with the umpteen cuppas you’re drinking, and that time can become very uncomfortable indeed. Yes, of course you shoudl try and see as many parents as you can in the time, but do remember to book the occasional ‘stretch the legs’ break, and hotfoot it to the bog.

Teachers – recognise any of the above or have some tips of your own to share? And I ask the next question very tentatively – parents – recognise any of the above? Or have some ways in which you think we could improve?

 

 

A Very Teacher Christmas

Today when I was at the checkout in M and S (I know, I know, get me, I’m such a big shot etc – I was only getting a Dine In For £10 meal-deal jobby ok?! I’m still a Tescos girl at heart) I was asked what I do for a living (this wasn’t a random question – I’d done my usual of making friends with everyone in the shop just because I love a chat). I always hesitate before I answer this question, as I know for a fact what the response will be. Sure enough, it came:

Cashier: So, what do you do for a living?

Me:….I’m a teacher

Cashier: When do you break up? Lucky you with all those holidays!

You see?! What on earth do you respond to that?! ‘Erm yes I have a holiday coming up but on average I work a 60 hour week so actually over a year I don’t get any holidays at all?’ Not the best way to breeze over a comment from a stranger as you try to cram all your shopping into your handbag so you don’t have to pay for a carrier bag (I know it helps the environment but I cannot justify five whole pence to conveniently carry home a bottle of wine – my Northern roots won’t allow it). So I’ve decided to compare a very merry Christmas to a very teacher Christmas – and let all the skeptics know what teachers will be doing during our ‘holiday’.

The First Days

You’ve just finished work, you have a few days off – time to relax yes? Not for the teacher. We will be spending the first few days recovering from various colds, coughs and sore throats. But surely lots of people get ill this time of year? Oh absolutely, and I know lots of parents who have to not only dose up themselves with Lemsip (other cold remedies are available) but also have to look after equally suffering partners and children. What you need to remember is that teachers are exposed to around a million (to the nearest million) germs a day. We will be on our knees after being coughed on by little darlings for several weeks, and after working those 60 hour weeks, most teachers spend the first few precious days hibernating, propped up by cold remedies, cough medicine, tissues and chocolate.

Christmas Shopping

Unfortunately, as teachers we can’t book a day off work to go Christmas shopping during quiet times. Imagine just being able to ring in and book an afternoon off, leaving 9j4 to their own devices…Impossible! So we unlucky bunch have to brave Christmas shopping on the weekend, fighting through the busy crowds, making tricky decisions about whether or not furry handcuffs are appropriate for a staff secret santa present (hint – they’re really not!) and trying to avoid bumping into students when buying knickers in Primark (‘What’s that you’ve got in your basket Miss?’). Just awful.

The Work Days

Christmas has been and gone, and we have entered the weary days of ‘Crimbo Limbo’ – there are still endless boxes of chocolate to eat, and the temptation is to give into lethargy and sit about watching festive TV stuffing ones face, vowing to go on a diet in January. Teachers however will start to feel the dread of returning to work unprepared, and will be using these days to mark and plan and remind themselves that in all too few days they will be going back to a world of few wees in a day and even less opportunities for a hot drink or a lie in. Sigh.

Banuary

I’m sure teachers aren’t alone in feeling the effects of a cold, bleak, joyless January. People nationwide will be experiencing the long dark days, the fights with frost and snow to get to work, and above all the grumpy colleagues as everyone grows quickly fed up with their January diets and pledges of no drink (Banuary at its best.) Now imagine throwing equally grumpy teenage hormones into the mix, and the threat of upcoming exams when all our senses are begging us to hibernate and eat pie and gravy…Worst ever.

So there you have it – a very teacher Christmas. It is the best of times, it is the worst of times, but whatever the reality, I’ll let you in on a little secret: we still count down the days til our holiday starts! (5 get ups to go!) What’re your worst things about work around the Christmas period?

Living with a teacher – A Partner’s Guide

Teaching is a huge part of my life, which is why it’s so tempting to blog about it (soz – not soz). My last post on it indicated that at times it is very all-consuming – taking up a million hours (to the nearest million) of my life – you can read it here. This is why I’ve decided to write a 5 point partner’s guide to living with that strangest of all beasts – the teacher.

  1. The Early Starts

If you start work at 9am – you have no idea. Some people walk the dog before going to work, others go to the gym, or even have time for a leisurely breakfast, watching or reading the news. A teacher slips out of the house while it’s still dark, arriving at work while it’s still dark, and begins working before many have even been woken by their alarm. But remember – this is a guide for the partners of teachers. As a partner of a teacher you mustn’t grumble that you were woken up before you had to get up (Pedro gets an extra HOUR in bed after I have left). I would also suggest providing a ‘dressing room’ for the teacher in your life to prevent wardrobe disasters caused by them dressing in the dark. These may include: wearing two similar but ultimately different shoes, various garments on inside out, not realising that black underwear will show through a chosen outfit until you get to the bright unforgiving lights of the school corridors, and a horrific mismatch of colours. (This list is not exhaustive). Furthermore, be forgiving when the teacher in your life elects not to risk the eye-stabbing inevitability of putting on mascara at 6am. And when they fall asleep on the sofa in front of Eastenders, (8pm on Mon and Fri, 7:30pm on Tues and Thurs – yes, I am a little bit of a fan) do not make the obvious mistake of telling them that you are tired…

  1. Illness – or Being a Martyr

Teachers are the absolute worst at being ill. They will struggle bravely on unless full on vomming at regular intervals. The reason for this is simply – teachers LOVE to be a martyr. Below is a list of things you might hear a teacher say when they’re ill:

‘But I can’t possibly miss today…..

it’s my exam class!’

it’s my important meeting!’

it’s my lunchtime club!

And a classic:

‘I’ll have to set all the work anyway – it’s easier to just go in!’

Being at the germ-face of teaching (in contact with over 100 illness ridden children per day) certainly carries its risks – so as a partner of a teacher, NEVER complain of a little sniffle.

  1. Planning, Preparation, Marking

Any partner of a teacher knows the perils of whinging about the amount of work they have to do. In my eyes, if you’re not prepared to put up with the following common occurences, you should maybe rethink being with a teacher:

Endless requests for a ‘volunteer’ (that’s you in case you didn’t realise) to cut things out or feed sheets through a laminator.

Having every TV programme you watch together accompanied by the glow of a laptop screen and the sound of typing.

Picking up the pieces after yet another meltdown over a broken or lost memory stick (yes – I know we should back them up – but how often do people do this really?!)

Planning your weekend around workload – eg ‘I can’t have a late one on Saturday as I’ll have to get up early to mark on Sunday so that we can still go out for lunch…

  1. Observations

The dread of all teachers everywhere. I’ve compiled a list of telltale signs a partner should look out for if an observation is coming up:

  • Stage 1 – denial. You will hear phrases like ‘People can come in anytime to watch my lessons, I won’t be doing anything special just for them anyway.’ Be warned. It is not time to relax yet.
  • Stage 2 – planning. They will spend hours on a lesson plan that is pages and pages long, all the while muttering about how ridiculous it is. Stay. Away. They will also be creating colourful and no doubt laminated resources. Now is not the time to remark ‘I thought you weren’t going to do anything special?’
  • Stage 3 – panic. The teacher will be trying to find an outfit that hides their sweat patches of fear, and then having a breakdown when they realise it is in the wash, and ladder their tights. Be supportive during this difficult time.

5. Holidays

The partner of a teacher must NEVER, EVER commit the atrocity of reamrking on how much holiday they get. This is a cardinal sin, and may result in having a very heavy textbook launched at your head. Similarly, when the teacher is on holiday, do not come back from work and ask why they haven’t done the dishes/washing. Chances are they have been working all day/catching up on episodes of Eastenders they have missed through falling asleep before 8pm…

So there you have it – my guide to all those partners of teachers out there. Do you think I’ve missed anything out?

The Ballad of Ofsted

All is quiet – even 9j4 are dedicated to their task, murmuring to each other as they work. Outside in the corridor doors bang as a student walks past on an errand. A colleague stops by my classroom to ask a question as I keep a wary eye on the exploits of my class. Spontaneously up and down the school our emails bing – an emergency staff briefing at the next available break – what could it be?!

The rumours and whispers are rife, but like a chain, the word is heard: Ofsted, Ofsted, OFSTED.

The briefing confirms what many colleagues had guessed – tomorrow morning they will be here. Some colleagues roll their eyes – they’ve seen it all before and adopt a studied nonchalance of ‘what will be will be’. This is a thin disguise for the horror and sick feeling in the pit of the stomach of all teachers who hear the word: Ofsted.

Your SLT will urge you – ‘don’t change anything.’ Hmmm. This will not stop you spending several hours after school getting together all the info you need for the next two days, and spicing up your lessons to include whatever it is Ofsted will be looking for this time – rolling plenaries, mini plenaries, three part lessons, five part lessons, six part lessons, meta cognitive learning, literacy, numeracy, group work, independent learning, PLTs…the list is endless, contradictory, confusing.

At 6:45am the next morning the car park is already filling up. A usually unflappable colleague runs past main reception as I sign in screaming ‘THERE’S NO MORE PRINTER PAPER! WE CAN’T PRINT ANYTHING OUT!’ The admin office is ransacked, we even attempt to break into the reprographics office.

Another staff briefing – morale boosting, SLT smiling tightly to try and hide their worry and their sleepless night. Then to the day: Ofsted.

The baited breath as someone in a suit walks past the door – the sigh of relief as you realise it is a member of SLT giving a reassuring smile. The poorly concealed nerves as you try not to snap at a student for talking. The ache as you think ‘oh just come in already!’ The blind fear when finally, finally they come in, and look through your data. The annoyance when they speak to the one student in your class who never, ever listens. The enormous pride as even the most reticent student in your class puts their hand up to answer a question. The smiles of the students at you as they demonstrate progress (you think – but as always it is unclear exactly HOW Ofsted want you to demonstrate it).

The speculation on your corridor – ‘have you been seen? So and so has been seen TWICE.’

And then the walk to an office to receive your feedback. The group of anxiously pacing colleagues as you all wait, asking each other how you think it went – no-one seems confident enough to say.

The ballad of Ofsted – or 48 hours of fear. Being judged as a teacher, and as a school, on a 25 minute snapshot of one lesson with any one of your classes they have chosen. The scrutiny of your data to see whether the students have made enough progress. The feeling of being ill-prepared.

The ballad of Ofsted – is there a better way?

THAT post – my reaction

Two weeks ago today I published a post on teaching, entitled ‘I am the so-called ‘lazy’ teacher‘. This was written as my reaction (and that of my colleagues) to the unbalanced media coverage of the NUT and UNISON strike on Thursday 10th July.

The coverage implicated teachers as ‘lazy’, and showed mainly negative reactions from the public – my post was written in response to that.

I wouldn’t want you to think that I hate my job – on the contrary, I love it. I just wanted to clarify how teachers feel when we are dubbed as ‘lazy’.

I had no idea what a chord this would strike with my fellow teachers and their families everywhere. Imagine my shock when on the first day of posting it reached 500 views – a huge figure for someone whose blog posts are lucky to reach 100 views. I was in a restaurant with some old friends, and I punched the air like an idiot! The next couple of days were ridiculous – 4 thousand, then twenty thousand views. These numbers were unfathomable. To get over it I had to tickle Pedro mercilessly – I seriously couldn’t even begin to comprehend how many people were reading my post!

I loved that it opened up the debate on teachers’ pay, pensions and work load. I received comments on various sites all over the world sharing their views – a great way to show non-teachers another side to the story.

And now? This ‘lazy’ teacher has just broken up for the holidays, and right now I am sat on my sofa, cat on my knee, watching Mad Men whilst drinking ridiculous amounts of orange squash. Lazy? Right now – yes. A deserved holiday? YES.

 

I am a so-called ‘lazy’ teacher

I am a so-called ‘lazy’ teacher.

I work for only 40 weeks of the year. School finishes at 2:45pm every day.

I am a so-called ‘lazy’ teacher.

I teach 600 different teenagers a week, and I address each one individually by name, and ask how their weekend was, making sure to remember that John had a trip away with his choir. I stand at my classroom door and smile as they laugh at me singing songs and at me calling everyone ‘sausage’ or ‘treacle’, and wishing them an ‘amazeballs day’.

I am a so-called ‘lazy’ teacher.

I get to work for 7am, by 7:15am the car park is already a third full with my colleagues. If I arrive at 7:30am, there are no spaces left. I stay for 13, or 14 hour days, sometimes for parents’ evenings, or school concerts, or meetings about a trip. Sometimes I work this long when I return home after work, sat in my pyjamas staring bleary-eyed at my laptop with tomorrow’s lesson on the screen.

I am a so-called ‘lazy’ teacher.

I volunteer to take students away for a weekend, in order to give them a life-long learning experience. I spend evenings thinking about how I am going to help the child whose parents just don’t seem to care. I spend weekends planning how best to engage the child who doesn’t like working as part of a group.

I am a so-called ‘lazy’ teacher.

For each hour I spend in the classroom I spend at least another hour planning the lesson, marking their work, and entering endless data into a computer for it to tell me that despite the fact Olivia couldn’t even clap in time at the start of the year and now can play both hands together on the keyboard, I am not a good teacher as she hasn’t made enough progress against her target.

I am a so-called ‘lazy’ teacher.

There are some days where between the hours of 8am and 5pm I do not have even two minutes to eat my lunch, check my phone, or take a second to breathe. There are some days where I am so thirsty, but have no time to fill up my water bottle, and it’s probably best that I don’t, as I don’t have time to have a wee either. These days happen more often than not.

I am a so-called ‘lazy’ teacher.

At 27, I am exhausted. Working 60 hour weeks as standard means that I have little time to live my life. Getting up in the morning, driving to and leaving school in the dark in those long winter months, and being on my feet all day is taking its toll. I don’t see how I can do this for another 40 years.

I am a so-called ‘lazy’ teacher.

I strike because I care enough about your child’s education to want to fix a broken system. I strike because I care enough about your child’s education to want them to have the best possible teachers – not exhausted, stressed, on-their-knees and publicly ridiculed shells of people. But ultimately, for some, my reason for striking will always be because…I am a so-called ‘lazy’ teacher.