Mrs Humanities

Because I'm married to the job.


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A-Z of Back to School

I thought I’d write something for fun to make the back to school experience a little easier for everyone.

Anxieties – The back to school anxieties get the best of us. No matter how long you’ve been in teaching, there are very few teachers I know that don’t get them. I like to think it’s because we care so much about our role, but really it’s because we know the workload is about to go from zero to light-speed in no time at all. That’s enough to induce anxiety is anyone.

Bragging
From the first day of the summer holidays it’s all about the bragging that you’re back to school in ‘insert number of days left’ days. We say it like we are gutted the holiday will be coming to an end but really it’s just that we want to tell everyone and anyone how many days of summer we still have off. Then when you’re back at school it’s all about what you did with your time off, just remember not everyone went on three holidays!

Catching up
The first week of the school year doesn’t really feel like you’re back in work. It’s just another week of catching up with people you haven’t seen in a while but this time it’s your colleagues (or school family) rather than the friends or real family you haven’t seen for months during the school year.

Drains
You’ve been in school for five minutes and already someone is draining the energy out of you with their pessimism for the year ahead. Acknowledge them, make a witty comment about how everything will fine and walk away. You don’t need the drains in your life.

Expectations
The first few lessons are all about setting your expectations with your students i.e. if they want to be your favourite class, your favourite biscuits are …, your favourite chocolate is…. and you enjoy drinking a glass of…

Freak outs
As you sit in your first CPD session, you start thinking about all the things you could be doing instead of sitting here. Then you start to make a mental list. The list is getting bigger and bigger. You decide to write down all the things you need to do instead of listening. The list keeps growing, your on to page two now. You freak out for a moment and then relax. You’re stuck here for now, make the most of sitting down and doing nothing.

Goals
Set yourself a few small, tangible goals for the first few weeks; you know goals like go to toilet during the school day, eat lunch at lunch time and drink a HOT cup of tea/coffee.

Half term
By the end of day one, you’re already counting down the weeks, days and hours to the next half term.

INSET days
You roll up to school, expecting to have some time to get yourself organised. But every year it turns out that that first day of professional development is jam packed and you won’t have a moment to breath let alone get started on your classroom, planner or lessons.

Joking around
The days when the kids aren’t in are days for the adults to act like the students. We have this innate ability to revert back to being teenagers, joking and larking around like we’ve no cares. Enjoy those moments!

Know the important people
If you’re new to a school, get to know the important people – the caretakers, cleaners, office staff, canteen staff. They know the ins and outs of the school and they’ll look after you if you look after them. A school isn’t just the teachers and students.

Lessons
At some point in the first week you’ll actually have to teach a lesson after all the getting to know you activities and setting out of your expectations. Make it easy though, maybe some colouring in or a wordsearch, you know to give yourself a chance to get back into the routine of early mornings.

Memes
Show your classes that you’re fun and down with the kids by welcoming them with some kind of ‘back to school’ meme on the board.


Names
Whilst it might seem like a big effort, at some point you really should learn the names of the kids you’re teaching. Why wait until parents evening? Start early and you’ll remember them all by Christmas.

Official Christmas Party
Within the first few weeks of the school term, someone will mention the ‘Official Christmas Party’ and how you need to get your name on the list and pay your deposit quickly if you want to attend whilst you’re more concerned with trying to get back into the routine of school.

Planner
Whether your school provide one or you’ve purchased it yourself, the school planner is a priceless piece of equipment. It becomes a record of the year – all the lessons you’ve taught, homework you’ve collected, detentions you’ve given. Look back at in August with fondness before you burn it. Plus the pleasure that comes with colour coding your timetable is unbeatable.

Questionning your life decisions
By week 3, that to-do list is starting to take up several pages of your planner and you’re wondering why you didn’t do some of this in term 6? Why you didn’t do some of this over the holidays? Why you even became a teacher, why oh why?

Research advocates
You’re all for improving your teaching and student learning but if one more person mentions the research reading they’ve been doing this summer and tells you that you really shouldn’t do x, y and z, you might just punch them.

Stationery
It’s stationery not stationary. You’ve seen so many tweets, texts and Facebook messages about the lovely stationery your teacher friends have bought but when will they spell it correctly?

Timetable changes
You’ve written your timetable into your lovely new planner, you’ve completed every week until the end of the school year. It’s looking lovely and you’re super pleased. Then in morning briefing you hear the words “there will be timetable changes from Monday, please check your pigeon holes for your new timetable” and your heart sinks. You pray your timetable remains the same….

Uniform
Buying new school uniform isn’t just for the students. Depending on what you’ve done over the holidays you’ve either lost weight or put it on, inevitably your favourite workout won’t fit and you’re going to have to buy some new clothes for work – the teacher uniform.

Vivacious in September, disheveled by July
You start the year fresh, enthusiastic and feeling somewhat alive, by the time the summer holidays arrive you’re bedraggled, exhausted and in need of the break. Why not document your year through selfies and watch your body change.

Wellbeing
You make yourself a promise, this year you will look after your wellbeing. You’re are going to put yourself first so you can be the best possible teacher, parents, friend, person etc. for everyone around you. But by the end of the first day of teaching, you’ve gotten distracted by the to-do list, you’ve forgotten to eat lunch, you’ve been busting for the loo since break and you’ve still not drank that cup of tea you made when you got into work. So much for wellbeing!

Xerography (or photocopying) guru
Learn to use the photocopier with expertise! Everyone is grateful when you can show them how to convert an A4 worksheet into A3 or how to print double sided as a booklet. Simple skills that mean a lot to the technophobes of the school.

You’ve got this!
The school year is a marathon, with a few hurdles thrown in. It’s challenging at times, but it’s also really awesome, fulfilling and at times good fun. Teaching is a fantastic profession to be a part of and despite how hard it can be, it really is fantastic to be a part of it. No matter how difficult the school year gets, there are always people within your school and outside of it willing to help and support you. Just reach out.

Zombies cannot teach.
Look after yourself.

Hope you’ve enjoyed this post. It’s just a little bit of fun for the new school year.

Best wishes,

Banish the back-to-school blues by joining #Teacher5adayBuddyBox. Sign up here https://teacher5adaybuddybox.com/


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Mrs Humanities is back (to school)…

Hello lovely people,

After almost 8 weeks away from social media and blogging, I’m feeling refreshed. Still very anxious about all the changes coming in the next academic year – new staff to lead and a completely different department as a result plus a 3rd subject to teach (which I wasn’t informed of until the penultimate week of the school year). But I’m feeling refreshed and ready to return to life as a teacher (just).

There have been lots of exciting developments over the last few months so thought I’d share them with you.

1 // My first book was published

First of all, my first book ‘Making it as a Teacher‘ was published at the end of May.

So far it has received a positive response from the teaching community which I’m really pleased about.

Making it as a Teacher doesn’t deny or shy away from the problems we are facing in the profession; it acknowledges them and agrees that it is a challenge to avoid being part of that one-in-three statistic of teachers leaving the profession in the first five years. But, through its human approach, helpful structure and real-life case studies, it offers a positive message: you can do it. It’s a cathartic read – therapy in paperback form. 

Haili Hughes, Tweets as @HughesHaili 

A lot of ‘me’ went into the book in order to show others that it can be hard in teaching but also that you can get through the challenges of the profession and come out the other side. If you haven’t read it yet, here are some of the reviews so far to maybe inspire you to:

Tes Book review: Making it as a Teacher by Haili Hughes

UKEd Chat Book Review by Colin Hill

Schools Week Book Review by Loic Menzies

Parents in Touch by Sarah Brew

Plus the lovely reviews on Amazon. If you’ve already read the book I’d love to hear what you think, feel free to comment or leave a review on Amazon (which would be very much appreciated).

2 // We’ve bought a house

I figured this contributed towards some of the anxiety of the final school term. Luckily it was quite an easy process, however I found myself working until 6 pm most night when normally by term 6 I’m leaving around half 4/5 pm. Then I’d be going home and packing boxes or filling in paperwork or something similar. However we’ve had the summer holiday to unpack and are feeling settled in our first (own) home. We never thought we’d be able to buy a property so are feeling very lucky that we have been able to.

3 // I’ve been working on a second book

When I was invited my Routledge to write a book proposal, this is the book I originally had in my mind. However, I didn’t know how it would work – a book about moving from marking to feedback. It sounded too simple so I felt it needed something that would make it worth reading. This came to me whilst writing the feedback section of Making it as a Teacher – case studies.

And so, after finishing my first book I wrote the proposal for the second. I’m really excited by it. I’ve been shouting about #FeedbackNOTmarking since September 2016, when I did my first presentation at Pedagoo Hampshire on the topic of Less is More – Marking with Purpose. Something I said was quoted on twitter and from that the hashtag #feedbackNOTmarking was born. Since then I’ve done 20+ presentations on the topic, written numerous articles and published a large number of blog posts.

However, that presentation wasn’t the beginning of my journey with feedback. That had started back in 2014/2015 when I started looking into ways of reducing my marking but maintaining effective feedback and thus the progress of my students. It started a new phase of my approach to teaching. It changed the way I teach and honestly it has changed for the better. My teaching practice is simpler, it’s reduced the workload yet the planning and provision of feedback has greater impact on my students than any of my marking ever did. And that’s why I felt this book was important.

The book consists of case studies from schools that have moved from marking to feedback and of departments but also looks at how individuals can apply the concept in their own classroom even if they don’t have the support of their SLT. I’ve really enjoyed reading the case studies so far, I’ve enjoyed further researching the evidence on the application of feedback in the classroom and writing up everything so far. I personally think the ‘Feedback NOT Marking’ book is going to be a change maker – well I hope it will be any way.

4 // Fundraising for the charity Education Support Partnership

If you’ve read any of my blogs on mental health and wellbeing, you’ll know I’m a massive advocate for the charity, Education Support Partnership. Honestly, I know that if I hadn’t spoken to them back in April/May 2016, I wouldn’t have stayed in the profession. I’m so proud to now be able to be an ambassador for them and support them in helping other teachers, leaders and support staff.

Since I failed to look after myself as well as I had been doing, in terms 5 and 6 of the last academic year I didn’t feel like I was the best I could be for my students and colleagues. So to help me look after myself over the next academic year so I’m at my best for those I work with, I decided I’d sign myself up to a challenge that would get me outdoors whilst doing some good for others. So May bank holiday 2020, I’ll be walking 100 km from London to Brighton over two days in aid of Ed Support. As part of my training I’ll be out walking and running as much as possible – Abigail Mann ( @abbiemann1982) and I have even discussed organising a ‘Wellbeing Walk’ at some point which will be open to all that wish to attend or join in.

So here’s where I’m going to be cheeky and say I’d absolutely love it if some of you reading this were to sponsor me and help me to fundraise vital funds for a charity that means so much to me and many others in the education sector. Without donations, they’d be unable to provide the support through their helpline, grants and advice to those that need it (including myself). Here’s my Just Giving page, if you’d like to contribute to the work of Ed Support.

In addition to fundraising for Ed Support, I’ll also be writing a series of blogs for my favourite charity throughout the year.

5 // BBC Teach

I’m really excited to have been commissioned to write 3 articles for BBC Teach over the coming academic year. The first of which is on 5 ways to avoid back to school burnout and can be found here.

In addition, I along with numerous other teachers, have recently filmed with BBC Teach for their Teacher Support section of the website. These videos will be out later in the academic year.

Final words

Finally, I’d like to say a massive thank you for the lovely messages and emails I’ve received over the last few months asking about my wellbeing. They’ve meant so much to me! When you put yourself out there in order to help others, sometimes it becomes a distraction and it can be hard to admit when you’re personally struggling. Thankfully, my prior experiences have helped me to identify when my personal mental and psychical health isn’t at it’s best and I’m learning to step back. But just in case you are wondering why I’m writing another book and articles if I’ve been experiencing high anxiety in recent months, it’s because I find it really cathartic. Like being outdoors, it weirdly helps me to relax and put things into context. So don’t worry I’m not choosing to overexert myself in this area of my life, for me this gives me more of the ‘life’ in the work-life balance.

Hope you’ve all had a great summer break and enjoy the final days if you have any left.

Best wishes,


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Exciting News: ‘Making it as a Teacher’ is published.


I’m super excited to share with you that my book ‘Making it as a Teacher’ is now available to purchase from Routledge.

Cover of  'Making it as a Teacher
How to Survive and Thrive in the First Five Years' by Victoria Hewett
Cover of ‘Making it as a Teacher
How to Survive and Thrive in the First Five Years’ by Victoria Hewett

I’m super pleased, rather proud and somewhat terrified about it’s publication so I really hope it’s what is needed to help keep new (and experienced) teachers in the profession.

Teaching is a delightfully rewarding, wonderfully enlightening and diverse career. Yet, at present, teacher recruitment and retention are in crisis, with some of the most at risk of leaving the profession being those in their early years of teaching. Making it as a Teacher offers a variety of tips, anecdotes, real-life examples and practical advice to help new teachers survive and thrive through the first 5 years of teaching, from the first-hand experiences of a teacher and middle leader.
Divided into thematic sections, Making It, Surviving and Thriving, the book explores the issues and challenges teachers may face, including:

– Lesson planning, marking and feedback
– Behaviour and classroom management
– Work-life balance
– Progression, CPD and networking


With the voices of teaching professionals woven throughout, this is essential reading for new teachers, those undertaking initial teacher training, NQT mentors and other teaching staff that support new teachers in the early stages of their career.

If you fancy having a read, you can order it here. You can also order it from Amazon here. Hopefully you’ll enjoy it and find it useful.

Thank you for the support along the way.

Best wishes,


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Announcement: UK Blog Awards 2019 Finalist

Hello all,

I just wanted to take a moment to say THANK YOU for voting for my blog, MrsHumanities.com in the UK Blog Awards.

I’m super stoked to share with you that I’ve just got the email to say my blog is one of 8 finalists in the Education category. What a super start to 2019.

This will be my third time as a finalist, to be able to say that means so much to me as it means that others read and benefit from what I write and share.

I started blogging when I was super lonely in a department of 1, I wanted to share and talk about teaching and learning, about Geography and History. But blogging has taken me way beyond that. It’s developed my passion for everything education, it’s allowed me to help and support others and it’s opened doors and provided experienced far beyond what I thought it could do.

Thank you for the continued support, it means the world to me.

Best wishes for 2019.

Mrs Humanities


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Mrs Humanities reviews…2018, a year of being braver

Oh my, what a year it has been. It’s been a year of being out of my comfort zone, a year of taking action and a year of raising my voice on matters that mean a lot to me.

When I first found the courage to acknowledge and share my experience of a work-related breakdown, I did so to help others. I never thought it would lead to the opportunities I’ve experienced throughout this year.

It has been a whirlwind of excitement and nerves.

January

The year started with the news that I was a finalist in the UK Blog Awards for the 2nd year, this was shortly followed by an offer from Routledge Education to write a book; after being invited to write a proposal in Summer 2017, my proposal was given the go ahead. What a crazy but exciting start.

January ended with another visit to Canterbury Christchurch University to present at the Beyond Levels Conference. Loved it again.

February

After Beyond Levels came Southern Rocks hosted by Kristian Still and David Rogers. This was a really enjoyable event, took plenty away and inspired a number of others to look into feedback rather than marking through my presentation.

February continued with my birthday but more importantly the 2nd birthday of Teacher5aday Buddy Box. This gave myself and a few other buddy box participants the perfect excuse to meet up over pizza.

March

Next up one of the highlights of my year, TMHistoryIcons. The last few years I’ve been the token Geographer that’s allowed to present. Additionally it will always hold a place in my heart for being the first teach meet I presented at.

Whilst I may no longer teach History, I still love to keep up with the world of History teaching just in case I head back in that direction. It also helped that for the academic year 2017 – 2018, the NQT I was mentored was a History teacher.

I’m gutted I can’t go this year, partly due to its location and partly because I’ve volunteered my services closer to home. I will miss my annual dose of TMHistoryIcons and more importantly Tom Rogers.

April

This month I flew by. I also flew on a plane, this is a big thing for me as I hate flying. I’ve only ever flown once before and that was to and from Iceland for school trip.

This time it was to the Bay of Naples. I loved it there. The history, the geography. I was in my element. But I hated the flying part. That alone makes me feel like I was 10% braver.

April ended with the UK Blog Awards. Myself and Bethan (History NQT) had a blast. I caught up with Ross McGill (Teacher Toolkit) which left Bethan and I both feeling a little star struck. Whilst I may not of won, the evening was so much fun (again).

May

May was spent preparing for the upcoming GCSEs. My class had been awesome, they helped me to love teaching again, I started teaching them in the September after my breakdown, their enthusiasm and humour was contagious. I was going to really miss them, so I made them little GCSE survival packs which they loved.


When they sat their first Geography exam, I overheard some of them on the way in wishing each luck and telling each other to do Miss Hewett proud (and they really did).

They don’t know it yet but I’ve dedicated my book to them as a way of saying thank you.

This month I also spoke to a journalist from the Guardian about burnout in teaching and my experience. You can read the article here.

June

What a month June was. It started with taking part in a panel discussion on teacher wellbeing at the Festival of Education with Julian Stanley (Ed Support), Vic Goddard and Adrian Bethune. It was nerve wracking but an awesome experience I’d love to take part in again. It was disappointing though that a panel on a topic of such importance was hidden away from the main area which meant despite eventually having a standing room only audience, many people missed the beginning as they walked to distance to get there. Hopefully if Ed Support are invited again this year, the event organisers place them more centrally.

This was followed by an overnight stay in Rugby for ResearchEd. What a beautiful school that was. The event was really interesting with lots of ideas to take away and thoughts to consider and digest. I also presented as part of the Humanities strand on moving from marking to feedback.

Here’s a little clip from the day

Next up was my favourite event of them all, TMGeographyIcons. I’m probably a bit biased there though as I am the lead organiser. The event was a huge success thanks to the help of Jenn and Gemma. It would not have been the event it was without their help and support.

The day brought together over 100 Geography teachers from across the UK to share and discuss. Our keynote speaker Alan Parkinson was fantastic and each presenter brought something for others to take-away. Really looking forward to the 2019 event. Gemma and I have some very exciting plans so watch out for further details in the new year.

For now you can find all the presentations from the 2018 event here.

June ended with the Teachwell Fest at Vic Goddard’s school, Passmores Academy. It was an event that was different to all others I’ve experienced.

I decided I would share my experience from breakdown which turned out to me quite an emotional rollercoaster. It was the first time I’d ever discussed my experiences with an audience. It was small but supportive.

It was difficult talking about my journey but I needed to do it. I’m glad I did it as it has put me in a much better position to be able to help others.

July

July was a quiet month. Apart from book writing, it was month for relaxing when not in work.

August

The summer disappeared very quickly. It started with some filming with the Education Support Partnership and was followed by a few days away touring the battle fields of France and Belgium with the husband and his nephew.

The remainder of the summer holidays evolved around writing ‘Making it as a Teacher’. Whilst I’d written bout 20,000 words between January and July, I wrote over 40,000 in just 4 weeks. I was amazed by my capabilities. It was a challenging process, very different to writing blog posts but I massively enjoyed it.

September

September has been characterised by an annual trip to Hampshire for Pedagoo for the last few years. It has always been a pleasure to attend, see people and to say hello (and thank you) to the inspiration that is Martyn Reah.  

Pedagoo Hampshire was the first time I presented on the topic of feedback and sparked my engagement in the movement. This year I returned and shared my experience of breakdown again. I spoke to a number of people at the event and the feedback was humbling. I just hope it inspired them to go away and make a change.

October

Another quiet month spent finishing off the book. Oh wait, that’s a lie.

I was invited to speak on BBC Breakfast about teacher wellbeing, workload and mental health. What an experience that was. I was on TV talking about mental health and teaching!!!

November

I sent off my book manuscript before the deadline. Will update you when I have a publication date.

December

I’m hibernating.

And that’s the end…

A lot has happened this that I’m extremely proud of. A lot of things that I would never have had the opportunity to do if a) I hadn’t gone through a breakdown, b) if I hadn’t spoke out about my experiences. Despite the hard times, I am very grateful for the person it has made me and the opportunities it has opened up.

However, the thing I think I’m most proud of is being able to be there for others, to be able to be someone that others can turn to for advice, guidance or a rant, someone that shows it doesn’t have to be the end of a career in teaching.

If you ever need to talk to someone about workload, your mental health or just need a friend. Please feel free to get in touch with me, Ed Support or someone else supporting #Talk2MeMH.

Hope you have a great end to 2018.

Best wishes,

Victoria


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Mrs Humanities shares… 5 takeaways from this academic year

mrs humanities shares

As I come to the end of my 6th year in teaching, I wanted to reflect on what I’ve learnt this year. I feel like this year, my practice has developed, I’ve managed to balance work and life effectively and I’ve learnt more and more about pedagogy and education politics.

This academic year has seen lots of involvement in conferences and events as well as supporting the work of the Education Support Partnership. It’s been a good year, so here’s a reflection on 5 things I’ve taken away from it.

Note: This is the second (and not as good) version of the post I originally wrote but unfortunately technology did not wish to work and it didn’t save.

1 // If it doesn’t benefit my students, why am I doing it?

I’ve learnt to question everything I do, to consider the benefits it has for my students and thus whether or not to do it. Obviously, I still have to do the things required of me by the school like writing reports and that, but I do question what I’m doing and why in order to make it have the greatest impact possible. When it comes to my own classroom practice, I think I’ve been teaching long enough that I have go-to strategies that I know work and whilst I try the odd new activity or approach I try to keep consistency for my students (and myself) and no longer try too many new things like I probably did in the first few years in order to find what worked and that my students ‘enjoyed’.

Before implementing anything, first consider the impact on students. How will it benefit them?

2 // Differentiation is misunderstood

This one has worried me at times, how differentiation seems to be so misunderstood by many. I’ve had many NQTs and trainees say they’ve been told to show differentiation in lesson observations; things like individual worksheets for each student with their target at the top and work to help them meet that target (crazy I know), having students do different tasks based on their prior attainment, grouping students into high, middle and low and giving them work based on their ability… the list goes on. Not only does it create excessive levels of work for teachers, it limits a student’s progress.

Overtime my understanding of differentiation has developed with research, action and curiosity. I will admit I was guilty of using the ‘spice challenge’ for differentiation in the past, but I never limited which one students could do, so long as it challenged them. It was always their choice. But there have always been the little things too like word lists, scaffold sheets etc. and plenty of choice. Additionally I like to give students independence and responsibility for their learning by making differentiated resources available to all so students can opt to make use if they wish to do so.

We need to remember that differentiation is more than just the task we give students or small adjustments and provisions we make such as coloured overlays or paper, it’s a teacher’s response to learner’s needs and therefore can be planned or unplanned, long term or short term, explicit or subtle.

notice-blog

These days I’ve learnt to teach to the top and differentiation down through the use of scaffolds, feedback and in-class intervention strategies. Appears to be working.

I’m no expert on the matter, but here’s a free CPD resource on it.

3 // Saying no is hard to do, but has to be done

As much as you might not want to say no, learning to say it is vital for your own sanity, health and wellbeing. Teachers (generally speaking) want to do well for their kids, they also want to be good at what they do and that also means we sometimes take on far more than we should. Before my breakdown, I struggled with saying no. Partly due to my desire to succeed, but also partly due to the performance management process.

The performance management process, which for many involves book scrutinises, observations, crazy targets etc. etc. has had a hugely determinantal impact on our ability to say no, both to requests from others and to ourselves.

It’s important that we do though.

In my last school, books had to be marked every 4 lessons. For me that meant marking every night which would take 3-4 hours to do a set. I had between 12-16 classes each year over a two week timetable across the humanities (Geography, History and Opening Minds) as well as ICT. I didn’t want to ‘fail’ book checks so made sure I kept up to date. I even had a marking timetable to keep track. That was unhealthy I realise. I’d stay up to around 9 every school day, just marking books as there was no time in the school day. So that meant my day consisted of wake up, go to work, teach, admin and phone calls, go home, eat, mark, sleep and repeat each day. Where was the life?

marking timetable

Now I’ve learnt to be strict on myself when it comes to a work-life balance. I don’t have kids, so I can stay in school until 5-6pm get all my work done then take nothing or very little home. Usually if I take anything home it’s the last few essays I haven’t finished marking and want to finish, but that’s because I want to not because I feel I must. I’ve never had students complain when their work wasn’t marked for the next lesson, that’s who we do it for so why worry about book checks?

It’s important to be able to set yourself limits and stick to them, but know you can alter them if you need to. Don’t take on too much, if you can’t fit it into your directed time and the hours you opt to work just say sorry, I can’t.

4 // Plan for progress by planning backwards

Planning backwards is a skill I’ve developed over time and involves carefully planning learning not lessons . Ever since I set up the humanities department singlehandedly from scratch at my last school, it’s become one of my most honed skills I reckon. It takes time to be able to look at the bigger picture and work backwards; you need to consider the content, the skills and the development process of both. By doing so, I can plan assessments and feedback throughout the course, year and term. I can see how everything fits and works to develop the best possible learner I can create in a year, over the course and within the 5 or 7 year geographical experience within my department.

It was hard work to begin with, but the one thing it has done is made me a more effective teacher. I’m constantly thinking about the big details and how they relate to the minute day-to-day teaching.

By planning for progress, it has also meant I’ve reduced my workload. With my team, we planned out assessment, feedback and feedforward across each year group across the year to identify the work that will be formatively assessed, the work that will receive feedback and who the feedback will come from.

Assessment outline

Feedback as a result isn’t just the responsibility of the teacher; I train the students from day one to be able to give their own feedback to their peers and to themselves. In the end this helps them to self-regulate and progress effectively.

5 // Being organised is essential

Probably the most under-rated skill in a teacher’s repertoire. Seriously, I’ve become a master organiser since becoming a teacher – possibly to medically diagnostic levels but still it’s a vital skill to have to help limit the stress, particularly of deadlines.

Know the school calendar or at least regularly check it. Take note of upcoming deadlines and organise your time to be able to complete them in time. It reduces stress and anxiety, I promise. It can also help Heads of Departments and your Line Manager, if they don’t have to chased you; making them happier too.

Print resources at the beginning/end of the week ahead. Stops you just ‘adjusting’ lessons in your PPAs so you actually spend time doing things you actually need to do.

Plan your PPAs. Have a definitive, yet realistic list of what you want to complete and aim to do it.

Avoid distraction, when I was stressed I’d always go and do what I didn’t need to do usually lesson planning as it was the one thing I enjoyed. This only made things worse as I’d still have to face the task at some point. Delaying it just it more stressful.

Keep your resources organised. I have folders for each year group on a desk at the front of my room. I keep resources in there when we’ve used them. This means students can always catch up and I have the resources ready for next year. Admittingly I need to organise them as at the moment they are just shoved in there, but I’m waiting for a filing cabinet to become available.

What have your takeaways from the year been? Feel free to share them in the comments.

Mrs Humanities


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5 Years a Teacher. A Reflection.

In October 2016, an article appeared on the Guardian that struck a chord.

“Almost a third of teachers quit state sector within five years of qualifying”

I started my teaching career in 2010 by undertaking a PGCE in Secondary Geography Education at Aberystwyth University, finishing in July 2011.

Living in the depths of Mid-Wales meant there were few employment opportunities so I made the tough decision somewhat late in the school year to move down to the South East of England where I initially went and worked in Early Years for several months before moving onto my first full time teaching role in June 2012.

The statistics in the article were concerning “Of the 21,400 who began teaching in English state schools in 2010, 30% had quit by 2015, the schools minister, Nick Gibb, confirmed. More than one in 10 (13%) of newly qualified teachers left after a year of teaching, meaning 87% continued to work in the classroom, a proportion the government says is largely unchanged since 1996. That figure fell to 82% after two years in profession, 77% after three years, 73% after four years and 70% after five years”. (

And whilst I wasn’t one of those that began teaching in state schools in 2010, I’m definitely one of those that has considered leaving the profession several times within the first 5 years.

To be honest teaching lessons has always been the easy part; it’s the relentless workload surrounding book scrutinises, data input, assessment and observations that have made it so difficult. Alongside that I became Head of Department at a new school in April 2014, which had opened in September 2013 and had to set up the department from scratch. Fortunately for me my planning was my strong point, but as the only Humanities specialist it was a solo effort and a lot of hard work.

So, here’s my tale of 5 years a teacher.

Year 1 

My NQT year was interesting. I worked with some amazing educators and a fantastic department. The school was tough with high expectations for staff and often challenging students, but I always felt incredibly supported by my department and NQT coordinator.

During this time, I lived 30 miles from work and although the journey wasn’t too arduous I didn’t drive; Never needed to learn living in Cardiff and Aberystwyth, where public transport was reliable and cheap or things were in walking distance. Luckily a wonderful woman came to my rescue, she lived in the same town and was also an NQT. She was older than me and had entered the profession after a wealth of experience elsewhere; dare I say it, she became like a mother to me with all her words of advice and constant reminders of work/life balance. Even when I eventually passed my driving test and got a car, we continued to car share.

However despite the support it was a struggle learning to manage behaviour whilst trying to ensure progress; trying to juggle marking and planning; keeping track of student data and monitoring progress; writing reports and attending meetings; finding time to make phone calls home due to negative behaviour and trying to ensure you added a few for positive behaviour; attending NQT CPD sessions and ensuring time to research pedagogy and classroom management strategies… the list goes on of the balancing acts that took place. The PGCE really didn’t prepare me for this level of work.

There was definitely no work/life balance at this point, along with Ofsted in the first term but I still managed to pass my NQT with Outstanding thanks to the support I received.

Year 2 

I stayed at the same school, I felt confident this year would be better. I knew the routines, more of the students, the GCSE courses etc. It should have been a breeze and to start with it was. Well until my projector broke in the first term. Doh!

No projector meant all my resources from the year before were somewhat redundant, that along with the fact that photocopying budget was low so printing was restricted which meant that teaching lessons suddenly became a lot more difficult. Unfortunately, it was going to be several weeks for the parts to be delivered because I just so happened to have an ‘old’ projector.

This point taught me a lot though, how to teach without technology and resources. I relied on my knowledge and the white board. I used models students had made the previous year to demonstrate, for instance rainforest structure; I became more imaginative in my approach. But it was hard work, really hard work though.

The tip of the iceberg came just after I’d been told to relax on my marking by the Head. He recognised how hard I was working and that my marking was top of the school but I was working myself into the ground. Yet we had a Mocksted and my external observer gave me terrible feedback – firstly he commented that I hadn’t shared the L/Os with students (hrm, yes I had they were on the whiteboard and at the top of the student instruction sheets and if you’d been here at the start of the lesson you would have heard me read and discuss them with the class), he commented on my poor planning (there were a range of activities with plenty of differentiation to suit individual needs and to stretch my more able, but that wasn’t recognised) and finally the negative comment on my marking… MY MARKING! Insufficient! WTF. I blew my top at that. My Head of Department was not happy, the Head certainly didn’t agree and essentially the whole observation was wiped off the record. The school threw a big party that Christmas… many of us felt it was a way to say sorry for the terrible Mocksted experience especially as we’d got Outstanding the year before from the official Ofsted.

After that experience however by the time half term came I was exhausted and didn’t feel I wanted to go back to school. I’d fallen into a state of depression, which I hadn’t realised at the time but looking back that’s exactly what it was. I started experiencing dizziness and vertigo as well which almost led me to passing out in front of a class and several visits to the GP and hospital.

The school provided some counselling which helped and I eventually applied for Head of Humanities at a different school, closer to home. I managed to get the position in February and handed in my notice to end at Easter. Whilst the Head did not seem happy with the decision and did not make things easy, I’m sure deep down he recognised it was the best thing for me at the time.

I left in April and started my new role after Easter.

And wow, how very different it was. I went from teaching Geography and History to teaching across the Humanities, as well as Art, Cookery, ICT and Drama. The previous Head of Humanities had left no resources, so I had no idea what they’d been taught already. What an interesting time that the first full term it turned out to be. The kids were very challenging in completely different ways and it was an exhausting summer term but I stuck with it. I immediately implemented routines and behavioural strategies and laid out my expectations clearly. My NQT year had prepared me well.

That summer was spent preparing for the September. I had to make sure I was fully prepared for my lessons in order to ensure my time went into managing behaviour and the resulting workload as well as the high levels of differentiation and scaffolding that would be needed.

Year 3

Year 3 went by in a whirlwind. Being a new school, there was a hell of a lot of work involved in setting up whole and departmental resources and routines. We were a small community and it felt like that to begin with. Everyone was supportive of one another, we ate together and chatted when we could.

As a consistent team of staff emerged, the kids became better behaved and the consistency helped many of them to feel better about school. In fact, what became more challenging was the workload. Being a new school, we had regular visits from a DofE representative (I think) who would observe the progress of the school, staff and students. We’d have one a term, along with other observations as part of the self-evaluation weeks. We had to provide data packs on classes, flightpaths on books, targets and progress on the front covers etc. The amount of paper being used was huge and that was before we thought about resourcing lessons and scaffolding for students. Anyway, I did what I had to do and got through. There were times I wanted to just give up but I kept on thanks to the support of my family and closest colleagues. By June we had Ofsted and it was a very positive experience. I felt confident and it came across; the inspector had no feedback on how I could improve. Win. My marking and feedback was also highly recognised and praised by the inspection team. My feedback not marking approach was beginning to take shape and as result I ended up running a CPD session in the final term for current and new staff on marking and feedback strategies.

Whilst it had been a difficult year in terms of workload, #Teacher5aday and twitter had helped me through the rollercoaster and I finished the school year on a relative high (although I was disappointed we didn’t have a celebration to celebrate our excellent Ofsted result).

Year 4

This was the year of my undoing. This was the year I came closest to walking out of teaching once and for all. This was the year when it all got too much. The workload, the behaviour, the level of SEN, the lack of support, the lack of specific CPD…. the staff morale. In fact, I think staff morale had the biggest impact. Seeing people working as hard as they were and receiving no recognition and appreciation for it and instead just having more and more work piled on to them was the hardest thing to witness.

I started to dread morning briefings, what would I need to add the humongous to-do list that was already impossible to complete even if I didn’t eat and sleep day in day out. I’d roll up to the meeting and the sense of anxiety in my stomach would bloom. My hands would shake and by Easter I’d leave with tears rolling down my eyes. I hated the morning briefings. I hated the feeling of worry. The stress. The anxiety.

If the workload wasn’t relentless enough, I felt unsupported by SLT. Behaviour was worsening and despite following the school procedures, kids seemed to be getting away with the highest f sanctions. I’d always follow through at my end but they weren’t exactly followed through at the top. This made teaching harder and harder.

I started looking and writing applications for jobs outside of teaching, but I was too scared to send them. I wouldn’t be able to finish until the summer; would they even wait that long? I wrote many but didn’t send any.

Then the penultimate day before the Easter break I eventually broke down in front of a class. The poor handful of students that wanted to learn in this particular group – their enthusiasm for learning slowly declined; their patience for others dwindled. I hated seeing this and burst, tears rolled down my face in front of the class and between my sobs I asked “Why? Why will you not respect your peers? Let them learn, if you don’t want to fine. But let those that do learn.” I remember my speech/rant going on for a bit longer than that but I don’t remember the rest of it. I probably rambled about the opportunities they’ve been given; how great the teaching and learning is at the school and how the school rules state that ‘everyone has the right to learn and the teachers to teach’.

I tried to enjoy the Easter half break but instead I ended up working most of it, marking assessments and planning for the next term. When I returned to school, I couldn’t do it.

I walked into my classroom and walked right back out again. The anxiety was too much. I walked away. Where was I to go? Since my other half would drop me into work so he could have the car, I couldn’t exactly go home. Instead I made my way inside the main building a member of staff caught me, asked if I was okay. That was the it, tears streamed. I sat in the quiet meeting room for what felt like hours sobbing. I eventually went home. I couldn’t return the next day or the next and eventually I was signed off. Three weeks I spent away from the classroom in total and although it helped I still didn’t feel ready to head back without a bit of medical help.

During my time, off I’d received notification that I’d been offered an interview for a job I’d previously applied for. I went to the interview and whilst I liked the school and they liked me, I felt I needed time to process the offer. In the interview, I’d asked about staff wellbeing and this essentially confirmed to me that it would be a good school to work at. After speaking to my current Head, I decided that accepting the offer was definitely the best thing to do.

My return to school was hard, I wasn’t ready but I was pressured into returning – I won’t go into the details. I returned and the kids were amazing. They were happy to see me and even those that had been difficult before Easter had somewhat improved for me. I didn’t share why I’d been off, but the kids made up a wonderful story about fighting crocodiles in some far off tropical land and being injured and so on. It was a relief when they just made a light-hearted joke of my time away.

I struggled through the remainder of the year and left feeling loved by the students. The array of gifts and messages were heart-warming. It’s not until you leave that you realise how appreciated you are. I do miss many of the kids, I’d formed some fantastic bonds with some of my classes and it was hard to say goodbye to them. But if I hadn’t accepted the job after support from the Education Support Network, I know I would have ended up leaving the school and teaching.

Year 5

This year has been the best year of my career so far. I’ve seen my career and happiness flourish. I’m glad I stayed in teaching and tried one more school. I can see this as my forever school.

There have been a few ups and downs, a struggle here and there but on the whole, it was nothing compared to my prior experiences. Nothing I couldn’t handle with a bit of determination and dare I say it… resilience.

The number of times reducing workload and ensuring staff wellbeing has been discussed in meetings this year has blown me away; to have a senior leadership team that cares so much about its staff and students really has meant a lot to me. I’ve felt appreciated and respected as an educator and member of staff. I wish every school could make their staff feel this way.

What has 5 years in teaching taught me?

The answer to that is a hell of a lot.

I know how I teach now, I know my preferences. I know how to learn about learning. I know what I like in the classroom and what I don’t. I know what makes for good practice for me and I know what doesn’t. I know how to be flexible but also how to be consistent. I know how to balance my work and my life.  I know I’ve grown as a practitioner and will continue to do so.

But I only know all of this because I’ve tried so much and learnt so much. I’ve experienced good times and experienced bad times. I’ve had the opportunity to explore and try new things. I’ve taken the time to read and research, to talk and discuss, to share and to steal (ideas). Without all my prior experiences in how to deal with behaviour and being overburdened with workload from marking and feedback, assessment, data analysis, planning etc. I wouldn’t have become the teacher I am today.

I honestly believe it takes finding the right school to really make you enjoy the job and love this all-important career. If you’re not happy where you are, try a few places before making the big decision to leave teaching forever. You just have to find what’s right for you.

I’ve now come to the end of my fifth year in teaching and thankfully I’ve remained as a statistic of survival. I’m staying in education because deep down, I love teaching those young humans who will one day be grown up humans that will make decisions about our world. I want them to make responsible ones that benefit and support each and every one of us; that respect their future colleagues and their kid’s teachers, that look after their communities and wider environment, that abolish homelessness and poverty, that fight diseases and find cures, that innovate and design. I want them to be able to learn so that they create a better world than we have today. And that’s why I’ve stuck it out and will be staying.

NQT and others in their first few years, I really hope this insight into my first 5 years, gives you hope for the future. Don’t become a statistic of despair in the system, instead become a statistic of survival and change in the system.

Mrs Humanities

 

 

 


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Breakdown, reach out, recover.

In April 2016, on return to work after the Easter break I had a breakdown. Anxiety hit as I walked into my classroom the morning after the Easter break. Anxiety that was so crippling I immediately left my classroom with no words to convey how I felt.

A member of staff caught me in the corridor, asked if I was okay and that was it.  Tears ran down my face, snot poured from my nose, words failed to leave my mouth.

I sat in the meeting rooms for what felt like hours. The deputy head came to see me to ask what was wrong. I couldn’t explain it other than the fact I couldn’t be there. The job had worn me down, the emotional toll had broken me. I cried. I cried some more.

Eventually I was sent home. My partner would drop me off at work so I had to make my own way home. I don’t remember though how I got home. It’s all a blur now. Did I get a lift? Did I get the bus? Did my sister in law pick me up? I don’t know.

I don’t remember much of that day to be honest.  I don’t remember much of that week actually.

I remember trying to go to work the next day but couldn’t bring myself to do it. I’d never felt this way about a job before.

I’d worked hard all my life, at one point I was working two part time jobs and a full time one and still wasn’t as stressed out by employment.

I didn’t go back for some 3 weeks. I stayed curled up in bed or watched Netflix. I visited the doctor eventually. But only after I’d spoken to the education support partnership. I knew I needed to talk to someone. Someone that could advise. Someone I didn’t know.

The counsellor I spoke to was patient, supportive and helped me to come around to the idea I needed time off and needed to see a professional.

The next day I went to the doctors.  I returned the following week to be signed off. I got help. I got medication. The first medication didn’t help. But my medication was changed and I got better.

It’s almost a year since I started taking anti-depressants. A year on something I said I would never take. But it’s helped me to reclaim my life, reclaim my love for teaching and reclaim my happiness.

I moved schools, I feel confident in the support network there. I feel confident in the focus on staff and student wellbeing. I feel confident that if it’s raised with SLT it’s not going to just be swept under the carpet.

Like a number of teachers I know, I’m not the only one to have gone through this. I’m not the only one that’s broken down. I’m not the only one to be taking medication.

I want you all to know that, no matter what you have to look after you. There are so many organisations out there, but in particular I’d like to recommend the Education Support Partnership. Reach out, talk and get help.

Feel free to get in contact in you need to.

Best wishes

Me.


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Proud Moments from Twitter

As I spend some time reflecting on the year, despite all the downs I’ve remembered there have been a number of ups. I thought I’d share with you some of the more positive parts of my teaching year.

  1. DIRT sheets went international… here’s a message I received from China

2. Attending and presenting at TMHistoryIcons

along side many great historians and history teachers…

3. Setting up Magpied Pedagogy

4. Attending and presenting at #PedagooHampshire…

…where I got to meet many of the greats for the first time (or again) and take part in a number of interesting workshops/presentations.

5. Setting up #Teacher5adaybuddybox and being able to support so many great educators. From the first one…

…to having over 400 participants in a year….

 … that have sent loads of fabulous boxes…

…with extra big thanks to all those that sent a back to school surprise box or two

Get involved…

I’ve been really lucky the last year to have connected with so many incredible educators and academics as a result of twitter. They’ve kept me going through the darker days of teaching and have helped me to remain in a job that I love (well when it’s just me and my classes, forget the politics and data, along with progress tracking and the covering your back paperwork etc. etc.)

So what we’re your proudest moments of 2017? Let me know.

I hope that 2017 leads into lots of positive teaching experiences for all.

Best wishes for the year ahead.

Mrs Humanities


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One small memory, one big impact.

Whilst out for a stroll this afternoon I was reminiscing about my high school days.

Whilst I have some fantastic memories of friendships, teachers and trips I also remember how rough and poor my school was. I remember discussing life and death around a broken table in the ‘garden’. I remember being shot with a BB gun in a French lesson. I remember a boy in my class launching himself across the table and punching my music teach square in the face.  I remember my proud GCSE results day. I remember my first trip abroad. I remember the sayings of my favourite teachers.

school

But there was one memory that was standing out.

Here’s how it goes…

My friends and I had been discussing the theory of evolution (as you do at the age of 14) in form time. Our current tutor was a devote Christian and didn’t believe in the theory or possibility of evolution. Rather than joining us in the debate he set out to prove us wrong. He spoke some time about the eye and the intricate nature of it. He spoke about how God created the eye and there was no way that nature could possibly have had anything to do with such an intricate creation. We listened, we listened some more, but did not speak. He would not allow for debate or discussion.

The next day he brought in an old radio.  He also brought in a hammer. Then there right in front of us he smashed the radio into pieces. As he did so he explained that if evolution really existed this radio that was now broken into over a hundred pieces would eventually put itself together.

radio

We attempted to debate it with him, but little did he listen.

He put the radio in a box and left it on the desk.

The next day, he asked “has evolution worked yet?” and shook the box to demonstrate it was still in a hundred or so pieces.

The same thing happened the next day. And the next day. And for a few more days.

As teenagers, it’s not that we weren’t open to the idea of God and religion, but we wanted the opportunity to discuss and debate. We wanted to the opportunity to discover and learn. We wanted to make our own opinions of the world.

Since we didn’t feel listened to, my friends and I decided to do something rather rebellious. This was out of character for us, the usually ‘good’ ones.

One lunch we snuck into our form room. We’d gotten hold of some glue and decided to attempt to piece the broken radio back together. From what I remember we did a pretty good job of it. We carefully placed the radio back in the box and returned the box to its original position so as not to raise suspicion.

The next morning our form tutor went to prove his point by shaking the box. To his surprise there wasn’t the calamity of noise one would associate with hundreds of pieces of metal and plastic bouncing around. Instead there was a loud thump to one side of the box, sliding to the other side as he shook the box.

I’ll never forget the look of bewilderment on his face. I always imagined that for a moment he may have lost faith in his argument, his belief that he held so strong. For that one moment I’ve always felt bad.

But quickly his bewilderment led to curiosity as to what had happened. He opened the box to find the radio almost looking like it had several days before the hammer was taken to it, of course though with the addition of cracks and vast quantities of super glue.

That’s as far as I remember. I can’t remember the consequences of our actions.

But I remember why we did it. We wanted to be heard, we wanted to discuss, we wanted to discover. We didn’t want to be told what to think, we didn’t want to be put down, we didn’t want to be told our beliefs were wrong.

None of us were against the idea of God, against the idea of being part of God’s creation. Some of us were religious, some of us not. But we wanted evidence from both sides of the debate and the opportunity to explore the theory.

I thought for a while of how this experience influenced my future. My desire for knowledge. My desire to see evidence. My desire to understand. A desire and skill I’ve tried to pass on to my students.

Do you have any memories from school that influenced you?

Would be interested to hear.