We must not ignore Stress.

I mentioned the ‘S’ word in a recent blog. Having suffered in the past quite significantly, I have, over time, found my own toolkit to work through particularly difficult times (one of which is to label it as ‘challenge’ not stress). My symptoms include IBS, hives, fatigue and (according to Barry) all round grumpiness! I follow a routine of diet, sleep, exercise and mindfulness in an effort to keep the physical symptoms to a minimum. (Writing it down like this makes me wonder whether my job is worth it!) I am pleased to say that it does work, but how can a new teacher possibly have all those tools when they start in their career and would they believe me if I told them?

Teaching is a tough profession. Outsiders point to the 13 weeks holiday, the 8.30-3 day and the ‘fun’ of working with young people. What they don’t see is the massively long hours at every level, the pressure to perform, the results and target driven environment, which isn’t going to mean you fall short of selling a few widgets – this will affect someone’s life path. In addition you’ve got the pressure to conform, innovate, progress in your career, support others, deliver a curriculum dictate (with minimal budget), and, often, be a main carer for the pupils in your class. All alongside colleagues who are under similar pressures. 

And they wonder why NQTs don’t stay?

I’ve done HSW surveys and time diaries with staff and they are always the same. They work too long hours, they don’t feel supported adequately and they don’t see a way out of the spiral. I’ve sat in SLT meetings and said “Sally is working too many hours” but what can we do? Sally is keen, she wants to progress both herself and her students, she wants to be a leader, she wants results. We certainly don’t want to temper her motivation and enthusiasm, but she can’t see what is round the corner…

I believe it is up to us SBMs to help her by telling it to Sally like it is. We’re not going to be popular and no one is going to thank us but if we can keep her long term in her chosen profession, I would chalk that up as a success. 

So here is what I’d say to new teachers;

1) Be gentle with yourself, walk away at the end of the day, find other interests, love your family. 

2) Sleep. Be horribly selfish and get what you need every night. Remember your old Mum’s bedtime routine, bath, milk, book bed? I promise you it works. Put the screen down!

3) Spend at least 20 minutes every day raising your heart rate with exercise (walking, running, swimming, cycling, gym – whatever does it for you – do it) note that playground duty does not count (unless you’re chasing a football, of course).

4) Watch what you eat and drink. Listen to your body. It will tell you if it doesn’t like something or, more likely if it thinks what you’re eating doesn’t mix with your current level of stress. I’ve got a lot of personal experience with this one but that might be another blog. 

5) Get into yourself. This is good in the morning and can go well with a spot of yoga. It’s a fabulous way to start the day. 

I guess my message is that you can’t help anyone unless you look after yourself and as selfish as it might sound, you have a duty to your pupils to put yourself first. Only when you have done this will you be able to successfully manage the highs and lows, the pressures and pitfalls, the energy and fatigue that is the Teaching Profession. 

PS This also applies to SBMs!!

Brexit – What every KS1 knows.

When you start school the very first thing you do is make friends. If you’re very lucky (or well connected) you will have bought some with you from nursery. I’m sure there are clever theories as to how and why you choose friends but to me it seems random. My youngest came home from his first day at school and announced he’d made friends with the boy whose coat peg was below his, Charlie. It was weeks before we discovered that the new friend was actually called Edward, but no matter, they were firm friends. Jack and Edward gathered a team of like-minded boys around them and they all remain friends to this day.

Every child knows that friends in the playground are vital. They define you. They are on your side. They are willing to swap the yucky sandwich your Mum makes with theirs, (even though theirs is jam). They will play your games, make up songs with you, run about like a loony with you, pick you up if you fall over and go get someone sharpish if blood is involved. The friends you make at school is what makes those days special (or bearable – depending on your age and point of view)

Yes, you’ll tussle. Yes, they’ll pinch you if you steal their best pencil. Yes, they’ll tell on you if you use a swear word, but any conflict is soon forgotten as you go back to planning tactics to get the best toys in afternoon play. 

So let’s imagine the scenario. Here you are, an excellent band of mates, pretty much since day one, and happy at school; and you announce;

“Right listen up.  I’ve decided I want to be friends with everyone in this playground, so that means I can’t be friends with you lot anymore. I still want to swap my yucky sandwich with you, Tom, I still plan to come back to yours for tea occasionally Dick, and Harry you can still help me with Maths, but otherwise that’s it, I can’t play by your rules anymore. I’m more important than you, I’m top in English and I don’t like it when you let other children join in our game. I’m off to play with Year 6.”

I imagine you’d find yourself very quickly on the billy-no-mates bench (I don’t think it is called that though – I work in the secondary sector remember) with absolutely no one wanting to play with you because you’re the type that stabs his friends in the back and you can’t be trusted. 

That is how Brexit makes me feel. I’m terrified that we are consigning our children to years of sitting on that bench, not able to join in because some serious bridges were burned at the end of the 2010’s. And for what? So that we could exclude people from joining our group? So we could run with the big boys (who everyone with a brain knows regard us as insignificant on our own)? So we could go and swap sandwiches with children who hadn’t tasted our Mum’s terrible cooking?

I heard Teresa May say in a speech last week, “Politics is not a game” Oh but it is Teresa, you just want to play it your way. Problem is. No one will be wanting to play with you soon. 

It is our group that rules one corner of the playground, not us on our own. And we are not even considered the leader of that group (even though we like to think we are due to our “top in English” attitude and long history of being a leader in the playground). Perhaps the Brexit leaders should spend some time in schools watching playground dynamics to see how it is really done? While they are there they can do something useful, relevant, economically astute and really impactful into the next generation – sort out the bloody funding!

This is their Generation 

I won’t lie. February has been a challenging month. I always hesitate to use the word “stressful” because it is as much my responsibility as anyones to make sure that my job isn’t detrimental to my health!

Hence the recent failing in my 2017 resolution to maintain a blog. However, don’t look back, look forward, keep going (and all that). So hello again 2017 SBM. 

This weeks spring Budget did nothing to reassure those of us at the sharp end of education funding, a subject that I promised I wouldn’t keep banging on about, and it got me thinking about sex, so I may as well explain. 

Stay with me. 

Here’s what I was thinking. The sex you enjoy when you’re 20, bears no resemblance to the sex you want when you’re 40 or the sex you want when you’re 60 (I’m guessing). In the same way that the exercise that gave you a fashionably fit body at 20 is not going to give you the same body (which would no longer be fashionable anyway) when you’re 40, ditto when you’re 60 (guessing again). 

So why do we believe that the educational methods used in 1997 are still going to be effective in 2017 and are we actually still going to think they are ok in 2037? Remember, an NQT in 1997 (if they are hanging on in there) is still only in their mid 40’s today and possibly just getting into their leadership stride. True, they’ll be thinking about retirement in 2037, but they will still be teaching. I think we have a responsibility to make sure what is being delivered is fit for purpose in the same way that you need to prepare for good health throughout the stages of your life but not by resolutely sticking to the same methodology. 

Don’t get me wrong, a lot has changed since I was at school and even since I’ve been an SBM but I look around me and I worry that a lot of it is still the same. 

No one can deny that the current cohort of students has changed beyond the recognition of students 20 years ago but still, we give them a text book, sit them in front of a board in a class with 30 others, most of whom the only thing they have in common with is age, and try to occupy them for 190 days of the year. 

Should we be looking at using the technology they are so adeptly embracing in every other area of their life, to teach them in a more interactive way about the world around them, to teach them resilience, creativity, independence, to teach them how to manage the inevitable challenges they will face in life, and, let’s be honest, how to have good (and safe) sex and exercise when they are 20, 40 and 60.

Perhaps, we need to look at the current funding challenge as an opportunity to chuck out the old ways, unshackle ourselves from the “smaller class is best” nonsense and all work together to innovate and modify our systems to offer students an education that is appropriate to now and their years at school, rather than how it was in our day?

It’s no good me writing this blog if I don’t suggest any answers. I don’t pretend to have them all but  if we, as a nation, are not able or willing to cough up the funding levels of past times to educate our children, we’ll need to find some ‘out-there’ alternative solutions.

Firstly, would a shorter day be such a bad thing? Possibly only to parents who consider education akin to a day time baby sitting service while they continue to have a life. From an education point of view, I think not. The time at school could be spent learning social, team work and communication skills as well as subject focus, with the time spent  away from school researching, reporting and learning to work independently. (Of course, those parents mentioned earlier would then have to pay for day care)

Educators could also focus on doing things that are much more fun with your mates (museums, castles, theatres, sports) and also those things that need a bit of health and safety thrown in (science, D&T). 

Maybe my view is too simplistic, but maybe we need to go right back to basics and decide what our children really need to equip them for their life and stop trying to give them it all on a plate. We just can’t afford it anymore.