Motherhood, mental illness and beyond

Posts tagged ‘teaching’

“There has never been a better time to be a teacher.” Really?!

This guest post is written by two friends who are primary school teachers. Both wish to remain anonymous to protect the confidentiality of their students, colleagues and schools.

 
TEACHER #1
Teachers should stop portraying themselves as “victims” says Sir Michael Wilshaw. I am not a victim, sir, but I am angry.

At the age of 21 I realised I had always been destined to be a teacher. I couldn’t wait to start school as a child, always loved learning (as well as helping others to learn new things) and would play ‘schools’ with dolls and teddies and anything else I could get my hands on. I also think children are far more fun to work with than adults.
 
For 7 years now I have worked very hard at my job, always working many hours over the 32½ hours a week I am paid for (often to the detriment of my relationships with family and friends) and often doing school work 6 or 7 days a week. I love my job, I really do. According to Sir Michael Wilshaw, though, I should be revelling in the joys of being a teacher. So why is it that over the last year I have spent a lot of time looking into several other career options? Why are 40% of new teachers leaving the profession within the first five years?
 
In my opinion, there are two faces to this problem. Firstly there is Michael Gove, the man in charge of the education of the children who will become our country’s future. He was privately educated and has never worked in a school environment. I do not understand how he is at all qualified for the job he has been given. He has effectively privatised education, pushing all schools towards becoming ‘academies’. He is introducing a new curriculum when even some of the very knowledgeable advisors disagree with what has been written. Education and teaching strategies must evolve and develop, I agree with this. However, these changes are being forced on schools who are powerless to object because the Government refuses to listen.
 
The second name which is considered almost an expletive in any school I know of is that of Sir Michael Wilshaw himself. The Ofsted chief occasionally pokes his head out to give some inflammatory quote about how awful teachers are, and then disappears again to watch the reaction from a safe distance.
 
I invite both Michael Gove and Sir Michael Wilshaw to spend a week in a school that is expecting an Ofsted inspection. Let them feel the tense atmosphere, the sense of fear and anticipation, the incredibly low morale that comes from waiting for a group of people, who you have never met before, to spend two days in your school, criticising every little step that you take on the road to educating these wonderful children that we teach. That was the case in my school last year, even though we went on to be judged very well in the inspection. Being a ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’ school does not relieve this tension at all.
 
Then, of course, there are the ever-moving goalposts provided for us to aim for. ‘Satisfactory’ is not good enough any more. It is now called ‘Requires improvement’. If it requires improvement then it was never satisfactory, surely? Teachers never know what is expected of them because Ofsted and the Government cannot make their minds up as to what we should be doing.
 
I completely understand why 40% of new teachers leave the profession. The ridiculous amount of paperwork and bureaucracy behind the scenes, the long relentless hours, the angry parents who think nothing of shouting in your face, the children with complex educational, physical and emotional needs in a school that is not given enough money to fund the help they so desperately need, the teacher-bashing in the media and the constant scrutiny of everything you do. It’s all gets to you eventually, and there are many days where you feel like crying, giving up and going home. I’ve had two days like that so far this week and it’s only Wednesday!
 
The other 60% of teachers are too stubborn to give up, though. Some because they enjoy enabling children to discover new concepts and find the wonder of learning (and are determined to keep doing so even though the new curriculum seems equally determined to stamp it out). Some stay because it was their dream to do this job and they refuse to let the Government win. I will remain a teacher for one simple reason: I would do absolutely anything for my class. Anything. I adore them. I work harder than I ever thought I could because I want to give them the best chance of a good education and to help them become decent human beings. Every child I have taught over the last 7 years means the world to me, and I want to give them the skills to overcome obstacles and barriers, because with a Government like this one, future generations are going to need all the help they can get.

TEACHER #2
Having read the report on the BBC I find myself somewhat confused, Not by what I read but by the odd mix of feelings it invoked in me.

Most strangely, I found myself agreeing with his comments about providing better training for student-teachers and new teachers to better prepare them for the increasing behavioural problems we now see in school. After all, how can you teach someone about the problems children have that provoke many such behaviours and the myriad strategies they will need to deal with these in just a few short months? Post-graduate teachers begin their training late September and complete it in June; it took me 4 years to train as a teacher and I’m still learning about behaviour management strategies. Of course a good teacher is one that has been able to learn and practise their craft before being subjected to and held responsible for the pressures and problems of the classroom situation.

However, I was infuriated that Sir Michael Wilshaw dare to warn teachers to stop complaining and thinking of themselves as victims. Of course teachers feel they are being victimised; have you read the press recently? Have you read any OfSTED reports? 

The reason so many teachers and schools are supposedly ‘failing’ is that OfSTED keep moving the goal posts. Just as we begin to achieve our targets, up go the requirements and we are all failing again. The Government expect to see children’s progress as a beautiful continuous line on a graph. Ask any child psychologist or Educational expert (but please, not Mr Gove!) and they will tell you, as all teachers know, that children have a time of learning and progress, sometimes rapid, sometimes more slowly, followed by plateaus of consolidation. So a truthful graph of progress should look more like steps. This is what we know happens. To be told constantly that we ‘have to play the game’ and show a specified number of children making progress at any time, so that OfSTED will see their desired smooth graph of progression, is demoralising and dishonest.  

I love teaching. I have always wanted to teach and was determined to inspire children to want to learn. I have taught for almost 20 years and have seen brilliant teachers break down under the pressure, strong people become depressed and leave. I myself am unsure whether this is what I want any more. In my own school, almost half the teachers have been prescribed antidepressants in the last few years, several others have developed stress-induced conditions.  

Teaching used to be a noble profession. Yes, a profession, not just a job. Teachers, like doctors and judges, were among the most respected people and were looked up to and trusted. We are trained, we choose to work with children to educate them and skill them for their future lives. We all give far more hours than anyone outside realises : 45 – 60 hours a week are common (remembering that many teachers are also parents themselves). We run clubs, booster classes, give 1:1 coaching, all in our own time, unpaid. We take children to quizzes, sports competitions, music events. All in our own time and unpaid. What would happen if we didn’t give the children this time freely?

This country needs good teachers. If Sir Michael Wilshaw wants teachers to stop complaining, maybe he should listen to what we are saying. We deserve his trust, his respect and his support. OfSTED should be encouraging schools and celebrating their successes. Of course they need to point out areas where we can improve and be even better at our chosen careers. But try using a carrot, Sir Wilshaw, not a sledgehammer.

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Motherhood from a different perspective

I started this blog intending to talk about mental health and being a mum, but today I want to chat about motherhood from a different perspective – that of a daughter. I want to tell you about my mum.

Today is her birthday. I won’t tell you how old she is, although if you were in the restaurant at lunchtime you’ll have heard DD shriek “Nana you’re XX years old now!” at the top of her voice. Luckily Mum has a sense of humour! Mum is very much the matriarch of the family and it was lovely seeing how happy she was having us all together for her day.

My mum’s a pretty awesome lady. When I was born she was a nurse; by the time my younger sister was born she had turned down the post of Matron and left the profession to look after us. When my sister started playschool they needed extra help so my mum volunteered. Within a short space of time she was running it and doing so extremely competently. Mum kept the household going through the recession of the 1980s, when the interest rates on the mortgage became so high that some weeks there was only a few pounds for food despite my dad working full-time and gigging in the evenings to bring in extra money.

When my sister and I were both at school Mum started going to evening classes and gained an A-level in English, which meant that she could fulfil a long-held dream and train as a teacher. For the next 4 years she studied full-time, did exams and teaching practices, ran a Brownie pack and kept us all fed and clothed. Not only that but I never once felt that she was absent or that she wasn’t there when I needed her; I never felt that we were missing out in any way.

Mum qualified as a teacher when I was 14 and is still teaching now. And it’s only now, as a mother myself, that I can appreciate how incredibly hard those years must have been for her. How torn she must have felt, how difficult it must have been studying full-time as well as running a house and family (with 2 daughters who had lots of extra-curricular activities) and how hard she must have worked.

Mum is my inspiration. When I feel low, when I’m worrying about finding work once the children are in school, when I fret that I’ve lost my chance at a good career – that’s when I remember what my mum did and how well she did it. And I take a deep breath and vow that I can do it too, I can be strong and dedicated as well. Looking at what my mum has achieved gives me hope that I can do the same.

Happy birthday Mum – I love you.

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