#Nurture 2014/15 with a little #Teacher5aday

There are two great end of and start of year blog initiatives going on this year thanks to @chocotzar and @martynreah and I know it might seem a little lazy to roll them into one, but given that the second is about teacher well being, cutting down the workload can only be a good thing, right?

I wrote last year of wanting to be a better teacher, of wanting to get our new curriculum right, on wanting to have a year where I got all my registers in on time. And then I left teaching. The blog post I wrote at that point was the most popular I’ve ever written with over 80,000 reads. It struck a chord. I couldn’t cope any longer with the hypocrisy of having a vision of what I felt education should be – preparing children to enter adult hood with the tools they needed to leave the world in better shape than they found it; to live fulfilling and meaningful lives; to be able to find and give love and compassion and to understand that learning is something you continue to do all your life. Reconciling that set of beliefs with the pressure to push children down linear pathways that narrowed their view of what constitutes value and importance; that failed to recognise that human beings are multi-faceted and that all kinds of aptitudes and interests are needed to make for a better future and that THEY mattered more than the numbers attached to them was nigh on impossible. And I just couldn’t cope with all the time demanded to be the teacher I wanted to be and to still write, campaign and learn. I was cracking up. And so I resigned. It’s been tough, but there have been some great things coming out of it.

1. I finished my book. And apart from one snotty review, it was pretty well received.

2. I almost finished another one – nearly there…

3. I dropped 2 stones in weight. Swimming and yoga. And not having access to all those biscuits in the staff room….

4. Emma Hardy and I pulled off not only an education conference. But one with a great big beating heart which left people smiling and laughing. Nothern Rocks. (We’re doing it again by the way – look here)

Hywel singing

5. I became as Associate of both the RSA and Independent Thinking and was invited to speak at the RSA on revolutionising education. It was the most terrifying day of my life, but I loved doing it. You can see it here.

6. I travelled to Singapore, Brussels and Hong Kong and learned that there is a whole education system out there that is not beholden to politicians and that when that happens, you get a fabulous, long term vision of education with children who are articulate, responsible and confident emerging. The International Schools system offers a unique view into what might happen to education if politicians stepped away.

7. I’ve continued to push in whatever ways I can for an independent body set up by teachers for teachers and am pleased to support the Claim Your College campaign.

8. I’ve worked with a lovely school in Bradford, Appleton Academy, a school where five years ago I helped set up a new Year 7 curriculum model which is not only still going strong, but which is remembered in vivid detail by the Year 11 students now. Our question is if lessons they experienced five years ago are still well remembered, how come they claim not to be able to remember their GCSE lessons? We’re working on memory but also on making learning memorable across the school. And we’ve started off with 9 teacher/researchers who are following their own Action Research lines of inquiry with classes this year. They’re our Appleton Seedbearers and they are wonderful. Watch this space – I’ll be blogging about them.

And next year?

I have plans for a third book.

I’m returning to Hong Kong and China to learn more.

I’m going to be working in a refugee camp in Kenya – the royalties from my book went into the Big i Foundation, a charity committed to ensuring that children all over the world get an education. I’ll be training teachers and working with children for two weeks over there with Jane Hewitt and we’ll hopefully raise more funds for future work to be done. Here is their classroom.Kenyan Refugee Camp Classroom

That puts things into perspective doesn’t it?

And I hope I’ll be a better wife and mother. That brings us to the #teacher5aday element I guess, because sometimes, it’s easy to put everyone else’s children before your own. We teachers do it all the time. I’ve even been known to steal their books and toys to take them into work – you know what it’s like. And this Christmas, we were having a little family fun – what character would we be in such and such a film? When we got to The Hobbit/Lord of the Rings, my fifteen year old blurted out without hesitation:-

“Mum would be Galadriel. She’s hardly ever there, but when she rocks up she does something dramatic to show who’s in charge!”

We all laughed, but it made me think. Next year I’ll be out of the country for at least six weeks. And then there are all the nights spent in hotel rooms around this country waiting to deliver a day’s inset or attend a meeting. I’m away from home at least two nights every week. And when that happens, a family needs an anchor. My husband is a fantastic anchor, but he’s also a teacher under all the stress and strain that that entails. And I need to learn how to be more present when I’m home. Not to be constantly on twitter; or unable to listen because my mind is in work mode. I need to be there when I’m there. And that’s not easy, but I’ll try.

As a profession we need to learn to be kinder to ourselves and to each other. We need to recognise that the demands being placed on us in terms of marking loads and expectations are inhumane. We need to stop feeling like we’re failing. We need to fight back – point out the absurdities that make our lives unbearable. I still keep saying ‘we’ as if I’m in it with you every day and I know that I’m not. But after 21 years, it’s seared on my mind – the never ending cycle of feeling like you’re not quite good enough and it drains you. I might not be in the classroom, but I’ll be speaking up, pointing out these problems and doing everything I can to help. I promise. But if I’m not on twitter all the time, or if I can’t travel 200 miles to speak for 7 minutes at a teach meet, I hope you’ll understand that I’m also trying to be a Mum. I’d like to look like Galadriel, but I want to be in the fellowship of my family.

Happy new year to you all.

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6 thoughts on “#Nurture 2014/15 with a little #Teacher5aday

  1. Love this, Debra – agree with so much of what you say, especially “as a profession we need to learn to be kinder to ourselves and to each other”. I see examples all the time of where teachers and school leaders at all levels beat themselves up, and sometimes beat up others who have simply made different choices.

    I think everyone would benefit if we could just be more tolerant of our own and others’ failings – we all have them! Just going on, learning and trying to be our best selves is what’s important.

    Hope you and your family have enjoyed Christmas, and that 2015 is a positive and happy year for you.

  2. Over the past 30 years I have lost count of the number of teachers who have come to see me ( I am an NHS GP ) suffering from panic attacks , suicidal thoughts and any number of stress related problems. Debra , on your “to do list” might you be able to fit in the possibility of exploring the way in which the “Arts and Health” community could work with the Teaching profession to prevent “burn out” in teachers ? If you “Google” the term “Department of Theatrical Medicine Prof McManus Lancet” you will easily find the Lancet article that helped me to see why the “Arts and Health” practitioners need to be working with the teaching profession ( and with GPs in training and in regular practice ) . I always love your blogs . Keep peddling. Best wishes Malcolm

  3. People are precious (I seem to be saying this a lot recently), and teachers are very special people. You have a huge drive to bring good stuff into our world, but you also need to look after you and yours! I read ‘Front line’ at the end of last year, and it was like listening to myself. I read bits aloud to my husband and he kept saying, ‘I know, you keep telling me’….

    Make sure you reread your own post, take stock, and maybe relax a bit? But not until after Tuesday, because I want to see the webcast…!

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