Terrible Observations- Bad Teacher
Confessions of a Very Bad Teacher
Teaching. Every lesson can change a life, right?
I'm walking away after almost ten years and the one life it has most definitely changed, is mine.
It has been fucking horrendous. And incredible. And everything in-between!
It has destroyed me, repaired me and rebuilt me in ways I couldn't have previously fathomed.
So before you 'get into teaching' (or get on at a teacher for how 'easy' the job is, based on the school holidays) I wanted to share the things that make me a very bad teacher indeed- according to the official rules that is.
And in the process, lift the lid on just a few of the things I've witnessed and experienced during this career.
Safeguarding- keeping people safe- is obviously very important and always at the forefront of my mind. But I have sworn at kids, touched them, bought them things, told them details about my private life, contacted them via social media- all 'sackable offences'. Good job I already quit, huh?
But I can justify every single approach I have taken. The circumstances have been desperate, wild, incomprehensible- the tactics needed to come from outside of the box.
My career path has predominantly involved teaching students with behavioural issues and additional needs that are impacting on their learning.
From my experience, many systems are so outdated they no longer work for many. Or the teachers. Poor bastards! Overworked and overwhelmed. I'm surprised there are any left at all.
The thing is, teachers, very, very bad teachers like me, do it because we actually fucking care. We want to change a life. We have no choice but to bend and break the rules in order to get by, never mind engage these kids.
As a teacher we're expected to wear a mask (and I mean that in the proverbial sense- ironically). We're expected to provide a shielded perspective of life and the world after school- don't share things about your personal life, leave your emotions at the door. And we're expected to tick boxes- to the detriment of actually doing the things the tick box exercise is monitoring in the first place.
I was never a traditional teacher- even in mainstream my role was with the SEN kids- and I have not been a conventional teacher one bit.
My tactics and approaches have been collected from all manner of mentors (other teachers etc.) plus experiences which have honed and developed my skills.
Alongside all of this though, I have been myself. I've never been good at hiding anything about myself. I trust my instincts and have been reactive and proactive in every single situation. These are things that are crushed out of a teacher whilst they attempt to walk a thin line, abide by every suffocating rule and, of course, complete the absolute mountains of paperwork- that's the most important thing, right, making sure all the boxes are ticked.
I'm not exaggerating- even though I have never lost sleep completing it all (bad teacher) I know of many who exist on four or five hours of sleep and work almost every waking moment just to keep on top of it. Tick all the boxes, like a good teacher.
Fuck it if you have a break down in the process. Never mind your physical health. Or the impact all of it has on the ability to perform the job how you wanted to when you entered this profession- optimistic of the lives you'll shape.
I know there have been professionals in the past who've looked down on me; the multi-coloured, little gob shite. What do I know? I have worked for and encountered some really vile people- it's all added to my progression however so thanks, dick head. But even though my teaching and mentoring has always been effective- I have re-engaged a student, got her back into school, full time, after being labelled as 'unteachable' by a top psychologist and that's just the tip of the iceberg- I have also been reprimanded and belittled for my actions.
One manager told me to 'just work my magic'. She wiggled her fingers and everything. She was a twat, I disliked her intensely. She actually thought I had magic powers. She wanted the results but without the way I got them. I got those results BECAUSE of the way I work.
I usually sport bright hair and recently I've added tattoos, I'm loud, energetic and out-spoken, with a potentially bad attitude. I don't look the part of a teacher- never mind act it. And I think it's a huge part of my initial success in engaging the kids I have worked with. They see a real character! A genuine human being who they can hate and idolise and joke with and sulk over and laugh at.
I wave my crazy flag, I let my weirdo light shine, I wear my heart on my sleeve. I bet those who know me are reading this, nodding and smiling and thinking over all sorts of scenarios that I've been involved in. Very un-teacher like. Did I mention I'm a very bad teacher?
Those who didn't know I have been teaching for the best part of ten years are probably mopping their brow in horror.
But I'm smart, perceptive, quirky, unafraid, inappropriate, strong, driven, emotional, empathetic, fair, realistic, upbeat and just a little bit nuts.
And it's all the things that I 'shouldn't be' as a teacher that has definitely made me into one I am proud to have been.
Surely teachers should be allowed to be themselves- well to a certain extent obviously. But that is the point here, they need to be trusted to make decisions based on the moment. They should be afforded creativity when finding solutions, allowed to connect to individuality, be spur of the moment and not relying on lists and lists of codes and guidelines. Oh, and don't forget to record every single action and comment made. Box ticked, phew.
It has been exhausting- even for a rebel like me.
In 2011, I embarked on my first role in a lads' behaviour school. This was where those who had been expelled from every other school ended up. It was a baptism of fire and set me up for my very colourful future career.
This place was like a last chance saloon before prison- or worse death.
I ain't even being dramatic. Not only was one of my students murdered- two have become murderers (that I know about.) And the absolute horror stories continue to come.
I still clearly remember chatting to the lad that was killed. He'd been so cocksure of himself. It would never happen to him. The worst thing about it is I've had similar conversations since, with similar lads since, thankfully they remain breathing. Watch out, kiddo.
The thing is, I took on my first role with an unrealised naivety. I felt I had a lot to give and I wanted to do something substantial, and make a real difference, something more than just waitressing. And I know I've managed it, at times, and it's been incredibly rewarding, at times. I just hadn't been prepared for it. Reflecting over the past decade can still easily bring me to tears. And make me laugh out loud. I'm very gutted in one respect to be walking away from teaching- because I am so fucking good (or bad) at it!
Perspective is everything.
But I'm very ready for the change. If I hadn't made the decision to quit it, I don't think I would've been employable much longer.
Teaching has broken my heart, damaged my soul, led to anxiety and depression, disgusted and appalled me, drained me and made me question everything about the system my wage pays into. It has suffocated me. And so if a scandalous video wasn't leaked- putting me permanently out of the main reception doors- I'd have been mentally crippled soon enough anyway.
My 'teaching shelf-life' has very much been reached.
If you're teaching, or have taught- if you read this and realise you too are a bad teacher- then I take my hat off to you. If you're considering teaching, particularly in SEMH and additional needs, read this first- be prepared- because I wasn't.
You'll have to be bad to be any good at all.
I've had a car boot full of supplies for years. Snacks for those who don't get sent with money or lunch. Deodorant, baby wipes, sanitary products, spare clothes, perfume. I'm not kidding. Of course, this 'isn't allowed', I've had to do it secretly in the past and a majority of the time it came out of my own money but, shit, what's a gal gunna do? Let a kid sit in unwashed clothes, unfed and bang on about relative clauses, poetic devices, adverbs and pronouns so they can pass some test. If they're hungry and dirty they won't learn anyway.
Ofsted will fail you for not having an in-depth lesson plan- they won't consider you've fed them breakfast or told them to change their socks or brush their teeth, counselled them on alternative routes to self-harm, countered a heated fall-out, resolved a million and one issues and all before you've introduced a set of aims and objectives; which of course should relate to every report written about them ever.
I actually didn't bother with a majority of the required paperwork. I read all their reports and made my own summary, created a plan at the start of term, kept a daily diary of how it actually went and did the really legal and important stuff- the proper Safeguarding stuff. More than enough in my eyes- an Ofsted officer would only have to look through their books to see the journey, never mind if they just asked me questions about each student. If I leave a post, I always do an individual hand over and write a report on their strengths, weaknesses, differences and preferred approaches etc.
A student began shop lifting and when I spoke to her about it, found out she had been nicking underwear and hygiene products. I had a small budget for food or drinks she might require so I took her to Primark and bought her pants, socks and a bra. I knew it was a bit above budget (a tenner or so), I knew it could be seen as weird. Could be. I had to report she'd been shoplifting weeks ago, the story clearly makes sense. Why worry it could suggest I'm grooming her- what about it suggests I'm grooming her? We did sessions on washing clothes/ hygiene and also worked alongside her mum to make sure everything was as stable as could be at home. If any normal functioning person hears this story- they should come to an easy conclusion that it's a humane thing to do. Not odd. But anyway management didn't want anything to do with it and wouldn't honour any of the bill- so it was actually a 'gift' from me then instead of a resource. They didn't report me or anything- not that I'd be afraid, I never do anything I can't defend. Salt in the wound though, they took some staff out a few weeks later and picked up the tab. Cheers to that!
I will put my hand on a kids' shoulder- yes, I touch them! Whether that be to subtly re-engage their attention (I'm over here mate, and we're supposed to be working on algebra) or to offer comfort for something that's upset them. 'Don't hug them, don't hold their hand, don't touch them.' I'm not apologising for being human.
If a kid reaches for my hand as we walk to the playground I'll take it, give it a squeeze and let it go- rather than snatch it away and tell them off for initiating contact. Like it's some dirty desire that should be snubbed out. Some of the kids I have worked with have been shunned, neglected, abused, they haven't known affection, they suffer with attachment problems.
I'm being tactile. It's not perverted. I'm aware enough to know a hand on the thigh is out of order and I am aware enough to make a decision based on the individual moment.
I'm showing them how it can be in life.
I've had students cry their fucking heart out, I mean sob, and I am not gunna stand there like some weird robot. The way artificial intelligence is going a 'bot would probably show more compassion than a teacher is encouraged to.
I will put my arm around them if the situation calls for it. I will scoop them up and hold them tight. I've even cried with them! I'm hurting for this person because I care about them.
If a child, anyone, is feeling broken and crying out for help they surely need me to do something and be someone real; not fretting over what the guidelines state for this or being reprimanded for the course of action I choose.
Don't care about them. It's not professional to actually care. Don't attach. Don't show emotion, they might use it against you.
it's normal to feel pain and to cry. If they're awful to me, I'll show them I'm hurt. If they prat about, I'll laugh along. If they're disappointed, I'll buoy them. If I'm disappointed- I forgot my pack up which I was miraculously organised enough to make in the first place- I'll share my mood.
Kids, I'll be honest, I am fuming. I was looking forward to that chicken salad wrap- please go easy on me whilst I drink this coffee and slowly come to terms with it.
We are a human race and we should be allowed to connect on many levels. Show, don't tell!
Teach, change a life! But pretend to be something you're not and pretend life is something it isn't.
My hand tattoos would stand in the way of most educational appointments. My (currently) bright pink hair would likely be enough to see me out the running. But, kids, be your own amazing, unique self. Stop bullying everyone else for being different. Let us stand united as your teachers and pretend we're all the same- it doesn't make any sense.
We're told we shouldn't have 'feelings' for our students but I can honestly say I have loved a bit, and hated a bit, plus many other things. It's been impossible for me to not 'feel' for these kids. But I also reckon that's made me so good, and therefore so bad.
I felt like I got my heart ripped out the first time I heard a kid screaming, 'Don't make me go! They've taken my mum! I want my mum!' He got removed from the home that morning and placed into foster care. I went home and cried for him- not appropriate of course. The same kid damaged my car- nothing to do with any of that- and the school wouldn't take any responsibility toward the three hundred pound bill. My wage scarcely covered my outgoings as it was- it fucked the central locking and I couldn't access my boot or driver's side door. Nightmare. I went months loading my shopping onto the back seat, and clambering over the gear stick into the drivers seat. And I was so furious. There were no parents to bill, he was ten or eleven and had no concept of the implications on me really. The fact the school wouldn't help out pissed me off- management drove about in top dollar vessels- but then the day after it happened they had the caretaker put up signs stating: property is left at the risk of the owner. What did they think I was going to do? Sue them? I didn't have two pennies to rub together and they knew that. I decided the best thing would be to conduct a victim impact meeting with the kid. I wanted to show him the list of ways his actions had affected me, but in an educational kind of way. Yes, he might feel guilty. I knew he felt sorry since he liked me as a person and we got on well. It was a stupid decision made impulsively and without any thought of the consequences. But I still wanted to seriously hurt him, lose it at him, scream and shout! I was very bitter about it. The victim meeting approach might help him learn. And it would certainly soothe the sting for me- he would be receiving a consequence for his actions. He'd also face the consequences to his actions, gain some perspective. All in a controlled way. Let's face it, criminal damage should really involve the Police- and in years to come, it would. Management said no to my proposal. I did it anyway with the help of another (bad) teacher. And you know what, he took it all on board. We both moved on after that- another fabulous lesson for him to experience (acceptance/ forgiveness/ closure).
One of my students told me he 'fell over onto a rock' when I asked him why he was limping. I knew it was a lie but later got wind his dabbling in the dealing of drugs had gone sour and he'd actually had his knee caps smashed in. I went home and broke down on my flat mate. I think it was the first time I felt my heart break in half- I'd never felt anguish like it. And the raw helplessness. Authorities were at work, and I was a mere teaching assistant, what could I do? He was a talented musician and lyricist too, I remember that. I had a dream about him a week or so later, it was like his older self telling me he was going to be ok, so I told him about it. In a time when my impact was severely limited I hoped to give him, well, hope. I walked on eggshells in that job.
I have no doubt my headteacher would have pulled me up for telling a 'vulnerable teenage boy' I'd dreamt about him. (She had me for all sorts- everything she possibly could). Seriously, woman, if he has had those kinds of 'thoughts' about me, they're normal, right? (He's a teenage boy and we all know puberty includes getting random stiffies over a Granny on the bus.) She always made me feel like I had seedy intentions and I hated that about her most. Look at what the dream was- look at the exact thing I shared with him. I didn't say anything inappropriate- connotations are part of life, everyone gotta learn to deal with that surely?
And I'll be honest. Plenty of my students made rude and crude jokes or remarks over the years- I'm sure, well, I know, lots have crushed over me and still do. I've handled that. As well as used it slightly to my advantage (I know some of them behave a little better for me since they kinda fancy me). But I also use it as a massive opportunity to give them insight. I'll moan about how a guy has treated me poorly and tell them straight about helping Ma out with the housework. I make jokes about my moustache or being expected to wear high heels on a night out. At least they know us women are 'normal' (not quite the right word) underneath all the glam they're exposed to these days.
I felt genuine repulsion when one kid was caught sexually abusing another. I was disgusted when another sexually abused an animal. I know I "shouldn't" have felt that. But then I'd hear what that kid had been through themselves. And I'd also feel truly sorry for the perpetrators and sorry for the whole state of the world.
The confusion, conflict and contradiction is a daily thing in the world of teaching (in the world too). It's no wonder we feel shame in admitting and sharing our thoughts on the incidents- how can we be such monsters? We shouldn't be feeling any of this, it isn't right!
There has been times a kid stinks so bad I don't know how I haven't gagged. A mouth can truly smell like an animal curled up and died in there. But I won't repel since their only experience of adults so far has been vile and I want to show them there are some good ones out there so I'll grin and bear it. Then design an impromptu session on self-care, check the home set-up, work out if there's a sensory issues impacting on them. And maybe offer them a secret chewy in the meantime.
I've stood outside of a shower, instructing a teenage girl how to wash her hair. This would probably be frowned on by some- I'm her teacher not Mother- there's a 'line' that shouldn't be crossed. But she's getting bullied for being greasy, she's hit puberty, there is no one at home with the capacity to teach this. Who, if not me, will teach her?
My role has gone beyond my responsibility to the 'rules' and rather a responsibility to this race.
I've brushed dreadlocks out of hair. I've noticed nits, and fleas, and vowed to buy products on the way home to cleanse myself but first, let me sort this kid out without making them feel rejected.
All of this is supposed to be done without 'feeling' something. It's unprofessional. What should be professional is being encouraged to be open and trusted to make choices based on the facts.
There have been times I've actually wanted to smack a kid in the face. Plenty of times- the car incident was merely one of those. And then I've felt shit for feeling this way about someone who perhaps hasn't ever had a suitable role model in their life.
I've been punched, attacked, yelled at, abused, laughed at, insulted and spat at. I've felt the surge of anger, even when they smart mouth me, but ultimately I want to show them a different way. So I handle it in a range of ways- and not the ways I'm told to.
I've sworn back at kids who have constantly sworn at me- one cried. But we spoke about why he cried, how horrible it made him feel inside. He learnt.
A few have said, you just swore at me! I'm going to report you! To which I laugh and say they're welcome to and I'll list the many, many times they've said awful things to me. Sounds horrible doesn't it- but these are the kids I've won over, their defenses come down, they stop acting out and trying to get a reaction from me. Then we can concentrate on some work.
When my Grandma was dying in hospital a student told me she couldn't wait until she was dead. I stood up, and she ran from her chair screaming. I didn't stand up abruptly or aggressively, calm as hell, I allowed the emotion to flood my eyes and it scared the shit out of her. And I'm not sorry- she learnt that saying shit like that to someone has consequences. When we did reflection after the incident I told her straight, say that to someone in wider society and you might find yourself with a broken nose.
I am paid not to beat you, kids. Remember that. And I want to prepare you for life. For the big world; because as much as I want you to know not everyone is an arsehole- it is a two-way street.
I left a role once and a past student sent me a Facebook message- it got caught in some filtered inbox and when I found it another six months or so had passed. There's a part of it I'll never forget (he was giving me a general update of things that had happened since I'd left) it said, I've got so much to tell you, Lindzi. It killed me knowing I couldn't- shouldn't- reply to him. I was no longer working with him, but I was still in a 'position of responsibility' and it's against the rules. I didn't reply- too afraid back then- and it was a thorn in my heart for a long time. (I have spoken to him lots since then but that heartbreak isn't publishable). Since then if a past student contacted me with an update I've replied thanking them for letting me know/ congratulating them and wishing them well.
Any. Normal. Person. Can. See. The. Message. Is. Innocent.
I wouldn't encourage a friendship or anything. But what struck me was some of these kids just wanted to tell a person about something that had happened in their life who they knew cared. Give them a thumbs up, why not.
I've had to shut students down before (I have even received dick pics from ex students who are now adults) I tell them honestly, look I cared for you, I know you're in your twenties now but I, like, kinda see you as my child, so stop that right now.
Once a kid ran into my classroom and threw a tablet (as in the smart device not a pill) at me. It bounced right off my forehead and knocked my glasses off. He ran straight back out and I turned to my class and promptly burst into tears. I also explained to them I was crying because I was so, so, so very angry. My class was very nice to me that day. And they learnt a few things- it's ok to cry, tears don't always mean you're sad, reactions don't have to be violent, incidents don't have to ruin your day.
The 'professional' thing to have done of course would be leave the room, swallow the rage into a stomach ulcer, return and let them watch you fake it. Kids know when you're faking it, for sure.
When teaching certain students I have dropped swear words. I will use slang like it's second nature (it kind of is). It's definitely 'not allowed'. But these are fifteen year-olds who previously didn't stay in class. They need to be relaxed and also know that I'm a 'real' person. I do these things on purpose because it befits the situation.
A ten year old said fuck a lot so we cut out a circle of black card, added a string 'fuse' and wrote the letter F on it. Yeah, I got a few raised eyebrows from the other staff when he 'dropped the F bomb' during class (he didn't say it anymore- just dropped the bomb) and he learnt there are creative solutions around things.
I've cringed at the sexual remarks made by these baby-faced people. 'My mum told me cum tastes salty' is among a personal low. Thing is, these kids are exposed to far more explicit content than any generation before them. Never mind their background and upbringing. It must be VERY confusing for some youngsters when they're exposed to certain things. And I need to judge each of these occurrences based on individual things.
I've told students straight that porn SHOULD NOT be a manual for sex. Ohmygod I said the word porn in class.
We have discussed masturbating, crushes, sexuality, pregnancy, genital warts, blow jobs- I let them lead conversations, I pick up on their conversations and cleverly embed the answers in lessons, I encourage them to ask me anything to avoid them getting into sticky (eugh) situations in future.
This attitude goes for drugs, violence, every life issue. These kids have YouTube. They tell me they access the dark web and I don't want to repeat some of the things they've said to me- it makes me feel physically sick.
So I am open, I explain why I, or somebody else, might take offence to something, I play devils advocate, I offer perspective, we explore their opinions and I encourage them to back up the shit they say- stand up for their beliefs. It's ok to not agree, you can agree with a point somebody makes- and still have your own opinions- you can change your mind, or take on a different way of thinking.
A teacher shouldn't share, they should keep their personal and professional life totally separate. A student once told me he lost a baby brother. He was acting up since it was the anniversary of his death. I lost a baby sister- isn't it natural to tell him this? Sometimes other people will have been dealt a similar card and there's comfort to be found in that. These are troubled kids- and as mentioned with the Grandma thing, yes, they may use it against you. He came to me for advice a lot after that and we had a strong bond. It's a risk, everything in life is ultimately a risk. IF it happens, deal with it. That's bloody life!
My hobby of pole dancing has been a controversial topic. I refer to it as Pole Fitness for a start and mainly students that have discovered my interest have not batted an eyelid. Due to the nature of the sector I work in, I find myself at park gyms often and will show off the half-flag or bust out some pull ups to impress them. I have found the idea of pole being sexual is an adult attitude. Recently though a bunch of students were teasing me, asking if I have an Only Fans (infamously used as a pornographic platform) and another teacher told them to be respectful. I said, for a start lads I'm stronger than you all. I challenge any one of you to press ups, pulls ups, whatever, right now? That shut them up. I could have an Only Fans, I told them, it doesn't mean I'm naked or having sex on there- I could literally just sell dances- or even be teaching the dance moves! All of this might have been a 'bad' way to handle it. But my reactions hit home more than telling them off.
Once a student reported I'd hit her. (She quickly backtracked when it got looked into.) She was very manipulative and I was very angry at her for the accusation. She laughed when I told her she could ruin my career and I decided taking her swimming would no longer be the correct thing to do. We were the only two in the changing room since I was the only female member of staff who didn't mind supporting that activity (the PE teacher was gorgeous!) I thought this would be the perfect consequence for her- let something she enjoyed be disrupted due to her lie- but the head teacher didn't agree with me. In fact, I was told in no uncertain terms I had no right to tell her what I would and wouldn't be doing- she was my boss and she decided who supported what. Ironically it was leaving me wide open for more accusations!
More recently a student announced that I'd told him I 'go home and fuck myself with a massive dildo every night after work'. Yeah. I shit myself a bit because he sounded SO convincing. If I did go home and fuck myself with a massive dildo every night I'd have genuinely considered the possibility I'd said it in some blacked out moment of madness! And, wow, I could have reacted in many ways but knowing him- and knowing what would work best- I replied, 'you're sorely misled if you think a female is that desperate for a penis, mate.'
At the end of the day, he wanted a reaction out of me. He'd been pushing my buttons for weeks, testing my limits and figuring me out. He's a young, influenceable male without much concept of respect or any recognition of authority. I wanted, no needed, to get under his skin to get him on board. A week later he said to me, you've got LOADS of patience haven't you? Was that a touch of admiration? Perhaps, but I definitely tapped into him. He had a very smart and quick mind- I enjoyed locking horns with him in a lot of ways.
I designed a story game a few years back- the idea being to encourage story telling without the need for reading or writing, inspired by my work with all these word-shy (and work-shy) kids. It consists of a set of pictures that are picked to create a visual idea- characters, a setting, object and event. Many students have made up hilarious tales and plenty take the opportunity to be rude and naughty. When one told of a meth kitchen featuring a nutty professor and a crack whore I praised him for his adjectives and how well he'd structured it (he NEVER took part in English before I got hold of him) and of course I made sure to include Drug Education in next week's PHSE lesson. I thought this lad was one of the 'alright' ones, where the fuck had he heard about meth? Ah, kids these days ay?
The ties to the curriculum make it impossible for some teachers to work like how I have in the past. Alternative education does provide more flexibility, thankfully. Plus as I said before, my approaches have always garnered results that can't be argued with. I've been lucky enough to work at some schools who have let me crack on for this reason. If only all teachers were given the reins on what they should be teaching and when- making sure all the building blocks are in place before moving on, or paying attention to structural support so the whole building don't fall down in a storm anyway.
There's far more to life than the core subjects- general survival skills! I remember being the person who told a kid how benefits are funded by working people's tax. His reaction was priceless. What, so people working, pay for people on benefits? He came from a line of dole dossers and hadn't questioned this wouldn't be his life path. Until now. He looked horrified. So why do you work, if you're paying for people not to work? This opened the discussion of freedom, a sense of pride, independence, achievement, reward! Once he understood he could earn even twice as much as what the dole paid out he started to pay his future a little more attention.
On the other hand I've had kids tell me they're going to be a drug dealer anyway, so they don't need their qualifications. So I've asked them if an ounce costs ninety quid, you buy four and you sell it on for a total of eight hundred and forty, how much profit you got? Oh, and bonus point- how much did you charge per gram? Ha ha. It gets them listening to me anyway. Buying into me and learning in one way or another.
Over the years I wanted to progress. I wanted my money to reflect my worth. And to be making more than a drug dealer. (A girl can dream!) I found myself working in some horrendous situations and moved on from job to job. Leaving them kids is heart breaking every single time! My latest role lasted six weeks (nothing to do with management but timing) and even though I'd only known the students for a short time, I cried a few sad tears on the way home.
I had a class for two years who made me feel like Kindergarten Cop. When I first got them they were timid and unsure; unresponsive in fact. By the end of the first term I could see a difference. I showed them the best thing they could possibly be was themselves. I had an individual 'in-joke' for each of them. They all had their own super power. We started the day sharing what mood we were in- I told them genuine stories, waved my crazy flag around proudly. It worked. I remember looking around at them all laughing and thinking, this is the difference. They're allowed to have a laugh- and they're learning. They came on leaps and bounds in all subjects never mind their wellbeing. We also spoke about EVERYTHING. These were curious, blossoming, young men. They had soo many questions- all of them 'inappropriate' but I'd rather help answer them than leave it to Google.
I've hugely 'picked my battles' with students. I will let an amazing amount of shit slide- when I know picking them up on all that crap will interfere with genuine breakthroughs/ engagement/ learning. Don't get me wrong- I might work on these more minor things in the future once they're settled and actually engaging. But I've seen lessons- and the students- spiral out of control over an unnecessary battle. I always told my support staff- if you think I'm being out of line for a decision made during class then please speak to me about it and I'll explain my reasons. I hated it when staff used to burst in and disrupt the lesson by telling a kid off for something: yeah, mate, I actually noticed he's sitting on the floor- and that isn't right- but that's the first time he's put pen to paper this past forty minutes. I will deal with that, just not right now!
Working in schools has been like going back to school. And despite being paid for it this time around, far far worse! I've been bullied (I don't use this term lightly). Had crushes (none of which wanted to snog me behind the bike shed). Made friendships (some smoked with me behind the bike shed) and had fall outs.
Sometimes there will be no back up. There will be no motivation to do a good job. You'll be treated like dirt. If you're a teaching assistant the wage is a pittance. If you're a teacher you'll be working so many hours it works out to about four quid a day. But you'll still turn up- for the sake of the kids. The very thing you're not really supposed to care about or emotionally invest in or any of that other human nonsense. Well, just don't show it, or admit it at least.
I had a mental break down one year. I spent months losing hair, having anxiety attacks and experiencing bouts of debilitating depression- which almost ruined my career. This was triggered by the horrific reality I'd, by then, been exposed to year after year and an exhausting and unmanageable workload.
It's been suggested I'm not cut out for teaching.
Well actually the role of teaching is not cut out for me.
Ironically everything we want to inspire in our young people is discouraged and frowned upon.
Well, I have celebrated my pupils' wins like they're my own. I mean the wins and the child too. I've had so many wonderful and challenging children over ten years. From a qualification achieved to the taking down of a hood, or a muttered greeting when before there was only a wall of silence. They're all breakthroughs and ones reached by stepping over the line, letting my instincts guide me.
Teaching is absolutely a tough job. One that I feel has far more depth than others might realise. I was warned not to get into teaching by my two favourite teachers- they both cited the additional 'background' work as the reason I would 'hate it'. They said it would eat me up, destroy me. I think I misinterpreted the warning.
After waitressing- that job is a whole other story- teaching was most certainly a change. And I don't regret it, at all. I wouldn't be who I am today without it. However I am 'judged', I can sleep at night knowing I've done my best to equip these kids with priceless skills: innovation, creativity, resourcefulness, resilience, inner-strength and belief, independence to name a few. And given them massive reality checks at times.
Respect to each and every teacher out there who is relating to this article, who is battling against the odds to give just one student a sense of hope- and shitting it about how they might be punished for their actions. I'm sorry for those who have been reprimanded for being a human. And it's a massive shame when teachers walk away from their chosen role because if they don't it will eat them alive.
I don't want this to put you off. Working with kids is a HUGE life changing experience (your own life mind!)- and this is by far just one slant. I have cried many happy tears alongside the miserable ones.
I read once that those you aim to inspire, so often end up inspiring you. And for the bloodied battleground it has sometimes been, that couldn't be truer.
In these kids I've found the most remarkable strength and beautiful souls. So, if any of my students have read this article, peace and positivity to you and thanks for being a part of the journey!
My next career chapter is beginning!
Please share my article and comment below. I would love to hear your own stories and experiences. Teachers are societies unsung heroes- let's change that!
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