“Recruitment Crisis: Councils demand powers to tackle teacher shortage.”
“Almost a third of teachers quit state sector within five years of qualifying.”
(Telegraph – 24.10.16)
“More than 80% of Midlands teachers have considered leaving the profession.”
(NASUWT – 15.11.16)
“Nearly half of England’s teachers plan to leave in next five years.”
Over the past twelve months you may have seen or heard some of these familiar headlines on newspaper stands, news programmes or via the Internet. The main question to ask ourselves is WHY? We all have our own theories of why our noble profession is losing brilliant teachers in droves. Some of us may even be able to pin point, where we think the exact problem lies and can name the main protagonist that are causing the problem.
We can take our arguments to the decision makers and continue to bang, silently upon the ‘Door of Change’ or we could encourage our young teachers to see what a beautiful and inspiring profession we have!
We worked out last week that in our sixteen years of teaching (since September 2001) We have had nine Secretaries of State for Education: Morris, Clarke, Kelly, Johnson, Denham, Balls, Gove, Morgan, Greening. That’s an average of one every 1.8 years. So let’s say for instance a new teacher entering into the profession in their twenties will work for 40 years before they retire. They’ll experience approximately twenty two Sec. of State for Education, each one with their own individual agenda of how to they plan to reform and reinvigorate the Education System.
In summary the system of education is always changing – Evolving? Some may question that! But what is for certain, it will never stand still and when one accepts this as a fact, the whole thing becomes a little more palatable.
It can be said that it’s not very often one remembers the words of a plumber, accountant or mechanic – but nearly all of us remember the words or actions of a teacher – whether it be positive or negative. The position and influence we hold within the lives of the young people is a tremendous honour and privilege.
We can (each and everyone of us) support our colleagues and try to address the issues of excessive workload, low staff morale and every changing goal posts of education.
On Friday 17th February 2017 we were invited by the University of Wolverhampton to give a keynote speech at the 8th Annual Learning Conference, organised and hosted by the superb Education faculty.We were privileged enough to speak to around 140 under graduates who will be hopefully stepping into teaching positions in September 2017.The message we gave was quite simple: You are entering into the most exciting, challenging, exhilarating, soul searching, awe inspiring and changeable career you could ever wish for. So enjoy the ride, roll with the punches and flourish.
Admittedly teaching is not for the faint hearted and it is a true roller-coaster of emotions and experiences. A rainbow of life changing highs to soul destroying lows, but all in all it’s a brilliant way to earn a living as everyday is different – each day has its own trials, tribulations and triumphs.
As part of our keynote speech we shared our of ‘Top Tips’ that the young teacher could call upon if and when they needed them. So here goes with our:
‘GREAT 8 OF ‘TEACHING:’
#1: Be Yourself
The only person we know how to be is ourselves, therefore as the famous sports company says: “Just do it!” Never be afraid to being you. You were created unique and you are the only person that thinks your thoughts, experiences your life in the way you do.
Let the children know who you are, share a bit of yourself with them – it’s liberating. Obviously as the adult in the relationship, we have to keep certain things to ourselves, our PIN numbers and the balance left on our mortgage for example! But we can share information about our family, our holidays. Let the children know about your favourite: Film, childhood memory, song, meal, colour etc. Let them know what makes you happy, sad, worried, excited – let them know what your superpower would be if you were a super hero. It’s great fun and it builds long lasting relationships.
Our favourite chapter in our book ‘Optimal Learning’ focuses on ‘Relationships in the classroom’, offering a range of approaches to promotes fun and exciting learning within an ethos of solid relationships. See details below. 1
Most of the Newly Qualified Teachers that we have met usually bound into school full of exuberance and optimism however, by the following Easter the sparkle has left their eyes and their passion is being eroded on a daily basis by the ‘Quartet of Catastrophe: The Time Bandits, The Mood Hoovers, Coaster and Boasters.
The Time Bandits are the ones who steal your time, time that you will never get back and they are cunning thieves as they come in all shapes and disguises, they masquerade as colleagues, pupils, governors, parents, family members, local authority inspectors, caretakers and cleaners – the list goes on. But their main task is to distract you with mundane detail, hearsay/gossip, endless chitchat and complaints – listen, smile, add no comments (this is vital) and then move on.
There is a brilliant book by Andy Cope and Andy Whittaker entitled, ‘The Art of Being Brilliant.’ 2 There is a whole section that talks about Mood Hoovers, those people (similar to the Dementors in Harry Potter) who suck out every once of happiness within your body. The ones that drag tomorrow’s clouds over today’s sunshine. The glass is not only half empty, it’s smashed, irreparable, never to be replaced – I’m sure you’ve met them! When you encounter them be kind to them, acknowledge them, smile politely and move on as they’ll drain you while you wait.
The final duo that chip away at your passion are the Boasters and Coasters. The ‘If I were you…’ fraternity. The ones that have done everything, not only bought the t-shirts, they’ve sourced the materials, designed them manufactured them and bought and sold them. The ones who say, “It’s pointless, we tried that and it didn’t work.” The ones that Sir John Jones refers to as,
“Those in the staffroom who have retired, but haven’t told anyone yet!”
If we are to protect our passion and integrity, all we have do is to be on the lookout for negative people, recognise them, acknowledge them but most importantly ignore them.
#3: The ‘Y’ Factor
A colleague of mine once said that she was astounded as I never stopped asking questions. Even at the age of 53 I still thirst of answers to questions of which I’m not really bothered about the answers. Questions that will never benefit me or enlighten me, they’re just questions that I like to ask.
A child once asked me: “You know when you’ve got an itch and you scratch it and the it goes? Where does it go?” Truly brilliant I thought. Billy Connolly says that he lies awake and night pondering such questions as, ‘The man who drives the snowplough – how does he get to his work in the morning?’
Always encourage children to be curious. A brilliant quote I saw on Twitter a few weeks ago stated: ‘That teaching was 10% asking questions and 90% was encouraging children to ask questions that you can’t answer.’ I read somewhere once (sorry can’t recall the source) that in the USA there are a group people who think up scenarios that could effect a nations stability and wellbeing and they were referred to as, ‘The Department of the Unthinkable’ I don’t know if there is any such organisation but if there is, we need to prepare our youngsters to work in such a department.
“Isadore Rabi, winner of a Nobel Prize for physics, was once asked why he became a scientist. He replied: “My mother made me a scientist without ever knowing it. Every other child would come back from school and be asked, ‘What did you learn today?’ But my mother used to say, ‘Izzy, did you ask a good question today?’ That made the difference. Asking good questions made me into a scientist.” 3
#4: Fail Fast
Teaching is a wonderful, rewarding career that has many brilliant opportunities for one in which to succeed and become successful. Nevertheless, lesson observations, Local Authority inspections, OFSTED, disaffected parents and failed job interviews etc. Can all have a negative affect on our self esteem and wellbeing. I know talking from personal experience one particular job interview almost finished me. The whole process was brutal and I felt I had nothing left to give as a teacher. But that’s when my ‘Team’ (which we’ll discuss in #5) came into full swing. They joined forces and presented me with solutions and opportunities to reflect on the event. What was at the time (to me) an epic failure became a lucky escape. The whole episode reduced me to tears, I remember sobbing uncontrollably in Cannock Chase a large area of outstanding natural beauty in the heart of a rural Staffordshire. I remember calling my best friend and fellow Thought Weaver and asked him what I could do and I’ll never forget his reply, “Quite simply – write a blog and record your feelings and share with others. I did this and the whole experience was cathartic and liberating. It also gave me one of my best lines within a blog…
‘As I sat the staring at the malevolent septet of distaste gathered there before me.’
This was a great example of failing fast, learning from it and moving on.
#5: Build Your Team
I’m sure we all remember those heady heights of the 2012 London Olympics and Super Saturday with rush of medals all day finally culminating in the one hour of pure ‘Olympic Magic’ on the Saturday evening with Gold winning performances from Greg Rutherford, Mo Farah and Jessica Ennis. All three of these athletes won individual medals and were soon to acknowledge that they were just a small part of the phenomenon that became Team GB.
But behind the smiles and celebrations, even behind the support of Team GB, lies a whole host of individuals that support an individual athlete. Take Jessica Ennis for example I’m sure that within her camp throughout the year she’ll have a: Fitness coach, technical coach, nutritionists, psychologist, physiology therapist, doctor, tour manager, press secretary, PR personnel. All making their own individual contribution to Team Jessica.
Likewise as a teacher we have to build our own team full of very different people and personalities that will support you through good times and bad. There are the following:
This doesn’t necessarily have to be someone in your school, it’s handy if it is. There must be a feeling of mutual respect between you both and this person may be the one that challenges you. You have try and listen and not take it personal. If you have selected your mentor carefully, he or she can be with you throughout your whole career.
The one who is your fountain of knowledge and motivates you. Your go-to-person who will guide and inspire you whenever you need it.
There is an array of e-facilities and social networks that one can tap into to gain support and advice. Old favourites such as Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, LinkedIn – However, the site we have most beneficial is Twitter. In our opinion Twitter is the single most important CPD tool out there available to educators, its interactive, collaborative and most importantly it’s free.
Agony Aunt or Uncle
This doesn’t always have to be a school colleague or even someone in education. This is the person you go and have a cup of tea with when the whole thing is getting you down. The head teacher has snapped at you, parents and having little digs at you, even the kids mention you’re not as funny as their previous teacher. This person you select is the one you can go to for a big cuddle and a cry (if needed) and they’ll patch you up and send you out again repaired and rejuvenated.
This is the person whom you laugh away the hours. Preferably someone who is nothing to do with education. This person is your release valve, your safety harness, your lighthouse in a troubled, turbulent sea. Although we would never promote excessive drinking (I’m a teetotaler) we advocate moderation in all that we do. But this person helps you forget school, data, lesson obs., Ofsted etc. They are the ones who help us keep a healthy and manageable ‘work-life balance.’
#6: Life Beyond School
If you had hobbies and pastimes when you came into teaching they have to kept, almost protected. A life outside of schools makes you complete inside of school. If you finish school on a Friday and plan and mark all weekend; what experiences have you to share with the children when you return to school on the Monday.
I remember a time when my children were younger and we were unable to go out as I had a whole plethora of school work to compete over the weekend. My wife came into my study whilst I was crouched over my PC and what she said bore a whole into my very being,
“I know you love you your job and I know you are everything to everybody else’s children but just remember you have two of your own!”
It goes without saying we have to keep up to date with our marking and we do of course have to plan inspiring, interactive lessons. But do we have to spend hours looking for a ‘google’ image of a seahorse to insert into a spelling list?
#7: Invest in YOU
In order for us to grow professionally and to become proficient in our craft, it is vitally important that we develop ourselves. CPD – Continuous Professional Development is the corner stone of what it takes to become a more competent and well rounded practitioner. We are aware that time and money restraints are crippling some schools at the present time. There is very little in the budget for us to go on courses that will sharpen and broaden our delivery. However, CPD doesn’t have to be an arduous expensive task. Start within your own school or cluster. Ask fellow professionals if you can sit in their lessons, share planning time together. The Internet is a wonderful resources for CPD: Pinterest, Twinkl and Instagram are treasure troves of resources and lesson ideas. For brilliant debates and discussions on Education look no further than Twitter. YouTube is wonderful for resources, lesson ideas, tricky misconception, and also for lectures. The TED talks are brilliant. I usually have a quick cup of tea and ten to fifteen minutes of watching a TED talk and I’m enlightened and inspired.
#8: Opportunity Knocks
Finally and most importantly try to find, nurture and maintain your passion in teaching and learning.
There are a whole plethora of opportunities out there for practitioners who are willing to go that extra mile. Get involved within your local cluster group meetings with other professionals and if your school isn’t in one, then start your own.
The Thought Weavers are just a couple of teachers who believe in future of the education of our nation, we (like the rest of you) get despondent and disheartened at times. But our drive and determination drives us forward. We (along with colleagues) have sat within the Department of Education in London and discussed education with ministers of her majesty’s government. We have met with The Director of Schools for Ofsted and asked him directly questions that affect us all. We have taught philosophy to inmates at HMP Featherstone, and. Wolverhampton. We have delivered high quality Inset training at school and county level. We have sat on the stage at Earls Court in London during the BETT show and debated curriculum change.
Our finest hour was when we secured a book deal when we hadn’t even started writing a book.
But all of these opportunities we have created for ourselves and everyone one of them have had a profound, positive impact on our classroom practise.
We once met Ian Gilbert (Independent Thinking Company) 4 at a seminar and explained to him we were great fans of him and great admirers of his work: Essential Motivation in the Classroom, Little book series 5, Why Do I Need a Teacher When I’ve Got Google? To name but a few.
We asked Ian did he have any words of advice or pearls of wisdom he could share with us that we could adapt into our roles as teachers, writers or trainers and she smiles and said,