@pickleholic – Who I am


Inspired by @EddieKayshun and also by the fact that my sum total of blog posts thus far has been two #nurture posts and only a couple of other random posts about days of the week and on teaching values I have decided to attempt a post on ‘who I am and what I do.’
Trickier than you think… Who am I? Well I guess that depends on who’s asking.
To the pupils in my school I am, I hope: the warm welcome to their daily life in school; the guiding hand and voice of our weekly values assembly; the passionate English teacher; and the generator of many a zany idea which bring life and energy to our school.To the parents of said pupils, I aim to be: the knowledgeable and confident captain of our ship; the compassionate and fair ear; the instigator of school improvement initiatives; and communicator of all that we strive to achieve on a daily basis.

To my colleagues, I hope I am: the calm and collaborative leader; the positive ambassador of all that we do well; the sharp eye upon the things we do less well; and the coach and mentor, who leads by example.

To my husband and my teenage children I am of course something else completely. 

I am a cosy, calm type who loves to snooze on the sofa with a couple of spaniels; the reluctant runner and heavy sleeper. But in addition to this, I am actually quite silly. In fact if I may quote my daughter, I am ‘five inside.’

Someone once told me that there was a big difference between being childish and child-like and it is the latter which I refer to here. Jokes that 5 year olds find hilarious make me howl with laughter and the behaviour which is so readily exhibited by most 5 year olds is certainly among my repartee. Obviously, when I wake up and put on my Headmistress costume each day, the five year old inside is quietened and kept in check. Having said that, when she feels safe to do so, she does make the occasional guest appearance, mostly because I have the attention span of… well, a 5 year old.

Many of us are I suppose a conundrum; a juxtaposition of characteristics- this is what makes life so very interesting. And it is most likely the 5 year old with the short attention span who informs the passionate English teacher, tugs at the hem of the compassionate and fair ear and waves her pom-poms at the coach and mentor.

And if this sums up who I am, then it must also give an insight to what I do because as teachers and educators we are what we do. We do what we love and the thing that I really love is when I wake up and put on the Headmistress costume, I leave the house and take myself with me- even the 5 year old inside. The days are long and the expectations are high but together we manage it; we teach, listen, engage, share, learn and grow and we do it pretty well most of the time.

@TeacherToolkit – Who I am

I have been meaning to write this for over 6 months. Due to its nature and length, I would advise those who truly would like to know the man behind @TeacherToolkit … to continue.

This Is Who I Am, And What I Do:

As Rory Gallagher, aka @eddiekayshun– claims in his own Who I Am, this blog is “intended to write about my philosophy of education, about epistemology and paradigms.” I hope by sharing more of my personal upbringing, this may aid the regular reader of my blog to understand more about Who I Am and What I Do. This is not my usual blog on teaching and learning and serves as a reflective blog for the end of 2014.

Ross Morrison McGill

Ross Morrison McGill


Born to a toolmaker in Irvine, Ayrshire; my father held a number of jobs as a tax-collector and a milkman – even managing to crash his entire float on a roundabout – before holding down what may qualify as a middle-class career in social work. My father was born illegitimate in 1941 and vowed to ensure his own family grew up in a safe and secure environment. My mother, the complete opposite, born into a religious household in Rotherham in 1945; her family roots tracing back to Tyne and Wear. My mother’s entire childhood was like mine, in several locations throughout England and Scotland.

Our first family home was on the industrial streets of Irvine, and then in Redheugh House, Kilbirnie which is now a grand estate, redeveloped into homes (photos here), which once served the local community, housing young adults from the outer edges of society who had not quite been successful in the real world.

mcGill famly

Here is my family tree (click to enlarge). On my mother’s side, I take my forename from my great grandfather and my middle name from my father’s grandmother. Over 4 to 5 generations ago, you can trace my name back to Samuel Fry (born in Bristol) who we believe to be associated with Fry’s chocolate(?), but then again we could be entirely incorrect! There are records here of the Fry family, dating back to 1620. Tracing your family is a fascinating process. At one point, we all believed we may be direct descendants of Elizabeth Fry who was recently removed from the back of the £5 note.

McGill Family Tree Ancestry

The McGill Family Tree – Ancestry.com

1973 – 1978:

I can’t quite remember the reasoning for moving over to Dundee, but no doubt it would have been my father’s work as a social worker with The Salvation Army, heading up a homeless hostel for 50 or so young people. Again, we lived on-site and I have childhood memories of primary school, summer fêtes and warm(ish) evenings in our grand playing fields. I recently revisited the house (hostel) I one lived last summer and discovered that not only is the building non-existent, but my primary school (Rockwell Primary) is dilapidated and empty (seehere). What memories I have of Scotland cover vast landscapes, camping in Loch Lomond, digging for peat in Stornoway (image here) and visiting my grandparents in Abroath and Montrose, having ‘smokies‘ on the beach. My grandparents were long-serving officers in the Sally Army too. My grandfather being a composer.

This is where my Dundee United roots stem and my first love of football germinated …

1983 – 1985:

In the mid-80s, my family made the decision to move to London – and not Tasmania, Australia – to live and work at William Booth College– the International Training College for The Salvation Army HQ – based in Denmark Hill, South London. I have vivid recollections of London as a child, even though it was just for 2 years and it has been a joy reliving some of the landmarks I once explored as a child. This was an exciting time for my parents, as not only were they ‘studying in order to qualify’ as ministers of religion/social work, but they were surrounded by like-minded individuals, academics and families from all over the world! My mother often quotes surnames from a bygone era, half-expecting me to remember all the different folk we grew up with. As a ten-year-old, my recollections equate to the following:

  • Michael Jackson’s Thriller being the album of choice on my walk-man.
  • Having a ‘backie’ on the rear-end of my elder brother’s 50cc motorcycle.
  • Playing 11-a-side football in Ruskin Park, Camberwell.
  • Riding up and down the quad pulling off BMX tricks; even jumping over 4 friends who had bravely volunteered to lie down under our ramp!
  • Warm summers. A fry cry from the seasons north of the border.
  • Looking up to the skies and always seeing a 747 flying overhead …

Two years at St. Saviour’s C Of E Primary School in Lambeth was a brief spell at school, but looking back, spending two years in anyschool was the longest stint in any school for me. At St. Saviour’s, I recollect being taken out of lessons for reading and spelling. I’m not sure if this was for assessment or for intervention, but in hindsight, leaving education in Scotland, I was a good few months, if not a year ahead of my peers in literacy and numeracy. It did not last, as the impact of attending 4 primary and 3 secondary schools soon took their toll on my capacity to retain any knowledge for examinations …

Here is a picture of me in the athletics team, St. Saviours C Of E Primary School (circa. 1983)

Atheltics Team Ross Morrison McGill St Saviours C Of E Primary School 1983(Middle row / 3rd from right)

1985 – 1986:

After a short stint in London, my parents were appointed to ‘City Road Men’s Hostel‘ in Newcastle, Tyne and Wear. I recall having less than a term or two at most to complete at primary school, before heading over to Heaton Manor Grammar School in Jesmond Park. Although I was only at this school for one year (Year 7), I have fond memories of playing rugby and competing in cross-country runs; being top of the class in French; excelling at Drama and heading off alone on my first overseas trip to La Rochelle in France.

Ross Morrison McGill @TEacherToolkit

@TeacherToolkit in 1985 (Year 7 – Heaton Manor School, Newcastle)

1986 – 1989:

This was probably one of the most fascinating periods of my entire childhood. After one year living in Newcastle, my parents were relocated to Tonypandy in South Wales to head up a working-farm for young offenders. The farm covered approximately 40 acres, and as you would expect with any farm, had a working tractor, a cowshed, a farm shop and an incredible range of landscape to play in for any young boy. I recall making a bivouac alongside a stream to earn a scouting badge, completing in my first 10km fun run in an impressive 49 minutes and buckling up the horses at any given time and going for a canter! You can see a Google image of the farm in this link.

I’ve lost count how many times I actually had my own animal to look after; 2 or 3 goats were personally attached to me and my keeping; a sheep and countless other species. On a grander scale to help the farm run, after school I would ‘milk the goats’ each day to earn my pocket-money. And then every Saturday my father would ship us all off in a minibus, down to Cardiff for the day to spend our hard-earned cash on Panini stickers, metal soldiers, sweets and comics.

It was my one of first lessons in life, one that was rarely provided in education throughout the 80s.

ross mcgill goat

Summer 1987

During the school holidays, we would help out in the cowshed (occasionally at 5am), helping milk the cows and process the milk. At Christmas we would prepare the turkeys for slaughter; yes, I experienced the life of a turkey from start to end. The upside of farm-life was bringing in new life into the world, helping pigs, sheep, cows and goats with labour, experiencing farm-life at its best and worst. Some highlights include; watching lambs born in the spring, jumping up and down in the fields after having their tails culled and their wool emblazoned with a coloured number. Other highlights include taking my own pet goat to be inseminated by a local sperm bank. The lucky billy-goat was massive and believe me, it stank!

On the flip-side of the animal kingdom, human intervention cannot interfere with nature. A sow had just given birth to 12 or so piglets and with it’s sharp hoofs, had stood on a piglet’s stomach. This in turn opened up the newborns stomach and intestines out onto the straw and hay! I recall the farmer taken the piglet off to a room somewhere and trying their very best to stitch the intestines back inside the piglet’s body. To no avail.

Other memories include dressing up as Santa Claus and handing out presents to the homeless men and women in our residence before we started our own family celebrations. It was always a special memory and one I hope to relive. I recall the days my father used to work in the soup kitchens under Waterloo Bridge. At the time, this was known as Cardboard City. I will never forget visiting the area. It sums up our entire ethos as a family when it comes to those less fortunate than ourselves. It is now Who I Am and What I Do and pretty much defines all the adult roles that my family currently serve in their local communities. We are a family of public services.

During this time, my parents bought me my first racing cycle and it was here I fell in love with the Tour de France. An affection I still hold today, but without the 20-30 miles cycling I used to put myself through each day up and down the Rhondda valleys. I also attendedTonyrefail Comprehensive School and found the shift from grammar to comprehensive schooling very stark. I attended from year 8 to year 10, moving once again to Fleetwood in Lancashire three months after my parents so that I could complete the end of my first year of GCSEs. I revisited the school a few years ago and took this selfie.

1989 – 1993:

It was in Fleetwood and at Fleetwood High School (in year 11 and throughout sixth form) that I first discovered girls and started to really understand the world of education and how important it was for my future. I receive my first taste of design technology teaching as a sixth former, teaching year 7 classes in my non-contact time. My teacher, Mr. Paul Boldy sets up mock interviews and takes me a through a rigorous process in preparation for interview at Goldsmiths College. I have written here about Fleetwood High School and how the building I once attended has now closed and moved sites. In this blog I also share my school report.

As my parents were salvation army officers, I naturally qualified for free school meals and knew that if I made it to University, that I would be the first person in my family’s generation. Student loans made this dream possible. Something that took me nearly 10 years to pay back as a qualified teacher … In my late teens, I still attend church regularly with my family but I disengaged somewhat, which was probably the start of me pushing away from a strict, religious upbringing. I started to believe less and less in God and the principles of The Salvation Army. Today, I see the value of this incredible charity and community, but without the religious connotations. This is probably one of the reasons why I wanted to move to London; to be farthest away from home as possible so that I can establish what my own set of values and beliefs were.

1993 – 1997:

During this period, breaking away from religion, I was late to start but I got up to the usual things at university. I captained the first (of four) football teams and gathered an impressive range of medals. (This led to a brief stint as a semi-professional footballer whilst working as an NQT in London). I searched for the meaning in life, walking through the doors of Hindu temples, synagogues and even Scientology to name a few. Buddhism struck a chord with me and I spent the good part of 10 years meditating on and off and learning how to breathe!

Ross Morrison McGill football

Cup Final day – summer 1995 – Motspur Park

Unbeknownst to me, 200 miles away in London I missed the community that The Salvation Army had given me for the first 20 years of my life, and found that living alone as a student, entirely dependent on the friends I made, I learnt some very harsh lessons about friendship, love and life very quickly. Reading education at Goldsmiths College, University of London all-in-all was a fantastic experience for me. I sometimes daydream about ‘what might have been’ if I had secured those two extra points in my A-levels; by doing so, I would’ve had a conditional offer accepted to attend Loughborough College to read design.

Nonetheless, I spent 4 years studying the what, why and how of teaching, reading deep into theory of child development, education history and the dynamic process of teaching. Studying a BAEd imparted a genetic code for teaching which I find hard to leave. I belong to the classroom.

Ross Morrison McGill student

September 1994

1997 – 1998:

My NQT year. Well, if that’s what you can all a term volunteering in Kano, Nigeria for the VSO, only to return three months later with my tail between my legs. This was one of the hardest things I have ever done in my life. Maybe reading Osho, Gurdjieff, Hesse, Ouspensky and a few other radical novelists had a little to do with my decision-making process; jetting off to West Africa with just £50 in my back pocket! I can’t imagine what this must have felt like for my family.

At the time, Nigeria was under tumultuous period; a military coup was in place and for any ‘white foreigner’ to move anywhere within the region was very difficult. After 3 or 4 days away from Kano, working alongside a couple of volunteers who had already been living and working in a school, the journey home and having my passport seized and an AK47 within eye-shot, was one of the final straws for me. Despite the parties and the organised ‘settling-in’ activities arranged for a good 50 or so of us volunteering, I recall speaking with regret, informing my appointed persons that ‘I wanted to return home to the UK’. Having to let down those who had place a great deal of faith and investment in me was one of the hardest decisions I’ve ever had to make.

Despite this, I’d love to visit the area again.

1997 – 2000:

After a short spell in Nigeria, I missed the boat when it came to securing a place to live with my college friends. I slept on floors for a good 6 months in North and South London, supply teaching in a number of schools, before finding work at St. Thomas More RC School as a Technology and Art Teacher from September 1997– July 2000 (3 years). I had to borrow £1000 from my father just to secure a bedsit flat and a deposit for somewhere to live on my own. I recall having to work in a bar for 2 nights a week as an NQT, just to make ends meet!

The school was very kind and welcoming to me as a young, twenty-something and I soon established myself, a first regular salary, a £100 Ford Fiesta to commute and a classroom I could learn my subject and practice. It was never easy. No formal NQT induction existed. Teaching graphics on a blackboard and no sign on a PC in most classrooms. It was fun and an interesting place to start. My greatest memory was cowering in the staff room with 50 or so students as a rival school trashed the playground with bats and chains! Despite the furore, the school has totally turned itself around and I still keep in touch with a few colleagues I met all those years ago!

2000 – 2004:

As a slightly older twenty-something I secured my first middle leadership position at Alexandra Park School. This is where I first met@headguruteacher as deputy headteacher. He actually interviewed me for the job! Without a doubt, these were the best years of my career and I am proud to say that the ‘McGill legacy’ lives on as my wife now heads up the very same department.

I designed this department with architects in 2000. It was then rebuilt several times as the school expanded each year when the intake increased from 150 to 1300! Headteacher Rosslyn Hudson was inspiring and relentless in her vision to create a true London comprehensive. 15 years on, she has succeeded and the school is now led by Mike McKenzie. I still hold a soft-spot for the school and my wonderful 8 years I spent there. Somehow I managed to produce national publications, articles and text books using exemplar work and ideas from the DT department. Even then I was innovating material without the internet and Twitter!

On a personal level, this is where I started to accumulate air-miles, having now travelled to 41 countries across the world. I yearned to live and work abroad, but I’ve never quite built up the confidence to get up and go! I’m quite secure with the green grass of England and the option to jet off anywhere in the world for 13 weeks a year was too much of a lure. It’s remarkable what luxuries teaching brings; something I didn’t quite realise until this period in life … I was often signing up for school excursions, accumulating 11 visited-countries within one year whilst in full-time employment!

Ross Morrison McGill Masters degree

July 2006

2004 – 2008:

During my time at Alexandra Park School, I was fortunate enough to complete my Masters degree at Central St. Martins College of Art and Design between 2004 and 2006. My thesis was on ‘Can semiotics be used to improve teaching and learning?‘. Completing action research on behalf of my school, but within a design context was truly fulfilling. With 82 marks, I was 2 points off a first class degree! Something my wife managed to achieve 5 years later!

In my final year at APS, I was also Head of ICT (as well as Technology) from April 2007– July 2008. This was a sideways step as I had hoped to secure a senior leadership position within the same school. The very weekend in May 2007 that I did secure a job at John Kelly Girls Technology College in Brent, a vacancy became available at APS! I was gutted but knew it was time for a change. You can read more about what I say about APS in The Guardian.

Ross Morrison McGill Teaching Awards

July 2004

Towards the end of my time at APS, I felt I had truly mastered middle leadership. But this did not come without its difficulties. Not only did I grow as a person, the school allowed me to grow in my formative years as a leader. As a 30-year-old, I was full of mixed emotions. Towards 2003 after building the department for a 3rd time, I felt like quitting. Then Ofsted arrived for a second time and awarded ‘Outstanding’ to the Design Technology department. Again, I was arrogant enough to feel I fulfilled everything and was ready to quit teaching, or at least look for something else within education. Then during 2004, which is probably the most defining year of my life, both Headteacher and Deputy Headteacher nominated me for ‘The Guardian Award for Secondary School Teacher of the Year in a Secondary School in London, 2004.” A true honour. My arrogance reached new heights and although humbled by the nomination, alone between four-walls, I remember going back to school thinking what can I do next. I’ve published work in my field; built a department three times; ensured the department reached outstanding; nominated for one of the highest accolades in the teaching profession (of its time); and there I was, wanting to quit teaching and find a new challenge …

*n.b. The Teaching Awards was established in 1998, a far cry from where it is televised now,

I remember looking for work with some consultancy firms on the back of my achievements and heading into town for some informal interviews. Less than a month later, whilst I was on holiday in Thailand, my father passed away in July 2014. The 12 hour journey home, then drive from London to Manchester took a lifetime to complete. I had suddenly experienced the highest and lowest pinnacles of my life. The year that followed – to complete my masters degree – I was full of depression but I didn’t quite know it; I managed to just hold down a steady relationship which, despite engagement, inevitably was heading for the rocks 3 years later. Following a parental bereavement, to say that teaching was the hardest thing I’ve ever done between 2005/6 would be an understatement. You can read my blog about my father here.

Hugh McGill Dad Fatherhood

Hugh McGill (30.11.41 – 27.7.04)

2008 – 2011:

In September 2008, I was firmly in love with Jenni, who prior to my departure, I had innocently appointed to be my replacement at APS. I was starting out in senior leadership for the first time at The Crest Girls’ Academynow Crest Academies in Brent (and formerly John Kelly Girls Technology College). It is here in 2008 where I first shared The 5 Minute Lesson Plan with colleagues. During my time at Crest Girls, I also worked with Teachers TV and as a Lead Practitioner (Design Technology) for the Specialist School & Academies Trust (SSAT) from May 2009– May 2010. I started blogging and tweeting.

My time here at Crest was mixed. I had several highs, notably securing £300,000 funding from the DfES to bring in new catering facilities for the girls, to allow them their first food technology experiences in over 7 years! On the other hand, legionaries in the water; academy conversion; redundancies; an ICT network that continually collapsed and staff on tenterhooks, made day-to-day leadership at times incredibly challenging. I have yet to experience any other school close enough like this over the past 6 years! I’m sure there are lots out there and I am fortunate enough to have only this one experience in 22 years of teaching. Yes, I have been teaching since I was 18 years old!

When opting for voluntary redundancy, although the impact of finding work took 6 months to secure, and financially over 3 years to recover,writing this article in The Guardian was the very first steps of what you read today on my blog. In many ways, this job made me appreciate ‘being in work’ more and generated an incredible amount of resilience in me as a character. Looking back, the outcome inspired my blogs which in turn led to Bloomsbury asking me to write a book and the rest the say, is history! The financial backlash of redundancy, plus my TES-spat (Vamoose) blogging story and online profile, led me to advocating pay per download resources. If I make money from writing books, why can’t a teacher make a £1 or two out of the vast number of hours they spend in front of a PC, creating and designing new ideas/resources? One year later, the TES are now offering pay-per-download resources in beta version. You heard if from me first!

All in all, the above era has defined my tough determination to create my own success (perhaps survival) beyond the world of work.

ross mc gill classs

On a personal note, I get married (photo here) in April 2010 and become a father to premature 1lb 9ozs @FreddieWM in May 2011. Freddie becomes a media sensation, featuring in the Evening Standard and The Times newspapers and I take increasing pleasure in photography, having 8 of my images selected for Getty Stock. You can see my photograph collections here on Flickr.

2011 – 2014:

Greig City Academy will always hold a special place in my career. I arrived to the school at a difficult time in my life, personally and professionally.  For the first time in 20 years, I found myself away from school in September 2011, desperate to get back into the classroom. I was lucky enough to be given a chance to work with staff, in what I now see as a pivotal role in any school; leading on whole-school teaching and learning. It was by far, the most toughest interview I have ever had! I have written more about this interview process here:How do senior leaders get their jobs?

Greig City Academy is a good school. In fact it’s a great school and if you can forgive me saying anything to do with ‘Ofsted’, this is an Outstanding school. The students are fantastic! During this time, I developed as an individual, becoming increasingly reflective; but also as a school leader and most importantly, a classroom teacher. I knew I was leaving the school as a whole person with my faith in leadership restored. I also started to attend teachmeets in and out of school and my @TeacherToolkit profile started to rocket!

Due to various reasons, I spent most of 2013/14 looking to relocate to Scotland. I blogged about this publicly and managed to secure several interviews. Oddly, the catalyst to generate job-searches led me to produce the @MyEdHunt Twitter account, which oddly led me to a ‘tweeted advert’ I retweeted, and then re-read in full. The rest is history. Read, Vamoose, I’m off to @QKynaston!

Today, I am an extremely proud husband, father and deputy headteacher. Someone who loves being in the classroom, inspiring students and colleagues in my own school, as well as online. Despite my online appearance, like any teacher, I have much to learn.

I cannot imagine many readers will make it to the end of this blog, but if you have, then thank you. There is much, much more I could write, but even I am pulling what hair I have left out, getting to the end of this. At least, you may understand more about the person that lives behind the façade of @TeacherToolkit and what drives me. I am proud of my achievements. I am a simple man who takes pride in everything I do. Behind the madness of Twitter, I’m a man of polar-opposites. I’m just Ross. A man with an interesting childhood and a dysfunctional schooling. Someone who wants to do good for himself, his family and the world of work in which he works.

I want to make a difference to every child and ensure that no child is left behind. This is Who I Am and this is What I Do.


@FelicityADavis – Who I am

A cautionary tale posing the question – was it really all worth it?

Entering teaching as a second career way back in 2000, I enjoyed a speedy rise up the ladder of success into leadership. Alongside my colleagues, I battled every arrow of change that was aimed at our wonderful but mystifying world of education. Ofsted visited taking the school from ‘unsatisfactory’ to ‘good’. From ‘good’ back to ‘requiring improvement’ whilst one Headteacher drove the ship through many inspirational developments, another grounded her into dock slowing down the pace of change. I learnt that educational philosophies will come and educational philosophies will go but the one constant that matters – won’t. Teaching children is everything. And for me, leadership was becoming ‘same old’ same old’ and I knew my teaching was suffering. I began to feel a hypocrite. Whilst I was expected to be a role model as an outstanding teacher – my time was taken up with leadership to the detriment of my classroom performance.

Meanwhile my family saw less and less of me. A most poignant remark made recently by my son “It was ridiculous mum, sometimes you were up at dawn and back home well into the evening”. I realised this was true. Especially through those Ofsted visits.

It was in the summer of 2010 that I finally found the courage to make the decision to step down from this mad, crazy world that my ego had driven me into, and focus on what really mattered. My school had received a July visit from Ofsted with a good outcome. But my mother was dying of cancer in a residential home next door to my school. If only I had known! That last two weeks of her life, through pure ‘Ofsted’ exhaustion, I was turning my car left to go home to plan and prepare for the next day, instead of turning right to spend those last days with her. Mum died over the weekend school closed for the summer break.

On returning to school in September of that year I stood down from my leadership role and placed myself back in the classroom re-kindling my passion of bringing a love of learning to the children in my care. I now had the time to plan with insight and the time to explore new pedagogical approaches to both teaching and learning. I loved every minute of the freedom and time that my decision offered. I knew I had made the right decision to ground myself back squarely in the classroom rather than leading a school through one crises and then another.

Three years on, I began to see my own bigger picture. I wanted to fly and explore the avenues of teaching in different phases and different schools. I was becomming increasingly frustrated with the differing governmental stances to our world at the chalk face and I was also beginning to feel that I had stayed too long at the one school, consequently I eagerly accepted voluntary redundancy when offered. This would give me the funds to take time out, travel and decide my next move.

January 2014 saw me tanned, relaxed and well rested but more than a little bored.  I was missing teaching and felt ready to step back into the classroom. Ofsted had told me in June of the last year that I was an ‘outstanding’ teacher so I must be, musn’t I? Joining a supply agency, I soon realised that the kids could make mincemeat of me in seconds if they chose to. Bill Rodgers out of the window along with any other behaviour management strategies I had in my ‘there is no such thing as a naughty child’ reportoire; oh yes there is! Such a learning curve for my first experience of supply teaching. Changing agency and tact, I took on a contract to teach the Spring term at Selby High School in North Yorkshire and the Summer term at Withernsea School in the East Riding. Very different schools from each other and my own school back in Scarborough, but both giving me fantastic opportunities and experiences.

The journey continues as I now move on in September to teach A-levels in Film and Media (never been tackled before), But as I have learnt – I will enjoy the challenge and ask if I need help. Once upon a time – to ask for help was a sign of my own failings; not anymore. And I now realise that to ‘err is human’.

So what have I learnt about myself?

Forgive the list – that’s about my very ordered and tidy thought process. Or my hanging on the spectrum somewhere!

  • Change is good.
  • Don’t be scared to take a risk.
  • You can adapt and manage change on a short-term basis as long as you ask for support and guidance when needed.
  • Sometimes if you want to try out different roles, you have to move on.
  • Don’t rest on what you believe are your laurels of success.
  • Children always see through you.
  • Give of your best and be true to your own dreams and potential.
  • There is no better feeling than the one where the child that seemed to hate you lets you know that they ‘get it’ and you helped them on the way.
Not bad for a year out!
My Photo

@aspiedelazouch – Who I am

(n = 1) I am not reliable evidence

I have started grinding my teeth. Neither do my children know, nor does my wife speak of it. My dentist, however, could not overlook it. Such are the torments of Hell, as Matthew assures us; I am there, in Hell it seems, because of certain disputes at present between myself and… whoever. I am there because a rage has descended on me. I am there because I have ceased to talk about the rights of the disabled and started to defend them, with such weapons as I have, in such places as I can. I am there because I have learned to know myself and in doing so I have sadly come to know others better than I did. I am there because all the good intentions in the world cannot hide the fact that we have embarked upon the sullen castration of a system once celebrated as an emblem of our advanced society. I am there because I have invested myself for so long in our provision for children with special educational needs that I cannot bear to see it rendered impotent. I am there and I am staying.

“collective fear stimulates herd instinct, and tends to produce ferocity toward those who are not regarded as members of the herd.”

Bertrand Russell, “An Outline of Intellectual Rubbish” (1943), published in Unpopular Essays, London: Allen and Unwin, 1950

I have never been part of the herd. Whether it’s cause or effect, I have tended to identify myself by diverse characteristics: I draw attention to myself as Jewish, as someone with Asperger’s Syndrome, as an avowed but dissenting Catholic, but always as an individual. I regard other people in the same way.

Edwin Lemert used the term ‘deviation’, “to designate such processes as criminalization, prisonization, ‘sophistication’, ‘hardening’, pauperization, addiction, conversion, radicalization, professionalization and ‘mortification of self’. All of these speak in varying degrees of a personal progression of differentiation in which the individual acquires: (1) morally inferior status (2) special knowledge and skills; (3) an integral attitude or ‘world view’; and (4) a distinctive self-image based upon but not necessarily coterminous with his image reflected in interaction with others.” Okay, I haven’t been imprisoned. But the rest… Always, in my 23 years of teaching, those conversations which have most engaged my teenage audience have been concerned not with what we had in common but with what kept us apart and what makes us individuals; the only exception being when I talk with students who have the same spectrum diagnosis as I do, a diagnosis which keeps us – together – out of the herd.

I have adopted deviation as a process – or even a lifestyle. To be completely frank with you, this is not news. I have been scraping away at various parts of myself for most of my life. My brother, to share another truth, has been doing the same and inreal rather than metaphorical terms since a combination of chronic eczema and Asperger’s took hold in his childhood. Either condition could have contributed to the effect in him of what Charles Horton Cooley termed the “looking-glass self”, a predisposition to react to others according to how the individual thinks he or she will appear to them. The result can be either pride or shame but in both my brother’s case and mine there was only shame.


I am twelve or thirteen and my trousers are around my ankles. One of my testicles is in good hands, the hands of a renowned paediatrician who is concerned about my growth. Before they can treat my asthma with a steroid inhaler they need to know if my growth may be affected by it. Until now, I’ve had a coal tar lamp by my bed. My great uncle passed away on a pavement at the age of 40 with the same condition, a fact of which I am already aware as I stand, cupped, in London’s famous Hospital for Sick Children. They don’t treat my asthma here: I have to go to The Brompton for that. No, here what concerns them is that I am extremely small for my age, with a very large head. There are no photographs of me on display at home: my mother has seen to that. It will be years before I begin to notice the few which exist, of my sister holding my hand as we stand on a riverbank, of me looking uncomfortable on a hot day. As I write this I realise for the first time that almost all the photographs of me were taken from behind, so that I would not have been aware. My mother did everything for a reason. She was highly educated. She had read the philosophers, knew Sartre backwards (in French) and Mann (in German); of Jewish heritage, she converted to Catholicism while studying at the Sorbonne. It was her stringent view that in this world we are not entitled to anything. She found the evidence of that in her career: in her twenties, presumably after some outstanding (but possibly ungraded) lesson observations, she was offered the Headship of a girls’ grammar school on the condition that she renounce marriage and maternity. She declined the offer. Her father had been a Headmaster without any such hindrance. Once, during my ‘difficult’ teenage years when I became very depressed (the ‘looking-glass self’ period), I asked her about existentialism, knowing that she had studied it and she knowing that I was reading Sartre. She offered a throw-away remark: “We’ve been there she said scathingly, “and it doesn’t work.”

I was telling you about my testicles. Next to one, an amber-coloured model is held like a tiny but significant memento from a rugby match. It has a number and so does each of the others on a long shoe-string. They range in size from the handsomely large down to – well, the one next to mine. Today, it transpires, I have not moved up a testicle. I am still the same testicle I was last time I met this consultant. His disappointment is faintly audible. It would evidently be very satisfactory if I were a bigger testicle each time but that has not been happening and I’m not sure if or how I can make it so. The student doctors look concerned. I am not sure what size testicles they are and even at my young age I have figured that this information will be withheld. So, for now, it’s just my testicles on show and they’re not prize-winners. Along the corridor in this Great Ormond Street clinic is a large and airy room which I visit on each occasion. My job is to stand, naked, on a cold metal turntable while the guru and his many shishya nod and mutter. Remotely, the turntable completes quarter-turns as photographs are taken (my mother is not in the room, or even aware). Behind me on the wall, a huge printed grid calibrates my slothful puberty so that, when they examine the photographs, they can confirm that the testicles don’t lie: I am, by any criterion, small. This data is added to the crucible of medical knowledge so that I can be labelled on their graphs as an outlier, an anomaly. My balls may be on the line but they are not on the line of best fit.


I have had chronic brittle asthma almost since birth. At 37, during a fairly routine chest infection, my breathing was so poor I lost consciousness. The paramedics parked up outside the house and tried for fifteen minutes, without success, to improve my condition. In ITU I was intubated and sedated, the gas seeping under my skin so that my shoulders bubbled and blistered during the night. My wife was called in some hours after I was admitted, to be told they would be switching me off. I had stopped breathing too long to survive. While she waited in a side room, the consultant stood by my bed, filling in the time of death on a clipboard. Apparently a nurse spotted my finger moving: the consultant’s pen hovered.


Subsequently I found my memory had been affected, which impeded my work. I was a Special Needs Manager for a Local Authority. Where previously I could remember the details of several hundred children’s education at a time – their needs, their school, their transport arrangements – now I could only remember a few. Most files had to be read and re-read laboriously before I could make a decision. I felt out of touch and ashamed. However, my verbal skills remained intact and I was increasingly delegated to appeal hearings at the old SEN Tribunal. It was probably this which made my ‘traits’ most obvious: exhaustively constructing and rehearsing arguments, many superfluous, from the tiniest details; not sleeping (or sleeping in my clothes, which is still a problem even now) for days before a hearing. I used to visit not only the schools in question but sometimes the homes, too. On one occasion, seeing an enormous house number on an autistic child’s front door reminded me what these disputes were all about: the struggle to make society understand just how different people’s needs can be. In that particular child’s appeal hearing, I waited for the right opportunity and let slip some detail unhelpful to my own case. I think the Chair grasped what I was doing: his eyes darted across the table at me, quizzically, and then he seemed to take his cue, turning this new evidence on me: “So what you’re saying is…” I thought: “Just give this child what he needs and send my employer a message.” Where systems fail, eventually people make their own justice.

And at that point I knew I could not continue serving the system. Someone dared me to apply for a teaching job in a Pupil Referral Unit and that was what I needed; and, from there, back to mainstream but with renewed purpose. In my 40s I felt I could understand everything: I had flashes of rage that gave way to compassion. I felt explosions in my head. I read the news: the horror of rash crimes – murder, acts of obsession and domination – became coherent and comprehensible. Nothing surprised me except that some people do not surrender to these impulses. The shocking became normal. So it should: to reject human behaviour out of hand is to refuse to come to terms with it. I found that, the less I could remember, the more I understood. Living in the present, less reliant on memory, silenced judgement and invited curiosity: Time is a river without banks… Ah yes, Chagall again: why do I love Chagall’s art? Because in his hands, and through his eyes, the body loses its ridiculous importance. He sees the body in its place, whether it’s a pogrom or a garden, on a roof or in the air. It is the position of the body in the composition which communicates his feeling for the subject. Around the human subject in any work by Chagall will be sheep, cattle, chickens, some fish, an ass. They are the equal of men and women. They may be obscured, they may be distorted, but they are there and they speak to us like a chorus. They have their being with us. Even where fire rages, even where evil encroaches on Chagall’s scene, the innocent imperfection and the clumsiness of human and animal forms is prized. I would happily be any creature in one of his pictures. I could even bear to be looked at. No one is measured in Chagall’s world; there is no ‘looking-glass self’. Even his crowd scenes are assemblies of individuals possessing dignity. The Chagall menagerie is inclusive and humble. Let us not measure each other by the metric of the body, its conformity, its abilities. What is important is to give each one its place in the composition. And now we are going to have to fight for that because it is under threat again. It is under threat because the changes beneath the surface are more distinct and more far-reaching than those which are trumpeted above. That is why I am raging. I am angry beyond words.


This post was inspired by many things: partly, I felt compelled to write after discovering @abstractLucas and her beautiful blog (if you don’t know the story of Smiler, make a mental note to go there next) because she made me think about difference; partly, I was irked by the debate around research data and reliable evidence; and partly I was prompted by events old and new in SEND, about which I wanted to say something. I still do…



Cooley, C. H. (1902). Human Nature and the Social Order. New York: Scribner.

Lemert, E. M. (1951). Social pathology: A systematic approach to the theory of sociopathic behavior. New York: McGraw-Hill.

@sciteachcremin- Who I am

I am from a fairly typical (if there is such a thing) Irish family. Both my parents are university educated and in fact met whilst at university in Ireland. My father was training to be a priest and my mother was studying Theology when they met. Needless to say the priesthood became an unlikely destination for my father when news broke that I was on my way in to the world. I was the instigator of a scandal that surrounded my parents, one it turned out, that was to never disappear. I was born in Dublin in 1984 and over the next ten years I was joined by a brother and two sisters. In 1989 my parents decided to immigrate to the UK. For the next 14 years of my life I led a fairly nomadic existence.

I attended 4 different primary schools and 5 different secondary schools. The word ‘stability’ did not feature in the family vocabulary when I was growing up. Some of the school moves came from the simple reason of moving house, others came from my mother being unhappy about the quality of education being offered by a particular school. One defining moment came during a Geography field trip in Year 12. I was working away measuring rivers and running up and down sand dunes, blissfully unaware that the work was somewhat pointless. A phone call home to ‘check in’ was made and I was informed that the family would be moving out of London a year earlier than planned and that I would have to complete my A Levels in a different school in a different part of the country. In the end it turned out that I would have to start my A Levels again from scratch. I developed the ability to fit in well and make friends easily, and despite the lack of stability in my education I learnt a huge amount about places and people.

The biggest impact on my education came when my parents separated and then subsequently divorced. Our family was made homeless as a result and we fled to Ireland with whatever we could fit in to a few suitcases. The next 3-4 years were the highlight years of the instability that characterised my childhood. My mother, my 3 siblings and myself moved regularly, from one women’s refuge to another and from Ireland back to London. During this time education was the least of my concerns. Although I did relatively well at school, I had very little desire to learn or challenge myself. I coasted along in school, never getting in to any major trouble and never performing so badly that I was a cause for concern for teachers. I mention this instability not out of a desire for sympathy, but because it did have a huge impact on my philosophy on education and my principles as a teacher.

It was at university that I really caught the learning bug. I studied Ecology at Lancaster University. I had always had an interest in nature. From watching Attenborough to reading Gerald Durrell and Colin Dann. I loved to watch the world around me develop and was fascinated by all different forms of wildlife. Lancaster was the perfect place to study Ecology. On the doorstep of the Lake District, every week we were out walking up one hill or another, visiting different sites of ecological interest, spotting different forms of wildlife and settling down in the pub afterwards to discuss the day’s events. I was unusual at university (as well as everywhere else I suppose!) in that I think I only missed one lecture in the 3 years I spent there. I loved to listen, to absorb the knowledge and ideas that were being presented. I fell in love with Science and I knew that it was a love that would never diminish.

It was whilst at sixth form that I decided that I was going to be a teacher. I can’t recall any particular moment where I knew I was going to become a teacher. No lightning bolts or divine interventions. I just knew. I was the eldest of four children at home, so was always, in one way or another, in teacher mode as I was growing up. Whilst in sixth form I worked with my form tutor one afternoon every couple of weeks acting as teaching assistant. I enjoyed working with the younger year groups in class, but also loved the creativity of preparing resources. Having a clear idea of the path I was going to be taking helped me enormously.

My first real experiences of teaching came whilst at University. I knew that I would need some experience before applying for a PGCE and so I volunteered in two local primary schools in Lancaster. I worked for one day a week for two years in these schools. It was an eye opening experience. It was here that I first saw the stresses and strains of the job. I experienced the roller-coaster of emotions that comes with being a teacher and I absolutely loved it. I was primarily involved in helping to deliver Science lessons to Year 3 and Year 5, but I would muck in with anything that was going on. The teachers I worked with were enthusiastic and generous with their time. They were an inspiration. I will always remember walking through Lancaster on a weekend and hearing a pupil from the school I was volunteering in shout out, ‘Hello Mr Science’. Although I loved the experience in the primary schools, I knew that I wanted to be able to delve in to the details of my subject as part of my job, and so applied for a Secondary Science PGCE.

I began my PGCE course at Oxford Brookes University in 2006. My tutors at Oxford Brookes were inspiring and influenced me a great deal. They emphasised the benefits of taking risks in your teaching practice. They argued that teachers should continuously push themselves and should always strive to be better. They emphasised the importance of keeping an open mind when it came to pedagogy, and also in our relationships with pupils and colleagues. My tutors at Oxford Brookes also encouraged us to take a very holistic approach to education. We learnt that we would need to see our role as a teacher as more than just someone who tries to educate pupils about our own particular subjects. We should be aiming to encourage a love of learning in our pupils so that they could achieve their full potential in life. These lessons have stayed with me and have had a huge impact on my teaching philosophy and on the way I develop my career.

Since completing my PGCE course I have had many wonderful opportunities and have taught in 3 wonderfully different schools. I have worked in a single-sex grammar school, a suburban converter-academy and an inner-city comprehensive school. I have learnt an incredible amount in each of these schools, and been inspired by numerous people working in these schools. Two years in to my career I experienced a relationship break down that had a huge impact on me and I decided to take some time out from teaching. I spent 3 months travelling around New Zealand. It was an important time for me personally, but it also saved my career. I was anticipating leaving the profession and becoming a social worker once I had come back to the UK. I applied for the Masters course and was ready to get going. Whilst travelling you meet all manner of people and inevitably talk about yourself a great deal to these people. I found myself telling the people I met that I was a teacher and would often tell stories of all the amazing things I had seen, heard and done in the short time I had been doing the job. After a while it occurred to me that I would miss being a teacher more than anything. Teaching has become more than just a job for me, it is my passion. I have realised that it is one of the few things in life that I am actually half competent at. I couldn’t really do anything else, and wouldn’t want to be anything else either. I am happily stuck with teaching, and hopefully teaching is happily stuck with me.

@clyn40 – Who I am

Eldest of four, Irish father and English mother. Had a great upbringing, not much money but my dad worked hard juggling two jobs till he found something stable. A hundred thousand happy thoughts to share…

Struggled in first year at primary due to hearing and other health issues. Fell behind and had the pleasure of going to Remedial class for a spell! I was the quiet child at the back of class, scared to death to put my hand up in case I got it wrong. That was primarily down to a particularly unpleasant teacher. Thankfully she was moved on after my parents had to intervene. Also her need to wear sunglasses in class on certain days may have also been a reason she left.

High school was a mixed bag, some great teachers and some not so great. In my GCSE years my English and History teachers were both inspirational in class and supportive in my struggle to cope with exams. First time round I just came out with my English lit and lang. Undeterred I went back and got my History and the others. Left school in 1989.

Messed around as an AA (administrative assistant) for the civil service for over a year whilst doing voluntary work at a local respite home for disabled children. I needed to be sure desk work wasn’t for me and I wanted to earn some money. Great social life from it but not for me. Enrolled to do an NNEB (a diploma in working with children in early years and primary school settings) and earned my keep at home by working in my local pub in the evenings and at weekends worked for one of Barnardos children’s home for children/ young people with disabilities. Continue to work at Barnardos as a residential social worker after qualifying in 1993 up till 1998. That’s when I went to see if living in South Africa was for me with my husband. It wasn’t unfortunately, beautiful country and met some great people and saw some incredible places.


God Window, South Africa

Back in England with no job and not many pennies moved back in with my parents (husband too, I thought I’d best bring him with me!). Applied for lots of jobs in childcare till I found one that was full time. Within 6 months of being a nursery nurse (early years practitioner) I was promoted to a senior nursery nurse and quickly moved up the promotion ladder to nursery manager. It was at this time that I started to consider teaching within FE. However the desire to start a family took precedence. After a few years enjoying being a mum to my lovely daughter and son I decided it was time to go and see if I was up to being an FE teacher. It sounds cliche but I really wanted to give something back. I had a lot of experience in child and health and social care settings and felt it was time to share it.

In 2008 did my teaching qualification in post compulsory education – PCE (Professional Certificate in Education). Having achieved this I went onto do my degree. I did this the wrong way round I know, but it was only doing the teaching qualification to teach in FE that helped me realise I was more than capable of gaining a degree. Final year of degree was a real uphill climb juggling assignments, dissertation, teaching, family and dealing with my father being diagnosed with cancer for the third time. I got through it and achieved a degree in Education and Professional Studies.   My subject specialist areas are early years development and education, health and social care and functional skills English. I am now five years into teaching in an FE college and wouldn’t swop my job for anything!  Well maybe a remote tropical island 😉


@Andyphilipday – Who I am

It’s good when teachers are honest with you. But the timing does matter. It’s 1975, June and the school officers’ leaving ‘do’ with staff in the school library. (I even think we were served sherry). I’m talking to my A level English teacher at Arthur Terry school and telling him of my plans after the summer, to go to Exeter University to do a degree in Psychology. “No, you won’t.” Says Mr Townsend. “Yes – I’ve got a firm offer, just need 3 D’s.” I reiterate with my deputy head-boy swagger. “Yes – but you won’t pass your English.” Full marks for accurate forecasting; not so much credit for the timing. We didn’t have ‘formative assessment’ in those days. In the event I flunked not just English, but also German (yeah – knew that was on the cards), and just scraped a ‘D’ in Geography. Zoned out in a nether world of ‘oh god, what happens now’ I remember mum soothingly saying ‘Oh well, maybe it’ll all be for the best’ as she reached for the one homily not used until now. I screeched a response that I’m not proud of. But – like most mothers’ sayings, she was ultimately proved to be right.

Growing up on the northern edge of Birmingham in Sutton Coldfield was bland-ily ‘suburban’. Saturdays cleaning my bike as my dad or two older brothers cleaned cars, not allowed to play outside on Sundays (in case it ‘disturbed the neighbours’) but twice to church (I was a choirboy from age 7 to 15 – dad the organist). I’d spent my first 4 years living in Ward End – about two miles due east of Villa Park, but dad’s work was ‘doing well’ (he was a manufacturer’s agent selling women’s knitwear and swimwear to shops around the Midlands) and I think they aspired to a more ‘respectable’ area. It was safe, conventional and boring. Having brothers 11 and 8 years older meant I spent much of my time on my own. But a legacy was the tall stack of red-linen-covered ‘Famous Five’ books in a shared cupboard. I don’t know when I started going through the collection, but it hooked me on reading, devouring the next one almost as soon as I turned a last page. Summer holidays I longed for ‘an Adventure’ like the kids of Kirrin Island seemed to have no problem ordering up every time they met. But Four Oaks didn’t do ‘Bad Men’, sadly. At least, not on the surface. So the heights of excitement were walking the mile into Sutton Park, past Noddy Holder’s house (never saw him) and making dens amongst the woodland. My reading moved on to Secret Seven (not the same wholesome integrity of the ‘Five’) and then Dennis Wheatley (piled in my eldest brother’s room) which were darker and more troubling and definitely more intriguing.

Primary school felt comfortable, neither exciting nor to be endured. At Ley Hill County Primary I sat next to John Hartland – a fine friend who lived on ‘the council estate’ where they’d do perplexing things like have cornflakes ‘for TEA!!’? He was quiet, thoughtful, deliberate – and a fine footballer. And astounded me by showing me a letter he’d got from John Surtees – the British Grand Prix champion. My friend, John had written to him, sending a get-well card following a car-accident and he’d received a personal reply from the great man. I was dumbstruck that he would think to write to someone so famous ‘just like that’. That was so…. original. And… un-suburban. John rose in my reverence far beyond his soccer prowess. I then watched him visibly deflate in his own self-perception a few months later at the end of primary school as the 11plus results were read out to us. I remember no ranking, targeting, examining or categorising of us pupils as we played and grew throughout our primary years. I have absolutely no sense of comparison of where I stood with my school-long cohort. I can remember doing the 11plus exam and thinking it all seemed quite straightforward and that I quite enjoyed answering the brain-teasers. Didn’t feel pressure; didn’t sense the divisive fate that awaited. But the memory goes deep of the day the results were read out in our class. Like Damocles sword slicing across the room there were about a third of us who had ‘passed’, and the majority – ‘failed’. At ten. You could see its effects immediately. Those who had been consigned to the Secondary Modern – or ‘Cowsheds’ as it was unaffectionately referred to – they visibly slouched in their chairs in those remaining weeks, their ties slid down and top buttons got left undone; they grouped together in antagonistic-looking groups in the playground. And amongst them was John, that delightful, initiating, skilful role-model – his eyes lost something as an alternative, greyer path drew firmly-drawn lines in front of him and doors snapped shut.

I had choice. I could go to the boys’ grammar school, Bishop Vesey, or a new comprehensive school. My parents, surprisingly, left the decision to me. The former was further away (bad), had Saturday morning detentions (worse), and no girls (clincher). Over the years at Arthur Terry the key experiences were few, but deep. I discovered a lack of confidence in doing things I didn’t feel I could accomplish well. I was reserve goalie in the first year team. Asked suddenly to play on Saturday as the main GK was injured – I demurred, before declining. “Go on, you can do it. If you don’t, he won’t ever ask you again” urged the team captain. But I didn’t feel I fitted in with the joshing, towel-whipping uber-confident first-teamers. And he was right – he didn’t ever ask me again. Chance gone. Yet spending time alone on two exchanges with a family in Hamburg left me with a lifelong affection for Germany, its language and people, as well as a sense that I could hack being deposited in an alien context. It was during these years that I moved into reading science-fiction in a relentless exploration of the genre. Asimov, Ray Bradbury, Fred Hoyle, Arthur C Clarke … collections of short stories. My middle brother, who had gone on to become an English teacher, urged me to read ‘The Chrysalids’ by John Wyndham which, as a 15 year old, was the first book that ‘spoke to me’: about seeing yourself as different, being a minority, the constraining hand of religious authority – hit, hit, hit as someone realising they felt suffocated by the bland conservatism of a Sutton Coldfield suburban existence. From there it was into dystopian fiction of the rest of the Wyndham canon, Orwell, Burgess, Huxley … Doris Lessing…  and on and on. That teenage kick-back saw me taking great delight in the shock-value of sitting downstairs smoking on my 16th birthday (childish), arguing for socialist principles in the sixth-form debating society (over-inflated ego) and cycling for miles to spend weekends at my newly-married two brothers’ homes instead of being at home.

When my carefully-laid plans to be as far away from the Midlands as possible, at Exeter university, blew up in my face (not so ‘carefully-laid’ that I’d done any serious work towards getting the necessary grades) I was devastated at, not so much seeing my friends all disappearing to their places of 3-year study, but the prospect of remaining under my parents’ roof. For them, I’d blown my chance and I would have to ‘get a nice safe job in a bank… or something’. The prospect was like a cold flaccid hand round my throat. It was my middle brother and his wife who – visiting from Jamaica where they were on 3-year teaching exchange, persuaded my parents to give me another chance. If definitive forks in roads exist at one key point in our lives – that was mine. How often do we have mentors/champions who will intervene on our behalf? How many don’t?

The rest, as they say, is history. I went to the local college of further education in Sutton for a year, dispensed with German and took Geography, English and Sociology in one year and discovered two things: how to really ‘read’ a piece of literature, with an inspiring English teacher opening up the context and meaning behind Swift’s Gulliver’s’ Travels, Antony & Cleopatra, Paradise Lost… and an equally inspiring geography teacher who introduced me to the heart-stopping drama of the Lake District on a week-long fieldtrip (why had my parents never taken me there – but to Majorca, Ibiza and Elba with their lingering odour of Ambre Solaire?) and a realisation that geography, not psychology was where my future lay. Oh – and I learnt how to study. Really learn, and enjoy learning. My mates all being away at university already helped. I sat in Sutton Park for hours reading, highlighting, noting text-books on sociological theories and getting a real kick out of it. Had I not failed my A levels first time round – I think I’d have probably messed up at Exeter. We all need a dose of failure along the way maybe? But one that can be reversed from, to take an alternative route without too much closure of options.

With three B’s I hit the grades to go to Lancaster University (as close as I could get to the Lake District) and whilst majoring in Geography, their policy was that you studied a second subject for your three years contributing a third of your final grade. I continued with English and with a year on nineteenth century American literature followed by twentieth century kept the reading exposure going. Revising for finals I realised that I didn’t want to finish with Geography at that point, so the idea of following my middle brother into teaching seemed an option. Anne and I married the summer we graduated (god we were ludicrously young – I was 22, she 21) and we lived in Altrincham, Manchester for a year whilst I did a PGCE and she used her physics degree to train as a new-fangled computer programmer.

Initially I applied for teaching jobs in all those geographically mouth-watering areas of the country – Dorset, Cumbria, Somerset… but not landing anything, Anne said I’d have to bite the bullet and apply for schools back in Birmingham – or London. Desperation makes you do weird things, so I applied for a job in – Hull (hey, it was ‘north’ … novel … not ‘suburban’). Driving over we both fell increasingly quiet, but found the school, I was offered the job, and it was slap bang in the middle of the most affluent part of the west-Hull suburbs.

I really took to it for five years. Then the head changed, I had to work with a forceful and awkward colleague, and my career seemed to be going nowhere. It got as far as me sitting in a professional recruitment agency in Hull looking for something outside teaching. That departure of teachers after 5 years in the job might have claimed me. As it was there was nothing seriously offered and soon afterwards a colleague pointed out the head of geography position going at Withernsea High School – as far east as you could go from Hull; the end of the line – literally – as the railway stopped there before dropping into the North Sea. It’s where I’ve spent the remaining 27 years of my career. Internal promotions didn’t stop me applying for other positions in other places, but a combination of them just not feeling right, leading to withdrawing, or me not being right for them, means I have stayed put. (I went for a deputy headship at a school in North Yorkshire. Got really good vibes from the staff after my presentations and thought ‘I’ve got this one’. Two things stopped it. One was that same feeling of dislocation chatting to the other candidates who, to a man, were peacocking their careers so far, and how this job was in their game-plan to headship… and that three years here would see them ready to move on for the top job – and I got a flashback to that dressing room as a 12 year-old reserve keeper reeling back as I was being invited into a group I had no real affinity with). Oh – and the second, was the feedback from the local authority officer who said my interview responses were the worst of the lot, ill-prepared, short and unoriginal. So, – close then.

I’ve no regrets. Teaching in one of Sir Michael Wilshaw’s ‘low affluence, declining seaside resorts’ has been a joy. The students and their parents more appreciative than ever they were in the affluent cul-de-sacs to the west of the city, the range of students going from Oxbridge successes to severe special needs. It has provided daily challenge, and hourly richness. I can’t imagine what else this ordinary boy from an ordinary part of Birmingham would have done if he hadn’t taught geography on a little-known edge of East Yorkshire. Do it again? Oh yes. I’ve taught, and continue to do so with some fabulous colleagues (always helps when, as a head of faculty you can appoint the people you are going to engage in each day’s work with). I’ve tried to keep it fresh – by taking on new challenges each year, sometimes saying ‘yes’ to things when I least feel like it because I know, from experience, that embracing something novel lends an energy to the background stuff than needs ploughing on with. And I’ve always mantra’d myself that each teacher should be at their best the year before they retire. (That last year, no-one’s going to listen to you much so you’ve lost your influence). And it’s a sincere ‘thank you’ twitter folk – for providing the final-stage rocket boost of these last two years; it has been an uplifting ride. As I write, with ten teaching days to go before I take early retirement, I think I managed that. That satisfies me more than I can say.

If there are any regrets, it’s that teaching took me away from some key events that I should really have given more time to. When our two children were small I took on an MEd that absorbed weekend after weekend. Anne would bring them to the door of the study on a Saturday morning for a: ‘Say hello and goodbye to your father – we’ll leave him in peace to do his dissertation’ – it was as if I’d become George’s truculent father in his study in ‘Famous Five’. And I missed precious moments with my parents. They moved up to East Yorkshire in the early ‘90s. Dad’s pension didn’t go as far as he thought, so they relocated 15 minutes away from us near the coast. The troubling teenage years packaged away, it was delightful to see them so happy. Mum used to say living up here was like being on holiday every day. I was with dad as he died; he’d deteriorated with dementia in his early 80s and it was clear he was nearing the end. Mum had slid on some ice and was in Hull Royal Infirmary with a broken wrist. It was the start of the Christmas holiday and while one brother was out of the country, the other drove down from Carlisle. He arrived 15 minutes after dad’s passing – but I was able to hold his hand as he went.

But I missed mum’s final minutes. She and I developed a fond and laughter-filled relationship as she went full at life in her eighties after dad’s death. I’d often call in on the way home from school on a Friday night for a 30 minute cup of tea and chat – and she had a knack of putting the week’s troubles into perspective. That generation, who had gone through the war (dad was in Tobruk, mum working at the fire service in central Birmingham while unexploded bombs ticked away just a floor away) had a perspective that meant my issues of the week at school could be calmed with a ‘Well… it’s never as bad as it seems’). She had a stroke in her 88th year and lingered in a local nursing home for ten months, unable to move or speak – though alert as ever. I’d been with her all afternoon as she weakened, but knew I needed to finish some A level lesson planning for an unfamiliar course I was teaching for a maternity cover within the department. Leaving her to pop home for a couple of hours lesson prep, I hesitated at the first phone call from the nursing home saying they thought I ought to come down now. Just another 20 minutes and I could get tomorrow’s lesson cracked. At the second phone-call I downed tools and drove into town – only to find I was five minutes too late.

My advice is: love teaching, offer your students the hours they deserve – and then some. But love your family most.

I’m looking forward to the next chapter; I’m not hanging up the laser-pen for good, I hope. I want to write a bit, read a lot, and I’m doing some workshops at education conferences in the autumn term. I’ve been booked in to do a bit of A level teaching one day a week at a local school. But I have found teaching at the pace and intensity of that required at the moment more than I want this 57 year-old frame to continue with. Till 68? Someone is having a laugh. So I’ll blog, and write, and argue that we need to restructure the format of later careers in teaching. I don’t think the retirement age will be coming down – so we need to find a way in which experience, insight – and enthusiasm can be put to use in creative and flexible ways in schools. We don’t have that conversation taking place yet. It’s one to which I hope to add a thought or two. The job’s not done, yet.

Post-script: I had an email from my primary-school friend’s sister the year we were both 50. He had got a weekend job at Sainsbury’s in Sutton when he was 14, which he did full-time when he left (we were the last year when you could leave school at 15: RoSLA –raising of the school-leaving age to 16 was the big issue of the day in education. What would schools do with 16 year olds!). At 50 he was Regional Director of Sainsbury’s for the South-east. I loathe the 11plus for those who didn’t have John’s individual self-belief.

@tombennett71 – Who I am (part 1)

If you plot ten dots in the sky you can join them in a million ways; astrologers have been inventing Gods and Monsters in the meaningless constellations of the night for millennia. I’m wary of shopping through my memories for meaning. Everything I choose is artifice, deliberate or not, because comprehension obtained without context is empty. So I’ll choose anyway, and let the reader prescribe or chastise.

I was lucky; I had a comprehensive education in a quiet suburb of Glasgow five minutes from home. The primary school was ordinary in that I suffered no distress or exceptional heights of inspiration, which perhaps makes it extraordinary when I have encountered oceans of both so frequently in my adult experience. But my teachers were kind and traditional; young mothers and anxious spinsters (my class missed having Mr Winters, the sole male teacher, which we thought an extraordinary job for a man). In Summer we ran until our lungs couldn’t bear it, and in Winter we shivered in portacabins where the ice formed on the inside of the window. In the morning, maths, then English, where we plodded glumly through American literacy exercises called SRA, from orange up to the glories of the silver group, and wondered what Fall was, and why it followed Summer. At break we would Hoover tetrahedrons of warm milk before the tongue could register sour, and in December we sat on them until they melted. It was an honour to distribute these dairy treats.

I loved school. What wasn’t to love? Friends, kind women who smiled when you were right, and books. Books, best of all. Two things stood out, and would merit a mention on the psychologist’s couch- or not perhaps. We are terrible judges of our own creation, or maybe the only judges possible.

One was my introduction to novels. My mother bought me Roald Dahl’s ‘Danny the Champion of the World’, and nothing was the same afterwards. Before that I was obsessed with American comic books. Now, I had something I would rescue from a burning building. I sat in lessons and drummed my fingers until the lunch bell and I could run home and read more. This every day for a week until it was finished and I would have burgled a vicarage for the next Dahl. After that, there was no hope for me. Me and words were going steady. I was a doomed reader.

The next station at which my memory stops is a year later, when I would be around six or seven. My teacher, who bore a terrifying resemblance to Max from the then popular series Hart To Hart, made an odd pronouncement. ‘The smartest people in this class,’ she said, unaware that she was laying a landmine that would go off for the rest of my life, ‘Are Sarah, and Samantha, and Sandy, and….’ I was gasping with anticipation, praying she would say my name. ‘And John.’ But no me. Little Tom died a thousand deaths that day. It crushed me. With a vanity only forgivable in a child, I thought myself a useful student, always top in spelling and writing and reading. But no, something about me didn’t please. Carol Dweck would have chinned her. But I made a tiny child’s vow: that I would show her.

Big School

I landed on another planet. My secondary school was also a fantastic place to be, only this time it was full of people who appeared to have inhabited the outside world: artists who made art; English teachers who wrote and read; PE teachers who…called me a poof. See? The very real world. Like many anxious, articulate young men, adolescence saw me rigid with shyness. Having too many things to say, but no ability to pick which one at any one time, rendered me nearly mute. It appalled me the ease and confidence with which people with nothing to say spoke so freely, so relaxed, so in the moment. I overthought everything, and lived the lonely life of the nerd. These days, you can put that on your CV and get a job with Google. In those days it got you spat upon.

But there was always school to act as a salve and a balm. You got noticed in two ways: by being an arse, or by running with the system so fast you lapped it. I was a desperate swot, teacher pleaser and prize student. I may not have had a girlfriend or enjoyed a large, cheering circle of confident friends, but by God, I would smash that damn maths test. Or English. Or Geography, or whatever bit of paper was put before me. There are worse habits to have, although I pity the serious, guilty boy who was the agent of his own bondage. At least good grades helped me achieve the escape velocity of university.

Even that was fraught. Because the Scottish system permitted application at 16, and I had a fist of grades that sounded like a man falling off a cliff, I went to Strathclyde University to study Electronic and Electrical Engineering, mainly because, having options, I couldn’t choose. Having no role models, or family members who clearly preceded me in this direction, I chose what appeared to be the most interesting: science, mainly because of a charismatic physics teacher and a belief that I would somehow be inventing hover boots. After a day I realised what it involved, I dropped out, and re- entered Academia a year later at Glasgow University to study Philosophy. There was no money in it, but I was happy, and that was a lesson I never forgot.

Tom Bennett

@mrpeel – Who I am

mrpeel 1

I am an English teacher.  I am 51 years old and about to take over as Head of Department at The John Lyon School in Harrow. This development in my career has given me a chance to pause and reflect on my journey to this point. My Bildungsroman is not complex and has no great heart-tugging moments to it, but it is important from time to time, simply to take stack and reflect on choices and decisions, made by us or for us, as we move on in life.

Decisions in my childhood were obviously made for me.  Possibly the most important decision was my schooling:

I grew up in a school and spent my first 18 years living in a school.  I attended the boarding school at which my father taught and no doubt benefited from the full panoply of riches that an English Public School education has to offer.  At least I think I benefited, though more from the freedom I was afforded to make mistakes and to indulge my passions (beer, rugby, trombone-playing.  In that order), than from any spectacular access to great teaching or technology.

There were some great teachers.  Probably never in with a shout of an OFSTED outstanding in today’s money, but people who inspired my love of learning, of literature, of Classics and of music.  I hope I am becoming a little bit of them all.  Some of the sagacity of Anthony Reynell, some of the humour and insight of Andrew Davies, some of the enthusiasm and excitement of James Flecker and a huge amount of the integrity, knowledge and openness of my father- a musician and Head of the Wind Department at Marlborough College for 35 years.

It has taken me some time to see that I am becoming my father.  I am very glad that it is happening at last.

The journey took a while. I completed my degree at King’s College, London and graduated with a 2:1 in Classics in 1984.  At the time, I knew that I could possibly have shot for a First and I recall a discussion with my tutor, Averil Cameron, in which she vainly tried to dissuade me from appearing in a play and taking part in various other activities in the run up to the exams.  Maybe she was right to do so, but my ethos will always encourage students to develop themselves holistically.  I know that in 2014 the need for the best results possible is probably slightly more intense than it was back then, but I am what I am today because of those choices.

My master-plan was somewhat unformed in July 1984, but it definitely began with Teacher Training.  I was going to teach Classics and I was going to be happy.  That lasted about two months.

Probably because of the amount of acting I had taken part in at college, notably a tour of North American Universities with a “modern verse/prose drama” based around the character of Herakles – in English and Greek – which may well have been dire, I was bitten by a bug.  Knowing that I loved opera, my mother bought me some singing lessons as a birthday present.  Things suddenly took an alarming  lurch away from the plan.  My girlfriend (and now wife of 26 years and counting) was given the startling news that I was going to be a singer.  She coped.  I followed this path, simply because I could and because I discovered that I was rather good at it.  I got a scholarship to study as a postgraduate at the RSAMD in Glasgow and one thing followed another. Within three years I was an opera singer.  My life was heading away from all I had planned in all areas, apart from my domestic life.  I married in 1988 and we have remained married despite distance and struggle, ever since.  My decisions were not well considered and certainly were not fair.  But they are part of what is “me”.

Time went on (as it does) and I developed as a singer.  I left the safety of Scottish Opera and entered the world of the freelance singer where work is irregular and often deeply inconvenient.  I was helped by elements of me  which are also part of my attitude to teaching:  I enjoy wrestling with text, to extract as much meaning as possible from the page and to convey my vision to an audience; to become absorbed in the minutiae of text and setting; to be self-critical and self-aware; to be able to motivate myself even when dog-tired and to cope with the unexpected, again and again.  In short, from 1993 -2003 I sang in Opera houses all over Europe and in the USA, working rarely in Britain.  It was a strange life for us both – lonely at times and exciting at others, but it worked.  For a while.

 mrpeel 2

 The next decision was one that has shaped the last 10 years.  Jackie and I wanted children.  Unable to conceive naturally we ended our quest by becoming adoptive parents in 2003.  This has been wonderful and has given me the insight into life and in my new profession that was lacking hitherto.  I believe that teachers are better when they are parents.  I am not going to argue this as a pre-requisite, but my own children’s path to semi-adulthood has given me an understanding of those I teach that would simply not have been available to me through any other route.  Singing was replaced by teaching and as my first career slowed, my wife’s career blossomed and she developed into the amazing high-flyer that she has become.  The boys are brilliant too and as they turn 18 and 17, I can look forward to my new steps as outlined at the start of this article.

I became a teacher.  At last.  Possibly partly following the steps of the comic creations of Armstrong and Miller simply because there are not many other options open to a forty year old, but also because it was inevitable.  I had worked with children as a singer and loved it.  I was also missing the need to use my brain.  I admit that I chose English to train in because of the greater access to employment than found in returning to Classics, but make no apology.  I love teaching English and I think I can be damn good at it.  Anyway, my degree was 20 years old, and my profession was one which prepared me for the study of literature like few others.  How many teachers have had to analyse poetry not for a lesson in which year 9 are dragged through a piece of Hardy, but to perform a song cycle, in German, in a manner which is convincing both musically and linguistically?  It focuses the mind.

I “perform” at times in the classroom, but do not sing at all any more.  I get such a kick from what I do that I do not miss it.  When I take students to the opera on a school visit, they are amazed that I gave it up.  It is easy not to see the hours of boredom and the weeks of tedious loneliness in a mediocre hotel in provincial town in Germany.  My life now is so much more rewarding.  I may not be applauded when I finish a lesson, but I am no longer working as a selfish and obsessive “artist”.  What I do now really engages with my audience in a way barely possible in the theatre.  I do not get the adrenaline rush and my biggest audience might be 32 at the moment, but on the other hand even if I am inspected, the report is discreet – not pasted over the review pages of all the major newspapers!

It is one thing to move an audience.  It is another to empower someone with the ability that enables them to do this to someone else.  We really are in the business of inspiration and intellectual empowerment.  I love this.  I am fascinated in being able to explore the range of thoughts that teenage minds bring to the most familiar of texts – seen anew with new eyes.  I love the sense that I am becoming my father:  doing what is right and acting as a role model at times for young people who may have no positive male influence in their lives.  Showing that learning need not be dull  and that often there is no right answer in life, but that our answer is developed over time.  I also love exploring the texts and ideas of great writers and thinkers and helping to nudge open a door of unbelievable riches.

I am influenced by the teachers I mentioned at the top of the piece, but unlike them, I embrace the Internet and all the things that simply did not exist.  I value my blog and my twitter feed as a means to contact others and develop my skills.  I love the fact that my students have access to a wealth of information and thinking at the touch of a button.  How exciting!  I am not at all averse to leading teaching – I received some of my education in this way and it was brilliant (some was dire, by the way), but I’m also loving the fact that my job seems to be at such a point of flux between the traditional and the progressive in terms of the use of ICT.  I love it and I welcome it, but not all the time to the exclusion of all else.  That is folly.

Everything I do, should be driven by an awareness of what my students need for maximum benefit.  As my father might have said.

 mrpeel 3


JONATHAN PEEL – @mrpeel  www.jwpblog.wordpress.com


@MikeArmiger – Who I am, What I do

This piece is deeply personal, honest and a dark read in places. I thought long and hard on whether  to be this honest, however I realised that to ignore the experiences and events that have moulded me into who I am today, would not only be dishonest to myself but to those of you reading this.


Here goes….

My Early years where lessons were learnt outside the classroom

My upbringing was anything other than the norm. Born in Wales to two parents that care deeply for each other was a blessing. We lived in beautiful parts of the countryside and growing up in idyllic surroundings meant many a weekend canoeing on the river, playing sport and picking fruit from our wild garden. My father was an outdoor education instructor and my mother worked for Women’s Aid and later as a Family Liaison Officer for a firm of solicitors.

From a very young age my mother proceeded to educate me in how fortunate I was and how the real world worked. Many a time I accompanied her to houses where families were in desperate need and facing huge hardship. My mother always said to me before we went in; ‘Whatever words you hear in this house, you must not repeat them and if one of the other children does something I wouldn’t want you to do then you mustn’t join in with them’. A lot of the time my eyes were like saucers. But my mother always allowed me to ask questions about what I had witnessed once we left. Many families we visited lived in squalor. There was sometimes dog mess on the floor, effing and blinding was common and more than often there was no food for them to eat. I learnt very early on that I was very fortunate to have two loving parents and food in the cupboards.  Around the age of 7, we began to foster. My mother wouldn’t allow a young boy from a refuge she visited to be taken to a secure unit, so instead she bought him home. She berated my father for a good 12 hours before he finally accepted that there was nothing he could do bar give it his blessing, and agreed that he could stay for a few weeks. The young lad stayed for 5 years! Here began the journey to where I am today.

I was an average pupil in primary school and according to my parents and teachers, was a delight. I enjoyed all aspects of school at primary level and so the transition to secondary school wasn’t daunting. However things began to change significantly in my second year within the comprehensive setting. My grandfather was the head of the family, a policeman and was hugely respected within the force and community. He was an unbelievably funny man that always made time for us. However his best quality was his innate ability to make you feel at ease with change and conflict. ‘Be the bigger person’ he would always tell anyone that had an issue with someone else. He had a heart condition for many years and underwent several surgeries and miraculously came out the other side many a time. However his condition worsened and he passed away Friday the 17th of November and left a gaping hole in the family.

mike ar 1

 Uncomfortable times

During that year something else happened that would once again change family life forever more. A young girl was placed with us by our fostering agency. She seemed quiet and we were told she had been severely neglected. No one could have predicted or foreseen what happened next. Around 8 months after her initial placement I remember coming down one evening to the living room and opening the door to the sight of my mother in tears and a chair at the end of the room, turned to face the opposite way. Since that night no one ever sat in that chair again.  Mum asked me to shut the door and go back upstairs for a little while. I could tell something wasn’t right. The next few days went by and I was still puzzled about what had happened that evening. It was the weekend in spring and I sat on the hay bails with my foster sister who had asked to spend some time with me. Somehow the conversation came onto her past. And for the next half an hour she proceeded to tell me about her upbringing or lack of it. She disclosed to me things that would make anyone shudder; obviously I can’t go into detail but imagine the worst possible and times it by 100. Several of the worst crimes known to man, incorporated into one young child’s trauma. You name it, it was there.  It was and remains to this day, the worst thing I have ever listened to. I was 14 and miraculously I wasn’t traumatised, upset or angry. I just took it in my stride and went to tell my parents. The next few months were all a blur. Police visits, on-going investigations, disclosures all hours and my parents looking like they were constantly in a state of trauma. Luckily my younger brother had no idea what was happening at the time, but years down the line, that whole period affected him greatly.  No one bar two staff knew about this in school. There were many times I had to be collected from school and not knowing what I was going home to. The way I perceived life changed from there on. My experiences would isolate me from my peers and force me to grow up very quickly. This also had a knock on affect in terms of my education.

This issue for me was twofold.

a)      I wasn’t engaged in what I was learning and didn’t see the relevance

b)      Home life was very different to how the world was portrayed in school


Isolated and disengaged

I was disruptive to the extent that i only behaved in the lessons where I was engaged by the subject and the teachers. Julie Pugh, my stalwart of an RE teacher and Di Winter (music) both took me under their wing. My GCSE’s were surprisingly good and I managed to secure a place at sixth form. During the first year I remember one day, deciding to play up for Mrs Pugh. It was low level disruption but obviously prevented her from teaching the class. She bent over my desk and said to me very quietly; ‘I will not allow you to fail in this class, or fail others around you. So quit your messing around because a little bit of naughtiness isn’t going to stop me from making sure you get the grade you need mate.’ I got the message straight away. Her determination to not allow me to fail impressed me and I never played up for her again. Of course there were many incidents that I was almost disciplined severely for but I would like to omit them from this piece!  P.E and the Arts were my saving grace. These subjects allowed me to escape and pretend to be someone other than myself. Whether it was Scott Gibbs (Welsh rugby international) or a character from many walks of life in drama, I allowed it to inhibit and release me from my own mind and troubles. No one knew what was going on at home and with these subjects I felt like I was able to cope. During my time in sixth form I discovered that I was good at coaching sport and had a real passion for doing so. Funnily enough I seemed to be able to relate to and effectively engage those ‘hard to reach’ pupils.  The head of P.E recognised this ability and allowed me to teach alongside him every free period I had. I absolutely loved it. I was lucky that Mr Dawkins allowed me to collaborate with him and would often ask me about new coaching or behavioural management strategies that I had learnt during my time working with the WRU, Sport Wales and at home with the children we looked after. These years in sixth form were spent coaching, mentoring teachers to deliver inclusive sport and work with disadvantaged children needing additional academic support. I found what I wanted to do and I ran with it. The way I wished I was taught by many of my teachers became the way in which I engaged these pupils.

I left school and decided that I would setup a business that worked with young people in the area of sport but also work in the area of pastoral care within education. It seemed like a mammoth task but one I relished and was determined to succeed in.

 mike ar 2

Fighting the system

Upon leaving school we gained more additions to the family. I was on the sofa for 5 months to accommodate another young lad before we moved to a bigger house. This boy touched my life in a way I couldn’t have imagined. He had so many issues from his upbringing I can’t begin to list them here. Most evenings he would kick off, trash his bedroom, try to put windows through, self-harm, eff and blind at everyone and cause mayhem outside with a bamboo stick! My parents and I would take shifts to ensure we were always in control and not rattled, my mother often had a g+t with her to keep her sane. He had chronic attachment disorder and couldn’t successfully regulate his emotions or behaviour. He also found the fact the people cared for him very difficult to process. For whatever reason I seemed to be able to get through to him and established a connection that allowed me to talk him round. However the school system and other agencies constantly failed him. He was a bright lad and had no issues academically, he just never felt engaged. He was put into a system where he was taught that writing algebraic equations and understanding the process of photosynthesis was the most important thing in the world. How can a child as broken as he was even begin to believe that this is the answer to all of his problems? Our system is based on averages and standardization. We formulate curriculums and schooling on the premise that when these children reach a certain age, they will be this person that will have this ability. It doesn’t take into account the fact that some children haven’t experienced the norm and aren’t your average child.  Sure enough soon after, through no lack of trying from his teachers, he was excluded from secondary and without any education or support structure. My mother screamed at social services and supporting agencies to do something before this child pressed the self-destruct button. We held on in there but within the space of a few months the young girl that was with us for 7 years and the young lad mentioned above, both pressed the self-destruct button on astronomical scales. The night he did press the button, I felt absolutely helpless. My parents and I both made the decision that if I couldn’t talk him round then we were beyond hope and they had to find some help for him elsewhere. When the placement broke down and he was escorted off by the police, I was devastated and racked with guilt. I still to this day maintain that we could have supported him had other agencies pulled their weight and a tailored solution for his needs had been found.

I turned this guilt and anger into something positive and decided that I was going to take a different route in my career. I had headed up pastoral care at a few schools, facilitated projects in the area of: Sport, SEN, family engagement, the arts and much more. I worked with the Welsh rugby union, regional and national academies as a defence specialist and loved this area of my work. I was extremely lucky to have been given many opportunities in that time and I achieved some amazing things of which I’m very proud of.  However the time had come for me to prove that things could be done differently. I was no longer prepared to accept that systematic failure was an everyday occurrence when I could see a clear solution.

I setup a business that specialised in teacher training; teaching support, 1 to 1 support and educational solutions for looked-after children and children with complex social, emotional and behavioural needs. I was lucky enough to prove a million times over that a different type of education could allow these children to succeed and flourish. Schools, universities, colleges, learning partnerships, LEA’s and other teaching and learning organisations bought into what I was doing. I was also fortunate enough to work on the Get Set network for the London 2012 team. It was also during this time that I also worked with regional police forces in the area of sexual crime. I taught during the day and once school had finished I headed off to assist with a case. I saw and heard many difficult things but it remained clear in my mind that I had already heard the worst. On weekends or school holidays I was invited to talk at many events on the subjects of teaching and learning, creativity, looked after children, behavioural management and many more.  I built a support structure and way of working for looked after children that transformed the way in which professionals worked together, how the child was educated and looked after and how therapeutic interventions were delivered.  I flew for years, worked every hour under the sun and earned ridiculous sums of money. Everything I touched seemed to turn to gold until two years this September…

Falling on my arse- the most liberating experience

I became complaisant and didn’t spend enough time sourcing new business and fighting the system. The system and the recession then bit me. As many of us know, when financial stress is placed upon organisations the first things to go are the non-essentials and aspects of work that aren’t risky or conventional. So contracts were cut and around the same time my mother contracted viral meningitis and also needed a double knee replacement. The effects of the viral meningitis were stroke-like and memory, co-ordination, movement and emotional regulation were all difficult aspects for her to master. I decided that my family needed me and whilst I had fallen on my arse well and truly, I could spend the time at home to give my mother and family the support they needed. This went on for around six months. I did some coaching and the odd bit of educational consultancy work here and there but financially I was in big trouble. Things were difficult for a long period of time. My mother didn’t know what was going on much of the time and really needed a lot of support, the house flooded, the car broke down every week, my dad then suffered a stroke and so much more that I can’t remember. Every time I thought that things couldn’t possibly get any worse, they did. The only good thing about hitting rock bottom is that you stop pretending to be anything other than what or who you are. Failure was my worst fear when I left school. However my worst fear had now been realised and I was still alive, still had a family, friends that were worth their weight in gold and a roof over my head. Rock bottom became the solid foundation on which I could rebuild my life and career.

I remember sitting with a friend one evening and telling her that I had to get back on the wagon and fight the system and that I didn’t have time for relationships because I wouldn’t be able to relate to anyone. She said very softly to me ‘Somehow you’ve got it into your head that this is your story and your life’s battle. It will always form part of who you are but it’s ok to write a whole new story for yourself.’ I dismissed this at first but spent the next few weeks contemplating this statement. I soon realised she was right.

The future and why I do what I do

A year and a half later I am back working with education and sport and very close to realising a dream of mine. I still work with children facing the challenges outlined previously, just in a more central teaching capacity. I am on the verge of establishing a specialist sport school for 14-18 year olds that are at risk of exclusion or not in any education provision. Here they will succeed because we will offer them a qualification suited to their needs and high levels of pastoral care and creative teaching.  The beliefs, passions and experiences that I and my students hold, will no longer be limited or supressed by the system.

The quote below underpins everything that we do at this provision and why:

 mike ar 3

 For the first time in a long time, I feel free from my past. I have accepted that it is part of who I am but I no longer allow it to define me. I am also in a relationship. I’m still in shock about this aspect of my new life, as is everyone else. And even more surprisingly, I’m with someone that is the complete opposite to me and has never experienced the things I have in life. I thought it would be compulsory that if I was ever going to be in a relationship, then it had to be with someone that knew what it is like. However it turns out I didn’t need someone that knew, just someone that understands.

I wrote this in a sort of homage to the site. As a few months back I was contemplating leaving the profession. I found the new SEND reforms to be too narrow and isolating many of my students. I also have a passionate dislike for Michael Gove and his reforms that are turning the clock back and preventing our future generations from being equipped with the necessary skills they need to flourish and create. Both got on top of me and for the first time I felt that I could no longer make a difference and that the system was preventing me from doing so. I went for a job interview at a recruitment agency. They practically offered me the job if I wanted it at a very good wage. But the regional manager asked me to take a week to think about it, because if I did take it, she was worried that it wouldn’t feed my soul or represent who I am. I then stumbled across this blog site and discovered that other educators felt the same way about the system. But when asked who they were, there were events and experiences that led them to teach, but also an innate ability and calling to do so. It is part of who we are and when I asked myself who I was and what fed my soul, the answer was simple. I am an educator and would not want to do anything else. This site allowed me to realise this and I am eternally grateful that it prevented me from making a huge mistake.

My message here is don’t be afraid to change course or redefine what you want and who you are. Who you are at this exact moment, won’t always be who you are for the rest of your life. You can write a whole new story for yourself.  I took the lessons from my experiences and it has shaped who I am as an educator. It taught me to adjust my expectations, allow young people to question the norm, create an environment that allows their creative capacity to flourish, be inclusive and ensure every child has a positive and effective relationship with me and more importantly themselves.

I don’t profess to have had a hard life because in comparison to many young people I have lived with, I’m nowhere near. In fact I only every speak of what a privilege it has been to have had these experiences.

If you take anything away from this piece, please allow it to be the importance of imagination.

‘Imagination is not only the ability to envisage what is not. In its most transformative and broadest form, it is the ability to empathise with others whose experiences we have never shared.’

–          J.K Rowling


@fod3 – Who I am

Education is the key to unlock the door of freedom.

It was a Saturday.  I had made a conscious decision to tidy my room that morning and I had just settled down to do it when my dad called me from downstairs.  I was annoyed – on the one occasion where I had chosen to tidy rather than being nagged to do it – my dad was stopping me.  But something was wrong – he was twitchy, nervous.  He sat me down on the sofa opposite him and stifled a nervous laugh.  He had something to tell me.  Something important.  Slowly, the words ‘I’m not your real father’ left his mouth.  I was broken.  Devastated.  He cried and then I cried but I had the overwhelming desire to leave – it didn’t matter where I went but I needed fresh air and space.  It makes me smile now to think back to the fact that the first place I went was the library, tears streaming down my face but I couldn’t think of where else to go – it was familiar and comforting.

I was angry.  Really angry and spent a good couple of years being angry at home.  Firstly, because I didn’t feel as though my dad had told me through choice, rather that he had been forced into this confession.  I was due to go to London for surgery on my back and in the build-up to the operation, questions about genetics were asked.  He didn’t want to lie to the surgeon so felt compelled to tell me so he could answer the questions more truthfully.

And then there was the anger that came from my fear.  He was the last person in the world I trusted.  At the age of 5 I was taken away from my mother after she physically abused me.  When it was discovered, there were hand and foot prints all over my body – the abuse had been severe.  He had taken me away from danger and protected me and because of this I had trusted him implicitly.  To be told he wasn’t the man I thought he was, meant that there was not one person I knew who had been honest with me in my entire life.  Who could I trust anymore?  Who could I turn to?

It turns out I could turn to my school.  I could turn to education.  Laced with anger, fear and upset, I threw myself into my studies.  I went to school and I studied in the evening.  I joined clubs and organised whole school events so that I didn’t have to go home. I kept my mind busy so I didn’t have to think about the reality of my life.  I was never a grade A student but I won awards for hard work and my dedication to the school.
I turned to teachers who became comforters, protectors and my biggest support.  They held me up when I wanted to fall down.  They hugged me when I needed some love.  They spoke with me when I needed to be listened to.  They sought help for me when they knew I needed it.  They kept me alive.

And so here I am now.  A more rational adult.  My dad, being the single most important person in my life.  A man who sacrificed everything to raise me and to whom I will forever be indebted.  A woman who looks back at those years at DHS and is grateful to all the staff who invested in me.  Took care of me.  Nurtured me.  Supported me.  A teacher who still struggles with work-life balance because all she knew from a young age was work.  A person who is content with the world in which she lives but for whom trust and transparency are the most important values she seeks in others.

From a young age, I always knew I wanted to be a teacher.  However, I never realised the power of education until it saved my life.  And now, as a head of faculty, I get up every morning because I want to help those in my care strive for the best in their lives.  Academically, of course but I also want them to know that there is someone who will be there for them.  Someone who will hold them up when they want to fall down.  Someone who will hug them when they need to be loved.  Someone who will listen when they need to speak and find help, if they should ever want it.   I will never forget that Education saves lives because I will never forget that it saved mine.

@mrsjacksonmusic – Who I am

I feel a bit awkward writing this but I am also looking forward to it.

I was born in Fife, Scotland and remember my childhood as a very happy time. I was the elder of two girls, my mother stayed at home to look after us and my dad was an engineer. I remember proudly telling people in my first year of primary school that “My Daddy makes pennies” when discussing what jobs our parents did, something my dad had told me when he was leaving for work today.

I enjoyed school when I was challenged or engaged. I can see that now. I excelled in music and thrived in Modern Studies, a subject in Scotland which deals with issues such as politics, crime and social issues. Elsewhere, it was a different story.  I was frustrated, lacked patience and was described as “volatile” by my maths teacher, “boisterous” by my French teacher and the Head of Music at my school said she didn’t want me to do higher music as I was going to ruin the class. I was the only one that got an A, determined to prove her wrong. My parents despaired at my inconsistent behaviour and although I was upset that I let them down so often…very often, I just could not help myself! I am so thankful they supported me, really they just wanted me to be happy but as they had no idea what would make me happy, I think it was a difficult time for them.

The music department in my school was made up of three teachers; luckily for me, one of the teachers, Mr Fraser managed to channel my behaviour into my playing, pushing me to do better, inspiring me and encouraging me. I joined the National Youth Brass Band of Scotland at the age of 14 and this was where I met many of my lifelong “band geek” friends I still keep in touch with today. It frightens me to think about where I may have ended up without the gentle influence of Mr Fraser. He had a look- he never shouted, ever – that I can remember, but it was a look that I certainly didn’t ever want to be on the receiving end of! He took our school band on tours to Sweden and Prague, made us compete (and win!) in music festivals and made me see that I could channel all of this “craziness” into something.

I had to decide what I wanted to do after I left school and my lifelong ambition was to join the police force. This is still probably something I will always feel “what if” or that I have missed out on. An unfulfilled ambition.  I loved any crime drama, crime story and the lessons we did in Modern Studies really interested me. I decided (much to the relief of my parents) to go to university first, then if I still wanted to join the police at least I would have a degree in case it didn’t work out.

Off I headed to Manchester in 1996, armed with my baritone and 4 years later I had my music degree but decided after living in Manchester for 4 years, the police was definitely too scary for me. I decided I’d apply for my PGCE. This was a great plan in my eyes as I could still live in Manchester with my friends in Manchester, unlike many of my friends who were heading back home after 4 years of fun. I was lucky enough to gain a place on the music PGCE course at Manchester Metropolitan University and the next chapter of my life began.

I still remember my first lesson. I was placed at a school in Bury, Coney Green School (which doesn’t exist anymore). The staff were lovely and supportive. I remember spending all of lunch time preparing my blackboard – true story, gutted that my tell-tale student teacher black suit was covered in chalk dust. I had a script ready to follow for the entire lesson. What could go wrong? Well as it goes, it was not that bad really, and as the placement progressed I became more and more confident, enjoying what I was doing and deciding this WOULD be my career.

My first teaching post was at Ormskirk School in 2001. Three years later I was heading north to Durham, after 2 years at another school in the outskirts of Liverpool. I had to decide whether being abused and attacked by students happened everywhere, or if it was just where I was.

Interview day arrived. I had done a dry run the night before and there were no problems. My friend who I was staying with the night before the interview decided I’d definitely gone the wrong way, there was an easier way to go. Off I set, in the pouring rain and predictably got completely lost. I decided to ring the school once I was 10 minutes late, in a mad panic. The lovely receptionist who answered the phone managed to direct me there safely, and after 5 minutes with a few tears, it was time. Despite the fact I arrived late, and also then had to ask could I go first as I had students performing in Liverpool Young Musician of the Year that evening, I was in disbelief when I was called to ask if I would like the job. I still remember the piece of music I was listening to at that time- The Riders of Rohan from Lord of the Rings. It still sends shivers down my spine remembering that moment like a photograph in my head.

10 years later and I’m still there at the same school. I’ve seen students and staff come and go, things change, buildings change, job roles change but nothing more so than in the last 2 years. In my 10 years there,  I’ve been the Music Co-Ordinator, the Aim Higher Co-Ordinator, back to Music teacher and currently am Curriculum Leader for Performing Arts. Until this role, I’ve always been interested- passionate about pastoral roles. I love the fact I know my students and I’m in the fortunate position of teaching in a small school, where I feel lucky I teach all of KS3. This last 2 years, things have changed. I’ve changed.

The biggest factor in MY change was my maternity leave. I had 10 months off work, to think about work, going back to work and thinking about me at work. I had become stale in my teaching, sometimes negative and although I had confidence in my job and my students, I had little confidence in myself. I knew I could definitely do a better job, I was just unsure of how to change things. Having this time off to reflect, search for new ways to do things, realise things could change and also the confidence that being a mother brought me has transformed my life, and the lives of my students. Having been that challenging, switched off, bored student at school made me think about how some of my students must have felt like. Rather than looking at why they were  behaving that way, I had to think could I do something different to change their behaviour. I think it’s easy to find fault with “that” child, but I know “that” teacher also needs to take partial responsibility. I was “that” teacher too.

Since September I have relished the challenge that my new role has brought me. It has challenged me, motivated me but most importantly, I know now what I want to do. We have a group of passionate teachers in school, passionate to develop our students, our curriculum, our school. I have become addicted to Teach Meets, the most valuable resource I feel people can use. Listening to other teachers sharing their ideas that have transformed their classrooms, ideas that can be implemented to drive up standards, have driven me to improve my teaching and the work of others in my department. I have gained the confidence to present some of my own ideas to staff in my own and other schools, in my personal aim to improve my nervy public speaking. I have been driven and pushed by two colleagues in particular (I hope they know I mean them when they read this) our little team of “teaching geeks”, reading education books, discussing our shared enthusiasm and sharing this with other people. I am determined to improve my department, a department which is already amazing but I know that nothing is ever complete, there’s always something to tweak, change, ditch, rewrite, to improve further.  I am determined to continue to improve and try to motivate other people. I am confident in my job and this is the first time I can remember feeling this way.

As Ron Berger says, “It’s not a quick fix, it’s a way of life” and it has taken me a long time to realise that, I’m just glad I have.

@jonnywalker_edu – Who I am

I am not particularly prone to self-loathing, but my main thoughts on my own primary school days rest upon how much I would hate to teach myself, if I was the teacher of my former self. There is possibly some truth in saying that my ‘ideal pupil’ as a primary school teacher is the diametric opposite of what I was a child; no doubt, this would whet the psychoanalysts appetite.

Despite not ever really having a profound illness of any kind, and despite having generally good health, I embodied ‘sickliness’ almost as a character trait. I say sickliness because ‘weakness’ sounds too condemnatory. I was that kid whose face would appear all too regularly at the office window, to a chorus of “Not you again, what now?” Migraines, was the most often ailment. Illness and ailment are actually a core theme of my primary school self.

I recall being in Year 4, having a conversation with myself in my head about how much my head hurt. The thought of getting up to tell the teacher about my headache was paradoxically causing a worse headache, and the stress of my mental conversation meant that by the time I got to the front of the line to pester Mrs Earnshaw or Mr Derry, I was already in floods of breathless tears.

I was always one of the clever kids on the top table, and that conferred its special privileges in our school. Strangely, the school managed to make it very highly esteemed to be a clever kid, and the bad kids got on well with us. I didn’t get bullied or anything, which considering what I was like, is a miracle in itself.

I recently met up with some of my old primary school classmates now we are in our early 20s, and it was strange to share perceptions of each other. The way one friend described me, as being obsessed with Spike Milligan, made me out to be way cooler as a child than I had remembered myself.

Nonetheless, I think my over-riding picture of myself as a primary pupil was as somebody who was clever, funny and witty, but utterly and uncritically obedient to whatever my teacher said. Authority absolutely terrified me. I was a monumental crier, and this is the element that would make me hate myself, if I was my own teacher. I would cry at almost everything. When the teachers would shout at the whole class, they would say “You are all being an absolute DISGRACE – not you Jonathan.” I’d still be crying.

My Mum got out my old reports from primary school a while ago and my Reception one said something to the effect of “Jonathan is a very clever boy who becomes inconsolably distressed for no reason.” Christ.

The uncriticality of authority had a dark edge, and in Year 5, I experienced something I now see to be a real rite of passage in my educational journey. I was in the ICT suite doing some independent work and the Year 6 teacher was in there with a Y6 pupil.

“Oh Ryan,” she said to Ryan, “I wonder if you could ask Jonny about Onchlids. He might know.”

This was to be a mean prank on the part of this teacher/child duo.

Together, they came up and explained to me about this self-sufficient species of ape called Onchlids, which were pure vegetarians and which survived by eating the fruit which sprouted from trees which grew out of their cranium. Alarm bells did not ring, because the teacher was telling me they were true.

“I’ve not heard of them but they are amazing,” I offered.

“Why not research them at home?” the teacher suggested.

I went home, my mind filled with Onchlids. We were one of the last families to get the internet, so I was flicking through an old Encyclopaedia on my shelf that some old family friend gave to us. Nothing. I spent the evening drawing Onchlids then pestered my parents.

I was begging for my Dad to tell me about Onchlids and I can’t remember exactly what he said at first – I imagine he might have played along for a while. But it definitely ended with him saying “They’re not real.”

I was arguing with him and I NEVER ever argued with my parents, because I was so convinced that he must be wrong, because the teacher said it was true.

Then my innocence died. I went on to have a good relationship with the teacher who cruelly humiliated me for sport, and in retrospect, I do feel I needed it. Certainly, this episode plays heavily on my mind when I think of myself as a teacher, and about the force of authority as an arbiter of knowledge, that I wield.

In the Year 6 SATS, because they existed back in sunny 2001, I got straight Level 5s. In the school where I work now, this is nothing special, but in my school, to get straight 5s got you elite membership of a group of about 4 kids in the school. That felt good.

Secondary school was really a blur. I enjoyed the school side more as I got older and my memories of Year 7 through to Year 9 are quite dystopian. I was always a good boy, and liked learning, but the stuff going around me was not always ideal. Teachers getting locked out of the classroom by the headcases in my Maths class, and that was top set. Pins in the ICT teacher’s coffee. A series of riotous corridor fights, one which memorably ended with someone getting their face smashed into a radiator. I remember a group of gypsies breaking into school to beat up a Year 8 kid. I remember the spray of hot mercury when my best mate wanted to measure the temperature of the inside of a Bunsen Burner directly. I remember a kid sanding off his fingertips in woodwork class.

These memories have little to do with learning, because I had little to do with learning. The things that hooked my interest were English, for the creative writing element, and Geography, for the environmental issues bit. My tendency to push boundaries but only in strictly conformist ways, such as provocative penmanship, started early.

One of my most distinct memories of secondary school is actually a very early one, and it was in the third week of Year 7, in the immediate aftermath of the September 11th bombings, we were set the task of researching and writing a biography about an interesting person. I wrote mine on Osama Bin Laden because, clearly, he was very interesting. My English teacher appreciated me, but I remember one cover teacher got seriously pissed off with me about it.

Secondary school passed quick and I did well in my GCSEs – I had a good little core of friends who were hard workers by that point, and we all did well out of it. I had been looking forward to Sixth Form because I had started to realise that I not only am good at learning, but I quite like it, and it had started to get on my nerves that all of my lessons were being ruined by idiots.

Sixth Form had been built up so much in my head, that when it arrived, I was deeply dissatisfied. Again, I was wondering where the intellectuals were. I chose to study English Literature, Sociology, Politics and French, then would take English Language in a year during my A2 year.

I became a much more involved student during these times and a side-effect of this is one that is with me now: I am unable just to relax. During my free periods, I began volunteering at a local primary school, essentially out of a desire not to get bored at sixth form. More about that after…

My teachers during A Level were very interesting, and I think highly of all of them in different ways. I went to Danum School, now Danum Academy, in Doncaster. My sociology teacher, Mr Hurley, was incredibly inspiring and he had a galvanising effect on all of his classes; proudly Marxist, laid back and knowledgeable, he won over all of his pupils with the charm of his character and the content of his lessons. Again, my lack of criticality meant that week-by-week, I came to identify as a Functionalist, then a Marxist, then an Interactionist. I essentially hero-worshipped him, and subject-worshipped Sociology.

A strange twist of fate befell my AS level exams. I knew I was going to apply to university, and by that point I was really interested in education. Nobody in my family has been to university and so, despite their good intentions, they would be the first to acknowledge that they could not really help me out. I thought “I like education”, and saw that Roehampton University, way off in exotic London, did loads of it. I decided I would just go there.

In our school, there was an ‘Oxbridge group’ for the small number of pupils whose grades might give them a fighting chance. To be put into this little nurture group, you needed straight A grades at AS Level, then we would be taken on trips to Oxbridge during Year 13. I hadn’t thought about this at all because I was going to Roehampton.

I worked harder for my AS Levels than anything else, including university, and the only paper I found tricky was my A Level Government and Politics. I was in the test hall, the feeling of sickness rising in my throat, as I realised I was running out of time and had lost my flow. I looked up and saw on the board, to my surprise, that my name had erroneously been placed on the board for extra time – they had written the wrong Walker. I was designated to have an extra 5 minutes or so, which – with a lack of moral backbone, admittedly – I gladly used.

When results came back my score was 240/300, meaning if I had one less mark, my score would have been a B rather than an A. I got straight A grades at AS, meaning if I had not accidentally been given the few minutes because of being accidentally diagnosed with dyslexia for an afternoon, I wouldn’t have got the last couple of marks that tipped me into A Grade.

And I wouldn’t get a place in the Oxbridge group.

I got into Cambridge – whoop di doo! – and took up a place to study Politics, Psychology and Sociology, a course formerly known as Social and Political Sciences. I knew that I was there because of my own intellectual merits and, despite being from a far less well off background than most, I did not for one second doubt my abilities. I loved the studies at Cambridge, and immersed myself in social theory and in the sociology of education.

My dissertation was titled Masculinities in the Primary School, and it was a huge study based on interview and observation in a Year 6 classroom, and conducting it only strengthened my growing sense that I should probably be a teacher.

Back in Sixth Form, I had volunteered in a local primary school three times a week, and I had the privilege of moving up the school with a class of kids. I started with them in Year 2, then moved up into Year 3, and when I went to uni, I would come back and visit them as they were in Year 4, Year 5 and then, les often, Year 6. I learned as much from being in that school as I did in Sixth Form.

One very decisive and, definitely, sad elements of this was the fact that I ended up working with a really deeply troubled boy aged 7 who ended up being placed into the care system, as a result of home life issues. Obviously I’ll not mention any details about him or the case, but for me, it was all too much and I was too emotionally involved at too young an age to fully comprehend the complexity of the situation. I had an undirected rage against whatever it was that was letting stuff like this happen to kids like that.

During Uni, I got really involved in local community charities such as Cambridge SCA and Campus, and I did a lot of work with kids and teenagers.

All of this put me in good stead for applying to be a teacher. Once I knew I wanted to teach after graduation, the question was how and where. I knew I wanted to get out of Cambridge, and ideally go to London for the change and the challenge. At around that time of year that I was considering my career options, Cambridge lifts its skirt to the corporate recruiters and I started to see the words TeachFirst everywhere I went. It defined itself passionately, spoke of the need to address educational disadvantage and I got on really well with the recruiter.

I applied to be a Citizenship teacher, thinking it the most well-suited direction what with me being geekily obsessed with the social sciences. I got a place and was told in a cheery phone call, “Congratulations, you have been placed in Yorkshire in a school with a Sixth Form!”

Yorkshire? That wasn’t part of the plan – I cynically made the joke that I had just spent 21 years of my life trying to escape it and now they had extradited me back there.

I told them I was not sure I could accept that and they said “Well, we are considering launching a Primary scheme in 2011, which would place you in London?”

Immediately, it became clear that I should be doing primary teaching, and that it was what I wanted to be doing in the first place. Boom. I was placed in Elmhurst Primary School, due to start in 2011.

The training at the Summer Institute was like having a professional bomb dropped on us. We were many of us just days out of our undergraduate exams, and now we were taking the tube around London, visiting schools, seeing the incredible skills of good teachers and we were wondering “Oh my god, how the hell will I be like this in 6 weeks.”

We spent three weeks being taught at the Institute of Education, and then three more at the University of Warwick. It was, to be euphemistic about the experience, a time of great socialness and merriment.

I started at Elmhurst in 2011 and was given a fantastic eccentric mentor who would be in class with me from Day One until whenever I was ready to take the stabilisers off. In my entire first year of teaching, as cringeworthy as it is to say this, not a single day went by when I did not come home happy about school. The first year of TeachFirst is ridiculous – full time teaching, plus full time student, plus Masters accreditation and TeachFirst commitments –but the teaching itself was great. I was gifted a fabulous class by management at the school, who clearly appreciated that a teacher needs to walk before they can run.

Working with my mentor Michele was brilliant – I picked up so much from her in the term we spent together, especially regarding assessment. We had many open discussions about the dire quality of my handwriting, which I was implored to improve.

In the first year, I managed to find so much time to dedicate to the kids in my Year 4 class; I would go out with them at breaktimes, and I started after school clubs. I was just loving my job so much, I had crazy amounts of energy.

On that point, on the very last day of term at the end of my first year, I participated in a Teachers vs Pupils football match in the playground, attempted a scissors kick and I smashed through my arm, breaking both radius and ulna at the forearm and wrist. The best thing about this was the legendary status it gave me for a day, when I arrived, bandaged and drugged, at the Thailander restaurant 4 hours later for end of year drinks.

My second class proved much more challenging and it was the year in which I feel I learned most about being a teacher. My class was more challenging, with a much wider spectrum of needs, and this challenged me to improve. I learned my weaknesses, specifically the management of Teaching Assistants and delegation more generally. Behavioural difficulties caused me to realise that my first year had been plain sailing because of the incredibly nice children I had been given; most classrooms would not be so idyllic.

That said, I did grow to love my second class too, and had a great year with them.

My current class are much more like my second year class than my first year class, but my current crop is populated by eccentrics. Although they are a tricky bunch to teach, en masse, they are all thoroughly interesting little people to work with.

My persona as a teacher, and my philosophy on being a teacher, are very much influenced by my experiences. More recently, through becoming much more involved in Twitter, I am thinking more analytically about what exactly it is that I want to be as a teacher, and what should I be in order to best cater to the needs of my pupils.

I do not want any of my children to be anything like as gullible and uncritical as I was in my own primary school. There can be no Onchlids in 4W; I want them to question everything, and I see it as my role to encourage them to do so. I want my children to ask questions, and I want them to develop curiosity.

When I think back to my own schooling and I reflect on what I had that others didn’t, if anything, that would have allowed me to do so well academically, I settle on ‘curiosity’. I mean that in two ways. First, I was always curious about the lives of other people, their words, their worlds and their ways of being – everything I read was grounded in human experiences as a kid, and I had an enquiring mind. Second, I was ‘curious’ in the sense of ‘a bit strange’ – I want my children to grow up feeling proud to be a bit different in the way they think. If Osama bin Laden is an interesting figure, why wouldn’t I write my biography on an interesting figure about him? The pressure on children to keep their heads down can be strong and stifling and I want kids to feel assured enough in their own convictions that they will happily and confidently deviate from the expected paths.

There are many different elements to being a primary school teacher and my view is that it is essentially impossible to embody all of them with the same passion, skill and enthusiasm. There are certain elements that must be there – the ability to instruct, to convey knowledge, to foster understanding, to explain – but outside of that, in the realms of persona, character and philosophy, there is a wide spectrum of suitable subject positions.

As a teacher, I want to occupy the position of a constant ally to the children – not a friend, but as somebody who will encourage them to pick their battles wisely, to apply themselves, and as somebody who will support them from the side. I want the children to know their rights, and to be vocal about policing them. I want them to be happy in school and in my classroom. I want them to excel in school, and I want them to have fun doing so.

onklid 2onklid

Nice ending! Little brother crotcheted an Onklid – they do exist! https://www.etsy.com/uk/listing/83360161/onklid-amigurumi-monkey-crochet-pattern

@Edutronic_Net – Who I am

 My path to an inner London classroom started for me on an impossibly faraway island, the South Island of New Zealand. It’s a story of how I was saved by literature and my brother. Memories of my early childhood are suffused with the sound of wind whistling through power lines, the vertiginous, ubiquitous presence of the vast Pacific horizon and a deep sense of isolation. I had always felt separate. I cultivated many personal beliefs to make sense of this, circumstances that I recruited to explain to myself why, to everyone’s bafflement, I didn’t want to be an All-Black. My parents had long since separated – unusual in the 1970s. I was so-called intelligent, I preferred reading to digging in the garden and I was terrified of climbing trees – a terror only eclipsed by terror of my peers, the kids in my neighbourhood and at my school against whom my ‘otherness’ was put into the sharpest of relief. I spent too much time in my bedroom. I was not engaged by team sport – I was never bad at sport really, just bad at fitting in. The closer I had to come into contact with kids my age the more deeply alienated I felt. I simply didn’t understand how they operated. On Saturdays I sailed a yacht on that wide sea. I threw ‘like a girl’ and liked listening to Kate Bush. The neighbour’s son, mowing the lawn, acres of it, made me catch my breath.

Chris Waugh My local beach

 This was the 1970s, we wore shorts all year, had permanently peeling noses and homework consisted more of making stuff than writing. Everybody read, all the time. There was only one television channel and most of the content was imported, distant, dis-connected from the life in front of me. Most of the money I earned on my paper round was spent on batteries, secretly bought from the local shop, for my torch so I could keep reading under the covers, after lights-out. 35 years later I can recall vividly my mortal terror of Shelob. My mum remarried – a dentist – our names were changed to stitch up our re-constituted family, much like the billiard pockets she’d crocheted at night for money in poorer times. Step-brothers came and went. Grandparents, struggling to adjust, vied for sovereignty over one offspring or another. My polo-necked woollen jerseys itched a lot. I learned to hold my ground, argue my case. Mum let me do pottery classes as a hasty embarrassed compromise when I told her I was interested in ballet. I made her a lop-sided mug.

 The city’s prestigious all boys’ secondary school – the one up on the hill in all of its neo-gothic grandeur (this is New Zealand, nothing human-made is actually old) – decided to cash in one of its rare ‘out-of-zone’ chips and offered me a place. There I was, in my unaccustomed suit and tie, sitting in a room with 30 other bewildered boys being told that we represented the ‘cream of society’ and just how much we had to be thankful for. We were expected to achieve at the highest levels. Our class was kept on a separate timetable to the other boys. Our marked work was handed back to us from bottom to top. Anything less than an 85% Mastery grade would mean doing it again.

Chris Waugh Otago Boys' High School

 And so it was, at the age of 13, I was outed by a teacher: according to him, on no uncertain terms, I was a faggot (Oh, how strongly, even now, I desire to wrap that word safely in quotation marks). There was no-one in my life who I could look to as a model of what a homosexual was meant to be. In those days homosexuality was a crime; most of us didn’t even really know what it was. No matter, my school and my society could teach me what I was, how to view myself.

 I was treated with disdain, disgust and outright hatred.  Sure, I was spat on, punched, tripped, made to prostrate and humiliate myself, made a scapegoat, jeered at, had my work defaced – stolen only to find it strewn in the school urinals…  But it wasn’t this that truly did the harm. What remains with me now is the unspoken distancing I experienced. People steered clear. I existed within my own untouchable bubble. I was the only one of me. I learned to step out of myself and watch everything from a critical distance. I became self-conscious. Aware of my every gay movement, gesture, sound. I raised an abstract screen around myself. I predicted every situation and person and reaction. I schooled myself in a brittle disinterested disdain; there was no point fighting. Who would care? Why tell a teacher of actions taken by students when the teacher was present when it occurred. He had eyes of his own. I only ‘brought it on myself’, as one of them said to my concerned mother.

 While all this went on, I spoke of it to no-one. My younger brother, though, watched it all. Never a talker, he took action instead. He would go to our city public library, the one by the statue of Robbie Burns, armed with his citizen’s library card and the purest, gentlest heart and take out books for me to read. To this day I don’t know how he figured it out, but he would borrow books by gay authors or on gay subjects. Ones that flew under the radar with innocuous names like “The Swimming Pool Library” became my late-night secret. He tossed them into my room when I wasn’t there (he couldn’t actually go into my room because I’d bought, soldered and assembled a kitset burglar alarm for my bedroom door) and when I’d finished them I tossed them back in his room. I’d never have been able to be seen, anywhere, at any time, with those books in my possession – and they literally saved my life. I discovered that there were other people like me in the imaginary world across the sea where the albatross flew. We never spoke of it.

Chris Waugh Me and my brother

 Unwittingly I’d filled my life with gay people. I read and obsessed over the Merchant Ivory film of A Room with a View by E. M. Forster, loved Oscar Wilde – and yet at the time I knew none of them were also capable of the “love that dare not speak its name”. Without those men, and their coded messages, I cannot think I would ever have made it through.

 I would listen to the “gay show” on the student radio station using my crystal set and started showing up at the station. I ended up scoring myself an early-morning Saturday radio show of my own. The perfect excuse not to be playing rugby. It was magical. I doubt anyone tuned in, but I did discover The Smiths, I discovered someone else ached with “Shyness that is criminally vulgar”

 When I was 16, in spite of the Salvation Army’s best efforts and a petition that even my parents signed, homosexuality was decriminalised in New Zealand. Discrimination on the basis of sexuality was still legal – it would take the late arrival of the AIDS epidemic to bring that kind of civil protection to gay people, but at least now my secret wasn’t a living embodiment of Thoughtcrime. I finished school with a report that stated on its front page “Chris is a liability in the classroom”. No matter, I’d never darken the door of a school classroom again. I’d got my A Bursary and a place in the English programme at University. I shook my mother’s hand at the door and said “Thank you for bringing me up”.  I got into my Austin 1300 with hydro-lastic suspension and I was gone.

 University was a revelation. My course in English literature spanned centuries, and took some major deviations into Latin American fiction, post-colonial fiction and feminism. There was even a year-long paper in contemporary women’s fiction where I was the only male in a room of 100.  I discovered the coded voice of my own people in parallel with the discovery of the emergent voice of women in Literature. I learned of the power of writing, literature and language to affect the world and change an individual’s life. I took up part time work in the student radio station, took over the ‘gay show’, took to wearing tank tops a lot and became an aerobics instructor. Mum had to accelerate her own coming out process before her friends and colleagues discovered the uncomfortable fact of her gay son via talkback radio.

Chris Waugh Aerobics

 Immediately on finishing a lack-lustre BA in English with Philosophy, I started working full time in radio. At 22 I took the position of Station Manager in a small radio station in Christchurch. Those 7 years of hard work in were interspersed with a lot of surfing, cycling and ever-growing class sizes at the city gym. Alongside this were the the all-too frequent deaths of young men – my friends – in the terror, acrimony and misery of AIDS before the retro-viral treatments made it across the vast sea. I discovered the true meaning of community when an ex-partner of my boyfriend, dying from an AIDS-related illness, lived with us for his last 9 months. He was cared for by everyone in our local community from our neighbours to old friends. When he finally died one shining day while the rest of us were out swimming in that endless sea, I truly grasped the notion that death can be a welcome release. We were barred from attending his funeral by his family, but then, they’d barred themselves from most of his adult life. We got the better end of the deal.

Otago Peninsula - Where I grew up

 Moving from radio to aerobics took me one step closer to the direct relationships I was craving in my life. The audience was now in the room with me and I was now more than a disembodied voice. I always wondered if embarking as a career as an aerobics instructor was somewhat about reclaiming that moment when my ballet dreams were thwarted all those years ago. During the next four years of managing a force of 50 aerobics instructors in a massive urban gym, the social climate changed dramatically in New Zealand, and the wider acceptance of gay people opened up a world of possibility. A long-repressed idea re-entered my mind “What about being a teacher?”.

 That first moment of stepping into a school as an adult – standing in front of those young people and knowing, just knowing, that before anything else it was their hearts I held in my hand – changed my life. In the time since then I’ve worked in everything from massive urban co-eds to a five year stint as HOD English/Drama in an alpine outdoor education school.

 There’s a photo of me standing in a glacial lake with my ‘class’ all holding hands. Goodness knows what I was doing at the time, but I think it’s safe to say it didn’t have much to do with Spelling, Punctuation and Grammar. My students would be winning Shakespeare performance competitions one weekend and winning multi-sport races the next. To me, to us all, it felt completely natural that these things happened as part of ordinary schooling. Detentions consisted of a run up a hill. I belonged to the local running and swimming clubs and for the first time in my life enjoyed the un-self-conscious pleasure of engaging in sport with other men.

 There was this moment one winter’s evening where I was outside my little house chopping wood for the fire. I was still in my school suit, and all around me the mountains looked on in silence. The milky way was infinite above me and the freezing air made my breath visible before it drifted out of the pale light from inside. I realised in spite of everything I was still in many senses very alone. I was absolutely loved and embraced by my school and my community, but the solitude that had once been unavoidable had over time become a familiar companion. Walking inside to light the fire I realised that there was one last change I needed to make. I needed to be amongst my own people. Other men in their middle years who had also struggled to come to terms with their sexual identity and who were finding a meaningful role in life without their own children.

 Now I work in a boys’ comprehensive school in central London. In spite of the radical geographical shift, there’s a sense I’ve gone full-circle. I’m back in a boys’ state school much like the one I went to. Now I’m now the teacher in the classroom whose privilege it is to participate in the nurturing and development of young men.

 In addition to good solid routines and competent, perhaps sometimes inspirational experiences of learning in English, I recognise that some of these boys also need great care. Whether it be due to personal circumstance, cultural difference or challenges at home, sometimes they also feel alienated from the world around them. I believe it is important that I am sensitive to all of this and that I show great patience and openness to these young men. I know from personal experience the power a teacher can have on the life of a young man, and I’m determined to make sure my influence is positive. I’ve still got books to help me and it is my life’s mission to provide them with access to this incredible resource of human endeavour in the same spirit as my brother did.

 I think I can now confidently say: I am no longer a liability in the classroom.

Chris waugh Aerobics Instructor


@LDIleeds – Who I am

I have always loved learning and I have always been so fascinated by things which were deemed ‘too difficult.’ I was a wall flower with little confidence but I somehow managed to pass the 11+ and get into the girls’ grammar school, where a whole new level of learning opened to me. I trod water, until my English teacher finally put me into a mentoring programme to sort out my chaotic writing, which is still an issue to this day: I’m persevering. I felt so ashamed when I was picked out but now, I couldn’t be more thankful to them for giving me that missing foundation building block of learning without which I would have hit the glass ceiling very quickly. I found my niche in Languages, Literature and History. I truly loved my GCSEs (all 15 of them) and my A-Levels and couldn’t understand why my Keighley neighbours hated school, skived and would do anything but their homework. This all became very clear when I started tutoring in deprived inner city areas of London!


My love of teaching first ignited when I was asked as a sixth form student to tutor underachieving students in their English Language and Literature GCSEs. I loved sharing my knowledge with these younger students and got a real buzz from seeing the ‘lightbulb’ moments and then their increasing attainment over the year. I agonised about my university choices; my mum wanted me to use my languages to become a highflying, polyglot lawyer and so I followed my love of languages, having already studied French, German and Spanish, to study a BA in French and Russian at UCL really not knowing what on earth I was going to do.


Very soon after starting at university I needed money as my student loan barely covered my rent, never mind bills, food and utilities, never mind the social life I tried to lead! I signed up with the university jobs service and I trained for half a day in silver service, and after a mere 4 hour assignment I realised I a) needed a better paid job and b) I need to do something that I can bear doing. By chance, a job as a Community Learning Tutor, leading English support classes for groups of NEET students, was advertised a few days after this and I jumped at the chance of earning nearly £20 p/h. I naively thought I’d be doing a very similar role to the one I had done in my leafy, privileged, all girls’ state grammar as really – how could NEET really differ?!


I hear your laughter now – I crease over myself. In any case, I was launched with no training and a brief of teaching “the value of money” into a removal room with radio-clad SLT on the door for an hour. Needless to say that session did not go well. I was astounded at behaviour, motivation and the lack of drive or aspiration of these pupils. It all seemed exceptionally strange as my school experience was so vastly different I may as well have lived in a fairytale, where it was scandalous to not get more than 3 into Oxbridge, never mind into university full stop. It was in this school though, where I saw just how big the challenge of ‘closing the gap’ was and just how important it is to have almost doggedly committed staff. It has fuelled me to choose to work in such environments. I continued this work for 2 years, expanding provision into y11 Literature classes, Primary KS1 and 2 support, as well as EAL work. I also worked with parents to enable their participation with the UK school system. I held an advisory board role to expand the projects, and we were approached as an organisation to do formal research with the aim of publishing our work. However, this is when I remembered I was a university student and had an academic year abroad to complete.


So I left this job, trying to balance the advisory meetings for a while, and went to Russia and then to France. I was lucky enough to be granted a Comenius Assistantship for my French time of my Year Abroad where I discovered another great passion within teaching: ESL. I was lucky, yet again, to stumble across an Activity Leader job on the UCLU website. I went to interview and was offered me the opportunity to complete a TEFL qualification, which allowed me to teach as well as show groups of foreign students around London. I marvelled at the small parts of the English language you never thought really existed during this course and shamelessly used my French students as guinea pigs for the new teaching techniques I was studying.


By the time this job started my then Line Manager offered me the chance to go to the Senior Staff training to support the management of Summer School. So I taught and also helped to co-ordinate the ‘active learning projects,’ which first stimulated my interest in innovative, creative teaching and learning on a whole school basis. In the summer after my finals I went back to the same company to be a Deputy Centre Manager and continued to delve into the world of international summer school education.


Those summers together with my tutor role confirmed my fervent desire to teach language especially in an inner city setting- the majority of these foreign students had a higher level of English than those I had taught in London! I therefore applied for Teach First and my PGCE. I didn’t gain a place on Teach First and due to medical extenuating circumstances in my finals Cambridge University decided to withdraw their offer of an MFL PGCE. Naturally, I was in heaps. However this was perhaps the most defining part of my very short career to date – I learnt to be truly emotionally resilient and the silver lining was that I was going to have the best academic year yet.


I moved home again and went on supply to get any role whatsoever in the field of Education. My first job was in a reprographics department in leafy Leeds where I began to see the other cogs in a school and how each person in that building matters to the standard of education: it wasn’t just about teachers and new initiatives for progress and all the other buzz words. Everyone plays a role to create that all important supportive learning environment for the most important people to succeed: the students. I was told about an EAL TA role at an inner city Leeds school and I spent the rest of the year with that school, making up a 2 man team – myself and the co-ordinator to deliver EAL provision. I was in my element- I was given freedom to create pathways for EAL students and I flourished, developing my creativity and independence in the classroom. I wanted an ‘on the job’  training option and School Direct gave me that route into teaching.


Last summer I took a role as a Centre Director and ran a summer school for 1500 students, managing a UK staff team of 50 and welcomed over 100 foreign language teachers. I didn’t think teaching and education could get more demanding and then I started my PGCE School Direct course. I have honestly never worked so hard to produce the best work I possibly can with as many troughs and peaks, which seem so personal at the time. I have experienced the sentiments of exhilaration and the desolation of the PGCE year as and when I’ve realised I can do so much and then also seen how much more I have to learn. I’ve been boosted by multiple Grade 1 observations, praised for my creative work, but I’ve also been told I can’t do things the way I would like, gained scathing criticism, and I’ve had to learn to jump through the hoops, slimming down my ideas to fit a set of criteria. Such was the ‘wobble’ in self belief I didn’t think I could ‘cut it’ but thankfully both my support at the Alliance and at university and they have kept me together to become an even more competent teacher, ready for the demands of an NQT position.


Looking back on my PGCE year I am not too sure how any trainee gets through it: 2 very contrasting schools to acclimatise to, being scrutinised in on average 10 formal observations a week, master’s level essays to research, complete and pass, job applications, reflective journals, evaluations to write for each full written lesson plan, along with throwing yourself into as many extra-curricular opportunities as possible to get a balance of TS8 and Part II evidence. I’m sure the NQT year will be as mentally demanding or more-so, and I’ll be laughing at myself for these words when I’ve moved to a full timetable and then later in my career if or when I juggle additional responsibility. I have gained an NQT post in the same inner city school where I did my EAL work, which I am ecstatic about. As for the future, well I wouldn’t like to guess, given the story I’ve spieled today. I want to affect change and to drive improvement in both EAL and MFL provision in UK state education. I want to give students, who aren’t given the possibilities I was so lucky to take as a right and not a privilege, the very best start to life and open up the world to them. As long as I still fulfil those aims throughout my career I will be happy.

@Gwenelope – Who I am

I offered to write this AGESSSSS ago, and have been pondering what on earth to write ever since.

So here goes, a potted biography of me and my journey to ‘teacher’.

Home is where the heart is #clicheklaxon

The majority of my growing up, or at least the bits I can remember most clearly, was done in Pembrokeshire.  If you’re not familiar with this particular ‘shire’ then it’s the peninsular at the VERY South West of Wales. You cannot get any more South West in Wales then Pembrokeshire. Fact. It is a rural community whose industries are farming and tourism, and not really a great deal else.  It is however, exceptionally beautiful. In my memory, I think of it as very much like “Hobbiton”:

Lush emerald green, quaint, a little bit peculiar, perhaps rather romanticised since I have been living in the Midlands these past *gasp* 20 years (that does go to explain my Midlands twang, which I am less than fond of).
I grew up just 4 miles from this beach: Picture from ’empireonline’.

Freshwater West Beach, which as you can see, is the location for Shell Cottage from “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Parts 1 & 2”.  Pre-driving days, I used to cycle to it often.  I drove to it recently, and was rather astonished at the hilliness of the route, so became confounded as to how my teenage legs ever coped with it. I remember, as I drove up to the beach after over 10 years of not visitiing it, tears pricked my eyes due to a mix of its sheer beauty and fond but painful memories of home.
I grew up in this pub, The Speculation Inn:
“Ahhhh, growing up in a pub, how thrilling!” you say.  Well, no, not quite.  Mum and dad worked like pit donkeys to keep the place going, very rarely made anything resembling a profit and money was always tight, to the extent that dad took on a second job, doing his original profession of “Chemical Engineer” (Big plumbing, with nasty chemicals as far as I understand it) at the local oil refinery – which on at least two memorable occasions – blew up; more accurately, bits of it did. The first occasion was a massive round tanker of oil; the second was the ‘Cracker’. Each time what seemed like the ENTIRE Welsh fire service ‘Ne naaaaaed’ past our pub in order to put it out. On each occasion I think it took about 3 – 4 days.  When the Cracker exploded, it shattered numerous house windows in Milford Haven, the opposite side of the estuary.
   Nearby was Castlemartin Barracks, so afternoons were often punctuated by the sound of tankers practising on the firing range.  Not as peaceful as the pictures might lead you to believe.
  The coastline is just spectacular, Stack Rocks and the chapel of St. Govan were favourite places to go on a stormy day. There’s nothing quite like the sight and sound of ginormous waves crashing against an ancient cliff-face.
Picture from: marlaine.com
Junior School
I joined Orielton School at the age of 7, after we moved there from Chepstow.  Joining a small, close knit rural school is no easy task for a chubby, hamster-cheeked, bespectacled, ENGLISH SOUNDING outsider who is VERY keen to learn. Oh no siree.  Making friends there was very difficult indeed as everyone already knew everyone else and were quite happily settled into their friendship groups, thank you very much.  I think I made some eventually…
    The main building was an old Victorian school house, with the main teaching room, the Head Teacher’s room was large, dark and intimidating.  We sat at those old fashioned wooden desks, with hinged tops where we kept our school books and stationery.  They were arranged in rows and the teacher taught from the front. We were drilled in times-tables and we read often.  I’m sure I was forced to learn the recorder at some point and HAD to perform in a Christmas concert. Oh the joys.
  The canteen and the 2nd classroom were pre-fabricated buildings, the playground was hard tarmac with a sand pit, a rather cool climbing frame, and we had the luxury of a field at the back of the playground to roam around in on breezy Summer days.  Summer being the time when the compulsory red gingham dress had to be worn, a painful occurence for an out and out Tom Boy.
   Boys out-numbered girls quite considerably, so I was ‘forced’ to play football with the lads at break time. I LOVED it! I was a mean tackler on the pitch – no one’s shins were safe, NO ONE”S.  Perhaps it is here my competitive edge, that I don’t often acknowledge, was developed.
Secondary School
I am a product of Britain’s Comprehensive School system.  In rural communities, the notion of parental choice for your child’s school is laughable.  You go to the school that is geographically nearest with a school bus, regardless of what kind of school it might be and what kind of results it may achieve.  I began at the this school pre-National Curriculum days – THAT LONG AGO!  Hard to believe that was ever the case these days isn’t it?
   The intake was geographically and numerically large with something like 1400 pupils, and I ground to a halt writing this section for about a week.  Much of my early years at secondary school were a blur of unhappiness. I was bullied, fairly relentlessly and mostly by girls, on the bus, in the playground, lessons, everywhere. One memorably unpleasant incident was in a CDT room, in Year 7 or 8. I was sat on the benches on the outside edge, on my own, wishing for invisibility. The lesson got underway and the teacher popped out of the room, giving an ample time window for the bullies to come over to kick and punch me in the kidneys.  I just sat there, not reacting, not giving any indication that they had hurt me.  Of course, inside was rather different. A mix of misery and anger, steely determination not to show my feelings, helplessness.
  At the same time, my home life was distinctly unpleasant, due to complex family politics.  My parents argued constantly, displaying not just verbal aggression to each other, but very occasionally physical.  One night I sat bolt-up right in bed and screamed at them to stop fighting. My sister had shut herself off from us, so we didn’t speak really for over a year. I was often in the position of referee for my parent’s argument, which on reflection, was my ‘normal’ but put me in a terrible position of choosing sides.  I remember a painful but matter of fact request to my mum asking them to get divorced.  No one in our family history had ever been divorced, so it wasn’t going to happen. Years later, when dad died of liver cancer, I was proud of them for fulfilling their ‘When death do us part’ wedding vow.
  As for lessons and teaching? French lessons with a young NQT were a blur of chaos, as was Maths.  With my wonky eye, I dreaded any PE lesson that involved the use of a ball – and as girls had to do netball, hockey and tennis, I detested much of it.  I was much better in athletics and in the pool where I could at least co-ordinate my limbs well enough.  I had a mean sprint at the end of a Cross country run and won the Shot Put on Year 7 Sports Day.
  Educational solace came in the busier lessons of Science where I enjoyed the practical and investigative nature of it, whilst English and Art lessons were an oasis of calm.  The teachers were more competent, kind and inspiring, my class mates were less vicious and I felt safer.
  I did end up forming good friendships (re-ingnited via Facebook as a grown-up) and achieved 10 GCSEs 5 As, 3bs and 2cs in Year 11. I think I jumped 4 foot in the air when I read my results.
  Unfortunately, (or fortunately) I discovered that thing called ‘a social life’ and had a late rebellion. I hadn’t chosen my A-Levels terribly wisely – I’ve always regretted taking Geography instead of History especially in my later career as a teacher.  History would have been far more useful. Geography A-Level became tedious for we did far too much on Urban Geography whilst we were surrounded by the beauty and drama of the Pembrokeshire coastline, I grew bored of it very quickly. As a result I left Year 13 with decidedly average results of C, C, D in English Literature, Art and Design and Geography.  I was disappointed in myself, and my mother was visibly disappointed on results day.  I’ve never forgotten that moment and how it felt.
A Year Out
I’d had enough of education for a bit, and very unwisely, in the August of 1993, on my Mum’s birthday I told her I didn’t want to go on the foundation Art course I’d applied to. I wanted a year out. This did not go down well and there was a sense of panic that I would not go on to University. I re-assured them I would and set about finding something else to do instead.
  I enroled in our local Prince’s Trust scheme which involved team building via Outdoor Pursuits, or in the case of Pot-holing – indoor pursuits, the most memorable moment was going pot-holing on my 19th birthday. We got through the infamous ‘letter-box’ passage in the Breacon Beacons cave, switched off our headlamps to experience true pitch black (or as Thomas would say, ‘bible-black’) and my team sung ‘Happy Birthday’ to me in the dark.  We exited bruised, exhausted, and covered in clay. I think I was nicknamed ‘Mrs. Hedge-backwards’ afterwards.  My team contained members in my school group, lads who I didn’t really know at school but had a real giggle with here. There was 12 boys and 2 girls, the other girl having the most chromic verbal diarrhea, ergo, I got on much better with the lads than she did.
  I applied for a 3 month extension on the scheme so I could continue working in a local stables. I received very basic pay and got a grant to buy riding equipment. Working with horses was lovely, physically draining and my god did I build some muscles. Learning to ride was fabulous. Nothing beats a gallop at full pelt across an empty beach, even if the 5 hour total ride rendered me incapable of walking for at least 2 days afterwards.
  Meanwhile, I thought about what to study at University more carefully, and applied for English courses as far afield as Belfast University, Glamorgan University and Northampton.  I plumped for Northampton as the campus was green, leafy and village like, whilst the course was a Combined Studies where I chose to major in English, with Drama, (Equine Studies as a subsiduary – turned out to be dreadfully boring with no horse-riding) and Media Studies.
Higher Ed – Northampton.
Ok, so I wasn’t studying anywhere fancy, my A-Level results did limit me here, but vowed to learn from my mistakes in Year 13.   Having said that, beginning the course with James Joyce’s “The Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man” , T. S. Eliot’s “The Wasteland” and modernism felt like an unachievable leap after my A-Level English Literature.  The English course was heavily bound up with theories: Maxism, Psychoanalysis, Feminism, Post-Stucturalism, Linguistics (a massive struggle having never been taught grammar in my own schooling), Post-Colonialism, Post-Modernism, Renaissance Self-Fashioning, Allegory and The Faerie Queen (thoughts of which just makes me shudder). Our Post-Modernism lecturer was Professor Peter Brooker – who is Charlie Brooker’s dad.  He was a fabulous Prof’ – cool, witty, charming, knew his subject inside out, warm and friendly. Later on he was my dissertation tutor, who helped me change it from a near car-crash of a dissertation to something workable and interesting.
  Drama was, well, full of drama queens and I felt very uncomfortable through most of the course. But I saw some fab produtions: Lysistrata, The Alchemist, The Three Sisters (actually, that one was baffling and I think I may have fallen asleep) and did a damn fine job of playing a corpse in one of our group productions. The study of Greek drama and comedy has been very useful in the teaching of Shakespeare.
  After dropping Equine Studies – I picked up Media Studies in my final year and was taught the sociological theories by Prof. David Wragg, a big hairy man who was hugely confident in his own intellect, whilst at the same time showing a distinctive disdain for his students.
  The first year was a struggle and I only just passed, I got better and in my final year achieved a strong 2:1 being only 4 marks away from a 1:1.
Some Wilderness Years.
I graduated during the last major recession, so getting a graduate job was so very difficult. I had so many rejections from graduate positions I nearly lost the will to live.  However, being instilled with a stong work ethic, I knew I wanted to work rather than claim benefits so moved back to Northampton and took a job in JJB Sports Plc.  It wasn’t without its challenges, especially in the Summer months, in a non-air conditioned shop serving people with the most ATROCIOUS foot odour who wanted to come in and try on trainers. I stuck it out for a year, if only to prove to others that I could hold down a job for a decent period of time.
  Due meeting a chap (it all went horribly wrong much later on) – I ended up moving to Milton Keynes, and decided to get work as an office temp’ which begun 4 1/2  years working at Abbey National HQ’s Visa Dispute centre.  Whilst there I decided to study for my MA Modern English Literature, part-time, back in Northampton.  It was largely self-funded from my meagre £12k wages, with the exception of a small scholarship in my 2nd and final year of study. I used up all my flexi-time and holidays for essays and my dissertation. My dissertation topic was a tad morbid – I focused on Autobiographical narratives of the terminally ill, combined with ‘taking on’ Barthes Post-Structuralist theory of the metaphorical ‘Death of the Author’.  My head hurts to even think of it now.
  Two and a half-years later, I passed my MA with Merit, I remain quite chuffed at that.
Becoming a teacher
I remember very distinctly, after finding out I had been awarded with my MA, sitting down at my desk in Abbey National and sobbing, Big, heaving, over-powering sobs. I was lost, hated my job and realised all too well that my MA in Modern English Literature had no real value in my rather numerical place of work. I needed to make a decision about what to do with my life and I was rather over-whelmed by it.
   I could do a Phd – but could not afford to. I thought back to my time at Sealyham Activity Centre in my year out, working with teenagers (and horses) and remembered how much I enjoyed it. So began the investigation into teacher training courses near Milton Keynes.
  I eventually found Northampton School for Boys’ SCITT course via a friend who was doing it at the time, applied and got in so began in September 2002.  The course was only 3 years old at the time, was good in places and poor in others, somehow, despite constant self-doubt and a general lack of confidence I passed with at least a ‘Good’ rating, found myself a job in the February of the course (at the same school my sister taught at) and so my life changed completely.
What now?
I have been a classroom teacher of English for most of my 12 years at the chalk-face.  A short experience of middle management in a tough inner city school in the Midlands, nearly broke me. The last 18 months at my current school, for differing reasons, has nearly done the same. (Some of which was my own errors, some of which down to the behavour of others at work which I can’t and shouldn’t explicitly comment on here).
  Starting with the death of my father in 2005, thus followed for the following 9 years a constant barrage of difficulty: including an abusive relationship with a man who was definitely psychopathic, to a burglary by my neighbours and a stalker.  Do click on the links of you’d like to read more about these things, but don’t feel obliged.
  Not only that, the economic crisis increased my financial worries whilst I continue to pay for a mortgage on my own, my house and mortgage began to feel more and more like a noose. This, combined with pressures at work increasing to levels I was just unable to cope with, left me on the verge of a total breakdown in December.  I had to go to my doctor for help and I needed out. I wasn’t perpared to be sectioned (which I think I was only a small step away from) due to work.
  I was very honest with my Headteacher – the analogy I used was this: A succesful Formula 1 driver has a team of people behind him – to build the car, test it, fuel it, change the tyres and so on, which enables him to win races.  Being a teacher requires the same level of support.  All the time I have been teaching I have lived on my own – no back up team within my household. Financial pressures and responsbilties are mine, no one to off load to after a good or bad day, no one to help with cooking or cleaning. I am also my support team – so I am going to burn out far quicker than people who are not on their own.
  Sadly, I came to realise that teaching  English full-time under current outside pressures AND maintaining my health and well being has become an impossibility. It’s not as if I haven’t tried my best to do so after the past 12 years.
  So, I have been off work for some time, visiting the Nurse Practitioner once a month for a check up, receiving counselling through Occupational Health and healing physically and mentally.
  I am also seeking work for September – I know that I want something very different from Secondary School teaching, but still working within the educational field. I worry very much how my length time off of work is going to affect my employability. I don’t want all those 12 years of teaching English to go to waste. I have been looking at and applying for FE posts, I am also looking at Independent Schools (whilst wondering if my ‘non-posh’ education may go against me) and keeping a steely eye on the ‘Other Workplaces’ in the TES for roles that are in education but a totally different experience to my last 12 years in Secondary Education.
Twitter, blogging and hope
Firstly, this is rather epic I had not intended it to be, so well done if you have got this far! You hero! Twitter has offered me HUGE help and support while I’ve not been at work thanks to my #BDAmigos  – you know who you are.  I have attended Teach Meets, Pedagoo London and Research Ed events in order to keep my eye on the educational ball. I’ve been to the Edu-Bloggers curry in London, the #Starkyfest Tweet up in Leeds and met some brilliant, warm and funny people. I’ve made new, fruitful and supportive friendships and maintained them, whilst also trying to repair more established friendships that have been damaged during my mental health difficulties.
  Thanks to @rlj1981 I am soon to be published in her collaborative book “Don’t Change the LightBulbs” (Crownhouse Publishing, available to pre-order on Amazon here) – you can find me in the ‘English’ section  – this really is quite a thrill. Ironically, the copy editor really had her work cut out in my section, *blushes*.
  With good luck and a following wind, I maybe working with @ThinkingReading training teachers how to deliver her Phonics reading programme to schools in the Midlands or further afield; and I am hugely flattered to be thought of as so capable – thank you Dianne and James.
  I AM NO LONGER SINGLE!!!! It takes some getting used to after most of my adult life being single, however, I quite like it now and he is largely tolerable. 😉
  I’ll be going to Wellington Education Festival FREE thanks to my Other Half, and in September I’ll be a Helper Elf at Research Ed National Conference in September 2014.
I have a mild sense of panic about finding work for September – but at least that motivates me to DO SOMETHING about it, but Twitter, if you know of any ‘non-standard’ eduactional jobs I maybe suitable for DO let me know – seriously, please do let me know. (My email is: gwen.nelson@virgin.net).
It’s not all doom and gloom!
After my initial posting of this, I thought there was a little too march ‘darkness’ in it, probably something to do with that old ‘black dog’ still luring around the periphery of my consciousness.  SO, I just wanted to do a list of things I loved experiencing and/or that I am proud of.

  1. I loved Brownie & Guide camps (my mum was an ace Brown Owl) and took part in the Girl Guides 75th Anniversary International Camp with the great acronym of ‘PANIC’. I loved playing ladders and broom hockey!
  2. Doing a sponsored abseil down Angle Church tower – I forget what we were raising money for – whilst in the Guides. I think I was the youngest to do it on the day – around 11 or 12 and loved it so kept going up the tower to do it again.
  3. Being a member of County Orchestra whilst at school (2nd violins) and going on a trip to The Black Forest with them.
  4. Completing my Music GCSE in my lunch breaks. Along with several others, I was quite determined to do it so the school enabled us to. We achieved 10 GCSEs while most achieved 9.
  5. Thanks to what is best described as a ruthless female drill sergeant in the ATC, I can still remember how to march and do left, right & about turns correctly. Plus I got to go up in a glider – the ones that are catapulted from a vehicle on the ground. Magic.
  6. A waterfall walk in the Breacon Beacons with The Prince’s Trust where we saw the waterfall that Blue Peter used as some kind of initiation for presenters. We got to walk behind a waterfall – a girlhood dream since reading Rupert the Bear annuals. Amazing.
  7. Winning two weeks aboard The Brig Astrid, (a tall ship) aged 16, to compete in the first leg of the Cutty Sark Tall Ships race from Milford Haven to Cork. We had a training week from Weymouth to Milford Haven, we left Weymoth harbour on a hot humid day to sale straight into the most spectacular thunderstorm. We could see the pink hued lightning cleve the sky open.
  8. My first experience of live music was also at 16 – going to the Reading Festival with school mates, camping, getting covered in mud and…..and……the headliners were NIRVANA. I came back looking like a mud monster. It was exhausting and brilliant all at once.
  9. A 6th form trip to the Pelena Mountain Centre in the Black Mountains, Wales, in which I spent ALL weekend laughing and formed close friendships with Mia and Fiona that are still going strong today.
  10. in the 2nd year of Uni queueing up in the BAKING heat outside Milton Keynes bowl to make sure we were near the front of the REM ‘Automatic for the People’ gig. Support acts were Sleeper, The Cranberries, and Radiohead. Watching ‘Everybody Hurts’ at dusk, lighters flickering in the breeze, was magical.
  11. Climbing Ben Nevis and the Aonach Eagach ridge, and The Three Sisters in Glencoe wth the Uni mountaineering club. We saw a stag, a sentinal guard of The Three Sisters, whilst we clambered up, meanwhile, I could hear Clannad as the soundtrack in my head.
  12. Starting to run regularly in my lunchbreaks at Abbey National, going from zero to running 10k comfortably in 50 mins whithin a few months.
  13. Getting my mum up the Rhyd Ddu route of Snowden when she had just turned 62. She was SO chuffed to have made it she rang her dad from the peak. Incerdibly, the Welsh sky was clear, we could see for miles and miles.
  14. Completing the London Marathon in 2005 – the same year as my first ever Ofsted inspection (I mistyped that as ‘infection’ initially, analyse that English teachers), and just 7 months before dad died. He came to watch me run it and we met at the finish. We both looked awful – him through chemo’ – me through exhaustion. I was chuffed to bits he saw me do it before he died.
  15. Caring for my dad in the last two weeks of his life, being with him as he took his last breath (then farted, true story). I did not cower or run away from it. There is nothing that could be more difficult than that – the exception being going through the same again with my mum heaven forbid.
  16. Twice entering and completing the ‘Tough Guy Nettle Warrior’ assault course in the July of 2010 and 2011. It is by FAR the most exhuasting thing I have EVER done. The only part of my body that did not hurt (the hurt lasting for 10 days at least) afterwards was my face. I looked and felt like I’d been in a car crash but LOVED it.
  17. Getting an ‘Outstanding’ observation the first time I had ever taught a) the A-Level Lang/Lit course and b) Hamlet. I know the label, like ‘Required Improvement’ does not define me entirely as a teacher, but it felt blooody GREAT! The class were just wonderful.
  18. My first ever tutor group who had tutored from my NQT year and their Year 7 up to Year 11 and when I left my first school. They are either happy in jobs they wanted to do or are about to graduate from Uni. Even better, they left school as great young people, warm, kind, mature, likeable. Lovely young adults.
  19. I’ve paid a mortage on my own for the last 11 years without a defaulted payment. I’ve struggled, I’ve lived out of my overdraft for most of the time, run up some debts but also cleared them. I now have some form of equity in my property.
  20. My Twitter Summer holiday of love last year – lots of lovely day trips and visits with just wonderful people.
  21. I had an interview today and did not let my anxiety jeopardise it – no self-sabotage this time Alex Quigley. I was calm, my ‘micro-teach’ went well because I adapted things as I went and I think I answered the interview questions well. Whatever the outcome, I can hold my head high. I did my best.
  22. I only gone and GOT THE JOB! *beams*

@LearningSpy – Who I am

My mother tells me she took me out of school for several months at the age of seven in order to teach me to read. My primary school had written me off as ‘educationally subnormal’. She used the Janet and John reading scheme. I loathed it and saw reading as a punishment. But slowly I started to get it. Once I’d mastered the mechanics, she would start reading me a chapter of The Famous Five and then trail off mid sentence… Out of sheer frustration with her appalling reading (but clearly astute teaching) I would grab the book and finish it to find out what happened nexct. I never looked back.


After devouring the entirety of Blyton’s oeuvre, I moved on to CS Lewis and from there to Tolkien. My father possessed an enviable collection of classic sci-fi and I worked my way through Asimov, Heinlein and Piers Anderson. I joined my local library and would take home a carrier bag full of books every week. I was insatiable.


I’d hesitate to describe myself as anything so grandiose as an autodidact, but really, very little of what I know was learned at school. I was in the first cohort to take GCSEs but predated the National Curriculum and Ofsted. As far as I can work out, there wasn’t much teacher accountability; if students did poorly, that was their fault. Consequently very few teachers seemed unduly concerned about my education. My history teacher taught the wrong syllabus, and no one noticed until we all failed the exam! I decided early on that I would rather not try than feel stupid in maths; geography seemed an endless succession of slag heaps and blast furnaces; RE (I went to a Catholic school) mainly consisted of watching anti-abortion videos; PE lessons involved random sequences of undeserved and capricious cruelty; chemistry was all about squirting pipettes of hydrochloric acid at each other; my physics teacher routinely failed to recognise me, and woodwork and metalwork consisted of hiding the teachers’ tools, sword fighting with chisels and throwing equipment in the forge. As a sensitive flower I enjoyed art, drama and English but have only the haziest memories of what we actually did. (We had a weekly Creative Writing lesson in which I spent a whole year writing an Icelandic saga and Mr Haydon, to my certain knowledge, never once looked at it.)


 My behaviour was not good, and I truanted for the greater part of my third year at secondary school and would (I kid you not) spend my days in Birmingham Central Library, reading. Nobody ever commented or complained.


In my fourth year I had the great good fortune to have Mr Birch as my English teacher. He was physically terrifying; a giant of a man with a huge spade beard and size 14 Doc Martens. He saw something in me and nurtured it. In return I loved him. He taught me two really important things: how to enjoy poetry and how to spell. He had massively high expectations of me and refused to listen to my excuses. He was always interested in what I wrote, always encouraged me to read widely and was the only teacher to ever point out that February had two Rs in it.


But English lessons were an oasis. The rest of my school experience was lackluster to say the least. I left school in 1988 with 3 GCSEs (English language, English literature and French) and no desire to continue my education. I drifted into working in a record shop on the Youth Training Scheme (YTS). Aged 16, I left home and endured what we shall call the wilderness years. I learned at lot during this time, and undertook all sorts of jobs including selling mobile telephones, labouring on building sites and working behind bars (the public kind.)


During this period I did manage to study Classical Studies A level. I asked the foreman on my building site if I could have the afternoon off to sit the exam and the next morning I was treated with new respect. Clearly, sitting an A level was evidence that I was set for greater things. It was therefore entirely natural that I was promoted from general dogsbody to engineer’s mate. This was a great job; I got to paint little yellow lines on girders and maneuver the theodolite.


A few years later I was bored and found myself enrolling at night school to study English Literature. Everything I loved about English at school all came rushing back. We read Pride And Prejudice, King Lear, The Tempest, Bond’s Lear, Hare’s Racing Demon and few others I’ve since forgotten. The teacher was wonderful and recognised in me someone who wanted to study. She showed an interest in my writing, and persuaded me to apply to university.


Sadly, I still wasn’t really ready and wasted too much of my first two years of my English degree with drunkenness and debauchery. Things finally came together in my final year and I ended up with a 2:1 and the knowledge that I could write a half way decent essay.


My decision to train as a teacher was an aimless one; I had no idea what else to do but knew that working in a call centre was no way to spend one’s days. No one breezes through a PGCE but I came close. The lectures and seminars were a series of missed opportunities and confused nonsense. I jumped through the hoops but learned almost nothing useful. One of my school based mentors advised me not to worry about objectives saying, “Oh I just add those in at the end when I’ve planned all the activities.” I got my QTS but had no idea what I was doing.


When I started my career as teacher I was rubbish. Really. Those early years are naught but a source of shame. I failed often and hugely. If I’d qualified today I’d probably have been drummed out of the profession in short order. But, for some strange quixotic reason I persevered and got a little less appalling. The turning point was joining a school which promptly went in to Special Measures (a coincidence I assure you.) I learned an awful lot. Some of it even useful. Certainly I became a better teacher. I latched on to every passing fad or gimmick as if my job depended on it. This was a successful strategy. My teaching was lauded as ‘outstanding’; I was promoted and led a very successful English department before joining the ranks of senior leadership. But I really knew astonishingly little about education.


In 2010 I joined Twitter. Hesitantly at first, but with increasing confidence. I started my blog in 2011 in an attempt to remember some of the insights and ideas I’d get in the classroom. Little by little I began to infer that some of what I knew was wrong, and some of what I did was unhelpful. I came to understand that the way I’d been taught to approach teaching was ‘constructivist’ and ‘progressive’, and that not only was my own education blighted my well-intentioned but erroneous ideas, but that my teaching might be having similar effects. Deep down I knew it was wrong that I could train a barely literate child to get a C grade, but this was what the system demanded and I was good at it.


I did what I’ve always done: I read. The following books & papers trace how my understanding and awareness has developed:


July 2011 – John Hattie, Visible Learning

November 2011 – Daniel Willingham, Why Don’t Students Like School? 

December 2011 – Graham Nuthall, The Hidden Lives of Learners

March 2012 –  Why Minimal Guidance During Instruction Does Not Work: An Analysis of the Failure of Constructivist, Discovery, Problem-Based, Experiential, and Inquiry-Based Teaching

July 2012 – ED Hirsch Jr, The Knowledge Deficit

February 2013 – various papers by Robert A Bjork but this is a good start

August 2013 – Daisy Christodoulou, Seven Myths About Education


As my views have evolved, I’ve become less and less comfortable with the status quo. It’s led me to question many of the foundations on which my assumption about teaching and education were founded: AfL, feedback, lesson grading and the entire concept of ‘outstanding’ teaching.


I’ve had a lot of opportunities as a result of blogging. Jackie Beere asked me to write The Perfect (Ofsted) English Lesson and I was invited to become an Associate of Independent Thinking. I’ve gotten to travel round the country and visit some amazing schools. I went part time and set myself up as a freelance trainer and consultant in 2013. I found that much as I loved teaching, I enjoyed this work even more.


Since the beginning of 2014 I’ve been entirely self-employed. I am beholden to no one and can do and say pretty much what I like. It’s scary not to know what the future holds, but it’s exhilarating too. I’ve had the opportunity to meet with Ofsted, speak at high profile education events and generally make a nuisance of myself. I love what I do, and don’t for a minute miss the deadlines, the stress, the workload of being a teacher.


I was asked recently to provide a potted biography of myself for an event I’ll be speaking at. This is what I came up with:

David used to be a teacher but has recently turned to the dark side; he likes to describe himself as a provocateur but really he’s just a consultant, albeit a high risk one. He’s written some books, and blogs compulsively and in tedious detail about the minutiae of teaching and education. Some people seem to enjoy it, which he has taken for encouragement. He’s mainly interested in questioning assumptions and trying to unpick other people’s hard work.


This is all tremendous fun, but it makes me nervous too. I worry that not working in a school for too long will mean I lose credibility. Ideally, I’d like to teach for one or two days a week, but I can’t really see that anyone would really want to employ me in that sort of capacity. I mean, I wouldn’t. I suspect I might be considered too high profile, too unpredictable and too outspoken to be ‘just a teacher’. But then again, I’ve been wrong before.




@msfrenchteach – Who I am

A traveler.

A reader.

A knowledge seeker.

A music lover.

A mover.

A language learner.

A cook.

An urban porch gardener.

An outdoor adventurer.

An educator.


 That’s me in a nutshell. Since the focus of this blog is on who I am as an educator, I’ll refrain from writing about the awesome musicians I’ve seen in concert over the years. Many more hours are spent on my life as an educator than on my days as an enthusiastic concertgoer, after all!


 Being a world language educator has its special challenges due to the fact that we teach our students to communicate in another language, in part, by speaking it for the majority of class time. Although we strategically plan experiences that facilitate the language learning journey, we are also tasked to do what EVERY educator and administrator should be doing as well; that is, teach our young people to be tolerant of others and more globally competent.


 These lessons shouldn’t be unique to the world language classroom. In fact, it needs to happen in science, math, history, art, and every other class throughout the day. Everyone on campus, including administrators, need to step up. You know, it takes a village…


 So, who am I? I’m an educator who wants my learners to understand that:

-being a global citizen doesn’t make you anti-American (or anti-(insert home country here.)

-we are one world and we must learn to tolerate each other’s differences.

-you are going to get left behind if you aren’t developing global competencies.

-different doesn’t mean weird. (Cultural sensitivity must be taught!)


 Oh, there are so many other things that we must impress upon our young people, but those are the areas that came to mind as I wrote this post. Although I’m a world language teacher who weaves culture into lessons as seamlessly as possible, I still find it quite the task to help learners understand how important it is to be a citizen of the world. So, what do I do? I share my passion for other languages and cultures while also modeling kindness and openness towards other ways of thinking and living.


There are many ways that educators across the curriculum, along with our administrators, can foster an environment where tolerance and global thinking reign. Below are a few ideas and resources on this topic.


 What can administrators do?

-Encourage students to organize cultural events.

-Learn about other cultures by talking to international faculty or staff and in-house world language educators.

-Model what it means to be tolerant and globally competent for everyone on on campus.


 What can educators do?

-Share relevant resources with faculty and administrators.

-Include contextualized lessons on tolerance and global mindedness in your units.

-Offer to collaborate on these topics with colleagues in other departments.

-Sponsor student-led cultural events at school.

-Invite international speakers to come in and talk to your classes about their lives and, if applicable, their work in your content area.

-Stay up to date with the news. Talk about what you read/hear, like the Donald Sterling NBA case (Ugh! Google it if you haven’t heard about it.)

– Model what it means to be tolerant and globally competent for everyone on on campus.


Some Useful Links:

http://mappingthenation.net/ – Great tool to engage American students in discussion about the global readiness status of their state.

http://www.tolerance.org/ – Resources provided by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

http://asiasociety.org/globalcompetence – Asia Society’s page on global competence. Download a free copy of Educating for Global Competence .

http://larryferlazzo.edublogs.org/2014/04/19/four-excellent-resources-for-learning-about-cultures-around-the-world/ -Resources compiled by Larry Ferlazzo, an ELL, ESL, & EFL educator.

http://www.edutopia.org/blog/literature-teaches-global-lessons-elementary-becky-morales?utm_source=facebook&utm_medium=post&utm_campaign=blog-literature-teaches-global-lessons-image – Global lesson ideas for literature in elementary school.


What ideas and/or resources on tolerance and global competency would you share? Please post them in the comments.

@urbangypsy_me – Who I am

maria 1

 I am just a lucky girl. I grew up in a loving family in Spain. I got all the commodities and love in my childhood inside my family “bubble” and all the difficulties outside it being an extremely shy girl trying to not being noticed but noticed as an easy target by the most insecure children to make fun of nonetheless. No friends but the ones in my head and lots of daydreaming of being the popular girl who everybody loved.

 As I said, a lucky girl. I got all the love from family and teachers to feel safe, and I also had to endure quite a few difficulties and isolation, so that I could learn that things are not a given, that things require an effort and your vocation deserves all.

 So my story is a story of teaching, self-improvement and facing fears.


 If I had to use just one word to define myself I would choose “teacher” without any hesitation because my whole vital story gravitates all around it.

 Since I was a girl, I knew I wanted to teach. I had a lot of obstacles to overcome. You would think that teaching isn’t such a difficult career but my severe speak-in-public panic complicates the story and gives it another dimension.

 At school, the same as in college, I’ve always had a really hard time when I was compelled to talk in front of the class: my hands began to sweat, I started to shake and my mind became blank. How could I even consider being a teacher, to be the centre of all the eyes and the attention during several hours and every day? Was I crazy? All my tutors at school, having taking into account my shyness, discouraged me from following my dream – recommending me other careers like nursing or children care which could fulfill my need for caring but didn’t require speaking in public. However, determined as I am, I turned a deaf ear to all that advice and chose the career of teaching, well known as having no job opportunities, but the one that will allow me to teach and to teach what I love the most, literature and languages.

 I’ve barely finished college when the opportunity to prove myself as a teacher came up. A religious private secondary school in Clermont-Ferrand (France) was looking for a native Spanish assistant to work 20 hours for 400€ per month. Not a great salary but I saw it as the great opportunity to see if I could be a fine teacher or not. So I applied and after a phone interview they hired me. I couldn’t believe it!. I was going to teach in a school! In France!!!

 To make the story short I was scared to death the first time I was left alone in front of 40 teenagers who didn’t give a damn about Spanish and who were barely 5 years younger than me and half a meter taller. Yes, they were boys in the majority, big boys and like dogs, they can smell your fear. That first day I had to run to the toilets to hide my tears after a class where nobody said a word for the whole hour while staring at me with a defiance look. I came back home feeling like crap. I wasn’t cut for my dream.

 In spite of that mix of fear and dejection, I still went to school the following day and asked for help and advice from the other teachers who shared similar stories with me. I reflected a lot on those days. Should I give up and do other less stressful and energy consuming things? After all I was still young and I was emotionally drained after every working day. But deep inside I knew I wanted it. I wanted to be a good teacher and if my shyness and lack of confidence were the problems, I would work my butt off to end up with it!

 This time in France made me stronger and ever surer about my purpose in life. Nothing was better than seeing the student’s face when he finally gets what you are explaining or their proud face when they are able to express their views in the language they are learning. Ain’t no better feeling than being told by your student that the subject you are teaching has become their favorite or that you have become their model and they want to become a teacher like you.

 The contract with the French school finished and I left. Back home it didn’t take long for me to find a job in a school of language to teach French. I learned so much during this period! True that my students weren’t teenagers but adults in their majority but still. There was one thing I learnt from another teacher who confessed to me that they were quite shy too…Teachers are like actors sometimes.

 We enter into the classroom like the actor enters onto the stage: there is always nerves before the show and a rush afterwards. Furthermore, another thing in common with the actors is that we show another “face” on stage, we play a role. I learnt how to find the way to make a good performance in class and to be in control. After a while, I felt like an actor when I was in class, playing the extroverted, strong teacher role. It was draining but it had a pay off: the classes run smoothly.

 After almost 10 years teaching, I don’t wear a mask anymore. I learn how to get the respect of the class without playing any role. I show myself as I am but now, I know how to handle it. “Fake it until you make it” they say. My students normally think I am extroverted and open.

My personality doesn’t fit with my vocation but I had to make it fit. Personality and vocation have always gone hand by hand in my life. Improving personality to become the best teacher.


 Fear has been a very important part in my life. It has always been the signpost that pushed me to move towards it.

 Being a very shy and introverted person, it was to be expected that I had trouble interacting with people, resulting in my being very bad at the socializing skills. That’s why one of my biggest fears has always been to interact with people successfully.

 I recognize very well that when something scares me it’s something I must do. So I do it. Because I can’t bear the feeling of disappointing myself.

– I was afraid of going to England to work. It was my first job and the first time I left the country. I was scared to accept the offer, that’s why I accepted.

– I was scared to apply for that job with a high school in France, in case I was accepted and had to move there, and face a teenagers class. So I applied, got the job and moved there and I faced the class full of teenagers. That was the one of the highlights in my life and the beginning of my teaching career.

– I was afraid of leaving my boyfriend in France to pursue my teaching career in Spain, because I couldn’t find any teaching jobs in France. So, I left France and improved my teaching experience while the relationship with my boyfriend went bust.

– I was terrified of leaving my comfortable teaching job in Spain and following love. So, I followed love and had the time of my life.

– I was afraid of leaving a stable paycheck for being self-employed. Few months of reflection were enough to find the courage to leave that job and start scheming the next move towards being self-employed and free of the ties that living in a fixed place with a fixed job implied.

– I was petrified to start traveling and lose a place to call home, so I booked a flight and I’m still traveling.

 Motivation, passion and constance had the sweetest pay off. Now, do I have any fears? Yes, one and constant. I am afraid of not being strong enough to keep up with the way of life I want to have, so I keep moving out of my comfort zone because I know that even if it is exhausting sometimes, the rewards are so satisfying that there is no chance for me to stop anymore.



maria 2

@simonknight100 – Who I am


Those who know me will probably be surprised that I am producing something that counts as being personal for the public forum that is Twitter. I am very careful about keeping the public and private very separate, but something about this idea appealed. Oh and @julesdaulby virtually threatened to send the ‘boys’ round if I didn’t write one. So anyway, here goes:

I started life up in the North East, born in Chester-Le-Street whilst my Dad was studying for his Masters at Durham. This was the 70’s and there wasn’t much in the way of work around, particularly for an Animal Behaviourologist so we moved south when I was 6 months old and as my Dad was working as a public sector payroll officer, he qualified for a council house as a key worker. So life for me really began in a flat in a tower block in Hounslow, which I remember fondly, in which was by all accounts a bit of a lively area. As I got older and my sister was born, my parents wanted to move the family out of London and when I was five, took the opportunity to relocate to Banbury in North Oxfordshire.

Life wasn’t particularly easy, not that I noticed as my home life was wonderful, but we used to look forward to cheque writing day and couldn’t have ham and cheese sandwiches on the basis that this was two meals in one. The last week of the month was characterised by “Beanfeast” and creative cooking, but we never went without. And we were much loved.

So how did I become a teacher in a Special School?

Well it started with my Mum who worked in the school I work at now as a Teaching Assistant in the early 80’s. Each day I used to walk down from my school, which finished slightly earlier, to cadge a lift home. Each day I used to sit in reception waiting and each day the staff smiled, asked me how I was and stopped for a chat. It was a nice place to be. But more importantly my Mum used to tell me about the kids she worked with, the things they used to say, do and achieve. There was never any sense of difference really, they were just the kids she worked with and they were amazing.

So GCSEs came and went with little fuss and a bit less work and despite my laziness I did pretty well and stayed on to study A-Levels. Now this is where things came rather unstuck. Secondary school had been a bit of a slog and was made bearable by being fairly competent at sports so I mainly got away with being quiet and interested in learning, but Sixth Form was a revelation. Everyone was interested in learning and weren’t bothered that you didn’t like chart music and dressed a bit differently. I loved it, threw myself enthusiastically into the social side and thought, foolishly, that as I’d done OK previously with little work, that I could do so again. I couldn’t and was asked to leave after the first year as my results were poor and my attendance worse. I restarted the next year and worked a little harder, but not much and was still far too distracted by girls, music and beer. I struggled through and left after three years with D,E,E,E, well below my predicted grades.

I then had a stroke of good fortune. Having been through clearing and found a course that would take me with my grades, in a subject I was interested in, I went for a visit / interview. The person who saw me said they could offer me a place at an affiliated college and if I did well then I could transfer to the University after a year. Then a couple of days later I got a call saying my details had been placed in both the College pile and the University pile, so would I like to choose which I went to as I now had a place reserved at both. So off I went to study English and History of Ideas at Teesside University. My Mum cried when they left me there, I think the Bladerunneresque Wilton skyline was a bit of a shock.

After University, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do, then the Headteacher at the school my Mum had worked at got in touch and asked if I fancied being a Teaching Assistant. I hadn’t really thought about it to be honest, but I had fond memories of being around the place and had helped out occasionally during the University holidays, so thought it would be a good way to spend a year whilst I worked out what I wanted to do. Within weeks I was convinced that teaching was the job I wanted. I was in awe of the teacher I worked with and his ability to make lessons, fun, interesting and relevant to every child in the class. I was staggered by some of the behaviour and amazed by the challenges that the children were overcoming. By the Christmas of that year I had secured a place at Warwick to train as a Primary teacher and left, open minded about whether to teach in mainstream or return to special education.

It didn’t take long to make up my mind. I trained in 1998 and was mainly instructed in how to deliver the National Literacy Strategy. It couldn’t have been further removed from the individual approach I had experienced as a TA and I felt I was being prepared more to deliver a curriculum than teach. That wasn’t what I wanted and I was quickly drawn back to the idea of SEN, the children’s individual challenges and the desire to learn how to enable them to overcome them.

So here I am sixteen years later, still at the same school, although with a slightly different job and still amazed by the kids and their families. I am very fortunate that I work with the most incredible people, who are absurdly talented and intelligent and who believe in doing everything they can to be the best and to maximise the potential of the kids we work with.

So here I am, sixteen years later still learning but at least now working hard to do so.

Simon Knight