Que Sera, Sera – Hang In There

When I started writing blogs, more than twelve months ago now, I never would have suspected it would lead me here. First, that people would read it, and like to read it, too! Second, that I would make wonderful friends as a result of (quietly) shouting my thoughts into the great abyss of the internet! And third, that I would wind up writing a blog about a song that has a track record of making me run from a room to avoid hearing it!

I’ve always been honest in my blogs, as far as I can be anyway, and this entry is no exception.

I spoke on a podcast last summer, where I talked about a teacher who had meant a lot to me, one who is sadly no longer with us. I talked about the impact that she’d had on me as a teacher, how I carry her legacy with me as I step out into the world as a new teacher myself, hoping to have even a fraction of the sparkle she brought to the profession. This song reminds me of her so much – she would spontaneously break into singing it when prompting us to choose the correct French tense (the simple future… maybe? With a head full of Y5 maths tuition at the moment, forgive me for not having a pinpoint-accurate memory of French grammar!)

In the first year after she died, this song seemed to be everywhere. I would joke to my mum in lighter moments that she was sending it to test me, though when its appearance came in darker moments, it would leave me in tears. The optimism, lightness and sheer joy of this song epitomised everything good that I remembered of her, and I found it so hard to come to terms with the injustice of her passing that even the opening bars of this song had the power to send me fleeing a room or punching buttons on the radio to hear absolutely anything else.

I’m not writing for sympathy – much to the contrary, as shortly I’ll be making an about turn to follow the example of Doris Day’s innocent optimism myself! I’m writing honestly because that’s what I do, and because we don’t talk about grief enough. It hits all of us at one time or another, and yet we bury it away, suffer it silently and alone, and try to hide it from others if it happens to burst from its box outside the privacy of one’s own home.

Just to make it super clear – it is totally normal to grieve in your own way. You do you, you remember your people in your own way. But you don’t have to do it on your own.

Almost six years down the line, this song still conjures strong emotions for me, though usually they’re not the kind accompanied by tears anymore! These days, Que Sera Sera sits on a playlist I hold dear, one that is made up of cozy, old-timey tunes. Tulips from Amsterdam, Moonlight Sernade, et cetera. Que Sera Sera sits proudly alongside the others, and like the others, I sometimes skip it, but sometimes too I take in all two minutes of the song and let it envelop me like a hug, or a quiet nod of acknowledgement.

Because I’m not the same girl who would flee a room or rush to switch to another radio station, anymore. In November 2015, I didn’t need one more reason to feel crushed by emotions I couldn’t keep a lid on. But in May 2021, I have grown up considerably, come to terms with my anxiety, managed that side-order of grief and learned to live with it too (no matter what anyone tells you, it’s okay for it to never leave you!) A long way from enduring A-level lessons where I couldn’t say a word, I now tutor up to seven groups of children a day, or tutor three groups in a morning then move on to supply work of an afternoon. I have to keep talking, and most days that simple act doesn’t have even a fraction of the difficulty it once had.

If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you’ll be familiar with my struggle to find classroom work again, after losing out on an opportunity at my NQT school. So many on twitter too became invested in my optimistic tweets about new applications, and comiserated with me and supported me when rejections started to pile up. Que Sera Sera seemed insincere after a while: it was so easy for people to say that the right school would find me, of course they were only saying ‘your time will come’ to try and make me feel better, because it couldn’t be true, could it? I didn’t think the lyric ‘Whatever will be, will be // The future’s not ours to see’ had any relevance to me whatsoever. I was trudging along, applying for what every time seemed like it could be the right school.

And then, with cautious optimism, I threw myself into another opportunity, one that unlike all the others, paid off in spades.

This summer, I’m upping sticks, setting off for a full-time classroom teaching job at long last, and I couldn’t be happier. Moving approximately two hundred miles from home is sometimes a little scary, but to draw on some exceptional wisdom from a much-loved teacher, whatever will be, will be.

The Death Of A Bookshop

Part 1: A resolution to be more sustainable

I recently read a book about books. Or, more accurately, a book about selling books. ‘The Diary Of A Bookseller’ by Shaun Bythell is a read I’d recommend for a number of reasons.

  • It made me finally watch ‘Black Books’, a Channel 4 comedy I’d been hoarding in my Netflix list for quite a while, which brought inordinate joy. It’s an irreverent series in a similar vein to Father Ted, kind of like a more grown-up Inbetweeners but with books everywhere.
  • Sometimes, you need a book where there is no significant action and drama. For a read to be gentle, to me at least, is no bad thing!
  • It opened my eyes to an industry in crisis, something which I’m sure has only been compounded in recent months by the pandemic.

You can buy a copy of the book here – I will give more details about this link later in this blog, and in the second part, coming soon. However, for legal reasons I must disclose that it is an affiliate link to bookshop.org meaning that it is free to folow the link but if you make a purchase after following it, I will earn a small comission at no extra cost to you (you will also be supporting independent booksellers across the UK.)

As I’ve grown up, I’ve made various conscious choices around sustainability and social conscience. I buy teabags that don’t contain microplastics, I don’t send clothes to landfill, I support small businesses where I can. But little did I realise, one of my great passions and the way I explored it, was contributing to the gradual destruction of hundreds of small businesses.

I love to read, and I love books: to be surrounded by them is a bizarre comfort I can’t quite explain. But the industry giant Amazon and even my perennial favourite Waterstones, are swallowing up the independent booksellers one by one. With their vast empires, the former two can afford to undercut the ‘indies’ with low prices, quick delivery times and multibuyu offers in a way that single-branch independents are simply unable to.

I’m not immune to the draw of Amazon Prime, in fact it was a regular thing for me to indulge in the near-instant gratification of the ‘Buy Now’ button, only to receive a shiny new tome a day or two later. But since becoming the owner of a micro-business myself (you can visit my Etsy shop here, and my instagram @classroomdreamsbymissb) my social conscience and desire for a more sustainable choice have increased considerably.

As I’m confined to home though (thanks, covid) it wasn’t easy as googling local options and roadtripping to catch all the independent bookshops like Pokémon. However, in googling, I did find an online option, one created for the purpose of competing with Amazon.

Bookshop.org launched in the US in January 2020, and by November, when its UK counterpart emerged, it had already raised $7.5 million dollars for US independent bookshops. Once you register (for free) on this platform, you can find an indie near you and choose it to receive the percentage from your book purchases, or you can add to the communcal pot which supports bookshops around the UK.

The site is user-friendly and way less visually cluttered than the overlord it aims to challenge!

You won’t find the rock-bottom prices and postal guarantees you’ll find elsewhere. Pure and simple, this is because these don’t support the survival of the book industry. So you will probably find yourself paying a little bit more, but is that such a bad thing, when you’re helping to maintain market choice by supporting the ecology of the book industry?

Student Teacher Tips – English

English is my favourite core subject to teach: as a student, I loved my uni sessions and found it so exciting to apply what I’d learned to placement experiences, alongside my own long-standing passion for the subject. However, I was as student with others who felt completely oppositely to me: they loved maths for its black-and-white-ness and the security of one correct answer (this is exactly why I’m not the greatest fan!) or they looked to science for its answers to all the big questions. English, to them, was a challenge for all the reasons I loved it so much. A creative subject, where the whole point is to think differently to everyone else, seemed an unpleasant intimidation both in the planning and the delivery stages.

In this blog, I’ve put together five key tips that might help you with planning and teaching English. If you’ve still got questions, feel free to leave them in the comments, follow up on the ‘Contact Me’ tab or find me on Twitter, @CaitTeachesKind.

1. Modelling

Going into my first placement, I didn’t quite appreciate the importance of this. Sure, it had been talked about A LOT at uni, but how useful could it really be, in a real classroom? I can’t explain exactly how wrong my uninformed, first-year self was! It doesn’t matter what age you’re teaching (although modelling becomes more critical, the younger you go) pupils need to see what they’re aiming for, and probably see the process that goes into creating that, too.

Don’t rely on your own skills of explanation to paint a clear picture for pupils of what they should produce in a lesson. This is especially true during periods of remote learning, whether you’re delivering content live, in a recorded video or leaving written instructions.

As an example, here’s a video I recorded for my Y1 class in May 2020. It’s by no means perfect – looking back at it now there’s a lot I would do differently, HOWEVER, I was an NQT, attempting to keep my head above water with remote learning, and the responses produced by some pupils in my class were great! For them, seeing the process of me writing out an example piece of work made it so much clearer than just giving them a typed example. They could see exactly how it would take shape, they saw me colour code focus words like I did in class, and they heard me talk through some of my decisions, as well as changing my mind about punctuation.

Obviously, with different year groups, the goal posts for a piece of work will be very different. Know your objective, and work out how your modelled writing shows that objective being met.

There’s no reason why you couldn’t do a typed modelled write, if you have the ability to share your screen or record your screen and you talking through what you’re doing. I know plenty of qualified teachers who prefer to type over handwrite! Bear in mind though that with younger pupils, it is important for them to see letter formation in practice too.

2. Don’t make any assumptions about prior knowledge

The likelihood is, if you’re reading this as a student, you’ve had quite a lot of different life experiences to date. These shape everything: the examples you use in figures of speech, your vocabulary choices, and your ability to write, at the drop of a hat, about a huge variety of given subjects. Young children just haven’t had this life experience. And all the way through primary, children’s lives outside of school vary massively. Children might never have seen the sea, they might not know what it’s like to have grandparents, they might never have been on holiday or even left the town they live in. This is the reality for a number of children, so we simply cannot assume that children are on our wavelength and can respond when we say “Okay, we’re going to write about the beach.”

So, what do we do about that? How do we bridge that experience gap and allow children to access what we’ve got planned?

Use everything available to you. If you’re reading about a beach setting (as we were in Y1 with The Storm Whale in Winter, above) bring shells, fishing nets and a bucket and spade. Find large images (I actually borrowed a canvas from my parents for my display during this topic, as student in 2019!) Search for youtube videos that have ambient sounds of the setting you’re after. I had seaside sounds, but had to look also for a sound even I hadn’t heard before, as part of this book – an icebreaker ship. This kind of immersion really helps children with their understanding and in turn, their writing. They can describe their own experiences far better than imagining something abstract that they have never heard, seen or touched.

3. Varied voices in literature

There’s huge conversations about this at the moment, in all corners of the internet. People far more qualified than me have made convincing arguments as to why the curriculum shouldn’t be ignoring voices that aren’t white, heterosexual and able-bodied.

Don’t just settle for the first thing suggested to you. Even if, as a student, the curriculum is set already with a specific books, you can suggest alternative titles to your class teacher. If you know of a really great book by a BAME or LGBT author that is around the same topic, share this with them! There may well be time for reading to pupils, and this is a great time to share diverse voices with pupils.

The schools I’ve taught in so far have been majority white schools, with very little diversity between pupils racially. This makes it even more important that they are exposed to voices and stories by people who don’t look like them. But it’s also true that diversity exists even within 100% White British class. Your pupils may not all live in a household with a mum and a dad and 2.4 children. There are increasing numbers of books for children with LGBT parents, parents with disabilities, reconstituted families. In the same way that it’s important for ethnic minority children to see themselves in the stories we share, for a child growing up with two dads, or a chronically ill parent, it’s important for them to have representation too.

If you’ve already come across lists of diverse books, share these with your schools. They may have a plan in place already to diversify their literature choices, but if they don’t, you’ll be making a big difference.

4. Reading for reading’s sake

Granted, this is a lot easier when teaching in-person rather than remotely via Zoom or Teams! In a non-covid, ‘normal’ classroom, you can have beautiful displays of books you recommend and children recommend to each other, inviting reading areas, shelves and boxes of books for pupils to choose from. In the times we’re living in now, it can be a little more challenging. As I’m not a classroom teacher this year, I turned to that always-helpful resource of EduTwitter to see what other people are doing.

When I tweeted out for help on this, I got some fantastic responses. I have linked a few below, and will update this as needed.

This blog post by Christopher Harrison.

This twitter account, for a book club initiative in schools.

Natalie‘s fantastic reading spine, available here.

This blog, centred around poetry.

It doesn’t matter how you do it, just promote a love of reading, because it has the potential and the power to change lives. I was lucky enough to be on a zoom call recently with the author Frank Cottrell-Boyce, and he spoke with such dedication about the ability of reading to set you free from the situation you are in. I couldn’t agree more. If you’re not a big reader, for the sake of your pupils you have to learn to pretend, because you might encourage a reluctant reader to try a book that unlocks it all for the,. Conversely, if you don’t, then an avid reader might be turned off it because their teacher doesn’t think it’s important. We have such power as teachers to influence pupil choices. Remember that when you don’t feel like being chirpy about books!

5. As a student, you’re not on your own

It’s easy to feel like you’ve been thrown in the deep end as a student, expected to know everything and know how to do everything. I definitely felt like this more than once when I was out on placements. But, now that I’ve come out the other side of training, and have had a year as a class teacher, I can see the error in this way of thinking.! If I’m ever responsible for a student teacher (and I’m hopeful that one day I could be!) then I’d never expect them to know everything there is to know (I’m doubtful that I’ll ever know enough to get by, never mind know everything!)

What I’m trying to say is that your class teacher is there to support you. You can go to them for support with your planning, you can run ideas by them, you’re totally allowed to say “I don’t know how to teach this!” In the unlikely event that your class teacher isn’t co-operative with this, you can get in touch with your training provider for help, and you can ask other teachers in school too. Find out who the English subject lead is and throw your planning struggles their way (asking nicely, of course!) Sometimes a fresh pair of eyes is enough to solve a problem, and sometimes you just need someone to say “Oh, this is what I did when I had to meet that objective,” and it’ll settle more in your head too. And finally, you can always do what I did with the advice for reading – EduTwitter is full of people who have the bits of knowledge you’re missing.

When It’s Not “Just” Blue Monday

“Blue Monday” is the name given to the third Monday of the year, the day dubbed the most depressing on the entire calendar. In other words, it’s one of the few days of the year when it’s socially acceptable, cool, even, to use the word depression to describe how you’re feeling.

For those of us who use it on a far more regular basis, forgive us for judging it all as a little bit insincere.

“Blue Monday” was coined by a travel company, believe it or not, as a marketing tool to sell holidays on a day when the warm buzz of Christmas had worn off, leaving behind a need to escape everyday life for sunnier climes. This year, when I browsed the feeds for #BlueMonday on various social networks, it took no time at all to spot similar attempts to cash in on winter blues. Unsurprisingly, there were lots of holidays, lots of gymwear and lots of at-home exercise subscriptions claiming to give you ‘the body you’ve always wanted’. Hardly the kind of material to cheer you up, if you really were feeling a bit on the low end of ‘I’m fine, honestly.’

Since the first UK lockdown last spring, there has been a huge rise in the number of people reporting mental health difficulties. We are confronted daily with a staggering crisis: a constant stream of death, every one of them a tragedy; constant changes to work no matter what sector you work in; and for many, unrelenting isolation.

Writing not only as a teacher, but as someone who has juggled mental health and work, I want to contribute something useful to the #BlueMonday discourse. It’s February now, so you may question my timing, but sometimes Blue Monday rolls into Blue Tuesday, Blue Wednesday and so on, until you feel trapped and suffocated by the darkness. Since the first lockdown began, many teachers are experiencing the darkness or the web of worry for the first time. I hope some of the points below might help a little.

How to keep calm and carry on, when everything feels a bit too difficult

1. Check your to-do list

I really do understand what it feels like when that omnipresent list tips over to become an added pressure you just don’t need. There’s a fine line between that list being helpful and making everything worse! But one thing is for sure, there’s always a lot to do as a teacher (one thing I’ve noticed since online teaching has begun, is that people’s lists are getting longer and longer.) When your mental health is suffering, it’s time to re-evaluate. Look at what’s on your list and ask yourself: why is this on my list? If the answer is not along the lines of this is going to impact children’s learning then it can wait until tomorrow (that being a proverbial tomorrow, meaning whenever you have the time and/or the headspace to accomodate it.)

2. Stay hydrated

Brain fog can be a real issue when you’re feeling a bit down. I can’t stand that feeling of thoughts moving through treacle (not that this motivates me to follow this piece of advice all the time!) Drinking plenty of water can feel like a chore sometimes, but it will help you stay focused and counteract some of that screen headache!

3. Back to basics

Try and get enough sleep, enough daylight, and enough proper food (sorry, grabbing a cereal bar instead of a meal doesn’t count!) It may be harder in a pandemic, but something I found in my NQT year was this: if buying premade sandwiches on your way to work/in your lunch break means you eat a proper lunch, then it’s a worthy expense until you’re feeling better.

4. It’s okay to say no…

I am terrible for saying yes all the time, to the detriment of my own wellbeing. If you don’t feel like you can do something, for whatever reason, or you just can’t do it, then you are allowed to turn it down. The world won’t end if you lay down a boundary and don’t add something to your to-do list. You might actually be helping yourself by taking a nap instead of attending zoom aerobics. However, there’s a caveat to this:

5. Sometimes you have to say yes!

Sometimes, it actually makes you feel better to say yes.

6. Reach out

Know who your support system is, and don’t talk yourself out of getting in touch with them when you’re struggling. Call your mum, text your teacher buddy, jump back into the group chat. Whatever it is, whoever your people are, remember them and talk to them.

Sunday Shelf Vol. 5

2020 Reading Roundup

Since January 2018, I have recorded every book I have completed, with a few notes of what I thought about each one. My reading journal now has three years’ worth of notes, quotes and musings around the literature I’ve consumed.

I read thirty-seven books in 2020. (In case anyone’s interested, I read thrity-three in 2018 and another thirty-three in 2019.) This year, I’m aiming for forty (and have completed 1.5 to date) but before I start getting ahead of myself, I wanted to release my list of reads for 2020.

Here are ten of my favourites, because I really couldn’t narrow it down any further!

Disclaimer – the affiliate links below will take you to bookshop.org, an online bookshop supporting independent booksellers. I will also earn a small commission if you make a purchase, at no extra cost to you.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, by Mary Anne Shaffer and Annie Barrows

This was a hugely comforting read for me – one that I dipped in and out of and then devoured, in the week culminating in the UK school closures in March 2020. At first I was hesitant, not sure how I would get on with the story being told purely through letters, but in the end I barely noticed. The story is charming in every way: I found myself falling in love with Guernsey and the characters easily.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, on bookshop.org

Anne of Green Gables, by L. M. Montgomery

This was a lovely escapist read. The town of Avonlea, where the book is set, struck me as very like Maycomb (the town in To Kill a Mockingbird) and the two books themselves felt quite similar, although this one is all the calmer for not having morality tied into every plot point.

Anne of Green Gables, on bookshop.org

The Kite Runner, by Khaled Hosseini

I am in awe of just how much happened in this book. There were so many individual plot points but all of them seemed fleshed out and rich. The settings were so well-described that I felt like I was there, and the character development was exceptional. It’s a book that I wish I could always read for the first time, strange as that may sound, because I wish I could always feel so strongly about it as I did the first time.

The Kite Runner, on bookshop.org

Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race, by Reni Eddo-Lodge

This book opened my eyes and opened my mind, making me re-consider my position of privilege as an educated white woman, and re-consider how I should be responding to acts of racial violence such as those we saw in 2020.

Why I’m No Longer Talking To White People About Race, on bookshop.org

Becoming, by Michelle Obama

This was an inspirational read and it took me a shamefully long time to read it. But I was so inspired by Mrs Obama’s work ethic and determination – it made me so determined to work hard to get where I want to be, personally and professionally.

Becoming, on bookshop.org

No Ballet Shoes in Syria, by Catherine Bruton

I found this book to be very moving in the way it tackled the Syrian refugee crisis. It’s a middle-grade children’s book, one that I look forward to recommending to children that I teach in the future.

No Ballet Shoes in Syria, on bookshop.org

The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse, by Charlie Mackesy

This book is a masterpiece. It was bought for me by the mum of a child I taught last academic year, and there’s something extra magical about having had it chosen for me. It’s so pure and innocent, but equally deep and meaningful. Everyone should read this book.

The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse, on bookshop.org

52 Time Britain Was A *******, by James Felton

As a self-certified history geek, I loved this book. It’s a riotous history book, kind of a like a sweary Horrible Histories. I couldn’t help laughing out loud as a I read some of it, shocked into laughter by some of the absolute atrocities committed by “Great” Britain. It’s a much needed reminder to all, that the Empire was a horrible idea.

52 Times Britain was a *******, on bookshop.org

Invisible Women by Caroline Criado-Perez

From history geekness to rampant feminism now – I didn’t even know that ‘data bias’ was a thing until I read this book, but it infuriated me greatly (and probably infuriated my family greatly too, as I burst into indignant conversations about it at regular intervals while reading!) So much of the world is inherently designed without women in mind, because women were never part of the design process – example: did you know that your seatbelt is not designed to save you, if you’re biologically female? If you think we don’t have a problem with gender inequality anymore, you need to read this book.

Invisible Women, on bookshop.org

One Child, by Torey Hayden

This was a really profound read. I didn’t really know what I was getting myself in for, buying this on the recommendation of a family friend. I only knew that it was a teacher’s (true) account of a ‘difficult’ child. I was so drawn into Torey Hayden’s world and her classroom because it was such a powerfully told story.

One Child, on bookshop.org

I think it’s fair to say that I have extremely varied taste in my reading choices, which can be a blessing and a curse! I wonder what it would be like to walk into a bookshop and make a beeline for a particular section, instead of doing what I do – stand, dazzled by choice at the door before drifting between shelves all over the shop. I mean, it makes my reading life more interesting, but does my bank account no good whatsoever.

Don’t Call Me Fragile

This blog post has been a very long time coming. I’ve hesitated, paused, rethought and rewritten, always afraid that I would cause offence by publishing it. Because this post is going to call people out, and if I’ve written it right, it might make others uncomfortable with their own language choices around the subject of mental health.

(I will link to resources at the end of the post in case you want/need further information, or if you need support.)

I’m not sharing this out of anger so much as a need to make sure that one day, no-one will have to experience The Stigma that still shrouds mental illness, and worse having this stigma thrust so hurtfully in their face. You need to know how much damage your words can do.

The first time, I was eighteen.

I thought I liked him, and I thought he liked me back. We would send messages back and forth every evening that made me smile. The whole world was ahead of us: we carved the headspace for conversation out of university applications, history essays and astonishing academic pressure from almost every angle. He knew that I was anxious. He’d been in enough lessons where I had frozen, no words coming out and no amount of reassurance going in.

We weren’t ‘together’ or anything, though I might have quite liked us to be. Neither of us seemed to fit in, but it felt like we fitted together.

He invited me out for coffee, a few months after my birthday. I thought something was about to happen – I felt like a helium balloon, tugging skywards on its string.

And something did happen. Mercifully, I have forgotten his phrasing, except for one word. The gist, however, was that I wasn’t someone he could consider a relationship with.

I was too “fragile”.

It wasn’t so much a pin in the balloon as a cannonball, obliterating it and me.

For a long time, I believed him. When you trust someone, it’s hard not to. But I know now that in that last year of sixth form, though I was the most anxious I have ever been, I was never fragile. I had panic attacks nearly every day. I was practically selectively mute at times (something which I’ll always be apologetic to my teachers for!) I buried myself in my schoolwork, desperate not to get anything wrong. But I showed up every day. I forced myself into that building every morning, no matter how hard it was.

I am loath to say it, for reasons you may understand shortly, but there was nothing fragile about me.

Unfortunately, he was not the only person to call me ‘fragile’. Someone else has done it too, though you’ll have to forgive me for being a little more cagey around my second example. I’m aware of how relatively recent it was, and maintaining as much anonymity as possible – to protect myself, more than anything else. I have a right to tell my story, but not to dob anyone else in.

She led me to believe that I could trust her. I thought that those of us with similar experiences appreciated how difficult it was to share those experiences, and understood the sanctity of the trust you place in someone you chose to share them with. Naively, I assumed she understood. She gave me her time when I needed to talk and gave me a huge amount of reassurance that things would turn out okay. I tried my best to return her kindness when I could, or at least make it worth something by working hard and proving myself. At least, I thought that’s what I was doing.

I know I’m not perfect. Good grief, I’ve never even claimed to be, I wouldn’t dare! I have many, many faults, but I did not deserve what I got, which was ‘fragile’ being used as a reason why I didn’t receive professional support that I should have been entitled to.

It’s difficult to explain exactly how much of an impact this had on me. She hit me where it hurt. Was I really not right for the profession because of my anxiety? I thought she had been supporting me from a place of understanding, not from thinking that my mental health made me a weak member of the team.

I had confided so much in her and she broke that trust in the worst way.

When the conversation was over, I cried. Although ‘cried’ doesn’t do it justice. If you really haven’t got the key message yet, that ‘fragile’ is not a good word, then know that I have never been that upset in my life. I wasn’t even safe to drive myself home – I had to call my parents to come and rescue me and my car, from a safe distance where I knew I wouldn’t be seen in my weakness.

The person who called me fragile that time saw no error in what she said. She probably doesn’t even remember saying it. But I will never forget. She made me doubt everything, breaking down walls I had spent years building up.

You can say all sorts of things about me and my anxiety, but ‘fragile’ is my hard limit. Please do not imply weakness on my part.

I am capable of talking myself down hideously, without any extra help from you, thank you.

There is nothing fragile in the least, about being introverted and anxious, and still pursuing one of the ‘talkiest’ professions going. I’m a one-woman walking paradox, I’m proud of that (sometimes) and I am strong

Don’t call me fragile.


https://www.mind.org.uk/ – Information on (I think) all mental health conditions, wellbeing tips, plus a useful “Get help now” button, that doesn’t trigger the end of the world but instead can give you some real coping strategies for use in a crisis.

https://www.time-to-change.org.uk/ – The definitive campaign to end mental health discrimination across society, including use of language and how to talk about mental health with sensitivity.

https://www.educationsupport.org.uk/ – Charity supporting educators and school staff in the UK

https://www.samaritans.org/ – You can call confidentially at any time, and someone will be there to listen.

Under The Same Stars

Here we are, back in lockdown again… I’ll resist the urge to get all political and go on a rant, I promise!

As you’ll know if you’ve read my NQT year blogs (an ongoing project) I am an avid journaller, writing every day if I can. While being invaluable for recounting my NQT experiences, it’s also useful for looking back at how lockdown felt the first time around.

“There’s talk that all this – the lockdown, the social distancing, the school closures – could last six months or more. It’s a very sobering thought that all this could go on until September.”

29th March 2020

Reading those words, neatly put on the page in fountain pen (like now, I was at liberty to take the time to let the ink dry) I am very glad there’s no such thing as time travel. If I had known back then that nearly twelve months later nothing would be different, it would have been very difficult to find motivation for anything.

This lockdown is equally as difficult as the first, though for different reasons. The first time around, we didn’t know what to expect; this time, we kind of do, in that we know how grim it can be to feel trapped indoors! In the spring, I remember finding it hard to keep my house cool, whereas now it’s commonplace to hear variations on “Were you born in a barn?” or “Who’s forgotten to close the door behind the dog?!”

I should point out that for me, there are some major differences in my lockdown experience, First – last year, I had boldly gone out into the world, living with a schoolfriend in our first taste of young-professional freedom. For a whole collection of reasons, we’ve had to give up our house and move home to our parents’, which was really not part of the plan! Second – last year I had a full-time class teacher position, therefore a class to teach remotely and a rota of days to fulfil, teaching and caring for key-worker and vulnerable children at school. This year, as a school-based NTP tutor, I don’t have this. I don’t know yet whether I’ll be delivering tuition online or whether I will be furloughed. It’s hardly an ideal situation, and thousands of others are experiencing similar uncertainty.

Having upped sticks and moved twice in eighteen months, you can probably imagine the absolute chaos that is my assortment of belongings… My rented storage unit is the place of nightmares!

But I found something interesting the other day, that transported me instantly back to that first lockdown. I have a whole box full of notebooks, and slipped between two of them was a slip of paper, hastily scrawled some time in April, I think. I remember having plans to blog about it at the time.

So, nearly nine months on, we reach the crux of this post – the reason why it’s called “Under The Same Stars.”

Early in Lockdown 1, I took great solace from my work group chat. We all found it hard to suddenly be away from school and the close-quarters working life that a single-form-entry school can create. The whatsapp was full of memes, gifs and daily tales of lockdown life, though beneath the laughs there was undoubtedly an undercurrent of worry, fuelled by the uncertainty spawned by constant media speculation of reopening schools and regular spells of internet teacher-bashing. We muddled along as best we could.

One evening late on, I sat at my desk in the corner of my room, my attention split between the piece of writing I was working on and the little notification light on my phone, that relentlessly remained lit. The whatsapp was alive and kicking, and I put down my pen to join in.

Everyone was looking for a group of satellites in the dark sky: rumour had it they would be easily visible that night, and as luck would have it we had a clear evening. Some of us leaned from windows, some stood in gardens, others ventured out of their front doors for the first time in a while. We all gazed skywards, looking for the moving lights in the sky. And then came the perfect message, that brought inordinate joy. “Are we even looking at the right thing?”

I was alone in my bedroom but it still made me laugh out loud. True, we had no way of knowing if we were looking at the fabled satellites, or even if we were all looking at the same thing in the sky. But in that moment there was such beauty and warmth: it didn’t matter that we were spread out in our own homes having not been together for weeks. We were united by our separation, all looking up at the same night sky.

So if you’re feeling alone in lockdown, missing your friends or family or even the old normal of cramming into an overflowing train carriage, remember to look up. We are all under the same stars.

My Presence is Not Like Yours

In defence of the Quiet Teacher

I’ve written about being introverted before (I am not ideal) and about supporting introverted and shy pupils (Empowering the Quiet Ones.) It shouldn’t feel like such a niche topic to write about: according to introvert guru Susan Cain, 30 to 50% of people show introverted traits and would likely identify as ‘quiet’. This means that roughly a third to a half of people don’t, and will never, fit the ‘extrovert ideal’ that is rife in all facets of society. While the number of introverts in the teaching profession might be a little lower, owing to it being such a people-oriented job that plenty of introverts would avoid like the plague, introverted teachers are everywhere. While that sounds a little bit creepy and subliminal, it’s not wrong! In every school, there will be introverted teachers. We are real, we matter, and we should be taken into account.

Lately, I was unsuccessful in a job application after making it all the way to interview (I don’t know how it is in other areas of the country, but it’s borderline impossible to even get that far, where I am!) My feedback stated classroom presence and confidence as a major contributor to my not getting the job. Everything that was outlined to me made perfect sense, except that it was a little like driving in the wrong gear, or having your eyes tested and trying to see through the wrong lenses. 

My manner and classroom presence was mistaken for low confidence, because it hadn’t been taken into account that I was not a loud person. My own reflections on the lesson were quite different – though please don’t think I’m trying to launch a bitter attack on the headteacher who undoubtedly made the right choice for their school! 

I walked out of the observed lesson feeling that I had done the best I could, and left the interview feeling like I had performed well. I am not good at interviews, so to feel collected in front of that (socially distant) panel was a massive achievement in itself. I wasn’t what the school were looking for, and there was a candidate who performed better. Such is life.

I mentioned an extrovert ideal earlier, and I wonder what damage this might be doing to the teaching profession. If we expect all teachers to be all-singing, all-dancing, all the time, then what will become of pupils who are introverted themselves, who never see themselves reflected in a teacher. As I see it, a child might go through primary school and have seven extroverted teachers – and that’s great if the child themselves is extroverted and can bounce off that energy. But imagine the child is quiet. Maybe a little shy, unsure of how to handle their quietness in social settings. What a difference it could make, to have even one quieter teacher! 

Before you think I’m trying to sell myself as a not-very-good teacher, let me outline my classroom manner, so you can make your own reasoned decision on that. I’m not a shouty person, nor do I intend to become one. I’m not a fan of raising my voice (because I remember being little myself and hating it when adults in school shouted!) preferring to bring the class down to my level instead of raising myself up to theirs. I aim to bring a calm atmosphere into my classroom, something I’ve been successful in doing in the past – we can be noisy too, of course, but there’s always that return to a reasonable level. I want to create an environment that’s supportive to every child, something that I think has become even more important in the present climate. It’s undeniable that some children need and want a ‘loud’ teacher (‘loud’ in the sense of voice and personality) and I can throw myself into that state of mind for a while when the time comes. But my classroom is ultimately a haven for the quiet – hopefully it’s the classroom I needed myself, and a third to a half of any class might need too. I like to think that my classroom could be the place where introverted children can shed their shyness and simply be ‘quiet’. I have a child in mind when I write that, who certainly became a lot more comfortable in her own skin while in my class, not being pushed to be something she wasn’t.

For trainees or NQTs who might have had the not-so-helpful feedback of ‘you need to be louder’, here are a few tips that I try to follow, that your extroverted observer might be looking for.

  1. Body language – Look like you’re going to be loud. Stand square with shoulders back when you’re addressing the whole class. Don’t fidget while you’re speaking, as your body language shows how much you value and believe what you’re saying.
  2. Consider where in your body your voice is coming from, where you’re putting it, and the effect this will have on the room.
  3. Wait for silence – You are the most important voice in that room, at that moment. Don’t settle for anything less than silence.
  4. Don’t look to your mentor for approval or clarification – This one’s specific to trainees, but it’s something I was guilty of frequently! If you look to the usual class teacher to check you’re doing it right, you undermine everything you’ve said to the class. It’s your lesson and you need to own it, and own any mistakes you might have made in the process!
  5. Own your space. It’s a tricky one, especially in a job interview when it’s not your room!But move around the room, use all of the space effectively (easier in non-covid times, I will admit.) In my NQT classroom, I had two different chairs, one by the computer and one by the whiteboard. My movement between these areas signalled parts of the lesson non-verbally to the children, which unconsciously puts you in control of the classroom and what happens within it.

Whose voices should we hear?

Thoughts on Bullying

This blog is in response to the Priti Patel bullying scandal that has swept through UK news recently. I’m not a politician and won’t pretend to know the ins and outs of the situation – like any other member of the public, the view I have has been formed of what I’ve read and heard from the news and social media. What I do know the intricacies of, however, is what it is to experience bullying and its fallout. I will link resources throughout and  below to provide further information on the story.

It has been alleged that Home Secretary Priti Patel has engaged in bullying behaviour towards officials and civil servants in the Home Office. An official investigation and report gives detailed evidence for this, culminating in a statement that she broke Ministerial Code, or, in layman’s terms, that she did not meet the professional standards set for her role.

While I obviously cannot pass comment on what she has or has not done, I know that an accusation of bullying should always be taken seriously. I also know that if I was accused of breaking the professional standards for my own job in such a serious way, then I would probably not be allowed to remain in post while it was under investigation.

I was bullied. Despite a love of learning, strong bonds with my teachers and some friendships to be treasured, from the ages of seven to eleven, I usually dreaded going to school. I lived in fear of people in my class. I couldn’t understand why I was a target, why they could turn on a sixpence and go from happy, laughing children to ones who took pleasure in wearing me down, tormenting me or making me look stupid. 

The bullying I experienced ebbed and flowed. It wasn’t always there: there would be an intense few months, and then it would die away for a while, leaving me questioning every sentence and analysing it for the barbs and dual-meanings that could cut me to the quick.

I don’t think it was ever witnessed by my teachers. If it had been, I want to think that it would have been dealt with differently. But just because they didn’t see it, doesn’t mean that it didn’t happen.

A number of MPs have spoken out in support of Ms Patel, stating that they have never experienced the behaviour outlined in the report. They have only seen a professional woman, who couldn’t possibly be deemed a bully.
The people who bullied me didn’t look like bullies. Even when they were engaging in some of their bullying behaviours, it probably looked like a table of children having a laugh, maybe messing around a bit and avoiding work for a few minutes. Except one of them wasn’t laughing. One was close to tears, humiliated and wanting to disappear. She didn’t think she would be believed, because sometimes, just sometimes, it was just laughing and joking and she could be part of it too. Even though it could (and did) change in a heartbeat, she thought that because the smiles had been seen, the feelings of being bullied wouldn’t matter.

Our Prime Minister has wholeheartedly backed Ms Patel, which sends out a clear message: the important voice here is that of the alleged bully, not those she may have bullied.

I don’t think this is acceptable.

What is this telling those who may be being bullied in their workplace? That if their bully is in a position of seniority, their word and position will matter more? That their bully will be supported, even when presented with evidence of their behaviour? 

Let me alter the situation slightly, rewrite it to allow a different viewpoint. 

A number of children in a class report being bullied by one individual. The individual is the top of the class, the smartest child who works hard and is well-liked by several teachers. When the report of bullying is made, it is investigated – evidence is collated that exemplifies bullying under the school’s definition. But teachers begin to rally around the accused bully. “She’s never given me any reason to believe she’s a bully,” they say. “I’ve only ever seen her be helpful and kind to others. She speaks her mind and is focused on her work, directing others to get things done, but she isn’t a bully.”

Your child is one who is being bullied. They come home every night afraid to return. Their confidence is slowly chipped away, their work gets worse and they are terrified of being put in a group with this girl. You call the school, hopeful that the issue will be dealt with. You know from other parents that your child is not the only one. You are put through to the headteacher.

He tells you that the ‘bully’ isn’t a bully at all, the reports and evidence are meaningless and there will be no consequences.

If this doesn’t make you angry, you’re not paying attention (to quote the commonly-used phrase.)

It’s true that Ms Patel has a released an ‘apology’ of sorts in relation to the allegations made against her. I’ve watched the footage, and as a formerly-bullied individual myself, it made me deeply uncomfortable. Her words weren’t about those she affected, they were all about her. She made excuses for how she acted, stating that work pressures and lack of support could have been to blame. And maybe the worst, she said that concerns weren’t raised with her over her behaviour: she didn’t know she was upsetting people.

Those who are bullied don’t just approach their bullies to tell them they’re upset. The very nature of bullying wears one down to a state where you won’t look for help, and certainly not from the very person doing the bullying.  And the bully knows this – it gives them power.

It’s common enough to say, “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” and there are a plethora of other Pinterest-worthy quotes to suggest we should be grateful for our challenges for turning us into better people. But I refuse to be grateful for being bullied. It stole parts of me I will never get back. It shaped the adolescent I was and the young woman I am. I don’t doubt it contributed to my anxiety being what it is.

I don’t think it’s okay for the voice of a bully, proven or accused, to be allowed to continue in a position of power that gives responsibility for the safety of people in the United Kingdom. Being bullied does not make you feel safe. Being bullied leaves you feeling vulnerable, bruised and alone, which is only made worse by not being believed. And when the most powerful man in the country speaks out in support of the accused, that’s a clear signal that you’re not being believed.


https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2020/nov/20/priti-patel-bullying-inquiry-why-was-it-held-and-what-did-it-find – The Guardian, Priti Patel bullying inquiry: why was it held and what did it find?

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-55015493 – BBC, Priti Patel was warned to treat staff with respect, says former official

https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2020/nov/23/boris-johnson-no-place-for-bullying-claim-priti-patel – The Guardian, Boris Johnson under fire over ‘no place for bullying’ claim

https://news.sky.com/story/priti-patel-bullying-allegations-what-were-the-claims-against-the-home-secretary-12137076 – Sky News, Priti Patel bullying allegations: What were the claims against the home secretary?

A New Challenge: Teaching in Early Years

This blog was originally published by True Education Partnerships. You can read it on their site instead by following this link (though if you do, please consider coming back here to leave a comment on it!)

I spent the summer term and summer holidays trawling every search I could think of, in search of a new teaching position. Fresh out of my NQT year, I was hungry for more, hungry for a fresh challenge and hungry to be one of the lucky few who appeared on my Twitter feed, rightfully celebrating every drop of their success at securing a post in what was a pretty awful summer for recruitment. As August’s days ran out like the sand in an hourglass, I began to lose hope.

To cut a long story short, I’ve found myself working in a nursery for a while. And it is wonderful. I was initially so reluctant to work in Early Years – all of which stems from being thoroughly put off at university – so if I can learn to love it, and in such a short time-frame too, I’m fairly sure most people can.

This blog is a taste of Early Years, a collection of snapshots of every day that still manages to feel somewhat magical to me. I think I’m aiming it at the student I was, pushing through my degree from 2016-19 with the misguided view that the most valuable place for me to be would be Key Stage Two (Early Years colleagues who may read this, forgive me – I was young and misguided! And student teachers, there is still just as much fun to be had in KS2, you just have to look a little harder to see it sometimes.)

The first day

My first day at preschool coincided with the first day for many of the children in the room. They ranged in age from only-just two to not-far-from four years old, and I think the scene was quite typical of preschool Septembers. A few tears (from parents and from children) a lot of cuddles, and some quick-thinking to thrust some distraction where it was sorely needed to ward off thoughts of hometime!

I felt way out of my depth, even having taught Year One in my NQT year so not being averse to quite young children. But I was immediately accosted by a confident three-year-old, returning for the first time since March.

“Read to me?” she asked, with approximately zero space for negotiation. And, being the massive bookworm and lover of children’s books that I am, I did not need too much of an invitation. Perhaps Covid-19 has robbed the preschool room of its soft furnishings, but there is still so much joy in sitting on the floor with a book, with a three-year-old hanging off your every word and leaning casually on you as if you’ve known each other forever.

I will never cease to be amazed by the trust the preschoolers place in the adults who work with them. I suppose it’s youthful naivety, something we have a duty to protect, respect and nurture, but it’s something beautiful too. That girl (who still asks me daily to read to her – we’re currently on Percy the Park Keeper and I couldn’t be happier) didn’t know I was feeling out of my depth but her timing was perfect, setting me at ease with a request for something I knew I wouldn’t be able to get wrong.

Everything you don’t see

At the end of the summer holidays, I collected a huge number of shells from beach walks with that gung-ho teacher attitude of “I might need those.” And I’m so glad I did, though I never envisaged them becoming part of a dinosaur tuff tray setup!

Everything in my NQT classroom was so planned and curated for progress (or so I hoped) that I almost felt uneasy at first, with preschool being so open-ended and free-flowing. For any trainees reading, who aren’t sure about Early Years, don’t be afraid of this! The conversations I’ve had with children over various tuff trays since that first week of September have been enlightening. And sometimes more so is the opportunity to sit back and just watch.

The average person on the street doesn’t see what I see or what Early Years colleagues see in our rooms every day. Average Joe might see a child pouring sand over a toy digger with its overflowing scoop pointed skywards, and assume aimlessness or ineptitude. I see a child exploring the capacity of said digger’s scoop. I see them learning how dry sand behaves and then seeing later that the same doesn’t happen when the sand is damp. I hear them narrate their experiences to themselves, making sense of their world.

The same goes for painting. I didn’t appreciate quite how much children get out of gradually covering a page with paint, with what I once saw as random splashes and streaks of poster paint. A ‘mess’ of mixed paint, almost soaking through the paper, is so much more than that to the two-year-old who proudly produced it. It’s the development of what will become a lifetime’s pencil grip. It’s learning to recognise colours, it’s learning what happens when you put those colours on top of each other, it’s experimentation with shapes, it’s raw joy in creating something.

If you’re a trainee who’s not really considered Early Years before, then be open to it. There’s so much happiness in a classroom full of children who are far too young to have any idea what’s happening in the big wide world. That happiness makes my current work days a pleasure. If you’re like me six months ago, thinking ‘there’s no way I could do that!’ then step out of your comfort zone – you might surprise yourself. And if you’re one of the far too numerous people who don’t give Early Years the credit it deserves, then think again. From tiny acorns, great oak trees grow.