Empowering the Quiet Ones

When ’empowerment’ emerged as a theme for the #DailyWritingChallenge, I thought long and hard about it. I feel as though I have been empowered by this blog, sharing pieces of myself with every entry I post and making connections with new people who have been affected by the things I have written. But this time, I’m keen to live up to the fact I tell people I’ve got an education blog! Here is my first attempt at writing some advice for teachers.

I was a Quiet One at school. It wasn’t the fault of my teachers (something I remind myself of when faced with quiet pupils of my own!) but their actions as a result of my quietness had an impact on it, I think. I remember feeling distinctly put out, when some of them tried to force a little loudness from me! Hopefully, some of these strategies will be useful to you in the classroom, to give a voice to your quieter pupils.

Think / Pair / Share

It’s a classic strategy, and can be used with all age groups (with my Y1 class I omitted the ‘think’ stage usually.) It’s benefical for pupils no matter where they fall on the loud/quiet spectrum: the pupils who might otherwise blurt out their first idea have time to articulate and refine their thinking, and those reluctant to participate have a much smaller stage on which to speak, which make go a long way to easing their worries.

In terms of empowerment, having that rehearsal time can encourage lots of quiet children to share their thoughts with the class. Additionally, you might pose the question “Who can tell me what their partner said?” In this case, you may hear from the quiet ones as they may be happier to share ideas that aren’t their own, or you may hear the ideas of the quiet one, verbalised by the more talkative partner! (I will admit to being the oft-silent talking partner at university, regularly saved by my chattier partner in crime!)

One important thing to note: never assume q uiet child has, is going to or has any intention (or need!) to get over being quiet. These strategies may help put them at ease, but they are not ‘cures’.

I made that naive mistake in my first teaching placement – I’m not sure why! But I listened in to the paired conversations and happened upon some brilliant ideas from a very bright, shy girl. When it came to class-wide sharing, I called on her to repeat her ideas to the class. She looked at me, appalled that I would put her on show like this. Her rabbit-in-headlights expression has stayed with me, and now my practice is quite different.

In this way, I make sure good ideas are heard and valued in the whole class forum, while minimising discomfort. Let the record show that I do recognise that sometimes it is better to push a child from their comfort zone, to speak up a little more. You know your children best.

Sharing Work

This can be great for boosting confidence and for empowering quiet children by making them feel valuable in a class full of more extroverted others. Of course, displaying the work of more confident is entirely appropriate too – it boosts the self-esteem of all children. Never underestimate the lift it can give, for a pupil to hear their teacher tell their class that their piece of work is to be admired.

I’ve done with with Year 5’s and Year 1’s; it was effective with both. A Y5 boy who largely kept himself to himself positively glowed when I asked his permission to read out the opening of his story to the class. The rest of his work met the same high standard, and his confidence remained in subsequent writing tasks. In Y1, I spent a long time explaining and demonstrating how the children would be expected to show their thinking in a maths journal. When I gave the class time to practice on a whiteboard, one girl stood out. She was one of the shyest in the class, but her introversion was to her advantage: her thinking was clear. She was a neat worker too, and her board clearly showed all of her workings to find the answer. When I showed it to the class, I didn’t name her at first, but after a moment, she proudly proclaimed ‘That’s mine!’ with a slightly embarrassed smiles as heads turned her way.

Circle Time

This can be brilliant for getting to know your class, addressing current issues, and helping children learn how to discuss their feelings. The very premise of circle time can be empowering to some children: they feel safe within clear structures such as “you may only speak if you’re holding X” However, the feeling of having all eyes on you, waiting for you to speak, can have the complete opposite effect on others, producing a nightmare scenario for them.

This is why I sometimes followed up circle time discussions this year with colouring or a wordsearch. These relaxed, quiet activities allowed me to move between froups of children and open up the circle time topic afresh in a smaller forum or even on a individual basis. Having your voice heard is so important when you don’t enjoy speaking publicly. There are ways around it for shy/anxious/introverted children, so make time for the smaller voices in your class!

Praise

It’s not a secret that praise is good for all children. It can sometimes be easy, though, for extroverted teachers to make thoughtless comments when praising quiet children. “It’s good to finally hear from you!” “Now, was that so hard?” These remarks aren’t meant maliciously, but they give a perhaps unintended message: that quiet pupils are only valuable when they speak up. There is of course huge value for any contribution made in a class discussion, but is there not space in a classroom too, for the thinkers, the reflectors, the note-takers? Don’t assume that lack of participation equals lack of engagement full stop.

Praise your quiet ones as you would praise any other child. They may not appreciate having attention drawn to the fact they’re not the chattiest in the class! Once again, you know your children best – it might be appropriate for some to have a reward chart to commend contributions, others will simply follow the same reward system as the rest of the class for a really great idea shared.

Private praise cna also go a long way. I taught a bubbly but very shy girl this year (an odd combination of adjectives, I know, but there’s no other way to describe her!) When she plucked up the courage to join in class-wide games, she received Dojo points like the others, but I also took care to speak to her individually on the playground later that day. “I’m really proud of you for being brave and playing the number bond game today. I know you don’t find it easy, but you did well today.” A well-timed praise message to parents never goes amiss either.

Silent Answer Jars

These can be a great way to open a topic and ascertain prior knowledge, to collect pupils questions or as a plenary activity – the practical applications are pretty much endless! (Secondarily, they are also a great excuse to raid the art cupboard / have a good rummage in the craft aisle of your local shop of choice, because decorating the jars is all part of the appeal!)

I used answer jars as part of a project in my second year at university (see the picture above, I’m sure you can imagine the fun we had with piles of craft supplies in the uni library!) We delivered a week-log project on gender inequality, and used the jars to measure opinion and changes in opinion during the sessions. We gave the children squares of coloured paper (because it’s infinitely more exciting than writing on white or lined paper) and invited them to deposit their thoughts in the jars. The answers were anonymous, which empowered even the shyest children to be honest and open with their thoughts.


Hopefully, some of these ideas will help to empower the quiet children you teach.

Above all, remember that empowerment and confidence-boosting will happen at their pace, not yours. Don’t try to force anything. If you have never felt the pain of being put on the spot and wishing the ground would swallow you up, then lucky you, because it can be an agony like no other. If you’re not capital-q Quiet yourself, then please try to understand your quiet pupils, even if their behaviour seems totally alien to you.

It only takes one teacher to change a child’s story. Let it be you.

Are Treadmills Over-rated?

I’m in a weird in-between stage in my life, and I don’t know if I like it. Actually, I think my family would attest to me not liking it very much, considering how much I’ve moaned about it lately!

All my life, my next step has been predetermined and secure. I have always known what was coming next and I have revelled and flourished under the semi-pressure that came from knowing exactly what I needed to do to reach that next step. GCSEs, to get me into sixth form. A-levels, to get me into university. A degree, two placements and an interview to secure my NQT job. I’d never be so full of my own self-importance as to use the following phrase seriously, but I have always rather liked it:

Now, however, I’m in a position I’d hoped I wouldn’t be in, with no secure plans for September. It’s been this way since late May, and despite my efforts I’m no closer to having a class this side of Christmas. Coronavirus has battered recruitment across every job market: even the mantra of many of my family members, ‘there will always be a need for teachers’ seems not to ring true for me at present!

I was chatting with a friend lately, reminiscing old times and lamenting my lack of employment with a liberal sprinkling of humour and gifs (the latter of which is a staple of online conversation with me.) I likened the whole situation to having fallen off a treadmill that had run non-stop since I started school, aged four and a half.

My friend got me thinking though, when he very levelly remarked, ‘treadmills are over-rated’.

Treadmills are over-rated.

I think I’m beginning to have the realisation that most people have in their twenties: that life is not moving at the same pace fit everybody anymore.

I have friends who will start their NQT year this September, friends who have made plans to move and teach abroad this autumn, friends who aren’t teachers who are forging paths in their own fields. I have friends who are engaged, friends who are having babies, friends in long-term relationships, friends who are single.

It’s not like being in a secondary school cohort where you’ll all walk away with a clutch of GCSEs an a college place. My university cohort has scattergunned across the country (and the world) and nobody is doing the same as anybody else anymore.

Maybe I haven’t fallen off the treadmill at all.

Maybe the treadmill doesn’t exist.

In which case, my wise friend was entirely right. Treadmills are over-rated.

However, this does leave me with quite a task at hand – making peace with not knowing, and recognising that not knowing could lead to something wonderful.

Illustration is hardly my forté, but hopefully you get the idea!

Resolve

Or, keeping calm and carrying on

I have been fairly resilient for a long time. Setback after setback has tried to stop me living my dream, but here I am, the end of my NQT year a hair’s breadth from my grasp.

I had rather hoped that my crusade of forced resilience might come to an end this summer, but the universe has had other ideas. The end of a fixed-term contract might not have felt like such a disaster, were we not in the midst of a global pandemic that has upended the world as we knew it, not least in the realms of teacher recruitment!

For those lucky enough not to be job searching this summer, I’ll try and paint you a picture. There are not many jobs out there – I would imagine because lots of staff who had thought about handing in their notice have changed their mind since this pandemic set in! It’s a year when I had hoped that my single year’s experience might give me a bit of an edge over soon-to-be NQT candidates (sorry!) but a couple of big confidence-knocks have put paid to any belief I had in that.

But this post is one of resolve, not a huge pity party for an exhausted NQT! Resolve is what I do – in a weird way it’s come from my anxiety in the first place that I hate the thought of people seeing me give up, therefore I keep trying. I suppose this has the potential to turn toxic, if I’m trying too hard for something I really don’t need. But for the most part, it has lead me to persevere and keep going against the odds.

I never imagined that I would look outside my hometown, for only my second teaching post. But if this pandemic has taught me anything, it’s that nothing is certain. I am young, single, and have no commitments to speak of, therefore I’m in a perfect position to take advice my GCSE history teacher wrote in my yearbook: See the world! So I’ve cast my net a little wider – I’ve submitted applications to schools in four countries so far, and am actively looking for an adventure in a new place.

It would be easy to give up now, if I’m honest. The application process is exhausting and can be demoralising: each application can feel so personal it’s as though a piece of me is ripped away with it, and each one expends a lot of mental energy (I’ve found myself referring to my old favourite The Spoon Theory a lot lately!) When nothing comes back from a weekend’s worth of applications, it’s so tempting to throw in the towel. Surely it would be easier to apply my skills to something else, I find myself thinking far too often.

The single upside to the pandemic situation is that it probably wouldn’t be any easier in any other sector at the moment. I might as well stay where I am – especially when my bubble of 14 children remind me daily what I’d miss if I ever walked away from the profession. Even when it’s been a difficult behaviour day, or a rubbish reading day, or maths hasn’t sunk in, or three children have cried and social distancing says I can’t give them a quick hug, there are reasons to love this job. A proud smile after a correct answer. A ‘thank you.’ A remark that takes me by surprise and makes me laugh until my sides ache. A piece of descriptive writing that surely hasn’t come from a Year 1. Except, it has, she’s a wonderful writer, and I had a part to play in making that happen.

So my resolve is not entirely spent. I am as yet unbroken, despite how fragile I may feel. The next round of applications is upon me and I will give them exactly the same care and energy and the first ones I filled in, because every school and every child deserves my best. If I like a school enough to apply, they deserve my best try at applying, whether they’re my first or my fiftieth.

The search goes on for a new adventure. But I won’t give up yet.

#DailyWritingChallenge – Stillness

I have craved stillness all week. A classroom is not the best setting when temperatures are rising, and the movement required of teaching Year Ones, even in a bubble, is not the most comfortable thing in the world when outdoor temperatures are high.

But the real stillness I’ve wanted has been mental rather than physical: lockdown teaching has been kind to me in that respect, granting more mental stillness than a classroom could manage even on a calm day.

In a way, returning from this mammoth break has been like starting again from September. Monday felt a bit like treading water, trying to stay afloat in this strange new world. My thoughts were an utter mess – it was NQT mental plate-spinning to an olympic standard that I wasn’t sure I could meet. I took stock however, as I often do, from EduTwitter colleagues. I certainly had an easier job than many of them: having the advantage of taching children from my own class meant that I had a good idea of their abilities pre-lockdown.

There has certainly been little time for mental stillness this week. It’s been an exercise of unlearning old habits and academically feeling my way through semi-darkness to work out which skills and knowledge have flourished or diminished since March. I’m stretching mental muscles that have lain dormant and pushing the limit of what little stamina I might have built up between September and March. You can bet I will sleep well this weekend! It’s been a hard week, and I’m not sure that next week will be much different, with the addition of more of my children to my bubble!

Returning to the classroom, albeit with ten children, has been a truly lovely experience though. The childre have shown incredible resilience in the face of all the new routines, taking it all in stride and even reminding me, when I didn’t immediately reach for the soap on coming back from playtime!

It’s been an immense pleasure too, to see how much they havve changed in the time that they have been away. Many have caught up to the one who was the tallest by a whole head or more. There are gaps in smiles where there weren’t before. Independence for some has skyrocketed.

I had been jittery about returning to a strict world of bubbles. But what I hadn’t factored into my visualisation of that first morning, was the precious moment of internal lift when one of my children rounded the corner in the corridor and set eyes on me for the first time since mid-March. I hope never to forget her relieved, thrilled and excited smile as she walked the rest of the corridor to meet me and enter our bubble’s room. Yesterday afternoon, having spent her morning playtime agonising over not being able to give me a hug, she happily declared, “I’m hugging you in my head.”

That brought me more mental stillness than any amount of mindfulness colouring, blogging or octopus crochet.

I am not ideal.

I am not ideal.

Let me unpack that, because in its stark brevity it may be jarring, despite its truth.

The terms ‘extrovert’ and ‘introvert’ to describe the two ends of the personality spectrum are relatively new, having been popularised almost 100 years ago by Carl Jung. But the predisposition towards one or the other, or even to sit squarely between them, is not new at all. There’s significant scientific backing to the idea that this predisposition is coded into DNA. It is likely I can do as little about being introverted as I can about having blue eyes.

I probably can’t change the fact that I am quiet, and why would I want to? It’s because of my quietness that I charge through more than thirty books a year, that I’ve write about 300,000 words of prose in the last five years and that I’m deeply perceptive of others, spotting an upset child from thirty paces before a tear has been shed or absorbing the negative energy of those around me before they’ve spilled their troubles. My introversion has shaped my personality for the better and I don’t want to change it.

The world wants me to change it though.

In the nineteenth century, genteel character guides placed value on morality, humility, manners, modesty and integrity. Interesting for this discussion at least is that these ‘manners’ dictated vocally holding back to allow others to speak first. By the twentieth century, these more introverted qualities were scorned as personality flaws – personality manuals of this period demanded successful individuals be magnetic, dominant and forceful. It’s strange that the early qualities are those that could be worked on with rpescribed introspection, whereas the latter ones are ones I’d consider you to be born with or without. With the best will in the world, I think there are many people who will never be ‘dominant,’ myself included.

Society expects more of people than some are wired to give, which puts introverts at a distinct disadvantage. There’s an unfair tendency to equate extroversion to a level of personal goodness – if your first impression isn’t one of bubbly chattiness we learn quickly that we fall off the radar or ar not worth that visibility to begin with. But the truth is that introverts don’t sit on the same radar as extroverts nor do they generally desire to: the very crux of introversion is having a rich inner world to attend to and being more sensitive to external stimulation. Large parties and small talk are not my cup of tea, which usually paints me in a negative light, unfairly. Perhaps I do sit on the periphery of gatherings, but I listen intently before deciding whether to join in. Sometimes introverts are simply content to listen – we’re good at that – and if I am present physically you can usually be sure I am present mentally, perceiving more than just your verbal cues. I am engaged but unfortunately being a good listener and a not-so-good talker leads to me being preceived as standoffish or not trying hard enough.

I don’t think there’s a direct correlation between my introversion and my mental health/illness, but know this: I am never not trying to fit in. My anxiety makes me simultaneously desperate to be accepted and certain that I won’t be. Please do not accuse me of not trying to fit it – it really is all that I want but I don’t know how, or worse, my mouth feels sewn shut by worry.

The world is designed for extroverts, from the value placed on mass networking in many careers, to the disadvantage of the quiet in many selection processes, to the hidden agenda of education (yes, another one…)

A huge majority of teachers, when describing ‘the ideal pupil’ report them to be extroverted. Classrooms are increasingly organised, even in secondary settings, for team working and grades are increasingly given for participation as if this is a marker of engagement with material. I am not the only introvert with a first-class degree; I’m not sure it’s possible to argue that we were all disengaged with our course material by virtue of being quieter.

This teacher bias is something I’m very aware of, having entered the profession myself. I can attest to the existence of the Extrovert Ideal in education on a personal level though, having been subjected to one phrase on a stuck record throughout my life. She’s doing well but she’s too quiet. I really, really understand where they were coming from – I’ve caught myself feeling the ‘frustration’ of quiet pupils not participating in the traditional sense of raising a hand to contribute publically. I refuse to tell any child I teach, or their parents, that they are too quiet, because those words sting, and chip away at what may already be a fragile confidence (not in every case of course, as there are a great number of very confident, comfortable introverts.) There are other ways of making sure progress is happening than insisting on a raised hand. This is something I will blog about in the future, for sure.

Teaching introverts that they have to masquerade as extroverts in order to make strides in life is not fair. Up to 40% of the population is introverted, a number that can rise dependent on the society you study. We are a significant minority in many locations. This means that around 10-12 pupils in a class may tend to find it an intensely stimulating environment and crave time to reflect in peace to restore themselves during the day.

But it also means there are introverted teachers, TA’s and school staff in every setting in the country, and we’ve got to stop making them feel like they’re living life ‘wrong’ somehow by carving out a period of their lunch break to seek quiet, either in the company of others or alone. We should be allowed to survive and thrive as much as anyone else.

I was not a problem pupil for being quiet, and I am not a poorer teacher because of it. If all teachers were as extroverted as the profession sometimes demands, what would become of the introverted pupils? They deserve a champion, someone to appreciate their quietness from a personal point of view. If someone had told me at the age of ten or eleven that being quiet was not a bad thing, I might have felt a lot more comfortable heading on to secondary school.

As a student teacher, I learned that schools don’t want applications from candidates who are ordinary. As an introvert, I realised the common subtext: ‘ordinary’ also means ‘quiet’.

But Rosa Parks was introverted, a woman who kept to herself until and even after she refused to give up her seat on a segregated Montgomery bus. She has become an icon of peaceful protest in the civil rights movement, but she never surrended her personality.

Barack Obama would never have reached the heights he has, without his need to retire, reflect and work in peace in private ‘holes’ (the name bestowed by Mrs Obama upon the quiet corners her husband escapes to, to recharge his introvert batteries.)

The list of significant introverts goes on and on. Eleanor Roosevelt, Emma Watson, Bill Gates, Marissa Mayer, Frederic Chopin, Stevie Wozniak, Albert Einstein, Amy Schumer, Stephen Fry.

Introverts are not inferior, but the world tells us that we are.

I am softly spoken but I am fed up of the message that this means my words are not worth as much.

Further reading

BBC Ideas – The Quiet Power of Introverts – https://www.bbc.co.uk/ideas/videos/the-quiet-power-of-introverts/p080fdnp

The Extrovert Ideal Isn’t the Only Way of Existing – introvertdear.com/news/extrovert-ideal-introverts/

Susan Cain: ‘Society has a cultural bias towards extroverts’ – https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2012/apr/01/susan-cain-extrovert-introvert-interview

This TED talk changed my life. I am not exaggerating – this is what introduced me to who I am and made me realise I am not alone and not an oddity.

How Intorverts Can Thrive in a World of Extroverts – https://www.convoconnection.com/blog/how-introverts-can-thrive-in-a-world-of-extroverts

NQT/ECT Advice #3

What do I do in my first week?

This was requested on Twitter by @miss_jwoodcock – I hope there’s something helpful in among all this!

I think this is the blog I would have most wanted to read myself, as an NQT-to-be. There was so much running through my head, and despite all my placement experience, I’d never seen the first week ‘done’ by someone who knew what they were doing! (My three-year course saw placements happen Feb half term to Easter, October half term to Christmas, and February half term to early May.)

So for anyone daunted by the first week, here are some things to tick off – some are for the children, some are for you. All of them are important; they’re in no particular order other than the order in which I thought of them!


Get enough sleep.

I thought I knew what ‘tired’ meant before this year. Nope. The adrenaline of the first week is enough to wear anyone out, but on top of that, you’re taking in new knowledge all of the time. It’s exhausting as much as it’s brilliant; you definitely need to prioritise rest. It’s no small mercy that the first week doesn’t have a heavy marking load.

‘Getting to know you’ activities and games

It can be so daunting, seeing your register and realising you’ve got all these names to attach to the right child! It can feel like there’s a huge pressure to get it all correct from the off, especially if you’re in a little school like I was, where all the staff seem to know all the children even if they haven’t taught them. But I promise it gets easier. You will spend so much time with these children that you’ll notice every difference between your children, even if it feels like you’ll never tell them apart, on day one. Example: I had two little girls this year, with names that sounded very similar, both with dark hair, both very quiet. It took me about a week longer to get their names right than it took me with the whole rest of the class, but when I bring them to mind now, I wonder how I ever found them so similar!

Your children will probably forgive you for getting their names wrong. It becomes something amusing, eventually, and it’s easy to laugh it off and make a joke of it if you’re really struggling with names.

But there are plenty of games and activities you can try, both to get the children back into the swing of being together again and to familiarise yourself with their names. There are a wealth of Pinterest-worthy activities out there, and my mind is already whirring with what I might do with my new class in September (when I find a new school!) Don’t forget the value in talking games though, as many are easily adapted to any age group.

My favourite starts with everyone sitting in a circle. You start things off by introducing yourself and telling the class one thing that you like. (You can make this more challenging/funny with older children by stipulating that that have to give something that begins with the initial letter of their name – this doesn’t have to be true and it can be more fun if it’s not taken seriously. When I was in Rangers, we would play this just for the comedy value… My name is Caitlin and I like camels came with actions and everything.) Play carries on around the circle, with everyone sharing their name and something they like – this can help individuals stick in your head, and help you learn a little about your new class. You can also play this where every person must say the name and ‘thing’ of everyone who came before them, before saying their own, to turn it into a memory challenge.

Create something for the classroom, with the children

This can be a lovely first afternoon activity. It allows for some of that creativity we all aspire to (Pinterest fails also welcome!) while giving the children chance to create something that gives them some ownership in the space. While the children are making/colouring etc, you can also float around the room and start making those all-important connections with individuals and groups.

This could also be done if you get some time with the children before the summer (though I appreciate that may not happen this year, with coronavirus still very much a part of life.) Last summer, that’s what I did. I had my class all take one of these crayon templates.

I had spent time beforehand, drawing their names on in bubble writing, so that they could colour in and decorate around their name. When they were all done, I laminated and cut them out, then over the summer I stuck them on our door, arranging them like a box of crayons. The whole point was for them to have something familiar when they came in each day, and to promote a sense of togetherness.

Behaviour and boundaries

Make sure the children know your boundaries and expectations from the very start. You might agree class rules with them, taking suggestions, or set them down as you want them, discussing them with the children as you introduce them. You can discuss the importance of class rules with children of any age, though of course their responses and your expectation for their depth of understanding will be very different.

Share parts of yourself too

This is a slightly contentious one – there is differing opinion on how much of yourself to give or whether to give any of yourself at all. There’s obviously a line not to be crossed with regard to personal information, but there is also a personal/professional decision to be made. In my opinion, it is part of building relationships with your class to share a little bit of yourself. I’m not an open book to my class, I don’t share everything, but I share important things: I had photos stuck above my desk this year, of my family, my graduation my dog; in circle time I would share ‘things that make me happy’ as the children did; if a child asked me outright if I had a mum and dad then I’d answer them honestly (this one just made me laugh each time, because Year Ones never quite understand that their teacher has a life outside of school, and a family just like theirs!) It’s down to you to decide what you’re happy with sharing, but there is value in sharing, when you’re asking your children to do exactly that in the first week!

Familiarise yourself with school routines and expectations

Use inset days and any time you can get in school prior to September to ask all these questions. Write it all down. Then the first week will be for practising getting the children to the right places at the right times – but don’t worry that everyone will judge you for getting it wrong… I still ended up walking my class out last at the end of the day after the new year, sometimes! It’s not always going to be perfect.

Try to switch off at night

It’s really easy to be consumed by this job. There, I said it! But it’s so important to make that time that’s not about work. Make time for things that you enjoy, that make you happy, that let you relax enough to sleep – remember tip number 1!

“Don’t smile until Christmas” is absolute rubbish

I cannot count the number of times I heard this in the run-up to my NQT year. Do not listen – how would you feel as a child, walking into a classroom with a teacher who’s new to the school (meaning you can’t even go off of rumours from older kids!) only to see they’ve got a face like thunder? Check your resting face isn’t grumpy, and use your smile to build bridges with the class.

#DailyWritingChallenge – Choice

An average teacher in an average classroom makes 1500 choices every day. Our working life centres around the outcome of these decisions and then making infinite other choices as a result.

Decision fatigue is very real; at the end of a day it’s not uncommon to see teachers struggle over the smallest choices because we’re so unconsciously tired of choosing. Our brains say no!

Many of the decisions I make in a day that contribute to my decision fatigue are subconscious. I don’t have to actively think about how I address the child on the carpet who’s messing around, again. I don’t have the actively choose my tone when talking to the shy child who I know is desperate to join in.

But I’m actively choosing to be antiracist.

It’s not enough anymore to say ‘I’m not racist.’ Good for you, you’re not racist. But if you’re not actively against racism and trying to make a change from wherever you’re at, then it’s not good enough.

I am in the extremely privileged position of having white skin and a white British name. This means I fit society’s narrow expectation of what is ‘normal’ and ‘acceptable’. [Click here and here to read about why names matter.] This privilege helped my pre-18 education, it helped me be admitted to university, it means I look like nearly every stock image of women in my profession.

It also means that, according to some sources, I am up to forty times less likely to be the subject of a ‘stop and search’ procedure by the police. I am proportionately less likely to be arrested if I attend a protest, to be a victim of police brutality, and my likelihood of being killed by the police is practically nil. I have never had to worry for my safety at the hands of an institution that is supposed to protect me.

George Floyd did not have this privilege.

Eric Garner did not have this privilege.

Laquan McDonald did not have this privilege.

Breonna Taylor did not have this privilege.

These black individuals did not have the privilege that I have often taken for granted throughout my life. I’ve never had to think about what would happen if I was approached by police on the street, or pulled over in my car – and that’s what privilege boils down to.

It’s not exclusively an American problem either. Sean Rigg. Sheku Bayoh. Sarah Reed. Azelle Rodney. Cherry Groce. Mark Duggan. I could go on and on: black people are being killed by institutional racisim in this country too.

Earlier I wrote that I had made a choice. I am going to be educated on this matter because I can’t stand not to be, any longer. I’m ashamed that it’s taken me to 22 to properly pay attention, but I am listening now.

I am paying attention now, and I am furious.

The world is not white, yet from reading the National Curriculum, the document that tells us as teacher what our children should know, you would think it was.

The world is not white, but from looking at the House of Commons you would think it was not only white, but male too.

The world is not white, but how many black authors are on my bookshelf? How many black voices do I hear on a regular basis through TV, film, music, podcasts, journalism, literature?

The choice I make now is to fight for change, because Black Lives Matter.

#DailyWritingChallenge – Happiness

I struggled writing this! Not because I’m not happy, but because there’s a lot of things that can make me sit back and say “Yeah, I’m happy.” And for someone with a chronic anxiety disorder, it’s pretty great to be able to do that! When I sat with my blog notebook today, this is what came: a list of things that bring me happiness in varying degrees.


Freshly painted nails that haven’t smudged.

A book with a satisfying ending, or particularly warm and fuzzy moment.

The colour yellow. This is thanks to a very close friend who pointed out that it is not only a good colour and a happy one, but that it wouldn’t kill me not to wear pale colours and blend in, just for once! Since then, I’ve gravitated to yellow and held it dear as my own little symbol of hope. Call me crazy if you will!

An outfit that brings confidence.

Colour-coded notes. Granted, this love emerged from a need to control things when I couldn’t control much else, much less the antics of my misbehaving brain, but there is something so satisfying these days, about taking the time to colour-co-ordinate stationery. (I know of at least one reader who will no doubt roar with laughter over memories of my mildly obessive highlighter days!)

Keyboard clicks until the next thousand words of my novel are complete.

Classical and instrumental music that just hits the spot.

A cup of tea at the perfect temperature.

Neat handwriting.

Knowing I matter to my class.

A sunset on a beach, where small clusters of people have dispersed on the rapidly cooling sand, sharing this moment in their own languages with their own loved ones.

Ice cream with sherbet. Specifically, ice cream with sherbet on Otterspool Promenade, on the day my mum and I moved me out of Halls at the end of my second year at university. It was a tough year that seemed like it would never end. Ice cream has never tasted so good.

Break duty when the sun’s out, no-one falls over, no-one needs teacher intervention in an argument that is the end of the world when you’re six, and it’s the end of term so the end-of-break whistle can be put off just a little, to spend five more minutes outside, suspended in this moment.

Returning to my favourite book, again.

Learning.

Pens that write smoothly without compromise.

A message that drops into your inbox and makes you smile before you’ve even opened it. Just a couple of words is all you need to feel happy.

A puppy snoozing on your lap.

Staying level for more than a few days in a row.

Playing games with mismatched children that make you all laugh so much that you forget how grimly socially distanced the classroom has become.

I didn’t expect so much hilarity to come from this, I really didn’t, but it was an innocent joy that crossed from Reception up to Year 4 up to a twenty two year old teacher who wants more than anything for life to be normal again.

#DailyWritingChallenge – Humour

I love to laugh.

In my family, shared time is best spent with the kind of laughter that forces tears from you eyes while you silently rock, too amused to even produce sound. We find laughs everywhere: the obvious places like The Last Leg and Gogglebox; the more niche choice of Richard Osman’s House of Games (10/10 recommend, the final round ‘Answer Smash’ is a guaranteed giggle); and the entirely unexpected places like the six o’clock news, which was admittedly a whole lot easier before coronavirus stepped in.

We laugh with each other, splitting our sides over the puppy’s antics or recent happenings in each other’s lives. We also laugh at each other on occasion, usually due to hilarious mistakes or old in-jokes.

I feel like in-jokes get a bad rap. And I get it, I do – certainly as I child I did not enjoy the ‘in-jokes’ that I was deliberately excluded from. You had to be there became as much as an insult as anything else my bullies did or said. It told me loud and clear that I wasn’t good enough, wasn’t worth spending time with, wasn’t worthy of the experience of creating in-jokes. As an adult reading this, it sounds petty, but as an eight or nine year old, it was yet another draw constantly breaking the camel’s back.

All of which is beside the point. A good in-joke, that brings genuine joy through its shared connections, is a fantastic social phenomenon.

  • ‘That woman’ in the GCSE RE textbook
  • ‘There’s not enough room to sit down’
  • ‘The sky seems dark’

These words mean less than nothing to the unacquainted. The hardcore, eye-watering, almost painful laughter at the time was wonderful and continues to be, but trust me, you had to be there.


If I was reading this blog, I would be disappointed if there wasn’t at least an attempted explanation of the above in-jokes. However, having attempted to explain the first two, they are so embarrassingly weak, niche and specific that I’m afraid of leaching all humour from them, by trying to set these in-jokes free. Turns out, you really did have to be there.

#DailyWriting Challenge – Roots

I’m currently reading Becoming by Michelle Obama; after lusting after this book, life got in the way and I ended up putting it down for an extended period, more than once. But there really is no excuse not to read, in lockdown! Though that makes it sound like a chore, and this book is far from that.

From the earliest chapters, one fact is made plain. Mrs Obama is proud of her roots and her story (rightly so!) and nothing will ever change that. She recounts her chronology with unflinching honesty and an intelligent reflection that reinforced that strange, inherent trust I always had of the Obamas.

Becoming has certainly made me think, and made me reconsider how far I could go with enough hard work. I’m not aiming to be First Lady, not by any stretch, but I really admire Mrs Obama for her work in and for the community in Chicago. The impact she had on ordinary lives was small at first glance, but in real terms, for real people, she made an immeasurable difference. She returned to her roots and used their strength to support and shore up others.

That’s what I see myself doing as a teacher. I went to school, I had teachers (you can read about some exceptional ones here) and now I’m going back to school every day (save for the absolute mess of a situation we currently find ourselves in) to build roots for the children I teach.


I took the dreamcatcher down from my class notice board on Friday. This was the beginning of a grim process I’ll be continuing this week – stripping down the classroom for the children’s return in June, and bringing it all home as I won’t be returning in September.

The dreamcatcher has been up since August. I bought it on holiday in Majorca last summer with immediate intention that it would go in my classroom. I have a feeling now that it may end up moving with me to hang in every classroom I teach in.

More than once this year, I shared the story of dreamcatchers to various groups of children whose attention was captured by sparkling beads and colourful feathers. I told them that the beads capture bad dreams and while the feather release good ones into our classroom, and that when I was little girl my mum hung a bigger one over my bed to ward off recurrent nightmares. Sharing that little piece of me felt special for me and for the children.

There were plenty of other little mementoes in my classroom that provoked conversation like this. My roots were as fascinating to them as theirs were to me, and reciprocal sharing brought us closer.

They wanted to hear all about my dog, and cautiously asked why I had taken down her pictures in November (Millie passed away at the ripe old age of fifteen.) They positively fizzed in January when I showed them photos of my parents’ new puppy, and exploded with stories of their own pets – including a dog “the same colour as toast”, an adorable description I hope never to forget.

The little fairy propped on the corner of my desk often drew comment, and I took pride in telling that she had been a present from one of my teachers. There followed much speculation over whether the fairy spent every night fluttering around the classroom, only to return to her same resting place each morning.


Of course, we choose carefully what we share, but I think as teachers we have the power to leave part of ourselves in every life we touch. I know there are parts of those who taught me that I always carry with me, and I often wonder if these thirty children will look back on their Year One experience and remember the part I played. What of me will stay with them?

It’s a powerful and beautiful fact: teachers can have roots everywhere because we have the potential to reach a lot of lives. Not even directly, sometimes – I know of the passion my dad’s French teacher possessed, from stories he has told me.

The roots we lay in the classroom are significant and long lasting. It is a privilege of the job: we are part of our pupils’ stories.

NQT/ECT Advice #2

On Rejection…

I wrote this in the wake of what initially felt like the end of the world: being unsuccessful in interviewing for a further maternity cover at my school, that would have allowed me to stay for another year. I was crushed because I’ve loved working at that school, with wonderful children and fantastic colleagues. But I’ve made peace with it and I’m looking ahead now to what the future may bring. I’m also bringing some advice and encouragement for any trainees looking for that first post, who are feeling a bit beaten-down by the experience of rejection.


It happened. That thing you dreaded. You polished your application, you worked towards an interview, you were put through your paces and then you waited for a call. You tried not to let your imagination run away with you, but you couldn’t help imagining how things might be in September. You visualised a classroom, a room full of children, a scenario free of social distancing (I never said your imagination was realistic! Mine certainly wasn’t.) Maybe you loved the school, maybe it was really convenient geographically, or maybe you’d set your heart on it because it was the first interview after an endless stream of unsuccessful applications. But the call came and it wasn’t the answer you had hoped for.

Now what?

1. Realise that it’s not personal

It’s really not, so don’t be too hard on yourself. Maybe you weren’t the most knowledgeable, maybe you weren’t the most confident, or maybe you had passion by the bucketload that you think your interviewers somehow missed.

The truth of the matter is this: the panel are there to choose the person who best fits their school. Any number of factors can come into this, but if someone else fits better than you on interview day then they will get the job. Simple as, unfortunately. It’s not about the panel choosing who they like best – they have to balance the skills already present in the staff at school, they have to consider your experience (or lack thereof, to put it bluntly) and any number of other considerations applicable to the school at that moment in time.

Just because you didn’t get that job, doesn’t mean you’re never going to get any job.

2. Ask for feedback

You may have your feedback given during the rejection phone call.

Write. It. Down.

It may seem small and seemingly insignificant, but it might be the small push over the finishing line in your next application or interview. And if it’s something small, it might be something simple to remedy, so it’s definitely worth remembering!

If you’re not offered feedback in your initial call, don’t be afraid to ask for it, either in an additional phone call or by email. Any feedback you can build into further applications is valuable.

3. Be kind to yourself!

It is a setback, not to be offered a job when you feel you’ve worked hard towards the application and interview process. Waiting for the interview itself and then the resulting phone call can be seriously nerve-wracking and plenty of people lose sleep over the experience! So be kind to yourself in the aftermath of a rejection. (I am fully condoning a duvet cocoon if that’s your style!) How would you treat a friend if they told you they had been unsuccessful with a job application? Chances are, you’d be reasonable and kind, reminding them there will be other opportunities. You would probably also tell them it’s okay to take some time for themselves to, to come to terms with it all. Take your own advice, or failing that, take mine!

You never know what’s around the corner, so don’t lose hope!

4. Don’t panic!

I’ve already seen so many tweets from NQT’s-to-be, worried that they won’t get a job for September because they haven’t been appointed yet. Even as a current NQT I might be inclined to lose my head with panic right now, were I not in possession of a few important facts.

The deadline for standing teachers to resign their post for the next academic year is May 31st. Meaning that interviews until then will likely have teachers with far more experience competing with you. I’m not saying it’s impossible to be appointed by any stretch (plenty of NQTs are, every year) but it’s certainly a little easier for those of us with less experience, from June onwards!

I was hired for my NQT job in early July 2019 and I have heard of people heing hired even later than that. Don’t ever lose hope. Your time will come.

There will still be jobs that appear in the autumn term. Maternity covers will be needed, teachers will leave at short notice due to any number of personal or professional reasons. Schools need teachers at all times of year, not exclusively in the summer term.

5. Have a little faith

I’m assuming that if you’re reading this, you’ve recently experienced The Rejection Call. But I want to put a little positive spin on that, something my housemate reminded me of when I was dwelling on the negative on Wednesday evening.

You wrote a good application and you were invited to interview. That’s huge: some schools receive upwards of sixty applications for a job, sometimes pushing one hundred in some areas. They might call six to interview. If you made it that far, you’re already in the top 10%, probably an even smaller percentage.

You will get there.

You will find the right school.

#DailyWritingChallenge – Compassion

Compassion is seeing a need for help, and helping; it is being thoughtful and kind; it is wanting to help, out of one’s own goodness.

Teaching is a compassionate career. There’s no two ways about it: we devote our working lives to improving others, but if you spend any length of time in any school, you will also see compassion everywhere that has nothing to do with contractual obligations.

I am so lucky to have spent the final year of my training and my NQT year in a school where compassion is commonplace. It is the norm to feel wanted and feel loved, and it’s been a delight to be a part of that team. No matter how your day has been, someone will be there with a listening ear and sometimes a cup of tea too. We have each other’s back.

I am also lucky to have been taught by some extremely compassionate individuals – they are the ones who immediately sprand to mind when I saw this writing prompt. Some of them read my blog, so I am really hoping they don’t mind these anonymised mentions!


My GCSE English teacher is sunlight in human form. She is one of the kindest people I know, both in and out of school. Hers is a universally acknowledged but quiet compassion: kind words whenever they are needed, gentle encouragement no matter the troubling scenario, conversations about books at times when I really needed to be pulled out of my own head. A quiet affirmation that I was not the only one in the world to have experienced ‘washing machine tummy’ when I had escaped from the hubbub of sixth form prom to be anxious away from the crowds.

She taught me when I didn’t know yet that my quietness would overtake me, and remained a support when it did. Her compassion in the classroom inspires me and my practice to this day.


It is really difficult to see an anxious pupil – I came across three during my training, one in each school. Every time, I wanted to take their worries and add them to my own, just so that they wouldn’t have to experience them anymore.

I don’t know how my French teachers put up with me sometimes, in all honesty. I was usually silent, tied up in panic after panic. But they were utterly heroic, always patient with me, they gave me time when that was all I needed to spill a few semi-fluent sentences, and they reminded me not to wring my hands and twist my sleeves quite so much! One of them gave up countless hours in my final year, talking me down from sky-high panic. I am certain that he had more important places to be, but I am forever grateful for those Monday afternoons. It wasn’t his job to look after me when I was so anxious, but I was somehow never anxious enough for CAMHS and structured support in the sixth form didn’t exist. He went above and beyond for me, showing an extraordinary level of compassion.


I had a history teacher who was quite similar.

When I first started to spiral with anxiety, I was very guarded. I kept it a secret, how much I was struggling, because I was so confused about how I felt and completely certain that no-one would let me go to university and become a teacher with a fledgling anxiety disorder in tow! Shows how misguided I was, and how much mental health stigma I inadvertently believed…

Challenging times are an entirely individual thing – just because one person has had it worse, doesn’t negate that you’re having a hard time yourself. Having completed a degree, I think I would now find A-level history coursework a walk in the park. But at the time it felt insurmountable. And at the same time, I was battling tri-weekly panics in French, university applications I didn’t feel worthy of, and a bereavement.

The aforementioned history teacher is possibly the most efficient person I have ever met (aspirationally one day I would like to match her efficiency!) and one of the busiest, yet when she detected a falter in my default ‘I’m fine’, she gently pushed until I agreed to meet to talk about what was on my mind. Her teaching timetable and my free periods did not have a single crossover. I thought that was game over, until she offered me her time before school – something I now appreciate all the more, knowing how sacrosanct a teacher’s morning time is! But she gave me her Friday morning on so many occasions.


So often in my sixth form experience I felt as though I was falling apart. The common room, bubbling with the excitement of adolescence, was sensory overload. Silent classrooms felt like they shone a spotlight on me and I wanted the ground to swallow me up. I did, however, sometimes have one safe bubble: my sociology class of six girls. It was a class shared between two teachers who challenged us, encouraged us, supported us and made us laugh. Those two seemed to cast a spell around their class. I was quiet but sometimes I could step out of that and feel normal again.

The times when this ease slipped and my resolve cracked, I was met with compassion. A laugh a minute is no good if tears can’t be dried too.


So you can see that I was raised up by compassion at a time in my life that was truly challenging. Undoubtedly this has shaped my views on the role of the teacher and how important compassion is to the learning environment. You just never know how much someone in your class needs that little bit of kindness – I hope that if any of the teachers mentioned above read this, they realise what an impact they had and how much it is still appreciated.

Now to work on advice that has been passed my way for years… Showing a bit of that compassion to myself! I think that’s a blog post for another time.

#DailyWritingChallenge – Hope

Hope is being able to see that there is light despite all of the darkness

Desmond Tutu

This week is Mental Health Awareness Week. While I think more is needed than conversation and awareness – perhaps, better access to healthcare, more acceptance of those with mental illness and less stigma around their being among us – with today’s prompt being ‘hope’ I am using this blog post to do what I do best, share with words.

I have Generalised Anxiety Disorder, more simply known as GAD. I suffer from panic attacks as part and parcel of this, though thankfully not frequently at the moment, and I experience seriously low mood at times too.

Mental health is getting talked about more and more, and rightly so – it affects daily lives just as much as chronic physical illnesses. My best friend has severe asthma: she avoids heavily traffic-congested areas if she can help it, as the fumes can upset her breathing for days. My mum has bad knees: she aims for low-impact activities as far as possible to avoid pain. I actually found it quite hard to pin down what I do because of my mental health because it’s become so entrenched in my normality. I will scroll on my phone to avoid feeling like I should be a more interesting person in a room full of people. That’s not me being rude, that’s me trying my best to stay put and keep my head above water in a world that other people seem to navigate effortlessly.

I feel the need to myth-bust here, because despite the widening conversation around mental health, there are still so many myths and misconceptions.

Anxiety is overthinking every tiny aspect of your life as much as it’s obsessively worrying that everyone around you thinkn you’re a horrible person. It’s believing you’re not worthy of anything good that happens to you and it’s a tightness in your chest even when it started out like a great day. It’s an invisible, untouchable barrier, that the rest of the world is on the other side of.

Depression is not always sobbing uncontrollably for days on end, it’s that same lack of self-worth as before but instead of prompting frenetic activity to make up for it, it ties you in place and sucks your energy reserves dry. It steals all your spoons, it makes taking a shower too difficult and it makes stepping outdoors an insurmountable expedition.

The worst is trying to come to terms with the fact that it’s a long-term, maybe lifelong condition. Mental illness can be a chronic illness in its own right, becoming something to manage rather than something to cure. There are countless psychiatric medications but not one of them is a miracle drug to permanently take away the weight of a broken brain. (Don’t get me wrong though, I am high-functioning because of my medication! It’s not a cure but it can be an extremely effective management tool at times!)

You might be wondering how all of this is in any way linked to the theme of ‘hope’. But in managing a long-term condition, one of the most important things to have is hope – what’s the point, if you can’t believe that it won’t always be difficult? Sometimes it will be beautiful too, and in my job, quite a lot of the time it can be spectacularly so.

The primary school is an endless bank of hope.

Children coming into Reception have bubbles of hope around them. There is something magical about the thought of all these four year olds starting school every September, realising that every single door is still open to them. Where will they be in six days, six months, six years?

Year sixes leaving every summer are hopeful again – sad to leave their norms, their teachers, their friends sometimes, yes, but they’re about to take steps in a direction they don’t even know yet.

Hopeful things happen every day.

How could I not be hopeful, when even on my most anxious days this year, the smiles and innocence of my class seemed to banish that worry to the corner?

How could I not be hopeful when I work with incredible, kind, wonderful, strong women making things happen for their classes and for each other, every day?

How could I not be hopeful, when so far every single rough patch has come to an end with me motsly in tact and ready to pick up where I left off?

There are so many reasons to be hopeful, because even in dark times there can be moments of light. This is easy for me to say, when I’m not crushed by those dark times – not to say though that everything is perfect! The feelings come and go, but hope has to remain.

Hope has to remain, especially at the moment when everything is so uncertain.

NQT/ECT Advice #1

What can I do over the summer to get ready?

This was requested by @Miss_Grimmer on Twitter, and it’s actually been quite nice to reflect on what I did last summer, what I didn’t do and what I maybe should have done! I hope there’s something useful in here for soon-to-be NQT’s thinking about the summer ahead.

In no particular order, here are some things you could think about in preparation for September. Bear in mind that I am a primary teacher in a single form entry, village primary school, so I’m not best placed to give advice to secondary NQT’s!

1. Get to know your school

I didn’t have this hurdle to jump last summer, having spent my final placement in the school where I’ve spent my NQT year, but that’s not to say I haven’t learned since being a student! There are some things I never needed to know as a student (and some that I really did – you should definitely try and check if people have favourite staffroom chairs, before parking yourself anywhere!)

It might be harder with schools being closed, but see what you can do, regarding getting into the building and getting to know where things are. Art resources, PE equipment, first aid kits, where the spare tea bags are kept in the staffroom – because woe betide you if you don’t restock the tub after using the last one!

2. Get to know your colleagues

You should be able to spend some time in school before the summer holidays, in usual circumstances – again I’m not sure how this will work at the moment – to get a feel for the daily running of the school. Use some of this time to get to know people: your mentor, your year-group team (or key stage team, if like me you’re heading into a single-form entry school0 and office staff. Office staff are often overlooked, as is the site manager, but these people are the engine room of a school; believe me when I say you’ll get nowhere fast without them!

If you can find out which TA you’ll be working with, if you’re lucky enough to have one, then definitely spend some time with them. They will be like your right arm in the classroom and may already be familiar with the children you’ll be teaching come September.

3. Make your classroom look the way you want it to

The time you get in school this summer will likely be the most time you get all year to create that Pinterest-worthy learning environment you’ve dreamed of during your training. I hate to break it to you, but once the term begins, there will be precious little time left to decorate. That said, don’t be afraid to make changes once the year has begun.

I received some really useful advice while I was hauling tables about last summer – don’t feel that they have to stay where you put them. It may be that once the children are back in the room, what you thought would be perfect turns out to be a logistical nightmare. Example: I had to move a table after less than a day, when it turned out I hadn’t considered that my class would still need to line up…

It can take a while, at least it did for me, to come to terms with the classroom being your own, and the freedom that comes with that. You really can change it as you need to. It’s your space to make work for you and your children.

4. Planning

Others may disagree with this, but I don’t recommend doing a huge amount of planning this summer. You don’t know your class and where they’re at, yet, so it’s hard to know where to pitch your teaching. That said, you obviously need to plan something, so here’s how I went about my planning to begin with. If you have a year group partner or team, your experience may look very different to mine!

I did a lot of talking with the previous Year 1 teacher about where her class were when they came up from Reception. From there, I accessed the school’s Google Drive of planning and resources to find the previous year’s planning in each subject. For the first unit, I followed these fairly closely, making changes largely down to personal preference and teaching style. Sometimes, you see something in another teacher’s planning and think that not in a million years could you see yourself doing that. It’s not a case of their planning being good or bad, but individual confidence varies and everyone has their own way of doing things. I would say that especially as an NQT at the start of Autumn 1, you’re perfectly entitled to play it safe if that’s how you feel like playing it.

As your knowledge of your class grows along with your confidence in your new role, planning will get easier. At first, it will feel strange not to produce in-depth lesson-by-lesson plans like on placement, and purely work from medium-term or weekly plans. I promise you won’t miss the in-depth planning – you definitely won’t have time for it any more!

5. Daily Routines

If/when you get into school, either before the summer or right before the start of term, key knowledge to gain will be the official and unoffical routines in the school day. Official routines are things like timings: non-negotiable cornerstones that your day has to fit around. The unofficial ones are the ones that baffled you as a student that suddenly you’ve got to be clued up on: unspoken rules that no-one ever mentions but everyone seems to know. Are there one-way corridors? Which door does your class use for breaktimes and hometime? Who takes your class to the hall for lunch? Are children expected to be silent when walking into assemblies?

Above all, learn when it’s your break duty! There is little more embarrassing, let me assure you, than forgetting this and having to do a sprint dash back to your classroom for your coat!

Something you’ll need to think about too, apart from routines, is all the in-between stuff that experienced teachers make look so easy (I am definitely not in this club!) What are your expectations for lining up, sitting on the carpet and going back to tables? How will you get everyone’s attention? Are there going to be monitors for classroom jobs?

6. Time for you

It can be really tempting to go flat out this summer, to cram in as much as you can before September comes around. I do understand this, but you have to use this time to look after yourself as well, whatever that looks like for you. If self-care hasn’t been a huge part of your life before, it’s about to become one! Maybe use some of this summer to work out what helps you to wind down and find peace with yourself in difficult times. Stress will come during the coming year, so it can be really helpful to know yourself and know what works . (I say this, having not fully worked it out for myself yet!) Self-care is not all bubble baths and facials, though I’ll admit they certainly have their place. Spending time with family and friends, walking the dog, getting fresh air and even stretching every once in a while at your desk can help you feel fresher and more prepared to work.

I wasn’t big on naps before my NQT year; they were something for poorly days exclusively. But I have to say, a well-placed nap can be extremely restorative and extremely necessary! (If my staffroom is representative of the wider population of teachers, this is not just true of NQTs…)


I definitely did not do all of the above when I was preparing for my first term. To a point, it is about feeling your way and working out what’s best for you, but I hope the points I’ve made here are helpful in some capacity. Other teachers are welcome to leave comments with further tips, too. I know this time last year (when I hadn’t even secured my NQT post yet) I was eager to soak up as much information and advice as I could. Just don’t forget, it’s your year, and it won’t look exactly like anyone else’s. Good luck 🙂

#DailyWritingChallenge – Harmony

Harmony – noun – the state of being in agreement or concord

There has been a lot of negativity about teachers this week. Some of it is aimed directly at us: poisoned arrows of accusation that we’re not working hard enough;that we haven’t worked while schools are closed; that we think ourselves ‘special’. The worst I’ve seen, I think (thought this is subject to change) was a tweet effectively barring us from supporting the NHS if we’re not prepared to ‘step up’ and ‘serve’ alongside them.

I didn’t think for a moment, when I started up my blog, that I would ever get political. Naively, I was under the impression that I would never need to get political! But when my profession is being attacked and I have a platform to stand up against it, I don’t have a choice.


Let me first of all paint a picture of my usual day at school. In before 7.30am, I spend the time before school starts preparing my resources for the day, writing thirty lots of handwriting words into exercise books, filing and organising pupils’ work and responding to any emails or parent messages that have come in since I left school yesterday. I make a cup of tea but it will probably go cold before I can drink it! Once the children arrive, it’s non-stop until home time.

The best kind of non-stop possible.

Smiles, chatter, quiet, exploring, discovering, writing, counting, creativity, imagination, kindness, thinking, playing, caring, supporting, coaching, developing.

Being a teacher is magical. Yes, there are days that are a headache, days that cause headaches and days that are grim from start to finish. But the heart of a classroom is harmony. There is nothing better, to me or to the other half a million teachers in England, than the rhythm of a functioning classroom.

Many of us feel we were born to do this job. Many of us wouldn’t ever want to do anything else.

Every day in the classroom is different – it’s impossible for anything to remain the same when that sameness would depend entirely on thirty individuals responding exactly as they did previously. Especially with my lot, my beautiful class of year ones, that’s never going to happen. But it’s the same in every classroom, in every year group, in every school around the country.

In my classroom, our harmony is built on kindness and fairness. I am kind to my children and I won’t tolerate unkindness towards others.

That kindness is a whole lot harder in the current circumstances. I send reassuring messages to anxious parents. I send virtual stickers to children who’ve been working hard. I record myself reading stories in place of storytime we would have shared at school.

My day today was not anywhere near a typical school day. I woke up early, to get some study time in for an online course I’m doing on dyslexia, before the start of the ‘work’ day at 9am. I checked emails. I solved access to work when the school website traffic stopped a parent accessing it. I continued planning for next week’s learning and once again put off editing the videos that will go with Monday’s English lesson. I nervously reviewed my planned answers for a Zoom meeting in the afternoon, with one of my university tutors who is putting together a virtual NQT conference for PGCE students completing their course this summer, and then chatted through my NQT year during said meeting. Then a dash back to my laptop (only the other side of the room, but who knows what havoc could have unfolded in forty minutes?)

As working-from-home days go, today was fairly busy. I know plenty of teachers doing a whole lot more than me though. I don’t know a single one living up to the image created by countless journalists and twitter users (some of them are possibly bots, I realise…)


Why are we accused of being lazy, obstructive, difficult and uncaring?

The discordance of this view with the values of an educator is jarring. We do this job because we’re not afraid of hard work. We care deeply about children, their learning, their development and their wellbeing. We work every day under the guidance of a government that doesn’t support us or appreciate that we teach to improve the life chances of the next generation.

All of the accusations hurt me when I saw them. I don’t have the thick skin that so many others have developed, allowing these insults to the profession not to sink in. But the one that grates the most against my core beliefs is because I’m a teacher and because I object to schools being re-opened before there’s clear proof that it’s safe, that I don’t care.

I strive for harmony, I act in loco parentis, I comfort children with grazed knees, I celebrate wobbly teeth, I get excited for birthday, I encourage until handwriting is legible, I adjudicate playground races and compliment drawings made with such love that they’re a pleasure to take home.

I may not like it, but you can call me lazy, obstructive and difficult. You can throw the whole thesaurus at me if you must.

But don’t ever tell me that I am a teacher who doesn’t care.


You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I'll rise.

~ from Still I Rise by Maya Angelou

#DailyWritingChallenge – Integrity

Integrity. Noun. Adherence to moral and ethical principles; soundness of moral character; honesty.

Dictionary.com

After a lot (and I mean a lot) of indecision and restless thought about this blog, I turned to friends for advice. I had looked up the dictionary definition, read the blogs of others and breainstormed pages of notes that ultimately ended up being frustratedly crossed out, but I was still no closer to a considered stream of thought about one of the most important values a person can have.

“What does integrity mean to you?”

It’s a good thing I’ve got very patient friends, who will not only humour but answer immensely broad questions, flung their way out of the blue on a Monday night after two months of lockdown.

Replies centred around honesty and transparency, on the whole. An interesting idea was floated that integrity was a quality you can rely upon in others, meaning those with it are both dependable and can be depended upon to act with integrity at all times.

So many positive values could be muddied by the lens of integrity, because I think at its core it’s about motives. An individual with integrity acts in the knowledge that it is the right thing to do, regardless of whether it’s what others want them to do. In a way, integrity could be quite tightly linked to intrinsic motivation: doing the right thing purely for yourself, but in equal measure doing it purely because you know it is morally right. I don’t think it is possible to act with integrity if motivation stems from peer pressure of any sort.

Returning to the aforementioned patient friends, I’d like to thank Beth for putting up with what felt at the time like a minor literary epiphany of sorts. I may be the sender of amusing videos of the cast of Casualty, but I am also the sender of successive, increasingly frenzied WhatsApp essays once my mind is set on something.

The theme of integrity brought to mind a literary hero (who has become infinitely more problematic in recent years) – Atticus Finch.

Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch in the 1963 film adaptation of To Kill a Mockingbird – Universal Studios

In ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’, once a staple of GCSE English Lit (don’t get me started!), Atticus is the absolute image of integrity. He takes on a case no other lawyer will touch: the defence of a black man accused of the rape of a white woman. For year, readers of Mockingbird idolised him for stepping away from the commonly-held racist views of his era in the little town of Maycomb, Alabama. We thought Atticus saw past race and saw past the cruelty and absurdity of the Deep South’s injustices.

In the controversial sequel ‘Go Set a Watchman’ our rose-tinted glasses are not just removed but ground into dust. An aged Atticus is bitter and intolerant of the beginning of the civil rights movement sweeping the southern states. Without the rosy glow of his daughter’s childhood hero worship of him, we wonder if we can believe anything we thought we knew.

Heavily edited to add context and remove shortenings, emojis and the unnecessarily teenaged exclamation ‘omg’, this was what I came to:

This all makes me think about Atticus in To Kill A Mockingbird… And the utter decimation of his character in the sequel… Oh, but could that decimation actually redeem him as the character with the most integrity of any of all time? He might have ultimately been as intolerant as the next, but he stood by what was right in defending Tom Robinson.

This raised a further question though – is integrity more important than being nice?

Now do you see why this theme caused me such a headache? I’m a chronic overthinker at the best of times, but right now I have a lot of projects on the go and I’m questioning just about everything that dares to pop into my head!

Ultimately, I think the answer to that question lies with the respondent and completely depends on their own degree of integrity, whether they will be swayed to the wrong choice by the threat of not being liked for doing the ‘right’ thing. And this is why I think there’s such a need for integrity in education – we must be prepared to do the right thing for the children and young people in our care. They come first.


End note – Since writing about Atticus Finch last night and this morning, I have read blogs and articles that make me question afresh what I have written here. I could be falling foul of that overthinking again, or I could be completely wrong. Either way, this blog represents a thought process, and I’m satisfied to have documented it.

#DailyWritingChallenge – Respect

This is not the blog I expected to write today. I was almost sure I wouldn’t be able to harness the enormous theme of ‘respect’ into something brief and engaging enough for a #DailyWritingChallenge entry… and then a very good friend, an NHS paediatric nurse, brought something to my attention that boiled my blood.

For context, the lady in the video above is Dr Rosena Allin-Khan MP. She is the Labour MP for Tooting, the Shadow Cabinet Minister for Mental Health, and (arguably most importantly at present) an A&E doctor in London. She made two valid points, with confidence, manners, eloquence and intelligence. I could compare her to many politicians I have seen who attempt to make their points by gesticulating wildly, getting angry and shouting. She did none of these, and her points were put exceptionally well to the Health Secretary Matt Hancock.

His response?

Primarily, it was to tell her that she ought to “watch her tone.”

He dismissed her truth, gained from her experiences on the very front line he claims to respect so much, with a disrespect I found breathtaking. At first, I was cross because it just doesn’t sit right with me to speak to another person like that. As it played over in my mind though, I realised what irritated me so much: it was the way that he dismissed her, speaking to her as though she was ‘hysterical’ (to draw from historical slurs against passionate women.)

I was initially afraid to call this exchange out for what it was, especially on the internet. I was worried about backlash – it wouldn’t have been the first time a tiny-voiced blogger had been thrust into the limelight by virtue of trolls and hate. But that’s just my catastrophising talking, I think! But what was silencing me, was precisely what was evident in the clip of Dr Allin-Khan and Mr Hancock.

Everyday Sexism.

In 1928, the Representation of the People (Equal Franchise) Act was passed at long last, allowing women in the United Kingdom to vote with parity to men, meaning all adults over the age of 21 had the right to vote, some 10 years after many people believe it happened! Women were afforded this respect.

Across the globe there are still many barriers to women’s voting, despite there only being one country that does not allow women to vote (the Vatican.)

In 1967, the Abortion Act was passed, allowing women in England, Wales and Scotland the right to maintain autonomy over their bodies and decide for themselves if they were able to go through with a pregnancy and motherhood. Women were afforded this respect, and were shielded from the disrespect of unwanted pregnancies, or worse, lethal backstreet abortions.

In Northern Ireland, a part of the UK no matter your political standing on this, women were only afforded the respect of having this choice in October of last year.

In 1970, the Equal Pay Act was passed. In brief, this means men and women are paid equally in the UK for equal work.

But you guessed it, I’m going to dispute this too. Equal Pay Day fell on 14th November in 2019 – this is the calendar day calculated to be the one from which women in the UK essentially continue to work for free, due to the imbalance of pay between men and women that still exists in this country.

Systemic gender inequality is appalling, but what is worse is what inspired me to write this article at all, the two words I used before launching into political examples of inequality: everyday sexism.

This is not sexism with a legal backing such as that seen at the Ford Machinists’ works in the 1960s, where the women who made car seats for Ford were deemed ‘unskilled’ even though men doing ‘lesser’ work were deemed ‘skilled’ and therefore paid much better. If you’re daunted by the idea of spending your days putting together pieces of leather to form immaculate car seats, then you have a reasonable understanding of why those women should never have been disrespectfully categorised as unskilled workers.

Sexism of the everyday sort is everywhere. The Everyday Sexism Project, curated by Laura Bates, is a collection of women’s stories from around the world of the small (or vast, if you read them) acts committed against them purely because they are women.

Everyday sexism is the reason why girls in their school uniforms are afraid to be catcalled in the street. The length of their skirt is not an excuse or a justification for this. I experienced it at age twelve, and I’m absolutely certain that my dad would have defended me to the ends of the earth even if I had been sporting a skirt to rival the shortness of the costume department at Waterloo Road.

Everyday sexism is why I was reduced to tears on a Liverpool bus at age twenty, because I was treated as a stupid little girl for forgetting to show my student ID when I asked for a student ticket. I was a student (obviously) and drivers were so inconsistent with asking for ID’s that no-one ever had them immediately ready for show. I didn’t hear at first, and was then rushed loudly with the same impatience and disrespect that our Health Secretary showed in that video earlier. I am not hiding behind this as my ‘excuse’ but I was also mid mental health crisis and still battling on with every day, so my brain was fuzzy, my senses were all over the show and my co-ordination was lacking to say the least.

At least three young men of a similar age had got on the same bus ahead of me, asked for student tickets and not been given a second glance. I don’t believe the bus driver would have assumed the same level of female stupidity of them, had they taken a moment too long to produce their ID.

My point with all of this is that I really believe Mr Hancock only spoke to Dr Allin-Khan that way because she is a woman. She did not choose to be born a woman, and yet because of her gender, there are far too many people who throughout her life will have treated her a certain way because they think they can get away with it. Millions of other women stand with her tonight, on seeing that video clip as it goes viral. We stand with you Rosena, because we all deserve the respect that doesn’t always come our way.

#DailyWritingChallenge – Curiosity

Curiosity. Noun. The desire to learn or know about anything; Inquisitiveness.

https://www.dictionary.com/browse/curiosity?s=t

Curiosity is the value that immediately sprang to mind as I chatted to one of my pupils this morning (over the phone, observing and respecting all social distancing and professional boundaries, I feel obligated to add!) They told me excitedly about all the things they had been getting up to since school closed towards the end of March. They shared tales of baking mishaps and successes, birdwatching, a shared project on Tudor monarchs with their sibling, films they had watched and games they had played with their family.

This child epitomised to me what Year One should be: a time when children are coming into their own, learning what they like and what they don’t, what they are interested in, and using this knowledge to guide their activities. In an ideal world, without data, assessments, Ofsted and the phonics screening check, this child’s passion for learning wouldn’t have to be something confined to home.

It is lovely each day to see my class’ work and spot their progress from afar. But there is something incredibly special about photographys and messages showing the natural curiosity of ‘my’ children. They are only five and six after all, they are hard-wired to explore their surroundings and have fun doing it. The element of choice offered by lockdown is allowing many of them to blossom.

A few examples of their adventures so far:

  • reading to younger siblings
  • creating a birthday card for a pony
  • building a den to read in
  • learning to play draughts and chess
  • measuring, baking and tasting
  • growing plants in the garden and on windowsills
  • dressing up
  • recreating famous works of art

I am amazed, daily, at the choices my class make. Not one of these activities is one that I have set for them to do. It is bizarre to think that I am getting to know some of them better now that I did in the classroom!


With the constant speculation around when schools will returns (because no, teachers haven’t a clue either) it was inevitable that I would start to think about what my classroom will be like when this is all over. It is hard to imagine a return to the rigidity of table work when I’ve seen what a good dose of freedom and curiosity can do for my children’s learning.

I’m a thinker. I’m naturally curious myself, so despite not knowing if I’ll still be in my current year group or even my current school, come September, I can’t help thinking what Post-Lockdown Year One would be like if the National Curriculum released its death-grip on my time-management. I think the joyous experience of seeing another side to my class might have opened up a curiosity wormhole all of its own. It might be time to research Year One continuous provision again, with a serious mind to making it work… Because if lockdown has taught me anything, it’s that curiosity can be beautiful. And I want some of that beauty in my classroom!

Sunday Shelf, Vol. 2

Anime, Audiobooks and Alexis Ffrench

I’m not sure how everything that I came to writing about ended up being something beginning with A… But here they are, three things that are certainly keeping me going at the moment while lockdown carries on and distractions are welcome.


Anime is a very new love. Since titles started appearing on my Netflix suggestions, I’ve admired their title artwork and wondered which one to pick. It seemed like an unspoken test, one that I would surely fail, to start in the “right” place with the “right” anime out of the hundreds available, for my first foray into this strange new world. And then appeared a documentary, presumably aimed at people exactly like me who were stumped by the sheer volume of choice.

‘Enter The Anime’ was a great watch: it took such a broad look at anime, which I soon realised was extremely necessary because of the huge, huge number of sub-genres within it. Much like the filmmaker who made the documentary, I had no idea. Something I really appreciated about ‘Enter the Anime’ was the consideration given to how anime emerged from its cultural roots – sometimes it appears to sit beautifully beside that quintessential, peaceful, cherry-blossom view of Japan while at other times it clashes so abruplty that you can’t imagine how it possibly came into being.

Perhaps not surprisingly, my preference so far is for the peaceful kind. Anime can be a gift for the introverted: so often in British or American films and television, “the quiet one” is used as a cookie-cutter character, synonymous with “loner” “weirdo” or “butt of many jokes.” This is something tI’ve always felt strongly about, being highly introverted myself. A quote I love says that the quietest people have the loudest minds [Stephen Hawking] and even the fact that this isn’t true of all quiet people proves that it’s time for the Western media narrative to change. I know quite a few introverts, and no-one could ever line up our personalities and say we were all the same!

A huge difference that I immediately spotted in the anime I chose to consume was that in these shows and films, the introverted character was often the protagonist, and their story was not one centred around transforming like a beautiful extroverted butterfly. It was never even explicitly mentioned that these characters were quiet.

For example, a series I immediately fell in love with features Kaoru, an office worker in her thirties who lives with an almost human-sized, live teddy bear called Rilakkuma (which translates rougly as Relax Bear.) It’s a quirky concept, I know, but stay with me. Kaoru is the quietest in her office and sometimes judges herself harshly for this. She is quiet but she doesn’t solve her problems by becoming less so. Or take Anna in the touching film ‘When Marnie Was There.’ She doesn’t have many friends and prefers drawing over talking. At the end of the film (this isn’t a spoiler) after various developments have taken place, she still doesn’t have many friends and still prefers drawing over talking. And this is the success of the film – she has not changed the core of her personality one bit.

From left to right, Rilakkuma and Kaoru, When Marnie Was There, In This Corner of the World, and My Neighbour Totoro

With my new found love of anime well-established, on to the second ‘A’ of this Sunday Shelf. Audiobooks.

I grew up listening to stories on cassettes long before I could read and carried on absorbing stories by various means, long after the squiggles on pages became words I could understand without effort. Even as an adult I love my virtual library of audiobooks, and they have worked their way into my lockdown working routine. The first hour of my day is usually accompanied by a chunk of whatever book I’m currently ‘reading’. So, my breakfast, my first cup of tea, a check of work emails, a quick browse of #edutwitter and my initial cursory glance over ClassDojo are done to a backdrop of a book. Which is even more in-keeping with my bookishness than my pre-lockdown habit of bringing my book to work every day. Currently I have two audiobooks on the go.

‘Where Am I Now?’ is a collection of personal essays by Mara Wilson, the now thirty-two-year-old who starred as Susan in ‘Miracle on 34th Street’ and as the eponymous ‘Matilda’. My mother will attest to the latter being one of my all-time favourite films, having seen my watch it far too many times on poorly days and bored days and anxious days alike. Wilson’s title is accurate – I cannot be the onoly one who wondered what happened to her after Hollywood. As I carry on with this book I am finding out more and more about the life behind the name – namely, that she always despised being known as ‘cute’.

‘Educated’ by Tara Westover is a book I first heard of thanks to the author/writer/youtuber Carrie Hope Fletcher. It is the memoir of a girl raised in a cut-off survivalist family in Idaho, who didn’t go to school until she was seventeen but went on to study at Harvard and Cambridge. I am completely gripped: having studied religious cults in A2 Sociology it’s fascinating to finally put that to reality and hear the real-life impact of being so isolated from what we would consider “normality.”


I am a person who rarely goes without background music. Part of it stems from avoiding silence so that my brain can’t inadvertently go into panic mode. I have so many playlists on my Spotify account that it’s sometimes hard to keep track. When I drive, there is music. When I write, there is music. When I mark/plan/file, there is music. You get the idea.

I discovered the composer and pianist Alexis Ffrench (yes, with two f’s) on Scala, my favourite classical radio station, some time after the release of his 2018 album ‘Evolution’ which I have linked above. His unique version of The Last Post is breathtaking. I’ll be the first to say that I had thought The Last Post was something to be left well alone, but this version blew me away. The whole album is a lovely listen though, and Ffrench recently released a new album, ‘Dreamland’, that is everything I didn’t know I needed in this lockdown. As contemporary classical goes, it is truly beautiful.


I have definitely geeked out enough for one blog here… If you have thoughts on anything I’ve mentioned or if by some miracle I convince you to try something new, let me know in the comments.

The arts are what we have left to colour the days of lockdown, so sharing them feels kind of nice.

The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini [Review]

I finished reading this book a little over a fortnight ago and I’ve known since then that I wanted to write about it, because reading it was an experience that I am eager to explore and share.


The Kite Runner is a bildungsroman published in 2003, charting a journey to adulthood that begins against the complicated political backdrop of 1970s Afghanistan. The story revolves around Amir, the son of a well-respected man in Kabul, and Hassan, his best friend and servant. As you can imagine, they have an occasionally problematic relationship due to their vastly differing status. Despite this, they are inseparable until a harrowing act drives a wedge between them and shapes their lives (and the course of the book) thereafter. The distressing scene containing the aforementioned act also earns this book a spot on the list of many books banned by a number of American high schools.

As a side note, on considering the lists of banned or most-challenged books by the American Library Association, I have come to the conclusion that some of the greatest and most influential books of all time reside on these lists. This book deserves its place among the greats – though like many of the greats, not to be banned, but the extreme conservatism of some American library users is another story entirely.

The closeness of Amir and Hassan presents them almost as two parts of a whole. As a reader you are frequently reminded of their closeness by the constant referral to the fact that they shared a wet-nurse as children. Their closeness shows up the stark differences between them too: while I felt Amir’s pain that his father seems to give so much more attention to Hassan (who, in Amir’s eyes is ‘only a servant’ making this an injustice that he inwardly questions regularly) I couldn’t help myself also choosing Hassan over him. He may be a low-status servant boy, but he is presented from the start as pure, good and just. Some tougher-minded critics could easily take a disliking to him for how saintly he comes across. Even after a shocking betrayal he remains true to himself and cannot bring himself to bear a grudge, something that remains on Amir’s mind as he grows up and attempts to move on with his life.

The Kite Runner is not an epic novel, at 324 pages in the edition I own, but for the richness of its descriptions you might be forgiven for thinking that it must be. The characters are fleshed-out and developed over the course of the book. Their complexity and individuality makes it immensely easier to recall them all when they reappear after hiatuses. I discovered as I went along that there are so many plot points in this book, and I worried that this onslaught of events might mean I would forget what and who was important. But the intricacies of character woven around the story made this impossible. This is an unforgettable book. Equally impressive is the description of settings: I could see them clearly in my mind, which surprised me at first as I have absolutely zero working knowledge of Afghanistan beside brief images from the news over the years.

Hosseini is a talented writer for sure, shown by my third example: the effortless contrast between scene types. At the opening of The Kite Runner we see childhood innocence at its finest, not unlike the early part of To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee. There follow tense, emotional and dangerous scenes and each one is handled with care and the precision required to construct it perfectly in the mind of the reader. Not for nothing do the high-status reviews of this story choose language such as ‘unforgettable’ and ‘heartbreaking.’

I’m wary to describe this book as eye-opening: awareness of sensitivity around discussion of race and culture is something that I’m mindful of. Having moved through different social media platforms during my teenage years I’ve seen multiple times the consequences of not being mindful of what you say. Tumblr stands out strongly in my mind to that end, but even a community of educators on twitter can turn into a huge pile-on in a heartbeat, something I (for the umpteenth time) witnessed only this week. Reasonable discussion, raising questions and being anything less than perfectly educated on a topic don’t always lead to the internet being kind! But I will persevere, carefully aware of my privilege as a White British, straight, university-educated woman.

Even as a twenty-two year old, my mental images of Afghanistan are shaped by the news broadcasts of my childhood, despite an awareness that every news story has more to it than what the camera chooses to show and the journalist chooses to say. A Google image search doesn’t help – searching ‘Afghanistan’ only enforces the potentially widespread view that there is nothing but war there. Reading this book though, made me dig a little deeper.

This is not the image of Afghanistan my mind instantly conjures up… seair21/Flickr

Hosseini uses lived experience to add to the literarily-underrepresented refugee voice, in charting Amir’s journey with his father to California. The passages about this journey are darkly riveting and point out something that I had an awareness of but no proper understanding. (And I’m not going to claim that I have anywhere near a full understanding now.) Refugees don’t want to be refugees, their journeys can be truly awful and their experiences on arrival nothing like what they had dreamed of. But all of that is still better, and safer, than what they are leaving behind. At least, that is the understanding I have formed so far.

There is so much need for diverse voices to be heard in literature. It shouldn’t be the case that you can grow up with a fixed image of a country and a whole people, without ever seeing the bigger picture. I guess holding that opinion is part of how I ended up in the profession that I’m in. Reading The Kite Runner is only a tiny part of exploring the world through the pages of a book, but it’s a part that I won’t regret. It’s one of those books that I wish I could read again for the first time, to feel everything that I felt entirely afresh.

November

While this is an addition to my NQT series, it is equally an entry for the #DailyWritingChallenge, under the heading of ‘perseverance.’ November was a long, hard slog for me: not a month I will forget in a hurry for sure.

I moved out of my parents’ house, for that first taste of independence and to be closer to work, in the first week of November. For any future NQTs who may be reading, I do not recommend moving house in the autumn term of your NQT year (or any term of your NQT year, in all honesty!) At the time, I was blindly optimistic. My colleagues thought I was mad and I couldn’t understand why. I don’t think I quite understood the mental upheaval of a new job, a new house and the utter chaos to follow in the rest of the month.

“I spent the entirety of last week half-dead and consistently answering ‘no’ every time I was asked if I was feeling better.”

11th November 2019

The first week of the month, I was so poorly. My voice came and went multiple times a day, I got through more tissues than I could buy without having my sanity questioned, and I fell asleep on my PPA. Luckily, dear reader, we take PPA at home at my school so I was spared the embarrassment of being passed-out in the staffroom!

But in the midst of that, there were pockets of the brightest sunlight. I was living independently for the first time (uni halls notwithstanding, because I existed there, I didn’t live) and my contract was extended to July instead of Easter. Future NQTs, I know it’s hard, but try not to be afraid of mat-leave cover contracts!

It’s hard to describe exactly how elated I was, despite feeling so rough, to hear that I would be able to see my class through to the end of the year. The Great Coronavirus Shutdown wasn’t even a possibility back then. I was thrilled – I could barely stay upright, my ears were ringing constantly and I didn’t have a voice with which to form a coherent and professional reply, but I was so, so happy.

“I wish I could tell her that I am somewhat better than the teenager who could barely finish a sentence without clamming up. I think she might have liked the woman I have become.

11th November 2019

Remembrance Day has been about more than my annual poppy since 2015, when my French teacher of Year 8 through to GCSE passed away, on the same day that we stood in silence at eleven o’clock in the sixth form common room. It hits me hard every year that every experience I have of her will forever become further in the past tense. She was a ray of sunshine, and a very special teacher. It’s almost worse now, knowing that I’ve built lovely friendships with some of my other former teachers but I can’t ever tell her that I made it not only through my frankly god-awful Y13 speaking exam, but into a career where I talk nearly all day.

“They agreed that some of my symptoms did match, although it was not the most convincing scarlet fever they had ever seen. Still, it was convincing enough to take swabs of the back of my throat – yuck – that were sent off to pathology at the hospital. I’m awaiting results and I can’t go back to work until it’s clear what’s wrong with me!”

12th November 2019

NQT flu is relentless. From the throes of one bout of illness, possibly an actual flu, I found myself symptomatic of an actual notifiable disease. I won’t lie, that was a bit scary. Dr Google was not my friend, that evening.

Looking back to my diaries to document my November as an NQT, it’s looking more and more like the beginning of a particularly dramatic episode of Casualty. The part where some unsuspecting unlucky soul is wandering about their daily life until absolutely everything goes wrong all at the same time. Suddenly, they’re at risk of deportation, they’re suffering a terminal disease and then they’re hit by three buses in a row. Okay, maybe my November wasn’t that bad. But not even the BBC Writers’ room could invent that I’d move house, have the flu, get a brush with suspected scarlet fever, suffer the loss of the family dog, cry at work over children pretending to be ill and gloomily ask my mum down the phone if I was even cut out to be a teacher.

Oh, and on top of that, turn up to work every day and find a smile and a clutch of kind words for my class, then keep teaching them no matter what. That’s what your NQT year is for, I think: showing you exactly how much perseverance you’ve got in you to give. Day in, day out, all over the country, there are teachers having awful days, feeling like the world is falling apart around them. And I would put a substantial amount on ‘their’ children never being any the wiser.

“What if I’ve forgotten how to teach?”

17th November 2019

I was away from school for three and half days following the scarlet fever scare, which turned out to be a false alarm in the end. But still, the Sunday night before returning, I was a mess. On reflection, it was the start of something bigger (oh, the joy of chronic and unpredictable mental illness) but at the time it was just a hyped-up edition of my usual Sunday worries.

Three and a half days felt like a very long time to be away – it felt similar to whaen I’d had a three week break in driving lessons and was convinced I had forgotten how to drive. Fortunately, in neither case did my catastrophising turn out to be the truth. I fell back into school routines and feeling my way around how to get my class making progress.

“I can’t decide whether I’m just finding NQT life really hard right now, whether I’m burning out or whether I’m relapsing into the clutches of GAD.”

20th November 2019

The above comes from a diary entry written on a Wednesday. On the Thursday I cried in the toilets and on the Friday I finally put on the metaphorical ‘big girl pants’ and asked for help.


I did a lot of persevering in November, something that I see in sharp focus now but couldn’t see at the time. I knew the value of asking for help – I did enough of it at uni – but I unwisely thought at first that I had to deal with it on my own now. Graduated, qualified, hired – these three words had somehow convinced me that it was now weak to ask for help, and the ensnaring clouds of anxiety only cemented this belief.

But I could only persevere as much as I did because of the support that I had. You never really know how much someone needs a smile, a ‘good morning’ or a kind word. So give it, because the tiniest gestures can give people the strength to make it to a Friday evening put-you-back-together conversation in a hastily-tidied classroom as the last dregs of daylight fade from the garden outside the window.

#DailyWritingChallenge – Creativity

With the time to reflect, my weekend and the days leading up to it were more than a little stressful, despite the small respite of my 22nd birthday on Thursday. Unfortunately, this entry slipped to the bottom of my to-do list, which feels like a great shame as I usually consider myself to be a very creative person.

Between the general air of worry in this pandemic, managing a flare in my anxiety levels (which exist on a good day at a low hum in any case), various personal issues and some self-imposed pressure to create lovely, beautiful, functional lockdown lessons, it was not far wrong to have this meme sent in my direction:

But the evening before this meme appeared in my WhatsApp inbox (and I feel the need to point out that it was sent in jest by someone who has been prone to feeling the same, so it was not a joke at my expense!) when I stared at an empty page in my blogging notebook and eventually gave up on the theme I felt I should know so much more about, I did what I do best. I picked up my journal instead, and spilled a long, rambly internal monolgue instead. It served its purpose perfectly. It cleared my head somewhat, and actually helped produce something that perfectly fits this theme of creativity and what I often use it for.


I know this route too well. The sky is that forboding inky shade between gunmetal grey and navy blue as I make my way home from the hospital, alone, again. It was anoher beautiful day again today but the balmy evening feels suffocating: I turn up the fans in my car and point them at my face, half-opening a window for good measure. It may be late evening and I may feel my mind drifting but I will not allow myself to zone out while driving.

Every glance in my rearview mirror leads to a moment of temporary blindness thanks to the piercing LED headlights driving far too close for comfort. It is an affront to the senses too many. My spotify playlist is already turned down low because I’m awkwardly between wanting quiet and not wanting to be left alone with my thoughts.

I can measure my moods on my desire to sing in the car. Tonight, the words aren’t even washing over me. They are swirling emptily around the car without my usual appreciation to absorb them.


For so many people, myself included, a moment of creativity can act as therapy, a much-needed reprieve from mental chatter that can make even the simplest of tasks feel difficult. It’s no surprise to me, to see so many people find new passions in knitting, paint-by-number, cross stitch, colouring, and even blogging… Now more than ever, the world needs the release that creativity can bring.

#DailyWritingChallenge – Change

As a self-confessed history geek, I have to admit that this blog prompt felt like a lightbulb moment for me. I loved history at school, and fondly remember the themes of ‘change’ and ‘continuity being imprinted on my mind as they arose time and time again.

There is no doubt that the period we fnd ourselves in has seen unprecedented change. We are constantly reminded in the media that this has never happened before. We are making history here, something that would be monumentally exciting and alive were it not for the inherent grimness of this situation. But, despite the death and devastation around us, we continue to live each locked-down day as well as we can and create moments that will be passed far down the generations. Yes, the Great Coronavirus Shutdown will be remembered for change unlike any other.

Except…

I’ve been reading (no surprises there) and indulging my love of history simultaneously. Millions Like Us by Virginia Nicholson is a heavy, slightly intimidating tome full of factual accounts of women’s lives and the change they encountered in the Second World War. I was drawn to it immediately: one of my favourite debates at A-level (and I’m sure it came up not only in History but in Sociology too) was how far the role of women changed during and as a result of the war. Equally, I am passionate about social history, the living and breathing stories of real lives and lived experiences.

It dawned on me in reading the prelude of this book that history really does have a habit of repeating itself. I don’t mean in the way that wars keep happening for more or less the same reasons, though they do, or that school shootings keep happening because the same decisions fail to be made, though they do too. The young women of this book’s prelude were all on the edge of something in 1939, be that adulthood, a career, or the time to grace society for a few seasons as a debutante before settling down to married adult life (thank goodness I managed to escape that particular slot in history!) I couldn’t help seeing similarities between myself and these women; at the outbreak of coronavirus I was on the edge of adulthood too, newly moved out of my parents’ home and taking tentative steps further into my career.

[Bear with me. I am not about to be so short-sighted and egotistical as to directly compare my experiences of lockdown to the immense sacrifices of the brave women of war.]

I oftetn feel as though coronavirus has stolen something from me, and I know from chatting with friends that I am not alone in this. We have lost time in education, in careers, in gap years. I complain regularly that I have lost precious moments with my first class, that I have missed out on so many ‘firsts’ and even the everyday mundanities that come with teaching Year One. A tongue poking from the corner of a mouth held rigid in concentration. An offer from one child to another to tie a shoelace. A quiet smile of pride for joining in a class game for the first time, and an absolute beam from the same child, the first time she won.

I wonder if the debutantes of the 1930s were bitter towards the outbreak of war for obstructing their chance of being introduced to ‘the one’? Did newly-qualified typists express frustration that their new independence had been interrupted to work for the war effort? By the time I finish the book, I hope I will know – but the wannabe novellist and regular imaginer in me want to believe that maybe there aren’t so many differences between these two very different wars, after all.

Both wars involve an invisible enemy. If fascism had been a physical being to capture an exterminate then perhaps the whole war could have ended much sooner and spared many lives. Likewise, if we could see coronavirus lurking on our hands, on our clothes, on out shopping trolleys, then maybe this would feel more like a battle we could win.

In both cases too, serious preparation came a little too late. Behind-the-scenes prep for World War 2 began in 1938, though the concrete evidence of this was largely scrapped when Chamberlain waved his Munich Agreement and declared “Peace for our time.” Ill-respected civilian drills and information were rolled out in early 1939, but people weren’t interested in role-plays of air raids because they simply could not imagine a world where the war would come to Britain. The conflict, if it came, would happen somewhere else, that was what always happened in war.

Fast-forward eighty years, and there were rumblings in the newspapers of a new virus in Wuhan that could be as deadly as SARS. It began to spread, but in January we couldn’t have imagined that Covid-19 would become a problem here. Our experiences of ‘pandemic’, that foul-tasting, unfamiliar word, drew on Ebola, Zika Virus and Swine Flu. Though serious, these had never caused a disruption to British life. Just as it was unthinkable to have an air raid on Coventry in the late 1930s, we never would have thought that coronavirus could escalate until upwards of seventy countries would be in some form of national lockdown.

I think most of us were guilty of thinking that coronavirus was far away. It was somebody else’s problem. Until, it wasn’t far away, and it was very much our problem.

Though even when it was here, it took over a month to reach lockdown. First came weeks of teaching my class to wash their hands properly, and reminding them that they should do it more often than usual, to stop the spread of coughs and colds. Then came the ‘unprecedented’ step by the government to tell us all in school exactly how often this hand washing should take place. ‘Unprecendented’ guidelines on self-isolation soon followed. By the time the goverment took the ‘unprecedented’ step to close all schools with near-immediate effect, unprecedented didn’t mean much anymore. Everything was new and unimaginable – the damage was done and the virus was everywhere. And then it came: lockdown. Much like Chamberlain’s Munich Agreement in 1939: it was the ‘unprecedented’ solution to the problem of fascism, until it turned out to only be the tip of the iceberg.

People might not have wanted air-raid drills in the 1930s – I would hazard a guess that teachers of the time had something to say, much like we all did about washing hands upwards of eight times a day! But there highlights a huge difference, an enormous change. Air raid drills show us that there was an expectation on some level that the war would come to Britain. Until it turned our lives upside-down we still scarcely believed that Covid-19 could be a problem. Not for us. Not here.

Change is inevitable, we know that. But we also know that those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it, so maybe we should think about the kind of change we want/need to effect.

Endnotes

It can’t be overdramatic to compare coronavirus to a warfare situation, when the French president did it first. That said, I don’t mean to scaremonger nor be flippant about the atrocities of the Second World War. If I have come across as doing either, I sincerely apologise.

On a lighter note, the people of the 1930s were also prone to a spot of stockpiling… One woman recalls being sent by her mother to buy copious amounts of ‘kirby grips and elastic for knickers’ (Credit to Virginia Nicholson, 2011, Millions Like Us.) This makes toilet paper hoarding look almost sensible!

There’s no such thing as a Zero Day

Like many things, the concept of the ‘zero day’ stresses me out. For those who haven’t come across the phrase, a zero day is one during which you get absolutely nothing done, as a result of feeling mentally rubbish.

When I first came across the idea, I was in a rough patch. I clung to the idea of a zero day because it was a label for exactly what was happening to me; I was pinned down by the weight of worthlessness and I thought I was achieving nothing towards my goals. At the time, my primary goal was my teaching degree, so it felt exceptionally high-stakes to have zero days! The thought that I was having so many of these days, devoid of anything useful, only added to how worried I was that the dark days wouldn’t end.

But here I am, the dark days ended and they are now few and far between, not to mention usually less intense when they do come.

Yesterday was one such day – it felt impossible to get through my (admittedly lengthy) to-do list and I knew I needed shift my mindset somehow. Luckily, since partaking in the #DailyWritingChallenge I have been interacting with an excellent group of people on Twitter, a fantastically varied group of educators who have recently taught me something incredibly useful for these so-called ‘zero days’.

I say ‘so-called’ because there is no such thing as a zero day. Every single day, even those where you don’t make a massive amount of progress on your masterplan of life goals, you take tiny steps to keep yourself going. Moving forwards is the only option, even if it feels like you’re not going anywhere, or going backwards. On grim days, the steps might be changing into different pyjamas, getting out of bed or getting a glass of water. Tiny acts of self-care make a big difference when you’re feeling low. On better days, steps away from zero will be a little bigger.

The point is, anything is more than nothing, no matter how small.

When a to-do list is a little intimidating, this is where the #DailyWritingChallenge crew come in. Between Molly’s blog on Flexibility and Productivity, and @sphoenix’s idea to turn the humble to-do list on its head, there has been created a new idea, the Reverse Bucket Challenge. Instead of writing a huge list and feeling demoralised when it’s not completed, fill your ‘bucket’ with every little thing that you achieve in a day.

My bucket, 16th April 2020

The results might surprise you. After I filled one in for today, I couldn’t believe how much I had inadvertently done in a day where I hadn’t tried hard to do anything at all. Today was meant to be a day where I was gentle with myself, a spot of self-care after yesterday. I had made peace with a zero day, so to speak.

But filling my bucket showed me that I can still get things done on a self care day, that it’s pretty great self care to do so, and finally, it’s sometimes easier to get things done without the pressure of a to-do list.

However, I’m not ditching the to-do list. It has a time and a place, plus I’m sure it’s somewhere in my genetic code to occasionally rely on a nice tick-box to-do list, usually colour-coded and meticulously organised. But it is not always the time or the place for a huge to-do list (which always exists as a teacher, whether you choose to live by it or not!)

Sometimes, you have to fill your bucket first.

#DailyWritingChallenge – Trust

There have been better days than today, and I am sure that better days are coming. Today, not even a run was enough to clear my head, so I guess that leaves me waiting it out. I have to trust that it will get better.

How is it even possible to feel burnt out by lockdown? The whole world has hit the pause button – and I think it’s the enormity of this that has hit me like a bus today. Ironically, I may have crumbled under self-heaped pressure to be productive every day. Exactly what I wrote about being a horrible idea, just a few days ago.

But I have to remind myself that it’s just one day, and tomorrow may well be better. I should be an old hand at this by now, trusting in the reappearance of Good Days!


Instead of writing all doom and gloom, the rest of this entry is centred firmly and positively around today’s prompt of ‘trust’ and what that means to me as a teacher.

Trust – A firm belief in the reliability, truth or ability of someone or something.

As a Year One teacher, it is a huge privilege to know that my children hold this value of me. It is remarkable how quickly some children can form a trusting relationship, on the basis that even at their young age they know that teachers are good people and to be trusted. I know this isn’t the case for all children; for many children it is something that must be earned, which can take a while. But once it is earned, it is a precious, precious thing.

My first placement saw me in charge of a class in an inner-city school in Liverpool. I hold memories of that class dear, for all that they taught me and all that they opened my naive, eighteen-year-old eyes to the real world. Year Four can be a powerful place.

Over the course of that placement, I worked frequently with one particular child. (Oh, the joy of only teaching one lesson per day and having the opportunity to work 1:1 so often!) I’ll call her Annie for the purpose of this blog, purely so she’s not reduced to a number or a letter, but she remains unidentifiable. Annie was a very sweet girl, all pigtails and sparkling eyes and hair clips to perfectly match the school uniform colours. She was quiet too; perhaps spotting this is what drew me to her. She was also near the bottom of the class, though not for lack of trying. She worked hard but just couldn’t understand maths, just couldn’t put her ideas in order and on the paper in English. Her lack of self-belief was crippling – after a few lessons I could see that she just didn’t think there was any chance she could get it right, so she was too worried to put pencil to paper. I saw a bit of myself in her, though I’d been much older when that fear took over.

Most student teachers will identify with being regularly stationed with the “bottom group” and now I’m an NQT, I understand why. While it’s a great opportunity to learn to explain concepts as simply as possible, as a teacher if I’ve got a spare pair of hands in the room and children who still don’t ‘get it’ then I will use everything I’ve got to get those children to the finish line. It might take longer and those children might take a different route, but now I have a class and a similar group of my own, I know I will do anything to try and get them there.

So in a lot of maths lessons, I was on this table of children, and while I tried to balance my time, I often ended up with Annie more than the others because she came unstuck nearly every lesson.

I remember the first time I saw her cry in frustration and humiliation over not understanding, and it reminded me so strongly of my sixth-form self that from there the fire in my belly was lit. Even if it would just be for one lesson, come hell or high water Annie would trust me and she would get through at least some of the work, or I would die trying.

I was a passionate first year student, barely out of the aforementioned sixth-form, so forgive the dramatics.

I can’t remember what I said exactly. I think I channelled the things my mum would say to me in similar situations. What I do remember is pulling out a pile of plastic cubes and not giving up until Annie had answered the question. We got there, and her smile and palpable relief cemented for me there and then, this was the job I was born to do.

There were not always tears, but maths remained difficult. She was a determined girl though, and she worked so hard. She often looked to me for help in subsequent lessons, and oftentimes the help needed was not mathematically demonstrative at all. Sometimes it was enough to remind her that she knew enough to try, and she knew that I would always be around if she still got stuck.

I hope I will always remember her. Tucked away safe, I have a hand-drawn card from Annie, shyly presented (as was her way) to me on my last day.

Thank you for helping me in maths.

Trust was reciprocal in this situation – Annie eventually trusted me a lot, something I knew from the reduction of maths-related tears. I trusted her too, always, becasue I knew she could do it, I just needed her to trust herself.

So often, trust goes both ways, and it can be earned by the smallest of acts which carry enormous significance. In making a teacher, the blueprint would be incomplete without a liberal sprinkling of it. Trust makes the world (or at least, the world created in the classroom) go round.