Sunday, 14 September 2014

Some pretty honest truths about teaching.

I wrote this very short list about teaching during one of my TRT days. Maybe I've posted something similar to this, I can't remember. Anyway.

Some truths about teaching.

1. The majority of teachers just want you to name your children (all of them) something boring, and preferably not mispelt.

Just because you can give your child some new and unique name (or at least a variation in spelling) does not meant you should. Not only will the suffer from having their name mispronounced often, they can never find those stickers with their names on them. Sad. The exception to this rule is naming your child something from a different language. Look, that fine. Really. Because it's spelt right there.

2. Teachers deserve holidays.
I disagree with this. Essentially we work for two and a half months and say 'gee, I need time away from other people's kids!'. Other countries have school terms set up so differently to Australia and it seems to work (other countries don't include Tassie, who are now in line with us re the four term bizzo).

I like to use my holidays for holidays. So I'll work a few days of the break, but most of the time I'll be off on some deserted island somewhere. Okay, maybe that's only once a year, but still. That's why working late is worth it - I don't leave things as 'holiday jobs'. I don't mind that other people do, it's just how I roll. To me school holidays aren't really deserved, but we also have this idea that kids need a break from school too. It is about routine, and this is how I would like to explain the weeks of a ten week term to you from a teacher's point of view:

Weeks 1-2: get kids out of their holiday routines and back into the school routine of sitting in classrooms, eating lunch with a gazillion other kids and whatever. This time is bad for behaviour.

Weeks 3-5: the first sweet spot. everyone is happy here.

Week 6: hump week, hello.

Week 7: the countdown begins and everything is due this week, both assignments and reports.

Week 8-9: the second sweet spot.

Week 10: traditionally a week of watching videos, but schools have stomped that out now. Friday is always a 'celebration' type day with some novelty like a class party to get the kids keen for school in another two weeks.

3. Report writing - I forgot my ABCs.
For some reason, capable adults who have completed at least one degree all seem to forget how to write during what is known as Report Writing Time. No one can explain this phenomenon. There is lots of proof reading, threats of 'I'll writing your report now Sonny Jim' and so on.

4. Stupid rules make sense.
My school used to have a No Running On Pavers Rule. It was the number one rule we had and people even got Time Outs (nice way of saying detention) for such things. It was a fair call really. We had shoddy, uneven paving throughout which still exists today. Some kid falls on that, well, no one will be a happy camper. Blood, gore and more blood and gore. Yuck. All schools have rules such as this and it's mostly to prevent injury. (or in the case of my high school, to prevent kids smoking. Seriously teachers, was there not a better option than limit a social group to ten kids?)

5. Traditions thanks to the Old Boys and Stalwarts 
I had a contract where I was enployed for being an old girl (if there is such a thing) who could also teach. Schools have some pretty trippy traditions, including, but not limited to one school having an annual celebration  for the '20th child' enrolling in the school at the eleventh hour. I kid you not. This is seriously legit. (I may have thought of resigning at this point, but, well, reality set in.)

I don't understand all of the traditions, especially that one, but it's nice to keep some of the old things alive and kicking. My favourite thing about going back to St Martins though is they have kept lots of things the same, like plaques in the old building exactly where they were. Which seems silly (I mean, how are they going to move them)... but you'd be surprised.

As a new teacher, plenty of old scholars will come and relive their days with you. It's nice, and thanks for keeping up the traditions. There isn't enough of that these days.

6. There are two camps of teachers - parents are either a help or a hindrance.
I really really really like parents who come in and volunteer at school. It makes life incredibly easy, especially for fiddly but important jobs like sight words or helping with craft. I'm in the pro camp though.

Those in the hindrance camp have a lot of reasons. Sometimes it's easier not to train parents. Sometimes you spend more time getting parents to follow the instructions more than the kids. Sometimes they just want to poke around your classroom and tell you how you should be doing things. (Some parents don't need license to do that anyway.) I worry that this camp is missing out on a great deal. I've never said no, even when I had some reasonably good reasons to. Don't get offended if you offer help and it isn't accepted, often people in this camp have just had their fingers burnt and haven't moved on. (Or are like me and don't have their own kids.)

7. Those who can teach, will.
It's often said 'those who can't, teach', but often, and especially in high school, you have post graduate teachers coming in who are experts in their field and have the ability to pass this on to students. Would you rather some fresh faced teacher who went from school straight to uni and back to school, or someone who has a trade or a Science degree or was a journalist who now teaches?

Post grad teachers are some of the best ones out there. Let's start giving credit where credit is due.

8. You need to like kids. A lot.
I don't use the word 'children' often, mostly because my mum only used it as a joke (and usually when we were teenagers), but also because, well, that's just semantics.

So, that aside, I love working with kids. Why? Because they make me laugh all day (yes, they really do say the darnest things), because teaching is fun, because I get to be silly and smart all at the same time. And I feel like I'm making a difference.

I couldn't teach if I didn't like children. You spend all day (okay, six hours), with them in a classroom, you watch them eat lunch and play and run and get hurt and all those other fun things that happen during the day time. Sometimes you worry about them (and I have worried about all of my students for different reasons at different times), you get sad when they get sad, you want to hug them (but can't because that's against the law. We do a lot of high fives), you wish other people could see their magic. There is always something special to like about each one.

All that aside, you need to choose what you teach wisely. I am not a junior primary teacher, I am not clucky, I am not good with dobbing and boo-boos. I like middle primary, I like high school, I like getting to know my students and having a laugh with them.

9. Bathroom breaks are timed accordingly.
This seems to be pretty legit, and really gross.
One of my favourite things about working in an office (well, a few now), has been going to use the facilities whenever I please. Quite a few people who aren't teachers have said 'But it's only for a few minutes, you can just leave them'. Um. No, I really can't. If something goes wrong, I am liable and able to be prosecuted for not showing due care. Sometimes I have been able to work in adjoining classrooms when I can leave the class with the other teacher, and they with me, but this is pretty rare.

Once I started teaching I suddenly stopped drinking three litres of water a day, and this is why. Also, staff toilets are pretty gross, but I'm starting to realise that most places really are. Some fave bathroom moments:

- on prac my friend had to use the Ladies because there was no Gentlemen to visit (yes, all the staff in that unit were female, thanks for checking).
-one school had the kids bathrooms on either side of the building, and the unisex staff toilet in the middle. Just, no. And there as almost always some kids standing outside saying hello to you after you'd finished.
-my favourite school had outdoor toilets and I was petrified of finding a snake in there and would always try and send someone in before me.
-and my fave prac teacher would always announce he was off to 'the little boys room' at Recess which creeped me out massively.

10. Yard duty is almost always painful.
Here are some things about yard duty:

- you almost always get rostered on at some terrible time like Thursday Special Morning Tea (this happened every Thursday, so it wasn't actually special) and no one will swap with you. EVER.
- some kid will always through sand or bark chips at someone else. coz it's fun. of course.
- rainy days and windy days are the worst.
- I cannot make someone be your friend.
- being 'that kid who read all through recess' for three years of my school life has taught me a very important thing - don't go up to some student and ask them what book they are reading. Be interested in the topic and the subject matter and the characters and all those things that make up great literacy lessons.
- oval duty is the worst.

Yard duties are not always bad, and being a sun lover, sometimes I can't get enough of sun on my neck and kids not knowing my name so they can't dob on Daniel.

11. It's not really a thankless job.
Finally, teachers always tell each other that they have a thankless job. I want to talk about this for a bit.

I think sometimes people who say that have never actually had another job other than teaching and think that in other 'helper' roles, people get thanked more. No. Yes, people say 'thanks' politely during a customer service interaction, but rarely does anyone give a long letter of singing your praises.

A teacher's job is about teaching. A student's job is to learn. We thank our students for behaving correctly (whatever they may mean), we 'reward' them with grades, do do nice things for them. That is what the role is often about. I have only known a few students who say 'thanks for teaching me' at the end of a lesson or a day, and usually it's wonderful kids with wonderful parents who have encouraged them to do so.

In Grade 1 my teacher, Mrs Weeks (not three 'e's, just two) brought in a massive and empty basket on the last day of school for all her presents. I have done the same in my time too. I have kept every single thank you note I have been given.. My favourite thank you note was one of my students who struggled their way through the year before, was tutored over the summer holidays and really pulled together all his learning during the year I taught him. Another example is a student who had a massive turn around mid year and went from caring very little to caring an awful lot that he possibly wouldn't pass the year level. I was so proud of both of those boys, and that's where my job satisfaction comes from, not just for being thanked for something I've trained in and been paid to do.

If you got to the end of my long rant, congrats. Please remember I'm just one teacher who just really likes her job. My thoughts don't reflect the education community as a whole and are completely my own.