5 Lessons We Can Learn From Children

shutterstock_291582851

This was originally going to be a post about Milo Yiannopoulos and the news that he has been banned from giving a talk at his old school. But the more more I read about the story and the further I was dragged into the dark little corner of internet dominated by the alt-right the more depressed I became with the whole political situation. This is the problem with politics being one of your main interests, in a year like 2016 where there has been a barrage of bad news it can really take over your head a bit. Sometimes you need to step away from the news, turn off Twitter and go and find waffles. Which is exactly what I did this morning.
wafflesThey say that in London you’re never more than 6ft away from a rat. Well in Amsterdam you’re never more than 10ft from a waffle. On my walk to the waffle house, I passed a group of children on a school trip and immediately felt a pang of longing to have my own class again. This shows the strength of nostalgia because, in reality, there are things I miss about teaching but schools trips aren’t one of them. With only a couple of exceptions, school trips were days of head counting, sick bags and trying to look composed in front of parent helpers whilst herding 60 wildebeest excitable children around an overcrowded museum. Still. I do miss having a class. Working with children is unpredictable, stressful and exhausting but they will make you laugh every single day. Even on those really awful, child protection meetings, crying in the toilets days your class will make you laugh. I wholeheartedly believe that if everybody spent just one hour a day with a five-year-old we would all be happier, kinder people. So I decided that, instead of giving more attention to Yiannopoulos who is ultimately a professional attention seeker, I would write about a far more worthy subject – the lessons we can all learn from children.

It’s OK to say “No.”

No is one of the first words children learn and they are the experts at saying it. In my experience, four-year-olds are far better at saying “no” than thirty-year-olds. It’s not an easy word to say; it has a tendency to disappoint or upset people. When I was younger I would do anything to avoid saying no. In an eagerness to please, I would take on anything and everything I was asked to do and then end up unable to cope and having to let people down. Whether it’s work, a social event or a favour for a friend – it’s far better to say no from the very beginning than promise something you won’t be able to deliver. For the sake of your mental health and wellbeing allow yourself to say no.

Be Silly

I’m quite a silly grown up as I believe most teachers are at heart. Silliness was a defining characteristic of the staff room in my first school where lunchtimes were spent quoting Monty Python, discussing the items that had made their way onto the “Michael Gove Shelf” and debating the philosophical question, “Would you still be friends with me if I had cups for hands?” It remains an important part of the Paramour household today. From spending, what some might call, an abnormal amount of our time voicing our cat’s inner monologue to recreating that manic Blair Christmas card.

Children are the masters of silliness. I remember walking into my husband’s Year 6 class one year, at the height of SATs mania, and they were trying to rap the entire theme tune to, “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” between them. In my own class two stand out memories are the two boys who created a “Jedi Hedgehog School” (complete with light sabers made from pencils wrapped in coloured paper) and the group of children who approached me one playtime to tentatively ask if we could have a, “Dress Up As A Frog Day.” (We did – on the last day of the Spring term and only the children who had approached me actually did it.) Children teach us not to take ourselves too seriously.

Live In The Moment

This one sounds like a such a bullshit cliche but it is true: children force you into the present because that is how they live. There’s no time for your mind to wander or to retreat into your own thoughts; you have to be there in that moment all the time. And not just because at any minute one of them could rock too far back on their chair and fall and crack their head open – has anyone ever actually had that happen? Or is that just something we tell children? Living in the moment means no worrying about tomorrow, no time to wallow in self pity about a break up or stressing about the work you have to do that evening. You are very much “there” dealing and experiencing what is happening right in front of you. Of course being permanently “present” is one of the reasons the job is so exhausting and why, after three consecutive days of wet play, you find yourself quietly pressing your forehead against the cold window and breathing deeply.

Mindfulness is now up there with hygge, craft beer and pop-up eateries in trendiness but before you dismiss it as another passing fad – give it a go. Learn from children: notice the details, take pleasure in the simple things and keep your thoughts focused on the present.

Be Open Minded

“It’s OK to change your mind” became a motto for one class I taught. In this class there was a handful of dominant characters who would have huge, explosive disagreements that would drag on for days out of stubbornness more than anything else. Even if they knew they had done the wrong thing or perhaps got the wrong idea about a situation they would dig their heels in and allow the drama to continue. So we introduced, “It’s OK To Change Your Mind.” It was our class way of saying “I was wrong” without having to use those exact words.

It is only natural that we become more sure of our views and opinions as we grow up; by the time we’re adults our worldview has been shaped by a range of life experiences, the people we’ve met and things we’ve learnt for ourselves. But how often do we challenge these beliefs? Having strongly held views is honourable but, like children, we should try and remain open-minded to the idea of them changing.

Be Proud Of Your Scars

Children wear scars like badges of honour: “LOOK! I fell down the stairs and look what it’s made – I’VE GOT A SCAR!” cue 29 admiring “ooohs” from the rest of the room and the teacher calling out, “Come back to the carpet – we can look at Ahmed’s scar at playtime.”

When you’re five, scars are to be shown off and marvelled – they demand respect. If you’re extra lucky the teacher might even let you tell the story of how you got your scar in the epic battle of staircase. The child who turns up with a plaster cast on their arm is immediately the most popular child in the class. As we grow older we hide our scars, be they emotional or physical. We keep them a secret out of fear of being judged as weak or vulnerable. Now I’m not suggesting we start covering our scars in batman plasters and shoving them into the faces of unsuspecting passers-by but let’s not be ashamed of them. Scars are reminders that we survived – they symbolise strength.

Yes, We Have No Glue Sticks.

shutterstock_408318373

I’ve been away from education for nearly 6 months now and most of that time has been spent abroad; I’ve not followed educational news as closely as I would have done in the past and what’s interesting is how much you still pick up from the headlines. The recruitment crisis is still heavily reported (although I would argue it is more a retention crisis than a recruitment crisis.) Government figures released last month reveled that a third of teachers who qualified in 2010, which incidentally is the year I started teaching, have since left the profession. A third. And that doesn’t include those who didn’t even make it through training. Workload is still a problem and still reported along with the clickbait stories published in the Daily Mail about school uniform and behaviour policies that they consider ridiculous. Message to school leaders: if the Daily Mail think you’re doing something wrong, you’re probably not.

There’s one piece of big news that schools have been talking about for a couple of years now and has only just been picked up by the media: budgets. In his 2015 Autumn statement Osborne (Remember him? Friends with David Cameron? Carried a red briefcase? Had a fondness for cocaine and S&M?) announced that the Government was going to cut the Education Services Grant by 75%. That’s the grant that pays for educational psychologists, speech therapists, physiotherapy, truancy officers, DBS checks, management of school buildings, school improvement and occupational therapy. Gone. Local Authorities used to offer a certain number of hours for free – these cuts means schools have to pay for each service individually. At the same time schools are trying to compensate for the decimation of other state services its families rely on. Gone are the days of Sure Start centres, behaviour support and youth services: schools are offering parenting classes and English lessons to try and help families. Teachers are buying breakfast for children who haven’t eaten since their school lunch the day before. Increasingly, schools are having to appoint their own social workers as local authority provision becomes increasingly stretched; legal services and insurance that used to be provided for free have been cut and those that still exist have to be paid for.

The Government have said that until 2020 school budgets are “protected” which guarantees that schools will lose no more than 1.5% of their income per pupil per year. However this doesn’t factor in any additional costs needed to cover inflation and extra costs such as higher employer NI and pension contributions. This means that, in reality, the actual value of funding per pupil in real-terms will fall by as much as 8% and in some cases more than that. As I said, to those working in schools this is not news; they’ve known this was coming for a long time and have been preparing for it as much as they can. I first wrote about the issue in May in my resignation letter:

school-budgets

A school in West Sussex hit the headlines last month with their announcement that they are considering dropping to a four day week. In their letter to the parents the school explained that they have made “every conceivable cut” to their provision including increasing class sizes, cutting staff and reducing the curriculum on offer. Closing was very much a last resort. What I always struggle with is that when news like this breaks there is such a lack of trust in the education system that people assume that the situation cannot by this dire and schools are just mismanaging their money. When a doctor tells me the difficulties the NHS are facing – I believe them. I don’t assume that the people who have given their lives to these jobs are doing so to line their own pockets.

In the last six years I’ve seen:

  • Teachers buying stationery for their class
  •  TAs and support staff cut – most schools have one TA per year group or Key Stage
  • Schools renting out the premises after school and at the weekends. This is a good idea but does mean schools are unable to offer fewer after school clubs because there’s a zumba class in the hall. It also means paying somebody to open and lock up at those times.
  • The whole SLT in class. I agree your SLT should do some teaching but a full time class based SLT doesn’t leave much time for day-to-day running of the school
  • Schools asking parents for financial contributions for resources
  • Cuts to the curriculum areas that have resources that regularly need replenishing e.g. art, DT and even science
  • Building work cancelled or “indefinitely delayed” – schools are now having to choose between repairing leaky roofs or buying exercise books
  • Technology no longer fit for purpose. Smart Boards that don’t align, laptops with keys missing and screens that don’t work. Computing is such a vital part of the curriculum and a skill future generations are going to rely on and at the moment there simply aren’t the resources to teach it adequately.
  • Head teacher choosing not to have a deputy head
  • Subsidies for school journeys and trips being cut
  • Reducing site mangers’ hours
  • Cutting job shares – two part time teachers costs a school more than one full time but it also means we lose experienced, skilled staff because we can’t offer them flexibility once they have family
  • Hiring unqualified teachers because they’re cheap – I’ve known several occasions where the cheapest candidate has got the job because the school could not afford the more expensive (read: experienced) teacher
  • Six years of pay freezes for teachers whilst at the same time nearly doubling the contributions they’ve had to make to their pensions

Schools are not exaggerating when they say there is nothing left to cut and they are right to start communicating the problem to parents – the only way to fight this is with parents and teachers working together. Often when parents complained about testing or curriculum changes my answer was,“I completely agree with you and I suggest that you write to your local MP.” It’s the same with this. Parents need to know the cuts schools are making are not by choice – there is simply no other option.

There is an issue with the distribution of funding. A school in inner London receives more funding that an outer London one and substantially more than a school in East Sussex for example and the government has plans to address this. However simply taking from one area to give to another is not the solution here. The Government need to start investing heavily in education. Otherwise four day weeks and unqualified teachers will not just be controversial headlines but the only way schools can survive.

To find out how the cuts will affect schools in your area follow the link and enter your postcode. And once you’ve done that – do this.

30 Thoughts As I Approach 30

shutterstock_486981049

On Wednesday morning we’ll wake up to the news that America have elected either Trump or Clinton as their president. Incidentally it’ll also be my thirtieth birthday. Here are some thoughts on that matter. Actually a lot of these thoughts aren’t about that matter they’re just thoughts.

1. I wonder how old I’ll be when Article 50 is triggered?

2. I should probably start wearing matching socks now.

3. A decade ago I had a much clearer career path ahead of me than I do now.

4. At what age will it be considered inappropriate to go to “Pets At Home” just to look at the rabbits?

5. Where IS Liz Truss?

6. I never imagined I’d be living back at home at the age of the 30. Even if it is only temporarily.

7. I think 15-year-old Zoe would be happy with how 30-year-old Zoe turned out. Even if I’m not living in New York with 8 cats. And I don’t have a job with a salary. Or even a proper home.

8. Although I’m quite relieved that 15-year-old Zoe’s plan to have 4 children by the age of 40 never really worked out.

9. I move to Amsterdam in 9 days. That’s pretty cool.

10. I should start learning dutch.

11. Maybe I’ll make a cake.

12. Buy. I meant buy a cake.

13. And by cake. I mean cheese.

14. People born in 1998 can legally drink. Not just a glass of wine with a meal but properly drink. 1998.

15. Whilst I’m quite looking forward to turning 30, I’m pretty sure I was only 22 last year.

16. I am married. Married. Writing that is far more surreal than writing about turning 30.

17. I’ll probably still be one of the youngest people at National Trust properties (who hasn’t been dragged there by their parents.)

18. How the hell are UKIP still a real thing?

19. It’s probably time to accept I’m never going to be a Blue Peter presenter.

20. And it’s unlikely I’ll ever be an Olympic athlete. Although I’m not ruling that one out entirely.

21. Where did my “30 before 30 list” go?

22. Is it acceptable to write a “40 before 40 list” now or is that just ridiculous? At least I’d have plenty of time to actually do everything on the list.

23. I wonder if my love of having a pint on my own is a legitimate pastime or something to worry about?

24. At what age will I start feeling like a grown-up?

25. I should get some sort of skincare routine. That’s something grown ups do.

26. Whilst I’m at it I should teach myself some new hairstyles just so I have a third option other than “up” or “down.”

27. Does anyone actually feel like a grown up? Where are all the grown ups?

28. Does this mean I have to own an iron now?

29. At what age will it be ridiculous for this blog still be called “The Girl On The Piccadilly Line?”

30. I fucking hope I don’t wake up to the announcement that Trump is President.