Should We Correct Our Pupils’ Speech?

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We’ve all had it. About twenty minutes into a lesson a small hand is tentatively raised.

“Miss Brown, can I go toilet?”

“No. You can go TO the toilet. You can’t go toilet.”

Any of my ex. pupils will recognise that as my standard response. It didn’t matter if the child was in Year 1 or Year 6 – they were expected to use standard English in my classroom. It’s worth mentioning at this point the exception to that rule (because there is always at least one exception.) When children arrived in my class with no English, as they very often did, then I would, to begin with, accept “toilet” as a request to be excused but would model standard English in my response, “Yes, you can go to the toilet.” Other than that, all children were expected to use standard English. We spent one registration saying the word, “ask” over and over again because of the number of children who had started saying, “arks.” Actually, we spent most that registration saying the word “mask” and working up to dropping the “m.” To some it sounds pedantic and Dickensian but I know of one head teacher who didn’t give a job to a candidate because in her lesson she’d said to the children, “I want to arks you something.” Right or wrong, that is how plenty of employers think.

I raised the issue in a staff meeting following a series of observations that had left me with concerns about the standard of some teachers’ English. I argued that, given the number of children in the school who were learning English as a second language, and given the fact our children would be assessed on their ability to write in standard English it was our duty to model it in the classroom. This meant no more “ain’t,”, “pass me them scissors” or “yous lot.” At the time I didn’t consider this a particularly controversial request. After all, demonstrating the correct use of standard English is one of the Teachers’ Standards. However, this announcement was not well-received. It started with a few questions about why staff couldn’t “be themselves” with their class and then escalated into me being told I was “having a go” at working class staff and, in one case, that I was being racist.

It isn’t racist and it’s not “having a go at working class staff.” I don’t care how teachers speak at home, or pupils for the matter, but in school we set high expectations and that includes the use standard English.  If we truly believe that education is the great equaliser then we have to ensure that a pupil’s background in no way limits their life chances. I presented this case in the staff meeting, arguing that it would only be a matter of years before the children in our school would be competing for jobs and university places with children from far more privileged backgrounds. If a child from Edmonton is going to have the same chances as a child from Sevenoaks, then they need to know how to use standard English. There is an assumption that standard English means speaking with an RP accent – it doesn’t. It is a shared grammar, spelling and punctuation. When you hear Sean Bean or Ray Winstone interviewed, they use standard English. This isn’t about changing people’s accents or discriminating against particular backgrounds.

But am I fighting the wrong battle? Only 15% of the UK population, the wealthiest 15% I might add, use standard English in its entirety (Trudgill 1999). Should I not be fighting for children to have the same opportunities no matter what form of English they use? After all, language is fluid and constantly evolving and many would argue that it’s more important that children feel able to communicate confidently than worry about verb tenses. Would the worry of being corrected have put some children off speaking up in my class?

I put it out to Twitter. The poll is running for another 4 hours so feel free to get involved. With only 47 votes, this is not exactly the most scientific study but, out of those who responded, 74% believe that we should insist on standard English. One teacher got in touch and raised the issue that, like all policies, this would only work if the school insisted on it from Reception. Enforcing standard English in upper KS2 becomes an almost impossible task if it hasn’t been taught previously.

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I will leave you in the hands of the expert, David Crystal. This man taught me how to write. Most of my time studying English was spent reading through his vast body of work and it is my firm belief that “Rediscover Grammar” should be on every teacher’s bookshelf. It is only right he has the final word.

Top Tips for NQTs

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My friend Adam was training to become a doctor at the same time as I was doing my PGCE. I remember one conversation we had as we approached our future careers, “The only difference between my last day as a medical student and my first day as a qualified doctor is that I’ll be paid. Other than that I’ll have no more responsibility and I’ll still be heavily supervised.”

This is not the case for teachers. One minute you’re teaching another teacher’s class that has been setup and established by them. The next you’re presented with an empty room that will soon be full of 30 pairs of eyes staring at you expectantly. If you’re anything like me, you’ll find having your own class couldn’t have come any sooner.  By the time September arrived, I’d planned what my classroom was going to look like, I’d read everything I could find on behaviour management and I had a clear picture in my head of the sort of teacher I was going to be (a cross between Miss Honey and LouAnne Johnson in case you’re wondering.) But even Miss Honey and LouAnne Johnson were NQTs at one point and even they didn’t know where the glue sticks were kept so here are some tips to help you in those first few weeks.

Consistency, consistency, consistency

As I’m sure you’ll have already been told, the first half term with your new class is all about setting out your expectations and setting up the routines.  I’m not going to tell you which behaviour management strategy you should use, that’s entirely up to you and you may find your school has an approach they want you to use. All I will say is: be consistent. If you’ve said Sara is going to miss 10 minutes of her lunch break, then she misses 10 minutes of her lunch break, if you’ve said you’re going to speak to Andy’s mum at the end of the day – make sure you do. In the first half term in particular you need to work hard to make sure what you say is going happen actually happens. It’s hard work because the first few weeks are the time they’ll really push to see if those boundaries are actually where they say they are but it is worth getting it right. You’ll thank yourself in July.

Being consistent does not just apply to behaviour management; it is equally true of routines. It can be easy at the beginning of a new school year, fresh from the holidays and full of optimism to try and introduce too many new systems – I for one am particularly guilty of this. Every year I’d come back thinking:

“This year is going to be great – I can’t wait to share all my new ideas with the class. We’ll have one group who are responsible for keeping the plants watered  in our outdoor area, another to take care of the pet hamster, I’ll introduce the bookmark challenge to get them reading more widely, oooo and I’ll have a word of the day board which we’ll look at every morning and I’ll give a sticker to the child that manages to use the word of the day the most effectively, I’ll have an interactive phonics display that I’ll change weekly and every Friday afternoon we’ll watch News Round and discuss current affairs before they go home for the weekend and hopefully they’ll continue those discussions at home. We’re going to have such a good year.”

There is nothing wrong with any of those individual ideas – I’ve seen all of them work really well but do not do what I did and try and introduce everything at once. Otherwise, once planning, marking, meetings, school shows, INSET, data etc… kick in you’ll find yourself with several dead plants, a missing class pet and children saying in March “we haven’t done Word of the Day since Christmas”. Pick a few things you want to try and do them consistently. If you want to introduce something new introduce one thing at time.

Read Up

Despite being an avid reader, I almost exclusively read fiction until I started teaching. It was only when I started wanting to find out more about how children learn that I started to read non-fiction. The wonderful thing about non-fiction is that it can be dipped into as you need it. You can refer to it throughout the year rather than having to find the time in the evenings to read it cover to cover (that can be done in the holidays.) So read. Read the research and the ideas that are out there. Although remember just because someone has drawn a certain conclusion from one study does not mean they are correct. Read widely, try out different strategies and find out what works for you. A good starting point would be: Shirley Clarke on assessment, Bob Cox on teaching reading and pretty much anything written by Sue Cowley.

I’d also advise that before you start teaching a new topic learn as much as you can about it. The better you know it – the better you can teach it. The expectations of Primary maths and English are much higher than in previous years and you may find yourself having to teach things you haven’t even thought about you were in school yourself, particularly if you’re teaching upper KS2. Don’t panic just take the time to learn them really, really well.  If you’re not sure how what the past progressive tense is, or how to plot linear equations on a graph – find out (this is when being in a building with teachers is very useful!) Before launching into a topic about the Romans find out the key dates, names and events and have them up your sleeve.

We had a phrase for this in my first school – Know Your Shit.

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If you haven’t already, join Twitter. Books are really useful but on Twitter you can speak directly to actual teachers from all around the world (including the authors of those useful books!) They’re a friendly bunch and will happily share their advice.

My “go to” tweeters tend to be: @michaelT1979, @thatboycanteach @jillberry102, @teachertoolkit, @martynreah, @mattgovernor and @MissMaj_ they’re knowledgeable and very friendly.

Not sure where to start? Have a look at the #EdChat, #PrimaryRocks and #Teacher5aday hashtags.

Eat Your Lunch

Not to sound too much like your mother here but: please try and eat something at lunch time. It can be all too easy to fill up that hour with phone calls, clubs, setting up and sorting out behaviour issues. Take it from me, living off the left over fruit from the snack bowl is not a sustainable model; make sure you eat your lunch and, if you can, get to the staff room. In the right kind of staff room, you’ll be able to develop your relationships with your colleagues and build up a support/advice network it’s also the quickest way to get answers to those little niggling questions like “where do we keep the key for the PE shed?” and “how do I get more glue sticks?” Also the staff room is pretty much the only adult only zone in the school so go and enjoy even just 10 minutes of uninterrupted adult conversation. Teachers are some of the smartest, most interesting and good humoured people I know – get to know them.

Observe

One of the things I loved the most about being an Assistant Head was the opportunities it provided for me to observe teachers. Not formally (although there was some of that) just spending time in other people’s classrooms and seeing what was going on.  Your colleagues are your most valuable resource and you can learn something from all of them so take any opportunity you are given to watch other people teach.

Work Smart

These days most schools are open for at least 12 hours of the day but that does not mean you have to be there all of that time – make it work for you. Last year I used to get in between 6:30 and 7am so I could mark my books – I found that I was often interrupted if I tried to mark them after school. I would try leave around 5pm. Other colleagues chose to come in later and stay later and others came in later, left early and worked a lot at home. You need to decide how you work best but remember the number of hours that you are in the building has no bearing on how good a teacher you are.

Look After You

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A wise colleague once told me, “You are no less important than the children you teach; you need to take care of yourself the way you take care of them.” I foolishly ignored her and became a martyr to my job sacrificing my social life, health and well being in an attempt to be the best teacher I could be every single day. Here is what I wish I could have said to myself:

  • Leave early one evening a week. (My first school didn’t open until 7:30am so I would often end up staying late. By my fourth year I’d learnt this and would leave at 4pm on Fridays.
  • Not every single lesson will be outstanding. A handful of lessons will be amazing, another handful will be just terrible and most will be good. You might find you learn more from those lessons that go really wrong than you do from those that run perfectly so don’t be afraid of them. Guy Claxton summed this up really well in an INSET: “When you’re making a really good car – you have to crash a few.” When you’re learning what makes a really good lesson you have to have a few complete disasters.
  • Good is good enough
  • I wish I’d overcome my aversion to exercise earlier in my twenties because it is the best way to de-stress. Whether it’s walking, swimming, boxing, running or yoga – it really doesn’t matter. It forces you to take time out for yourself – and it might force you to leave work earlier.
  • You are allowed a life. I remember sheepishly turning up hungover one morning and confessing to the Phase Leader I’d drunk far too much the evening before. “Zoe, you’re allowed a life” she replied with a laugh. I’ll be honest teaching 30 7-year-olds with an awful hangover is a hell I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemies so I wouldn’t suggest you do it too often but it will happen and that is fine.
  • Just say no – don’t feel as though you have to say yes to everything. This is a difficult one to master, especially in those early days of your career. I was the queen of enthusiastically saying yes to everything and having an emotional meltdown when it all got too much. Be realistic. If it feels as though you’re already stretched that probably means you are.

Find out how to do the register

My final piece of advice. This sounds ridiculous but on my very first day I merrily strolled into the classroom, sat my new class down and introduced myself. Then I opened the register and then realised I had no idea which symbols I was supposed to be using. Was it PL for packed lunch or D for school dinners? I had to send a patient LSA around to ask for me and by the time we’d done the register I was late for assembly. Not the biggest problem in the world but one you can do without during your first 10 minutes with your class.


 

“Advice is a form of nostalgia, dispensing it is a way of fishing the past from the disposal, wiping it off, painting over the ugly parts and recycling it for more than it’s worth.”

Mary Schmich

This advice has been pulled together from my experiences as a teacher and an NQT mentor and of course from all the advice that has been shared with me over the years. As with any advice – you may find some of it useful, some of it needs to be adapted to your situation and some you can completely disregard.

 

So yes, your first year will be difficult at times because starting a new job always is. I remember telling my mentor that having my first class after my training felt a bit like getting into a car thinking I’d passed my driving test and realising my instructor had been using the dual control the entire time. It’s a steep learning curve but it’s hugely rewarding and remember: everyone has been an NQT at some point so don’t be afraid to ask for help.

How Not To Write Reports

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DISCLAIMER: Obviously I would never leave my reports until the last minute/drink whilst writing reports/have nothing to say about a child in my class. I would also never write a blog post about reports as procrastination from actually writing reports.

This internal monologue is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, events and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental… honest.

Right. Reports. Got my laptop, got all the snacks. Got my notes. Just a quick check of Facebook and I’ll be well on my way to starting.

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OK let’s start with an easy one: Jessica – smart, hardworking, popular. Lovely, conscientious, easy-to-write-about Jessica. Done. Next?

Mustafa – smart, funny, excellent musician, lead part in our class assembly… God I really am nailing these reports. I am winning. I can probably get these all done in the next couple of hours. I don’t know why everyone moans about them so much when they’re really no big deal you’ve just got to get on with it.

Jasper – witty, intelligent, kind… Note to self: avoid writing reports that sound like internet dating profiles.

Right next one: Andy.

Why can I not think of a single to say about Andy? Has he definitely been in my class all year? *Checks class list* – is this definitely an up-to-date class list? Maybe he’s been away a lot…

I’ll get some wine. Wine will help.

*Gets wine. Does all essential phone checks: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram. Gets drawn into an argument with a Twitter racist*

Right. Back to Andy…

*Opens work email. Feels chest tighten. Closes work email.*

You know what Andy… I think we’ll come back to you and move on to… Elan. Elan is… what is Elan…? Elan is lazy and thinks he’s much smarter than he actually is.

Can’t put that. “In order to meet his full potential Elan will need to apply himself to all lessons.” That sounds proper.

OK. Andy.

WHY HAS ANDY NOT DONE ANYTHING MEMORABLE THIS YEAR?

Wine.

*Instagrams picture of wine #wine #inspiration #reports #FML. Spends 10 minute choosing filter.*

Seriously Andy nothing – not even Scissor Monitor?

*Does all essential phone checks: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram. Gets drawn into an argument with a Twitter racist*

DT! Bollocks I didn’t know we had to write about bloody DT! Who on earth has been finding time to actually teach DT?

OK don’t panic – they made those Christmas cards didn’t they? And those Eid cards. That was DT-ish. And those Easter baskets – that definitely counts as DT.

“Whilst working on her design project Amber was able to select tools that were appropriate for the task” (read: used scissors to cut out the cardboard template of the basket.)

Right a DT target for Elena: To use tools with increasing accuracy and care (only use the scissors for cutting paper – not hair.)

Who does Andy remind me of from my last class? What did I write for last year’s Andy? Must remember to keep all reports.

Wine.

Right – RE: Easter story – tick. Diwali story – tick. Christmas story – tick. The Eid cards again. Oh and the Rabbi came in and did that assembly – wonderful. RE = done.

Been working for nearly an hour now – must be time for a break soon.

*Does all essential phone checks* 

Art. Well there was the self-portraits that they did with that supply teacher that day I was on a course… They ended up in the bin…

“Eric has explored a range of mediums during our lessons this year”  although only if you consider “eating” to be the same as “exploring.”

Wine.

Oh and the Eid cards again. They were arty. Think I’m mentioning those too often now. Is that how you spell Eid? Eed. Ead…

Isn’t it funny how words stop looking like words when you really focus on them? Is this a word? I wonder what the funniest looking word is? What’s the word that looks least like a word in the world?

*Googles: What’s the word that looks least like a word in the world?*

No – mustn’t get distracted. They’ll be time for looking up words later. Back to Andy.

Andy is… a child… in my class.

What is the name for the study of words?

*Googles: What is the name for the study of words?*

Etymology. There will be time for etymology later. Now it’s time for reports.

Is “recovered from chicken pox” an acceptable comment for the achievements box? Chicken pox is horrible and it’s probably quite difficult to recover from. I’ll put it in.

Chicken pox. A pox of chickens. A pox on chickens? A chicken of poxes. Poxi?

…Who drank all the wine?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Just 3 Teachers

three teachersA couple of weeks ago one of my favourite Educational bloggers @MichaelT1979 published this post. Since then other bloggers have jumped on the bandwagon and done their own version of the post – teachers aren’t as averse to copying as people think. The idea is you pick three teachers from your own education. One who you now emulate, one who changed you and one who inspired you to become a teacher. I really struggled with this as I was fortunate enough to be taught by so many fantastic teachers during my school years. But rules are rules – so here are my three.

1) The teacher I emulated – Mrs Woodhams

I sometimes wonder how different my attitude to school might have been if I hadn’t been fortunate enough to wander into Wendy Woodhams’ classroom at the age of 4.  Although my memories of Reception aren’t hugely clear I do remember that classroom being such an exciting place to be and being desperate to get to school every day. Wendy worked hard to give us real-life experiences so we had a real dentist’s chair in our role play area, god knows how she got hold of it. Our art work wasn’t double mounted and displayed on the wall, instead our classroom became “The Ghostbusters Gallery” (I can only assume we chose the name) that we opened to members of the public.

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5-year-old me curating at our Ghostbusters Art Gallery

We built a Berlin wall and kicked it down for our assembly. Learning was always fun and always started with what we wanted to find out. I think by the time I started school I was well on my way to reading and once I started I didn’t want to stop. Wendy was my very own Miss Honey providing me with her own books that I was allowed to take home.  She was endlessly patient, warm and always, always cheerful and I’m pleased to report that we are still in touch and she is still all of those things today.

2) The teacher who changed me – Mr Hall

Being born in Kent brings one inevitability – the dreaded 11+. Once the tests had decided I was capable enough, I went to a Grammar school in a nearby town. The problem with attending a very high achieving school is that it is all too easy to feel inadequate or imagine you’re failing when you’re not. By the time I was 15 I had decided I was terrible at maths.  This was confirmed for me when I was put in the lower set (because I was predicted a “B” grade at GCSE  and anything less than an “A” wasn’t worth mentioning.) The task of getting me that “B” grade fell to Mr Hall whose official title should be: “The Most Patient Man In Britain”. We went over and over the basic principles; he must have answered the same questions 498 times. Trying to motivate teenagers isn’t the easiest task but with good humour, patience and a huge level of empathy Mr Hall managed to keep us engaged (most of the time.)

I imagine it’s very difficult to teach teenagers, particularly teenage girls as they’ll make fun of any little quirk or idiosyncrasy. High pitched voice or regional accent? There are impressions of you going on in the Common Room. Your clothes, aftershave and the way you walk will all be scrutinised. It isn’t fair or any reflection on how good you are at teaching. However, there are a handful of teachers who escape this treatment either by being relatable, kind and good-humoured or just hugely respected.  Mr Mr Hall was one of them. We thought he was brilliant and he… well, he thought we alright too I’m sure.

It took two long years but somehow, amongst the boyfriend and friendship drama that seems to rule your life at 15, I got my B grade and, far more importantly, my confidence was back. I no longer find Maths intimidating or scary in fact it’s my favourite subject to teach.

3) The teacher who made me want to teach – Mrs Jennings

By the end of Year 6 I’d decided I was going to be a teacher (or a Blue Peter presenter.) I was lucky, I’d had two of most inspiring teachers bookend my Primary education. As I’ve already mentioned I started my education with Mrs Woodhams and in Year 6 I was fortunate to have another inspirational teacher in the shape of Mrs Jennings.

If Mrs Woodhams got me loving reading Mrs Jennings pushed me to the next level. She would always want to know what we were and what we thought about it. She introduced me to Tennyson, Wordsworth,  and Shakespeare. We were only 10 but Mrs Jennings made herself the tour guide as she took us into these new realms explaining the unknown words, providing us with the background knowledge we needed and answering endless questions so we weren’t intimidated by this literature. At the same time she read us picture books, nonsense poems and Roald Dahl. There was no such thing as the books we were “meant” to read – it was just important that we enjoyed reading. I wrote countless stories and poems that year and remember so clearly her positive and thoughtful feedback.

By the time you are in Year 6 you are far more aware of the system you are in and you can better appreciate everything your teacher does for you. I remember watching Mrs Jennings working with a small group of children in our maths lessons. It must have been in the run up to SATs or the 11+ yet there was no sense of stress in herself or the pupils. The group were laughing and working through things at their own pace with just the occasional gentle nudge from Mrs Jennings to stay on task. I remember thinking, “I want to do that when I’m older.”

What I haven’t included are all the teachers I’ve worked with as an adult. So many of them could fit these categories. From Mrs Redshaw, the class teacher I worked with on my first PGCE placement to Miss Noble who taught me to make sure every day is just a little bit magical for the children in her class to my current SLT who I learn from every single day. I’ve worked with the some of best teachers you’ll ever meet (I’ve not met all teachers but just trust me on this) and I’ve learnt from them all.

So – who would be your three?

Twas The Night Before Ofsted

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In the penultimate week of the Autumn term 2014 we received The Call. You know, from Ofsted. As I’m sure you can imagine/know first hand – the 24 hours between getting the call and Ofsted arriving are the most intense, hysterical and exhausting you’ll ever experience when working in a school. Moods swing unpredictably between anxious and stressed to hysterical and giddy; before my first Ofsted inspection in 2011 I had a light-saber battle with the head teacher (using rolls of backing paper because light-sabers aren’t allowed in schools.)

I digress. The first thing a school has to decide is how  and when to tell the staff. Ideally this is done as soon as possible to give everyone maximum time to prepare. This normally involves putting all the children into the hall for a “surprise assembly” and calling everyone to the staffroom ASAP. Phone calls are made to loved ones, childcare arrangements are made and various takeaways are ordered. Perhaps the only enjoyable aspect of those 24 hours is the “Blitz spirit” that takes hold. Parents, partners and friends turn up to help tidy book corners, prepare resources and make coffee; all differences and niggles are put aside as everyone pulls together for the sake of the school.

As you can imagine I had a lot to do in the 24 hours between “The Call” and “The Inspection” but for some reason ( I blame the aforementioned “giddiness”) before planning my lessons or preparing for my interview I decided to write this poem which I shared with the staff over fish and chips that night.

I would like to dedicate this post to all the lovely staff at that school who were, and continue to be, outstanding in every way.

‘Twas The Night Before Ofsted

‘Twas the night before Ofsted, and in every room,

Was a feeling that they’d be arriving quite soon.

The SEF is submitted, the lessons are planned,

The result undecided as we prepare our hand.

 –

The Tracker is ready, the Raise is all green,

The Learning Environments are a sight to be seen.

Fish and chips are consumed as we hash out our days,

That’ll show we’re outstanding, in so many ways!

 –

Paper on everything; tables, desk, floor,

Don’t worry about pens we’ve ordered some more.

Next-steps and targets are ready to go,

But secretly I’m praying for quite heavy snow.

 –

Will the inspectors be kind, good natured and human?

Will they be warm in the interview with myself and Miss Newman?

Will they recognise all of the good we do here?

And will they be sweetened by our Christmas cheer?

 –

They can’t fail to see how brilliant we are,

The children will wow them; they’re all superstars,

Our school is outstanding we all know it’s true.

If you can’t see that Ofsted, then no presents for you.