Teachers Doing It Wrong Revisited

tsunamiAbout five years ago, I wrote a post suggesting that teachers needed to be lazier, look for shortcuts, and resist the pressure to work long hours.

Everybody ignored me, of course.

As we accelerate towards these new GCSEs, I’m being hit with a tsunami of resources created by other teachers: practice papers, posters, guides, crib sheets, tips, and so on. These are a godsend, bypassing as they do the commercial resources and foiling the government’s plan to help their friends the publishers make a killing on the new, ‘harder’ GCSEs and A Levels.

But every single one of these resources has been created by a teacher in his or her own time. None of us get time within the contracted hours to produce any of this stuff. I get two and a half hours per week planning, preparation and assessment time. Of course, it’s reasonable to expect a teacher to work for a few hours beyond the limits of the school day. But how much is reasonable?

For me, nobody should be working more than, say, 37 hours per week without overtime pay. 35 hours is a reasonable working week: 7 hours a day with an hour or so break/lunch, meaning you’re on site for somewhere over 8 hours a day. At a stretch, in a week with a parents’ evening or something, I might have to put up with a 40-hour week. But this is 2017, and nobody should really have to be working 40 hours a week. Only in some dystopian science fiction future would you be doing that.

But then you hear these horror stories about teachers working 60-hour weeks in order to stay on top of the marking and the planning, and to create all these resources. And you see TES and Guardian articles about teachers cracking up, or leaving the profession early, or otherwise crying out for respite.

A standard teacher (outside London) at the top of the upper pay scale, working a 60 hour week, is earning just over £16 per hour. That’s not particularly good, and even worse if that same teacher is doing any work at all in the school holidays, because I’ve divided the annual salary by 39, which is the number of weeks you work in a school year. The reality of course is that the holidays are paid, so dividing the year by 52 means that a 60-hour week is paid at £12.26 per hour. Twelve pounds and twenty six pence.

If, on the other hand, you limit yourself to a more reasonable working week (37 hours), you’re on about £19.88 per hour.

Laziness being the key, I thought I’d take a look at my own working hours by keeping a spreadsheet for a few weeks. Last week, a four-day week (bank holiday), I worked just over 30 hours, which would equate to a tad under 38 hours in a normal week.

Am I on top of all my marking? No. But how could I be? By working an extra 10-15 hours, maybe, but why should I do that? Fuck the marking.

Did I produce a bunch of whizzy resources and share them on the internet? No. But how could I, except by working an extra 10-15 hours? Fuck the resources.

I used to follow teachers on Twitter, but then for my own mental health, I stopped. I shouldn’t even be writing this, but I’m doing it as a public service, just to spell it out.

If you’re a teacher and you take work home, stop. Stop working weekends. Stop working holidays. Stop trying to stay on top of it. You’ll say you’re doing it for the students, but the best thing you can do for your students is be the best teacher you can be in the hours you are paid for being a teacher.

While we’re here, stop tweeting about teaching, stop reading shit about amazing new tips and techniques, stop spending all your waking hours thinking about your fucking job.

If their own parents cared about them, your students wouldn’t be enduring their education under a government run by privately educated millionaires. If their own parents aren’t willing to light some fucking fires under some fucking politicians, why are you staying up late into the night creating practice exam papers?

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Port Designs LED backpack

IMG_9213Although I only recently bought a new backpack for work, when I saw this in my favourite shop (Nature et Découvertes), I thought about it for a few days and then went back and bought it.

My requirements are quite simple these days. I’m a teacher but I travel light. If I need to transport a set of books, I just carry them in a plastic crate. If I’m given a piece of paper in a meeting, I “lose it” quite quickly. This time last year, when I found myself in the unaccustomed position of not having a classroom base, I found myself having to lug all kinds of shit around (you can’t trust that board markers or blank paper will be in your next classroom, for example), and it was depressing and heavy. Now I have a base again, I need my laptop and a few spare ink cartridges. I take a bottle of water, but I rarely bother with lunch these days.

So the small backpack I bought (in the same shop, oy) in February was fine, and I’d been steeling myself to cycle to work as soon as the weather was better. To push myself, I’ve also added front and rear lights, and even purchased a lock, just in case I couldn’t fit my bike in the cupboard at the back of my classroom.

But then, as I say, I saw this bag. Same as the old bag, really, except it has a built-in LED light that can be used to signal left and right, straight on, and, um, !, I suppose for danger.

It cost €150, which is a bit steep, but I was so tickled by its novelty that I bought it anyway.

It comes with a built-in USB cable for charging, and on-off button and has a supposed battery life of up to 40 hours. There’s a small plastic remote control for switching the lights on and off, but you’d better not lose this, because there’s no other way to do it.

The remote will clip over something, or slip inside a mesh pocket on the rucksack strap, or can be attached to your handlebars. You hold the centre button for a couple of seconds to turn the thing on and off, and then you can push the buttons to signal.

Here’s the thing. You’re on your bike, right, and you want to signal left. Is this thing on? You think so. But the light on the remote flashes whether it is or not. So you don’t know. So you stop, heave of your backpack, and check. Yep. Working. When not signalling, it kind of cycles through the LEDs in a pattern. So you carry on again, and you get to a dangerous roundabout on the A43 and you signal right, look over your shoulder, and use a clear hand signal, and you hope it’s on, right?

I think it was on. I like the idea of having a clear signal as well as my hand signals. Sometimes, you need both hands on your handlebars after signalling, and it’s nice to have the backup. But the fact that you can’t really see it’s working is an issue. I suspect drivers will find the thing a novelty.

Most people would say panniers are better for commuting, and they are. But my main bike is not one to put panniers on. So if you need a backpack, this is one. And it has lights.

Bit expensive though.

A dilemma

businesswoman with megaphone held to her headBeing the versatile person I am, I currently teach three different subjects in my own personal fiefdom, with one other member of staff.

One of the things I utterly detest about teaching are the meetings. While you sometimes need to get people together to discuss stuff, most of the bi-weekly meetings we have are a colossal waste of time, either repeating the same BS over and over, or aimed at a much smaller group of people but nevertheless directed, aimlessly, at everyone.

Because I am, nominally, a head of department, I have to go not only to the soul-destroying general staff meetings but to the ‘curriculum leaders’ meetings too, in addition to the year team meetings. Then there are the department meetings, which although they can be useful are largely superfluous because I work closely with my one other colleague and we have mini meetings all the time. On top of all those you get your parents’ evenings, open evenings, options evenings, which wouldn’t be so bad except they’re often the third ‘meeting’ you have in a single week.

So. Meetings, most of which are arranged simply because as teachers we are obliged to work a certain number of hours. Some schools, I know, just direct staff to, you know, spend this time planning lessons and marking work, but in our school there’s a fetish for meetings.

If I could do my job without going to these meetings, I would. I get a little extra money for being a head of department, but I consider that the payment for being in charge of all the paperwork and exam/coursework admin, the detailed knowledge of the specifications, writing schemes of work, the burden of doing most of the assessment and for teaching the bulk of the hours.

So it turns out that our recently appointed head wants to combine my department (three subjects) with another three one-person subjects, so that only one of us has to go to all the curriculum leaders meetings. I kind of suspected this would be on the cards, and I already knew I didn’t want to do it. If I could be one of the lucky few who gets not to go to one bunch of meetings, I’d be a lot happier.

Except.

One of the three subjects has a very overbearing character in charge of it. A bit of a blow-hard, a person who doesn’t make it easy to get a word in edgewise. But her/his worst sin is a reputation for running to the boss all the time about the slightest little thing. It’s got so that I’ve stopped giving my opinion about anything within her/his earshot, because it’s certain to be reported back to the head. My own approach to life is to fly under the radar, sort myself out, and call upon outside agencies only when absolutely necessary. For example, I’ve kept my suite of Macs running, without interruption or loss of work, for seven years with very little technical support.

Anyway, this overbearing person would be up for the job, the in-charge-of-six-subjects job. Neither I nor any of the other teachers concerned would be happy for this to be the case. We all think s/he is overbearing and we all feel the same trust issues with regard to speaking openly.

Which leaves me with the dilemma. Do I let this happen and end up with a horrible line manager, or do I apply for this job I don’t want and go through the motions of pretending I want it?