The last three weeks at school have been challenging to say the least. We had an Ofsted inspection; rarely a cause for celebration and certainly not in this case. It went well for me personally, but I am part of a community and it didn’t go so well for others. People were upset, over-tired, worried. It wasn’t nice. Morale has been low for weeks now and despite SLT cheerfully sharing good news bulletins with us every day to boost us up, it’s just made some staff feel even more resentful and fed up.
Behaviour has also not been great. Looking back, I blame the weather in part. The kids have been cooped up inside because to go outside was to get soaked, frostbitten or blown away. A lot of our pupils choose not to wear coats as they think their blazers are a suitable alternative. They most definitely are not. Cue nearly 1200 children cramming into the dining room, the corridors, the few tutor rooms that have kindly been left open for them to spend their break and lunch times in relative warmth. The result has been some kind of cabin fever; kids losing the plot by during period 6 and going wild.
One day a couple of weeks ago I was so fed up, so tired, that when one of my girls arrived without a pen (as she does EVERY LESSON), I lost the plot. I shouted for quite some time at the whole class about “taking responsibility for their own learning!” and refused to lend this girl a pen. I even felt a twinge of annoyance at the kind boy who did lend her one; “How will she ever learn?!”
This end to the day immediately clouded my judgement… gone was the memory of the fantastic Year 9 lesson where I’d been observed by new teachers who wanted to learn about effective questioning; forgotten was the brilliant response from my Year 10 boys group to their first encounter with A View From The Bridge. As far as I could recall, it had been a rubbish day; behaviour was terrible and there was nothing I could do about it.
And so it went on. Each day started with the memory of something bad that had happened in the last. Over the last few weeks I’ve sat with a crying NQT whose Year 7s had driven her to breaking point; I’ve listened to more than one experienced member of staff telling me that they can’t remember it being so bad, and I’ve joined in with the usual “I’m looking for another job” chat that goes on in the staffroom after a bad day. This is something I never do. I don’t jump ship when things get tough.
One day last week I went home feeling pretty defeated, once again. My Year 10s had been argumentative and lazy, my Year 9s had let me down with their inability to follow simple instructions and 4 kids had not turned up to their after-school detentions. I was furious and when I got home I just cried.
I had two more days of teaching before half term. I was dreading them. I just wanted to sleep and hide under my duvet until summer time. As this was not an option, I decided to push once more and try to reflect on what had gone wrong.
I wrote a new seating plan for two of my classes who had produced less than adequate work recently. I expected them to kick off but they didn’t. They just did it and got on with their work better than they had done for a couple of weeks. Simple solution; they just needed to be reminded of my expectations without me yelling them across the room.
I reminded myself of the school behaviour management policy. I’ve been at my school for 6 years and I pride myself on being able to manage behaviour for learning very well but lately I had been forgetting the basics and taking things for granted. I stayed calm with the girl who never brings her pen but phoned her parents at break time. I had NEVER done this before. I had just accepted that it was her problem and not mine.
I made my tutor group line up outside the classroom for registration instead of just drifting in as a noisy rabble and using tutor time as an extension of their lunch. It worked. They calmed down and we watched Newsround. It was lovely.
I didn’t just pass the detention non-arrivals to a Head of Year or the Head of English. I worked with them, spoke to tutors, asked the office to call home and rearrange the detentions and eventually got all of them back after school to do the work they had not handed in first time around.
At the end of that day I realised I’d done it. I’d had my first genuinely good day for several weeks. I’d ironed out the problems with simple solutions that had been available to me the whole time. Behaviour at my school was not “awful” as I’d said to a friend earlier that week. The problem was that I had temporarily given up. This was a very difficult half term; Oftsed, the wintery weather, post-Christmas blues and various other things had beaten me up a bit. I had privately blamed SLT and the children for every problem and not considered my own exhaustion as a factor.
It’s easy to say all this now, on the first weekend of the half-term break with plenty of sleep and lazy days ahead of me, but the reason I write this blog is so that I can look back and reflect on the things that I’ve experienced. I hope that I feel this positive when school starts again in a week. I hope that the weather is better and I hope that all of my friends and colleagues get lots of well-earned rest so that they come back refreshed and cheerful.
I hope that’s not too much to ask.