Wednesday, 24 December 2014

#Nurture 1415

This year had been an interesting one, and initially, not all for the best of reasons. This time last year I was signed off work, and could not contemplate the thought of stepping into a school again, even worse the last thing I wanted to do was teach. 
   Thankfully, things got much better and choosing a mere 5 from all the good stuff that eventually happened will actually be quite hard, so please forgive me a wee bit of cheating. 

Good Stuff of 2014

1. The de-singlification of the Nelson.  

I started teaching in my late 20s, and to be honest, in terms of a personal life and a love life, both were in short supply over those 12 years. As far as the love life thing is concerned, I may as well have joined a convent.  I'd bantered with my now OH on Twitter for a good few months before we actually met (initially, I had even blocked him as I found him a bit scary) in October 2013. Out of which came the most tentative of friendships. To use the phrase 'slow burner' would be a severe understatement. But, after a MAMMOTH cleaning session of his house (I was off work, and wanted to feel useful), which was frankly a HORRIFYING mess when I first encountered it, we became much closer friends,  Later on, this lead to a Muppet Movie night where friendship changed into cosy coupledom.  Nine months later, we are still together despite nearly giving him multiple organ failure when he bought me a Vivienne Westwood handbag for my 40th. Something he reminds me of OFTEN. 

2. Being published in a real-life bonefide book! 

Firstly, in 2014 I stayed with Rachel Jones many times, who on one occasion was BUZZING after becoming a Google Certified Educator. Rachel had an idea of asking various edu-Twitter types to send her 10 top teaching tips that she could compile into an e-book, selling for a nominal amount with proceeds going to a children's charity. I helped a tiny bit by asking a few people to contribute, whilst Rachel constructed a Google form for us to use, and later formatted it into a beautiful e-book on some clever bit of Apple software. 
    As well as I, who is a petite fromage in the scheme of things, there are such Twitter grande fromages as Vic Goddard, Andrew Old, John Tomsett, Alex Quigley, Tom Starkey, Chocotzar, and the lovely Rachel Jones herself. 
   Before long, Crown House got wind of it, got in touch and offered to publish it into a real book! A REAL BOOK called 'Don't Change the Lightbulbs.' proceeds of which go to charity. Click on the link to get your own copy. 
  The book launch was great, and somehow I managed to talk to the whole of Twitter about literacy, and more inexplicably, told Twitter to 'grow a pair' and just get on with it. 
  The launch became a mixture of Edu-Twitter-Pokemon, the mission getting fellow contributors to sign their pages, and a selfie-a-thon getting your self snapped with the grander fromages. I'm STILL dead chuffed that I met Vic Goddard. 

Right, in a typical English teacher way, I've been quite verbose. Succinct Nelson, be succinct! 

3. Published again  - but in picture form! 

This is down to two remarkable forces of nature, @Chocotzar  who wrote a really moving blog about a pupil at her school who needed and deserved a holiday, sadly the likelihood of  that actually happening was zero. @Cazwebbo quickly cottoned on, and whipped us up  into posing for holiday themed pictures frenzy, in order to create a calendar to raise money for the Family Holiday Association.  Thus was born the 'Sweet Dreams Desk Diary 2015'. Still available to purchase! (Carol, my mum bought a job lot, meaning my sister got one, whether she wanted it or not.)
  A few of us clubbed together for a photo-shoot in Manchester - thanks LOTS to Carol for organising, Cherryl and Carolyn for helping this camera-phobic through the photo shoot. The combined efforts of these friends, the photographer and make-up artist meant I did not look like a grimacing corpse. Miracle. 

Still not succinct...sigh...

4. Maintaining and building various Twitter friendships, and making the most of opportunities.

2014 meant attending quite a few Twitter edu-events: Pedagoo London, Policy Exchange bash, a few Teach Meets, Research Ed, the London Currries, Wellington Education Festival and Starkeyfest in Leeds; whilst also meeting up with old and new Twitter friends individually. Out of which has grown an increasing amount of strong friendships, a sisterhood - you know who you are - who have seen me through my darkest of days; even better pulling me away from my walk with The Black Dog.
  This has also lead to great opportunities - most memorable being getting into the Master's Lodge at Wellington due to my OH being a speaker at the festival. I ate lots of good cake, I saw numerous famous types, which was bewlidering, and Oliver Beach from Tough Young Teachers (see what I did there Oliver), who, it has to be said gives a very fine hug indeed. 
  Later on, I gate-crashed a meeting with Sean Harford (the new Ofsted head honcho), Andrew Old and David Didau, and later on attended a meeting with Mike Cladingbowl (the out-going Ofsted head-honcho) and various other Twitter folk at Ofsted Towers in London.        At Research Ed in September I introduced Mike Cladingbowl and Sean Harford (to be interviewed by Andrew Old) to a huge hall full of people, during which I called Mike the 'Grande Fromage' and Sean 'a not quite so Grande Fromage' of Ofsted. Mike nearly spat out his tea, Sean virtually choked on his biscuit, Andrew stared at the floor, my knees nearly buckled. Kev Bartle told me he loved it. The tumble-weed response of the rest of the hall suggested the potential idea of a stand-up comedian being a second string to my bow, blew slowly away with the forlorn tumble-weed. 

5. Getting back to work

In May I found a part-time FE post teaching A-Level and GCSE English. By that point I had been off work for 7 months, my salary would end for definite in August as literally a few days prior to applying for this job, I had resigned from the old one. As interviews go, it felt very high stakes. However, the stars  were aligned and I got the job! For the lengthy version, click here.  The response from Twitter after I tweeted I'd got the job, was AMAZING. My timeline went bonkers with lovelieness for HOURS. 
  In short, the move to FE and being part-time was exactly the right thing to do. I love students, staff, colleagues and my boss is sound as a pound.  Although, thanks to the hideous road-works on the A5, the commute home is a real ARSE. 

Bonus Bit
Oh and this is too memorable not to mention. I had the FUNNIEST time on Twitter after Stuart Lock tweeted a picture of a fox in his garden, which none of us could see. Thus ensued what is fondly known as #Foxgate - well fondly for everyone except Stuart that is. 

One more Bonus bit
Over the past 18 months to 2 years I have participated in @ieshasmall's  photography journal of people who have had, currently dealing with, or recovering from depression. It is also on Twitter as @mindshackles - do click on the link to view. 
    Other participants I know are Rachel Jones and Andy Knill. It has been a really rewarding experience. Iesha is great company, knows her medium of photography, and documents our stories with heart and diligence. Our last sesssion was at The Globe on The Southbank, where as gronudlings we watched a great production of A Comedy of Errors. 
   Thank you so much for asking me to participate Iesha, it has been life affirming. 

Hopes for 2015

1. To celebrate a proper anniversary with 'im indoors. 

We are but 3 months away dearest, what shall we do to celebrate our 12 month adversary (that was a typo in a text to him a while back, but 'adversary' seems to have stuck)? I'm thinking something Muppet related. Just an idea. I think another Vivienne Westwood handbag might give him actual multiple organ failure. 

2.. To spend more time  with friends, to nurture those friendships better

I am fortunate that I have great friends. I know some wonderful people. I don't see or talk to them as much as I'd like. My past 18 months or so walking with The Black Dog has not helped these friendships much, neither does my phone-phobic nature. Friendships need nurturing, I need to nurture them far better. 

3.  To grow my confidence back as a teacher

I'm getting there, really I am, but after being off work for 10 months and the after-shock of being in an untenable situation at work, epic levels of stress and the stuffing being knocked out of me, it doesn't take much for the insidiousness of self-doubt and anxiety to creep in. Also, I'm teaching all new texts (to me) in my A-Level courses, it's terrifying. BUT SO MANY Twitter folk have Drop-boxed me resources, and I would have sunk into a pool of my own stress dribble if not for their help, I am HUGELY grateful. Next year is new A-Level Specs' so, it is no easy ride next year either, but it's the challenge I like. 
Already I am thinking of how to teach better, much better. 
  I'd like to start attending Teach Meets again, and have a crack at presenting once more. It terrifies me, but it will get easier the more I do it. 

4. To go on holiday in the school summer holiday

Not something I've actually done. Ever. The main hurdles are: money and to persuade the OH that not ALL foreign places 'smell of wee' so that we can at least get out of the UK on said holiday. 

5. Do some more tutoring

Currently this is a bit of an experiment, but recently I have done some 1:1 tutoring with the son of the folk who run my local sub-Post Office. I tell you, an hour barely seems long enough. It's very enjoyable, it's a little extra pocket money, it's another string to by bow and it could be developed. My pay is much less than it was, so I'll have to see how it goes. Plus I need to keep Mr. Tax Man in mind if this little venture is to grow. (If there is anyone who can give me advice on this, please do so. I am Mrs. Clueless here). 

Hurrah, finished! Well done for getting to the end! 

There are a few other things I'd like to do, many no less important than the ones above (cheating, sorry):

  1. I want my new students to better than both they and I expect in their exams in May and June. 
  2. Hear the words 'lesson observation' without tumbling into the well of anxiety and almost lurching into the zone of panic attack. 
  3. Do bloody awesomely in said lesson observation -  by that I mean get through it without panicking. 
  4. Go on the super-long zip-wire in Blaenau Ffestiniog and do Bounce Below (boinging on trampolines in a cave) also at Blaenau wiith a group of friends. 
  5. Do  something else wacky - like a parachute jump, or a hot-air balloon ride. 
  6. Get another discrete tattoo, Welsh and Wales being the theme. It's my 40th year and it will also be 10 years since dad passed away in November 2005. Ergo, it seems sort of right. Suggestions welcome. 
  7. Do more Yoga - it helps with my rubbish feet and general aches and pains. 
  8. Get more comfortably into my size 12 clothes - cosy coupledom has equalled weight gain. 
  9. Do an assault course again. I don't think I'd survive Tough Guy again, but something in the 10K region would be do-able. 
  10. Exercise at least 3 times a week, 4 if I can. (Which will help with No. 7)
  11. Write on this blog more regularly. I've been very cautious since behaviours of certain people at my old work meant I knew I was being 'monitored' - but they never openly admitted it, just mentioned stuff I'd tweeted or blogged about in passing. Way to make you paranoid, huh? Being in a new job has also made me cautious of using this blog, which, initially, I think was wise. I mustn't be scared of using my voice. 
  12. Continue teaching a GCSE English class in the evening. It's very enjoyable, the students are smashing. 

Tuesday, 30 September 2014

My defection to FE: Notable differences

After 12 years at the chalk-face of three state secondary schools; I was done in. Many of my friends here on Twitter have seen me broken, battered and bruised, teetering on the edge of a dark, potentially terminal abyss. 

Here I am, 5 weeks of teaching and 7 weeks in total into my FE teIaching career (and I really DO hope this is the start of a new career in FE for me) and the differences between FE and the state secondary school sector are numerous. 

So, to borrow the words of Dylan Thomas, 'to begin at the beginning':

1. I started at my college two weeks before the students began. 

In secondary schools, if you're lucky you get two days INSET, at least one of which is a 'death by meetings and PowerPoint' day and the other a Faculty day. If particularly unlucky, you just get one day of the former, with no real time, or motivation to get yourself properly sorted for the first day's teaching. 
  Here I had a week to get settled in, find resources, get 'inducted' by my manager and I WAS left to my own devices to get myself sorted, as much as I was able, having not met any of the students yet. 
  The second week involved enrolement of students, where I was repeatedly told it would be 'manic'. All I can say is that the FE version of 'manic' is clearly very different from the secondary school version.  

2. I work for a large 'Corporation'.

    Frankly, this really unsettled me. The last time I worked for a 'Corporation' it was for The Abbey National, in their Visa Disputes Department where I was miserable, bored and little more than a battery hen. Education, a BUSINESS? What the....???
    This 'Corporateness' was bought into stark relief when I was booked into, and attended my 'Corporate Welcome Day' where we had many presentations by senior managers of  the college - most of which were at least useful in integrating us into the FE way of things; and learning about the vast range of courses and students the college caters for.  
  What was nice was that most of them made the effort to chat to us in the breaks, and get to know who we were, at least a little. This was where I nearly, but I didn't quite have the gumption for, said that I was, 'kind of a big deal on Twitter'. 

3. The manager to lecturer (teacher) ratio 

In my previous secondary school, in my English Faculty there were: Head of Faculty, Head of KS4, Head of KS3, two Heads of Year, leaving a part-timer and I as the only non-manager types. God knows what the actual ratio is, but managers clearly outnumber 'normal teachers' by a big margin. Furthermore, in the climate of a school in a certain category, this leads you to being micro-managed to within an inch of your sanity. 
  Here I am part of the 'A-Level Academy' section of the college, and above me is the 'A-Level Manager' for our site, then above her is an overall 'Academy Leader' for A-Levels across all sites that offer it.  Here, the atmosphere is much more like when I started teaching, where your Head of Faculty was 'first among equals' - a teacher who happened to have to deal with all that admin you didn't have the stomach for, who just let you get on and teach. 
  So, in effect, I am 'Head of English'. I was most amused, whilst munching on my ready-meal prior teaching my evening class, to open correspondence addressed to the 'Head of English'. Ok, so I manage myself, but that feels really rather good. 

4. I can say, 'No' to things on my timetable I am not yet ready for

I applied for the post at the college because it was part-time, and I could have had a full FE timetable if I had wanted to. However, I said, "No" because a) I didn't want to work full-time in a sector I was new to, and b) It was ANOTHER course I've not taught before (A vocational Media Studies course). 
  I could also say, "No" to a third GCSE class I was offered on another site. The fact that I could do this was, well, a revelation! 

5. My timetable - It's not bonkers! 

Last year, I had a timetable that I just could not get on with. All KS3 (bar a year 9 class) and KS4 and 5 classes were split. Split KS5 classes are the norm in secondary education, but ALL of KS3 and 4? I saw those classes for 2 hours a week. It made building relationships, the positive kind, infinitely more difficult, as with marking, and planning lessons. That was one of the nails in my secondary teacher coffin. 
   This links to the point above - it  is not entirely dictated to me. I teach 18 hours in total, 15 are part of my contract, and 3 hours are paid hourly - again my choice. MY CHOICE! I have, as part of my contract, 8 'On site hours' which is the FE equivalent of PPA time. Some of which you can complete at home.  I had to keep asking permission to leave on my half day on Tuesday, until I got the message that, 'No one clock watches around here'. There IS such a thing as  'give AND take' not 'take, take, take'. 
  In total, in my 18 hours teaching I have 5 classes: 2 GCSE, 2 AS and 1 A2 class, meaning I spend 6 hours a week with each A-Level  class and 3 hours a week (all in one chunk) with each GCSE class. This huge increase in contact time for the majority of classes means:

  • I know all their names already after 4 weeks of teaching, even the massive AS Lang/Lit class of 25 and NEARLY my massive GCSE class of 35. 
  • Planning lessons is SPEEDY. I know my classes. I am not swamped with data but I know my students pretty darn well already.
6. The 'work-load' and marking hot-potatoes

As previously mentioned, I teach for 18 hours, which is not much less than a full-time teacher's full time-table load. Perhaps, one class less? However, the marking policy is much different to secondary school where exercise books must be marked every two weeks, assessments and feedback given also within two weeks of the assessment being given (given, it's not much of a 'gift' is it?) along with homework, for each teaching group - which with that crazy shared group timetable, your number of classes nudges into double-figures, while your marking load slowly, but surely, saps the very life-blood from you.  
   Here, the expectation is that you set homework, for each group, mark it and grade it so students have weekly 'working at' grades. The only real 'extra' to this is the half-termly mocks. However, as the pupils can and want to do a good job if it, you can sit and mark while they work in silence, meaning you can start marking once classes mocks while the one you are with are doing theirs. 
   So, I am busy, there is plenty to do each day and week, but here is the crucial difference - I am not overwhelmed, permanently over-whelmed and constantly defeated by the work--load. It is actually manageable. I am tired at the end of the week, but not sapped of all strength. 

7. My team is 'A-Level' not my subject

Now, this I really like. It is much more like the Swedish Gymnasium 16-19 school I visited in Ystad, where teachers were in teams of courses, not necessarily curriculum areas.  This means a wider range of personality types, and none of the potential 'insular' or superiority complexes that one curriculum area can lord over another. Plus, no one seems particularly stressed, so this does not feed into the kind of 'stress vortex' you can find in over-worked secondary school faculty areas.  
  It's great to look discuss different subject areas and learn stuff in the process. 

8. There is LOTS of admin:

  • Lecturer's record book - basically a teacher planning system to record lecture notes and marks
  • Pen Portraits - notes are to be made for each pupil in each class about their needs, or difficulties as learners and how you intend to meet their needs in your planning. It is OK to do this later on when you have got to know your classes
  • Each class has a spreadsheet for you to record homework marks. This is monitored to see if pupils are meeting the college's high standards for their pupils. The emphasis here IS on the monitoring of the students and THEIR progress.(Although I'm sure it's something to do with monitoring teaching too, but there isn't a big deal made about this.)
  • Lots of admin is require for lesson obs - lesson plan, pen portraits, Scheme of Work you are using. 

At the moment I'm really focusing on the teaching and the marking. Am just starting to get to grips with some of the admin. 

9. Lessons are still graded and Ofsted are in for a week

It's a bit of a step back in time! As a new member of staff I'll get a developmental, ungraded lesson observation prior to a graded one. If that's the system, so be it. However, I'll not plan lessons on the basis of worrying about a one-off lesson observation or 'what Ofsted might want'.  Having said this, my mentor/buddy type person is also the UCU union rep and is steering 'The Powers That Be' into un-graded lesson observation process. 
  When I started teaching, Ofsted visits lasted a week and it is likely you'd be seen more than once. Thinking about this, I think that part in particular is FAR less stressful than the '20 minutes to prove your competence under untenable pressure' system we have had to deal with in Ofsted's recent history.

10. I am not a form tutor

Here, pastoral responsibility is with a PLA (Personal Learning Advisor) on each course. They act as a Head of Year and form tutor rolled into one. Ours is a force of nature and brilliant. 
  You don't notice or realise how much time a tutor group takes up until you don't have one any more. Therefore, I am free (yes FREE) to focus on what I am employed for - the teaching of my courses. I love that I can focus on this. 

11. How I don't feel - I am not:

Stressed, frustrated, overwhelmed, exhausted, paranoid and neurotic about errors I may make, scared of speaking to my boss, frightened to express an opinion, in a constant state of worry, miserable, defeated, lonely, isolated, or undermined. 

12. Lastly, but most importantly, the students

They are:

  • Very compliant - not in the 'Stepford Wives' sense of blind obedience, but they pretty much do as they are asked by lecturers. This is taking some getting used to. 
  • Part of a very wide and different catchment to Coventry - Rugby definitely seems more 'well-to-do' than the catchment of my previous place. Even walking around the nearby Tesco and even just walking around the college site, the LACK of expletives in general conversation is very noticeable. (The most swearing has occurred in my History Boys lessons - ALL Alan Bennett's fault). 
  • That is not to say they are spoilt and none are vulnerable - there are plenty of students with a range of potential barriers to learning, but whatever that barrier might be, they don't seem to want to let it get the better of them. 
  • They seem to have higher expectations of themselves than the pupils that I have taught over the past few years. Is this to do with them making the choice to come here? Surely it must be a factor. 
  • They call me by my first name, 'Gwen' which is odd, but rather nice. It is all part of the expectations of them behaving like adults. I'm getting used to it and think I like it more than 'Miss' - a perennial reminder of my potential to mutate into Miss. Havisham. 
  • Are here for a second, or even third chance at A-Levels and know they are in the 'palace of second chances'. I love that. 
  • They are patient - they know I am new to the college and many have passed on resources about our texts to help me out. I thought that was really sweet! 
  • They want to have feedback and can take a bit of harsh marking and detailed, honest feedback on the chin. 
  • A stern 'bollocking' -  no shouting - is really enough to get them back on track when they are not quite at their best. 
  • They are very, very, very likeable. I think I've bonded really well with all my classes, even the tricky, truculent reluctant re-sitters in my GCSE night class. 

In short, it's damn lovely. I am still busy, but I am more productive because I am less stressed, much, much, much less stressed. I wish I'd done this years ago. 

For an FE to Secondary Education transition - please read my dear, beloved friend @rlj1981's blog here

Sunday, 31 August 2014

Stepping into the Death-Star (Ofsted HQ)

Now, I see myself as very much an 'ordinary classroom teacher' - note the avoidance of the phrase 'bog standard' - as I've been told off for that before. I have been through, and survived with varying degrees of success, at least 6 Ofsted inspections in 3 very different secondary schools, and that does not include 'mini-inspections' e.g. for  subject specific ones or SEND or HMI visits. As a coping mechanism (along with chocolate, ready-meals and binging on vegetables and fruit once an inspection is over) I have taken to nicknaming Ofsted inspectors 'Death-eaters', because by the end of the inspection visit, your very soul, your essence, your being is sucked out of you leaving you dribbled, exhausted and questioning why you ever went into teaching in the first place. 

So, to find myself  within the company of Ofsted GRANDE FROMAGES - Sean Harford in June (I gate-crashed a meeting set up by @oldandrewuk and @LearningSpy) and having the cheek to ask to attend meetings set up the the GRANDEST of GRANDE FROMAGES (bar Mr. Wilshaw himself) Mike Cladingbowl it seemed my world had taken a rather surreal turn.  

To give you some further context (or a re-cap for those who know me) - I have not long left my school due to stress, depression and things that occurred within that school and in my department that I can't really comment on here. Nevertheless, over the previous months of stress and anguish over my future as a teacher, I felt that I had lost my voice. I had become frightened to express an opinion or even show a facial expression that was not in-keeping with someone else's point-of-view. Yet here I was, about to attend a meeting with Ofsted big-wigs and mostly people I didn't know. I've bolted out of a friend's Christening after party thing due to not knowing people there, and wimped out of wedding receptions for fear of turning up on my own, which gives you some clue as to where I was about 10 months ago. 

So, back to the matter in hand. The meeting, which was at 11am at Ofsted HQ, Aviation House in London. My train arrived from Middle Earth, into Euston at 10.50am meaning a serious squaddie like route-march down to the venue, whilst making sure I didn't get knocked over by a London black-cab, or provoke whithering sarcasm from a savvy London cyclist on my way.  It all got a bit John Cleese from 'Clockwork'. I arrived at Aviation House about 11.20 cursing my tardiness, and wishing I had some emergency deodorant in my rucksack as I had got a bit warm and sticky. Fear of 'teachers arm-pit'  never leaves you. 

After an all too long wait in reception, and once again being briefly in the vicinity of Mr. Wilshaw (Count Doku?), I was collected and taken into the 'Death-Star'. 

To continue the Star Wars theme, I arrived warm, sweaty and a bit flustered, in jeans and and a reasonably smart top, while everyone else looked considerably smarter than I. I was the rebel alliance. After clumsily pouring myself a coffee and making a mess, I was introduced to people and we cracked on with the meeting. 

Mike Cladingbowl
Another Ofsted chap whose name I forget
Chris Andrew (@kitandrew1)
@kingston314 (Maths teacher from Portsmouth)
Laura Ellenor (VP in a school in London)
Jo and Steve - Governers
and erm, me. 
Plus Graham Spicer who  is  Ofsted's Social Media Yoda

Thanks are due here to @kingston314 for the extensive notes he has emailed me today. Most of this next section is based on his notes, which are far more legible than my own hand-written scrawl. There will also be some cross-over and duplication with blogs people have already written about their meetings so do forgive me for that. 

1. Mike opened with discussions about Ofsted and issues over the reliability of  inspections. For  those of us on Twitter we have known that this has been an issue for some time, whilst teacher bloggers @oldandrewuk, @StuartLock and @HFletcherWood have written about this issue at some length.   Here he stated that his point of view was that inspections must have some element of flexibility, because not every school is the same. It is a simple point and hard to disagree with. However, this brings to mind a discussion @oldandrewuk had with @HarfordSean back in June, where reliability of inspection teams took up a large chunk of the discussion. Andrew suggested that, for the purposes of standardisation of Ofsted's assessment of a school, two parallel teams should inspect the same school so that the reliability and validity of the judgements of  inspections teams AND the new framework can be tested. Sean was very interested by this idea and reacted in a way that suggested this had not occurred to him before. Teachers, exam boards and departments are expected to standardise their marking so as to ensure reliability of results, therefore shouldn't the same kind of process be used to standardise the 'marking' of Ofsted inspectors? 
  Here I eventually butted in with a none-too friendly question about how Ofsted judges SLT - how is that SLT teams can be judged 'Good'  or better when: they spend 99% of  their time in their office, except when Ofsted are in; there is a high staff turn-over; there area succession of staff absent due to long-term sickness with stress etc, or that work-place bullying is evident?  There wasn't time to really answer this in the meeting, but I have emailed Graham in the hope of a response at a later date. 

2. The school's curriculum is also going to be a more prominent feature of Ofsted inspections - more specifically: curriculum design, accessibility, depth and breadth, SMSC, assessments and through reviewing the work of the students. If the curriculum is too narrow, Ofsted will be concerned. I can't help but wonder if this is a direct response to the recent Trojan Horse scandal in Birmingham schools, or concerns that have been raised over how Free Schools operate. I think it is here that Mike also suggested that personal development - of staff and pupils - should be a focus for schools, curriculum development and CPD.

3. Lesson Observations, key points discussed were that: Work does not always reflect ability, especially at the beginning of a topic or a unit of work, and this cannot be assessed in short lesson observations. Therefore, Inspectors will be looking at a wide range of evidence to form judgements about teaching. Mike was keen to dispel myths about that there should be: progress every 20 minutes; there must be an 80/20 % Student/teacher split regarding 'who does the most' in lessons; that Ofsted DO NOT HAVE A PRESCRIBED TEACHING METHOD; if pupils need to do 'XYZ' then they do 'XYZ'; that 'didactic teaching' doesn't mean boring learning; that VAK is nonesense, and personalised learning is not necessarily feasible every lesson.  Here I think I butted in to make the point that is feasible to hit the 'Good' and 'Outstanding' criteria over a series of lessons, but to do so in one lesson rarely is. Progress IS over time so show the inspectors that using your data. 

4. SLT and lesson grading: Mike was very forthright here, stating that SLT should not be using 'Ofsted' as a stick to beat teachers with; that they shouldn't be conducting 'Mocksteds', or learning walks to make judgements about teaching and learning, or to  justify grading individual teachers.
     I think I butted in again here as a recent defector to the FE sector, and having just been through 2 days staff training, one of which was about teaching and learning. I was told, in no uncertain terms, that I will have a formative observation and a graded one in my 9 month probation period, and the emphasis here was that to get 'Good' or better was on 'active learning'. I've signed my contract, this is what I have agreed to, I'm not going to launch into a barrage of criticism.
   However, I did point out that I was coming out of a sector that is now, slowly getting rid of graded lesson observations, and where didactic teaching methods doesn't necessarily mean career suicide, into one where lesson grading is still very much a 'thing' and that 'Outstanding' appeared to mean 'bells and whistles' lessons. My question was, 'Shouldn't there be parity across sectors for Ofsted inspections?' 
  Pleasingly, Mike told me that non-graded lesson observations in FE inspections are now being piloted with the hope that this will be sector-wide later on.  Fortunately, my mentor at college is also the UCU rep, so  I made sure I told her of this as soon as I could Friday morning. 

5. IGCSE/GCSE/Early entry.  This discussion was quite brief and Mike would not be drawn on school league table performance measures. However, it was a agreed that schools gaming the exam system via multiple and early entry was a bad thing and needed to stop. Often these decisions are made on the basis of the league table results desired, not what is necessarily best for the pupils. IF a school does decide to continue with early entry, this must be justified to the inspector.  I have never understood the logic of  early entry for my subject, English, for it seems a nonsense to enter pupils for an exam when they are minus another 9 months exposure to more vocabulary.  Vocabulary is KING for English exams. I also think it is ludicrously expensive - where else could that money be spent I wonder?

6. Inspectors and inspector training. Here Chris Andrew had much to contribute as a recently trained Ofsted Inspector (with Tribal). In short he thought his trainer was great, but the materials appalling. Chris asked Mike if, 'Two days was really enough to get a fully rounded picture of a school?' Here he spoke about the high stakes and the pressure from an Inspector's point of view, stating that he would prefer more time to do a better job.  Mike also spoke about how inspections of 'Good' or better schools would be more 'light touch' more akin to a HMI visit, in order to see that the schools' trajectory is still upwards. Here Laura also spoke about the intense pressure of being in a Category 3 or 4 school and that in reality, it can take about 5 years to turn such a school around, and that frequent interference from Ofsted wasn't necessarily a help.  Here I asked if 'normal' teachers (non-managers) could be seconded to Ofsted for CPD - why only the proviso of leaders? 

7. The school Governors both brought up the demise of the standardised SEF - as they seemed to give schools a focus and mechanism for self-improvement and voiced concerns over the standard of Governor training (a 'free for all' according to Jo) and if Governors would receive a separate judgement. Mike noted down the concerns over training and stated that Governors are an integral part of a school so should not receive a separate judgement. 

8. Inform Ofsted - if you are unhappy with the how an inspection in conducted, or you cannot fathom how a judgement has been reached. Although, ultimately, it IS the Head-teacher's and SLTs' responsibility to get on with the Lead Inspector. Also there needs to be greater communication between teaching unions, Ofsted and SLT. 

9. Mike seems to get frustrated how Ofsted inspections or schools over complicate the process, so thought that the following should keep people focused:

  • Does the school promote improvement?
  • Is the school value for money?
  • Are state funds being used properly? 
  • Pupil Premium - do you have a clear breakdown? There is Ofsted guidance online for this.
  • Does the school listen to teachers, student, parents and Governors? 

10. Lastly, the biscuits we all wish we had in the meeting. I give you, McVities Chocolate HobNob - which should be the minimum standard of biscuit for future Ofsted meetings. (Bourbons are also acceptable). 

Finally, huge thanks to Mike Cladingbowl for having us all there, for being welcoming, listening, for having a sense of humour, for being an English teacher, and for wanting the best for teachers as well as pupils in schools. As I thought about the meeting on the train home, I thought that I'd have enjoyed working for Mike Cladingbowl when he was a head teacher. Sir, I can give you no better compliment than that. 

Saturday, 5 July 2014

The One About the Interview: Part the Second

Preparation the Twitter Way: The interview.

With a spot of Googling.

The Monday after I'd submitted the application, I found a message on my voice-mail requesting that I come for interview Thursday that same week. THAT. SAME. WEEK. CRIKEY. The interview would comprise of:

a) a 15 minute 'micro-teach' - (What the flock was that?) about 'An introduction to Spoken Language Analysis' although no information was give as to WHO I'd be teaching or as to what level. Cripes.

b) an interview

Like Goose in THAT bit of "Top Gun" I went into a bit of a tail-spin. I had to go for a walk or have a swim to clear my thoughts, and work out how best to prepare. I think I emailed the HR lady several times asking, 'Is that really it, REALLY?'.

Thankfully, Twitter once again proved invaluable.

I started by Carolyn O'Connor (@Clyn40) who I had met at #StarkeyFest in Leeds in the Easter holidays. She suggested I read the 'Wolf Report' which was about how FE needs to develop for the post-16 sector. I also had to ask her "WHAT the heck is a 'micro-teach' and what are they looking for?". I think she told me to make sure your objective is clear, keep it focused and just teach. They are looking for how you interact and potentially develop relationships with your pupils. Sound advice.

I then set about contacting Sarah Simons (@MrsSarahSimons), another ace person I'd met at #StarkeyFest tweet up in April, about both the interview and the blessed 'micro-teach'. Sarah gave me ample advice about the interview, advising me to think about barriers to learning in the post-16 sector.

My other FE saviour was Dan Williams (@FurtherEdagogy) who sent me DM after DM about what to expect in the interview - typical questions, what they actually mean, things to consider, what they are looking for and once again, like Tom Starkey, got me to think about how my range of skills in Secondary Education can transfer easily into FE.

Still in a mild state of panic I contacted Jamie Warner Lynne (@deadshelley) about the lesson content for the micro-teach, and god bless him, he sent me some resources containing 3 very short conversations, and told me how he used them. Embarrassingly, I spent about 3 hours faffing around with the resources, (my GOD planning a lesson is hard when you don't know WHO you are delivering it to) and wrote what can best be described as the most epic lesson plan ever written for 15 minutes of teaching. Ironically, neither my interviewers or I even looked at it or referred to it on the day. Talk about over prepared.

The Googling bit:

1. I found and read their Ofsted report - which was very positive - and gave me a sense of some of the differences between sec' ed' and Post-16 education.

2. I looked for 'FE Teaching interview advice' on Google and found a great Pdf document from an established FE trainer. It contained much good advice about what the interview is actually like, and the kinds of questions asked. I made notes of the questions - merely so I could think about them, rather than write scripted responsed.

3. The Wolf Report - easily Google-able and a useful read, thanks Carolyn.

Lastly, I read the College website very thoroughly, both for writing the application letter and for interview preparation.

I stopped interview faffing at around 9pm, watched some kind of television, got out the interview outfit ready (for the fashionistas: a cotton navy shift dress and linen nave jacket)and went to bed in a futile attempt to sleep.

Interview Day: 15th May 2014
Interview Time: 10:30 am
(I feel that deserves a Patrick Stewart as Jean Luc Picard voice-over).

I got up stupidly early to do my ablutions, then force fed myself some breakfast.  Knowing and feeling my anxiety bubble up, I thought it wise (or OK, or at least not a bad thing) to take some of the anxiety medication I'd been presribed months ago, but had yet to use.

I arrived at the college, a good 40 minute drive away from me, just after 10:00 am and sat in the car to: check my 'phone and found lots of lovely good luck messages (thank you @rlj1981, @Chocotzar and @betsysalt and for @oldandrewuk's Vulcan like logic telling me,"It's your first interview for a job for September, so no need to put all your eggs in one basket and worry."; look through that stupidly epic lesson plan, my notes about possible question, and do some calming breathing exercises before walking to the college reception. I signed in at reception, got my ID badge thingummy, waited then figited, just a little.

One of my favourite good luck messages was from @fleckneymike - who is normally ascerbic, cynical, arrogant and a damn fine Media Studies teacher. If you easily take offence at @oldandrewuk, for God's sake don't follow @fleckneymike.  However, his tweets were so LOVELY I took a screen shot of them: (Forgive me for this Mike!): 


Observations about the FE Interview process

Now, what is worth noting here is that no other candidates were waiting with me. If there were any, we were being seen consecutively as individuals, rather than the secondary school "Hunger Games" approach. This very much gave me the impression that I was being judged on my own merits, rather than pitched against others directly.

The interview lasted, literally (and I am using the word correctly here @oldandrewuk) just over an hour and went as follows:

1. Met in reception by the A-Level admin support lady. I tried to engage her in chat as we strode up the stairs to the next floor. She struck me as supremely efficient through her economy of language, when I asked her what she did, she replied with, 'Everything to do with A-Levels.' When I pressed her for more information, once again, I had, 'I do everything.' So then preceeded with admiring observations about the building, which, built in 2012, to my eyes looked very sparkly and new.

2. I was taken to the A-Level teaching corridor and met my interviewers J and K. They were (I'm wording this so very carefully) mature ladies, who were not suited and booted, who turned out to be welcoming and friendly.

3. J and K explained to me the running order to the interview (note, NOT day) which was 1. Micro-teaching and as the students were all busy with exams, they were to be my pupils. (Here I think the anxiety medication really did me well, for I did not panic, smiled and replied with an, "Oh, excellent, how interesting, I think I'll enjoy this." and did not flap too much). 2. The interview which would comprise of a standard set of questions that would be asked to all candidates.

4. The Micro-teaching synopsis: a) read through transcript 1 between black man and police officer, can they work out which is which speaker and why? What else did they notice about the relationship between speakers

b) Read through transcript 2, from a play, what did they notice about the dialogue, what indicated it is constructed rather than spontaneous speech? Disucssion ensues.

c) Hand out a small spoken language terms glossary, work in pairs to find examples of forms of spoken language in transcipts read so far - point out identifying features is a lower order thinking skill, higher order stuff to follow.

d) read and analyse 3rd transcript, 2 men discussing football, what does the language tell us about the relationship between speakers? How do they know? Compare to transcript 1.

e) Draw conclusions - have they changed their minds about any of the transcript/speakers/language from assumptions made at the beginning - an interesting discussion ensued!

f) I thanked them for being good students and said how much I'd enjoyed teaching them - both of which were true. I was SO happy I had enjoyed teaching for those 15 minutes.

5. Interview questions: There were about 10 in total. Most not too different from secondary school ones e.g. Describe a lesson that showed stretch and challenge (or something like that) - where I narrated Year 8 analysing the 'Lonely as an oyster' simile from Scrooge, taken from my blogpost 'Let's Keep Things Shrimple' (ahh, the benefits of blogging, so good for memory!) and a lower ability Year 10 class's fascination with Oliver Twist. I nearly came a cropper on the 'Safeguarding' question about a pupil seen to be consuming alcohol during a school production, almost forgetting to say, 'and refer the incident to the member of staff with Safeguarding responsibility' but got it in there before the final question on 'barriers to learning' which I found easy to answer, and the answer came very fleuntly. The interview ended, telephone numbers were exchanged and I was told I'd find out that evening or the following morning.

6. I asked to have a tour around the site as that had not happened earlier on in the day, so the uber-efficient A-Level admin lady showed me around the rather nice building and its facilities. (It has a gym I can use for free!). I felt she had softened a bit the second time she met me and we had a much warmer chat as we walked around. We bid each other goodbye and she told me she had to get ready for the next candidate.

7. I signed out and ambled back to my car quite content as I could feel it in my bones that it went as well as I could have hoped. PLUS the nerves and anxiety, although present, had not lead me to self-sabotage my way out of a possible job. All I could do now was hope that the other candidates, were, *cough* a bit pants.

I came home and lord knows what I did to occupy myself the rest of the day. I think I went to the gym or swam that evening to distract myself. Later that evening, as I had just finished eating my dinner, my mobile phone rang. It was J. I briefly stopped breathing and my heart thudded a little too loudly.

J, "Hello, Gwen?"

"Hello J, thank you for calling."

J, "I am pleased to say, we'd like to offer you the position of Lecturer for GCSE and A-Level English."

Slightly too high pitched and excitable, I respond with, "Oh REALLY? You've just made my day!"

I think I may have punched the air at this point.

J, who was a little taken aback by my enthusiastic response replies with, "Oh. Well, my pleasure." This next bit surprised me a little, "the others really didn't come close to you, so you have nothing to worry about there." 
A little taken aback, I reply, "Oh, goodness, thank you." 

J, "We'd like to start you on the upper end of the Lecturers scale and we maybe able to offer you more hours. The start date is mid August, is that OK for you?"

In an attempt to regain some composure, I finish with, "Yes, of course, I'm sure that will be fine. Thank you very much for calling and letting me know."

Even lovelier than this, was after I tweeted my successful offer of the job, I received hundreds, LITERALLY hundreds of congratulations messages, all so full of warmth and joy for me. I LITERALLY couldn't keep up with my timeline. Just utterly wonderful. Thank you team Twitter, thank you.




The One About The Interview: Part the First

I hope you forgive me, as this all occured over a short space of time in May, however the timing to write and post about this is just about right, right now.

A little context.

At the start of May I had decided to resign from my school (for reasons that are too complex and too sensitive to put on here). I had written the letter and handed it to my Headteacher without a job YET to go to. It was all getting rather frightening.  That same week I found a job advertised for a near-ish FE college wanting a 'Lecturer for GCSE and A-Level English' 0.7 of a full timetable. It was very appealing because it was a totally new educational sector to me AND it was part-time. I can honestly say I am totally drained from teaching a full time-table in Secondary Education for the last 12 years. I wanted this no more. I'd take a lower income over a higher one that invlved working in a way that is bad for my health.

The terror of teaching interviews....

OK, the sub-heading is a tad hyperbolic, but if you narrate the experience of a teaching interview to a non-teaching friend (I DO hope you have some of those, they do keep you grounded amongst the storm of education-land) they will look at you askance, whilst thinking about their own experiences of being sat in an office having a chat with people behind a desk.

So, for those of you unfamiliar with the process, I shall give you a quick run-down. So, here it is, "The Hunger Games" of job interviews.

1. Arrive, exhausted because you have not slept at all, and sign in at reception.
2. You'll sit and chat awkwardly and warily with the other candidates, asking questions about where they are from, how long they've taught etc.  It appears to be idle chit chat, but essentially, like Katniss Everdean, you are weighing up their strengths and weaknesses against your own.
3. Meet the head teacher or SLT member in charge of the interview day. They sat out their stall, or vision of the school. You are scrutinising their words for subtext and how often the word 'Ofsted' or 'Outstanding' is mentioned, they are scrutinising you like you are bacteria on a petri dish.
4.  A tour of the school is given by a chirpy pupil on the student council. You can look at the state of the school buildings, mooch past classroooms to see how ordered or not they are and interrogate, I mean chat, to the pupil about their opinion of the school and teachers.
5. You teach your lesson. This may involve two observers staying for the duration or a few people nipping in and out of your lesson. It could be part of a lesson, or a whole lesson (I prefer the latter). As with performance management lessons observations it is all highly contrived and even more difficult because you a) don't know the pupils in front of you b) you are controlling your nerves and urge to vomit bile into the nearest bin.
6. Break time - an 'un-assessed' part of the day (yeah, right) where you once more chat awkwardly with the competition and potentially meet members of the faculty you maybe working in.
7. Interview 1 - Student Council members will ask you various questions about you and you as a teacher.
8. Interview 2 - with a member of SLT or Head of Faculty discussing how your subject is run.
9. Lunch - where you force feed yourself the dinner provided whilst simultaneously trying not to regurgitate it out of stress. Then, like the Velocirapotors in "Jurassic Park" you once again suss out your competition, and your potential new colleagues. The Velocoraptoring (made up word) flows strongly between candidates and school staff.

If the field is large, it is here that some cutting of the wheat from the chaff may occur. Some will stay for the final interview with the Headteacher, SLT & governers, others will be sent home or may choose to pull out. If you are lucky, you can get interview feedback before trudging back to your car.

10. The final interview with the Headteacher, SLT and governers - which can feel like being up a gainst a firing squad. not always, but it is nevertheless intimidating.

11. You wait, and wait, and wait, to find out who has been appointed. The first person called for in the staff room will be the sucessful candidate. The rest of you do the 'Leonardo Di Caprio: I'VE STILL NOT WON AN OSCAR' smile and nod.

12. You make your way home. Get home, eat whatever comes to hand, and like HAL from 2001: A Space Odyssey slowly power down as the stress adrenaline leaves your body, and you...are...utterly....exhuasted. And lo! You begin an epic 12 hour sleep.

So, this is what I know of teaching interviews. Sometimes I have coped admirably, sometimes I have been utterly overwhelmed by nerves s and anxiety (the Huntington interview last academic year was definitely that) and sometimes it's all rather serendipitous and goes swimmingly.

THIS is merely for a classroom teacher's position. A Headteacher's interview can last at least two days, imagine, TWO whole days! Actually, don't imagine, read Keven Bartle's blog, 'Secruing Headship as a Member of SLT' here or talk to @ChocoTzar who got through an equally gruelling two day Headship interview in Bristol, whilst in the throws of the most EVIL of stomach bugs. Heroic, no?

Preparation the Twitter way: The Application

The application for this post was all online - sometimes it saved my content, sometimes it didn't, so sometimes I wanted to throw my laptop out out of the window. The 'data' part of the process (qualifications & work history) I had grown quicker at, although it still felt laborious. The nub of the application still rests on your personal statement (or application letter if done the old school way), and thanks to quite a few previous applications and LOTS of input from @deadshelley and @Xris32, I had quite a few versions of a letter of application to draw on. The structure and body of the personal statement came from these previous drafts while the opening and ending paragraphs that book-ended the statement or letter, were edited more specifically to suit the place I was applying to and the post I was applying for.
  Cheekily, I once again drew on the help of @deadshelly and badgered new Twitter chum @tstarkey1212 (an FE stalwart of many years) to check though my personal statement. I had some useful feedback from Tom Starkey about tweaking the letter to show awareness of the FE framework and how my Secondary School background would be advantageous to a move into FE. That done, the statement was copied and pasted into the online form and I clicked 'submit' a good 48 hours before the Friday deadline. Then gulped.

Part the second to follow in the next blog post.

Thursday, 22 May 2014


It's not all doom and gloom!

After my initial posting of this, I thought there was a little too march 'darkness' in it, probably something to do with that old 'black dog' still luring around the periphery of my consciousness. SO, I just wanted to do a list of things I loved experiencing and/or that I am proud of.
  1. I loved Brownie & Guide camps (my mum was an ace Brown Owl) and took part in the Girl Guides 75th Anniversary International Camp with the great acronym of 'PANIC'. I loved playing ladders and broom hockey!
  2. Doing a sponsored abseil down Angle Church tower - I forget what we were raising money for - whilst in the Guides. I think I was the youngest to do it on the day - around 11 or 12 and loved it so kept going up the tower to do it again.
  3. Being a member of County Orchestra whilst at school (2nd violins) and going on a trip to The Black Forest with them.
  4. Completing my Music GCSE in my lunch breaks. Along with several others, I was quite determined to do it so the school enabled us to. We achieved 10 GCSEs while most achieved 9.
  5. Thanks to what is best described as a ruthless female drill sergeant in the ATC, I can still remember how to march and do left, right & about turns correctly. Plus I got to go up in a glider - the ones that are catapulted from a vehicle on the ground. Magic.
  6. A waterfall walk in the Breacon Beacons with The Prince's Trust where we saw the waterfall that Blue Peter used as some kind of initiation for presenters. We got to walk behind a waterfall - a girlhood dream since reading Rupert the Bear annuals. Amazing.
  7. Winning two weeks aboard The Brig Astrid, (a tall ship) aged 16, to compete in the first leg of the Cutty Sark Tall Ships race from Milford Haven to Cork. We had a training week from Weymouth to Milford Haven, we left Weymoth harbour on a hot humid day to sale straight into the most spectacular thunderstorm. We could see the pink hued lightning cleve the sky open.
  8. My first experience of live music was also at 16 - going to the Reading Festival with school mates, camping, getting covered in mud and.....and......the headliners were NIRVANA. I came back looking like a mud monster. It was exhausting and brilliant all at once.
  9. A 6th form trip to the Pelena Mountain Centre in the Black Mountains, Wales, in which I spent ALL weekend laughing and formed close friendships with Mia and Fiona that are still going strong today.
  10. in the 2nd year of Uni queueing up in the BAKING heat outside Milton Keynes bowl to make sure we were near the front of the REM 'Automatic for the People' gig. Support acts were Sleeper, The Cranberries, and Radiohead. Watching 'Everybody Hurts' at dusk, lighters flickering in the breeze, was magical.
  11. Climbing Ben Nevis and the Aonach Eagach ridge, and The Three Sisters in Glencoe wth the Uni mountaineering club. We saw a stag, a sentinal guard of The Three Sisters, whilst we clambered up, meanwhile, I could hear Clannad as the soundtrack in my head.
  12. Starting to run regularly in my lunchbreaks at Abbey National, going from zero to running 10k comfortably in 50 mins whithin a few months.
  13. Getting my mum up the Rhyd Ddu route of Snowden when she had just turned 62. She was SO chuffed to have made it she rang her dad from the peak. Incerdibly, the Welsh sky was clear, we could see for miles and miles.
  14. Completing the London Marathon in 2005 - the same year as my first ever Ofsted inspection (I mistyped that as 'infection' initially, analyse that English teachers), and just 7 months before dad died. He came to watch me run it and we met at the finish. We both looked awful - him through chemo' - me through exhaustion. I was chuffed to bits he saw me do it before he died.
  15. Caring for my dad in the last two weeks of his life, being with him as he took his last breath (then farted, true story). I did not cower or run away from it. There is nothing that could be more difficult than that - the exception being going through the same again with my mum heaven forbid.
  16. Twice entering and completing the 'Tough Guy Nettle Warrior' assault course in the July of 2010 and 2011. It is by FAR the most exhuasting thing I have EVER done. The only part of my body that did not hurt (the hurt lasting for 10 days at least) afterwards was my face. I looked and felt like I'd been in a car crash but LOVED it.
  17. Getting an 'Outstanding' observation the first time I had ever taught a) the A-Level Lang/Lit course and b) Hamlet. I know the label, like 'Required Improvement' does not define me entirely as a teacher, but it felt blooody GREAT! The class were just wonderful.
  18. My first ever tutor group who had tutored from my NQT year and their Year 7 up to Year 11 and when I left my first school. They are either happy in jobs they wanted to do or are about to graduate from Uni. Even better, they left school as great young people, warm, kind, mature, likeable. Lovely young adults.
  19. I've paid a mortage on my own for the last 11 years without a defaulted payment. I've struggled, I've lived out of my overdraft for most of the time, run up some debts but also cleared them. I now have some form of equity in my property.
  20. My Twitter Summer holiday of love last year - lots of lovely day trips and visits with just wonderful people.
  21. I had an interview today and did not let my anxiety jeopardise it - no self-sabotage this time Alex Quigley. I was calm, my 'micro-teach' went well because I adapted things as I went and I think I answered the interview questions well. Whatever the outcome, I can hold my head high. I did my best.
  22. I only gone and GOT THE JOB! *beams*

Monday, 19 May 2014


I offered to write this AGESSSSS ago, and have been pondering what on earth to write ever since. So here goes, a potted biography of me and my journey to 'teacher'.

Home is where the heart is #clicheklaxon

The majority of my growing up, or at least the bits I can remember most clearly, was done in Pembrokeshire.  If you're not familiar with this particular 'shire' then it's the peninsular at the VERY South West of Wales. You cannot get any more South West in Wales then Pembrokeshire. Fact. It is a rural community whose industries are farming and tourism, and not really a great deal else.  It is however, exceptionally beautiful. In my memory, I think of it as very much like "Hobbiton":

Lush emerald green, quaint, a little bit peculiar, perhaps rather romanticised since I have been living in the Midlands these past *gasp* 20 years (that does go to explain my Midlands twang, which I am less than fond of).

I grew up just 4 miles from this beach:
Picture from 'empireonline'.

Freshwater West Beach, which as you can see, is the location for Shell Cottage from "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Parts 1 & 2".  Pre-driving days, I used to cycle to it often.  I drove to it recently, and was rather astonished at the hilliness of the route, so became confounded as to how my teenage legs ever coped with it. I remember, as I drove up to the beach after over 10 years of not visitiing it, tears pricked my eyes due to a mix of its sheer beauty and fond but painful memories of home.
I grew up in this pub, The Speculation Inn:

"Ahhhh, growing up in a pub, how thrilling!" you say.  Well, no, not quite.  Mum and dad worked like pit donkeys to keep the place going, very rarely made anything resembling a profit and money was always tight, to the extent that dad took on a second job, doing his original profession of "Chemical Engineer" (Big plumbing, with nasty chemicals as far as I understand it) at the local oil refinery - which on at least two memorable occasions - blew up; more accurately, bits of it did. The first occasion was a massive round tanker of oil; the second was the 'Cracker'. Each time what seemed like the ENTIRE Welsh fire service 'Ne naaaaaed' past our pub in order to put it out. On each occasion I think it took about 3 - 4 days.  When the Cracker exploded, it shattered numerous house windows in Milford Haven, the opposite side of the estuary.
   Nearby was Castlemartin Barracks, so afternoons were often punctuated by the sound of tankers practising on the firing range.  Not as peaceful as the pictures might lead you to believe.
  The coastline is just spectacular, Stack Rocks and the chapel of St. Govan were favourite places to go on a stormy day. There's nothing quite like the sight and sound of ginormous waves crashing against an ancient cliff-face.
Picture from:

Junior School
I joined Orielton School at the age of 7, after we moved there from Chepstow.  Joining a small, close knit rural school is no easy task for a chubby, hamster-cheeked, bespectacled, ENGLISH SOUNDING outsider who is VERY keen to learn. Oh no siree.  Making friends there was very difficult indeed as everyone already knew everyone else and were quite happily settled into their friendship groups, thank you very much.  I think I made some eventually...
    The main building was an old Victorian school house, with the main teaching room, the Head Teacher's room was large, dark and intimidating.  We sat at those old fashioned wooden desks, with hinged tops where we kept our school books and stationery.  They were arranged in rows and the teacher taught from the front. We were drilled in times-tables and we read often.  I'm sure I was forced to learn the recorder at some point and HAD to perform in a Christmas concert. Oh the joys.
  The canteen and the 2nd classroom were pre-fabricated buildings, the playground was hard tarmac with a sand pit, a rather cool climbing frame, and we had the luxury of a field at the back of the playground to roam around in on breezy Summer days.  Summer being the time when the compulsory red gingham dress had to be worn, a painful occurence for an out and out Tom Boy. 
   Boys out-numbered girls quite considerably, so I was 'forced' to play football with the lads at break time. I LOVED it! I was a mean tackler on the pitch - no one's shins were safe, NO ONE''S.  Perhaps it is here my competitive edge, that I don't often acknowledge, was developed.
Secondary School
I am a product of Britain's Comprehensive School system.  In rural communities, the notion of parental choice for your child's school is laughable.  You go to the school that is geographically nearest with a school bus, regardless of what kind of school it might be and what kind of results it may achieve.  I began at the this school pre-National Curriculum days - THAT LONG AGO!  Hard to believe that was ever the case these days isn't it?
   The intake was geographically and numerically large with something like 1400 pupils, and I ground to a halt writing this section for about a week.  Much of my early years at secondary school were a blur of unhappiness. I was bullied, fairly relentlessly and mostly by girls, on the bus, in the playground, lessons, everywhere. One memorably unpleasant incident was in a CDT room, in Year 7 or 8. I was sat on the benches on the outside edge, on my own, wishing for invisibility. The lesson got underway and the teacher popped out of the room, giving an ample time window for the bullies to come over to kick and punch me in the kidneys.  I just sat there, not reacting, not giving any indication that they had hurt me.  Of course, inside was rather different. A mix of misery and anger, steely determination not to show my feelings, helplessness. 
  At the same time, my home life was distinctly unpleasant, due to complex family politics.  My parents argued constantly, displaying not just verbal aggression to each other, but very occasionally physical.  One night I sat bolt-up right in bed and screamed at them to stop fighting. My sister had shut herself off from us, so we didn't speak really for over a year. I was often in the position of referee for my parent's argument, which on reflection, was my 'normal' but put me in a terrible position of choosing sides.  I remember a painful but matter of fact request to my mum asking them to get divorced.  No one in our family history had ever been divorced, so it wasn't going to happen. Years later, when dad died of liver cancer, I was proud of them for fulfilling their 'When death do us part' wedding vow. 
  As for lessons and teaching? French lessons with a young NQT were a blur of chaos, as was Maths.  With my wonky eye, I dreaded any PE lesson that involved the use of a ball - and as girls had to do netball, hockey and tennis, I detested much of it.  I was much better in athletics and in the pool where I could at least co-ordinate my limbs well enough.  I had a mean sprint at the end of a Cross country run and won the Shot Put on Year 7 Sports Day.
  Educational solace came in the busier lessons of Science where I enjoyed the practical and investigative nature of it, whilst English and Art lessons were an oasis of calm.  The teachers were more competent, kind and inspiring, my class mates were less vicious and I felt safer.
  I did end up forming good friendships (re-ingnited via Facebook as a grown-up) and achieved 10 GCSEs 5 As, 3bs and 2cs in Year 11. I think I jumped 4 foot in the air when I read my results.
  Unfortunately, (or fortunately) I discovered that thing called 'a social life' and had a late rebellion. I hadn't chosen my A-Levels terribly wisely - I've always regretted taking Geography instead of History especially in my later career as a teacher.  History would have been far more useful. Geography A-Level became tedious for we did far too much on Urban Geography whilst we were surrounded by the beauty and drama of the Pembrokeshire coastline, I grew bored of it very quickly. As a result I left Year 13 with decidedly average results of C, C, D in English Literature, Art and Design and Geography.  I was disappointed in myself, and my mother was visibly disappointed on results day.  I've never forgotten that moment and how it felt.
A Year Out
I'd had enough of education for a bit, and very unwisely, in the August of 1993, on my Mum's birthday I told her I didn't want to go on the foundation Art course I'd applied to. I wanted a year out. This did not go down well and there was a sense of panic that I would not go on to University. I re-assured them I would and set about finding something else to do instead.
  I enroled in our local Prince's Trust scheme which involved team building via Outdoor Pursuits, or in the case of Pot-holing - indoor pursuits, the most memorable moment was going pot-holing on my 19th birthday. We got through the infamous 'letter-box' passage in the Breacon Beacons cave, switched off our headlamps to experience true pitch black (or as Thomas would say, 'bible-black') and my team sung 'Happy Birthday' to me in the dark.  We exited bruised, exhausted, and covered in clay. I think I was nicknamed 'Mrs. Hedge-backwards' afterwards.  My team contained members in my school group, lads who I didn't really know at school but had a real giggle with here. There was 12 boys and 2 girls, the other girl having the most chromic verbal diarrhea, ergo, I got on much better with the lads than she did.
  I applied for a 3 month extension on the scheme so I could continue working in a local stables. I received very basic pay and got a grant to buy riding equipment. Working with horses was lovely, physically draining and my god did I build some muscles. Learning to ride was fabulous. Nothing beats a gallop at full pelt across an empty beach, even if the 5 hour total ride rendered me incapable of walking for at least 2 days afterwards.
  Meanwhile, I thought about what to study at University more carefully, and applied for English courses as far afield as Belfast University, Glamorgan University and Northampton.  I plumped for Northampton as the campus was green, leafy and village like, whilst the course was a Combined Studies where I chose to major in English, with Drama, (Equine Studies as a subsiduary - turned out to be dreadfully boring with no horse-riding) and Media Studies.
Higher Ed - Northampton.
Ok, so I wasn't studying anywhere fancy, my A-Level results did limit me here, but vowed to learn from my mistakes in Year 13.   Having said that, beginning the course with James Joyce's "The Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man" , T. S. Eliot's "The Wasteland" and modernism felt like an unachievable leap after my A-Level English Literature.  The English course was heavily bound up with theories: Maxism, Psychoanalysis, Feminism, Post-Stucturalism, Linguistics (a massive struggle having never been taught grammar in my own schooling), Post-Colonialism, Post-Modernism, Renaissance Self-Fashioning, Allegory and The Faerie Queen (thoughts of which just makes me shudder). Our Post-Modernism lecturer was Professor Peter Brooker - who is Charlie Brooker's dad.  He was a fabulous Prof' - cool, witty, charming, knew his subject inside out, warm and friendly. Later on he was my dissertation tutor, who helped me change it from a near car-crash of a dissertation to something workable and interesting.
  Drama was, well, full of drama queens and I felt very uncomfortable through most of the course. But I saw some fab produtions: Lysistrata, The Alchemist, The Three Sisters (actually, that one was baffling and I think I may have fallen asleep) and did a damn fine job of playing a corpse in one of our group productions. The study of Greek drama and comedy has been very useful in the teaching of Shakespeare. 
  After dropping Equine Studies - I picked up Media Studies in my final year and was taught the sociological theories by Prof. David Wragg, a big hairy man who was hugely confident in his own intellect, whilst at the same time showing a distinctive disdain for his students.
  The first year was a struggle and I only just passed, I got better and in my final year achieved a strong 2:1 being only 4 marks away from a 1:1.
Some Wilderness Years.
I graduated during the last major recession, so getting a graduate job was so very difficult. I had so many rejections from graduate positions I nearly lost the will to live.  However, being instilled with a stong work ethic, I knew I wanted to work rather than claim benefits so moved back to Northampton and took a job in JJB Sports Plc.  It wasn't without its challenges, especially in the Summer months, in a non-air conditioned shop serving people with the most ATROCIOUS foot odour who wanted to come in and try on trainers. I stuck it out for a year, if only to prove to others that I could hold down a job for a decent period of time.
  Due meeting a chap (it all went horribly wrong much later on) - I ended up moving to Milton Keynes, and decided to get work as an office temp' which begun 4 1/2  years working at Abbey National HQ's Visa Dispute centre.  Whilst there I decided to study for my MA Modern English Literature, part-time, back in Northampton.  It was largely self-funded from my meagre £12k wages, with the exception of a small scholarship in my 2nd and final year of study. I used up all my flexi-time and holidays for essays and my dissertation. My dissertation topic was a tad morbid - I focused on Autobiographical narratives of the terminally ill, combined with 'taking on' Barthes Post-Structuralist theory of the metaphorical 'Death of the Author'.  My head hurts to even think of it now.
  Two and a half-years later, I passed my MA with Merit, I remain quite chuffed at that.
Becoming a teacher
I remember very distinctly, after finding out I had been awarded with my MA, sitting down at my desk in Abbey National and sobbing, Big, heaving, over-powering sobs. I was lost, hated my job and realised all too well that my MA in Modern English Literature had no real value in my rather numerical place of work. I needed to make a decision about what to do with my life and I was rather over-whelmed by it.
   I could do a Phd - but could not afford to. I thought back to my time at Sealyham Activity Centre in my year out, working with teenagers (and horses) and remembered how much I enjoyed it. So began the investigation into teacher training courses near Milton Keynes. 
  I eventually found Northampton School for Boys' SCITT course via a friend who was doing it at the time, applied and got in so began in September 2002.  The course was only 3 years old at the time, was good in places and poor in others, somehow, despite constant self-doubt and a general lack of confidence I passed with at least a 'Good' rating, found myself a job in the February of the course (at the same school my sister taught at) and so my life changed completely. d
It's not ALL doom and gloom
After my initial posting of this, I thought there was a little too march 'darkness' in it, probably something to do with that old 'black dog' still luring around the periphery of my consciousness.  SO, I just wanted to do a list of things I loved experiencing and/or that I am proud of. This got a bit epic, so if you WANT to read more chirpy stuff, click on the link here, if not, by all means stop here, put the kettle on and open a Kit Kat and take a break. Thanks for reading this far.
What now?
I have been a classroom teacher of English for most of my 12 years at the chalk-face.  A short experience of middle management in a tough inner city school in the Midlands, nearly broke me. The last 18 months at my current school, for differing reasons, has nearly done the same. (Some of which was my own errors, some of which down to the behavour of others at work which I can't and shouldn't explicitly comment on here).
  Starting with the death of my father in 2005, thus followed for the following 9 years a constant barrage of difficulty: including an abusive relationship with a man who was definitely psychopathic, to a burglary by my neighbours and a stalker.  Do click on the links of you'd like to read more about these things, but don't feel obliged.
  Not only that, the economic crisis increased my financial worries whilst I continue to pay for a mortgage on my own, my house and mortgage began to feel more and more like a noose. This, combined with pressures at work increasing to levels I was just unable to cope with, left me on the verge of a total breakdown in December.  I had to go to my doctor for help and I needed out. I wasn't perpared to be sectioned (which I think I was only a small step away from) due to work.
  I was very honest with my Headteacher - the analogy I used was this: A succesful Formula 1 driver has a team of people behind him - to build the car, test it, fuel it, change the tyres and so on, which enables him to win races.  Being a teacher requires the same level of support.  All the time I have been teaching I have lived on my own - no back up team within my household. Financial pressures and responsbilties are mine, no one to off load to after a good or bad day, no one to help with cooking or cleaning. I am also my support team - so I am going to burn out far quicker than people who are not on their own.
  Sadly, I came to realise that teaching  English full-time under current outside pressures AND maintaining my health and well being has become an impossibility. It's not as if I haven't tried my best to do so after the past 12 years.
  So, I have been off work for some time, visiting the Nurse Practitioner once a month for a check up, receiving counselling through Occupational Health and healing physically and mentally. 
  I am also seeking work for September - I know that I want something very different from Secondary School teaching, but still working within the educational field. I worry very much how my length time off of work is going to affect my employability. I don't want all those 12 years of teaching English to go to waste. I have been looking at and applying for FE posts, I am also looking at Independent Schools (whilst wondering if my 'non-posh' education may go against me) and keeping a steely eye on the 'Other Workplaces' in the TES for roles that are in education but a totally different experience to my last 12 years in Secondary Education.
Twitter, blogging and hope
Firstly, this is rather epic I had not intended it to be, so well done if you have got this far! You hero! Twitter has offered me HUGE help and support while I've not been at work thanks to my #BDAmigos  - you know who you are.  I have attended Teach Meets, Pedagoo London and Research Ed events in order to keep my eye on the educational ball. I've been to the Edu-Bloggers curry in London, the #Starkyfest Tweet up in Leeds and met some brilliant, warm and funny people. I've made new, fruitful and supportive friendships and maintained them, whilst also trying to repair more established friendships that have been damaged during my mental health difficulties.
  Thanks to @rlj1981 I am soon to be published in her collaborative book "Don't Change the LightBulbs" (Crownhouse Publishing, available to pre-order on Amazon here) - you can find me in the 'English' section  - this really is quite a thrill. Ironically, the copy editor really had her work cut out in my section, *blushes*. 
  With good luck and a following wind, I maybe working with @ThinkingReading training teachers how to deliver her Phonics reading programme to schools in the Midlands or further afield; and I am hugely flattered to be thought of as so capable - thank you Dianne and James.
  I AM NO LONGER SINGLE!!!! It takes some getting used to after most of my adult life being single, however, I quite like it now and he is largely tolerable. ;-)
  I'll be going to Wellington Education Festival FREE thanks to my Other Half, and in September I'll be a Helper Elf at Research Ed National Conference in September 2014.
I have a mild sense of panic about finding work for September - but at least that motivates me to DO SOMETHING about it, but Twitter, if you know of any 'non-standard' eduactional jobs I maybe suitable for DO let me know - seriously, please do let me know. (My email is:
Fin - at last.