Wednesday, 3 April 2013

A Day In The Life...

Sometimes, I really wish that society understood a teacher's workload. I'm not saying that we work harder than other professionals at all, but I do think that we are dismissed by too many as a group of lazy, whining slackers who are undeserving of the professional status we have.

The latest point of contention seems to be a "four hour day", as it is being termed. However, this is not an accurate description of what has been suggested.

In fact, what has been requested is twenty hours of contact time a week, which equates to four hours a day. This is not a four hour day, but four hours of teaching time. Perhaps, to understand the real impact of this, I ought to explain how a day works for me.

At a primary school, like any school, my first day is planned for me. I arrive at 8.15, familiarise myself with the day's planning, and then double check any information about key pupils. Children begin to arrive at 8.45/8.50 and I then teach straight through until about 10.30, at which point I'm usually on break duty. Not actual break for me, because I'm supervising children. I teach again until lunchtime, at which point I need to set up the classroom for the afternoon session, gather resources, resolve issues from the morning session, supervise colouring club / reading club. This means I eat my lunch whilst working, as I don't actually get a break. Again. I teach the afternoon session until 3.15/3.30 (depending on the school) and then can't get on until the last child has been collected and gone.

So what? It's only 3.45.

Well, at 3.45, I sit down to do the marking. Generally, numeracy / maths is the easiest marking, which takes about an hour and a bit to mark a class of 25 pupils. Why so long? Because as well as "ticking" and correcting, I need to write an individual comment on each pupil's work. This isn't simply "very good, Johnny", but related to the learning objective for that lesson.

First, I have to say what they have done well and what progress they have made to achieving the learning objective. It could be that they are starting to understand the relationship between fractions, decimals and percentages, it could be that they are converting fractions, decimals and percentages with ease, it might just be that they understand that a percentage is always less than a whole unit. Sometimes, you have to be very creative.

Next, I comment on how they can improve their work. This isn't just "better handwriting, please", but it's related to that learning objective again. So if that pupil is beginning to understand simple lines of symmetry, it might be a challenge about multiple lines of symmetry. If the work has been about co-ordinates, it might be a translation challenge. Always something that will stretch and challenge the individual pupil and help them attain that learning objective more fully.

Which is damned hard when you don't know the kids.

On most pieces, as well, I then need to assess which national curriculum level they are working at and write a comment about why they are there and how to build on it. If I'm really clever, I can combine that with the stuff above.

So now it's 4.50 and I've done maths. Cool.

Next up, it's literacy. Now, this is a longer one, marking wise. I need to check everything from spelling, punctuation and grammar, through to content and structure. I can easily spend ten minutes on each child's piece of work here, especially if it's a longer piece of writing. Again, I have to do my "bubble and block" (the positive and the target), as well as levelling and corrections. And as writing is often so subjective, it usually needs another more personal interaction there.

At 6.10pm (on a good day), I've marked my work up until lunchtime. By this point, the site manager is starting to get concerned that the supply teacher is STILL here.

If I'm lucky, then I've had either ICT, music, dance, PE or a practical science afternoon. Even art and PSHE are easy enough to mark or level. I can usually get through that in half an hour to forty five minutes. If it's history, geography, written science or similar, then I'm back to bubbles, blocks, levels and all the rest of it.

Normally, I leave a primary school between 6.45 and 7.30pm, depending on the afternoon lessons. It's not much longer than a "normal person's" working day, at this point.

I get in about half an hour later and grab some food, then sit on my computer. This is where I start planning for the following day. I need to plan literacy, maths and two afternoon sessions. Once I've decided what I'm teaching (this will depend on the learning objective and learning outcomes), I need to create the "input" resource (usually a PowerPoint), as well as resources for the learning and exploration. Everything needs to be delicately chosen so that it is using the right buzzword of the moment (higher cognitive learning objectives seem to be favourable at the moment - create, explore, analyse etc) whilst remaining accessible to the pupils.

And one worksheet just isn't enough. Because one worksheet won't stretch your high ability pupils, or be accessible to your low ability ones. So you need to create three or four different worksheets, each designed specifically for the group in mind.

Yes, there are websites like TES, which are a God-send. But these are, usually, just a rough idea. Each teacher has their own style and it doesn't work to just teach using borrowed resources. It's like wearing someone else's reading glasses. They might help a bit, but they will never be as good as ones designed for you. So once you've found something there, you still need to tweak it and play with it, adapt it for your group.

Generally speaking, with the time you spend searching on TES, as well as adapting, you will probably spend more time doing it that way. But the base inspiration will result in better quality resources and better learning for your class, so you do it.

Bearing in mind that you need to plan the lesson (20mins per lesson if inspired! An hour to plan the day), then create resources (an hour for first worksheet, 15mins for each differentiation, 30 mins for PowerPoint), you're looking at about two hours per lesson for maths and literacy, then whatever your afternoon lessons are. Possibly up to 10 hours prep time needed!

But I don't have that when preparing for the following day, because that would take me to something like 5am. Instead, I cut corners and do what I can, setting myself a time limit. I fall into bed at about 1 or 2am, grateful that I'm not a primary teacher full time!

Most people believe the myth that secondary teaching is harder. Certainly, the pupils are more problematic if you don't have the relationship with them, and there is more pressure with GCSE results. But the workload is marginally less.

Because we have specialist subjects, we can roughly "parallel plan". This means that my Y9 first language German class might be learning the same thing as my two Y8 second language German classes and I can adapt the lesson accordingly. It can cut planning for 25 lessons down considerably, especially if you have several classes in the same year group. And, which French and German, you can adapt some resources so that you have the same stuff in both languages. Score.

Marking's still a bitch, but every job has its downfall. And without marking, we couldn't see the impact of our teaching or adjust our lesson planning accordingly.

What people don't see with teaching is that our time in the classroom is but the tip of the iceberg. We have to plan the lessons, create the resources that we are using (it's not enough to photocopy from a book!), we need to mark and assess, we need to input data, attend meetings, monitor behaviour, reflect on individual education plans for pupils with special needs. There is so much more to teaching than standing in a classroom.

Don't get me wrong, I love my job. I wouldn't change it for the world, because I get to help and inspire young people every day of my life. And I do find time to volunteer too, though it does sometimes mean cutting corners with work.

But realistically, if I'm doing my job properly, and not letting these young people down, then I am never going to have time for a relationship. I am never going to have time for a family. I am never going to have time to see my friends, other than in those holidays.

Which is another point. Yes, we do get long periods of non-contact time. I do, however, call it non-contact time. Because, during that time, we have budgets to catch up with, curriculum area development plans to review, marking to catch up with, training and professional development to look at, planning to do, resources to create, classrooms and displays to update and redecorate. As a supply teacher I end up at work in those holidays, so goodness knows how full-time members of staff feel.

I see teachers with families and wonder how they do it. How do they juggle this professional life with having a husband / wife / partner / children? The answer, in many cases, is that they are not managing it, really. They are either not spending time with their little ones, or they're not spending the time they ought to be doing work. Or they're managing everything, but constantly stressed, tired and miserable,

By asking for four hour days, unions aren't being lazy or unrealistic, they are actually being more realistic than they've ever been. They're saying that you need to reduce the workload somehow. That's either going to be in terms of hours, or in terms of the expectations (marking etc). Because whilst teaching stays the way it is, it is going to become increasingly difficult to recruit or retain good teachers. People won't do a job that they see as thankless and soul-destroying. And it is a perception, because teaching is a wonderful profession. We just need to find the balance again.

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