Hugo is keeping me rather busy at home at the moment but I’ll be returning to the teaching chalk-face, full-time in the new year. Recently, I saw this article…
It got me thinking. What do people really know about the life of a teacher? In the article above, there seems to be some confusion over why we need a WHOLE day without the children at school. Even adults raise an eyebrow, saying, ‘Well I’d hope they were working hard.’ How ridiculous. Of course we are. So here it is; this is what we’re doing all day and why child-free INSET days are so important.
This is the ‘Secret Life of a Teacher’…
It’s Monday morning. Your alarm goes off, you get yourself ready, in your ‘I’m a teacher’ outfit; not too frilly, not too flirty (in case anyone complains you have too much human flesh on show) This outfit needs to be an amazing outfit; it serves many purposes. It has to a) keep you warm on the playground for your outside duty, b) be formal enough to meet and greet parents at the school gate, c) be durable enough to cope with peeling 54 tangerines every playtime, d) be resistant to paint and other art supplies, e) be super-stretchy so you can get on the floor to tie 978 children’s laces and pick play-doh out of the carpet at the end of each day (so that Dorothy the cleaner doesn’t threaten to quit again) and f) non-iron because you never have time to iron anything.
You grab your handbag. No, let’s rewind. You’ve given up on handbags. You’ve morphed into a supermarket bag-for-life lover because they fit the 697 exercise books you took home over the weekend to mark. Who cares about style anyway?
You drop your children off at the child-minder, telling them they’ll have to tell you their story later because you have to get to school. You drive off, watching their little hands wave, feeling like the worse mum ever.
You arrive at school at 8am. You don’t get paid until 9am, but you have a rota of breakfast club duties and Monday is your duty day. There’s a queue of eight parents waiting at the door. You know they’re looking at your supermarket bag-for-life and the ladder in your last pair of non-bobbly tights. You smile your biggest, ‘Oh, what a lovely morning’ smile and coo as they kiss their cherubs goodbye, then run back and kiss them again.
At 8.30am, your colleague arrives to take over while you go to your morning staff-meeting. You prise Sebastian off your leg and scoop up the Rice Krispies Daniel spilled while you were consoling Tabatha, whose goldfish ‘looked really sad this morning.’
In the staffroom, the meeting’s already begun. You wonder if you could make a cup of tea while the meeting continues and switch on the kettle. Nope, too noisy. You whisper ‘Sorry’ and slope into the nearest available seat. You reach into your supermarket bag-for-life to grab your notebook. Jessica in Squirrel class has a nasty cough and needs to be sent to the secretary for Calpol at 11.30, Tom in Robin class had a tummy upset overnight and may need the loo rather suddenly today; can all staff be aware, please? Sophie in Badger class is sad because her Grandma passed away yesterday; she’ll need a close eye kept on her for the next few days. Oh and one other thing, ‘someone’ didn’t empty the dishwasher on Friday night so there are no clean cups. Right. Could everyone please check the dishwasher rota and make sure they do it when it’s their turn? Oops.
The bell sounds and everyone scoots off to their classroom. Luckily, you stayed late on Friday after school to prepare your resources for today. (That’s why you didn’t empty the dishwasher)
You open the door from the playground to let your children into the classroom. Megan’s mum hands you a bunch of envelopes and explains Megan has a party at ‘Whizzkidz’ next weekend and could these invitations be handed out? Then Ben’s mum arrives with a giant chocolate cake for everyone to share at snack time. Oh shoot, you’ve forgotten to buy Rachel a bag of Percy Pigs. (She’s gluten-free and can’t eat the cake) No, it’s okay, there are four left in the packet in your desk drawer. Phew.
Reading flies by. Getting through the readers is always tricky. You normally have Mrs Evans, your teaching assistant with you and she reads with half the class but she’s not with you today because Joseph in Fox class has broken his arm and can’t write, so she’s his scribe for the foreseeable future.
Time for literacy. We’re writing a story about toys coming to life when they’re left alone. You reach into your bag-for-life and load the ‘Toy Story’ DVD you brought from home. Everyone’s in groups but it’s all kicking off in red group at the back of the class, because Molly is insisting on the main character being called Tinkerbell and the rest of the group disagree. There’s a hand up in green group. Can they turn the page over? This is probably the most asked question of a primary school teacher. YES! YOU CAN!
The bell sounds. Playtime. After zipping up 26 coats and insisting the teacher on duty WILL peel anyone’s tangerine, you rush along to the staffroom but get accosted along the way, by Jason from Magpie class. His Mum saw you on Saturday night, he says. She said you were ‘dancing rather merrily with your friends.’ Oh! I didn’t see her. Oops!
The kettle’s on in the staffroom and it’s looking like you might actually get a cup of tea. While it’s boiling, you quickly turn on the staff PC, which takes ages just to log on and print some worksheets for PSE this afternoon. The bell goes and you gather your worksheets, head to the kettle to grab your tea and go. What? There’s no water left?
Lesson 3 begins, but not before you’ve heard all about what’s happened on the playground. Mrs Smith had to shout at Magpie class for talking in the line and she said Badger class were the best but they had to work harder because they were the worst on Friday. I see.
Lunchtime. And another duty for you. After cutting up approximately 1500 fish-fingers and mopping the floor 35 times, you have 15 minutes to eat your lunch before lesson 4 starts.
Lesson 4 is PSE (Personal, Social and Emotional Education) You’re discussing healthy lifestyles. The children share ideas about how to live healthily. One child says, ‘Well my mum says you DEFINITELY shouldn’t smoke, EVER.’ ‘Yes, that’s right, Harry,’ which is immediately followed by, ‘Miss…. Elliot’s crying.’ Elliot’s crying because his Grandad smokes and he won’t stop. You spend the rest of the lesson consoling Elliot while the other children draw pictures of how healthy they are, although you’re not sure Laura’s favourite healthy meal of KFC qualifies as a ‘healthy lifestyle choice.’
Time for PE. And guess what? Four children don’t have their kit, one child only has their daps and another has brought his sister’s ballet bag by mistake. Picture yourself with your own children getting undressed and multiply that by twenty or thirty. Monday PE lessons. Gah!
After persuading Jessica to come down from the pommel-horse, it’s home-time. You open the door to the playground, where the parents and child-minders are waiting. Then you realise you didn’t give out Megan’s invitations, so you quickly give someone ‘the special job of being the Post PERSON’ (You can’t say ‘man’ because it’s gender-stereotypical) Phew, that was close. You’re looking smug as the invitations are being handed out and Megan’s mum is watching eagerly and then realise Ben’s cake is still sitting on your desk. Yikes!
It’s 5.30 and you’re still here. You’ve photocopied your resources for tomorrow, got the paints laid out for Art in the afternoon and finished your training presentation for the staff-meeting you’re running after school on Wednesday. You’ve got ten minutes to spare before parents’ evening starts.
Two hours and a nasty, dry mouth later, you arrive home looking like road-kill. The kids are ready for bed and you finally get to hear their story about a bad dream during the night. A swift cuddle and kiss and it’s time for bed. A quick bite of dinner and it’s time to mark all the books from today. You finally put your green pen down at 9.59pm (Because red’s not PC anymore) and crawl into bed before realising you haven’t packed the kids’ lunches for tomorrow.
And that’s just a snippet of a teacher’s day. It can get on your nerves when people comment on the length of holidays teachers have and ‘all’ the INSET days, yet how come they don’t want to do the job themselves? Surely it’s just colouring-in all day? Finish at 3pm every day? Actually not.
We spend hours of unpaid time marking books, being positive and not too negative in what we say, conducting parents’ consultations, attending staff-meetings, planning lessons worthy of an Oscar so we tick all the ‘Drama for Learning’ boxes (because children learn better when they’re in role, you see)
All that ‘chalk and talk’ business went out of the window ages ago. In Maths, we run cake shops and buy items from on-line supermarkets, working out costs and change. In English, we actually wear our pyjamas when we’re writing a scary story about bumps in the night. We bring torches and cuddly bears to add to the feeling that we are there. In History, we actually travel back in time and dress up as Roman soldiers; we create classroom corners which turn into Hadrian’s Wall or Celtic roundhouses and in Geography we get on a plane, order from the air hostesses, no sorry, flight attendants (We’re constantly aware of non-PC terms) All of these activities take weeks of planning. And when you’re teaching all day, the only time to do it is in your own time during evenings, weekends and holidays.
So please, next time you hear someone complaining about teachers and the time they get ‘to themselves’ please remind them that we are busy laminating gingerbread men and collecting artefacts for our garden-centre role-plays, marking books, correcting the word ‘brung’ a thousand times, scribing two-sided A4 reports for every child and generally jumping through government hoops as the next prodigy decides what’s best for the children of the future.
This isn’t a job you can pretend to love. As hard as it is, and I’m dreading juggling two children and full-time work, I’m also really looking forward to being my teaching persona again. Those happy, smiling faces are contagious and without their little stories and comments about my hair and attire every day, life would be pretty mundane. I mean, who doesn’t enjoy being told they’ve got hairy arms like someone’s dad? And the tangerines, I’ve really missed those too.
Thanks so much for reading my post and sorry if it’s all a bit political. Teaching really is like putting on a show, all day, every day. It can be exhausting, yet so rewarding, which is why I love it and my colleagues too.
Hooray for teachers.