I’ve been meaning to write this particular blog post for a while now, but other ideas or issues have popped up. This particular post is in support of my ex-colleagues how are still teaching. After hearing recent news reports featuring sound bites from angry parents “they earn more than me”, “they get six weeks off in the summer” “they have really short day” and of course Michael Gove’s crazy suggestion of having parent volunteers covering for striking teachers. So let’s have a bit of a Scooby Doo moment and back in time to when I was Head of Music at a city secondary school, a pretty average kind of school, the catchment area is quite diverse ranging from the children of the middle-class Guardianista to kids from a sprawling, deprived estate, which many consider a no-go area. Although at this time my TS had been diagnosed, it wasn’t really apparent to the untrained eye as anything other than a bit of “a nervous twitch”. Go back to the summer of (I can’t remember the year) Pete Bennett in Big Brother, the season of GCSEs and reports and whole plethora of summer term school based activities. I inherited a rather run down department, very little equipment, many of the keyboards were broken, many of the other instruments in the store cupboard were broken and since the departure of the previous music teacher on long term sick the pupils behaviour had gone a bit off the rails due to the constant stream of non-music specialist supply teachers. I started this role just after the Christmas holidays and had to start from scratch, trying to work out what work the pupils had all ready covered and write appropriate lesson plans and support materials. This is part of the work that teachers usually do over the summer, a years worth of lesson plans and supporting materials, I had to do this on a week by week basis, as I was thrown in the deep end. So here we go a day in the life.
My school day would usually start about 7.45, I would prepare my room for my first lesson, my first lesson this day is year 9, top set, a bright, lively bunch some of whom are planning to go to take GCSE music, this class has one student with SEN who is statemented, an intelligent, but very young for his age lad with autism, he’s planning to do GCSE music, he’s learning the trumpet. But back to that time before the kids arrive, I prepare the room, put out the keyboards and a selection of percussion instruments. I send some emails off to various other heads of music in the city and the performing arts service to try and beg, borrow or steal some more keyboards or any other usable instruments that are surplus to requirement. I then go along to the staff briefing in the staff room, the TA I’m expecting in my first lesson to support the boy with autism tells me that she’s been told she’s got to go elsewhere to another lesson to cover for an absent TA. Registration, back in my room, 30 year 11’s file in, chat about the day’s GCSE exam then go. Top set year 9 arrives and wait outside (I have them well trained) I also have a seating plan, after working out which combination of certain indivuals work to get the best results. We’ve been studying jazz and blues and it’s been going well, but without the usual TA our autistic trumpeter is feeling a bit lost and I spend quite a lot of time reassuring him and answering his questions. I’m not sure if I should take this as a compliment or not, but this group have nick-named me Cat Woman. (???!!!) The bell rings, time for top set year 7. Again I have another pupil who has high-functioning autism who likes to tell me constantly that he has grade 2 piano and that he doesn’t need to come to music lessons. (???!!!!) His usual TA has also been moved to cover the absent TA. So I am left to try and placate him and explain to him why he should come to music lesson and why he has to share a keyboard with another pupil. After this lesson I’m need of a sit down and a cup of tea, I’m hungry despite eating a bowl of porridge, a slice of toast and a cup of teas. Instead I have to cover an absent colleague’s yard duty and wait for a cup of tea to come to me. In my absence the very helpful and essential art technician has cleared the instruments away ready for my next lesson, year 7 citizenship, this is a tutor group, so they are mixed ability, strangely I quite enjoy these lessons, even though the abrasive girl A is in this lesson (she was also I the last lesson) she’s the first to notice my twitches. The next lesson normally for me is a lesson of precious non-contact time, which means I catch up with paper work, i.e. year 7 citizenship and music reports, that’s 5 music sets and 2 citizenship groups, that’s about 170 reports, and that’s just one year group! But, my non-contact time has gone! I need to cover a lesson for another absent colleague, so I’m off to cover a year 10 design and technology lesson, resistant materials, in old money that’s wood work and metal work. In-between helping some of the pupils, I manage to get some marking done. Time for lunch, I sit in the art room with my head of faculty, the art technician and a couple of 6th form pupils doing A-level art work, we enjoy an almost child free lunch whilst reading The Mirror and discussing our day whilst psyching myself up for a heavy afternoon. The bell rings, year 11 arrive to touch base, they leave to go to their afternoon GCSE exam. The next group arrive, outside my bottom set year 7 wait, they’re quite a lively bunch, a couple of the girls are VERY musical, infact they have more musical ability than some in the top set who have had been sent to private piano lessons. The world that some of these kids live in is completely different to their top set peers, one girl looks after her younger brother and disabled mother, taking him to school, cooking meals, cleaning, laundry, a world away from most 12 year old kids. A couple of years later when I was teaching in pupil referral unit they reappeared. “HI MISS!!! Would you like to hear me play the keyboard, we’ve been writing songs” I’m not happy that they’ve turned up the PRU, but I’m really pleased that the keyboard lessons that I arranged for them has paid off. Bottom set pupils on the whole don’t really tend to get a look in when it comes to getting instrumental lessons from peripatetic instrumental tutors. The bell rings and it’s the last lesson, it’s also the toughest group on my timetable, bottom set year 9, within this group I have 2 West African girls who speak very little English (my French is non existent) and T1 and T2, year 9 have already had their reports, T1 is surprised, it seems as though I have given him the best report he’s ever had. T1 is a very much a troubled boy, very little support from home, he is often quite dirty and dishevelled, he would be described as an emo kid, he’s excellent at music, this group are writing music for a short film, T1 wants to get stuck in. I’ve been trying to pull a few strings and get T1 fixed up with some drum lessons, his form tutor and the SENCO (special education needs co-ordinator) think this would be a good idea but his future is unclear as he made have to move to a new school next term due to the fact that he’s been suspended on numerous occasions due to his behaviour, he doesn’t tend to kick off on my lessons as he enjoys music. T2 arrives, T2 is a small boy, looks as though butter wouldn’t melt in his mouth, and this boy’s situation is very much in the balance as both of his parents (divorced) are struggling with his outbursts which happen on quite a regular basis. When he’s not whizzing around like a Tasmanian devil he’s quite a sweet boy. I wasn’t surprised when I arrived at the PRU to see his name on the timetable, he spent a lot of his time at his care home (he’d gone into care at that point) we would fax work over to him, I’d send him some research, for example to find out about different types of music from the Caribbean and some Artic Monkeys bass lines to learn. One on of the occasions when he did come in, he swallowed some lighter fuel and was taken to A&E. Back to this particular lesson, T2 arrives take one look at the TA “I’m not coming in here if that F***ing b%%&h is here” he runs about the room, tips over a couple of chairs and then a table and runs out of the door, the TA runs after him, I call the office for support via my BromCom (electronic register) as a result of this T1 kicks off, as T2 has spoilt “his lesson”. By the time that a member of senior management has arrived (deputy head) T1 has calmed down but is threatening to leave to after T2, this actually brings the lesson to a close; the bell goes time to go home. A cup of tea in the staff room then it’s back to work, tidy away the instruments and crack on with the year 7 reports, write a report about the events of the previous lesson. I leave school at about 6.30. As you can see that’s a pretty average day in the life of a teacher, it’s quite an exhausting job, I found it quite tiring at times as being a ticcer I don’t sleep to well.
The point I wanted to make really was that I was in full support of those teachers who went on strike, they are a very hard working bunch of professionals, they have a great passion for working with kids and of course their own subject area. It’s a rewarding job, but it can be very beurocratic at times, which tends to take the emphasis away from the kids. That day I taught several pupils with statements, some with school action and some with school action + due to lack of available TAs that day two pupils didn’t get the support that they needed, due to the recent proposals in the recent SEN Green paper many more pupils with SEN will lose their TAs permanently, this was just my experience of it, but imagine the situation from the pupil’s perspective. I was horrified that the government are now proposing that teachers carry on until the age of 68, could you imagine a 68 year old chasing T2 down the corridor? During my time supply teaching I would be often covering for older teachers who were off work due to ill health. A lot of teachers have had enough by the time they are 55, it’s a job that requires a lot of energy, you also need to be pretty clued up about what the kids are up to and what they like and which websites should be on the head of IT’s blocked list. I would be frequently asked about programmes that they watched on TV that night or asked what I thought about a certain band.