It doesn’t really matter whether we teach seven-year olds or seventeen-year olds, there’s nothing a class likes as much as a game or a quiz.
Clever teachers utilise this love of ‘not working’ to create skilful and effective revision sessions. Quizzes and games are also a great bonding exercise for students, and provide ways to develop confidence. And whisper it in case the OFSTED fun squashers are about, but they provide a bit of fun on a Friday afternoon too, or for the last fifteen minutes of an afternoon double period.
There is a bit of pedagogy behind them; we know that if pupils think a lesson will be fun and interesting, they will work that bit harder and with more energy for the rest of the week. The list of games and quizzes below can mostly be adapted to any age group; that is down to our skill as teachers to pitch the quiz or game at the level of the class. They are all activities that can take place in a normal classroom.
A super simple game. The person ‘on’ comes to the front or a corner and faces the wall so they cannot see the class. Somebody from the class is chosen and says ‘99’ in a disguised voice. The person ‘on’ looks at the class and has a guess. If they guess correctly, they get another go. If not, the successful ‘99er’ goes on. The game can be made tougher by getting two people to speak simultaneously, or by allowing the speaker to move to a new position before saying ‘99’. They are given time to get back to their seat before the person ‘on’ looks. This works well with MFL, as the number can be changed and spoken in French or Spanish; or in an English lesson, the number might be replaced could be a quote from a poem studied.
This can be a bit wild, especially if there is a classroom below you. One person is the detective, one is the murderer. The rest of the class are potential victims. The detective waits outside while the murderer is selected and identified to the remainder of the group. They stand in a circle, winding their way around the desks. The detective comes in and stands in the middle. The murderer ‘kills’ the others by winking at them. They then count to six in their head, and ‘die’. An interesting variation is to give a manner of death such as ‘Shakespearean’, or ‘in slow motion’. ‘Silently’ is also a good option!
Who Am I?
This is a good game for developing questioning skills, although with a large class there is not enough all-round involvement. The person ‘on’ chooses to be someone famous. Everybody has a question which must evoke a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer. When the person whose turn it is knows who the subject is pretending to be, they guess.
Would I Lie To You?
A rip off of the very funny TV programme. Some preparation work is needed. A few lessons before you intend to play, hand out some paper which the class names. On the paper they write two or three events that have happened to them, or someone they know, that are neither personal nor sensitive, but that nobody else knows about. Things like, ‘I’m thirteen but I still have to sit on the naughty step.’ Or, ‘I once ate a dog snack.’ Then, when it is time to play, four or five contestants are chosen. They are all said to have done what is written on one piece of paper. The one who actually did have this experience must tell the truth, the other contestants must lie convincingly. Four or five people from the crowd set questions, which are given to each of the contestants. When the round seems to be drying up, a vote is taken as to who is telling the truth.
This excellent quiz has four rounds which can easily be adapted with a little work and provide excellent revision and problem-solving skills. It takes about 40 minutes to prepare an hour’s quiz using PowerPoint and a whiteboard.
Missing vowels – words appear on a theme with the vowels missing. So, with the theme ‘Easter’ we might have ‘ggs’ (eggs) and shwd nsdy (Ash Wednesday). Make about eight rounds, with six examples in each, using animations on power point. The class are in teams, and first hand up with a correct answer gets the point. If the answer is wrong, the team are frozen out the next example.
Make four or five examples with decreasing points as each clue appears. An example is given below. Teams answer in order, and if the answer is wrong, the next clue is shown to the following team. When the answer is correct, the team scores that number of points. A short example could be: 10pts: A Manager; 8pts: He played football for a lowly ranked club; 6 pts: He replaced Bruce Rioch as manager of his club; 4pts: He used to manage in Japan; 3pts: His team became known as the Invincibles for a while; 2pts: He is the longest serving manager in the Premier League; 1pt: He is manager of Arsenal. The answer, of course, is the mighty Arsene Wenger.
What is eighth? This is a little like the round above, and works in the same way, but the answer must be the one that would appear as the eighth answer on the list. An example: 10pts: London; 8 pts: Birmingham; 6pts: Leeds; 4pts: Glasgow; 3pts: Sheffield; 2pts: Bradford; 1pt: Edinburgh. The answer being sought is Liverpool, which is the eighth biggest city by population in the UK.
The wall. This is a brilliant revision round. Sixteen words or phrases are placed randomly in a grid. They divide into four lots of four, with a connecting clue for each group of four. The class must work on paper, in teams, to solve the ‘wall’ of clues.
The Wall is available to play on the Only Connect Website. Many examples are very difficult, and the online game only works with a small group, but if circumstances are right, it makes for a great activity for problem solving and discussion.
Four Seven Ten
This is a home-made quiz, invented (I think) by me, and I hold copywrite on it. Please feel free to use and adapt it, but if you make a fortune selling it to the BBC or suchlike, I will be after you! And remember, I know where everyone of you lives. The quiz requires quick thinking and a good general knowledge from the teacher, or it can be adapted as a revision quiz, which is easier to operate. In this situation, questions will be on our academic subject.
The class is divided into teams of four to six
A grid is drawn on the board.
The teacher, or the teams, choose either different subjects, or different aspects of their subject for revision.
The topics (e.g.: Macbeth, Spelling, Of Mice and Men, Punctuation etc) are written on the grid, with the numbers 4, 7 and 10 under each.
The teams choose a category and a score; a four-point question is easy – 90% correctly answered; 7 points gets around 60% right, 10 around 20% right. Obviously, the difficulty of the questions will depend on the age and ability of the class.
Joker – each team has one or two jokers. They play these before the question is asked. For example, they might say: ‘Macbeth, seven, joker’; that would be a middling question on Macbeth. If the answer is correct, the team get double points. That is fourteen.
If the answer is wrong, the question goes as a bonus, worth one mark less, to the next team along. So, imagine the question was: ‘Which character says: “Turn, Hellhound, Turn”?’ The team who chose the question, Team A, say ‘Macbeth’; the next team, B, say ‘Duncan’ – if right they would get six marks. But they are wrong. The next team along, Team C say ‘Macduff’ and so score five points. Jokers do not count in this bonus element.
Once the question is answered, the following question choice goes to the next team along. So as the ‘Macduff’ question was chosen by Team A, the next question is for Team B, even though they had a chance at the bonus.
Experience says that classes really love this quiz.
There are great quizzes on TV from which we can take ideas and we can make up our own very easily, perhaps adapting ideas to suit our needs. A good general knowledge from the teacher allows for a greater range of questions, but equally, quizzes can be prepared in advance.
The ones that work best, both educationally and in terms of fun, are those which require discussion from small teams (too large, and some students will opt out.) As far as possible, avoid first hand up situations – the games work well when the question is set for a particular team, but the rest of the class knows that the question might eventually make its way to them, so they stay involved, listening, discussing and planning their own answers.
There have never been as many different routes into teaching as there are today. Once upon a time, there were essentially just two roads to take: a Bachelor of Education (B.Ed.) degree, or the postgraduate option (PGCE). Of course, those two options are still popular but they are certainly not the only paths that can be taken nowadays.
From different degree choices to various training schemes that route into teaching career and other positions in the education sector, there is now plenty of choices. When it comes to making an application to any course or scheme, there is one common requirement – the need to have relevant work experience.
Why is work experience so important?
It’s no surprise that all institutions stipulate that work experience is required for applicants. No amount of work experience really prepares you for what it is like to take charge of a whole class on your own for the first time. Similarly, it hardly lays the groundwork for your future life on the planning/teaching/marking treadmill either! But (and this is a BIG but) work experience gives you a real taste of what it is like. It is the best way you can possibly prepare yourself for an application to train – especially in helping you to make up your mind about whether it will be the correct career choice for you.
What work experience is required?
The specific work experience requirements asked of applicants will vary from institution to institution, although they will be broadly similar. However, the way to approach work experience in the education sector is not to just do what is required, but also to seek opportunities that will broaden your overall experience in other ways. Schools are generally very open to work experience requests and/or volunteering, which is another way of picking up valuable experience.
Generally speaking, you will need to show that you have spent some time working in the stage/age range that you are interested in training in and specialising in. For example, the foundation stage or Key Stage 1. It is vital that you appreciate the resilience and commitment that is required (at any stage). You cannot hope to become an effective teacher without this understanding – and without possessing these qualities yourself.
Advice about work experience
Spending 10 days in a relevant setting is the general – if unwritten – rule. The more recent the experience is the better it will be regarded in any application. It is standard practice in application interviews for candidates to be asked to draw and reflect on this work experience. It’s also an expectation that the professional that oversees your work experience should complete a reference that describes a candidate’s ability to work effectively with children and comments on their general suitability and potential to become a successful teacher.
For secondary teaching, work experience that is focused on your subject specialism will obviously be a clear advantage, if not a requirement. Typically, if you can demonstrate experience in different schools and settings then all the better.
Indeed, any additional relevant experience of working with children will be useful. From teaching abroad to sports coaching to helping with voluntary/community groups, any experience that shows your commitment to working with young people will be looked on favourably.
Remember, the best way to look at work experience is not to do it because you have to, but to do as much as you can to help you decide whether the education sector is the right place for you.
Performance against targets and how many students in your classes are above, on, or below their target grades will be carefully scrutinised. Levels of progress, statistics and data… you’d be forgiven sometimes these days for believing that is what education is all about!
Teachers have noticed that when a child exceeds targets, it is often commented on that the child has done well. However, if the child under-achieves the fingers of suspicion and blame point squarely at the teacher.
In today’s high-pressure education climate, teachers are expected to always have an impact on the children they teach. Teachers are expected to do more with less – to achieve better results with bigger class sizes, for example. The spotlight is very much on teachers these days – and sometimes it feels like an interrogator’s spotlight.
Why do we become teachers in the first place?
It’s a question that all teachers are faced with at some point: Why do/did you want to become a teacher? In general (and in short) a typical answer is: ‘to make a difference’. Of course, all teachers want all the pupils they teach to achieve and to reach their potential – but with pupils in danger of becoming little more than a ‘set of statistics’ or a group of ‘nameless target grades’ – is this really what we mean by saying we want to make a difference?
Impact isn’t just about academic grades
The thing is, having an impact in the classroom means much, much more than helping a pupil to achieve above their target grade. Don’t always look at ‘impact’ as something that has to be numerical or statistical. Impact can be a ‘lightbulb moment’. Yes, it can be the moment an idea, concept or skill just clicks for a student. And, yes, that might be the key that opens the door for that person to go on and reach their potential grade-wise.
But, equally, it could be that moment when a child realises that they absolutely want to focus on a particular subject and pursue a particular career. Having an impact can mean nurturing a child’s love of reading, for example – or a passion for a sport.
What difference does it make?
Never underestimate the impact a teacher can have on a child. It’s great to focus on the positives, of course, but remember that it is possible to have a negative impact on a child’s learning or feelings about a subject too.
Generally, a child that struggles in a subject does not like that subject much either. They don’t like it because they feel (or know) that they ‘can’t do it’. Here, the teacher is vital. The teacher that supports, never gives up and really cares might just get the breakthrough. The teacher who the child perceives doesn’t like them will never get that breakthrough. Indeed they are more likely to kill off that subject for the child for good.
Having an impact is about target grades, but it is also about ensuring that all students have a positive experience in a subject and in your classroom, even if they don’t excel academically.
Aside from that, impact is about constantly striving for those ‘lightbulb moments’.
Choosing between the primary or secondary school is another big decision to make. For some, it’s hardly a decision at all because you just know. Others will agonise before plumping for one or the other.
But, say you chose secondary, you still have one all-important decision to take. You need to choose the right school for you to work in.
Deciding to take the plunge and to embark on a teaching career is an important first step – a truly life-changing decision – but it’s far from the only big decision you have to make as you set off on your teaching journey.
Don’t just take the first job you are offered
This is easier said than done, admittedly, and it is very difficult to turn down an offer of employment (especially if you are a PGCE student looking for your first full-time position). If you have had a couple of unsuccessful interviews already and then you are offered a job, it’s all too easy to feel compelled to accept. After all, beggars can’t be choosers, right?
Wrong. And accepting a job at a school that isn’t a ‘good fit’ for you is wrong too. Indeed, it can be a very bad and costly mistake to make.
All schools are not created equal
It’s a lovely notion for sure – and one the government would have you believe is possible – but we all know that the education that children receive in schools up and down the country is not the same. Children do not have the same opportunities or experiences from one school to the next.
Different environments – even areas of the country – present different challenges and various pros and cons.
Essentially, kids are the same whether they come from (in many ways) but teaching in an inner-city school in a tough urban area is obviously going to be quite different to leafy, middle-class suburbia. Think very carefully about which type of environment you would prefer to work in.
Similarly, consider how important the opportunity to teach A level is to you. Many teachers love it and wouldn’t want to give it up. It can be a little bit of light relief to have a small class of Year 13 students as opposed to 30 little Year 7s crowded around your desk demanding ‘Is this right, Miss?’ all at the same time.
But is A level the be all and end all? Do you want the pressure of more exam groups? There are plenty of questions to ask yourself.
Finding the right fit
The ethos and values of a school are perhaps the most important factors to consider when trying to decide if a school is right for you. Bear in mind that although schools might say they are being completely transparent and open during the interview process, just how open and honest they really are could be questionable. Both parties in an interview want to present and highlight their strengths, not their weaknesses.
By all means, ask questions during an interview. Definitely do your research – a school website, the letters it sends to parents, an Ofsted report – all can give clues and little nuggets of information about what a school is really like.
Finally, go on instinct. If you get a sense that something isn’t quite right about a school, it probably means that there is something that isn’t quite right.
Working in a school that isn’t a good fit is never a good idea, so you must do all you can to avoid ending up in that position.
The rungs of the career ladder in teaching are getting further and further apart. Even more worrying, we are seeing more and more people from outside of teaching stepping straight into senior roles with virtually no experience of education or children. While it is good to see views from the ‘outside’ world widening visions from the staff room, there can be little more discouraging than working under harsh conditions and at low pay for fifteen years. Then, when it is time to move forward, to discover the Deputy Headship for which you would be an ideal candidate has gone to the former financial trader whose only experience of dealing with an unruly mob is on the floor of the market place.
But there is little we can do about that, as teachers. Other than, that is, to remember when we ourselves achieve the top of the tree how hard it can be to secure promotion. We must recall that pedagogic acorns need the chance to grow into their own substantial oaks, without being chopped down by the chainsaw of other professions just when they reach maturity.
But let us be positive, for opportunities are there. Those with the ambition and skills to advance their career will find options within teaching. There are certain key elements to making progress – not ‘set in concrete’ essentials, but highly advisable credentials:
Good organisation is a must. It might not always seem so, but middle and senior managers do work very hard, at least the best ones. They may delegate (a skill in its own right), but their door is always open and managing a big organisation – even a medium sized school has a budget of several millions, and a significant number of staff – is tough.
A clean disciplinary record is crucial. It is harder being a teacher today than ever. Accusations are easy to make and difficult to disprove; social media means that even our most private moment are, quite wrongly most would say, subject to scrutiny. Even highly paid lawyers and doctors have a bit of time off to let their hair down, something that seems to longer apply to teachers.
Good classroom control is also necessary. Teachers and pupils will expect you to be able to cope with the trickiest of students, and respect will disappear if you cannot.
Options in Education
Given the above, there are different routes that can be taken to advance our career. One of the first questions is whether to seek promotion in your current school, or to look elsewhere. For those seeking their first step in promotion, perhaps to number two in a large department, Head of department in mid-sized school, or maybe a pastoral role such as Head of Year, it does not hugely matter whether promotion is internal or at another school. However, internal opportunities do not often arise, and heads often want the new perspectives they are more likely to find from external candidates.
Once you have an idea of where to look for your next job, a good letter of application to go alongside your career record is worth spending time perfecting. Interview technique that identifies you as confident without being arrogant, calm without being too laid back, is most likely to lead to success, especially where your interviewer does not know you personally.
Moving from middle to senior management is usually best with a change of schools. From a senior management perspective, there is no doubt that a teacher’s role in an institution changes with this type of promotion. Old friendships can be put under strain, and discussions held at SLT meetings might leave somebody in an uncomfortable position, where internal appointments are made.
In the old days, moving into senior management was a more straightforward prospect. There was the head, the deputy, probably somebody on the pastoral side and another to represent the academic. Nowadays there are a diverse range of positions, from safeguarding to heading up teaching and learning, with sometimes marketing or business interests represented.
The best idea is to decide where you really want to go, arrange a meeting with your Head and have a good heart to heart discussion. As wrong as it might be, a lot of positions are confirmed because you have become known for success on the school circuit, or your head is prepared to get onto the phone and recommend you.
To sum up:
Get a good record behind you.
Decide on the direction you would like your career to take.
Speak to your head.
Listen to feedback and…
Start your new job.
Leaving The Profession
Sadly, for many, career progression means leaving the profession. Doing so is much more straightforward than might be feared. Teaching helps to develop skills that are highly regarded in the market place and many ex teachers find excellent positions in the private sector where there is less stress, better pay and far less political interference, both with a capital and small ‘P’.
Most teachers have excellent soft skills. Working with people, many of them vulnerable, helps to make teachers great listeners and superb, kindly, problem solvers. We are good leaders, experienced at managing others – children in particular (most adults are just bigger versions, perhaps a little less open minded!)
Teachers are also usually well organised, good time keepers, excellent at meeting deadlines and with strong subject specific skills.
They make fine writers (trust me, a great job if you like setting your own agenda, and better paid than many would have you believe…); accountants; business managers and entrepreneurs.
Teachers are sought after in recruitment, sales and retail, where their excellent soft skills come into their own. For those with time and ability to retrain, teachers made good solicitors, with their attention to detail, and fine counsellors with their ability to listen well.
In fact, there are few jobs to which teachers cannot turn their hands if the desire is there. After all, we have managed difficult classes of thirty something students, each with their own needs, challenges, difficulties and ambitions. If we can do that, we can do anything.
When being asked what qualities does a great teacher have, you will get dozens of answers. There are many qualities that make up a great teacher. It also matters whom you are asking the question to. Students would probably say a great teacher does not hand out a lot of homework. Parents might say a caring teacher that spends extra time with their children has qualities that make them great. Still, if you ask a teacher what makes the perfect educator, they might use all their years of experience to create answers from. Below is a list of the most common qualities that will lead a teacher into greatness.
Keeping a Sense of Humor
I’m not sure if they still offer this advice in college to future teachers, but I was told not to smile or joke around with my students until the second half of the school year. Professors would tell all of us this because, presumably, if you had fun with your students, they figured they would eventually take advantage of you. Quite a few teachers are proud of being a bit angry and tough on their students. They wear it like a badge of accomplishment.
However, real life is a lot like a classroom. If someone is serious and grimacing all the time in his life, you don’t like being around them. This is why a teacher with an easy smile and a good sense of humor can go far in education. They still have to determine a suitable way to discipline the students, but a good educator will find what works best for them. Educators are meant to be role models for the students, so be a role model that doesn’t act angry at the world.
Offer a 21st Century Education
Teachers that still rely on paper mache for projects are doing a disservice to their students. While paper mache can be a fun art project, it really isn’t a requirement that kids learn it. Everything has to be put into perspective. Would students be better off creating a PowerPoint presentation about the solar system or making a paper mache globe pinata? While the pinata might be a lot of fun at parties, using 21st century technology in the classroom is probably for the best. Students love learning about computers and new technology. Study up on it a bit and offer it to them in your lessons. Educators that are set in their ways year after year are not helping their students grow. Lesson plans from 20 years ago are probably not as relevant as lesson plans that have been updated in the last year or two to incorporate computers in the learning process.
The old saying goes that someone may not remember what you said in the past, but they will always recall how you made them feel. This goes for kindness and meanness. It works both ways. If you are kind to your students and try to identify with them, they will remember this for a lifetime. My elderly father just the other day was speaking about teachers that he had back in elementary school. He recalled almost all of their names and how they made him feel. Hopefully, when your students are older and reminiscing, they will tell others about the kindness and the fairness you showed them.
All teachers expect the best out of their students. The great teachers provide the encouragement needed for them to achieve their bests. Sometimes it is done through a friendly pep talk. Other times it is accomplished by a stern lecture about not settling for less. Expecting the best and encouraging the best are two different things. One takes an active educator, and the other is a hopeful educator. Great teachers are active teachers that hold students accountable for their work.
Differentiates Teaching Style
Educators that teach straight out of the textbook and stand still at the podium as they lecture to the class are a dying breed. And for good reason. There is no quicker way to lose your audience than teaching out of the textbook without deviating from it. A person who teaches this way is not an educator. They merely are a reader for the class. Textbooks should be viewed as supplemental material, not as the be all and end all of learning in the classroom. Students learn in different ways. Some learn best by reading, some by video, some by lecture, some by group learning, some by discussion, and others through technology. It is up to the teacher to present these separate learning styles into one classroom. A great teacher will teach to the student’s strengths, while improving their weaknesses at the same time.
Here are some suggestions which you can follow to choose a primary school for your child. If you haven’t started yet, don’t worry and just join in the cycle where you can.
Perhaps using the word ‘selecting’ is over egging the situation, ‘applying for’ might be a more accurate, if less empowering, phrase. While getting the school of choice is more likely with primaries than secondaries (there are more of them, and parents often want the most local to them), the choice is not certain.
It is important to choose a primary school that best fit your child needs. OFSTED reports are, of course, handy but they tell only a fraction of the story. They are overwhelmingly influenced by public examination scores, and although they look at things like pastoral care and behaviour, these are hard to quantify and so, they don’t try.
The deadline for applications is usually mid-January for September start. Check your county website for exact details, but they do vary to a small extent from region to region. Applying online is the best option, because you then have a record of your application, along with the date it was sent. Local authorities do, frequently, make mistakes which they will almost certainly deny (from my experience) so having a clear record of communications could prove to be extremely important.
Talk To Friends And Neighbours
The first step, and I am assuming here that you do not know too much about the local schools, is to talk to independent people like your friends and neighbours. Use their analysis of local provision to help you begin to form an opinion. If your child attends an independent nursery, sound out parents and staff as much as possible.
Go To Open Days
Most schools these days offer Open Days. They are handy for prospective parents as long as not too much weight is given to them although as general fact finders they serve a purpose. In the past, where children pretty much attended their closest school, and parents did not consider other options, there was no need to put on any kind of show.
Today, though, with parents properly exercising their right to choose a primary school, most schools feel the need to show off their strengths – and most do this very well. As hopefully most people know, funding is based on the number of pupils.
Although caps are placed on maximum numbers, schools with shortfalls of pupils will also have a shortfall in funding. Therefore, the open day is a major marketing tool for the school.
However, behind the spin and the show, parents can see whether the school might be right for their child. Do remember that the best show does not necessarily equate to the best school. Some places are brilliant at selling themselves, but the product is poor. Tell me about it!
Narrow The Choice Down
With the information you now have, I would suggest contacting three or four of your favourites and arrange a time to meet the Head and tour the school on a normal day. This is really important, because you can guarantee that the open day will have been highly choreographed.
Touring the school on a normal day will give you a really good insight into the atmosphere. Are the children smiling? Are classrooms hives of activity, with a working murmur? Or, is every room silent, the teacher sat at the front marking? Are classroom doors open? Do the children walk in the corridors, or charge like stampeding animals? Break times are a real eye opener if you can be there then. See how the children integrate with each other.
Prioritise Your Child’s Needs
Is being with friends the most important thing? Do they need a school that offers lots of sport, music or drama? Will they respond to a heads down academic type environment? Do they like experimenting?
Once you have done this, and talked to your child (perhaps taken them on the school tours, although that can be a lot to take in for young children), then you should have a clear idea of your top picks.
All schools have admissions criteria to which they are legally obliged to adhere. These criteria vary from school to school; however, they will usually follow something like the list below:
Special need for the school (this is something like a special needs provision that only that school can offer. It applies to very few children)
Looked after children – again, the numbers here are likely to be extremely small, most probably no more than one or two, if that.
Distance from School – that is the distance from your home.
Special characteristics – often this is limited to church schools, so regular, documented church attendance might put you higher up the application list)
Other factors, which can vary from school to school.
Realistically, if you live a long way from a school that you know is going to be oversubscribed, and there is no documented reason why your child needs that particular school, then you won’t get a place. The admissions forms allow for a number of choices, and it is best not to waste one that has no chance of succeeding.
If you are not successful with your first choice, you can appeal. You will need to prove very strong extenuating circumstances, or an error on the part of the local authority, which controls admissions for all non-fee-paying schools.
However, if it is a church school, or an academy, then trying to get the Headteacher, local religious leader and so on with you could be a help.
Choosing your child’s school is both exciting and stressful. And it needs a good deal of time and effort to make sure the one you favour is right for your loved one.
The Liberal Democrats’ report revealed that 3,750 teachers were signed off on long-term sick leave last year. This means one in 83 teachers is on long-term sick leave for stress or mental health related issues. Over the last four years, teachers have taken off a staggering 1.3 million days because of suffering from poor mental health.
Evidence that teaching at schools in England can be hazardous to one’s health has been accumulating over recent years, with numerous reports highlighting a profession beset with individuals suffering from stress, insomnia and anxiety. This report clarifies just how dire this situation is with record numbers of teachers absent from the classroom on long-term sick leave.
Referring to the report’s findings that almost 4,000 teachers were signed off on long-term sick leave due to the pressures of work, anxiety and mental illness, Dr Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the National Education Union, warned of an “epidemic of stress” caused by unrealistic demands and excessive working hours.
“Teachers work more unpaid overtime than any other profession. Classroom teachers routinely work 55 hours or over a week. School leaders routinely work over 60 hours a week. And it is not just the amount of work. It is the pressures of a punitive and non-productive accountability system,” explained Dr Bousted.
Dr Bousted also raised the issue of the constant changes to the curriculum which have “left teachers rocking from stress and exhaustion,” and the burden of unnecessary student assessments, which create stress for teachers and students, describing English children as some of the “most over-assessed in the modern world”.
The excessive workloads of teachers in England, and the negative impact this has on their health, was reported earlier in a report published by the Education Policy Institute which concluded that over 50 percent of the country’s teachers were working 40-58 hours a week and over 20 percent of teachers worked more than 60 hours a week.
The Lib Dem’s report also supports earlier research by National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers (NASUWT) which revealed that more than 80 percent of school staff believe their job has had a negative impact on their health. The survey concluded that insomnia (84 percent) and anxiousness (74 percent) were the ailments which respondents suffered from most. Lethargy (54 percent) was another commonly reported health disorder among teachers and school staff.
In 2014, a survey by by the Education Support Partnership, reported similar findings with, ‘A large majority of (teachers) 89% blamed excessive workloads for their ill health while more than half cited rapid pace of change (54%) and unreasonable demands from managers (53%) as other key factors. Overall, 80% of teachers, lecturers and support staff said their mental health would improve if managers worked with staff to reduce workload.’
The most worrying report about stress among the teaching professional came from statistics released in 2017 which revealed that the suicide rate for primary school teachers was double the national average, with 139 suicides among teaching and educational professionals in 2016, confirming that teaching was now ‘one of the most highly stressed occupations in the country.’
Commenting on these statistics, John Coe, from at the National Association for Primary Education (NATE), confirmed that what the report had revealed was “highly worrying”, adding that, “The impact of government policies and the maintenance of a highly competitive structure of schools — inspections, league tables and all the rest — leads to a lot of pressure.”
With an ever-growing number of reports revealing how the Conservative government’s mismanagement of the English education system is punishing the very individuals who are committed to doing their best for the children of this country, it’s clear that fundamental reforms are necessary to reverse the current government’s obsession with excessive administration, unnecessary assessments and competitive school rankings.
Unless changes are made soon, more teachers will fall ill, less graduates will be attracted to the teaching profession and the country’s chronic teacher shortage will become absolutely dire.
We all deal with stress in our own ways. What may be stressful to you may not be stressful for someone else. We are all wired differently and have various snapping points.
There is no way around it, teaching is a stressful career choice. If you walk into a teachers’ lounge, you are bound to hear educators that seem to be one step away from having a breakdown. However, there are careers that are just as stressful, so let’s keep this in perspective. Who here would like to deal with the stress of being an airline pilot, police officer, or even a taxi driver? I can’t think of anything much more stressful than being stuck in traffic with someone in the backseat screaming at you.
Below are some tips on how to handle stress better in or out of education.
Keep a Sense of Humor
Have a Snickers. Just kidding! If you are able to find the humour in even the worst situations, it will help alleviate the stress of it. Being able to laugh at the ridiculousness of life will slow down your heart rate during the most tension-filled times. It’s hard to be sad with a smile on your face. And why be so worried about life. None of us are getting out of here alive anyway.
Sometimes all you need to relieve some stress is to get a good workout in. Running a couple miles, lifting some weights, or punching a heavy bag will make you feel much better. Working out releases endorphins in the brain and allows you to see the bright side of things in a short amount of time. Perhaps schedule workouts every other day so your stress is constantly being relieved every 48 hours. Signing up for fitness classes is a simple way to do this. If doctors would just prescribe more workouts for people instead of anti-anxiety medications the world would be a better place.
Have a Night Out with Friends
It is amazing how much better you feel after spending a few hours with friends. All those problems that once seemed insurmountable now seem like much less trouble. Make a few phone calls and schedule a night out every few weeks so stress does not build up over a long period of time.
Go Watch a Movie
Watching an interesting movie will leave you thinking about nothing else except how great the film is. Forgetting about your problems for a couple hours and focusing on the plot will leave you feeling less stressed out.
Take a Short Trip
Everything is not a life or death situation. It is okay to take time for yourself. It is not being dishonest if you call in sick when you just need a mental health day. Going on a short adventure can clear your head and make you realize that if the situation you are in is not the best, you can always leave that situation.
Stress often rears its ugly head at night, making it difficult to sleep. However, doesn’t everything seem so much brighter in the morning? A nap will have the same effect. A couple hours sleep during the day can work wonders for those feeling overwhelmed. It is like pushing a reset button for your mind and body.
Vent to Someone
Sometimes all you need is to talk out your problems. It could be a parent, a friend, or even a therapist or a counsellor. They may have advice that can help you out. Still, now and then you just need someone to listen to your problems and hear them out. Advice is not always needed. Just knowing someone is there that cares will make you feel better.
Yoga and meditation may not be your thing, but don’t knock it until you try it. It is supposed to put your mind at ease and clear your thoughts. If you are feeling stressed out, it is okay to try new things to deal with it. Plus, maybe you will make a new friend or two as you hum away and do your stretches.
The old saying goes that music can soothe the savage beast. It also can relieve stress and clear your head. Find some of your favourite tunes and jam away in your car, in your room, or on your headphones. Maybe you can even pick out some inspirational music to help you out. The Rocky soundtrack is always a great one to listen to.
It’s difficult to over-egg just how important being confident is to a teacher. Strange as it may seem, in the big scheme of things confidence is probably every bit as important as subject knowledge.
So, why is confidence so crucial – and how can you become a more confident teacher?
Confidence is crucial: The reasons why
Of course, in many ways it’s difficult to separate confidence as a teacher and confidence as a person. There is certainly more to being a confident teacher than just what goes on in the classroom.
Teachers should already have a bit of head-start in the confidence stakes anyway. Any person who even considers the prospect of standing in front of 30 eight year olds or sixteen year olds as a career choice must have a modicum of confidence already! Anybody who has got themselves through teacher training successfully will have steadily grown in confidence. At the very least, a NQT should be starting from a healthily strong confidence base.
However, we all know that, in life, confidence is not a constant. We can grow in confidence, sure. But, confidence can be lost too. When that happens it can drain away very quickly – and it can be very hard to replace.
As teachers we know how important confidence and self-belief is with the students we teach. For a pupil, confidence and self-belief cannot replace a lack of ability entirely – but it can go a long way in compensating for it.
On the flip- side, a student that struggles with their confidence is likely to be one that struggles, full stop. At worst, lacking confidence can be crippling and destructive for a student.
We know this. But confidence is as crucial to us as teachers as it is to our pupils.
Confidence in the classroom
Being in the classroom in front of a class of students is a teacher’s bread and butter. The teacher has to command that space. The teacher has to be in charge. The teacher has to be the captain that plots the course, makes decisions and motivates the team (i.e. the pupils). The teacher is the rock.
To be all of those things, the teacher needs confidence!
One of the key challenges of teacher training is to appear supremely confident even if you are dying inside of fright and fear! Success breeds confidence, so the first time you have wins in the classroom (big or little), it gives you the confidence to do it again.
But the need to appear confident – even in situations when you are not confident at all – is a skill that needs to be developed throughout your teaching career. You can never afford to lose it.
Few teachers are fortunate enough to be teaching students who simply lap up everything they say every single day. For most of us, it’s a constant challenge. After all, children can be a challenging and difficult audience. Children are wired to sniff out weakness. If they smell it, they smell blood. The teacher cannot let that happen.
Confidence is the key
Confidence is much more than something you need to remain ‘in control’ of a class. It is much, much more than an important part of classroom management.
Confidence is about daring to be different – to take risks – not all the time (obviously); but a willingness to try new things in the classroom, to experiment and to be creative all stems from confidence.
Confidence is about being prepared to say no every once in a while – to a manager who is asking you to take on too much; or to yourself – when you are considering spending all 24 hours of Sunday ‘catching up’ with marking. Confidence is about giving yourself some ‘me time.’
Confidence is also about cutting yourself some slack. Being reflective on your own practice is vital. Continually wanting to develop and learn feeds confidence. However, accepting that you will get things wrong from time to time and that you will have lessons go wrong is equally important.
Learn from mistakes and disappointments, but don’t let them crush you.