Must Try Harder is a book about teaching, written by a classroom teacher and based on his experiences of the madness that accompanies, and increasingly conspires to destroy, what should be a wonderful profession. Obviously, names, genders and locations have been changed to protect the often less-than-innocent, but his experience as a teacher in a Bog Standard secondary school is distilled into the 300+ pages of madcap mayhem and occasional moments of pedagogical bliss.
“Eight years after the events described in the his previous book, Bog Standard, the old Technology College has been demolished and in its place is the brand new £150million William Edward Arnott Learning Village, complete with primary-colored open-plan learning areas, glossy wall-photographs of radiant children and an ‘integrated e-learning package’.
Problem is, while the name may have changed, and the walls are now made of plasterboard rather than asbestos, the students are still as crazy as ever, the paperwork, exam-scams and Ofsted-obsessions have multiplied on a geometric scale, the Wunderkind Deputy Head has introduced a whole new teaching system, and the school is now run by a new generation of Stepford teachers.
Daniel Ken, former blogger and committed classroom teacher finds that, if he is even to survive in this brand new teaching arena, he Must Try Harder.”
Despite the experiences he recounts, Daniel Ken’s view of teaching is humorous, wry and filled with the joy of educating young people - the endless surprises, challenges and occasional mishaps more than outweigh the target-obsessed, Ofsted-crazed, manage-by-powerpoint world that exists right outside the classroom door, always threatening to walk in unannounced, armed with a clipboard and a ticky-box sheet, determined to spoil everything. Because the bottom line is that education is about relationships, and those can’t be measured on a checklist. And the purpose of education is to educate, not to accumulate data, not to please Ofsted, and not to adhere to spurious graphs devised by people who don’t teach.
Must Try Harder is about the reality of teaching: the joys, the frustrations and the ever-expanding workload. And it’s about the students too, those raucous, rambunctious, rabelaisian characters who appear at the classroom door every time the bell rings, ready to cause havoc if they can, or learn if they must, and who always seem to know more, and care less, about what’s going on than the staff ever will.
So if you love teaching, or if you just wonder what teachers get up to when they’re not enjoying their endless holidays, you’ll recognize the spirit of this book and hopefully you’ll enjoy it – but if you’re a government education minister looking for easy answers, in the words of Obi Wan Kenobi, this is not the droid you’re looking for.
Featured article submitted by Mission Rabies
“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world” Nelson Mandela
It is amazing the difference a teacher can make on the futures of the children they educate, reading and writing, a passion for learning, creativity, confidence, and skills that they would never have imagined if it wasn’t for someone giving them the knowledge to succeed. Teaching basic knowledge for public health can even be a lifesaver.
It’s largely ignored that rabies, one of the world’s oldest and most terrifying diseases, is still a worldwide killer of 60,000 to 100,000 people every year. This continues despite being fully preventable and sadly, in over 60% of cases it is young children in Africa and Asia that bear the brunt. Why? Because children are more likely to play with a dog they don’t know, more likely to run and provoke a chase and sadly will ignore a dog bite or hide it from parents. If bitten by a rabid animal without a course of post bite injections the onset of rabies and death is almost certain. Put simply, lack of understanding of rabies puts their lives at risk. This is why, we try to reduce the number of dogs that can transmit the disease and teach children and their parents how to protect themselves! We work in the world hotspots for the disease; in India which sadly hosts 30% of all deaths from the disease worldwide and in Malawi where the highest number of child deaths in Africa have been reported, increasing year on year.
How do you teach young children such a scary topic? Much like in the life of supply teaching we have a short window of opportunity, usually with an hour per group to teach some pretty big groups in resource poor settings. It’s vital our lessons are memorable; coving the first aid basics, increase understanding the disease and its transmission and inspire communities to play their part in control of the disease. Over six months we have studied and trialled numerous ways to keep the attention of children as young as five and retain these messages creating our programme which we need the help of educators to deliver to children worldwide. We get children involved in activities from plays, art, and our video cartoons as well as engaging talks to help children overcome the fear of dogs and this scary disease. We quiz the children with our fun ‘vaccine-o-meter’ adding competition to create the positive reinforcement that leads to recall and giving children the opportunity to ask their own questions. We support their teachers with give practical age based lesson plans and resources to help schools deliver these messages for generations. One of our favourite teaching aids is the rather unique pedal powered cinema, which we can use in any setting regardless of resource, electricity and to show our local language cartoon in night shows for families. This kit is portable, sets up in around 10 minutes and through cartoon we get communities involved in the spectacle of learning – powered by cycle power alone.
Featured article submitted by Mission Rabies
To some teachers classroom control comes naturally but for the majority, this is a skill which is learnt once they start their first job. If you have ever struggled with a class or been flawed by one child’s behaviour, hopefully some of the tips I can provide should be of help to you. As an experienced teacher who has done his fair share of supply work, gaining control quickly is an essential skill particularly for supply teachers who many children see as ‘fair game’. After leaving teaching I have gone on to run Premier Teachers Ltd which supplies staff to North East schools. A large number of staff we interview state classroom control as being one of the areas they find hardest to master in a new school setting.
It is commonly felt that if a lesson is well planned and engaging, the requirement for classroom control should be minimal. However in practice, students want to ‘test out’ new teachers by trying to find out where your boundaries are. Once you become proficient in Classroom Management you should be able to ensure lessons run smoothly despite disruption from students. The question is ‘how’ can one establish classroom control at the start of the year and maintain that level of control for a whole academic year. A study by Gootman in 2008 stated that rules give clear direction to students to ensure ‘our expectations become a reality.’ This needs to be backed up by ‘positive consequences when rules are followed and negative consequences when rules are broken, ensuring this is done in a consistent way.’ The rest of this article will look at how to achieve your expectations of a class and how to maintain a good standard of behaviour.
In many ways doing supply work can make even an experienced teacher feel like they are restarting there career and the first day in a new school can be very nerve racking. The causes of bad behaviour are numerous ranging from poor planning and lack or pace to outside issues such as student being sleep deprived and having issues at home. We don’t have time to cover all of the techniques in a short article but some messages run through all good lessons that are well controlled. Children are very good at spotting weaknesses in a teacher’s armour so it is essential to establish control quickly and to lay down some ground rules.
If you are on supply for a day in a school establishing control quickly can be very difficult. I would recommend trying to beat the children to the door and managing their entrance. It is important to smile and be welcoming but don’t be afraid to stop children entering the room who are not behaving appropriately. Ideally have a seating plan if you are staying in a school so that you are seen as the person in control and if this is not possible you can still direct children where to sit in the room so they are not clustered with their best friends which is rarely a good idea. If you can establish a seating plan this will help you to learn names quickly and once you know a child’s name they will think twice about misbehaving – there is nothing worse than not knowing a child’s name when they continually misbehave so make sure you know the key characters quickly and don’t forget praise when they are working well.
In summary I would recommend having clear classroom boundaries and assert them regularly. If students cross them, have a gradual build-up of sanctions. Use assertive body language and tone and make clear statements such as ‘I need you to be quiet now..’ not ‘would you mind being quiet now’ which implies a choice. Know what the school’s discipline policy is and enforce it rigorously and make sure you know where to send students when they have crossed a line and need to be removed. If your lessons are interesting, have good pace and are pitched at the right level, over time the respect will come and it will be easier to pinpoint the children who do not follow the rules so then can be brought back into line. At this point parents usually need to be contacted for a meeting. On supply, I would always have a back-up lesson in your bag as the cover work may not always arrive on time or be enough to last the lesson. If you would like to attend one of our courses on ‘Classroom Management please contact Premier Teachers on 0191 556 0133 for further details.
A Survival Kit for Casual Teachers, by Nikki Tester, arrived on my desk with a thud! A whopping 100 pages long, this essential PDF contains all you need to survive as a supply teacher. The e-book has an interactive contents page, and easy access links at the end of each section to a wealth of fantastic sites available for you to explore and add to your teaching toolkit. A songs section at the end has links to YouTube versions of the songs, making life a little easier on those busy supply days.
Chapters include Behaviour Management and Organisation, 5 - 10 Minute Time Fillers, Mathematics, Writing and Literacy, Games, Thinking Skills, Useful Links and Helpful Sites and Silly Songs. Aimed at EYFS, KS1 and KS2 teachers, all activities are thoroughly explained, and variations offered for many.
Finding quality resources, games and ideas for the classroom can be one of a supply teacher's biggest time-wasting activities. Here, Nikki tells you where to go, and she can vouch for all the links provided! Ideally, you will use this as a guide at home, look up some excellent resources and links before you enter the classroom. Teach yourself some of the games, the songs and the challenges for the children, and hold them in your head in case they are needed. It is in electronic form however, so can be taken into the classroom with you on your pen drive etc. for a mental back-up! Thanks for allowing me the opportunity to feature such a great resource Nikki!
I was offered some work for while I was on holiday. Initial reaction? That’ll do nicely! What better than a little light summer reading allowing me the pleasure of delving into the comical side of a supply teacher’s life?
With a name as devilishly tempting as some of her students’, Carly Harley (Mrs) isn't the kind of person I warm to immediately. A little sarcastic, a little blunt, a little critical of the students and not ‘all heart’. From her tone, I immediately believe she’s been in secondary before digging into primary. Why don’t I warm to her? She could be me – with the paint stripped off. Let’s face it, great teachers are great actors: to succeed on some short term supply placements, you need to leave your home-life worries and cares at the door and put on a happy face. With Carly, you don’t get the act. She tells it like it is. Many times she says to the children what I wish I could sometimes say to the children! She does tell about some heart-warming stories, but let’s face it, it’s reflecting on the misadventures that keeps us smiling on supply.
Sat in the tent on a particularly blustery day (thanks to Bertha), I giggled with recognition at the antics of Carly and her temporary wards. Remembering the boys whose names begin with B, the plethora of teaching assistants each with their own quirks and their own ‘way of doing things round here’, and the multitude of behaviour policies we’d never get to see before it was too late allowed me a few hours of camaraderie. Dinner ladies who appear to disappear on wet break days when they spot you in the classroom, being asked ‘How’s the job hunting going?’, and the eternal struggles with passwords and security doors you will realise are par for the course. Carly walked me through the days I’ve seen, would like to see again, and would have preferred not to have had to live through!
The Classroom Hopper is available to buy on Amazon. An interview with Claire will be published mid-October.