Should a holiday be a complete holiday?

“Yeah but you're on holiday half the time.”

Such is the response to any teacher who moans about their workload to their non-teacher friends. And yes, it's pretty sweet; I like my working life being broken into small, easily digestible chunks.

How much work should teachers be doing during the three months-ish per year we have off? Some are jealously protective of the time, proud that they never take any work home. They insist they will have no problem getting all their lesson planning done during term. In contrast, I know others who write off whole weeks of holidays as “work time”.

The decision is entirely personal. No one in senior leadership offers any instruction on it, no one can check up on what you've done.

If we, as teachers, want to be taken seriously as professionals then holidays can't be purely time off. No teacher can honestly say that during the frenzy of term, they have as much time as they'd like to plan. Our obligation is to deliver the best lessons we can; if doing that means putting aside some of the precious holiday time, so be it.

Or pick up a teaching theory book. I know we're all convinced that we know what we're doing but would there be any harm in seeking out some new ideas?

The unexpected gift

He's possibly the naughtiest student in school and he's in my form.

He often shouts in my face. I've sat with him countless times when he's been withdrawn from lessons. On one occasion, I had to persuade him to come down off a roof.

On the final day of term, he walks into my office without a word. He hands me a present and I'm speechless. He smiles and walks out.

We measure our working lives in achievements but, years down the line, I wonder if it won't be moments like these that define our careers.

Tis the season to be ill

How ill is too ill?

I know teachers who have taken a day off for a headache. I know others who will come in with a raging temperature. My school is pretty trusting. You ring up, say you are ill and no questions are asked. You fill in a small form on your return which no-one ever seems bothered about (like much of school paperwork, I have no idea where it finally goes). The only teacher I've known to get into trouble was one who took the day off “ill”, before coming to perform at the school talent show in the evening.

I've always been proud that, even when I'm feeling like death, I drag myself in. I feel guilty about making someone else do my teaching. I'm nervous about being seen by other teachers as a slacker.

I'm no longer sure this minor martydom is a good idea. In a previous life, I had a desk job. When I felt rough, I could hide behind my desk, do very little work and scrape through to the end of the day. Teaching doesn't let you hide and good teaching requires energy. An ill teacher struggles to teach decent lesson. Perhaps as importantly in a school like mine, they won't find the composure to deal with difficult behaviour.

Maybe I'm going soft but if you are too ill to stand in front of a crowd of rowdy teenagers then don't come in. Others might resent covering your lessons but they will appreciate not being coughed on.

A desperate hunt for a new teacher

We have less than a week to find a new teacher.

For most of this term, one of the positions in our department has been filled by a supply teacher who can no longer come in. Cue panic-driven recruitment.

There is a vicious cycle at work here. Bad schools are poor at retaining staff and are often over-reliant on temporary staff. Aside from the obvious disadvantages this turnover has for students, it also makes it difficult to find good teachers. It forces the school to recruit at times of the year (such as now) when most good teachers are employed and not looking for work. The time pressure also means the school can't be that selective; they have to pick someone, even if the choice is small and unimpressive.

The first candidate was not a success. As part of the interview process, he taught my Year 8 set. My Head of Department described it as a shambles.

Teaching a lesson seems the only true way to test quality. It's also a very rare instance when the school hands over power to the students. They don't make the decision but the extent to which they choose to cooperate with this new teacher plays a key role in how the lesson will go.

It's an odd thought that the applicant's future is at least partly in the hands of a group of teenagers.

Is a lazy student my fault?

He sat there and stared into space.

It was my Bottom Set Year 11's mock exam. In just over a month they will be doing the real one. Invigilating, I wandered nervously around the back of the hall. Mocks are the key indicator as to how students will perform in the actual exam. They are proof of whether I've achieved anything over the last two terms.

With an hour left, his paper was closed. I walked over, opened it and found almost half the questions unanswered. I looked at him imploringly and he shook his head.

Just how responsible am I for this? He's not the brightest student but I know I've equipped him with the skills to make a good stab at all of this paper. I clearly, however, haven't given him the motivation or confidence to do so.

As the January exams approach, I've been thinking more about this question of responsibility. My set will do ok but I know a few are going to miss their targets. I've taught them the course thoroughly and accessibly, built good relationships with parents to ensure home support and have run regular after-school sessions. Yet, in hindsight, it's always easy to identify things you could have done better.

Is it my fault if a sixteen-year-old cares so little they give up halfway through the mock exam? What hurts is that feeling of powerlessness; I don't know how to make him care.

p.s. The issue of who is responsible for exam results also links directly into the whole debate on performance-related pay, something I'd like to do a post on sometime.

Why the school musical matters

I wasn't expecting to enjoy myself.

Musicals aren't really my thing and a musical adaptation of Cinderella was surely going to be too much to bear.

And yet I had a great time. The script was genuinely funny while I enjoyed the cheesy songs more than I should admit. I found the complex dance routines dazzlingly impressive.

Most importantly, everyone was having so much fun. The audience (encouragingly large, with plenty of parents as well as students of all ages) was roaring with laughter and clapping along to the music. Those on stage were clearly relishing the attention.

Events like these shouldn't be seen as an added bonus for the school. If we are to have a positive atmosphere around the place we need nights like this, where students, teachers and parents get together and enjoy an occasion. An evening like this does so much to make everyone proud of the school.

So let's add that to the much-vaunted "Development Strategy": must have more fun.