My past 

Day 27 of the 30 days of gratitude challenge is my past. Something which I definitely took for granted at the time, along with the majority of the population, was my education.

Not everyone in the world has access to an education up to 18 years old, it isn’t always free and it’s not always available to girls. So the fact that I had a full school education is something to be grateful for.

On the whole, I had caring teachers and a good school life. Having been a teacher, I can see how easy it would be to walk out of my classroom on the bell and sit in the staff room at breaks, and refuse to deal with anything that doesn’t involve actual lessons. But lots of my teachers didn’t do that, if we were interested or had problems, they made themselves available. As tiring and as stressful as being a teacher was, I tried to make sure I was always around when I was needed. 

I was allowed to study the things I found interesting. Today STEM subjects are favoured by our government and arts subjects and languages are seen as a ‘waste of time’. How sad. 

I had the chance to go to university. I learnt more than a subject while there, it taught me a lot about living, friendships, living by myself and all the boring things which come with being a grown up. But at least I had housemates to commiserate about these things  with rather than being thrown in at the deep end by myself! 

Having worked in challenging schools, I can see how easily influenced pupils are. Even really well intentioned pupils can find themselves on the ‘wrong path’. I don’t know whether it was my doing or my teachers’ guidance, but I stayed on the ‘right’ one. 

Music Teachers are Awesome

Most teachers are awesome and go above and beyond for their ‘kids’. You’re even more so if you’re a music teacher, because:

  1. You’re performing all the time. Ofsted call it modelling, but you spend most of your time demonstrating ‘what a good performance looks like’.
  2. You have to be pretty fit. The pupils can’t easily bring their work to you, so you end up doing laps of your classroom all lesson. More so if there are pupils working elsewhere or in practice rooms.
  3. You’re giving your kids weapons. Literally- beaters. That’s all I’m saying.
  4. You need to be a mind reader so that you know they’re actually doing work in the practice room and not playing on Facebook.
  5. You have to put a lot of trust in your pupils and have earned their respect. See number 4. And the fact that you’re handing out expensive equipment every lesson.
  6. You put up with hours of noise. From about 8am-5pm most days. Yes, they might all be playing music, but when you can hear 5 different songs (and more) going on at the same time, it starts to become noise. And all through your ‘break’ times.
  7. You’re sometimes not as good as the pupils you’re teaching. It happens. There’s always a pupil who can play the piano or sing better than you. Guitar is definitely my downfall. But they do come in handy for modelling…
  8. You have to keep up with the charts so you know what your pupils are listening to. I happen to love Taylor Swift. Justin Bieber and Rihanna less so.
  9. Your classroom management needs to be amazing so that you can get all 30 instruments quiet at one time and don’t end up putting them all away yourself at the end of the lesson.
  10. You need to be able to play piano, sing and correct behaviour at the same time. This also earns you massive respect!
  11. Your hearing has to be amazing so you can spot who’s got the keyboard demo going without looking. And so you can tell what they’re doing in practice rooms through 2 walls and a door over the other ‘noise’.
  12. You’re inventive in repairing broken kit. Gaffa tape is amazing. Or you manage to persuade other people to do it for you for free!
  13. You have to be able to play random requests on the spot. My best on the spot rendition was Dappy No Regrets on a diatonic glockenspiel with two notes missing. I accidentally managed to get the right key and avoid needing those notes by sheer fluke! It earned me a fist bump though.
  14. Your party trick is being able to tune several guitars in 30 seconds by ear without going near a piano and even with missing strings.
  15. You’ll probably end up choreographing dance routines at some point. Glee and Pitch Perfect have a lot to answer for…
  16. You have to be able to fill in for anyone or anything at the last minute. Even if it means learning trumpet in 15 minutes because someone was sick before the performance. Or dancing aforementioned dance routine.
  17. You willingly give up your evenings and weekends for concerts and performances, on top of all the ‘normal’ teacher activities.
  18.  You play the role of motivator, counsellor, and parent on concert night, as well as stage manager. Not everyone’s mum can make it. At least one will cry from nerves. Someone will have an argument (again because of nerves).
  19.  You’re able to piece together a PA system with key bits of kit missing and without blowing anything up. And still make it safe in time for the concert.
  20. You’re simultaneously the most nervous and proud you’ve ever been when you’re watching your pupils perform. Because pupils doing well on-stage makes it all worthwhile.

Photo: Stock Google Image

Why Arts Education is Important

I feel really disheartened when I hear the words ‘I don’t think I’ll take music next year, X says it’s not as important as other subjects.’ I fully see where they’re coming from- everyone from high up Government Officials to their parents are saying that the Arts are a waste of time, and a lot of courses have been scrapped or made incredibly awkward to pursue. It makes my blood boil, because a lot of the curriculum is outdated; our current education system doesn’t take into account the fact that almost every child carries around a world of knowledge in their back pocket, in the format of their SmartPhone. Rather than learning how to calculate obtuse angles, we should be teaching them how they can find out answers for themselves. They can Google the word ‘tributary’ and watch a YouTube video about it quicker than they can commit information to memory in a Geography lesson. Do we actually need to know everything off by heart anymore? *NB I don’t think pupils should stop learning Geography or Maths, they’re important subjects.*

Anyway, I digress.With so much information at our fingertips, I know I very rarely use most of my Secondary School curriculum knowledge in everyday life. Even Maths, in the form of budgeting, which I used to do frequently, I can now tell my phone to do it and it works it all out for me. And then sends me push notification updates if I forget to check it. Same concept, different skill. But I do encounter the Arts everyday for a significant portion of my day. Aside from the obvious benefits, the Arts teaches you so much more than face value.

It teaches you to be creative. I know the current government thinks that creativity is an unnecessary use of time. But all of the technologies or advances in medicine we have now came about in the first place because a scientist thought outside the box and was creative. They saw a problem which needed solving and thought creatively to come up with a solution. Yes, there is creativity and innovation in science, but scientific minds also tend to be very good at music as well- that can’t be coincidence.

You learn how to work in a team. You can learn this in other subjects, like PE, but in music, drama and dance particularly, you regularly have to communicate your idea to a group of people, negotiate with others and persuade them to go with it, make adjustments to your work and evaluate your progress made. I became a pupil for a lesson once, you can read about it here, and it’s actually quite challenging to be creative in a team with a time-limit.

Your emotional intelligence grows as you develop artistically. You learn how to express your feelings and responses in an appropriate manner. Performing or creating a piece of art should expose part of the communicator’s soul. Others should be moved to feel something because of it. It teaches you empathy.

You learn how to take constructive criticism and persevere. X-Factor made my job more difficult because suddenly lots of students were saying ‘my mum says I should go on X-Factor.’ I never lied to pupils about their work, it doesn’t actually help in the long run. If it could be improved on, I would tell them how. There’s nothing wrong with criticism, it’s how you learn.

It teaches you acceptance, that it’s ok to be different. There’s a piece of music, a play, a style of dance, a film genre, a painting etc out there for everyone. It teaches you tolerance of other people’s views and helps you reason as to why you have your own.

It’s an outlet. For some pupils, it’s the only reason they come to school.‘If I didn’t have music lessons at school, I might just kill myself’ is a phrase I’ve heard many times. Sometimes it was over-exaggerated teenage angst, but a few times it wasn’t. A lot of my job as a music teacher wasn’t teaching them how to play set pieces, it was teaching them how to talk about music and what it meant to them, and helping them find a way of communicating their issues and problems. In drama, we’d talk about drawing on personal experiences to show emotion in our work, which also helped them to process their feelings. If a serious safeguarding concern came up and music/drama wasn’t a pupil’s ‘thing’, I’d abandon my lesson for a bit and we’d do colouring or writing poetry- whatever they needed to help. I’m not saying this kind of thing doesn’t happen in other subjects, but fewer disclosures happened in my French lessons than they did in my Performing Arts lessons.

It gives some pupils the chance to be ‘good’ at something. Some pupils aren’t academic. But they’re bloody good musicians. Some pupils have terrible behaviour and hate school, but they find their niche onstage where they get the spotlight attention for good performance that they crave. Other pupils have been rapping and doing street dance with their ‘crews’ (their word, not mine) for years and have never seen it as an art-form until they’re allowed to showcase it at school.

It’s a type of communication. Freedom of speech is key in a democracy yet the government are trying to silence some of our children’s primary methods by making the Arts a ‘bad choice’. Professor Umbridge’s classes in Harry Potter spring to mind.

It’s integral to our culture. Do you watch TV? Go to the cinema? Listen to music? Read graphic novels? Dance at parties? Do you have photographs in your house? Take photos on your iPhone?  Do you wear designer clothes? That’s all art. It’s not just about performing or going to view it. It is everywhere. And if you cut off formal education of the Arts, we’ll soon find ourselves without actors and designers and musicians etc and we’ll be culturally stifled. It doesn’t matter if you’re not actively ‘doing the arts’ you are engaging with the arts every day, and a lot of the time, without even realising it.

Many courses are being scrapped nationally after this coming exam season. Some courses still exist, but a lot are weighted now to be more theory based. Learning about the theory of something is good in some ways and is a useful foundation, but it doesn’t mean that you will suddenly be a talented artist. It needs to have practical elements. Nobody should be forced to learn the Arts at GCSE level or above. But the option needs to be offered. Science, Maths and Engineering are clearly important for the innovative, technology-driven society we live in now, no question of that. But we, as human beings, are just vessels of factual knowledge without the arts to teach us how to communicate it.

Photo: Stock Google Image

10 Behaviour Management Tips for that Challenging Class

As a secondary teacher, we’ve all had a class which just won’t settle down. Anyone who says otherwise is lying. Granted, it happens less the more experienced you get but everyone has had a tricky class. Don’t take it personally- there’s always that teacher who says ‘oh but they’re always fine for me’ in the staff room!

Day 19 of Blog Every Day in May is ‘out of your comfort zone’. Teaching is definitely within my comfort zone, but there’s always that one class who pushes you out of it. So here’s some tips I’ve picked up along the way to help with that really challenging class:
1) Be really prepared. I mean Powerpoint is on, computer logged in, chairs set out, resources on your desk, any potential ‘weapons’ removed. Be one step ahead. Meet the class at the door. Say ‘hello’ and positive comments as they walk in. If a pupil is wearing a coat and they need to take it off, keep it positive, saying something like ‘I love your coat, is it new? It does need to come off though’.

2) Shake up the seating plan. It’s tempting to put the chatty ones at the front so you can keep an eye on them, but think about putting some of the ring leaders at the back so that they can’t turn around and attract attention. If you can, give them a desk to themselves. In music teaching, I prefer having the class sat in a circle in boy girl boy girl- it’s quick to do and you can see everyone. Whatever you choose to do, explain to the class in the corridor what you intend to do and say that you will hear ‘comments’ once everyone is seated, not before. You’re obviously not going to change your seating plan unless someone points out a massive error, but if you make them feel like you are listening to them, they’re more likely to cooperate. Listen on your terms though- only once everyone is seated and they’ve got their hand up.

3) Don’t shout. It’s tempting, but you lose everything. Shouting should be a last resort. Lots of pupils, sadly, are shouted at at home, so it’s the way they’re used to communicating and you’re supposed to be readdressing their behaviour, not reinforcing it. Keep calm. Don’t be a pushover, you can raise your voice, just don’t shout. Use deep, clipped tones when you’re asking for attention and change back to normal once you have it. When talking to individuals, it often works if you say ‘I’m not shouting at you, why are you shouting at me?’.

4) Work through the consequences system, or make up your own if there isn’t a school policy. I like warnings- getting to ‘warning 3’ means 10 minute detention, ‘warning 4’ means half hour detention. I let the pupils ‘work them off’ in particularly difficult classes. This is because some pupils could potentially get to warning 4 in the first 10 minutes of the lesson, and if they know they’ve already got a detention, why would they start behaving all of a sudden?  Don’t, whatever you do, forget to reward the well behaved ones.

5) Don’t get into arguments in front of the class. This is how you lose respect and you dig yourself a hole. Someone at some point will complain about the warnings they’ve got. Say ‘I’ve heard you, if you’d like to talk about it, we’ll have a chat in a minute, but for now we’re doing…’. Sound like a broken record, repeat the same thing over and over again- they’ll get bored before you do. You also might have got it wrong if there’s lots of pupils to keep track of and you will need to apologise for that. But on your terms. You can also do consequences without saying anything, just stand next to the white board writing pupils’ names and warnings on or ask a trusted student to write the names down when you ask them to. And keep giving out rewards to those who deserve it!

6) Ignore them. Freeze your interactive whiteboard and pretend to get on with something else, periodically adding to the consequences and rewards list. Or set a timer going on the board and sit and watch them. Or give them a minute on the board for every time they don’t settle down when you’ve asked them to. Stand looking pointedly at your watch. Don’t enter into discussion, you asked for quiet and you didn’t get it. The amount of time they waste, is the amount of detention they get as a class. And then make them do the detention, preferably with the support of a more senior member of staff for backup. Use your discretion though- if there’s one pupil who genuinely didn’t do anything wrong, they shouldn’t have to do the detention.

7) Ring home. You can’t ring home for everyone, you’ll be there all day. Choose the worst 3 and the top 3 and ring home. Word will get round that you ring home for good behaviour too.

8) Use detentions to build bridges. First of all, show you mean business by collecting the pupils for detention, either by sending another pupil from your P5 class (scary year 10/11 always come in handy) or going yourself if you have a free. Ask them why they think they’re in detention. Be prepared for the fact that you might have missed something that you should be doing to help them e.g. worksheets photocopied onto blue for dyslexic pupils, and this is why they’re messing around. Chat to them about what they like to do– find something in common and then mention this to them in passing in the next lesson to show them you remember. I like to finish detentions with an agreement, the pupil will do X in the next lesson and I will help them by doing Y. You’re possibly already doing what you’re agreeing to, but they don’t need to know that. You can (quietly) refer to your agreement if they’re causing problems in the next lesson: ‘That’s not what we agreed, I said I’d make sure I gave you positive points and you had to quieten down quickly to get them. If you continue I’ll have to give you warnings, and neither of us want that’. Handshakes mean a lot to pupils- if you agree on something, shake on it.

9) Ask for help from your colleagues. Is there a behaviour specialist or Ed Psych in school? Get them to observe. Do any other teachers teach the same class? Observe them. Do you have on call in school? Ask them to wander by every now and then or call them if you need to. Ask your head of dept if you can send some pupils out to them for one week once they get to warning 4. It is not a failure to admit you’re having trouble with a class, in fact, it only improves your practice getting new ideas.

10) Have a task sheet which explains the whole lesson so you don’t actually have to ‘teach’ them directly. Pupils who want to get on with it can. You keep those pupils on side, and you can focus on the behaviour of the others for that lesson. Reward the pupils doing the work. Let the well behaved choose a song to listen to or play (education) games at the end of the lesson. 

You’ll find several problematic pupils will ‘switch sides’ and start doing the work.

Remember: you are the adult in the room. Things happen on your terms. However, it doesn’t matter which way you look at it or how unfair they’re being, you are the adult. This means you don’t let your emotions or feelings get on top of you which make you act in anger or frustration- how can we ask our pupils to manage their emotions if we don’t do it ourselves? Children aren’t born naughty, something has made them behave that way and it’s our job as teachers to work it out as best as we can. Start every lesson with a clean slate. If you’ve tried everything and nothing worked, start from the beginning and something will work the next time. Stick with it, lots of the pupils who tested me most at the start have nearly always ended up being some of my favourite pupils.