Plundering teachers’ personal accounts? – a call for sensitive school leadership

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As a teacher you are expected to discharge all duties which relate to the planning, delivery and assessment of children’s learning. Some of these duties take place during face to face sessions with the children and these make up the “contact hours” in a teacher’s contract. Additionally, since 2005, teachers receive 10% of their contact time for Planning, Preparation and Assessment (PPA). In secondary schools this is given in the form of free lessons, in which the teacher cannot be asked to undertake other duties (cover for absent colleagues etc) but is usually required to be on site.

 

A school marking policy might state that a student’s book or work must be assessed after every 6 hours of contact time. This means the assessment of around 100 books or scripts each week (ignoring examination weeks during which there may be less class contact time, but every child’s script must be marked). Clearly 2 hours is insufficient for this – that would mean spending less than one minute per child on assessing 6 hours of their work.

An awareness of the time required to mark effectively benefits teachers as they can decide how much time they need to mark a particular activity and plan this into their weekly schedule. Sometimes they will choose to go to work early to do it before classes begin, or to take it home and do it in the evening or at the weekend.

However, for the teacher concerned, the early morning marking in school might necessitate them accessing their child’s before school childcare provision, incurring some extra cost, or the evening marking might mean that they have to forego their regular phone call to a family member or a date night with their partner. It might mean that they have to squeeze in that PTA meeting or a parent’s evening for one of their children into another slot in the week.

piggy-1-with-coinIn short: the additional workload not covered during school hours is done flexibly at the individual teacher’s discretion and out of their personal resource bank.

This is clearly felt when the teacher has demands being made on their time other than those made by the school. Young children or dependents needing care add to a teacher’s workload (both physically and emotionally) so that there are many who feel so compromised that they aren’t doing either job to their full ability. This can lead to stress, anxiety and teacher attrition. A 2016 survey found that the group of teachers most likely to leave the profession in the next two years is women in their 30s.

An allegory for this situation is to think of a person’s resource (i.e. their energy, time and commitment) as their personal account. When employed to do a job, the person gives of their resource to do that job and in return, they receive pay into their account. So an employee is employed for, say, 40 hours a week to do a job for which they are paid an hourly rate. However, when, in this case, the work spreads beyond the 40 hours but still needs to be done, the employee provides the resources from their own personal account. This means that the time and energy they might have used to relax with their family or undertake a leisure pursuit is, instead, invested into the successful discharge of their professional duties – resourced out of their personal account.piggy-1-with-coin

Generally the arrangement proceeds quite smoothly, but as time goes on the teacher may undertake additional tasks such as preparing for an educational visit, helping out at a science event at the weekend, picking up some marking for a sick colleague,  supporting the school’s fundraising activities. Resourcing these activities also makes further withdrawals from the personal account.

The teacher is usually very willing to take on these additional roles as they have direct impact upon the students they teach. Sustained studies of teacher job satisfaction indicate that a high proportion of teachers find this the most satisfying aspect of their work.

However, at times when personal and professional commitments collide, the personal account is under strain. If a teacher knows that all year they have been making payments out of their personal account in the ways highlighted above, this contributes to them, in some ways, feeling impoverished. So, when their child is sick or has an event that they need to attend and they have to go to their head teacher and ask for time to be with their child they feel that the deposits they have been making out of their personal account all
piggy-1-emptyyear have more than covered their request.

The school, however, has classes to run and statutory obligations to fulfill. There isn’t much capacity in the system for teacher absence. Increasingly the judgement on allowing time off in these cases lies with the head teacher and is decided at his or her discretion. Over time I have watched many colleagues fall into despair over this issue. When they needed to take half a day to prepare for their wedding the head teacher’s discretion did not allow them to go off site or when their boiler had broken down and the only time the fitter could come out was on a Friday afternoon, the teacher was not allowed the time to go and ensure it was fixed.piggy-1-strike

Teaching is a profession which you do with your head, your hands and your heart and a leader needs to understand the daily commitment made by good teachers to delivering fantastic lessons for their students. On the days when these teachers ask for something back in return, the school needs to look sensitively at its resources and show a matching commitment.

This has a direct impact upon staff emotional well-being and retention. Teachers most crave praise and recognition for what they do. This is a way of recompensing them for their daily personal investment by responding in a trusting and valuable way. 82% of teachers considering leaving the profession say that if these issues were tackled they could remain in teaching for up to an additional 7 years.

Rather than offering financial retention incentives, often accompanied by heavily-worded clawback clauses in case the teacher does need to seek alternative employment, school leaders could put some funds aside for the times when they need to provide support beyond the statutory leave of absence arrangements. Their staff would thank them for it, and may well stay longer and sustain their commitment longer as well.

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What if teachers were counted?

Teachers countknow that pupils have a PRN – that faceless identifier, the primary key that distinguishes them from all other pupils in the country and that teachers have a TRN that does the same for them.

When a pupil is absent, changes school, gains or loses a statement, earns qualifications, goes to University all this is stored in their PRN, giving those who love data a great chunk of contextual information about the where and whens of the pupil’s life.

What if we required the same information about teachers? What if we wanted to know which schools were “shipping” the most out of the system – those places where the leaks need to be addressed, remedied and plugged?

After all, teachers are not cheap. It costs the country £30,000 in bursaries alone for one physics trainee in 2015 and we need thousands of them. There is NO guarantee that the trainee, having taken the bursary, will even teach for one day. And no requirement for him to pay it back if he doesn’t.

What if some of this money could be invested in measures in schools which aimed to retain the brilliant physicists already working there .. to provide some training, give a day’s holiday, maybe a retention bonus? Plenty of things are cheaper than £30,000 and I know many teachers are pretty happy with a free cup of tea, a biscuit and someone who recognises what they are doing and celebrates that with them. What if a teacher could look forward to a 6 month research break or sabbatical every 10 years? Even that would be cost-effective when it returned an invigorated professional with new stories, thinking and research to share.

Thoughts on making teaching sustainable, a job for life, the best job on earth … why not invest in this dream, someone has to.

Pause and think of that

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I missed something yesterday … I was reading through the Psalms in my new Bible (one with a funky green cover) and missed a word I had seen there before – “selah” – I remembered seeing it in the Amplified Version – it means “pause and think of that” … and it caused me to wonder why it might have been removed from my funky new 21st Century translation.

Is it that pausing, waiting and generally not getting something immediately are so last century?

Am I alone in noticing that often my first thought is not my best thought?

Sometimes we need to pause and think a while …. so we can take something in … something big, awesome maybe, a new thought, idea, concept, or just something familiar that needs to be seen from a different perspective.

“Selah” – I have missed you. You are not out of line

What would poetry be, without the change of tone, cadence and rhyme?

What of music, without loud, soft, staccato and time?

A pause, in silence, reflect for a while,

A wait, *scratch head*, ponder and muse

A thought, a flutter, to quickly enthuse…

Perusal, deep thought, sleep on it and wait –

a good answer is coming, and it won’t be too late

for reflection is trusty, a pause is your friend

so selah, relax, you’ll get there in the end.

On work-life balance and a few lessons learned

timeI am not the quickest learner. However, reflecting on my 21 years as a class teacher, tutor, cross-curricular leader, Head of Department, workplace representative, Governor, PTA member, trip organiser, line manager and frothy coffee maker I conclude that there are some time-related rules for doing a great job and getting to the end of term with some energy left in the tank.

#1 go to bed ….

“extra” resources, made late at night rarely make it into the lesson. Save your energy. Note down the “great” idea and identify a time when you can come back and revisit the need to create or adapt that fantastic resource

#2 mark out your time territory and stick to it … identify a limited chunk of time (preferably with an immovable appointment at the end of it) to help you stick to a task and complete it quickly.

  • Sunday evening marking does work ~ a finite time focusses the mind
  • work in school with students, giving them an “appointment slot” for feedback – reduces the pointless resubmission of work that’s hardly changed but that you scan carefully looking for the amendments you were seeking
  • identify a reward when your most undesirable task is completed

#3 collaborate

  • talk to colleagues and cultivate a sharing ethos in your team
  • share best practice at department meetings
  • use TES resources
  • Tweet!
  • Teachmeets – attend one or two a year ~ you will meet interesting people, see a new place and learn about others’ teaching methods

#4 be passionate about effective marking and A4L

when you have marked a set of scripts/books/tests, ask yourself how you could do that differently next time to make it more effective, quicker or easier.

#5 go digital – use the school’s VLE – save time, money and paper! Set homework quickly and check it in automatically.

#6 deadline angst? say so and arrange an extension – then stick to it

#7 new to a role? Say so and ask for training, don’t use guesswork! Whoever appointed you owes it to you and themselves to help you do the job effectively

#8 take time out to completely think about something else – even if you think you can’t afford it

#9 consider going part-time. Even 0.05 of a week can make a massive difference!

#10 get outside – it makes you feel better

#11 dwell on the fun stuff – when colleagues ask what you did at the weekend, tell them about the most fun thing, when you weren’t working or thinking about school. Resist the temptation to just talk about all the work you did (even though you did loads)

#12 think about others

#13 be grateful ~ your job and your school may not be perfect, but it sure has some good points. Train yourself to appreciate them

#14 donate part of your holidays (as a volunteer, charity worker, carer, local activist, youth worker etc)

#15 consider the numbers and pace yourself

as a teacher, you are in school for 195 days a year. That’s 3.75 days per week.

there are 255 weekdays a year – compared with other professions with, say 35 days’ holiday, a teacher has 25 days extra holiday. What do you do with that time? Is half of it spent on school work? All of it? What could you do with those 5 weeks?

Another way of looking at it is 0.641 days per week of accrued holiday time, meaning that for the working 39 weeks of the year, a teacher works 112% of a job! No wonder it’s tiring!