I was asked on Friday why I hadn’t Blogged anything this week. My answer was easy. Time got away from me. I have been so busy that I simply did not have time to sit and reflect and then record my thoughts. So now reflecting on the week that has passed on this sunny but cold Sunday afternoon I have a few thoughts. The first is on workload. Not necessarily my workload but everyone’s. The single biggest concern in the profession is not about pay; it’s not about more changes to the National Qualifications; or another change in direction within the Broad General Education; it’s not about the fear for of our jobs with cuts proposed across the country; or fear of the unknown degree of responsibility about to be handed to Head Teachers through the developments of the Governance review. No, the most persistent concern is about the amount of things we have to do in the limited amount of time we have to do them.
One of the purposes of my Blog was to give the community an idea of what I do and what is going on in the school; and now I’m adding national issues too. This wee list of jobs from last Monday is a good example of a typical day in the life of practically any Secondary Head Teacher.
Monday began as usual with an early start answering a multitude of emails about everything from budgets to the forthcoming Christmas Lunch as well as preparing for the Monday morning staff meeting. After the meeting was over there were discussions with staff about family bereavements and illnesses; approving dozens of school purchase orders; discussing the health and safety, finance and transport arrangements for a couple of foreign excursions coming up; dealing with IT concerns affecting lessons and the office management functions; corridor and canteen cover at break; teaching the Bugle at My Time; class observations in RMPS and Technical; discussions concerning the new school; phone calls to school partners due to deliver professional learning opportunities for staff and learning developments for pupils; catching up with a few managers about progress in their departments and with DHTs about forthcoming interviews this week; looking over committee papers for the following days meeting with the trade unions: and just as I paused for breath at the end of the school day… I recalled it was time to go and take the senior boys football after school with Thomas McCulloch… before attending the Parents Evening and taking the opportunity to chat to a few parents and youngsters in S3 about how they are getting on and about their thoughts on career choices for S4 and beyond. I also squeezed in the publication of Learning Live 6 and posted it on Facebook / You Tube. I make these as I walk between class visits to save time. I juggle.
All teachers face this the problem of workload. A typical day for the class teacher will be an early start to prepare for period 1 where they might be teaching a National 4 class, before jumping straight into teaching a group of 30 S2 pupils during Period 2. Practically everyone has a My Time class to attend during Period 3 and there they ensure that progress is being made with all pupils across literacy, numeracy, health and well-being, skills and profiling or through inter-disciplinary work in Clan challenges or at assemblies.
If they are lucky, they may have a non-contact period during period 4 where they can work with colleagues on preparing lessons across other subjects (Inter-Disciplinary Learning) or meeting colleagues from the same department to moderate their courses and assessments. Perhaps the teachers within that department may all be free at the same time and allow them the opportunity to come together for a Departmental Meeting where they will have the opportunity to discuss the tracking and monitoring of pupils and the progress through the Broad General Education phase of the curriculum (S1-3). They may even use the time to carry out peer observations on another colleague and / or plan for being observed themselves. Possibly a wee bit of marking or preparing lessons for the next day could be achieved but more likely this will be left to the evening where there are less distractions.
Period 5 may be another group of 30 S1s or perhaps only a couple of dozen National 5 / Higher pupils who come together at the same time. Both classes are equally demanding because of the breadth of ability across all the pupils in the class and the true talents of the teachers emerge as they ensure they are aware of all the individual needs of each youngster and know exactly which pupils require that extra bit of support or that extra bit of challenge. Indeed knowing which pupils work well together or individually affects how the teacher manages the class not only to ensure that each pupil gets the best out of working with a peer but which pupils works best from being apart from others.
Lunch and a bit is sustenance ensures the energy levels are renewed to cope with taking on the extra lunchtime club or providing a bit of extra subject related supported study for those who can’t make the after school sessions.
Then it’s onto Period 6 and the cover class that has been handed to the teacher because a teacher is absent due to illness or out on a necessary training course (we all have to keep up to date with our own professional learning); or because there is a need to cover a vacancy… and we have a few at the moment. Finally, Period 7, the end of the day and the last class. If one is lucky it may be an Advanced Higher class, where the numbers are fewer but just as demanding as they are so very keen and their questions ever so much trickier than the S1s come up with.
Hurray!!!, it’s the end of the day and just like Thomas, whom I mentioned earlier, the teachers can enjoy themselves by taking an extra curricular club in something they really enjoy before attending Parents’ Evening.
Now, I did contemplate writing a separate entry for Depute Heads, Guidance Teachers, subject Principal Teachers, Classroom assistants, Janitors and Technicians. It even occurred to me to write about all the hard work and juggling required by the wider education team across the council. However, I’m sure you would get bored and slightly annoyed by me over-stressing the point; and that point is that everyone involved in education is busy and it is very difficult to carry out all the roles and take on all the responsibilities given to education staff each day, especially when most of the day is spent teaching. This is our most important role but it is also very restricting. It is extremely difficult to take forward all the admin, professional learning, development work, understanding standards, etc. whilst actually delivering an exposition to 30 pupils or even siting with one pupil helping them understand something…. And yet this is what we must do every day. They juggle.
However, now I would like to revisit this typical day and consider it from pupil and parent’s perspective.
Bessie Bain wakes up every morning at half past six. She has a long way to travel as she stays out in Appin. However, before Bessie comes to school she has to help her mother get her two siblings ready for school. Bessie’s mother has an early morning job in a B&B just like her father who works in the oil industry and already left for his “two weeks on” around 4 a.m. By the time Bessie comes to school she has already made sure her two sisters are up and about (the most difficult trial all parents face in the mornings) and made the breakfast before making sure they get to the bus on time. Despite having already attempting her homework the night before, the lure of Snap Chat until 1 am ensured that it was still not completed and so she has to try and complete the last couple of questions on the bus journey into school, ready for for her Higher English class at 9.05 a.m.
Fortunately the homework was completed and she was able to keep up to speed with the Higher English lesson during Period 1. Then, it was onto Period 2 and she quickly tried to compartmentalise all she learned about The Great Gatsby before coming face to face with the whole concept of Human Resources in Business Studies during Period 2. As a Prefect, Bessie needs to support a younger member of her Clan with their numeracy in My Time before going to join her friends in a charity raising committee meeting at morning interval. Thereafter, she has to attend double Maths before she has her first bite to eat lunchtime – Bessie doesn’t eat breakfast – and then it’s double Pathways in the afternoon when she travels to her local Primary School to get the essential experience in working with children so she can achieve her dream of becoming a teacher.
As soon as she has finished in the Primary it’s back to help the other senior pupils represent the school welcoming parents to the Parents’s Evening and taking the teas and coffees round the staff. Additionally, Bessie has also offered to help out at the Careers Scotland Stand advertising possibility career options. Fortunately, her mother also has to attend this S3 Parents Evening so she will get a lift home so she can get back in time to get through her Higher Geography homework, in between a bit of dinner, two episodes of Stranger Things and around 100 Snap Chat messages. Looks like homework on the bus again. She juggles.
Bessie’s mother appreciates her help with the younger children, especially since her mother has to leave before Bessie and her siblings get on the morning bus. Her mother has a job in a local B&B and needs to leave early to make the breakfasts before going onto her role as a Chambermaid in an Oban Hotel later that morning. Her mother then has a part-time cleaning job in the afternoon. Throughout all these roles, her mother will face the same level of variety and diversity as occurs in any job. Her role like any other will see added jobs thrown in by her boss; residents will unexpectedly return to hinder her routine; there is occasionally the unexpected phone call from the school to say one of her children is unwell and needs picked up etc. All normal but stressful occurrences.
Luckily, she is normally able to go home at the same time as her two youngest and that allows her time to help them with their homework, make the dinner and carry out all the other chores that all parents have to contend with after a hard days work. Tonight however, she has to attend an S3 Parent’s Evening and make her way around the eight different teachers her youngest daughter put her down to see, and these appointments were annoyingly spread over the full 3 hour slot. However, she’ll make it home by 9 p.m. and will hopefully get a reasonably early night ready for another half past 5 start the next day, so long as she picks up dinner on the way home. She too juggles.
Why did I just describe the same day from the perspective of four different people?
I return to the most persistent concern raised in my opening paragraph; a concern not only made by those in education but in many walks of life. We are all very busy (and stressed as a result) and we have to acknowledge that fact and look for ways to alleviate that workload and that stress. I am pleased to note that in Education, both locally and nationally, we have recognised this issue and are looking at ways to reduce bureaucracy so we can reduce workload and make more time for our children; and ourselves.
However, that is work in progress and we in Education and those in other occupations have not yet found that balance I believe. In the meantime, I thought I would share this story to help all those in the community remind each other that we are all busy, we are all stressed at times and that sometimes we need to pause and think about walking in another’s shoes so we can best help each other.
Finally, I would ask that everyone remembers that we all have to go to work and that we all have family and social commitments; that we remember that we are all busy. That includes our children as they too face the same work-life balance problems adults do… only they are still learning how to juggle….
Perhaps we all are.