Life in Lockdown

18th March 2020

‘Schools will shut from Friday’. That was the headline all us teachers took from Boris’ speech. Little did we know that 7 ½ weeks later we would still be attempting to teach from the comfort of our own homes. That initial statement was met with a sense of thrill from pupils, and dare I say it, from teachers. While acutely aware of the severity of the situation there was still a little part of us excited by the prospect of a few weeks of lie-ins.

Although schools saw it coming, mine (and I am sure others) were still heavily unprepared. We launched an online learning environment about a year and a half ago which some teachers had got to grips with but others hadn’t. Pupils’ use was sporadic to say the least. Cue two days of manic training, policy writing and general confusion.

The first three weeks involved a lot of experimentation both with work setting but also pastorally. As a pastoral lead, my job suddenly seemed simultaneously much easier but also much more difficult. An oxymoron I know but let me explain. Life as a pastoral lead is unpredictable, you spend your days reacting to the events of the day, never knowing what will be thrown at you. But it is also incredibly personal and rewarding, you solve problems, offer support, you are a shoulder to cry on. Suddenly in lockdown this role feels impossible. My life is easier in that there are fewer (if any) occasions each day where students seek me for support, no friendship issues, no run-ins with teachers etc. However, I feel completely helpless in supporting my year group through this difficult time which is presenting challenges for the pupils far beyond what we ever imagine and we are wholly untrained to support them with.


Our school policy ensures that each family has contact from school every week. This has been brilliant, allowing us to keep tabs on how families are and the provisions they have for working from home. We have been able to source (all be it limited) laptops, dongles and even musical instruments to keep pupils busy and on track. But every so often you hear the inevitable, ‘he/she isn’t coping’, ‘we can’t get him/her out of bed’, ‘he/she has no motivation anymore’.

Nothing prepares you for dealing with those suffering from the virus directly. How do you support a child who’s parent is on a ventilator? How do you support those who have lost a grandparent? How do you reassure those who have the virus themselves? Then there are the children that you can’t manage to contact. Where are they? Are they safe? These are just a few of the questions that run through your head constantly.

Yet we are all still going. The support we receive from parents is wonderful, they are understanding and grateful for everything we are trying to do. My message for students is to communicate, teachers want to hear from you. The best part of our job comes from the reward of seeing you learn and develop, something we aren’t getting at the minute. A little message to let us know how you are getting on goes a long way and I guarantee, the response you get will lift your day as well.

To other teachers, persevere and be hopeful. Be hopeful that students might return to school with a different spring to their step. Mocks may become meaningful again now that they have seen how important they have become to this years 11/13. For a while, they may not take their friends for granted, they may not take us for granted. There might be a new sense of community as they realise what they have missed.

We are writing history at the minute and I am proud to say, that I will not be ashamed of my entry. I don’t think any teacher will be. We are trying and just as we tell the pupils, if you have done your best, that is enough.

The half term reality

Image result for holidays teacher reality

All my friends are so envious of the teacher holidays (bar forking out for expensive flights), but the reality is so far from glamorous.

Yes, we get a lot of time off, but the reality is, I (and many others) wouldn’t be able to cope without it. The half terms particularly, are not the fun filled opportunities that people might imagine.

I thought I would do a blog post about the reality of teacher holidays, particularly early on in your career. I am hopeful, that as time goes on, the holidays will start to be more of an occasion to get away, do fun things and let my hair down but, if I’m honest, I’m not sure the end of term tiredness and need to recuperate ever subsides.

I was chatting to some colleagues as this half term drew to an end, no matter how long the half term is, we always seem to crash in the last week, whether it is 5 weeks long or 8. During the last week of any half term, pupils are often doing assessments, generating a lot of marking. They are tired, we are tired; as a consequence lessons are far more likely to car crash, both teachers and pupils are more easily wound up, we have more arguments and the job on the whole, is far less fulfilling. You are far more likely to end each day annoyed at something, irritable and tired, taking it out unfairly on loved ones. The holidays can never come soon enough.

So what is the reality of a holiday? During a half term, I do take the weekends off, other people are free to meet up and do things. However, in the first few days of a holiday, more often than not, I get ill. Not seriously, but when you go from 100 – 0, your immune system tends to crash and you get a cold, sore throat or something similar – the first reason holidays are less glamorous than they sound. Sniffling and sneezing is not particularly conducive with proper relaxing and enjoyment.

During the week I will spend at least a day and a half solidly working; the ‘forget to have your lunch’, type working. Often a mixture of marking, planning, writing intervention plans etc – suddenly the week off turns into 3 days off.

Then those 3 days are spent properly recuperating. I spend at least another day and a half, normally 2, unable to move, sat on the sofa watching rubbish television and falling asleep. As beautiful as this may sound to some people, as an active young person, I find it really hard to sit doing nothing. I have written before about the importance of exercise and keeping busy on my mental health and feeling so tired I can’t get out on a walk, let alone a run shows me a) just how tired I am, but b) also means I feel rubbish at the end of the day having achieved next to nothing.

After that, if I’m lucky, it leaves 2 days where I can try and do something meaningful; visit family, organise the house, get on top of chores etc. All those things that I don’t have time to do during the week because I come home from school, eat dinner and curl up in bed preparing myself for the early morning.

Don’t get me wrong, I value the holidays a lot, particularly the two week long ones – you can spend a week recuperating and then have a week properly off but it isn’t necessarily the perk that everyone sees it as, if it wasn’t in place, I feel I can safely say the teacher retention crisis would be even worse than it is, as difficult as that is to imagine.

For my next blog post, I am hoping to share what a week in the life of a teacher during term time is really like, so look out for it!


Why TES is my best friend – reducing teacher workload


As teachers, our role encompasses so many different aspects. It isn’t just about planning and delivering lessons; we are also expected to provide a safe space for pupils, fulfil our pastoral duties, analyse data, set targets, give good feedback, undertake our own CPD, mentor other teachers and all the while document everything and keep on top of the associated admin to ensure we have evidence should OFSTED turn up.

Like many others, I am a teacher because I am passionate about learning. Imparting knowledge on others and helping them to understand is, for me, the most rewarding part of the job. However, in today’s schools, it feels like it plays such a small part of the profession.

As much as I hate to say it, we all know that lesson planning time is limited, we need to use it efficiently and make lessons that we can deliver as well as possible in as short a time as possible.

This is why I befriended TES. I know that if I sit down and think for long enough, I can come up with a creative, innovative idea for a good (sometimes amazing) lesson but it is unfortunately at detriment to either my wider professional roles or my personal/social life.  So now I turn to TES; there are so many talented teachers creating amazing lessons and a quick search is nearly always fruitful.  For those that don’t know, TES is a platform for sharing lessons and resources: teachers upload resources they have created for other to either buy or download for free. It is testimony to the good nature of teachers that there are so many willing to put up resources for free.

So many teachers have good ideas and often very similar ideas to my own, it’s always worth checking to see what is already out there. I do go through the lessons and alter them where needed; there is nothing worse than being in the middle of teaching a lesson and having no idea what is coming next. I also often merge lessons together to make one that suits me.

However, TES is not just good for finding lessons to teach. It is also great for checking you are teaching the right content – especially if you are a new teacher!

Having been in several roles right from the start of my career where I was thrown into the deep end and was responsible for the development/teaching of various GCSE curriculums: I have found it a great way to develop my own subject knowledge. Looking over other people’s lessons and ways of explaining concepts is a great way of getting myself to understand them. Furthermore, it acts as a sort of regulatory service, providing me with standards as to what needs to be covered.

At a time when teacher workload is high and can often feel impossible to maintain, it is important that, we do what we can to reduce our own ‘to do’ list. There are lots of aspects that we have no control over; the number of times books need to be marked, the number of lessons we have to teach, data drops, interventions etc. So where possible we must take control and find quick ‘hacks’ – anything to save a bit of time.


How I survived the first few years

We’ve all felt like this – but what can we do to minimise it?

Notoriously I’ve not been the most resilient or emotionally stable of personalities. I had a tough time at school, have often suffered from low self-esteem and at university I had full on melt downs when deadlines came about.

Starting my teaching journey was scary, I had lots of people telling me it was going to be the hardest few years of my life due to the ridiculous workload coupled with the emotionally draining aspects of the job: meeting pupils with the most horrendous life circumstances, being verbally abused on a regular basis, to name just a few. I spent the few months leading up to starting TeachFirst wondering whether I’d made a really stupid decision given my tendency to be emotionally volatile.

Over the holidays, while I was, for the first summer since starting teaching, properly relaxing (cocktail by the pool style) I was thinking about the last few years and it was the first time I properly realised that I have been – wait for it – ABSOLUTELY FINE. Looking at the circumstances, it does feel like a bit of a miracle. Over 3 years I have been required to change and teach in 3 different and very challenging schools, write PGCE assignments while teaching full time, fulfil the notorious NQT year and change my teaching subject.

Ok, being absolutely fine might be an exaggeration. Don’t get me wrong, there have been tears, stress and a lot of challenges, but at no point has it spiralled out of control and left me wondering what on earth I am doing with my life. Considering past life events that have caused such crisis – I must have changed something in the way I manage my life. When I look at other new teachers around me, I do think that I have fared better over the first few years than average and my mental wellbeing has a lot to thank for it.

The next step of this realisation was to formalise what it is I have been doing to look after my mental wellbeing to ensure I continue to do my job as well as possible while living and loving my life outside the classroom.

So here it is, my methods for staying sane:

1. Exercise
I’ve never really been sporty but I try to fit physical activity into my daily routine wherever I can. If I can factor it into my commute in order to leave as much time to keep on top of workload/myself then that is ideal but no matter what – I try to do something about 4 times a week. There are lots of studies which show how beneficial exercise is, not just to our physical but, with more and more evidence, our mental health as well. Studies suggest that physical activity can reduce depressive symptoms (see study), protect against depressive episodes (see study) and therefore almost definitely helps to reduce reoccurrence.


2. Sleep
I always try to get at least 8 hours 30 every night and I try to keep bedtimes regular. On the days where this has meant leaving a lesson unfinished then so be it – you will manage. Turning up to teach on 4 hours kip is much harder than winging a lesson.


3. I am now the most organised person ever
I started my teacher training as I meant to go on. I always plan in advance, sometimes I am a week ahead of myself, this means that every night I go to bed knowing that my lessons for the next day are ready and I can sleep easy. Asking me how I keep on top of this is a more difficult question to answer, I’ve not always been so organised, it is definitely something you can learn and cultivate. Take a bit of time to think about how you are going to set yourself goals and hold yourself accountable. It might help to work out how many lessons you need to plan each day or ask your head of department/mentor to check your lesson planning progression and support you in meeting your targets.

4. To begin I would work one day at the weekend
There is a lot of work when you start teaching, it does get easier but to begin with you need to manage and accept it. Embrace the fact that you will be planning at the weekend but that it is in order to make your life considerably easier during the week and you will reap the benefits.

I have spent a while trying to decide whether this was beneficial or not. On the one hand, there was a lot of teacher talk and it was difficult to switch off, but on the other, we were all going through the same experience. It is much easier to work at the weekends when your house mates are as well, you always have someone understanding to rant to and you have people to ask for inspiration when your creativity has run dry.

So there we have it, my top tips for staying sane through teacher training. Now I have identified them, I am going to make sure that I myself keep sticking to them. Teacher stress, anxiety and workload is a big issue that dominates the education news feeds. I am optimistic that it is an area that will be addressed, slowly but surely. In the meantime however, if we love the job, we need to do what we to manage the issue individually.

Is there a best route into teaching?

which route?

Today there seems to be so many routes into teaching; traditional PGCEs with school placements, schemes that train you on the job such as TeachFirst and Schools Direct, teaching degrees and QTS qualifications, to name just a few. It’s difficult to know where to start if you’re thinking about going into the profession. Now I’m not going to pretend to be a fountain of all knowledge but I can share my route in, how I found it, ‘what went well’ and ‘even better if’ (sorry I couldn’t resist it).

If I am completely honest, I can’t pinpoint a moment when I thought ‘I want to be a teacher’. I found myself, like a lot of graduates, having a small crisis over what I was doing with my life, having never found any real direction. I spent a lot of time telling myself I was never going to be a teacher, it runs in the family and I was determined to be different. Coming from a Russel group university, I felt pressure to apply for graduate schemes with big names – it seemed to be the done thing. But the more I researched, the more I realised working for big co-operate companies was not something I was drawn to. I applied to TeachFirst because it seemed like a good compromise, a reputable scheme that, if I hated teaching, would look good on my CV and enable me to, at worst, climb some other career path.

As it happens, I’m still teaching.

So what did I think about my route in?

TeachFirst throws you in at the deep end; you essentially have a job for 2 years. You teach nearly full time for those two years and come out the other side with both your PGCE and NQT year under your belt, ready as a fully qualified teacher. This route suited me down to a  tee and having reflected on the two years, I have identified several reasons as to why it worked for me:

N.B. There are other courses that operate using a similar method that are worth researching if you think this is for you (e.g. schools direct)

  1. I knew what I was getting myself in for

I have a mother, sister, aunties and uncles all who are teachers. Dinnertime has often been dominated by teacher talk, this meant that I had a good idea going into the two years of the lifestyle, challenges and workload. When I look at my colleagues who found the two years more challenging and stressful than I did, they were often people who had no tangible prior experience with teacher training. For me, this set me up with realistic expectations about what I was getting myself in for

  1. I like getting stuck in.

We all have different personalities and therefore different training pathways are going to suit different people, there is no right or wrong. The first trait that suited me to on the job training was my love of a challenge. Obviously this is a useful trait for all routes into teaching, but particularly when you are going straight into the job and being responsible for classes from day one.

Secondly, I am someone that needs to jump straight in – I am not very good at easing myself into things as I get scared easily. This may need some context and elaboration. Imagine getting into a cold swimming pool – there are two ways to approach this:

  1. You just dive in and get it over and done with
  2. You go down to the shallow end or a ladder and slowly submerge yourself

I need to jump in. If I give myself the time to think about a situation I often manage to talk myself out of it whereas if I have it thrown at me – I can normally manage to swim, not sink.

  1. I did have some prior teaching experience

This builds on my first point about how circumstance can set you up well for different methods. I had already done some teaching as part of my undergraduate degree and have always volunteered in various extra-curricular activities focussed around working with children, perhaps another reason I wanted to get stuck in. I knew what children could be like and what to expect.

  1. I’m better at learning through experience rather than through a textbook

I never got much enjoyment out of sitting in a lecture and reading around the subject, and I personally was keen to avoid this as much as possible. When you are learning on the job, yes you have to read and do assignments but you have a limited time in which to carry this out. The focus in my daily life when training lay far from the next assignment I had due in, I had too many lessons to plan and exams classes to think about to get too bogged down in them.

Having not completed a PGCE which utilises school placements, I don’t want to comment too much on who I think it would suit but hopefully by outlining the personality traits and circumstances I think set me up well for on-the-job training it may help others to identify what they feel would suit them.

I personally would recommend this sort of ‘traditional’ (for want of a better word) PGCE to people who feel they build confidence through preparation rather than retrospective achievement. Or perhaps to those that have less experience with the teaching profession prior to beginning.

So, in answer to the initial question: there is no right or wrong route, one is not better than another, there are just a variety of routes to suit a variety of people and circumstances.


I would love to hear your views on your routes into teaching and why they worked for you. Together, we can build a better picture for those looking to join the profession.