J is also for…Joker in the classroom

J is for...If you clown around in class, or you refuse to try, of course you will find it harder to learn.

Sometimes children think the work is going to be too hard and so they decide not to mess around and not to try because if they don’t try they can’t fail.

When I was a child, if I got upset because I’d made a mistake my dad would tell me it was better to do things wrong because then you learn twice as much: you learn how not to do it as well as how to do it! He is a very wise man, my dad!

So next time you feel as if you don’t want to try in lesson time, just stop and take a deep breath, and then pick up your pencil and do your best., Doing your best is all anybody can ever ask of you.

Related posts:  I is also for….   K is also for…..

How I Started Out

It took me a long time to start out in teaching. When I first graduated with my joint honours degree in French and Spanish, I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. The only thing I knew with any certainty was that I did not want to be a teacher! I worked as an editor for a financial institution in London for a while, and then spent 11 years as a project manager in the translation industry.

In my spare time I was learning ballroom and Latin American dancing, and my teacher suggested that I train to be a dance teacher myself. I wasn’t sure, but decided I had nothing to lose by trying so I gave it a go. I loved it! I qualified as a ballroom dance teacher in 1998 and as a Latin dance teacher in 2001. I never thought I would enjoy teaching so much, and I started to wonder whether I should go back to university to do a PGCE. I decided not to because I was still happy in the translation industry, and I was good at what I did.  As I got promoted to more senior roles within the industry, I took on more responsibility for training and mentoring new staff, and I enjoyed that too. We had new software installed company-wide. I was the first person to figure out how to use it,and  I ended up running a telephone helpdesk for other employees because they said my explanations were easier to understand than either the user guide or the tech guys. While I was writing a user-guide with screenshots and easy to understand English, I started to wonder again about teaching, and this time I got as far as researching courses at local universities. But still the time didn’t seem right. I was good at my job, which by now also involved travelling abroad, giving presentations and running workshops for some of the company’s most important clients. I wasn’t sure whether I’d be any good at teaching and so yet again I pushed the idea to the back of my mind.

Then something happened that made me realise life is too short to delay important decisions, and a few weeks after that I stumbled across an advert for a new PGCE where I could train in primary AND secondary education. That seemed like an interesting option, and so although I had missed the application deadline for that year I went along to the open day just to see what it was all about. Unbelievably they still had places left and so I applied, was accepted and started a year earlier than I thought I could. Training in both primary and secondary gave me a really good grounding across a whole range of ages, which has been useful since deciding to work as a supply teacher. I now love the fact that I can be having a tea-party in the sandpit in Nursery one day, and teaching languages at university the next. I love everything about my job, but the best part is helping children who are not reaching their full potential to succeed. These days I specialise not just in languages, but in maths and English tuition, and in multi-sensory teaching methods for tutoring children with dyslexia. Becoming a teacher and a private tutor is the best decision I have made.

Do we still need grammar schools? (Part 3)

Not everyone is the same, so I don’t believe an education system should force them into being so – I believe there should be different opportunities for children who are academically gifted. Please note that I say “different” and not “better”.

I feel grateful for the opportunities that learning in a grammar school gave me, and for the doors it opened up for me. Yes, it saddens me that there are children out there who would love those same opportunities, who don’t have them, but I don’t feel that denying them to others is the solution. I really wish that there were more grammar schools, so that more of the children who would like those opportunities could take them, but I am not naive enough to believe that every child in every school would want them.  Despite what some people seem to believe, we don’t live in a one-size-fits-all world.

Grammar schools tend to be smaller, so there is a chance for all children to be fostered and for the quieter ones to shine. There is less disruption in the classes, so more learning can take place. I have taught in a grammar school and it was a joy to teach in a school where the whole class was thirsty for knowledge. There was no time wasted dealing with even low-level disruption, so the children were learning from the moment they sat at their desks to the moment the bell rang at the end of the lesson.

In schools there is always plenty of help available for lower-achieving children, but the higher achievers are often left to their own devices. It’s not the teacher’s fault – if they have a group of children they know they can just leave to get on with it, and another group they know won’t be able to do anything without help then they have no choice but to help the children who are struggling. In a grammar school, all of the children can just get on with it, so the teacher is able to spread his or her time more fairly and everyone gets stretched.

There are still special schools (and rightly so in my opinion) for those children whose learning difficulties are so great that they cannot access the curriculum in a mainstream school. Where then is the problem in having special schools for children at the other end of the spectrum?

I am proud to be from a city that still has grammar schools. Far from closing the ones still in existence in this country, I think we should be opening more.

Read parts 1 and 2 here: Do we still need grammar schools? (part 1), Do we still need grammar schools (part 2)

Do we still need grammar schools? (Part 2)

What other arguments do people have for getting rid of them? I have heard people say that grammar schools are elitist, and that only wealthy people can go because they are the only ones who can afford private tutors.

Rubbish! I went to one. So did my brother. We came from a family where there was always too much month left at the end of the money. My parents often had to choose between paying the bills or putting food on the table. There certainly wasn’t anything to spare for luxuries such as an 11+ tutor. We still earned ourselves a place, and we weren’t the only ones who passed without a tutor – there were children in our class from all walks of life.

It’s still the same now – I know children of single parent families, and parents on benefits who have passed the test in recent years. I have also taught in a grammar school and it certainly wasn’t all rich kids in my classes.

It’s true that many children do have coaching for the 11+ tests, but then they also have coaching for GCSEs and A’ levels too. Should we therefore abolish all exams for all children just because some families can afford to pay for extra help for them? Or close all the schools in more affluent areas? Of course not. So why single out grammar schools?

To be honest it’s not only rich families who pay for tutors. I know families who scrimp and save to pay for a tutor and who go without holidays, or don’t own a car, or don’t drink or smoke so that they can afford tuition fees. It’s called choosing priorities. And at the end of the day, tutored or not, the children still need to pass the exam, and having a tutor is no guarantee.

The final argument against grammar schools? Bright children can do just as well in a comprehensive. I’m sure that the confident ones can, but those who are shy are probably going to get lost. Those who know the answers but who are too timid to put their hand up, and who just quietly get on with their work are probably going to get forgotten.

Enough about why other people are against them. Why am I for them? Find out in Do we still need Grammar Schools (Part 3).

Missed Do we still need grammar schools (part 1)? Read it here.

Do we still need grammar schools? (Part 1)

I’m going to say something controversial today. I’m probably going to come under attack from several angles. I may be vilified and I may never be welcomed into many social circles again, but I’m going to say it anyway. It’s this: I’m in favour of grammar schools [straps on hard hat and ducks below the parapet].

Why am I in favour of them? In my mind the question is, “Why would anyone be against them?”

I have heard people say the 11+ is unfair because you can’t tell at such a young age who the brightest children are. I have also heard people complain that the grammar schools cream off the brightest children. Well, I’m sorry but they can’t have it both ways. Either the grammar schools are creaming off the brightest pupils, in which case you can tell at 11, or you can’t tell at 11, but then the grammar schools can’t be accused of depriving the comprehensives of the brighter children.

Then there is the argument that grammar schools are unfair because they put non-grammar schools at a disadvantage in the league tables. Well, that’s a great reason to abolish them, right?

“We have a school here full of children who really want to work, and who study hard, and it consistently outperforms all the other schools in the area. What should we do with it?”

“My goodness! It sounds like a terrible school – let’s close it down!”

Does that sound sensible? What would happen if the top three football teams in the Premier League had to be closed down at the end of every season? Would the teams try as hard? What if Manchester United was abolished just because it does so well, so that the players could be distributed amongst the other teams?

If the school league tables put non-grammar schools at such an unfair disadvantage, then it’s the league tables system that needs looking at – not the top performing schools. But that’s a whole other topic for a blog post.

Related posts: Do we still need Grammar Schools (part 2)   Do we still need Grammar Schools Part 3