A Day in the Life of a Self-employed Teacher

Recently I signed up to a blogging challenge and one of the suggestions was to write a blog post about a typical day. That sounds all well and good…..except that I don’t have a typical working day!

Often I have work booked in in advance, which is great.  On those days I get ready for work and I go. Other days I wait to see if the phone rings. Most days it does and off I go to work. Other days it doesn’t and then I work from home.

But, whether the phone rings at the last minute, or the day is booked in advance, the work I do when I get there is the same though – right? Er…no! I teach across a whole range of ages, and teach every subject on the primary curriculum as well as specialising in languages.  One day I could be playing dolls houses and making chocolate crispie cakes in Nursery; the next teaching French to graduates at a local university. The day after that could be a 1960s themed day with Year 6, followed by a day split between Years 1 and 2 doing some Latin. The week could end with a day teaching deaf children.

On those days when I work from home the days are still varied. I maintain my own website and this blog, and also have responsibility for my husband’s website and blog for his tour guiding business. There are always emails that need answering and I sometimes proofread my husband’s translation work for him. I’m part of Team 100WC so I make sure I find time to read the children’s writing and leave comments for them.

I also take my CPD seriously, so a work from home day will include doing my homework for my British Sign Language level 3 course and reading and research for a level 3 course in Dyslexia Awareness, Support and Screening.

Four evenings a week and Saturday mornings I do private tuition for children aged 6-12, but again every lesson is different. Some of the children I work with need help with just maths, some just English and some both. Some have dyslexia and need a different sort of help, and some find the work they do at school easy and need stretching. As if that wasn’t enough variety, I am planning to branch out into 11+ tuition, and language teaching for businesses as well.

So – thanks very much to Nikki Pilkington for the suggestion in her 30 Day Blogging Challenge, but I’m afraid this is about as typical as it gets!

Back to the Classroom

This year I enrolled in a British Sign Language evening class. I’ve already passed levels 1 and 2, so now I’m beginning Level 3.

It’s always strange to be back in the class part of the classroom rather than in the teacher role, and every time I do it I rediscover how it feels to be a child in class.

The teacher puts hand-outs in front of us, and of course I pick it up and start reading it. Oops – now I’ve missed the teacher’s signing so I don’t know what we’re supposed to be doing. Perhaps I’d better ask the person next to me. Uh-oh – caught talking!

Later we have to give presentations to the rest of the class. As soon as we are told to prepare, all my ideas fly straight out of my head and I can’t think of anything to say. By the time I have enough ideas to begin, it’s time to stop writing and begin presenting one by one. I try to write and watch at the same time, but that’s impossible. Reluctantly I put my pen down, but as soon as the first presentation is over, I start writing again, as quickly as I can before the second person is up.

When it’s my turn I’m not really happy with what I’ve done. I know I can do better, but it’s too late – the teacher has made her judgement about my ability.

At the end of the lesson the teacher starts to explain our homework. She’s signing really fast and I miss a bit. Oh no! I’ve missed a bit! What did that sign mean? I think I recognise it but I just can’t remember. Oh no! I’ve been worrying so much about the bit I missed that I miss a bit more. I try to concentrate, but I’ve missed so much that I’m really lost now.

I look around the room and the rest of the class are smiling and nodding. Have they understood it all? Am I the only one that didn’t? Does that mean I’m stupid? I can’t admit now that I didn’t understand or the whole class will know that I’m the stupid one. I start smiling and nodding along with the rest of the class.

The teacher finishes signing and asks if there are any questions. I hope someone else asks her to explain it again, but nobody does so I shake my head like the others. She asks if we all understood and I nod. I’m sure she’s going to ask someone to repeat it (that’s what I’d do) and I panic in case it’s me she picks. She doesn’t though – she just dismisses the class.

As we pack away the person next to me whispers, “I didn’t get that homework. Did you?”

I still won’t be doing my homework as I still have no idea what it is, but at least I know I won’t be the only one. I’ll certainly be more understanding of my class in future, although I still don’t have a solution to stop them daydreaming. If anybody has any suggestions please do leave them in the comments below. I’ll try them on myself first to see if I can concentrate more!

Why Do They Do That?

picture of pen and paperIt’s a question I’ve often asked myself when I’ve read children’s work and seen capital letters in the middle of sentences; lines and lines of writing without a full stop, and then a random one placed for no apparent reason; and exclamation marks in the middle of instructions.  So why do they do that?  For the last two years I have been lucky enough to be contracted for 1-2-1 tuition with a number of children. By working so closely with them I have gained an insight into how their minds work when they are writing, and some of life’s great mysteries have been revealed.

Let’s start with capitalisation in the middle of sentences. What’s that all about then? “Miss told us that names have to start with capital letters,” they told me when I asked. And “apple” is the name of a fruit, and “oak” is the name of a tree. Unfortunately, somewhere down the school they were also told that nouns are naming words (yes, I know, I think I’ve been guilty of that one as well), so now every noun has a capital letter.

How about full stops?  I’ve been that teacher that nags the class “Don’t forget to put full stops at the end of every sentence!” and I know I’m not the only one. When I’ve asked the children I’ve been tutoring what they know about full stops, they happily parrot, “You have to put one at the end of every sentence.” They know. So why don’t they do it? Because it seems, a lot of children have no idea what a sentence is. So they just keep on writing till they have no more ideas, and then put a full stop. Then when they think of a new idea, they start a new sentence.

What about those exclamation marks that appear at the end of sentences such as, “First, take the bread out of the packet! Next, get the butter out of the fridge!”? I was baffled when I first asked a child, whose writing target was to use exclamation marks correctly, when he thought he should use them and he told me that you had to use them every time you were telling somebody how to do something. It seems he thought it was called an explanation mark! And he’s not alone. I’ve tutored 3 children of different ages from different schools who all thought the same things, so it’s obviously a fairly common misconception.

All these things are really easy to correct when you have time to work one-to-one with the children – but not so easy when you have 29 other children needing your attention, because no matter how much you want to you just don’t have time to spend half an hour with one child. That’s why I really love my job.

Why I love being self-employed (Part 6)

This reason follows on from the last, as it’s still about CPD. Two years ago I decided that I would like to learn British Sign Language – partly because I’ve always had an interest in communication, partly because as a language teacher I always enjoy trying out new languages, and partly because I really enjoy working with under-achieving children, and deaf children tend to under-achieve.

Having chosen the course I wanted, I eagerly scanned the list of adult education classes that came through my door, discounted all the ones that were on the far side of Birmingham, and all the ones that were on nights when I did private tuition, and was left with one on at 10am on Mondays. If I was employed full-time in a school I would have had to give up right there, but being self-employed I can choose my own hours, so I signed up for it.

Now, unlike most people I love Monday mornings. I can have a bit of a lie-in, a leisurely breakfast and I miss the morning rush hour. I get to start the week by being a learner not a teacher, so I can remind myself what it’s like to be in the position of the children in my class. And at the end of it all I come away with new skills and qualifications.

Why I love being self-employed (Part 5)

Be honest – put your hand up if you’ve enjoyed every single INSET day you’ve ever had. It’s fine when they’re about something you have an interest in, or if it’s something that’s useful even if a little on the boring side.  Unfortunately sometimes they are neither interesting nor useful, but you have to turn up for them anyway. I remember one particular training day I endured, where we had a singing teacher come in and we had to spend the whole day learning and singing new songs. As someone who was told at the age of seven that with a voice like mine I should never – ever, under any circumstances – open my mouth and sing, I have had nightmares about that particular INSET day ever since.

Being self-employed means that I am now responsible for my own CPD. I no longer have to sit through training courses that bore me – I can choose whatever I want to do. Sometimes it’s something quick and inexpensive, such as reading a teaching magazine for ideas; sometimes it’s something longer term, such as the free courses you can follow through OpenLearn at the Open University. Other times I will splash out on a course that particularly interests me – for example the British Sign Language class that I’m enrolling on for the 3rd year running (completed level 1, now half way through the two-year level 2 course). From September I have booked myself onto a series of courses for teaching children with dyslexia. I’m far more excited about those than I ever have been about an INSET day.

Of course it’s not always easy when I have to fund my CPD myself, but given a choice between paying and choosing myself, or free training chosen on my behalf, I wouldn’t swap the freedom I have.