Last summer I started to write this blog primarily to share my love of embroidery and textile art. I had many good intentions to continue writing and sharing however my job has proven to digest all of my time and I have been unable to find the time to commit to the blog and this has started to upset me. I would like to review my live decisions and try to readdress my work life balance.
Ten years ago this summer I made the decision to go back to university to complete my teacher training course. At this time I was running my own business dyeing threads and fabrics and running a small craft shop; within the business I ran a wide range of creative workshops and I found that I loved this part of the job. I had completed my adult education qualifications however I still felt that I had more to give and in 1996 I made a massive career changing decision to complete my post-graduate qualification in education. I received so much support from my family throughout this year, without them I could not have continued to run my business and complete my studies but throughout this they had faith in me and also believed that I could succeed within education and continue to pass on my enthusiasm and passion for a subject I loved, Textiles.
In 1996 there was a national shortage of Design and Technology teachers and I was qualified to teach both Food Technology and Textiles, this appeared to be the perfect career change providing me with the opportunity to continue my love of teaching to a wider audience.
I loved it! It was very hard work however the time spent with the teenagers was so rewarding it made it al worthwhile. I was able to watch them learn new skills and develop knowledge and understanding of this subject. I am not going to lie, it was challenging and I worked long hours but initially I was able to teach and work with a wide range of children and work with a wide range of needs and I was able to work out ways of delivering interesting lessons to engage children and encourage them to experiment and find their own niche.
Today I find myself working all hours to meet the demands of the headship team, ofsted and government policies; what has happened to the needs of the children sitting in front of us? I have read countless articles in the press about the stresses and demands that teachers are under, how many are leaving teaching after many years, how the work life balance has become impossible to manage, how so many teachers are on medication for depression. I do not have to read any of these articles as I see this everyday in my working life and it is getting worse every day. I am also aware of how the public perceive a teachers life; working Monday to Friday school hours and 13 weeks holiday a year yet we are constantly moaning, I am writing this blog to review this common belief as I would quite like to have this idyllic teaching career however it does not exist – can I make this work?
Here is a true scenario – An eleven year child walks into my classroom for the first time. They look around the walls, displays and equipment and are intrigued as they have not used a sewing machine or seen a heat press or embroidery machine before – at this point it could be easy to engage this child through practical activity. This is a practical subject and as an eleven year old they just want to learn how to use the equipment and make a product however we need to provide evidence of progress; children must demonstrate that the are able to write the date and underline it and then they must write a title and underline it, as a teacher I must ensure that they have used a ruler and if they have not completed this I must indicate this error using a red pen and then they must correct it using a green pen to show that they can act upon my feedback and improve their work. The eleven year old child really just wants to have a go of the sewing machine however before they can do this they must demonstrate their clear knowledge and understanding of this process in written text to enable the teacher to assess their level of understanding and provide written feedback on how to improve this written task, then the child is to act upon this feedback to demonstrate to the headship team and ofsted inspectors that as a teacher I am regularly marking pupils work and providing them with the opportunity to improve it. All the child wants to do is demonstrate their knowledge and understanding through practical work with the teacher regularly providing verbal feedback on how to improve and praise for excellent work. There are children who can achieve excellent results through their practical skills and their grades may be dictated by their academic ability and this also works the other way, just because a child is in top sets for all academic subjects does not mean that they are creative or even have the ability to hold a pair of scissors correctly.
With work scrutinies occurring every few weeks to ensure that all books are marked and data being inputted and analysed every four weeks to ensure that pupils are making progress teachers do not have the time to embed skills and encourage creativeness within children and they have to constantly provide evidence and a professional opinion is no longer valid without a paper trail of evidence. A constant plethora of emails issuing unrealistic deadlines and tasks has knocked the passion out of my bones and I feel resentful that I no longer have to time to sit with a child and really share my love of the subject to encourage them to explore, experiment and create as this is not always measurable.
The government have decided that they know what all children should study; that the schools performance should be measured against the English Baccalaureate. Within the EBacc proposal every pupil taking their GCSEs would have to study a minimum of seven, narrowly defined, GCSEs: English literature and English language, maths, double or triple science, a modern and/or ancient language, history and/or geography. The EBacc has had a massive impact on children as there is now little time left for pupils to study design and technology, art, dance, music, drama or any other creative industry relevant subjects such as hair and beauty, engineering, business, travel and tourism, food and catering. I am not a political person but I have seen the detrimental effect that this is having on schools and children’s choices. Not all pupils want to follow this academic programme, this does not suit everyone, where are their choices?
Ten years! I began this journey ten years ago when there was a national shortage of Design and Technology teachers, now there are redundancies looming in our school as this subject is no longer accessible to these children through their limited choices. I feel saddened by this situation – what does the future hold? More and more experienced teachers are leaving the profession and in most cases they are being forced out. On the days when I can shut buy classroom door and teach the children sitting in front of me I love my job. I wish I could do this every day without the justification, accountability and production of evidence, analysing data and explaining how I will ensure progress for each individual child – I am a professional and I endeavour to plan and teach every lesson to meet the needs of every child sitting in front of me, I provide an environment for learning and manage the behaviour effectively, I aim to provide pupils with praise and advice on how to progress further, every child is different and I intend to engage them and encourage their learning. Why do I need to provide evidence of this after every lesson and justify the outcomes? Am I a professional person?
I began writing this to reflect upon my work life balance and I have had a bit of a rant – I apologise to anyone who has read this – I have had to write this to come to the conclusion that on the days that I can shut that classroom door and teach the children, share my love of textiles, encourage creativity and engage them I love my job. Sadly these days are shadowed by other priorities that are cascaded down to teachers without consideration of how these are effecting their lives. Unfortunately I see these effects every day with an unrealistic work life balance. I am currently on a school holiday with a mountain of marking staring me in the face and I have to go into school to work with pupils next week for two days and I must go in for another day to mark more work – so much for a break 🙁 All I want to do is walk by the lake and crochet a few random squares….. I am off for a walk