When teaching isn’t teaching

I said last time that I didn’t have much to write about, so I hadn’t updated anything in a while. Well, I think it’s because I’ve been in the house so much that I’m fresh out of any stories to discuss. When things are good and you’re content, there’s not a whole lot to mention in a blog. But when you go out in the world and see the things of the public school system, then you’ve got a story.

Yesterday I had one of those final straw moments that I think are good and necessary to get you really firm in your convictions about what you should or shouldn’t be doing with your life. I have said this many times: I’m not a good teacher. I was never trained to handle discipline. The Florida Teacher Certification for non-Education majors just takes someone with an English, Science, History, or Math degree, throws them in a classroom, then while they struggle to keep up with behaviour issues, lesson planning, and grading, the administration will tell you what a crap job you’re doing. They’ll tell you to go to teacher classes after school where you watch movies about teaching, have you harassed by a mentor and any teaching support who can come into the classroom to “help” so you never have time when you’re not being constantly monitored and criticized. (They’ll harass your students during lessons too, by the way.) Then admin will tell you how they’re trying to “help” you but “it’s not working” and you’re just “spinning your wheels.”

By the way, they never teach you how to make a lesson plan either – I learned that last year here in England, thank you very much. At least Florida now has courses that you can take at a college that will give you a stand-in Education degree that actually trains you for the job.

In the UK, they won’t let that happen. In order to be a teacher, you have to have volunteer hours at a school if you’ve never done teaching support work, undergo a Master’s level program that puts you, as an adult, into the classroom. You have to be accepted into a competitive program. You go through a rigorous training that I’ve been told is “the hardest thing I’ve ever done.” This is coming from British teachers who have gone through every possible high level testing imaginable too.

But, alas, since I already had a Florida Professional Teaching Certificate, I was allowed to get Qualified Teaching Status in England because my first language is English from an English-speaking country.

I still haven’t been really trained.

With that said, I have long been struggling to get out of this ridiculous supply teaching gig. Not because I don’t like going to school, I do, it’s just that supply teaching isn’t teaching (unless you’re on a contract of some sort and are responsible for the lesson plans and grading.) But the Secondary Schools, the Year 7 and up classes, those are the ones I originally wanted to teach when I was an English Major at UCF ten years ago.

When I got here in England, I tried to just jump right back into teaching by doing supply (substitute) teaching and hope that it worked out. It didn’t, and here’s an example of why.

Yesterday I was called by my teaching agency about an English teaching job at a Secondary School for four days. There was no information given other than the name and location of the school. Since I was given a day’s notice, I accepted because, I’m in need of some kind of work to get me out of the house more. Plus, I hate being home and not enjoying the pre-Christmas festivities around town. But, anyway, so I drove to the school early, fought the traffic, and made it just on time.

But here’s the thing, British schools are never worried about you being late if you do supply. They just casually take you over to class when they’re ready, and kids will already be sitting there, waiting on you. Now, here’s the thing, they will sometimes not give you any work for kids to do, or they’ll give you ridiculous lesson plans like I had yesterday:

First Period Year 7 Pastoral class was supposed to do work that some other person had at Reception. Of course when I asked about this, Reception gave me a strange look, like I was a Space Cadet, and said the person who would have the resources wasn’t there. Of course. The school nurse brought me up to the classroom and didn’t have any idea what assignments they were supposed to do either. Of course.

The kids were okay, but there was no work for them. I just tried to chat with them about movies and video games and Florida. They told me that they had been watching a film (9 times out of 10 it’s a lie, but if there’s no work, I was willing to give it a go.) Of course the computer wouldn’t log my temp teacher info, or the kids’. In the end I found some coloured pencils and had them draw Christmas pictures. During this time I had one boy who pushed and shoved everyone and was a right pain in the butt. One girl walked out because he and another kid were drawing pictures of her, so that was a big to-do and her friends wanted to go find her and bring her bag to her. Eventually, a gentleman (no idea who he was) came in, took two boys away, and the garbage bin with said portraits in it. Good riddance.

I had planning afterward and I looked over my class plans for the rest of the day. The Number One no-no in sub planning: “The class is to silently read all period.” I was going to have two Year 7 classes, and one Year 8 who was already on class report so if there were any behaviour issues, I was to use Mr. B’s name as a threat. Now, ask me if I know who Mr. B are or how to get in contact of anyone while I’m in this classroom, stuck in the corner of the room with 30 kids and no phone. I don’t and I can’t. I contemplated yelling for help out the window, but it just overlooked an empty soccer field.

When the Year 7 class came in, I immediately saw why this teacher was going to be gone for four days. 30 some kids who could have given a care less if I spoke to them, shouted at them, or instructed them to:

  • stop turning the lights on and off
  • stop erasing people’s names off the board
  • stop drawing on the board (I took the markers off the whiteboard and they tried to get them off the shelf behind me instead.)
  • put their phones away and stop video recording me and the class
  • stop sitting on the desks for group selfies
  • stop walking out of the room without permission
  • stop playing with an open sack of sugar in someone’s bag that half the class managed to get all over the desk and the floor
  • stop shoving and pushing one another
  • stop opening the window
  • sit down and stop dancing
  • stop talking and read

The story was, as some of the girls in class told me, is they had one teacher at the beginning of the year who left, then they brought in an Australian teacher who was “horrible.” (Good on her for being mean.) But after knowing she was out for four days, I’m wondering if she’s getting the heck out of there too. I don’t blame her. I even wrote on her note that if this Year 7th class wasn’t her worst, I felt very sorry for her. Apparently I’m not the only non-Brit who is getting the raw end of the teaching in England deal.

She even had only 8 pens available for the class and she had to keep tally of which kids had borrowed pen from her because they never had supplies. I had that kind of thing in the 7th and 8th grade classes in Florida. They would come in without a book, bag, pen, anything. Ridiculous stuff.

Anyway, I gave up on the silent reading idea after ten minutes of getting no where with them. They told me reading was awful and they hated it, so I told them to get their workbooks and carry on with what they had done in class before. That was a whole big deal too because some didn’t have one and what should they do and if one had a new book the other one wanted one. You get the picture. I circulated the room, I talked to individual students, I did my “thing” you’re supposed to do to manage children. They would just look at me, then carry on doing whatever they wanted.

Eventually, some teacher/support worker saw them running in and out of class, came in and scared them enough to sit in a chair (this only works for permanent staff who know the kids and know what to do with ones who are misbehaving.) She said something about them knowing that they aren’t allowed to use the toilet during lesson times. News to me.

But no matter, by that time I had already sat at my desk, emailed the teaching agency on my phone and told them to find someone else to cover the classes for the rest of the time. When they asked why, I told them that I’d never seen a Year 7 class misbehave that much and I didn’t want an incident to occur after they’d been video taping me. (That’s all I need to start some law suit about my being liable for some kid shoving another kid into a desk while I’m shouting at kids to put their phones away.)

And after all these years of trying and “spinning my wheels” and knowing that, as I’ve been told by 100s of teachers before, you have to put on an act of Wicked Mean Teacher day in and day out, I left. It is too stressful and not worth the anger and frustration. It’s especially not worth it for £75 that a school is only willing to pay for someone as “Advanced Cover Support” instead of a “Qualified Teacher.” After I stood there, watching the kids get progressively more rowdy, even after a member of staff spoke to them, I knew I was going to leave. Once I dismissed them (I tried to only dismiss the first row, but they all took off and ignored me. They turned the lights off again on their way out for the 20th time too.) I got my things, signed out, and left.

That is not teaching. Teaching is not being a presence in a classroom while kids do whatever the heck they want to. I think Year 7 is the worst. Year Six at the Primary School is more tolerable. In fact Primary is very tolerable after seeing things like this at a huge Secondary School with too many kids to keep track of.

So I told the teaching agency I wasn’t going to do supply for a Secondary School anymore. I’ve been to some nice ones where the teachers weren’t yelling and screaming at kids in the hallway all the time, but that’s been maybe two out of a dozen. I enjoyed being at the Primary Schools because you have other classes around you, other teachers and support workers around you, and a lot less kids at the school to deal with. Even a middle school I went to 40 miles away on my first teaching assignment after I got my car – that wasn’t bad at all. But once they put these guys in a huge school, something happens that I just can’t imagine. They run around doing whatever they please. It’s not as bad as what I’ve seen in Florida, but I still wonder what kind of money it would take to get any future children of ours into a school that actually helped them succeed.

And this is why I’m back to the idea of training as a teaching assistant. I have experience and I would rather work in the Primary Schools, so in order to get some qualifications, I figure I should take a course here and get job placement to train. I honestly don’t know what other jobs I could do. Steve is totally willing to get me back in school and get another certificate under my belt, but I don’t know what else I could do. As I said before, the library training was useless (I even tried to contact the CILIP about what I could do and no one’s ever gotten back to me.) I just don’t want to keep “spinning my wheels.”

I love books and I love school and it’s a shame that I don’t have a career in either of them.


About Suzanne Schultz Pick

Married to Steve. Mother of Jack. Librarian IT Assistant. Writer, teacher, blogger, podcaster, technological princess.
This entry was posted in All About Me, Employment, School, Teaching, Writing and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to When teaching isn’t teaching

  1. I’m about to undertake that exact course. I know exactly how you feel, I’m doing a teaching assistant placement at the moment and I’m so glad there are at least two other adults in the room with me. Until you build up a rapport with the kids, you don’t stand a chance of controlling them! I will certainly NEVER do supply work! It’s a death wish!

    • How are you liking the TA work so far? What are they asking you to do on the placement?
      I know what you mean about supply work – it is just not worth the little bit of cash and stress. I never have trouble doing the test invigilation when there are 3-5 adults in the room with me. I’ve tried to do this stuff alone and it takes a different type of person than me to hand that many kids at once. In the US, I kept hearing the theory that any teacher could walk into any classroom and immediately settle them down and give instruction. I don’t know what kind of magic wand they have for that but, good on them.

  2. That is a very scary prospect that you bypassed the British teaching qualification PGCE and have been “given” QTS status because you hold a Florida Professional Teaching Certificate that clearly does not come close to the level of training we have to go through to become qualified teachers. This is not fair on both you or the pupils and am glad to hear that you have not given up after the testing time you had whilst on cover. It sounds like you would definately be more suited to a teaching assistant until you can get more supportive training. I’m so sorry your experience in this school was so bad, in my few years of supply teaching I have only had a couple of lessons without cover work provided and as a teacher if it were to happen I can confidently say that I would be able to occupy them for the lesson appropriately, in time so will you. Such an interesting read, thankyou for sharing this, and good luck with your teaching assistant training.

    • I could clearly understand a teacher coming in from an English speaking country getting NQT status, and being allowed to go through the ropes as a first year teacher would. It’s incredibly frustrating, especially when we can’t do a PGCE at all, and are desperately trying to find work. In all fairness, a teacher from another state, Canada, or Australia may very well have been trained as a teacher much better than I was. (Florida throws you in a classroom and if you survive after 3 years, you win a teaching certificate. For classroom discipline courses, they have you watch videos. Not very helpful, honestly.) Coming into a British school, you just don’t have any clue how schools are run, and no one has time to teach you curriculum and the like because they’re busy as well. The TA course, I hope, will give me better groundwork in the classroom before I consider trying to be a full time teacher again. Thanks. I’ll keep on, keepin’ on! 🙂

  3. Pingback: The day I should not have tempted fate! | My originality mindblock

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