Tuesday, 24 August 2010


Do I come here often? Um, no, not much anymore... you might have noticed. Seven years have passed since I started "ranting" - that's a whole generation of secondary school students. I've changed schools, roles, and also now, I've realised, attitude. With this new decade I seem to have shrugged off my anger and frustration at the impediments of the job and have just learned to tolerate (or ignore) them. And I can attribute this to two main reasons.

Firstly, there's Twitter. Everybody's heard of Twitter nowadays, and I use it mostly as a personal diary or record of the mundanities I've been up to, and to "chat" with a number of friendly, funny, caring and lovely people from different walks of life. But I also "follow" a great number of enthusiastic and dedicated teachers, whose positivity and enlightening suggestions are inspiring. Some have developed "PLN"s - Personal Learning Networks (I think), which allow them to interact with subject / age specialists around the country and the world. Sure, there are those of us who come home after a tiring day at school and offload in 140 characters, and the beauty of it is that there is always someone there who knows exactly how you feel and cheers you up straight away. But overall, the positive experience that Twitter is for this ranting teacher has made me less ranting and more bantering.

Secondly, there's tutoring. Last year I began private tutoring for the first time, through absolute necessity. I found it immensely awkward to start with, from an ideological angle. I felt unsure about the exchange of money (even though I needed it!) because was it fair for these children to receive such an advantage just because their families could afford it? Then again, if it wasn't me taking the work, somebody else would have. And besides, it wasn't just affluent families who wanted tutoring for their children. The majority were the children of builders and salon owners etc - parents who were used to being paid for their trade. It was often the case that these teenagers had lost confidence in their own abilities, and needed their C grades to get into college. It made me sad to hear of children admitting that they didn't seem to learn anything because they were in a bottom set, and there were too many naughty children hindering their learning.

But what I gained from tutoring almost outweighed anything else: I gained a love of teaching again. I mean, a real passion. Here were children who (with one exception) were concentrating fully, willing and eager to learn, and whose moments of enlightenment were a real thrill to witness. I gained insight into how other schools tackled topics, and widened my own knowledge by researching areas I'd not taught before. And after a day of sometimes tiresome classes, or demanding management, it was quite often difficult to summon the energy to be enthusiastic for another hour or two. But after every tutor session I would feel enthused and energised because I'd had the opportunity to do what I'd entered the profession to do: teach, and make a difference.

And that in turn has had a knock-on effect on my classroom teaching. Working one-to-one with a wide range of abilities has enabled me to see why pupils find some things difficult, and inspired me to try new things I've learnt from their work with my classes. It's like a second-hand Inset: I've learned things from their teachers without having ever met them.

So there we go. Confessions of a not-so-ranting teacher. Because of Twitter and Tutoring I feel much more positive about teaching than I have done for years. That's not to say it's perfect, of course: still plenty to moan about! But I probably won't be saying it here. Instead, you'll find Ranting Teacher over on Twitter, along with a whole world of teachers who will amuse, support and inspire. So if you're not there already, come and say hello!

Monday, 12 April 2010

Sun Stroke Seven

Well I guess I have sunstroke, or there must be something else in the air I can blame. Today marks 7 years since I first published a post as "Ranting Teacher" and yet today, the first day back at school after the Easter holidays, I actually felt full of enthusiasm for teaching.

But then, beginnings are always exciting after the initial Sunday night/ Monday morning funk. I've had time off to relax, read, and catch up with all that stuff that life throws our way but we don't often have time to deal with in term-time (like repeats of A Place in the Sun). Therefore, early start aside, I feel refreshed, and the shining sun helps too. There are new units of work to commence, and my resources are made and ready for use. When they're schemes of work I've had a hand in creating, or there is the flexibility to follow my own interests too, I feel most enthusiastic to get started.

Of course, once the marking starts piling up again, and the students start playing up, and extra hoops to jump through suddenly appear in a couple of weeks, I might not feel so spritely. But this is also a joyful time of year because after an initial flurry of activity it'll be time to wave goodbye to years 11 and 13, and au revoir to year 12, meaning extra PPA time to plan more kick-ass lessons, or just simply stop for a moment and smell the roses. Happy third term everyone!

Saturday, 10 April 2010

The Facebook Effect

Yesterday I was thinking how my online presence has changed over the last seven years since I launched "Ranting Teacher". What I didn't consider was how the changes (advances?) in technology have affected the life of your average teen these days. But having just watched this week's new episode of "South Park", where one of the characters gets sucked into Facebook, it reminded me of school life once again, because although it may be satire, what happened in this episode is actually very insightful.

For example, every member of my form group has got either an iPhone or an iPod Touch. I can't blame them for wanting to compare apps at the first opportunity, even though they aren't supposed to have their gadgets on show in school, lest I swoop in and wrestle their headphones from their very persons.

Texting mates in lessons (or even better for their phone credit - bluetoothing) is a matter of course these days. I used to dread what was happening when students looked to be fiddling with something under the desk, but these days it's with tiresome predictability that there's a mobile phone involved. If you're a teacher, just test this yourself: during any one lesson, furtively switch on your bluetooth and see how many (usually rude) names spring to life on your screen. With one persistant offender I decided to get through the only way I could. I wrote a note on a piece of paper my desk: "Get on with your work!". I photographed it and bluetoothed it to the dozy student, who foolishly accepted whatever file was being sent to him. Ok, we had a little laugh about it, but it did the trick.

But Facebook seems to be a huge pressure on teens. "South Park" wasn't exaggerating. The unlikeliest of students are "Facebook friends" and these alliances are seen around school too, for example when one student shouts something to another about their status updates or photos, and they have never talked to each other in your class before. That it's used for bullying, there is no doubt. That it's more important to be "Facebook friends" with the right people than to have the right trainers these days is becoming more apparent. A great equaliser? Not really. It's very divisive. Several fights broke out at school last term because of what somebody had posted on Facebook, with two opposing factions grouping because of their Facebook links.

Even stranger is that some of my colleagues have easily discovered Facebook profiles, with pictures of their personal lives plastered all over them. So? you might argue, teachers should be entitled to use Facebook as well as any other breed of human. But what disturbs me is that some of these teachers are "friends" with current students. There seems to be a professional line that has been crossed there. And when I hear from these staff some of the school gossip they have discovered because it was posted on a pupil's "Wall", I do wonder if I'm being over-sensitive about this, or whether it's excusable. After all, I'm often party to conversations between students that I'd really rather not hear. It doesn't just happen online - there's real life too of course! But online, things seem to escalate. An offhand comment by somebody can be jumped upon, undefended, and circulated widely before the poster has had the chance to rethink.

My point is, that teenagers today are under pressures that weren't even imaginable when I was a teenager myself. Sometimes I wonder how different my teen years would have been with the internet and a mobile phone, and I always imagine it to have been vastly superior. Far better to woo a member of the opposite sex with a flirty text message or a "poke" on Facebook than to stand in a drafty phone box and hope the object of one's desires' mother didn't answer the phone instead.

But the other side to this is the added layers of social networking which can increase anxiety and turmoil in a teen's life. So something else to consider next time you hear somebody sneer, "What, you're not even on MSN? Won't mummy let you?" or banter about "Facebook friends".

Friday, 9 April 2010

Spring forward

It's almost seven years since I took on the persona of "Ranting Teacher". Why did I do it? I'd moved from a wonderful school to one which was more of a struggle: bigger, unwieldier, messier, louder... I couldn't help but compare the two. So many things were frustrating me about that school that I felt I needed to vent my anger and frustrations somehow. Writing it down and putting it "out there" just made me feel better. But it wasn't such a bad school. (In its last two inspections it scored top marks and gold stars.) What was it that frustrated me? The parents? The students? The other teachers? Well, a combination of all of those things, alongside endless government initiatives, curriculum changes, and the constant demands on my time.

So what has changed in seven years? For "Ranting Teacher", it has changed from a slowly-coded html website, to this blogger site, and more lately, to a more frequent presence on Twitter where I've had the opportunity to have instant banter with a great range of great people.

For me as a teacher, I have changed jobs, schools, and lost the anger I felt several years ago. But I don't think this is a good thing. I ranted because I cared about the job and the students, and was frustrated when I couldn't do my job properly because of external pressures or circumstances. That I don't rant so much any more is a bit of a worry to me. Does it mean I'm not so bothered any more? Am I just going through the motions? It feels like it sometimes.

For me as a person, like anyone else I've experienced much change in the last seven years. Bereavements, break-ups, break-downs... In the last year or so my blog has been quiet, and it's because real life has got in the way much of the time. Maybe me and Ranting Teacher have a bit of a seven-year-itch.

But I know the ranting is still in there somewhere... because I still care about educating young people and I'm still passionate about my subject, and there are still so many impediments! The great thing about "tweeting" with other teachers is that I know I am in no way unique, and it's a great way to vent in a short and sweet (and not so sweet) way. Lots of teachers use Twitter to share good practice, ideas and developments instantly with colleagues around the world. I'm far more superficial with my banter but find the support from my Twitter friends immeasurable. So if you don't see me on here much, come and say hello on Twitter!