Wednesday 16 October 2013

Tell me why....

On Monday morning my Head Teacher, as always, gave an assembly to the whole school. It was a powerful assembly, and an assembly that reflected the nature of my school as a community of faith, prayer and mutual support.

It was also a sad assembly.

My Head Teacher was appealing to the students of my school to support their teachers in a decision of conscience. This Thursday, 17th October 2013, the teaching unions of the NUT and NASUWT have called for a day of strike action. They have done this for many reasons, but what drew the attention of our Head was this, teachers want to go on strike because they are deeply worried for the future of education.

You will hear in the news tomorrow that teachers have been on strike because they are upset about pay, working conditions and pensions. And, that is true. But, teachers are also on strike tomorrow because they are worried that the children of tomorrow will not have professional, qualified, experienced teachers to help them through their education. There is already a national shortage of qualified teachers in some key subjects. It is already common for a school to have to 'set cover' for GCSE examinations groups because no qualified teacher can be found for that group at present.

The appeal my Head Teacher made was this: some of your teachers will go on strike, some will not. Whatever choice your teachers make, they have thought long and hard about their choice. They have made their decision because they love teaching you, and because they want the best for your future and the future of the children that come after you. Support your teachers. You know how hard they work. You know how much they care for you. Talk to your teachers about the decision they have to make. Take an interest in what they have to say. Tomorrow, I hope that some of you will be teachers. Listen to what is at stake. 

 My Head Teacher was asking my students to take the time to research, listen and seek the truth of the situation. I cannot offer any better advice than that. A fellow teacher and fellow blogger has outlined very carefully why the NUT and NASUWT are taking action tomorrow here. Do read what she has to say. The biggest lie I will hear on the news tomorrow is that teachers work 9am to 3pm and have 12 weeks holiday a year. That makes me angry and shows ignorance of a profession that looks after the future of our country. The details about pay, conditions and pensions are important, but secondary. The purpose of teaching is to provide a decent education to all students, regardless of their ability, social background or special educational needs, and to give every child the best start in life. When attacks on teaching become an attack on the ability of teachers to perform that task, trouble is ahead.

I'll be in school tomorrow. This is not because I do not support the strike, but because, as part of the position I occupy in my school, I am a 'key worker' and must be in school to protect the health and safety of the pupils in our care. I'll be in school tomorrow to support my colleagues on strike, and hope, ever more dearly, that politicians will come and see what is at stake, take time to see what the education of our young people involves, and help ensure that tomorrow's children have excellent, healthy, enthusiastic and happy teachers.

Please think carefully about what you hear about teachers on the news tomorrow. Your children, or your future children,  depend on them.

Friday 11 October 2013

Educating Yorkshire and emotional teaching

I do not normally watch programmes on television about education. I spend all day at the chalkface and like a little variety, so ordinarily stories about schools are on the last resort list.

That said, Educating Yorkshire is completely compelling, and has, without exception, made me cry every week. I love those students, and it is obvious that their teachers love them too. And that is the crux of the 'I do not know how you do your job' conundrum. Teachers teach their students well because they love them. I am lucky enough to work in a school in which OFSTED inspectors said as much in their report about our work, but it is true the world over. It is impossible to teach anyone anything without love.

This week, Mr Steer, Deputy Head Teacher of Thornhill Academy, was seen dragging his leg behind him through the corridors, afflicted by some awful allergy. He did not take time off work because there was an exam on that week, and, as every teacher knows, time off work affects your students. Time off work, incidentally, is not time off work, because you spend your time at home setting the work to be done and worrying. Teaching and parenthood have many similarities. Some people might watch Mr Steer at Thornhill and think he is the exception to the teacher-sickness-dedication rule. Not so. In every school across the country there are teachers who care so much about the people that they teach that they will do anything to help them achieve their potential. Many people, when they choose to teach, choose to give their lives to the job they do.

Educating Yorkshire makes me cry every single week because it is all so familiar. The struggles, battles, victories, tears, laughter and joy are all in there. They have even shown the challenging moments when students are affected by devastating family circumstances and teachers attempt to help teenagers grieve, process anger or seek justice. I have never seen a programme so accurately reflect the day to day reality of spending daily life with a community of young teenagers. I should also mention that, in my experience, although teachers often help children grieve the loss of a loved one, the reverse is also true, and when a teacher loses someone, students are also good at helping an adult through this process. Teachers and students spend more of their waking hours together then either party spends with their family, so that is not so strange. Educating Yorkshire inspires me.  I have never seen a programme that so carefully reflects the dynamic relationship between teacher and pupil, everything from 'I hate effing Geography and I hate yer...' to 'I didn't think I could do it, and I went and did it,  and I got an A. I am an effing genius.' That's what it is all about. It is the reason I get up in the morning. It is one of the many reasons I am glad to get up in the morning.

Tuesday 8 October 2013

Guardian Angels, Francis, Bruno, Our Lady, Newman...

October, the beginning of Autumn, the month of my birthday. A month that begins well. Look at that list of Feasts! Guardian Angels is by favourite and my best. Unless of course, Francis is my favourite and my best. Bruno could be too. Who could leave out Newman? And, well, without Our Lady of the Rosary none of us would ever manage.

In years gone past I have written about each of these days separately. There is much to learn from each. But, taken collectively they speak a message too: You are looked after, cared for and protected (Guardian angels), look after others in return (Francis), take time for God and for yourself (Bruno), be prepared to think things through and change your mind when necessary (Newman), and, everyone needs help (Our Lady of the Rosary).

In response to all of these good lessons I can offer the following: you deserve to be looked after, cared for and protected - make sure you are; show that you care for those around you - your loved ones deserve to be looked after too; take time for yourself and for God - know yourself;  think carefully about the choices you make - you only live once; ask for help when you need it - living in community has a purpose.

Part of all this living the faith lark leads me to do something I can be tempted to not bother with - to cook well for one. It is tempting to 'not be bothered', to heat something quick or eat junk food. It is just not on, and to some extent, it is immoral. To some extent, let's not go overboard, I love a bit of junk on occasion. But, to regularly cook good, healthy, tasty food that you can look forward to is part of caring for yourself, being happy, self respect and self esteem.

Here are some recent, recipe free (apologies), simples suppers I have made of late:

Baked Cheesy Leek and Mushroom Chicken:

This was borne of having leeks and mushrooms that needed using. I seared and coloured a chicken breast with the skin on. Then in a pan I sauteed leeks and mushrooms in butter, adding flour and milk to change to a white, 'bechamel' sauce. I placed the chicken breast into a tiny baking dish, poured over the leek and mushroom bechamel and grated enough parmesan on top to ensure a cheesy crust. The whole lot went into an oven at 180C for 25 minutes to cook the chicken and crisp up.  I served this with crusty bread.

Autumn Sausage Bake

I had a set of autumn vegetables bought with good intentions going to waste in the fridge. It happens. I chopped or crushed, shallots, garlic, a red pepper, new potatoes and baby carrots and added them to a non stick baking tray with three lovely, organic, free range, delicious sausages. I drizzled the whole lot with olive oil, added fresh rosemary and thyme, salt and pepper. The whole glorious mix took 30 mins in a preheated oven at 180C. It could have been beetroot, butternut squash, celeriac, parsnip, turnip or anything. It was yum. I still have three sausages left - they're in the freezer.

Burgers and Bits

The key thing here is delicious burgers and good bread, everything else is optionsal. I like fresh sweetcorn on the cob, tomatoes, good cheese, gherkins, salad. Homemade chips, or baby roast with fresh rosemary are not out of the question.

Burgers and Bits and Autumn Sausage Bake  both deserve a glass of red wine. FACT.

Poverty Chic Daal

There are a thousand ways of making a daal. On this occasion I boiled red lentils and baby carrots in vegetable stock. Fried onions and garlic with a delicious curry paste (not a bought sauce); added tomato paste to the onions with the cooked carrots and lentils, and finally added winter greens for a few moments before serving. I ate the whole lot served on top of a warmed naan. Simple, delicious, cheap.

There, a few weekday survivors from this first week of October. I loved them, and they made me feel happy.

Tuesday 1 October 2013