The absolute joy of being a teacher

Any teacher you ask will be only too aware of the valid and serious challenges facing our profession. Those challenges include, but are not limited to; lack of funding, a recruitment crisis, a retention crisis, excessive workloads, a toxic Ofsted legacy, lack of parental support, cuts in real-terms pay, a lack of resources, and even collapsing buildings*. 

I cannot stress enough that this blog post does not exist to downplay or undermine those colleagues who work tirelessly to address these injustices in the drive to make our profession a more sustainable one. I feel so very privileged to be part of a community that is so unashamedly demanding and expecting better for both our students and for ourselves. 

But as I approach the seventh year of my teaching career, the one narrative I just haven’t heard enough about, save for the positivity I do often see on EduTwitter, is about how totally marvellous it is to be a teacher. 

I frequently think to myself, “Shouldn’t we be shouting about all of this a bit more? And not just on Twitter?” I worry that sometimes we’re all in a bit of an echo-chamber when we share stories of a moving exchange with a group of students, or an excellent piece of work, or a super successful lesson. 

We know how great this job is, but the teacher retention figures and media headlines seem to paint a different picture. Indeed, you only need to talk to the students themselves to get a flavour for the national perspective on teaching. It’s not valued. It’s not what clever students aspire to. Members of my own (extended) family have asked what I’m going to do “after teaching, you know, for your real career”. 

Picture your student with a string of A* grades, grade 8 in three instruments, a Gold DofE award, a Level 3 football coaching qualification, a first aid certificate, an EPQ, 2 months of work experience in Rwanda, a starring role in the school production, and bucket loads of character to boot.

Wouldn’t it be great if that student, instead of being pushed towards medicine (the pressure for high-flyers to do this, often against their will, is alarming, but that’s a discussion for another time), they were asked, “Ever thought about becoming a teacher?”

If we want our children to be learning from the best, shouldn’t our high achievers teach? And shouldn’t this encouragement begin at school?

I also struggle to fathom the disconnect in the minds of those teachers who say they enjoy their jobs but actively discourage students from considering teaching themselves. Why are we trapped in self-destruct mode? Why can’t we bring ourselves to say, ‘Yes, I wholeheartedly recommend this job’? 

In fact, that is exactly what I do say to students that I teach. At first they laugh, but once you talk to them about how much you adore what you do for even just a couple of minutes, you see their minds starting to tick over. We simply have to challenge their misconceptions about teaching at grassroots level.

And sure, some days a child does a poo on the changing room floor (true story), and others a parent shouts at you so near to your face that you can smell their breath (another true story), but for every difficult or heartbreaking experience, we are afforded hundreds of  joyful and inspiring ones.

I knew I wasn’t the only teacher to feel this way, so I asked a small segment of the tweacher community what it is that brings them the most joy in their job as a teacher.

Here are just a handful of the responses, but you can find the whole thread here:

And here’s even one from my own GCSE geography teacher(!):

For me? It really is true what they say, working with children is quite simply the most delightful and rewarding job. I’ve laughed and I’ve laughed and I’ve laughed with the youngsters I work with. Young people are so interesting and funny and the way they see the world is so refreshing. It is the reason I get up in the morning.

When my friends discuss how much they all hate their office-based jobs, I don’t have anything to contribute to that conversation other than, “Sorry, I’m out, my job is wonderful.” I think they despise me a little bit for it, but then I do always have to remind myself that they could do this job too if they wanted to.

On a more selfish note, it satisfies what I call my ‘need to lead’. Teaching is such an obvious career choice for natural leaders; it simply must be championed as thus. There are also so many opportunities for career progression; I don’t know anybody who has taught for five years and not been offered a significant promotion of some kind. And while the pay may not be the most competitive straight out of university, one can leap up the pay scales fairly rapidly.

This blog post isn’t the end of me raving more about this job. I would love to hear from universities who would like a teacher to come in and talk to undergraduates for free about why teaching is a great career that they should seriously be considering. I would love to talk to people who have considered teaching but want to ask a teacher some questions about it or gain some observational experience in a school. I would welcome conversations with any teacher who feels disillusioned and wants to discuss it with a neutral-but-totally-not-neutral party. I would love to hear from companies interested in helping to support our profession in our quest to promote the wonders of teaching, beyond just throwing money at it. I want to play an active role in facilitating this shift towards happy teachers breeding happy teachers. I want to hear more ideas about how to do so.

When it comes to the best way forward regarding getting the right kinds of enthusiastic and high-quality graduates and career-changers into teaching, the recent figures speak for themselves; throwing money at trainee teachers won’t work. But maybe, just maybe, we can start to change the conversation ourselves.


*A good friend of mine taught for two years with an open-roof which leaked onto the bags of children in the back of the class when it rained. Another good friend of mine taught in a classroom – in a different school – with a rotting window frame, but when the entire window was removed in October, due to cost it wasn’t replaced until the following summer. She taught the entire winter with nothing but plywood in the window frame. All students were permitted to wear their winter coats in her lessons.



Now six years in to my teaching, I’m returning to being a year 7 tutor again this year. It seems a natural time to refocus my energy and aim to develop this pastoral aspect of my professional life.

After Kate Stockings, Head of Geography in Camden, tweeted about the fact she, too, wanted to focus on this aspect of school more this year, we both realised there’s a gap for an established form tutor community on Twitter. While there have been some tweets under the hashtag #FormTutor, we want to resurrect this for the 2019-2020 academic year to make it an online space for tutors to share ideas, queries, or concerns about the most effective way to do all things form tutor.

In addition to all of the compulsory activities we have to do, I’ve outlined 10 extra form tutor ideas I intend to try out this academic year:

  1. Contact with home. I will create a file with the names of each student in my tutor group as a tab. Each time I call home I will log a brief summary of the conversation. This will really help with my organisation and also help me to remember the narrative between me and the parents of each child. I also plan to call all of the parents of my tutor group within the first month of school.
  2. Birthdays. @MrThompsonScy alerted me to the fact that Card Factory sell 10 birthday cards for £1 (the geographer in me clearly questions the sustainability of this, but that’s something I’ll consider elsewhere … ) I bought my cards yesterday and plan to do this with my new tutor group.
  3. Reading while they are. Kate Stockings tried to do this when her tutees did silent reading. It sets a really good example, and it’s certainly true that the best way to create a culture of reading for pleasure is to model reading for pleasure oneself.
  4. Tutor time bag. My tutor room won’t be anywhere near where my classroom is. So I’m going to use a hessian bag to keep a ‘tutor time’ bank of resources in, which I will take with me to each form time. I plan to include: tissues, reading books, pens, my phone call log book, a pencil case (they can sign in and out to borrow for the day if they forget theirs), pads/tampons, etc.
  5. Debate cards. I will print out this page and keep it in the tutor time bag, so that if we ever have a spare moment we can have an off-the-cuff debate to avoid lack of structure.
  6. Visiting their lessons. Particularly in the first few weeks of term, I intend to use my free periods to pop in to their lessons (I will, of course, pre-warn their teachers about this). This should help them to know that I care about them and want to keep up with how they are getting on, but could also prove a useful behaviour management tool if they know that there’s a risk their tutor could pop in at any time.
  7. Oracy. I am really keen to use tutor time to develop the oracy skills of my tutees. I intend to use some of the excellent resources from @Voice21Oracy to develop this. I plan to blog and tweet a lot about their progress and will, of course, share the resources I create. Watch this space!
  8. Homework whiteboard. In my school, my tutor group will spend all of their lessons together until the end of key stage 3. Now, whether or not you ideologically agree with this or not, from a tutor’s perspective, it certainly does make it easier to keep an eye on what is going on with all of the group. Because they will have all of the same homework, I’m going to ask for a round-up of all of the homework that is due the following week, and present this on a whiteboard on our form’s display board. Some may feel this is reducing their independence and responsibility for their homework, but I am going to have lots of students from a range of backgrounds in the group and therefore, it is my feeling that, anything I can do to support the completion of homework is worthwhile.
  9. Star of the week. The last time I was a year 7 tutor (in my NQT year!) I would ask the students to nominate a star of the week from the form at the end of each Friday, explaining the reason for their nominations. It was such a heartwarming experience to see them being kind about one another.
  10. Teacher-tutor communication. From a teacher’s perspective, the best tutors I dealt with last year were the ones that came to speak to me in person about their form. So I plan to actively seek out every one of their teachers over the first half term to talk about the group’s dynamics and about individuals in the form.

These are my top 10 intentions; obviously I won’t be able to achieve all of this all of the time, but I’ll update with any developments about any of these plans (or others!) as the year progresses.

I’d love to hear about your successful form tutor approaches – the more ideas the merrier!

Keep up with the form tutor community throughout this academic year using the hashtag #FormTutor.

Students… be more argumentative!

I currently find myself teaching not ‘Generation Snowflake’, nor ‘Generation Z’, but the cohort of children that I like to call ‘Generation Cram’.

Literally every teacher I know is against the concept of teaching to the test to fulfil the Dickensian mantra/nightmare that ‘facts alone are wanted in life’. Yet, for a combination of reasons that emerged in the last decade within education (see Gove, reforms, performance-related pay, probably Brexit, etc.), the current secondary school cohort seem to be nursing a particularly bad fact-regurgitation hangover.

I am not for one moment placing any blame upon primary schools for this. The pressure placed upon primary schools, and particularly year six teachers, to achieve ‘impressive SATs results’ notoriously created the unhealthy culture whereby crucial time that should have been dedicated towards the arts, humanities and STEM subjects was redirected to encourage optimum performance in English and Maths SATs. It seems criminal, but if my pay were linked to the performance of the 30 eleven-year-olds in my class, you can bet I’d be increasing their exposure to SATs-style tests at any given opportunity.

In any case, secondary school teachers are just as guilty of this Gradgrindesque approach. I lose count of the times that I say in a single day, “You should approach this exam-style question by…”, or similar. I am not, nor are many others, motivated to do my job solely to help students achieve excellent exam results, but it sure doesn’t hurt when they do. After all, for as long as we exist in a meritocratic society, this is the game we have to play.

Consequently, the mid- to late-teens that I deal with now are, generally, excellent at learning ‘stuff’. They are not so excellent at forming their own opinions or evaluating a range of perspectives about an issue. But this isn’t because they don’t know how to debate, and indeed they’ve often done much progressive work in English about how to construct arguments within a piece of writing. What is lacking is the ability to apply this skill across different subjects.

Therefore, I find that in my fifth year of teaching I am focusing more and more upon helping students become more confident when applying this argumentation experience in a geography-related scenario.

Below are some of the tools I’ve found have proved useful. I would love to hear your feedback about whether you have had similar (or different!) experiences and whether you find any of these ideas useful.

a) Pie chart decision maker – Thanks to @ploguey for this amazing idea. Before writing an essay, students weigh up the possible options by creating a pie chart to consider how much weighting each factor/perspective has in the context of the question. I have found this an absolutely wonderful tool to help students away from that generic conclusions and towards more meaningful assessment.

pie chart argument


b) Tug of war decision line – Students are given various pieces of information that they have to place on a ‘tug of war’ line to indicate how far that information agrees or disagrees with a key statement they have been given. This can also be done interactively across the classroom.

Tug of war decision line


c) Thermometer comparisons – Students consider the options available and judge how much they like their idea by shading in the thermometer to give it a hotter or colder temperature, based upon how suitable/preferable they think that solution is.

thermometer judgment

d) ‘How important?’ line – To help students use appropriate phrases when considering just how important a concept is to the overall phenomenon they are exploring, this scale of importance helps them to categorise and therefore clarify their ideas.



e) Tournament knock-out – This works so well when there are lots of potential solutions but a decision needs to be made about the best overall option. By narrowing down how many ideas students have to compare at once, it makes what can seem like a mammoth task far more manageable.

tournament knockout

I hope you find some of these ideas useful!

Please tweet me @EduCaiti if you have any comments, suggestions or feedback about any of the above.

The perfect essay?

With 6 months until their A-level exams, my year 13s are reaching a point where they know lots of stuff, but their main targets now revolve around really answering the question and addressing the command word.

Despite this, between them, they have the elements of a perfect essay, but they just need to structure it a bit more succinctly to really be able to access those top-band marks.

To demonstrate this to them, they wrote me an essay which I marked and then used to construct ‘the perfect essay’. I put it all together, using direct quotes from their essays throughout, without changing any of the language or phrasing they used. Except I told them I had written it. I gave them the version on the first page of this document to read, and we annotated it for the quality of ‘assessment’ (i.e. addressing the command word), use of PEECL (Point, Evidence, Explain, Counter-argument, Link) and inclusion of synoptic themes.

By the end of the discussion, they were beginning to find my arrogance (“Haven’t I used such detailed exemplification here?”) a bit irksome, and it was time for the final reveal. I showed them the highlighted copy of the essay (page 2 of the document found in the link above), as shown in this screenshot:

The perfect essay examples
Writing ‘the perfect essay’ using quotes from students’ work

The highlighted parts show the quotes from them (the colours don’t mean anything except that I wanted to demonstrate where a different student was being quoted).

They could see where their own quotes fitted in (this was a real confidence boost for some!), but also that as the essay progressed, there was less of their writing and more of mine. We agreed, as a group, that most of the work that wasn’t highlighted was where the crux of the assessment lied. This was such a visual way for them to really engage with what assessment looks like and how they can easily shift towards writing this way in their own work.

Plus, now they have a model of truly rigorous assessment to work from, without me having to give them something I had written while pleading with them to ‘write more like me’.

This took me about 25 minutes to compile on top of marking each of their essays, so clearly I wouldn’t do this every time, but I think doing this even once at this stage in the A-level is very powerful as it builds self-belief in their own writing abilities, while also modelling exact examples of how to improve.

If you give it a try, please tweet me @EduCaiti to let me know how it goes!

A new way to DIRT?

This week I tried a new way of doing DIRT.

My year 12 group did an assessment and I wanted to overcome two obstacles when giving feedback to an entire group:

a) How do you provide purposeful and individualised feedback to an entire group but in a way that is an efficient use of marking time for the teacher? This question was inspired by a recent INSET day on efficient marking where our Head of English ran a session where the emphasis was clear; marking must be manageable – so how can we do that? It was so practical and I left with renewed determination to get creative with my marking.

b) How can we foster a sense of ownership over their own improvement among our A-level students? I completed a Masters in Education that explored ways to facilitate independent learning among A-level geographers two years ago, but I’m still exploring new ways to achieve this!

I think this new method addresses both of these obstacles.

How does it work?

1. I marked their essays and they received only a mark out of 10.

2. I collated all of the opportunities for improvement on to this DIRT feedback ranking activity sheet, which looks like this:

DIRT feedback ranking activity 2

3. The concept is very similar to using marking codes, except I didn’t put any codes on to the students’ work. Instead, when they received their essay back, they also got this sheet with it. They then had to decide, by ticking or crossing, if they felt they had met each criteria within their essay.

4. Since many of them could have ticked quite a few of the boxes, they were then asked to rank which of these improvement activities they felt was the biggest priority for improving their writing.

5. They then used their DIRT time to specifically target their self-chosen biggest priorities.


Why did this work?

  1. This really encouraged students to be reflective about what had gone well and what they needed to improve, which really encouraged deeper engagement with the ways to improve, rather than simply the mark that they got.
  2. It saved me lots of time writing individualised comments, which the students were mostly able to work out for themselves!
  3. When I came back to revisit their improvements, I could see what they had ranked as ‘1’ or ‘2’ as their improvement priority, and then I could assess their writing for evidence of that skill. It meant that the renewed marking wasn’t simply marking their work again, but focused upon exactly what it was they needed to improve. If you look at this example below, the student stated that they wanted their biggest focus to be on ‘questioning the question’ and focusing on the command word ‘assess’. As you can see within their writing, not only has their assessment improved, but my marking needed only to monitor that specific element of their improvement.DIRT 2 ADIRT 2
  4. The balance between me having found specific areas for them to focus on but them having the autonomy to choose which of those most applied for them meant that students felt supported but not spoon-fed, which is, in my books, a really positive outcome for very time-efficient teacher input.

If you do try this method, I’d love to hear about it! Please tweet me @EduCaiti