The Jones Approach To: #ResearchED

Yesterday I went to my very first ‘ResearchED’ event along with two of my colleagues which was held at Sandringham School in St Albans (link to their Research Schools page is here).

Here’s some things that it was:

  • Well organised: despite a thumping of snow, it went ahead. Now there’s a determination that I love! If the organisers care so much about the importance of this event then goddammit, I’m bloody well getting up earlier to scrape the car and clear the snow because it’s important to me too. Love the positive vibe around that! Everything was organised brilliantly too; the Sixth Form helpers were superb, everything was clear to follow, simple structure to the day. Sorted.
  • Positive: right from the word go, Baroness Estelle Morris gave real impetus to the day by articulating (incredibly well) the importance of us being there but also of the evidence-informed teaching movement that is happening. She spoke passionately about us driving this movement forward with ambition; ambition for it to be bigger and better than it has been before. She highlighted the vital role we play for every teacher that follows us; what we do now and how we engage with research now determines their starting point. I understood from her just how far-reaching the effects of our engagement with research can be. I absolutely loved listening to her speak.
  • Inspiring: the day involved a total of 24 sessions to choose four from (spread over four time slots). Some speakers couldn’t attend because they were victim of the snow but whatever, that’s unavoidable. The summaries of the talks in the programme were generally helpful and I certainly felt that the descriptions of the ones I attended were spot on. I attended:
    • “If ‘more research’ is the answer, perhaps we have the wrong question” by James De Winter
    • “Retrieval Practice: the roads between research and application” by Dr Elfrat Furst
    • “Ditch Revision; start learning from the first lesson” by Dawn Cox
    • “Knowledge Organisers and Memory Quizzing are the way forward” by Lucy Pask
  • Informative: the list above just sounds like it’s going to be useful. In an educational climate where there is so much thinking now going on about research, and the role of knowledge, and how to use retrieval practice and how we can incorporate the teachings of cognitive science and neuroscience into teaching, the four sessions I chose were ‘on-point’ and very ‘current’. With the three of us splitting our attendance at the sessions, we came away with a lot of useful information. Our job now is to pull all of that together.
  • A total bargain: I am always amazed at teacher CPD that costs around the £300 mark. In most cases, I have been unable to understand where that kind of figure reasonably comes from? Is it the presenter? The (no doubt) swanky London conference centre/hotel? The fancy free lunch? No idea. And I don’t really care. Some are good, some are alright, some are quite poor. So by contrast, my ticket for #rEDStAlbans cost 25 quid or something like that. That’s it. I got a well-organised, positive, inspiring and informative CPD day based on relevant research and themes within education, my school and my teaching…for £25. The companies that charge £250-300-odd for teacher CPD need to take a big long look at this and seriously start justifying to schools and teachers where that money is going because hell, I’d take a ResearchED on a Saturday over anything they could offer for £300 simply because theirs cost £300. In a climate where schools are feeling like they’re haemorrhaging money out of every orifice because of huge financial constraints, today was the best £25 my school could have possibly spent on my development – my thinking – and in turn, the development of others. I don’t want fancy things from a ‘course’; I want the ‘nuts and bolts’ of what I need. I want to be made to think. I want some notes to reflect upon and use later. And that’s about all I want to be honest.
  • A bloody good day out: and there it is; the real beauty of days like today. I enjoyed it. I spent my time in the presence of good company (thanks Sarah and Joe) at a good event. Yeah ok, it was on a Saturday but I got over that a long time ago when I started exploring the usefulness of weekend CPD-based events. I mentally contrasted today with the last time I went on one of those expensive CPD courses; everyone was a little bit “…I’m here because my HoD said I have to come…” or they were annoyed because they had been required to set 5 lessons of cover in order to be there or they were annoyed because they’re doing yet another post-it note activity or a card sort or something. Today wasn’t that at all. It was a day full of positive, like-minded people who want to drive positive change in their schools. It was full of people gaining ideas and knowledge. It was day that inspired me a lot. It was a day that only cost £25 AND we got a free lunch.

Thank you ResearchED; thank you Sandringham School.


The Jones Approach To: Workload

There has been an awful lot of stuff written recently about the increasingly high workload faced by Teachers and the creeping impact of this across the profession. Much of this workload pressure upon teaching staff comes as a result of the increasing demands placed upon the leadership of the school (or at least the perception of these); Tom Sherrington talks about this very well in his post from December 2017.

I cannot single-handedly solve the teacher recruitment crisis that the profession is now facing, but I am very aware as to how I have tackled my own increasing workload as a middle leader in a large secondary school (and one who has recently become a joint Head of Faculty – to read a bit more about how joint middle leadership isn’t such a crazy idea, read this: The Jones Approach To: Leading Differently).

Especially since the arrival of the Little Human, I have faced a monumental pressure on my time. She went into full time nursery when she was about 9 months old but had been a part-timer since she was 5 months old with my mum looking after her two days a week to begin with. I had 6 months maternity leave and returned full time. Since the day I returned, I have worked hard at trying to figure out how all the ‘stuff’ I have to do (as a teacher, mother, wife and human) will fit into the 24hours I have in a day.

It’s not a perfect working model yet (it will be one day!) but here’s what I learnt within about 4 nanoseconds of returning:

  • I cannot be all things to all people
  • Small tasks are the easiest ones to not do and they disappear from my day the quickest – prime example = ‘texting people back’. I became and still am rubbish at doing this
  • I have to write EVERYTHING down – I do not have the cognitive ability to remember everything I have to do
  • My days seem to go by quicker because they are packed to the brim with tasks and jobs to do
  • I’m never going to get everything done

I’m not going to lie, for a while it was frantic and I was in fire-fighting  mode from my return to work in May until the break for summer in July. But when September came around I set about coming up with a tangible plan as to how I was going to manage all the different facets of my life.

What I have since realised is that I cannot have one of those ‘and then every Tuesday at 4pm I do this’ schedules because every day/week/month/term is so different. We try to have a loose sense of ‘tonight, you’re picking the Little Human up’ and ‘I have to do this piece of work tonight’ but that’s about it. There’s no point in placing the extra stress of inflexibility upon yourself because it’s never going to work – be flexible and go with the flow of life.

What I did instead was to figure out the principles that are important to me; what will stand fast no matter how much outside pressure is placed upon me?

We have a life coach that occasionally comes into school and meets with staff who feel they may benefit from it. He is great! I saw him for about 30 minutes last half term and we talked (amongst other things) about the importance of knowing what I want. It’s very easy to decide and vocalise what we don’t want but it’s much harder to focus on what we want. So that’s what I did.

  • I want to leave [the majority of] my school work to term time – and if this means distributing my efforts so that I input more during term time to make that work, cool. Over the Christmas holidays I did work on the last day to be more prepared for going back but that was it.
  • I want to spend our holiday time doing things together as a family and as a couple (the Little Human can still go into nursery during the holidays if we choose). The holidays are the best perk of the job and I don’t apologise for them; everyone needs them when they get here and I am no different. Over the Christmas holidays I did work on the last day when the Little Human was in nursery, to be more prepared for the return to work than anything else. But that was it…and it was great! I felt rested and I was happier upon my return in January because I had enjoyed my holiday. I had regrouped mentally and had recovered from an admittedly very busy term. That’s the point of the holidays and that’s why I don’t apologise for them.
  • I want to be there for the Little Human if she’s poorly. For me this has been one of the toughest parts of returning to work as a Teacher; we all know that it’s “just easier” to teach with a migraine and raging tonsillitis than it is to set and follow up on 5 lessons of cover. So to stay at home when it isn’t even you who’s ill – oh man! But if she needs me, she needs me. My school have been fantastic in supporting me (and the Husband) in doing this. We have responded by trying to ‘tag team’ days off or part days off depending on what works best for cover for the school. We don’t have to do this but we believe that in situations like this, the best resolutions come about through cooperation rather than demands.
  • I want to be the very best Teacher I can be. Returning from maternity leave gave me a renewed love of teaching – not that it had disappeared before, but I wanted to get back because I missed it and I was very happy to return. I thought a lot about how I could move my teaching up a gear and have been proactive in doing that. For me, joining the Chartered College of Teaching was a first step. I have joined their Chartered Teacher programme which I’m super-excited about, and which I hope will allow me to formalise my progress and sharpen my focus on aspects of my classroom practice.

In a previous post I wrote this:

I recognise that ahead of me is a giant learning curve. I shall engage with it positively with the help of my school, and I know that not every teacher has a school as supportive as mine have been. There will be some bumps in the road I’m sure (and they’ll be documented on this blog) but it is a journey I am ready for and am looking forward to because, ultimately, I believe that in 2017 women shouldn’t have to choose between a career and a family…with the right outlook, the right mind-set and with their priorities and principles in the right order, it should be possible to have both.

It truly is about having the right mind-set and principles; not about having a rigid programme or schedule that allows you to superficially tick things off the list but also places massive stress upon you. Get your ‘stand-fast’ principles sorted and life becomes easier because you’re more fulfilled. The rest can fit in and work around that. It does for me because I work hard, take pride in what I do and I’m not half bad at it.

And ultimately, it is true that in teaching, you’re never going to get the ‘to-do’ list finished and there will always be something else you can do. The work will always be waiting for you. So take some time, take a moment, chill out, regroup, do what you need to do, be happy, take a holiday, be with your family, play, go out for lunch, do some exercise, whatever your ‘stand-fast’ principle and priorities happen to……and then get back to it. Properly.











The Jones Approach To: Leading Differently

It has been ages since I last posted (which may go some way to telling you just how busy things have been!), but given that this week is the week we break up for Christmas (thank God), I thought it would be great time to reflect. So this is the first of a few posts which all aim to summarise different aspects of what it has been like since returning and what I/we have been working on…

The first point to clarify is that I didn’t actually return to the same position I left…not exactly. I went on maternity leave when I was Head of Biology. There was also a Head of Chemistry and a Head of Physics in my school and a Head of Science holding overall accountability for the faculty. Turns out, he was leaving.

Leading Science Differently: As it was so close to the end of term, recruiting a new Head of Science (singular) wasn’t necessarily going to be the easiest task. So instead of recruiting a new Head of Science, we didn’t. And instead, (after a lot of conversation about the alternative ideas), the three ‘Heads of Department’ were to ‘step up’ to take joint responsibility for the faculty. Granted, it was a fairly radical idea but one that we all felt was right, given our previous experience and our understanding of what perhaps needed to happen within the faculty especially regarding teaching and learning. So we went about planning what that model of leadership might actually look like; we got a big sheet of plain A3 paper and drew out a big list of our priorities and then mapped against this how accountability for this might actually look ‘on the ground’. To be fair, it didn’t look too shabby (you just can’t beat pen and paper!)

So September comes around and there are now three Heads of Science, with each one in charge of a Science discipline (for me, it is Biology) but all three of us sharing responsibility for the Science faculty. And it works. Is this because there is actually a capacity to have joint Middle Leaders in schools, working more collaboratively? Or is it because the three individuals who just so happen to be the Heads of Science are all SO in tune with each other? And I mean, we really are. We have the same outlook on the vast majority of things and have a very good understanding of the pulls on the lives of each other (eg family) and get on famously. Whilst I think the former statement does potentially have legs on it, the latter makes it WAY easier to do.

So what were the issues? Well firstly, some people were [very] sceptical about the way in which it was going to work. It was BIG change; it always is when someone leaves, but to also change the style of leadership within the faculty was a lot for staff to process. Some people, despite what they outwardly said, obviously thought it wasn’t going to work and had almost killed it stone dead before it got started. But that’s ok, because we have vision, we have drive and we have a stubborn positivity that isn’t always present in Middle Leaders so this negativity became less of an issue over time and now actually isn’t palpable (so it either doesn’t exist or people are better at hiding it and I’m not sure I care which it is!?). Direct conversation helped; not treading on eggshells around people – if there’s an issue, out with it and let’s get on with our jobs.

We also had to (and still are) getting the accountability/responsibility right. We created a list to show joint responsibilities (stuff we all had to have a hand in); individual responsibilities, and who we were line managing. In no particular order of importance:


There are still things that creep up that throw us but largely, one of us will take it and run with it. This list will need updating if we keep the model next academic year as there is a fair bit to add!

Sounds cringe but: communication is key. There are some things that we just have to communicate about and a decision cannot be made until we have. We have a meeting slot timetabled once a fortnight – which probably isn’t enough, but you always seem to need more meeting time right? And if we only ever sat in a meeting, stuff would only ever get talked about rather than ‘done’.

What has been the biggest benefit? I like that one person cannot make a decision as an island on behalf of the whole faculty. I’m not bothered about the small decisions, they’re fine, no biggie. But the important ones such as ‘if we’re going to completely overhaul the behaviour management system within our faculty, what should the new one look like?’…they need double checking and devil’s advocate-ing. Having three Middle Leaders in charge of the faculty provides a natural ‘checks and balances’ approach to big decision making and I really like that.

I also like that the weight of responsibility upon Middle Leaders (and let’s make no mistake, it is big and ever increasing) is shared. There’s a feeling of “we’re in this together” and “we have the collective power to do this” and “the workload is unbearable at times, let us share it”. That’s also nice.

So we’re sticking with it for the time being, constantly developing it and tweaking it as we go. We’ve made some big changes and we have a lot that we still wish to do. It feels good to be affecting change in a way that seems to be working for everyone.

As for the little person…..she’s now 1. And wanting to try to eat everything. She has 8 teeth and can say ‘Dadda’, ‘Duck’ and ‘Mama’ (sometimes). She is eating proper food and now has proper milk. She gets more and more awesome every day and has developed a knack for ‘sorting’ and ‘sharing’ things out. She’s doing epically at nursery (I’m a full-on advocate of nurseries for babies, she has thrived beyond my wildest dreams at hers) and has bought home lots of that ‘adorable’ art work for the fridge door. Her year has flown by at a scarily quick pace.

There is absolutely no doubt about it, being a full time working mummy is harder, more chaotic and way more exhausting than I ever imagined. But I’m doing it and loving it.

So what’s next?







The Jones Approach To: Teething Problems

I’m currently sat in the bar of Combe Grove Manor Hotel in Bath. It’s as nice as it sounds; comfy-but-quirky, modern rooms; country club with a sauna and steam rooms; tennis courts; outdoor pool; driving range (won’t be using that); awesome, stunning views and it’s own little art exhibition type thing in reception (not my cuppa tea, but the little squishy one loved the pretty colours). And the bar has chandeliers…’nuff said. The Husband is currently watching over the sleeping baby and I am taking my turn in the bar, so needless to say there’s also a large class of chilled Chardonnay in front of me.

And that’s because I am at the start of my half term break after being back at work for two weeks. Two full-time, nursery-based weeks. And it has been lovely. And busy. And not without it’s (teething) problems. I thought that this would be a good point to pause and reflect on how it’s gone and what’s led me to be here in the lovely bar of Combe Grove.

Teething Problem 1: The first major thing that happened was that I realised that I hadn’t completely forgotten how to teach. This was huge. I sort of have this fear at the end of every summer holiday, because after having so long ‘out of the game’ you naturally wonder if your skills are still as sharply refined as they were. Luckily, after only six weeks off, they (usually) are fine. But six months is different; it’s WAY longer. For at least the first three days back, I simply had to focus on teaching and absolutely nothing else just to get back in the swing of things. This inevitably means that things don’t always go perfectly; sometimes it is because you’re ‘picking up from where someone else left off’. Or maybe it’s because there has been a change in the students in the class and you don’t know them yet? Sometimes it may be that you just got the plan wrong because you’re brain is still a bit slow. It is very important to give yourself the time and space to focus on the basics and not to overload your plate. It is good to say ‘no’ to tasks that add faff and cumber to your week(s) whilst you’re trying to re-establish yourself in the basics of what you do. And it is ok to make mistakes and mess up.

Teething Problem 2: Leaving the little squishy one at nursery rips the life out of me. On one day, mainly due to the amount of faff and hectic-ness of the morning drop-off and how ‘new’ I was at all of this, I didn’t get a chance to kiss her goodbye. My day was ruined. I was useless and was very angry with myself all day. My fuse was noticeably shorter and I just wanted 3:20pm to come. I realised that I very much value the time we have together in the mornings and that I must take care with it. I shouldn’t rush it just because it’s easier to get her sorted at nursery. So now, I have made a pact with the little squishy one and my husband that we start saying goodbye when we turn off the main road into the driveway of the nursery. That way, I’m not rushed and we will always have dedicated time to say the ‘goodbye’ and the ‘have a nice day’ and the ‘I love you’. My daughter actually loves nursery though; this has definitely made it easier to return to work. She smiles when she sees the staff; she has so much fun; she eats amazingly well and already has a boyfriend (this girl wastes no time!). I’m not sure if it is anything to do with the age she has started nursery or just her chilled out personality that she’s developing, but she hasn’t had the catastrophic melt down that I thought she would.

Teething Problem 3: Work/Life balance is difficult when you’re a full time professional: no doubt about it. One evening, I had to stay late at work to prep for some interviews that were taking place and I had an appointment in town at 5:30pm which meant I pretty much had to go straight from school to my appointment. This ultimately meant I didn’t see my daughter for a whole evening. This is just one evening, and it was horrid. I can only imagine how awful it would become if I lose touch and start to stay late more than once per fortnight. Whilst it will be hard on occasion, I have been fairly good at leaving school promptly and spending what time I do have free, with my family. Long may this self-discipline continue.

Teething Problem 4: Tiredness. I am very tired. Tired from work. Tired from playing with the little squishy one. Tired from working late after she’s gone to bed. Tired from all the other stuff I cram into the tiny gaps in time between everything else. We are very lucky that our daughter is an amazing sleeper; she’s been sleeping 10+ hours a night pretty much since 9 weeks (she’s now about 24 weeks old) and we know that life could be very different if she didn’t. At home she sleeps in her own room (and has done since 9 weeks!) and we get good sleep by any new parents’ standards. But even when I do get the chance to sleep, my mind is racing; I sometimes think about work during the night. I sometimes dream about my daughter (which often wakes me in a frenzy because I worry about where she is or whether she’s in our bed for some strange reason and she’s suffocating under the duvet). Sometimes I just wake up…seemingly for no reason at all. So I’m very tired. Maybe that’s the reason why this spa hotel booking was such a necessity? Having the excuse to relax and chill out in the bar with chandeliers and awesome views or to get a spa treatment – or both, is exactly what I needed. Maybe it’s ok to indulge yourself once in a while? Maybe it’s ok to reward yourself? Maybe it’s ok to prioritise yourself once in a while to keep yourself ‘normal’ and feeling like you?

Teething Problem 5: Actual teeth. Not my teeth – her teeth. Two little white peg things in her bottom gum that seem as though they cause a monumental amount of pain. She’s been ok with them generally by all accounts, but she’s definitely had ‘painful moments’ where she does a genuine bottom-lip-quivering sad face and grizzles. I tried using that gel stuff, but how in the name of Jesus you’re supposed to get that on their tiny gums whilst they’re crying and wriggling around, I don’t know! She has things to chew on and suck and the occasional dollop of gel for good measure, but I think she’s just going to have to ‘go with it’ and ‘tough it out’ because I’m all out of suggestions. It struck me that the timing was pretty crap – first one appears just as I’m returning to work. Brill. But, I guess it’s just another one of those things to deal with in my ‘working mum’ life. It is all part of the life I now lead and all I can do is help her as much as I can, give her all the mummy love I can, try with any creative solution the internet has and get on with it. Because that is life.

The rest of my week shall be spent in Combe Grove and in Wales with my amazing husband and daughter. We’re going to a couple of weddings of our awesome friends and lots of fun will be had. Right now, there are lots of things on the work plate that need doing, but the work will be fine to wait until next week. Right now, this week of life is for living.











The Jones Approach To: Having A Little Human AND Being A Teacher

When I return to work next Monday, it will bring to an end my six months of maternity leave. In all honesty, for the first 3 of these, I found being on leave with a baby incredibly daunting and very weird: being so used to rushing around work meant that sitting at home being governed by naps and feeds was a total change in my way of life, as I expect it is for most people.

However, once my daughter started to transition from being a bundle of human who used to stare blankly at me and do nothing, to an actual ‘someone’ with a personality who smiles, and gurgles and grabs at things and makes eye contact and recognises ‘Mummy’ and shows an interest in the world, everything changed. I really started to enjoy being around her as a person and I loved her, not just in the unconditional way that parents should, but in a ‘you-are-actually-an-awesome-little-chica’ kind of way. So the first thing to establish here is that I am really gutted to be going back to work because it means leaving a situation that is now, actually, way fun. I will miss spending the days with her where we just play and chill and nap and feed. I will miss being able to spend ages just staring at her – all of this will now have to wait until the weekends or holidays.

However (and it is a BIG however), I’m also really looking forward to returning to work. I don’t have that sinking feeling or a sense of impending doom. I’m excited about the new challenge ahead: how do you have a family and work full time in a job that is, quite frankly, exhausting and relentless?

During part of my maternity leave (maybe around the three month mark, when my daughter was two months old), I decided to ‘do a Google’ and have a look for some hints and tips on how to balance the kid, with the family, with the house, with the job. I genuinely thought I would be able to perhaps learn from women and men who had gone before me; parents who had spent some time off with their new baby and had then faced the same challenge of going back to a full time professional career.

It was during my first few minutes of searching that I started to get a feel for the lie of the land. It was seemingly implying that family life and teaching life were incompatible. Some articles and blog posts were more positive but overwhelmingly, the mood of Google was discernibly negative. The first result I actually clicked on was an entry on the blog “Someone’s Mum“. In the article, the author says:

“I have held my pale and whimpering baby as she struggles for breath in a stark hospital room, while emailing cover, one-handed from my phone. I have sent my wailing toddler to nursery with a fever of 40 because the anxiety and workload of having a day off is too much to bear, and there is nobody else to watch him. I have stayed late to finish some marking or talk to a student even though the hours until bedtime are ticking away, and those precious moments with my children are painfully fleeting. I have marked with my daughter crying at my feet because there are deadlines that have to be met. I have cried too, stroking her hair with my free hand, desperately seeking to comfort her distress.”

In short, I was horrified.

Is this the situation I will find myself in? Will I feel this struggle between my child and my work priorities? Will I reach these kinds of desperate times?

I have to thank the author of this blog post for writing this because almost as quickly as I had been shocked by just how terrible it all sounded, I became absolutely sure that my answers to the above questions was a very definite “No”. And from this point, my thinking about my return to work became all the more clear. I’ll take each of her scenarios in turn to explain my principles:

“I have held my pale and whimpering baby as she struggles for breath in a stark hospital room, while emailing cover, one-handed from my phone.” Any teacher is capable of setting work for a class of children. Granted, it may not be the same work that I would set and it may consist of tasks that are readily accessible to the teacher setting the cover rather than well-planned activities from a teacher knows that class, but to believe that you alone are the only person who can make adequate provision for your class is simply wrong. I feel very confident that if I phoned up any member of my department and said “I’m in hospital with my baby, I need someone/anyone to set cover work for my classes today and tomorrow”, they would, without hesitation, help me. I think this because I would do the same if I happened to be on the receiving end of that kind of phone call. If I am absent from school because my baby is in hospital, the world according to my classes keeps on spinning and the ‘Good Ship Biology’ will keep on sailing.

“I have sent my wailing toddler to nursery with a fever of 40 because the anxiety and workload of having a day off is too much to bear, and there is nobody else to watch him…” Firstly, I would never prioritise myself over my child. Quite frankly, if my child is ill and needs me to be at home with them, that’s the end of the dilemma right there. Of course there isn’t anybody else to watch them, that’s my job! The author is correct when she says that having a day off does create a massive workload because of the setting of cover, collecting bits of work from various locations around the school, marking stuff, filing stuff, referring to it in the next lesson, adjusting lessons after it etc. I will bear whatever ‘workload’ issues there are attached to having a day off and I will feel absolutely no anxiety about it at all. And if we’re going to get factually correct about this, a feverish child should not be sent into nursery, so say NHS Choices, and to do so simply to ease the burden you feel upon yourself is outrageous and downright bonkers. From the moment I read this blog post, I was clear about exactly how my priorities lie and about the fact that they are non-negotiable.

“I have stayed late to finish some marking or talk to a student even though the hours until bedtime are ticking away, and those precious moments with my children are painfully fleeting…” I appreciate that there will be some days where I will have to stay late after the school day has technically finished because there will be demands on my time. I think I’m ok with this because they will always remain the exception rather than the rule. I happen to view it as ‘on most days I am lucky enough to get out of work at 3:30pm if I really want to and go and spend time with my daughter’. And on the majority of days, this is exactly what I will do. I will always do everything I can to help any student who needs to talk to me after lesson, whether this is at break, lunch or after school. But even in this circumstance, if my own child needs me to be there, she is my priority. Regarding the other work, in 2017, a lot of the other work can be done at home via the internet. Responding to emails, working on classroom resources, checking homework online, updating spreadsheets…whatever. There is absolutely no reason why any of this has to be done in the classroom before I can leave school. A much better time to do this is later in the evening when my daughter is in bed. The same is actually true for marking; it is not demanded that I do this in school. There is nothing to stop me from loading my marking into my car to transport home to do during that same evening period. I am very clear that my quality time with my daughter is between the hours of 4-6:30pm in the evenings and at weekends and during the holidays. To fill these times with anything else would be foolish.

“I have marked with my daughter crying at my feet because there are deadlines that have to be met.” My Husband and I decided early doors that we would tend to our daughter if she was crying rather than leave her to ‘cry it out’. Our main reason for this was because we recognise that her crying is a way of communicating with us that something is wrong and, it logically follows, that we are the ones who can typically put it right. So that’s what we do. I don’t see a reason as to why this would change. I still intend to be as attentive to my daughter’s needs as I was before. I’m not even sure now that I could ignore it and leave her crying, as I’m happy with our way of reassuring her and comforting her and addressing her needs. The second part of the author’s point is probably the most ‘realistic’ problem I’ll face; managing those deadlines (and there are lots of them). It is this point though that formed the basis of a very important meeting I had with my Headteacher during maternity leave.

We had a lovely chat about workload in general, being as this is an issue for all teachers everywhere since forever, and is something the Headteacher is actively trying to address. I explained that my priorities had obviously changed since the birth of my daughter and that, whilst I don’t expect to do any less work, I know I will have to approach it differently in order to maintain the ‘work/life balance’ that I will work so hard to achieve. We agreed that there will be some obstacles and some tricky situations to face, especially at crunch points in the year – report writing, exam marking, parents evenings. We acknowledged that we may not actually know what some of those problems will be simply because we haven’t got there yet, and that we are not yet able to foresee all of the issues that I will face. But we also agreed that to conquer them is vital in counteracting the negativity that surrounds this issue and in allowing me to fulfil my wishes of being a Mummy and a professional…and it is perfectly doable. Approaching this positively means that I instantly avoid the perils of a negative self-fulfilling prophecy, “if I believe it won’t work, then it won’t”. Instead I’m going with “if I believe it will work, then it might”. It will also require (on both sides) some flexibility and some ‘thinking outside the box’ to come up with creative solutions when they are needed. But the result is that I get to have consistent, good quality time with daughter and maintain a career that I have worked hard for and I am proud of. This is a choice I have made and I’m happy to be doing it. It is not financially driven – I want to work full time and I want my daughter to see that Mummy and Daddy have jobs they like and work hard at. I hope that she enjoys nursery and that it provides a happy environment to be in and the opportunity for her to become socialised early on in her life. And its not to say that the opposite view is different; nobody is wrong for going back to work part-time or for staying at home to raise their children full time.

I recognise that ahead of me is a giant learning curve. I shall engage with it positively with the help of my school, and I know that not every teacher has a school as supportive as mine have been. There will be some bumps in the road I’m sure (and they’ll be documented on this blog) but it is a journey I am ready for and am looking forward to because, ultimately, I believe that in 2017 women shouldn’t have to choose between a career and a family…with the right outlook, the right mind-set and with their priorities and principles in the right order, it should be possible to have both.

The Jones Approach To: Loving Teaching

Straight off the bat, let me disclose that I actually love teaching. Always have done, always will do.

Don’t get me wrong – there have been some singularly bad days and some very hard times but I love that teaching is what I get to do day in, day out. It seems, maybe because of funding cuts or increased workload or higher accountability or a mixture of all of these things, that teachers are becoming more miserable. It seems that they are struggling to find the joy in their profession and the positives that exist in every day they spend in the classroom. Morale seems to be dipping, not only in individual schools but also within the profession.

So I thought I would summarise why I actually love teaching, to perhaps act as an explicit reminder (if only to myself) to look at during the tough days, or during a break in the (seemingly endless) marking or on the Sunday evening just before an awesome holiday ends:

Working with young people is awesome! I sometimes feel as though they get a bad press a lot of the time because of broad, sweeping statements made about the younger generation as a whole. I know this because when people ask me what I do and I reply that I am a Teacher, they naturally ask “what age do you teach?”. Most of the time, when I reply that I work in a secondary school, responses are often along the lines of “…ooooh I could never do that…” or “…rather you than me…” or “…you brave thing…”. I think this is rather far of the mark and actually rather unfair.

Young people are amazing; they are so complex (they are human after all!) and it is a wonderful thing. How dull would this world be if they all had exactly the same backgrounds and prior educational and life experience? How boring would it be if they all wanted to do exactly the same thing? If they all had the same interests and talents? What if they had absolutely no issues to unpick and needed no help and support – how would they cope or learn about themselves? What if young people had no character, no quirks, no personality, no opinions, no individual interpretation of the uniform rules (!), no stance on what is wrong and right, no ambition or drive? The world would be a very sad place but for the richness that young people give us. I love that my challenge, is to accept all of the young people that walk in through my door and help with their issues and listen to their opinions and take account of their backgrounds and abilities and support them in dealing with their hang-ups and confidence problems and emotions and develop their talents and encourage their ambitions and fuel their motivations and facilitate their success…all because I am their Biology Teacher.

Variety is the spice of life! And you never have two days the same in teaching. For me, it is the perfect mix. My day is highly structured – it begins at 8:35am, I do registration, teach for two hours and then, at 10.55am it is break time. At 11.20am, I teach for another two hours and then I will have an hour for lunch and my day finishes at 3.20pm after a fifth hour of teaching. Within that structure though, ANYTHING can happen. Take registration: a straight-forward 20 minute slot to register the students and go through whatever is normally allocated for that day of the week. Simple. But maybe some students overslept so they’re late, maybe there’s an outside speaker in for assembly, maybe a student has a shoe that’s broken, or another student has lost their phone somewhere between leaving home and getting to school, or we’re two chairs missing in the classroom, or a drink has leaked all over the contents of someone’s bag, or maybe there’s a wasp in the room and panic consumes everyone, maybe someone is crying, maybe it’s someone’s birthday, what if there was a fight on the way to school? what if someone just broke up with their boyfriend/girlfriend or someone doesn’t feel very well? and then someone has a note to hand in, someone has forgotten to print out their Geography homework, someone has lost their PE kit or can’t get into their locker because they left their key at their Dad’s house and they were at their Mum’s last night or maybe the door handle has somehow come off and nobody has clue how it happened (weird that!)…..or maybe…..just maybe…..none of that happens. That is what every section of that beautifully structured day has the potential to be. And I love that when I step into my classroom, and when I welcome those young ones into it, I have no idea if I’m going to get all of that, or none of that or something in between.

Autonomy. We are lucky to have freedom as Teachers. Sometimes, I guess it can feel as though we don’t because of pressures that come from “above” and to an extent, this is an inevitable truth. But, when you are in your classroom and you have your class in front of you and you are teaching your lesson in your way, you begin to realise that you have had a lot of freedom in getting to that point. Some other being may determine what I have to teach in terms of concepts/topics but beyond that, its largely down to me. If I decide that it is in my student’s best interest to scrap the lesson plan from a scheme of work and instead learn about photosynthesis through the medium of interpretive dance, I can do just that [*goes to edit existing scheme of work lesson plan*]. I can make decisions based on my knowledge and understanding of my students about what is best for them in terms of their learning. If I have an idea, I can try it. If it works, I can do it again. If it doesn’t, maybe I’ll tweak it? Occasionally, I grab the opportunity to think big. And why not? In a school, there’s a very real chance it’ll have a huge impact on so many young people, you’d be silly not to.

You know you’re actually having an impact on the world. Whether it’s that moment when a student goes “oh my God, now it makes sense!” in your lesson after you’ve gone through protein structure for the seventh time, this time using pipe cleaners and coloured beads as a visual model. Or whether its in the lesson about ‘drugs’ when you’ve decided to scrap your original plan and instead start by simply telling them the story of Rachel Whitear and they are so captivated by her life and her story that you can hear a pin drop that room. And its Friday period 5. Sometimes I know I have had an impact because a student will show an interest in continuing with my subject beyond their school life and work in Biology or in a lab or in healthcare or with animals or go to university to study it further – they want to make their life about the thing that I have taught them. How cool is that!? At other times I know I have had an impact because a student might give me the ultimate compliment about an activity or a lesson (“yeah…it was alright actually”). Ultimately, I am very aware that after me, the next steps of these young people isn’t into the safe, embracing arms of another school, it is out there into the world to make it. Somehow. And many of the tools they have to help them do that have been put there by us – their Teachers. We inevitably therefore have an impact and it follows that we can make a difference in their ability to ‘make it’.

The perks. 6 weeks off when it is the hottest time of the year and you never have to work on Christmas or New Year and actually the pay is alright and sometimes you get sweet cards from the students at Christmas and maybe some chocolates at the end of the year. It’s ok to love Teaching.