Look Out.

Apparently, somewhere along the way I’ve developed a look.

The look, so my class kindly inform me, is at its strongest when delivered over the top of my glasses with an inclined head and a raised eyebrow.

One young man assures me that in collective worship he can feel the look on the back of his neck – I say that’s his guilty conscience at work as I only use this superpower

a) when necessary
b) when I have eye contact with someone

When I started teaching the first deputy head I worked with had a ferocious look – I remember being impressed by her ability to stop trouble at ten paces with an arched eyebrow.

At the time as a naive NQT I didn’t think I could ever aspire to my own version of  the look but it seems that somewhere along the way I’ve managed to perfect it.

The look can’t stand alone – it has to be built into your relationship with the pupils. If their behaviour and work ethic didn’t matter you wouldn’t bother.
I’m sure if I delivered the look  to a random class that didn’t know me I’d just look like a crazed middle aged woman with a wrinkled forehead.

I’d like to think the look has nuances and isn’t the “emotionless, expressionless stare” that wikipedia describes.


Don’t even think about it.

I hope that it also has a positive friendly counterpart

The look that says

Well done.
Keep it up.
That’s great.
Don’t give up.


What’s the difference between 31 and 25?

I know the obvious answer is 6 but when we’re talking about class size there are lots of other answers.

Earlier this week I had 6 pupils absent.


Suddenly the classroom seemed more spacious. Rather than jostling for space and having to move like a crab between chairs and tables we could walk and sit in comfort.

During our Science lesson I was able to sit and talk to every group. I could listen and observe.

The children all had ample room to set up and carry out their experiments.  They could work in groups of 3 instead of 4 meaning that they all had more opportunities to participate in practical tasks.

The noise level dropped.

The work rate increased. Why?
I was able to intervene more often, I was able to support all the pupils who required help, I was able to assess and talk about how they could improve their work.

“Don’t you usually do that?” you’re thinking

Yes, of course I do. But 25 v. 31.
The 25 are going to get a better deal everytime.


When you think about class sizes it can’t be denied that there is a direct correlation between class size and teacher workload.

Working on an average of 3 pieces of work per day or 15 per child per week it doesn’t take long to work out that in a 6 week half term Teacher A with 25 pupils marks 540 less books than Teacher B with 31 pupils.

540 pieces of work.

Let’s assume that it takes an average of 2.5 minutes per book (and that’s a low estimate.)

Thats 22.5 hours more of marking per half term.

And that’s before we start adding up the increased hours taken to write the reports and meet with parents.

Lots of academic research seems to indicate that pupils in large classes aren’t disadvantaged but I really don’t understand how this can be.

Surely teachers with smaller classes have more time to devote to each child and are able to personalise, support and scaffold their learning more effectively.

Too much talk?

Last Monday I started the day with a headache and incredibly sore throat.

By dinner time every word hurt so when I came to teach the afternoon’s lessons I was struggling.

Because every word hurt, suddenly every comment had to be valuable.

I croaked out instructions for the afternoon tasks then wrote them on the board.

One was collecting data for and then creating a pie chart – using skills we’d covered in maths the previous week.

The next was taking screenshots on an iPad and using these to create an instruction sheet for creating hyperlinks in Keynote.

The third was completion of an eSafety Keynote.

All tasks that usually I would happily interfere in, dispensing advice and making suggestions.

I couldn’t. So I mostly sat and observed.

At times I itched to interrupt and say something. But it hurt too much, so I didn’t.

But, I guess you know where I’m going with this, the children managed perfectly.

In fact, without my interference the discussion and problem solving that went on was probably better than usual.

They worked together to measure and check pie charts, protractors and compasses were deployed. When one group made an error another group helped them to identify it.

I did have to employ the look  at times to keep them focussed, but other than that they organised themselves and learnt independently.

Since Monday I’ve been mostly lying in bed coughing and spluttering.

When I go back to work next week I need to carry the lesson with me – sometimes MY silence is golden.

Weeding out problems

Earlier today I was writing a post about gardening on my other blog. I was thinking about how my philosophy of gardening had evolved over the past twenty years.

It got me thinking about the similarities between teaching and gardening.

I don’t mean the ‘sewing seeds of greatness’ stuff. I’m not going to talk about seeds of knowledge and gentle watering.

My thoughts are far more prosaic.

If we use the analogy of a garden being like a classroom the classroom management is like weeding. It’s hard work, repetitive, can be boring but if you don’t do it you end up with big problems.

I’m a huge believer in strong classroom management. It has to be the core of what you do in the classroom. I don’t mean loud shouty discipline, gimmicks or lots of rules, just clear agreed rules that are observed and understood by everyone.

Mutual respect, but at the end of the day the class teacher is in charge of the room.

You can plan the best lessons, make the best resources, have the most innovative ideas … but if your classroom management is poor there’s no point.

Today I have spent hours digging out dandelions.

Why? Because for every brash golden dandelion I ignore now hundreds will drift back, reseed and taut me later this summer.

ignore bad behaviour in the classroom and it’ll come back to haunt you

I know I’ll never eliminate them all but I can certainly reduce them, decimation (in the literal sense) would be good. When there are less tackling them doesn’t seem insurmountable.

In your garden you need to know your weeds – if you move from one garden to another they’ll be differences.

different environments may require different rules

In this garden I battle with dandelion, hogweed, bindweed, buttercups and ground elder.

You have to be clear about how you’re going to deal with each type of weed.

I have a no tolerance policy for dandelions and hogweeds.

if there is a behaviour you don’t tolerate ignore it at your peril

Ground elder isn’t permitted in the flowerbeds, but at the bottom of the garden where there’s a wild patch it’s allowed to grow, but if it gets out of hand I have a blitz on it.

some behaviours are tolerated in a different environment, know when to adapt but always keep a watchful eye

Don’t work alone – my better half isn’t a gardener but I’ve trained him to recognise a weed at ten paces.
We work together to eliminate persistent offenders. Seven years ago our garden was awash with giant hogweed, last year we weeded out less than a dozen offenders.

everyone involved in your classroom needs to weed out the bad behaviour. If you try and do it alone it’s dispiriting and backbreaking

And that’s why weeding is a lot like classroom discipline.