The Lives of Others

Today I had to change my Twitter privacy settings to protect my tweets from the eyes of anyone other than my existing followers. Frankly, I’m annoyed I’ve felt the need to do this – not being visible kind of defeats the object of Twitter but something happened today which made me feel I have no choice. Let me explain…

As regular readers will know, I am in my first teaching post since completing a PGDE in June. I have written about some of my teaching experiences in this blog and on Twitter, but I have never mentioned the school I am teaching at, or any of the pupils that I teach by name or even in any detail. I’ve heard stories about kids Googling their teachers and those teachers getting into bother for things they’ve said online, or photos of drunken nights out or inappropriate behaviour. But I wasn’t too worried; my Facebook privacy settings are as strict as they can be, and as the kids didn’t know my first name they weren’t going to get very far in searching for me. Until today that is. I don’t know who was responsible, but today every single pupil in the school was given a newsletter to take home to their parents or carers. And in that newsletter was a list of all the new teachers to the school this year, including our first names.

It was bad enough that I then had to put up with cheeky 14 year olds walking into my classroom saying ‘hello Sarah’, but now it won’t be long before those 14 year olds, and probably some of the other kids, go searching for me online. Maybe I’m over-inflating my importance in their lives here but already they have been asking me if I’m on Facebook, or MSN, or Bebo (although actually Twitter seems pretty low on their radar), and I’m sure there will be a few who go looking for me.

On the one hand I think I have every right to my own life and my own opinions, and why should I feel I have to hide those from the world at large? But on the other hand I know that by taking on the role and responsibilities of a teacher I have an obligation to conduct myself in a certain way. And more than anything else I think that the more personal information my pupils have about me, the more ammunition they have to use against me. So by protecting my identity online, I’m really trying to minimise any impact on my working life.

This is a relatively new phenomenon due to the recent explosion of social networking, not too long ago, the worst a teacher had to fear was being spotted by pupils in the supermarket or even on a night out (incidentally, despite my early moans about my 20 mile drive to school every day, I’m actually quite glad I’m not teaching in the town where I live and am therefore unlikely to bump into pupils outside school), but now there are so many other ways for pupils, and even parents, to find out more about the private lives of teachers. When I was at school I knew most of my teachers’ first names, and I remember a brief moment of hilarity when we discovered our science teacher was called Kimberley; Mr Kimberley Caunt that is. But the worst we ever did was try (usually unsuccessfully) to look teachers up in the phone book.

Throughout my teacher training I was warned of the need to be wary of how much my online presence revealed about me…and now my full name is out there amongst my pupils I am certainly more cautious about what I say. I am also mentally going through what I have said online previously, and I’m seriously considering deleting some of the posts from this blog. Although it makes me sad that it might come to that – I don’t know that it’s really necessary, am I being unnecessarily worried here?

More than anything else I am angry that I had no say in my full name been given to pupils and their parents. The first I knew about it was when I found a discarded newsletter in my classroom, which was luckily just before the third years came in and abandoned their usual form of address in favour of the more familiar, and inappropriate, Sarah.

I suppose this has made me think a bit more about other Twitter users; people in the public eye, or people in other public facing professions. How worried should we be about the cross over between what we say or do in our private lives and how that may affect our careers or working life? Does being a teacher mean I’m no longer allowed to have a life of my own and participate in the online communities which I so enjoy being a part of? I know there are a few people who read this blog who are teachers or in other public facing jobs and I’d be interested to know what they, or anybody think about this issue. Is it an issue at all? 

Please Miss, am I doing it right?

This week will see me complete my first full month of teaching real life children as a real life, paid, teacher. And it’s gone remarkably well all things considered. Admittedly, as a probationer, I’m only teaching 0.7 of a full time teacher’s timetable, which means I only teach 18 of the 30 periods in a week and I have it a lot easier than a full time teacher. As the year goes on I’ll be using a lot of my non-contact time in school for CPD (or Continuing Professional Development); things like observing other teachers, going into the Behaviour Support unit, shadowing learning support assistants and the like, but for the moment I can use the time to plan my lessons, find resources and mark exercise books. It certainly feels easier than when I was a student on placement. Now I have my own classroom too, I’ve got somewhere to work when I’m not teaching, and by essentially treating it as a normal full-time job (I’m usually in school from 8.30am to between 4.30 and 5pm) I’m getting all my work done in school and not having to bring stuff home with me. Of course there’s the odd thing I have to do at home, mostly when I need to get something from a website that is blocked by the council firewall, or if I need to print stuff (the school has no money and therefore I’m not really allowed to print or photocopy anything unless it’s absolutely essential). 

So, it all seems to be going well. I’ve not been punched or had a riot in my classroom yet. I’m still struggling with a couple of classes who just can’t seem to stop talking but I’m getting there. The kids are starting to get used to me, and realising that they like me more when I’m nice than when I’m annoyed with them, and to get the nice me they have to behave. They’re starting to realise that there are consequences to their bad behaviour, and that I will follow through on those consequences. I’ve also pretty much learnt the names of all the pupils I teach (and 180 names in less than a month is no mean feat), and that helps with discipline no end.

But I suppose the big question still to be answered is did I make the right decision in giving up a year’s income, and taking on a load of debt, to retrain? The simple answer is that, at the moment, I still don’t know. Someone asked me the other day if I’m enjoying it…and I don’t even know that. At the moment I’m just doing it, and trying to get better at it as fast as I can. I’m certainly not not liking it. I’m not waking up filled with dread at the prospect of going to school. I have had a few random school-based dreams, and a few nights of lying in bed thinking about how I’m going to deal with certain kids, or deliver a particular lesson, but I’m by no means stressed about it. And time is flying by, I swear a week only lasts three days, which is always a sign that things are going well. Of course, my lack of stress probably has something to do with how happy I am with my life in general at the moment, that my weekends really are something to look forward to, and that I have someone to talk to every night who is willing to listen to me ramble on about naughty kids for hours on end. The other teachers at school are great too, and for now I’m mostly being left to my own devices to just get on with it. I’m not under the same constant scrutiny that I was on placement and that makes a hell of a difference. I am even getting glimpses of the ‘job satisfaction’ that everyone talks about. Occasionally, I feel like I’ve made a breakthrough with a pupil, no matter how small that breakthrough may be, and it actually feels like I might be making a difference. And I suppose that’s what it’s all about.

Of course, I’ve still got a long way to go to get through this year, and after Christmas I face the prospect of having to find a new job for the start of the next school year, (I was guaranteed a job for a year on the probation scheme in place in Scotland but after this school year I’m on my own) possibly somewhere entirely new. And then I’ll have to deal with moving, not only jobs, but moving house too and all the complications that will bring. But do you know what? I feel like I’m ready for the challenge. I’m excited about my life and whatever the future might bring, and I certainly never said that when I was working in telephone banking!

It’s nice to be important

…but it’s more important to be nice.

So it turns out that this having a boyfriend lark is pretty darned cool. It was the boy’s birthday yesterday so he came up here on Friday for a weekend of celebrations. I had a few surprises up my sleeve as well as the plans that we’d already made, if you’re interested in what we got up to (and what he thought of it all) you can read the details in Barry’s blog over here, although I think I should add that my friend Claire decided the birthday boy should henceforth be known as Bazza, and I think it might stick!

As you’ll see from his blog, the boy really enjoyed his weekend (as did I!) and all the birthday treats I provided (among other things; fancy gin, real coffee for breakfast, a few choice birthday presents, and a fun night of food, booze and SingStar, including a home made birthday cake), and it made me realise just how much I like doing nice things for other people. I remember thinking the same thing a few years ago when I realised I was more excited about my family opening the Christmas presents I’d bought for them than opening my own presents. And it’s not about spending a lot of money and buying expensive gifts, but more about finding things that the other person would really like, without them having to tell you. I love listening out for little hints or comments and then storing them away in the recesses of my brain for an opportune moment to use them. Or just letting someone know you’re thinking about them – I’ve become a fan of late of finding cool and appropriate cards to send to people out of the blue…who doesn’t love getting post after all?

And of course I like it when people do nice things for me too. It doesn’t have to be anything massive – a timely text message when I’m feeling low will do the trick, or the kid who despite having been disruptive and annoying during the lesson, stayed behind to help me clear up, or of course just being there to give me a hug and tell me that I’m great (and that’s something that wasn’t so easy to come by until recently).

Maybe taking pleasure in pleasing other people is a grown up thing, rather than the selfishness of childhood that unfortunately I see more than I’d like to in school, but I think the world would be a better place if we all just followed the advice of Bill & Ted; 

Be Excellent to Each Other….and party on, dudes!

Everything Changes

I know some of you have been reading this blog since I started writing it, and even for those of you who haven’t… do you remember this? That’s right – back in April last year I sent off my application to get on a teacher training course, and now, just 17 short months later I’m teaching every day and I’m even getting paid to do it! It’s bloody hard work of course, and I’m already counting down the weeks until I get to have a holiday again, but generally…I’m loving it. 

I have been sent back, for my probationary year, to the school where I did my first teaching placement at uni. I was a little bit disappointed when I first found out if I’m honest but now I’m back I’m glad I got to go back somewhere where I already knew all the teachers in my department and where everything is. There are two other probationer teachers in the school as well which is brilliant because we all have a sympathetic ear to bend whenever we need it!

I’m suffering a bit today though – with the cold that I was bound to get sooner rather than later. And the cold that everyone warned me new teachers always get at the beginning of term. There are a lot of kids in school, and that means a lot of germs. When 4 kids in 4 different classes kindly informed me they had ‘the cold’ (for a cold requires a definite article in Scotland) I was pretty certain it wouldn’t be long before I succumbed, which I duly did. And of course as I now have a boyfriend with whom I can share the best parts of my life….I shared the cold with him this weekend too. However, after going to bed at 8pm last night and getting a pretty much solid 11 hours sleep, I’m fighting the good fight and appear to have shaken off the worst of it.

Speaking of my lovely boyfriend – I don’t think getting drunk on a mixture of cider, wine, champagne and Southern Comfort, and staying up until 4am on Friday night, was the best support for my immune system. It was, however, a helluva lot of fun! After the boy making a couple of trips north to Edinburgh and a weekend apart, I was back in Manchester this weekend. How is it that a 4 hour train ride to get there felt like no time at all, but the 4 hour journey home felt like the longest trip known to man? I reckon there’s something dodgy going on with the space/time continuum somewhere round about Carlisle. Or something.

Anyway, I had a lovely time down there, even if we spent most of Saturday bemoaning our hangovers before starting to drink again at wedding reception where Barry knew very few people and I knew precisely him! It was good fun though and I enjoyed rocking the little black dress look, and having a sexy boy on my arm (he really does scrub up well you know!). And that’s my travelling done for a few weeks anyway. The birthday boy is coming up here this weekend, we’re going to go out with my friends Claire and Dave, and then I’m going to kick everyone’s asses at SingStar. It’s going to be awesome.

I’m still getting used to the idea that I’ve got a boyfriend at all though. It is, of course, very lovely but 8 years is a long time to be single and I got used to being on my own, doing my own thing, and not having to plan for anyone or anything else. I’m sure I’ll get used to it though, as will he, and we’ll make our merry way in the world together. And what a busy way it’s going to be!