We think, we become.

Written for Men Teach Primary by John Bee – @mrbeeteach

“Watch your thoughts, for they become words. Watch your words, for they become actions. Watch your actions, for they become habits. Watch your habits, for they become your character. And watch your character, for it becomes your destiny.”

I love that proverb. It suggests that we can become anything you want to be, no matter what your starting point is.

I never knew what I wanted to be when I grew up. Opportunities in the North East of England in the late 80s and 90s were somewhat limited opposed to the rest of the UK or the world. I did school, then college and then went to look around a few universities at a few different courses – still not knowing what to do. After some soul searching and applying to a few places, I was accepted onto the Primary Education with QTS at the University of Sunderland. Dr Kim Gilligan saw something in me and helped me think critically about the world. Before this, I was quite content seeing the world through my own distorted lens. As their strap line of the University of Sunderland says, it really is life changing! It changed my life to springboard into a profession I am incredibly passionate about. I am so glad I did.

Social class, I have come to realise, plays a big part in my life. My whole family are very working class, many used to work in collieries or the pits before they closed. I was on free school meals, had never been on a holiday abroad and grew up in considerable deprivation. I was part of a generation of children who thought McDonalds was for special occasions and birthday parties. At the time, that was my normal and I knew no different. I used to be ashamed of this but, with experience, I realise it is the very thing that keeps my feet on the ground, my aspirations high and gives me my drive.

My first Headteacher was amazing. She really supported my early career and professional development, she was great with people and I learned so much about teaching and life from her. Mrs McGrow’s humanity and compassion is something that sticks with me and will continue to stick with me. She really thought educating the whole child was important and showed me that every child matters. I spent much of my time in KS2, with short stints in KS1 and EYFS. I suppose I have always been really keen and wanted to do the best I can possibly can at everything I can. I’m still unsure where the drive/need to push so hard comes from but I think my upbringing may go some way to answer that question. I see my younger self, with the odds stacked highly against me, in many of the children I have taught.

Graduating in 2011 and again in 2019 with a master’s degree in Education – Life Changing.

With experience in my first school, I learnt that love, care and compassion eat strategy for breakfast but after 5 years in my NQT (now ECT) school, I was ready to spread my wings and took the plunge into middle leadership. In 2016, I secured a position in a primary school in Gateshead as Key Stage 2 Leader and maths leader. This was to be, unbeknown to me, the role where I really developed and embedded my professional skills, pedagogy and leadership capacity. My first action was to enrol on a new and exciting professional development course with the Great North Maths Hub as a Primary Mastery Specialist. I was thrilled to be accepted and it is still a role I enjoy fulfilling. At the same time, I started a master’s degree in Education, back with the University of Sunderland. After 3 years, I had finished my MA and graduated in October 2019. By November 2019 I was writing my first two books on approaches to teaching mathematics with Bloomsbury Education. This is still a ‘pinch me’ moment and it still blows my mind to this day. Alongside this, I attended a 2 week research visit to Shanghai, China in November 2019 just before the pandemic (where a parent at my school actually complained that I had brought COVID back from China with me!) to observe teaching for mastery in my capacity with Maths Hub. I look back and wonder how I did a masters degree, wrote the books, had full time teaching commitments and worked as a primary mastery specialist. I remember the long days, weekends and holidays of work and little time to relax. For this period of my life, these habits became my character. However, these incredible experiences have enriched and punctuated the last 6 years of my careerand I am incredibly grateful for everyone who has helped me along the way.

Book release and teaching in Shanghai in November 2019.

Just before my book release, I launched www.mrbeeteach.comto house many of the resources I had enjoyed creating. Since it’s conception, it has subscribers from all around the world and is used in lots of countries. This is another ‘pinch me’ moment. In 2021, I completed an NPQSL and I am about to embark on a new position in September as Deputy Headteacher.

New books, daily tasks shown in schools, MrBeeTeachresources and more are part of the rhythm of my professional life.

These experiences have enriched my life and as each year passes, I become more and more passionate about what I do.They have changed my life for the better and in ways I could only dream of. What we think, we become. Despite my starting point, I think I’m doing just fine.

My journey (of becoming a primary school teacher) -from Germany to the U.K. to India and back again

Written for Men Teach Primary by Seb @MatheMeister_n

I have always wanted to become a teacher. Even from a very young age – pre-primary even. I have to thank my aunt for it – she was also a teacher, and because of her, I got this glimpse of what it feels like not just doing a job but doing something you really love doing. Although, I was never sure what age group or what subjects to teach. All I knew was that I wanted to be a teacher. One would think that this is a pretty straightforward path from primary school to secondary to A-Levels to university and into the classroom – but think again.

Growing up in Munich (Bavaria/Germany) meant I finished primary school after Year 4 (equivalent to Year 5 in the U.K.) and off I went to secondary school. I met one of my favourite teachers there and because of her I also wanted to teach economics. At that point, I could not imagine teaching young children in primary whatsoever! Yet my grades in the core subjects in Year 10 weren’t great, therefore I couldn’t go on to do my A-Levels as intended. This was the only time in my life I came extremely close to burying my dream of becoming a teacher. So instead of doing my A-Levels, I started an apprenticeship to train as a bank clerk. However, I knew right away that this wasn’t for me. Luckily, during my time working in a bank, I found out that there was still a chance to do my A-Levels after all. After finishing my apprenticeship, I went back to school for three years and achieved amazing grades in my A-Levels (English, biology, maths and economics). I was taught by some inspiring teachers and my maths teacher was one of them. In Bavaria I had to choose two subjects when becoming a secondary school teacher, so because of her I picked maths. Now my dream had finally become tangible: teaching maths and economics at secondary and no thoughts of being a primary school teacher one day.

I started my university course in Munich in 2007, but boy was I in for a surprise. The way teacher training was organised back then was so far removed from the reality of the classroom. They might have changed it by now, but I didn’t really enjoy going to uni.  Fortunately, I had also found a part-time job as an HLTA in an independent secondary school – which I really loved doing – and when one of the economics teachers was on sick leave for three months, I was at the right place at the right time. I filled in as a supply teacher and thoroughly enjoyed teaching my two Year 10 classes. At this time, I thought my journey was finally going ahead as planned and in a couple of years I could start working as a secondary school teacher. However, I didn’t take into account that Cupid had other plans for me. 

In 2010, I had a trip planned to London (I always liked it there), so when I met my now ex-boyfriend during that city trip, it wasn’t surprising for me at all when I fell in love with him and with the idea of living and working abroad. I made a bold move and left university without a degree and moved to the U.K. It might look silly and like a dumb move from the outside, but for me it was the right thing to do. Before I started my course at Kingston University, I worked as a supply TA in the primary phase of two special schools in Maidenhead and Slough. I also did some voluntary work at the local primary school and loved it so much that it was a no-brainer to choose a BA (Hons) course Primary Teaching leading to QTS. And let me tell you, those three years have been pretty amazing! I made friends for life and had an incredible tutor. I was also a student ambassador and loved meeting people from so many different courses and backgrounds. It was such a fantastic and wonderful experience and if I had to do it again, I absolutely would! I did my placements in Reception, Year 1 and Year 3, and despite thinking I’d prefer teaching in UKS2, I quite enjoyed teaching the younger kids. Additionally, one of our geography lecturers organised a placement in an all-through school in Cochin (Kerela/India). It was quite an adventure and I’ve made memories I’ll never forget.

I finished my degree in 2015 and couldn’t wait to get into the classroom. Fearing not being able to secure a job made me take an offer from my very first interview. The people at that school were super lovely but I felt like drowning during my first term as an NQT. After only one term I left that school and did some supply work: First as a teacher, then as a TA. This was a great decision though because it allowed me to gain more self-confidence and showed me what other schools there were out there. At some point I also realised London had got too busy for me, so I completed my remaining NQT year at a lovely school in Chichester with the most amazing NQT mentor I could have asked for. Yet I never felt like finding my feet teaching in those early days in my career. On top of that, my relationship broke off so I decided to move back to Germany.

Now I live in Nuremberg (Bavaria) with my amazing husband and my beautiful 9-months-old daughter. Come September, I’ll be going back teaching at my local primary school after eleven months of parental leave. This time away from the classroom was very special in so many ways but also showed me again how much I love being a primary school teacher.  Especially for the little ones. I can still hear my mentor from my first placement in the U.K., telling me that I would be such a superb Reception teacher. I didn’t believe her back then but now I cannot imagine teaching any other year groups but Year 1 or Year 2. Unfortunately, we don’t have Year R in Germany.

It’s been quite a rollercoaster ride getting to where I am now, but I feel very fortunate to be able to take the best of both worlds: my experience being a teacher in the U.K. alongside using what I’ve learnt here in Germany. My journey is still not over yet. There will be new adventures and challenges ahead and I always look forward to meeting people who are also passionate about working with children and improving their own teaching to better the lives of those in our responsibility. 

Thank you so much if you’ve stuck reading until the end. I do love thinking back on my journey and how I got here, so if you are still sitting on the fence about becoming a primary school teacher – go for it. It’s the best thing out there!

From NQT to Headship and everything else in between – My Journey

Written for Men Teach Primary by Robin @Robin_W_F

‘’You’re very young to be a head,’’ – the words I hear pretty much every day! If somebody told me when I started my teaching career, in 2011, that I would be a Headteacher within ten years, I would not have believed them – in fact, I would have laughed. I count myself extremely fortunate to have had the opportunities I have had in my career particularly in such a short space of time: circumstances have largely been responsible for that and I guess this is the perfect opportunity to share my story (well a condensed version!)

We all remember that moment just before we stood in front of our very first class.  I remember it well: I was quite fortunate that I had a July start so it gave me the opportunity to prepare my classroom ahead of the summer break, learn the routines and get to know the school and staff better (planning, however, I didn’t have a clue!)  It was bittersweet at first; my final placement had been extraordinarily difficult: it really had made me question whether I actually wanted to do this anymore but it was also too late as I had accepted a job at my NQT (ECT now!) school back in the March.  Thankfully, the start of my career helped to turn that around quickly – it’s true what they say that some schools will not be for you at all.  You just ‘know’.

I had always wanted to teach ever since I was very young. By the time I reached secondary school, I thought I wanted to teach history: it was the subject I studied at university and, even now, is a real passion of mine. I had always associated primary schools as ‘cutting out and sticking in’. At one point I was going to go into broadcast journalism; I did a brief stint at the BBC for a summer placement but something was holding me back from pursuing that further. After being accepted to study PGCE History, I completed work experience in a primary school, believing that this experience would give me an insight into primary education and develop my understanding of ‘where children were coming from.’ I loved it: I truly loved it. I was astonished at how vibrant primary schools were; I was really inspired by the children and staff and it made me question immediately what I was doing. I contacted the university and asked about changing to PGCE Primary; they re-interviewed me for the course and the rest, as they say, is history (pardon the pun!)

My NQT school was great – I liked it but I didn’t love it.  But I didn’t realise that at the time: I was grateful to have employment, to be somewhere I enjoyed working but I didn’t realise, until much later, their values weren’t really the same as mine.  An opportunity came up just before the Easter at a school I had completed work experience at – I had always wanted to work there but no positions were available.  The Headteacher phoned me one evening (I always remember as I was going out for dinner and running late!)  She asked me how I was getting on and that an opportunity had arisen. ‘’For goodness sake, apply!’’ she said to me down the phone.  I debated and debated; I really enjoyed where I was but I wasn’t sure about moving so quickly.  Eventually, I decided to follow my heart and applied.  I was appointed and prepared to make the move after my NQT year – scary!

Things changed quickly in that school: even now, thinking about it, it was a really peculiar time. The Headteacher retired within eighteen months of me being starting; I was appointed Phase Leader at the start of my third year in teaching due to a huge turnover of staff (suddenly, you find yourself one of the most experienced!) and then the Deputy and Assistant Head suddenly left. The new Head who came in was brilliant; she had empathy, a sense of justice and was aspirational. She really saw my potential and, in the September of my fourth year of teaching, appointed me as Acting Assistant Headteacher – the position was eventually made substantive. It was a purely circumstantial position but I acknowledge I must have had the skills to do the role to have been offered it. I am so grateful for that time as I really developed my leadership skills and knowledge of schools – something I would not have been able to do elsewhere. We had a good Ofsted outcome and the school developed into a strong position.

In 2016, I moved from Essex to Kent becoming an Assistant Head in another, much smaller, school.  It was wonderful: I really enjoyed my time there.  It was a ‘coasting’ school and the newly-appointed Head and I (who I am very good friends with now) worked tirelessly to turn things around.  I always treasure that journey and time.  Being an Assistant Headteacher and Class Teacher (Year 6) is always a challenge but one I relished: when someone says to you ‘sink or swim’ – do neither.  Just float: you’ll be able to steer yourself in the right direction.

In the summer of one academic year, a local Headteacher asked my Head if she could second me out as Deputy Head due to leadership capacity in their school: it was a great opportunity and I was appointed quickly as the substantive Deputy Headteacher. What I didn’t realise was that this would be the school I would eventually be the Headteacher of. By then, I knew I wanted to become a Head, eventually, but not for many years I thought. A plan was already in place for me to become Acting Headteacher if an appointment wasn’t made – I was agreeable with this. It wasn’t until the advert came out,however, and a little bit of encouragement from colleagues, that I realised this was the right time and, most importantly, the right school. I love my school very much: it’s home – it’s where I belong. It’s a very special place with dedicated people and amazing children and families. Do I get it right all of the time? Not all the time – no! But I work hard, am diligent and I listen. Most importantly, I want the very best for my children and I want to be the best I can be too. So, yes, it has been an interesting journey but one I am incredibly proud of: you meet a lot of amazing adults and children in education and for that I am truly grateful.

A Black Teacher’s Journey into Primary Education

Written for Men Teach Primary by Camron Mills @Kru_Cam

Every year I have had different students ask me whether Ihave always wanted to be a teacher. The answer to that question is a firm and resolute, NO! When I graduated from university, the idea that I might go into teaching had never even crossed my mind. It was not until I went to work abroad for a children’s Non-Government Organisation (NGO) that I saw first-hand the power of education in transforming the lives of children. What should have been a 1-year internship in Thailand became a 6-year stay which saw me go on to establish and lead an English department in an all-through school in a small village in the Northeast of the country. During this time, I also worked with disadvantaged HIV-positive children in the North of the country.

Working with children who, for reasons of poverty or sickness, had been excluded from education changed my mindset and indeed the trajectory of my career going forward. One career-defining event which happened in Thailand was when one of my students competed in an educational English-speaking competition. The student confidently held her own against students from more affluent schools including some international schools. My student made it through to the regional stages (one round away from the nationals). The celebration in the school and later in the village was simply mind-blowing! The villagers were amazed that one of their own could achieve so highly and compete with the region’smost privileged and most educated. It was at this moment thatI knew I wanted to work with disadvantaged children.

On leaving Thailand, I came back to the UK to study Primary Education with Mathematics – ready to embark on a new career as a classroom teacher in England. Back in England – Birmingham, I saw how educational disadvantage was deeply rooted in social class (just as it was in Thailand). Unlike in Thailand, however, it became clear to me that in the UK ethnicity further compounded the level of educational disadvantage experienced by children and young people. Ethnicity has also played a major part in my own experiences as a Black male teacher, especially in the way that othersviewed and perceived my talents and capabilities. A recent analysis of teacher trainee acceptance rates shows that Black applicants were 21% less likely to be accepted onto a trainee teacher course compared to White applicants. The same report showed that Black teachers were underrepresented at every phase of the system – from early career teachers right the way through to headship. It is clear there is work to do if we are to strive for equity and representation within our classrooms.

It is hard to put into words what it is like to look around you and see so few people that look like you, so few people that understand your lived experiences, so few people to turn to for advice. For instance, I recall becoming frustrated in my trainee year by teachers and school mentors (well-meaning I’m sure) telling me that they were ‘really surprised by how well I teach’ or that they ‘weren’t expecting me to be so good’. When I explained this to my university tutor, I was toldto… ‘not read too much into it’ and to… ‘not rock the boat’ by saying something. The fact is for other Black teachers and I;we have all too often come up against other people’s ‘low expectations’ of us. This has manifested itself in different ways throughout our careers. One such example is being guided toward pastoral middle leadership roles rather than ‘academic’ subject leadership roles as highlighted in UCL’sresearch into retention issues amongst ethnic minority staff. The idea that, as a Black person, your ‘skillset’ lends itself toward pastoral roles rather than curriculum-based roles has longer-term implications. For those wishing to progress to headship, there is usually an expectation that you have proved yourself in the curriculum leadership space first. Yet, we know from research and anecdotal evidence that Black teachers are systematically denied such opportunities. This may go some way to explaining why only 1% of head teachers are Black. Unfortunately, there are also other, more overt reasons for these statistics, as highlighted by some Black British educationalists.

As a Black teacher, I have not only had to fight stereotyping from within the system but from other stakeholders too – which brings me to parents. For the most part, the parents I have worked with have been very supportive especially when I have taught in ethnically diverse schools. Many, it would seem, are pleased to have had a positive Black role model for their child/ren. However, there have been times when I have also had to push back against the prejudices of some parents. For example, I once had a parent go to the headteacher at the start of term and ask for their child to be moved to another class. When asked why, the parent explained that they thought their child would learn best with someone who was ‘more like them’. I.e. the White female teacher in the classroom next door. I insisted to the head teacher that the child should not be moved due to the message this would send to other parents and children. By the end of that school year, the parent was very pleased with the progress their child had made and told me how they were glad that I was their child’s teacher. A further incident, which happened very early in my career, was when I was out running with a student with social, emotional,and mental health needs (SEMH). The first time the student and I ran together, several parents called the school to inform reception that ‘a big black man is chasing a child around the school field and that the child looks terrified’. For context, I am 5ft 10 and of slim build. That went on for two weeks with the reception staff informing parents that ‘the black man’ was a teacher and that he was not chasing the child, they were simply exercising together. Many parents did not perceive thatI, as a smartly dressed Black male, might in fact be the class teacher. Despite the many phone calls, I continued to run with the student every morning. Slowly but surely, some parents began to come over and enquire about what we were doing.This opened up some great discussion opportunities. Through dialogue, parents were able to learn about me as a person and I them. Some parents even asked if their children could join us for the morning run, too. These two experiences taught me early on in my career the importance of dialogue and representation. For some parents, the reality is that they may not have seen or spoken to a Black teacher before. My willingness to be both visible and communicative with parents helped to reduce the barriers that existed.

This is why I am so passionate about encouraging more Black males to become teachers, especially primary school teachers. The more people see black teachers, the more opportunities there will be for professional dialogue. This in turn will help to shift the narrative on what it means to be a Black male teacher in England. It is this idealism that has driven me this far in my career. It is the reason why I have opted to pursue curriculum-based roles rather than pastoral roles – even though I have worked with white senior leaders who have tried to steer me in this direction. It is time to break the mould on what it means to be a black teacher and indeed a Black school leader. By actively developing my knowledge of curriculum development and inclusive pedagogy, I have steered my own career path in teaching. I now work as a Deputy Headteacher in charge of Curriculum and Teaching & Learning. It is my hope and aspiration that by being visible and active as a Black school leader that I can encourage, inspire and motivate Black children to achieve beyond any limiting expectations which have been placed upon them.

Teaching in the ‘Big Smoke’

Written for Men Teach Primary by Quinn – @MrPaczesny

Hi all, a small thank-you in advance for (hopefully) taking the time to read my first blog post!

My passion for teaching began fairly early on. I thoroughly enjoyed primary school, and I was under no illusion that I had anyone else to thank for that other than my teachers and parents. I had wonderful teachers, who aimed to share and inspire their love for education. And I had amazing parents, who simply wanted nothing but the best for me. This is what made them my role models. This is what made me certain I wanted to be just like them – well, maybe even a little better if I tried hard enough!  

My primary school journey was one that I can look back on with oodles of happy memories. Well apart from the never-ending competition that stemmed from having a twin sister, who enjoyed to outsmart me in absolutely everything with absolutely noeffort whatsoever! Not that I am bitter about it.

Anyway…onwards with the journey!   

I completed my A-Levels in Business, Accounting and Law at my local Sixth Form, secured a place a Bishop Grosseteste University (BGU) and started my ITT (Initial Teacher Training) journey in Lincoln. My three years studying at university on a ‘Primary Education with QTS’ course was a rollercoaster of events, fortunately with many highs. I had remarkable tutors, course leaders and lecturers, who I cannot thank enough, I completed several teaching placements with outstanding grades, I experienced a range of school settings from SEN schools, inner-city schools to village and small community schools and I also arranged to spend the summer of 2020 teaching English in Italian summer camps (across Italy) to children of all ages. I still regard this experience as perhaps the most pivotal part of my teaching journey and my own character development. I discovered a whole new approach to teaching – one based on performance, drama and play. I never thought that I would thrive in this rather extrovert style of teaching, but I did. I loved it. Motivating children, who had no concept of the English language, how to comprehend and articulate our complex language was exhilarating. And it inspired me, motivated me, fuelled me to throw myself into this profession we have or will all grow to love.

So, at the ripe old age of 21 I packed my bags and moved to ‘The Big Smoke’, more commonly referred to as London! Don’t worry though, this was not sporadic! In Spring time that year, I had secured a job in an inner-city school ready to begin in September 2021. My dream school – one that I was and still am so immensely proud to be a part of.

Being part of a huge MAT (Multi Academy Trust), being enrolled into the new ECT (Early Carer Teacher) programme and having superb mentors and colleagues has really enabled me to flourish as a teacher. The professionalism and knowledge of those around me has allowed me to grow – similar to that of a flower, in a garden of nutrient-rich soil. Now, with nearly three full terms complete as a teacher, I still find that I occasionally need to pinch myself. I still find myself questioning; How am I responsible for all of these children? But, as time has passed my confidence and self-belief has grown immensely. The faith that I now have in my own ability, to lead from the front, is more than I could have imagined; in a non-egotistical way of course!  

A few points, that no one really asked for, but I would like to share regardless;  

  1. Be kind – to yourself, and those around you;  
  2. Believe in yourself – have faith, you made it, you’re making a difference;  
  3. Don’t be afraid – to try new things, make things your own or make mistakes;  
  4. Discovery – read, talk and explore new ideas, try them out and see if they align with your style;  
  5. Make hay while the sun shines – make the most of what you have, the grass is not always greener;   
  6. You only get out what you put in – exactly what it says on the tin for this one ladies and gents;   
  7. It is all character building – good or bad, I try to view everything that happens as an opportunity to develop into a better person.  

If I had to sum things up, I would just say enjoy the journey that you are on. We work in a wonderful profession, one which we can really impact and change children’s lives every day – don’t forget that. 

Every day is a learning day, even for us!

My Journey to Primary Teaching and an NQT Year in the COVID-19 Pandemic

Written for Men Teach Primary by @mr_smales

My journey to becoming a primary school teacher is a long one so I hope everyone is in for the wild journey!

To begin with, I always wanted to be a PE Teacher in a Secondary School. This was because, I grew up around sport. I used to play rugby league, until an injury stopped my career (tore my ACL), and I also did swimming and ended up competing to an international level (shoutout to my Team GB friends). Then I made the decision to go to university. 

I started studying at Leeds Beckett University (LBU) in 2016 studying for a Bachelor of Science in Sports Coaching. This was because I had recently started to coach at my swimming club to earn some money and I loved it so much I wanted to get into it professionally. I even joined the Swimming and Waterpolo Team at LBU. This was when, the Primary School Placements started…

The Primary School Placements on my undergraduate degree helped me to make the decision to become a Primary School Teacher. I used to love going into so many different schools at dinner times and after school to teach the children sport! I was in my element. These primary placements were the highlight of my ‘educational’ week, every week at university.

Then, 18-year-old me, signed up for Camp America. I got placed at Summit Camp, a Special Educational Needs and Disabilities Camp in Honesdale, Pennsylvania! In my first year, I was a Camp Counsellor for the Lower Camp Boys (aged 8-12) who had a range of disabilities ranging from ADHD, Autism, ADD, ODD, OCD and Bipolar – to name a few. This is when my interest in teaching really hit the pedal and I had not only a special interest in sport but working with children with SEND was thrown into the mix too! My first year at Summit Camp, also made me fall in love with working abroad (more to come later).

So, I went back for two more summers. Upon my return in 2018, I was made Unit Leader of the Lower Camp Boys, which meant I was not only in charge of all the 8–12-year-old boys but their counsellors in their bunks too! In my third summer, I was made a Behaviour Specialist and I was there if any of the children had a crisis – so I got to work with most of the children on camp as there was only three of us across the whole camp!

After I graduated from my undergraduate degree, I made the decision to do a PGCE in Primary Education (5-11) with PE. My first placement was in a Year 3 class, my second placement was in a combined Year 5/6 class. And then something happened…

The COVID-19 Pandemic hit the entire world, so I never got to finish my PGCE Year, I never got to go on my KS1 Placement in Year 1 and I was signed off as a Primary School Teacher. It felt weird, I had done half a year training and now I had a career and I had to find a job!

Throughout lockdown, whilst looking for a job, I volunteered for the NHS, delivering supplies to the local hospitals and care homes as I did not just want to do nothing. I had numerous zoom call interviews, zoom tours around schools and I spent hours researching and practiced answering interview questions.

Then I finally got my job!!!

My first class, a Year 5 class and I was so excited to meet them! We made it through to Christmas with a full class, even though in schools it was bubbles and COVID-19 was beginning to peak again. After Christmas, it did peak again, and we went back into lockdown. So, during my NQT Year, I was teaching online over zoom as well as teaching Key Worker children in school. This was difficult for an NQT and I did not know if I was doing everything right as I had not finished my training, I was only allowed to be observed by SLT for 15 minutes just in case my bubble popped, it was a unique NQT Year to say the least.

And then everything started to look up, the pandemic and restrictions came to an ‘end,’ my contract changed to permanent and now I am in my second year of teaching, with an amazing Year 4 Class and a super support system at work!

Teaching is my career for life, it is what I want to do. I am unsure which branch to take, whether I want to finally go down the PE route or take a turn into SEND Teaching, but each day opens new experiences and opportunities to gain experience. Each day is different and each day memories are made! Recently, however, I did hand my notice in…

In September, I am making the move to teach abroad! I will be going to travel and teach in Australia, and I am beyond excited for this opportunity which would not have happened if I had not had all of these experiences and opportunities.

If I could tell anyone one thing about teaching, it is that it may seem hard and stressful at times but at others it is also the best days of your life. You need to follow what you want to do, some days it may be hard in that classroom full of children but just remember you are there for a reason!

You yourself are a priority, as well as your class. If you look after yourself, and do what makes you happy, your positive energy will brush off on the kids you teach!

My Journey – Mental Health

Written for Men Teach Primary by Rob – @rf_watson

Hello all. Thanks for taking time to stop and read what might be the only blog I may ever write.

My journey with mental health has always been a rollercoaster. Many ups and downs. It is a suitcase I carry every day. Sometimes the suitcase is heavy and I cannot move, and at times when it is like a back pack, I can move around so freely. Not only has it been a journey for me but it has been in my family for as long as I can remember.

My gran, Violet was a funny, kind, and beautiful soul and one of the strongest people I have ever known. She was a sister, mother to 4, and grandmother to 8. She just so happened to have schizophrenia, a mental health condition that to this day has a lot of stigmas attached to it. When I think of my gran, I never saw the mental illness she carried with her. I saw my gran. Yes, there were moments I can recall of my gran hallucinating, having delusions, or muddled thoughts but it never changed our relationship. As a family, we had open discussions about mental health and how we could support my gran whenever she needed it. These were the moments that made me passionate about mental health.

Over the years, I grew up and learned more. I am a very observant person. I can be loud and talkative, but I find solace in melting into the background and just watching life in front of me. Disconnecting from everything. From my observations, I saw my dad hide his emotions over his broken marriage and act like things were fine, and my mum run away from hers. We never talked. We just swept it under the rug and moved on. The discussions about mental health were kept solely about my gran. This schema I learned was that it was okay to discuss things when they were out in the open, but we never dared shed light on an issue that was affecting you in the dark. Even more so if you were male.

This stigma attached to men talking about their feelings and mental health prevented me from discussing my own mental health problems. I became more insular and when I did open up, I heard things like, “Man up!” “Act tough!” “You’re too soft!” and “Stop crying like a girl.”These words stood out more than, “I am here if you need to talk.” I appreciated the offer of help but honestly I had no idea how to begin the conversation.

Our society doesn’t encourage men to talk about their feelings. We never learn to articulate the words to say so our emotional literacy is stunted. Instead, it pushes men into a darker abyss further, leading to more problems including seeing no way other than to end it all. I must admit, I have come close to this abyss. Thankfully, I had some close friends that supported me.

Mental health will always be close to my heart and I will do anything to try a breakdown the stigmas attached to mental health and mental health conditions.

How do we fight the stigma?

1. Talk openly about Mental Health

Discuss what mental health is and what mental health conditions are. Discuss how mental is like a pendulum and how we can feel a variety of things at different times of our lives. Communication is key.

2. Educate ourselves

Know the facts about different mental health conditions. Know the language to use regarding mental health.


The above site is a good start.

3. Focus on the positives

Mental illness, including addictions, is only part of our story. If we look at the bigger picture in someone’s life then we can take in the positives.

4. Be kind

We are all carrying a suitcase with us. Find ways to support one another. Listen to someone when they need it. Check-in on people. Actions speak louder than words,

We never know what things people are keeping in the dark.

My Reading Journey

Written for Men Teach Primary by Paul – @teacherpaul1978

I can’t remember my life without stories. My parents always read to me as a child and I enjoyed listening to the stories the teachers read to us at school.

It was my dad that got me into READING books. I would watch him return from his visits to the library stacked with books week after week. One day, he took me along, and I fell in love. Here was a room full of treasures waiting to be unearthed. He would go off to adult fiction while I would lose myself in picture books and young readers. Together we would arm ourselves with as many books as we could take out for three weeks and I would be so excited for the next visit!

I can’t remember the exact books I read but I have distinctly fond memories of Famous Five and Secret Seven books (I preferred the latter).  Adventures, mysteries and quests became my passion.  This led to other fantastic books such as the brilliant Fighting Fantasy series!  You could control the story, battle monsters and hopefully avoid death! Oh and the Choose Your Own Adventure stories too!!  Loved them!  The Worst Witch, Mrs Pepperpot and Judy Blume are also some more I remember enjoying a lot as a young boy.

Eventually, I could join my dad in the adult fiction section.  He was a big horror fan and I asked him what he recommended.  He advised I start with something like The Rats by James Herbert.  Well, now this was a book! I hadn’t read anything quite so horrific but I loved it! I was hooked! I read all of his other horror stories with Shrine being one of my most favourite of his works.  Although it did keep me up at night.  I branched out into Stephen King, but it was James Herbert’s horror writing that hooked me.

My mum on the other hand preferred real life stories.  I remember her recommending Where God Comes to Weep  by Siba Shakib.  I remember being so engrossed, I read it all in one night.  A different kind of horror.  A real horror.  She also introduced me to the world of Hollywood with autobiographies from acting legends such as Bette Davis.  She would read fashion magazines that I would collect when I took up Fashion Design at University, so I guess I have mum to thank in some way for that, God rest her soul.

School played an important part in my choice of books too.  Teachers would read us Roald Dahl stories, which became a huge favourite of mine, particularly The Witches and The Twits.  I loved the silliness and the horrid characters! But I especially loved the passion that the teachers obviously had for those books.  They would laugh, cry and bring the characters to life by changing their voices.  As a teacher, I find myself inspired by these wonderful teachers and I try my best to bring books to life in the way that they did.  Your passion is infectious and if you show that you love reading, this will have a profound effect on the children who hear you.

Funnily enough, musicals got me hooked on stories too.  I remember discovering Les Miserables and Notre Dame de Paris by Victor Hugo.  I instantly fell in love with his use of historical facts and descriptions that brought Paris to life.  It inspired me to travel to Paris to hunt out the settings described and to look out over Paris from the top of Notre Dame Cathedral.  I remember reading the abridged version of Les Miserables first.  I was shocked when I discovered the sheer volume of the actual novel!  So where the first took me no time to read, the latter took me nearly half a year!  But it was a journey I look forward to taking again at some point in the future.  What a story!  What a lesson.

One of my most favourite stories from the musicals is that of The Phantom of the Opera.  Not the original Gaston Leroux crime thriller, but Phantom by Susan Kay.  This story, told from the viewpoints of all the main characters, is so much more than the original.  She goes deeper into his past, his upbringing, it is a harrowing story.  I fell in love with this tragic story.  It covers so much in the way of mental health and well being, overcoming bullies and domestic violence to finding and mastering your talents.  I can’t recommend it enough.

I can’t remember how I discovered His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman.  I think it was my partner who had been reading it, recommended it to me.  Here was another series of books that captivated my interest.  Why did I love them so much?  Once again, the vivid descriptions, the mystery, the theological questions and theories all kept me hooked.  The different worlds, coping with loss. 

Books have such power.

Reading would take a bit of a break from my life while I worked two jobs up until I began teaching. 

Teaching would open me up to a whole universe of children’s books.  Stories would once again play a massive part of not only my life but of the children I would read them too.  Favourites would have to be Clockwork by Philip Pullman, The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane by Kate di Camillo, Varjak Paw by SF Said, Anthony Browne’s picture books such as Into The Forest, Crater Lake by Jeniffer Killick, Angel Child by Larraine Harrison, with Midnight Guardians by Ross Montgomery, and The Lost Child’s Quest by James Haddell coming up next.  I could go on and on. 

The wonderful #edutwitter community has been a great source of book recommendations.  My reading list is never ending, I just hope my bank balance can hold out! 

I am a book nerd!! Loud and proud!!

Books have taken me on journeys to wonderful magical lands, to meet a myriad of characters, both good and bad, to journey on quests battling creatures, collecting horcruxes, sharing a character’s loss and grief, to ultimate joy, all from the comfort of a chair or bed.

They still do.

My journey into primary school teaching….and first impressions

Written for Men Teach Primary by Mark Goodrich @MarkGTeaches

After nearly 25 years as a lawyer (and nearly 13 years as a partner), lockdown gave me the chance to reflect on what I wanted to do with my remaining working life. Whilst my time as lawyer had been a successful and fulfilling career, I had a nagging sense that I wanted to give something back to society.  I had seen the Now Teach initiative that had been launched to give career changers a helping hand into teaching and the actions of its founder, Lucy Kellaway, had given me the idea that teaching could be an option.  Starting a new career at the age of 48 is a fairly daunting experience but I realised that it would only get more difficult to make a move….

One of the early decisions I had to make was whether to go into primary or secondary teaching.  As someone who had studied Law as a first degree and politics as a second, there wasn’t an obvious secondary subject for me to teach.  Maths and English were both possibilities but I would have not felt comfortable teaching Maths at A Level when that was my own highest qualification.  With primary, I also had the advantage of lots of experience with my own children!  In the end, I decided on teaching Primary with a Maths specialism, both because of the bursary and because of the extra support it would give me in teaching maths.  Discussions with friends in the teaching profession also made me realise that maths was highly valued everywhere and would be a useful specialism to have.  This usefully narrowed down the overwhelming number of courses and I eventually took up a School Direct place on the UCL IOE Maths Pathway course.

I had hoped to spend the summer doing lots of advance reading but the expected drop off in legal work never really materialised so I arrived on the course with a lot of catching up to do compared with some of the more diligent students.  That said, my main teaching group of 25 has been very supportive and the range of backgrounds means that there are lots of diverse perspectives to learn from (as well as our lecturers who seem desperately disappointed not to meet us in person!).  As a result, my learning has gone well despite the inevitable fatigue of so much teaching online.  However, my workload dramatically increased after half-term when I took on my first school placement…

I always knew that teachers worked hard but nothing quite prepares you for the reality of life in a busy primary school.  It is both daunting and awe-inspiring to see the amount of work undertaken by the class teachers.  They have to be masters of the full range of subjects, plan the lessons and be the primary point of contact for their pupils for everything school-related.  The UCL course starts with you mainly teaching groups so that you don’t have to try to manage behaviour in a full class at the start of the placement.  Nonetheless, I did manage to progress to quite a bit of full-class teaching by the final week of the placement and will be doing much more of it after February half-term (Covid permitting). In the meantime, I am learning about online teaching and trying to progress some of the academic components. It’s been a fascinating journey – as tough and fulfilling as I thought it would be.

Any gripes?  Just the perpetual one of paperwork.  In my opinion, the Teachers’ Standards are a good framework but the amount of paper generated to demonstrate compliance could really do with some streamlining.

What’s the Story?

Written for Men Teach Primary by Richard O’Neill – @therroneill

Why in the 21st century bursting with tech should we still be talking about storytelling?

Because just as tiny streams and rivers fill gigantic oceans, stories fill humans with knowledge and understanding.

As a child I was part of a large nomadic family who were all great storytellers, whether for entertainment, family history or obtaining new knowledge, storytelling was the format it was delivered in, just something I just grew up with. I didn’t have a book in my hands until I was four years old. The book titled ‘The Farm’ intrigued me so much that I taught myself to read it. I firmly believe that the understanding of narrative and love of words I gained from storytelling laid an extremely important foundation that allowed me to leap into the book and work out the reading part. I’ve been a bookhead ever since and that’s one of so many things I have to thank storytelling for.

That’s why I’m so keen to make sure that all teaching and support staff I work with have storytelling skills whether they work in early years or secondary because I’ve seen the huge benefits it brings to adults and children not just in literacy and oracy butwellbeing too, as story allows you express yourself and your feelings in your own way. In terms of learning generally, but especially for children who find school work hard, it offers a safe bridge from where they are to where they need to be.

I’m not taking about storytelling by numbers or copy and pasted or downloaded off the internet, I’m talking about nomadic storytelling with its thousands of years of heritage and its constant updates. Subject and focus may change but the quality remains. I believe storytelling has to have heart, a life and soul otherwise it simply skips over the surface of our true understanding and we get neither the true benefits nor the results. Of course as a practicioner who runs storytelling training events I would say this wouldn’t I – but storytelling to me is not the latest must have add on, it is something that when learned and applied properly, can be integrated into an education establishment and continue to pay dividends. It truly is the gift that keeps on giving. 

Ok so this blog is about my practice and my opinion – ‘that’s great Richard’ I hear you say but where’s the evidence? There’s way too much evidence to include it all in this blog. Doing a quick internet search will give you thousands of scholarly papers on the benefits of storytelling and the science of what it does to our brain is rather interesting too. Here’s one I googled earlier from the Journal of Neuroscience:

The neuroscience of language has traditionally focused on understanding how the comprehension and production of words and single sentences is implemented in our brains. Despite the importance of stories in our everyday lives, the neuroscience of narrative has only recently begun to be an area of active research. An interesting observation from this line of work is that regions that are not traditionally thought to be part of a “language network” in the brain become consistently activated when people listen to narratives. Example areas are the precuneus/posterior cingulate cortex, and mPFC. Indeed, in a relatively early observation, Ferstl et al. (2008) made the case for an “extended language network,” including these areas next to traditional temporal and inferior frontal “language” regions. The posterior midline activations have been linked to the larger time span of narratives (compared with single sentences) (Lerner et al., 2011).

Knowing is one thing, doing is often very different. Storytelling only truly comes alive when it is done. I believe if we just use storytelling for specific parts of learning, story for writing, story for reading etc, we do it and ourselves a great disservice as it’s way too powerful to be compartmentalised; it can and should be used for every kind of learning.

If you’re now convinced by or even slightly interested in storytelling, this is where I try and put you off it by telling you the one downside – it takes a while to get good at it. Think about it like learning another language or how to play an instrument. You could learn the basics in a day and even play a few chords, learn some new words and even speak some sentences, but then you’d have to put the work in and continually practice to get better. But here’s the thing with stories – you’re not starting from scratch as you already have the inate human ability to tell them, so in fact,you’re actually rediscovering and relearning something you have within. And it doesn’t just benefit your pupils, it benefits you too. You will become a better communicator in general. Think how many occasions you believe you could have told a better story, to be understood better, that interview, that discussion with a loved one, that issue with a neighbour or colleague where you thought they didn’t understand your point of view.

Am I saying that my kind of storytelling better than any other? No, what I am saying is that our storytelling has a long and successful track record and a depth and substance that is very hard to match. It’s been constantly developing and it’s used widely in schools and in other organisations as diverse as the NHS, Police forces, Local Authorities, social work, major business institutions, and in the criminal justice system from prisons to law practicioners.

So how do I go about it? Do you have a video I can watch? A course I can download?

Nope. I don’t believe you can learn our storytelling from a video or a quick-read instructional manual. You have to understand it and that means in the time honoured fashion that you learn it from an established practicioner.

Teaching is a craft and an art and storytelling is too.

‘But there’s no proper ending to this blog Richard. Aren’t you supposed to finish it with a plug for your latest book or course or something?’

I guess you are but storytelling allows you the freedom to do it your way and this is mine.

Oh go on then: storytelling is waiting for you. Are you ready to embrace it?

Richard O’Neill is a Storyteller from the North