Be careful how you say what you say.

I was once without a TA for an afternoon when two boys in my year 3 class bumped heads. As young boys do, a race began to see who could get back to their table the quickest, but I didn’t know about this until after they had bumped heads and I asked why they were running anyway. I distinctly remember watching them both sit down at the same time and over lean as they perched when their heads knocked together. I heard the collision of heads and felt the bump immediately as it happened in front of my eyes. I sent another child to the next classroom to ask whether I could borrow the TA. Feeling around the collision points on their scalps for any bumps, I thought it would be best to get some ice packs anyway. 

The TA from next door walked in and I explained the situation. She was very kind and offered to take the boys away to fetch ice packs and sort bumped head letters for them. But as she walked away from them she blurted out “Come on then boys, let’s have a look at your nuts!” We both looked at each other horrified. We both knew what she meant really, but it just sounded so wrong. She back tracked quicker than a child who had been caught in a web of lies. I had to explain to the rest of the class that when she said nuts she actually meant heads. “Years ago people would call their head a nut. Don’t ask me why because I don’t know why…” That ended that conversation with the class and the boys returned with ice packs wrapped around their nuts I mean heads a few moments later.

We still chuckle about this now, even 3 years later. I made her a birthday cake in the shape of a squirrel that year just to keep the joke running! She even bought me a large cushion with a picture of a squirrel and its nut on it, for Christmas a few years ago. Whenever I find a picture of a squirrel on Facebook or Pinterest, I send it on to her and we both have a giggle. Sometimes you have to laugh about these situations, otherwise the job becomes too serious and we lose our marbles. Or nuts.

The Zoo Keeper.

My job title may say teacher, but there is a wide variety of other titles that could go along with it… 

For example, some days you can feel less like a teacher and more like an actual zoo keeper. You could quite easily look around my classroom, on a far from Mary Poppins afternoon, to find many examples of animalistic behaviour you would normally expect to see at the zoo and not in a primary school classroom. 

You have the otters who have to sit near each other, even when you haven’t allowed them to sit with friends. A longing desire to hold hands as they work, or link arms, causing handwriting to look scrawling and unkempt. It breaks my heart to open books after school and find handwriting dancing around the page because they needed to hold hands in order to concentrate properly. 

The meerkats are standing tall to observe other people’s business. What are they doing on that table? Why do they have different work to me? He’s swinging on his chair, somebody should tell him before he falls back and hurts himself. She’s not sharing the coloured pencils on that table. I must go and tell the teacher. Where is the teacher standing/sitting? Will she/he see me if I sneak out to the toilet without permission? My partner has a headache so I’m going to go and tell the adult for her. He’s been standing at the sink with his water bottle for too long. The meerkats need to stop being so blooming nosey and just get on with their work.

The ostriches have their heads so far in the sand, because they’d rather be anywhere else but in school. Some days I completely understand how they feel and I’d rather join them. But burying your head in the sand doesn’t make progress happen in the classroom. Nor does it pay the bills, unfortunately. (When did I become such a boring adult?) 

The cheeky monkeys are chattering away, talking about what happened at playtime and not the possible answer to the question you recently asked them. They don’t care whether you put a 1 minute timer on the board, they’ve got important things to discuss like how to build something on Minecraft© for this elusive Steve I keep hearing about. So any opportunity you give them to talk, they will try, with every ounce of might in their body, to talk about that, instead of what they think might be different between the two sentences on the board. 

The ‘know it all’ parrots can be heard repeating every single word that you say, yet completely disregarding them at the same time. They like the sound of their own voice and not yours. You can almost guarantee that if you say something that sounded even remotely important, they will repeat it to every child in the class like a game of Chinese whispers. Changing it ever so slightly with each new listener, so by the time the last child has heard it, it is not what you had originally said. 

The elephants are spraying water over by the sink. I don’t like to deny children their basic right to be able to drink water during the day, but when they begin emptying their perfectly full water bottles, just to be able to refill them again, a part of me wants to throw the bottle away and pretend it grew legs and wandered off! (They’d probably believe me!) Or even worse, they fill their water bottles too high and when they put the lids on, spill water all over the floor by the sink, causing a slip hazard for any unsuspecting adult. (Now I’m beginning to wonder whether it is all a master plan to bump my TA or me off early!?) The latest bright idea with the water bottles, is to not actually use them as a drinking container from which you can rehydrate yourself when needed, it’s to point the bottle at your friend and squeeze it so that water sprays everywhere. When the adult asks why you are all wet, you can then look at him/her with a blank expression, because you have no recollection of what has just happened, causing both of your school jumpers to be dripping with water!?? 

The gorillas are thundering around, hitting other animals, I mean children, for no apparent reason. Why come to school to learn when there is a punching bag at every table? You could spend your time learning how to add 3 digit numbers together, or you could perfect your right hook! Some children don’t appear to have a functioning brain that considers what might happen if they hit another child, until the punch bag starts to cry and is walking in the direction of the nearest grown up. Then the brain kicks in and they suddenly become psychic, seeing themselves sitting in the detention room during the next lunchtime. 

The tortoises are moving very slowly. Hardly ever finishing a piece of work in a lesson. They either take their time to make it neat and presentable or they take their time in an effort to do as little as possible. Sometimes you can encourage them to try a little bit harder. You find the right incentive that motivates them to get the work done properly or get more done and you feel like you’ve completed a marathon race. Exhausted and elated all at the same time. The next day, you’re back to square one and it’s like watching paint dry all over again! 

The giraffes have their heads so high up in the clouds, the tallest step ladder couldn’t help you to jump up into their eye line, for them to realise that you are standing in front of the classroom trying to teach them how to write an adverbial sentence. They say you should engage with children and get down to their level. Be on their wave length. But what if they’re on a completely different planet?? And space academies haven’t discovered a safe and successful way of landing there yet?? What do you do then? 

The energetic kangaroos are bouncing around the classroom, on their way to find a rubber, or sharpen a pencil, or even find a new glue stick (look out for my post all about glue sticks coming very soon!) The kangaroos have a simple solution to any obstacle in their way, on their journeys to the stationery at the front. They bend as far down as they possibly can, before leaping over it and landing as perfectly as an Olympic gymnast. 

The squirrels are hoarding the rubbers on their table, in an effort to ensure that, heaven forbid, if they should make the smallest of mistakes in their writing, they have an extensive range of rubber shapes and sizes to choose from before they can erase their mistake and continue with their writing. Last year, I even counted how many rubbers were in the classroom and collected them in after every lesson. Eventually, we were spending too much time at lunch, hunting down the missing rubber from a child’s shoe before anybody could leave for lunch. 

The goats are chewing on anything they can get their teeth into. You name it, they are chewing it. The tiniest corner from the page in their book, the end of their pencil, jumper sleeves, pencil rubbers, Blu tak, rulers, finger nails, bogies, hair, collars, felt pen lids, paper clips…nothing is safe. If it isn’t already inside the mouth of a child, chances are it probably has been. (And I wonder why I wash my hands so often.)

The bees are buzzing, frantically as they hum in concentration. Quite often the smartest, and eager to learn, children need to make noise in order to block out the noise of the other children. Usually, this involves humming and making shushing sounds. It can start off as a little lullaby but, if you let it slide, it turns into a raucous racket as it spreads around the room. Sometimes other children join in, just for the hell of it. Usually, you know exactly who it is, but they never do anything else wrong at school, so to embarrass them publicly, inside the zoo classroom, would be awkward. Instead, you just announce “Whoever is humming, would they kindly stop?” And you see the child, who initiated it all, look at you apologetically, over their glasses, in response. 

This is just a few examples of what my class is like. You might think I’m exaggerating with some of these, but if you know/knew my class as well as I do, you’d probably see the same thing. You might even be able to categorise the children in my class into the animals I’ve spoken about. I might as well put a sign on the door that says “Welcome to our zoo, please don’t feed the animals.”

 

Let’s be honest…

A few weeks ago, I decided to have a very grown up conversation with my class during a PSHE lesson. I asked them to be honest with me so that I could be honest with them. 

It ended up with me admitting that I get scared in school sometimes. Twenty seven little faces looked back at me aghast. I was the adult in charge of the classroom and they had this image of me being brave and in control all of the time. I’d shattered that image of superhero status and mutterings of “wow” or “I didn’t know that” echoed in the room. (Apparently I’m Oscar worthy when it comes to putting on a brave face.)

I’m not afraid to admit being scared to adults, or children. I openly admit that I am human. I am not Mary Poppins, despite my calm, patient exterior. Inside…I’m flapping around like a neurotic maniac in a potential apocalypse situation. Most days, I can’t predict what is going to happen next in my classroom. I don’t know if the situation is going to end up with an ambulance and blood splattered displays or a calm, obedient performance of a simple instruction. I have to go with the flow. I’m not usually someone who deals with spontaneity very well. I like to plan, prepare and follow through. I don’t mind things changing along the way, but if something happens that I can’t possibly plan for, then it certainly gets to me in quite a big way. 

Sometimes, it might be a quick outburst from his lordship and we move on. Other times it involves evacuations and children running through school for help from higher powers. I’ve learned to develop coping mechanisms along the way that allow me to appear unphased and in control. Usually, it’s counting in ones, sometimes up to fifty, breathing in and out between each number. Sighing, I have come to realise, is a frequent response when I’m trying to compose myself. My huffing and puffing can give that Big, Bad Wolf a run for his money. Sometimes, it’s involuntary and I catch myself doing it without realising. I try to make a mental note to find a different way to release my frustrations, annoyances or exasperations. However, I fear that my only other option would be to swear violently and that’s probably not the best idea when you work in a primary school – full of children who hear far too much of that kind of language at home. 

I asked my children “How do you feel when he isn’t making ‘smart choices’ in the classroom?” Smart choices is our code for right choices. I never like to say “you’re making the wrong choices” and always cringed when I found myself saying it, or something similar, last year. I would remind myself to spin it and say “please try to make the right choices” but in the heat of the moment, you forget and it’s not always said to his lordship. It is more often than not, said to other children, who know better and can show me better. I spent a lot of time retraining my brain in order to turn this phrase into a habit. On our move up day, last summer, we came up with smart choices instead of right or wrong choices. The children decided that smart choices would be the right choices and the choices we make to ‘be the best we can be.’ The children own it like it’s theirs because it is theirs. It’s one of their chosen class rules. (And I’m always hearing them say “make smart choices…” to each other, which is so sweet and heart melting.)

Anyway, how did they feel? Scared, worried, annoyed, irritated, concerned for his safety and the safety of the other children in our class. I knew that they felt scared but wanted them all to acknowledge it. I had a gut feeling that they didn’t realise that every other child in the class was feeling scared too. They certainly had no idea that I felt scared when I told them. They all looked at me aghast. How could I, the teacher, be scared in those situations? I was very honest with them and explained that I knew the dangers in those situations, and the thought of one of them getting hurt, accidentally or intentionally, by him was by biggest fear in school. I explained that being frightened, is a natural response to some situations, but the way you work with that fear is what is important. It’s okay to be scared sometimes, one day you will learn how to understand why you feel scared and how to keep calm in these situations. Unfortunately, it’s not something you can necessarily learn from a teacher, you sort of have to discover it by yourself. Sure I’m trying to model how to be brave, but in my own mind, I’m not being brave, I’m just trying to keep calm and cope with the situation in front of me.

At the end of this 20 minute discussion, before lunch, I asked the children whether they had any questions they wanted to ask me. Most of them were, “Could I go to the toilet?”, “Could I get a drink of water?”, “What’s for lunch today?” Until one child asked a question that I was not entirely prepared for: “What makes you cry in school?” I’d been incredibly honest with them up until this point, so I wasn’t about to avoid the truth now. Explaining, that when I get very angry, I cry…because I don’t like the feeling that it gives me inside. She just nodded her head. Either she understood what I was saying and was nodding her head in agreement or she was nodding in acknowledgement that, just as she suspected, her teacher is a little bit weird. Most likely the latter. I’ll let her off though, seeing as she is such a lovely, cheeky character in the class. Honestly, I don’t know what I would do, on those nightmare days, without her in the class to remind me that, in her eyes at least, I am the best teacher in the whole wide world. 

Pediculus humanus capitis.

In other words, nits!!

This is going back quite a few years now.

I was tidying up at the end of a long day and I remember feeling a tickle on my ear so I started scratching it. When the itching stopped, I pulled my finger away. Only when I looked at my finger nail, there was something crawling and wriggling between my nail and my finger. I shrieked and ran around the room in a mad panic. I had a louse in my nail and it had probably just come from my hair. 

I eventually calmed down long enough to call my mum and command her to strip my bed of all bedding and put it all onto a hot wash, as soon as possible. I remember telling her to throw my teddy in there too, just in case he was harbouring any unwanted friends. I stopped off at tescos on the way home and bought two bottles of lotion to treat my hair. I parked up, outside the house, and ran straight into the bathroom, stripped my hair of bobbles and hair grips, and started lathering my hair with lotion. My mummy dearest insisted on helping me comb through my mass of thick, curly, wavy hair as I sobbed with embarrassment. I had got nits. I hadn’t had nits in years. Not since I was at primary school. I was so susceptible to them growing up, that I always wore my hair up, in an effort to limit the chances of ever having to go through this torture again. Yet here I was, at 23, sitting on the bathroom toilet, whilst my mum dragged my hair into unknown partings, searching for lice. She only found one more louse, but that was enough to humiliate me. She carried on combing to try and drag anymore of the eggs out. 

Ever since that day, I’ve had a little stock of lotions for head lice on standby. Even if I don’t find anything in my knotted hair, when I’m combing through it in the shower, whilst I’m letting the conditioner soak in. I treat myself most holidays anyway…Just to be sure. 

When you’re sitting next to a child at school, and they start to scratch around their ears incessantly, a panic builds inside of you. Do they have nits? You begin looking closely at their hair, whilst smiling reassuringly to them and yourself, to see if you can find any eggs near the roots. Sometimes you notice them and you scramble around for the letters to hand out at the end of the day. Sometimes you see the lice actually crawling and you have to phone the parents to collect their child for immediate treatment. You can tell the boys in my class, who have been treated for headlice over the weekend, when they arrive at school with heads shaved down to the scalp. Unfortunately, it’s one of the dangers that comes with teaching. It’s an embarassing one. One that relives nightmares from your childhood. Oh the traumas I have survived!

When my family lived in Cyprus, the heat used to cause them to reproduce rapidly. I was constantly being treated for headlice during those two years. One Sunday night, when the shops were all closed, Mum found one in my hair. We didn’t have enough lotion for my mass of curly, wavy, knotted locks, so Dad grabbed the malt vinegar from the kitchen cupboard, passed it to mum who bent me over the bathtub and poured it over my head. I smelt like a bag of chips, the vinegar stung my eyes as it leaked past the flannel I had covering my face. Fat load of good it did too! Mum watched with glee as the nits drowned in the vinegar, falling from my scalp and into the bath. She combed through my hair and washed the smell of vinegar out with shampoo. She dowsed my head with tea tee oil before she sent me to bed. The next evening, she used the proper lotion and tortured my scalp once more, just to be sure I was all clear.

I live in fear of finding nits in my hair, or on my pillow. I have white bed sheets to make it easier to spot them, if ever I do. I rarely take children’s books home, unless I really have to. When I was on my final teaching placement at university, I opened a child’s book to find a monster sized louse crawling in the crease of the pages. I nearly threw up. I’m sure that headlice didn’t used to be as big as they are. I think they could be evolving. 

After reading the lotion bottle carefully, it appears Lyclear have done some proper research into headlice and realised that they are in fact bigger than a match head, as the internet seems to suggest. I’ve been looking at the pictures of a louse next to a match stick head, thinking, “Are you sure that isn’t a kitchen sized match stick?” Hmm 

                                                                            
The worst case of headlice I have ever witnessed, was on a young girl in a school near the seaside. I was doing some supply for a year and I arrived at the school at about 8am. As I walked into the classroom, I was immediately hit with the smell of tea tree oil in the air. It didn’t give me much hope for the day. I am not joking when I say that her hair was riddled with lice and eggs. The nape of her neck and hair line was knotted with clusters of eggs latching onto what ever hair she had left. She’d obviously had them for a long time because, by scratching her scalp, she had caused some hair loss. You couldn’t deny the fact that she had headlice, so I filled out a school’s form for child protection. Her mother appeared oblivious to the fact and despite being told by the school, several times, she had neglected to treat her daughters hair. It was awful and I felt sorry for her. I felt sorry for the other children in the class. I felt sorry for the school staff who had reported it countless times, yet nothing was being done. 

Currently, I’m sitting here typing away, as the lotion sets into my hair. It’s time to wash it off now, so I’ll leave you with my tips for headlice.

1. If you can’t go out and get lotion, use malt vinegar, but for goodness sake put it in a spray bottle for application instead of blinding your poor child with vinegar to the eyes. 

2. Use a fine tooth comb to scrape any lice or eggs out of the hair. To do a thorough scavenge, part the hair in many directions and angles. Wash the comb under a tap on a bowl of luke warm, (vinegar diluted) water after every stroke. 

3. Keep hair tied up for school. Use lots of hairspray and tea tree oil to deter the little blighters. 

4. Use Vosene’s 3in1 shampoo that has tea tree oil in it to keep them at bay. They usually advertise the latest animated film on the bottles to make it more exciting for children, and teachers! At the moment it is Trolls -FYI!

5. Regularly check the hair when it’s wet with loads of conditioner applied, to allow the lice to slide out of the hair easily as you comb through it. I have thick, uncontrollably wavy hair so I use a tangle teaser brush in the shower first, then I use the fine tooth comb. Otherwise I’m stuck with a nit comb in my hair, again!

Oh and finally, if ever you have to fight a wriggling, unco-operative child to wash their hair in this situation, get an evil Aunty Jo to do it instead. (Throw a jug of cold water on them regardless, it will sound like you are murdering them in the bathroom, but they’ll soon realise you aren’t messing around and will get them no matter how loud they scream.) My friend laughed at me when she heard me tell my niece one summer, “The louder you scream, the colder the water will be.” I was drenched by the end. Afterwards, my darling niece declared she’ll be good for her mum next time she has to do it. I haven’t been called back into duty yet… I messaged my friend about this and she agrees that it is true. Her daughter was suitably traumatised by the ordeal of being de-loused by Aunty Jo, that she has never once complained about how her mum does it since then. And if she starts to act up, my friend mentions my name and all of a sudden, she’s sitting as still as a statute, quietly waiting, whilst her hair is washed. Ta-da! (I have my uses.)

Disclosure: no nieces were harmed during the de-lousing by Aunty Jo, on that boiling, hot summer’s day. She just stood there, in the bath, screaming at me and shaking her head so that her drenched hair sprayed water everywhere. Including up the walls, on the ceiling and all over me! 

Cold baked beans.

I ordered a hot dinner today, expecting to be able to eat it whilst it was hot. Silly me. I completely forgot that I needed to follow his lordship around school in a circle for 15 minutes, before I would be able to sit down and eat my cold jacket potato. 

It all started when I walked him to the hall so he could collect his fish fingers and chips. One of his favourite meals in school, but not today. He didn’t want fish fingers and chips today, he wanted a cheese wrap instead. He’s changed his mind before. (Read one of my previous posts: ‘It’s ham, not cheese’) and we decided that he would have to suffer and eat what was on the menu instead of demanding that the kitchen staff prepare him a completely different meal. He wasn’t prepared to accept this so he dashed down the corridor and started running around school in a circle. 

After the first few laps of following him, whilst carrying my jacket potato on a plate, I dropped it off at the staff room and called for help. My amazing TA leapt up from her seat and marched out the door with me to help. We followed him, until we realised that he would be going in another lap around the KS1 corridors. She followed him round, whilst I back tracked to meet him in the next corridor. When he saw me, he spun on his heel to walk the other way, but he bumped into her instead, as he tried to avoid me. Realising he was caught, he stood there, defeated. Thank goodness too because I wasn’t wearing the right bra for running today. We’d successfully managed to trap him in the corridor with 2 members of SLT present to help us deliver the final blow. We gave him an ultimatum and he made a choice, which involved me walking him back to class, to collect his coat and book bag so he could go home for lunch instead. 

The lengths that I go to, to out stubborn this child are becoming more like sacrifices. It’s only a matter of time before I either lose my cool or have a complete breakdown over cold baked beans. Luckily, we broke up for half term today, so I don’t have to see his lordship for an entire week. I’ll be staying as far away from his likely haunts over the holiday, in an effort to reduce my chances of bumping into him accidentally. 

Next term, however, my TA and I have decided that we’re going to take it in turns to wear our trainers and a wonderfully, supportive sports bra, just in case we end up chasing him around school again! Who needs the gym? Oh, the joys of teaching children! 

Roman style

I have many hidden talents, and one of them is that I can write awesome parodies to popular songs. It comes in handy for class assemblies and performances for themed weeks. 

One year, my year 3 class had to do an assembly in front of key stage 2 classes and my children’s parents. Our topic was all about the Romans and I wanted to make our assembly memorable. It just had to be better than the other year 3’s assembly. The Christmas before our assembly happened, the biggest hit to be realeased was gangnam style. I spent my Christmas holidays writing a parody, to gangnam style, that would tell the audience all about the Romans, in a fun and exciting way. The children were amazed when we were learning it and how they managed to keep it a secret, I do not know. I basically told them, that if we kept it a secret, it was be an enormous surprise for the school and parents in our assembly.

For the first part of our assembly, the children all stood up and said something about the Romans. Most of the boys were dressed as Roman soldiers with shields and body armour. (I’d like to take a minute to acknowledge that my wonderful TA for that year, had spent the weeks beforehand, making armours and shields for each boy using cardboard and aluminium foil – and they looked absolutely amazing.) The soldiers all shuffled into Testudo formation. Then one popped his head and out and said, we will now sing you a song about the Romans. I gave a giggling thumbs up to the year 6 girl who was ready to press play on the music. The first beats of the song blasted through the hall and all the children in the audience stared, open mouthed at each other in disbelief. Surely the class wasn’t going to sing and dance to gangnam style? Oh but we did. The children frolicked at the front, chanting the new lines and dancing around like Roman Psys. The assembly was a huge success. I don’t think the assistant head, who had to close the assembly after us, knew exactly what to say. He was in as much shock as the other adults in the hall at that moment. The parents beamed with pride and chuckled at the scene they had just witnessed. I have honestly never felt prouder of my class and felt slightly weepy. I couldn’t talk. I wanted to compose myself and eventually did, just in time to let parents know they could take photos of their children in costumes, but please do not post the photos online, unless it is a photo of just your own child. 

We walked the children back to the classroom and changed back into school uniforms for playtime. My classroom was littered with safety pins and white fabric that had just been abandoned in the hurry to go out to play. I’ll always remember that class and that song. It was one of the proudest moments in my teaching career… The children were even allowed to perform it in Friday’s celebration assembly, in front of the key stage 1 children who had missed out on the extravaganza. Who knew that a few months later, we’d be singing another song, with the other year 3 class , all about building pyramids! 

Teaching on your birthday

🎉🎼Happy Birthday to you…🎼🎂

It’s my birthday today and I’ve had to teach my class allllllll day for the first time since I graduated as a teacher. I’ve only ever had to teach my class for a Friday afternoon, after a morning of PPA. The other birthdays have been on the weekend or a whole PPA day last year. 

I wasn’t so lucky this time though and I was dreading it, but his lordship was absent so it turned out better than I originally expected it to. 

I’ve been spoiled by my class, not in outstanding, impeccable behaviour, but in constant reminders that it is in fact my birthday today. We’re not supposed to have favourites, but I do have one and he’s my favourite because he knew it was my birthday, so he bought me some chocolates into school. A few other children bought me some hand made cards into school as well. (One child has beaten my uncle with confetti in the envelope as she had literally poured an entire pot of glitter onto the card! It went everywhere when I opened it this morning!) The children got a bit giddy just before lunch and kept bursting into rounds of “Happy Birthday” in between whispers. This afternoon, we did the register and then I just said “thank you for the singing but it can stop now… We really need to get some work done!” 

All in all, we’ve had a lovely day and considering I had to actually teach, it hasn’t been too shabby. 

☝🏼️But please could I have another PPA birthday next year?! 😃