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An Open Letter – The State of Education

Dear Mr Swinney and the Scottish Government,

I am Carol.  I come from a family of teachers, my dad was a teacher and both my brothers are.  I qualified as a primary teacher back in 2010.  I have faced some real highs and lows before leaving the profession in 2018.  Five months ago, I wrote a blog about making the change from being a part time teacher to a supply teacher.  (you can read it here – https://carols-tutoring.com/2018/05/03/why-i-switched-to-supply-teaching/ )  At the time it was the best thing for me and I was truly happy.  However, I have now left teaching to allow me to focus on my studies and the two sides of the business which I run.  I tutor children and provide outdoor learning opportunities.  It does not mean I no longer care about teaching, I am still a teacher, just in a non-formal setting.

It recently came to light that teachers are being “encouraged” not to speak out about the difficult situations they are facing.  This “encouragement” can be to the extent that they can face disciplinary procedures if they do speak out.  This has led to a teacher writing anonymously to the Scottish Government to discuss their concerns.  Why were they anonymous?  Some say they were a plant from the Ruth Davidson, others say it was altogether a fake, teacher’s up and down the country however believe that it was real, it resonated with them and it resonated with me. Therefore, I am writing this today.

Since writing my initial blog about supply teaching and making the switch I have had numerous teachers contact me privately.  Many I have met and enjoyed a coffee with, some I am now lucky enough to now count as friends. These are women and men who made the choice to be teachers, who made the commitment.  These are also people who cannot do the 60+ hours every week anymore.  Who miss their own children and seeing them excel because the job has eaten away so much of their lives.  Who are on long term sick leave.  Who are just wanting the very best for the children in their care but cannot see a way of giving them that anymore as they are spread too thin.

I look critically at what a teacher needs to do, daily, weekly, termly and yearly plans, new schemes to imbed before the last lot are fully imbedded, new policies to read and understand, new curriculum developments, meetings for meetings sake, management giving them pedagogical books to read over the summer on their “holidays”, and more besides.  I look at this and realise it is unsustainable.  However, teachers in the system often feel it is their failure as a person and a teacher which stops them managing to stay abreast of everything.  They simply do not see that the system is sick from the top down and the inside out.

Teachers are working ever increasing hours.  It is suggested that many teachers here in Scotland work an extra 11 hours a week on top of their contracted 35 per week, with 20% working 60 hours or more!   Given that a teacher should have 22.5 hours of class contact a week, these figures alone highlight the unprecedented levels of admin expected of teachers now.  At what point do those up the ladder realise that 20 to 40 hours a week of admin does not make better teachers?

But let us just look at the figures for working just an extra 11 hours.   There are 39 weeks in an academic year.  This means the average teacher is working 1794 hours within those 39 weeks.  Compare this to your average worker, who works 37 hours with 25 days holiday a year and 10 days public holiday will work roughly 1665 hours a year.  A teacher is working, on average, just 129 hours extra a year, not a lot.  But when you consider this is squeezed into just 39 weeks you quickly see how teachers can become exhausted! And this is just for 11 hours extra a week.

In addition to this, teachers in Scotland are some of the worst paid in Europe.  This is compounded by the guilt teachers are placed under to buy resources for their classroom.  This can be anything from pencils and glue to books and board games.  Whilst teaching I would buy all this but also cushions, tables, cooking ingredients, schemes of work and more.  This was to help create a stimulating environment with exciting lessons for the children.   Indeed, now I have a tutor company I have teachers and principle teachers coming to work for me whilst working full time.  The reason is often simple, they simply cannot make ends meet on a teaching salary alone.  This is not ok.

The Scottish Government do pay lip service to reducing workload and looking after teachers.  Whilst I am now out the classroom I have many friends still working as teachers and they assure me that the situation continues to worsen.  Your policies are not helping teachers on the ground in the slightest.  As the teacher who wrote the anonymous letter said, you are sticking a plaster over a gaping wound.

We are living in a country where teachers are just expensive babysitters.  Society no longer values the role they play in educating children and shaping them for the future.  Pay and government policies in addition to the media has created a blame culture and teachers are the villains in this story.  This, in part, has led to an increase of verbal and physical assaults directed towards teachers and other school staff.

We also face difficulties with lack of resources and inclusion.  In theory, inclusion should have been a huge step forward.  However, it needed resourcing and proper funding in terms of staff and training.  Children are being left to struggle now as teachers have no choice but to focus on the higher tariff pupils whilst the others are left to float along.  It means very few children’s needs are being fully met. As a teacher I was experienced and worked hard.  However, I was still punched in the face, had my fingers broken, was hit, spat on, kicked and abused.  At times, this was a daily occurrence.  I still believe it was never the child’s fault.  There were simply not the resources required to support them in the environment they were in.  Incidents such as these are hugely under reported, there simply is not time to complete the required paperwork.

However, I still see the impact of inclusion daily when working with tutor families.  90% of the children I work with are well behaved and within the middle of the class in terms of ability.  It quickly becomes apparent that often these children are working below their ability levels due to undiagnosed learning needs, whether it be dyslexia, dyscalculia or something else.  I am lucky that I can support the families through pushing the school for diagnosis, receiving the diagnosis and adjusting to life with it.  The reason they have not been picked up sooner is often because teachers are now pulled in too many directions to properly get to know and support every child in their class. If a child is well behaved and generally achieving, there simply is not time to look at why they may not be achieving even more.  There are high tariff pupils within the class that require that time and attention and there is often only one adult there to give them it, the teacher.

Then we have management.  They are trained educators but often not trained to work with people.  They are put under enormous strain which can often lead to them forgetting that without healthy staff, their school cannot fully function.  I have been unlucky in my career with some of the management teams I worked under.  From one school where a pupil broke my finger, I was taken to hospital at lunch, patched up and placed back within the classroom, in a high degree of pain, that same day, with the same pupil that broke my finger.  But there is a positive here, they at least took me to hospital.  There was the time I broke two toes in class and management would not allow me hospital treatment until after school as they had a meeting with the council, so no one could cover.  But maybe the least supportive management team I had was the one I was working under when my father died.  He passed away the Tuesday before the summer holidays.  I luckily had phoned in sick that morning as my gut told me to go to my father’s bedside, he was dying of cancer, but I had taken no time off.   When I phoned in that morning I was asked to update at lunch whether I would be in the following day. I phoned in to inform them that dad had passed away.  Instead of condolences, I was asked if I would make it back into school that week.  Looking back, it is crazy that I allowed these things to happen, that I did not challenge them.  But they are the norm within education and why would you fight against the norm?

Some of the factors I have discussed lead to teaching jobs going unfilled and teachers leaving the profession in droves.  Statistics suggest that 40% of teachers consider leaving the profession in the next 18 months.  Scottish education is now at crisis point, it may even have got past that point.  It is time for teachers to be allowed to speak out and the Government to listen.  After all, it is not only the teachers and their families that are suffering.  The children in the system whose needs are simply no longer being fully met are also suffering.

Please, make a public statement which allows all teachers to speak out and guarantee that they will not face any form of disciplinary for doing so.  Please listen, really listen to what is said, I know some of it will be hard to hear.  Please work with us to try and fix this broken system before it is simply too late.

Yours Sincerely,

Carol Murdoch

Last week 27 May

So, as always, every child I work with shone in their own way, but I can only give edited highlights here. But here are the kids that really stood out…

Leanna and Ethan both created brief stories and they were amazing! Both children really challenged themselves and I was super proud!

Oscar is showing a real maturity to his learning and this is reflected in his work.

Nathan has a great growth mindset going on. He might find something hard, but it isn’t stopping him from trying his very best and succeeding.

Andrew and I had a wonderful lesson up at Beecraigs this week. There was a lot of real life learning going on and our nests were amazing. He especially impressed me with his perseverance. Building a nest isn’t easy, his first attempt failed, but instead of getting frustrated he simply gathered more materials and started again with a new design.

As for the business, what has been happening behind the scenes? Well, my summer time table is almost full now which has taken a lot of juggling!

I have also launched a second business, Love Outdoor Learning.  This is all about getting children outside and learning in nature. I will soon have Wednesday lunch time and Saturday morning clubs starting up and I am available to work with schools. Have a peek at our website and Facebook 

Dyslexia

As a tutor I work with a few children who have had recently been diagnosed with dyslexia.  Often it is the parent’s who struggle more than the child.  They wonder if or how to tell the child, what it means for their future and sometimes even what they have done wrong.  The simple answer is you know what is right for your family, but you have done nothing wrong, nothing at all.  You wouldn’t ask yourself this if your child had blue eyes or was tall, so why ask it about another fundamental part of them?  There is often a sense of relief to the child when they find out.  They realise that it is not their fault learning can be hard at times.  But there are also a range of other benefits to being dyslexia.  These can include –

Determination

It is at this stage that parents struggle to see how dyslexia has helped form their wonderful child already.  For a start, they are going to have a range of coping mechanisms already in place.  They have found what works for them and they use it.  These children are often determined and find a way to make the world work for them.

 

Spotting Links

Those with dyslexia can often see the big picture a little clearer than those without.  They can often identify the odd one out or find the thing which is out of place.  This helps them memorise and identify complex images, a great skill for engineers or scientists!

 

Thinking in Pictures

Whilst those with dyslexia can have huge verbal dictionaries they tend to think in pictures.  This can make thing lego or art a lot easier for them.

 

Business Entrepreneurial Skills

One in three entrepreneurs in the states have dyslexia.  Their brains perhaps are more strategic and creative than others and this can be a real business advantage.

 

Highly Creative

Johnny Depp, Picasso and Davi Pilkey (author of the Captain Underpants books) are just some famous creative people who have dyslexia.  Depp needs to learn his lines and Pilkey writes books, just because your child has dyslexia does not mean they are in any way restricted.  Plus, they tend to be more creative!

 

There are many more strengths of dyslexia.  It really is not a bad thing!   Have a look at the below image for an idea of some careers where dyslexia can be of benefit!

 

dyslexia strengths

Remember, as always, you can find us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and our website!

This Week – 13th May

The sun is shining into my conservatory this morning as the sound of bird song fills the air. What a wonderful start to my Sunday. It is just a shame my laptop is being a tad temperamental so I’m writing this on my phone!

So this week has been a wonderful one, as every week tends to be! But what has really stood out?

I am at that magic point of early tutoring when children really start believing in themselves and start developing confidence. It is wonderful to see, such a privilege. Well done Mathew and Evie!

Then we have children who have been tutored a while and have the confidence and maturity to make decisions about their learning, well done Lewis and Sean!

My Wednesday night maths group was pleased to welcome 3 new children this week. They were warmly welcomed by the other children and that group is now at capacity.

In terms of the business, well I completed the 2 day paediatric first aid course. I am also starting to make plans for the new academic year, there are exciting times ahead!

My final thought this week though is a conversation I’ve had with a number of friends and tutor mums this week. When a child is young we expect them to learn to walk and talk at different ages. Why then, do we expect school learning to be different? Children learn at different rates and this is ok!

How I Began Tutoring

After my post about supply teaching last week I have had a few people contact me and ask about tutoring.  Now, I do not claim to be an expert, I have made plenty of mistakes and I am sure I will make many more.  But here are a few tips to get you started, if you want to!  It is simply what has worked for me

To begin with, you need to decide your business/ teaching ethos.  In my case it is that children learn through play and I use a play-based approach as often as possible.  I also adore outdoor learning and use this.  This is what makes me different to others and how I market myself.  Yours will be something different, something personal to you.  Use it!

Resources – do not go out and buys loads!  I have a lot of materials from being a teacher for years but there is only so much I want to and can carry.  My basic kit is a good pencil case, a decent mini white board and pens, a small dictionary, dice with various numbers of sides and games which I can print or adapt.  I also provide jotters and folders but you do not need to.

Pricing – do your homework here. Sites like Tutor Hunt, Tutorful etc can help. I started off setting my price way too low and slowly upped it as I took on new clients.  You are under selling yourself in setting your rates too low.  I strangely found that business increased when my prices did.  As the wise Mr Specter once said, you do not pay the plumber for banging the pipes, you pay him for knowing where to bang.  People may try and haggle your price but that is your professional worth, do not allow this.

Tutor Space – you need to decide whether to tutor from home (if you do then you must update your insurance policy) or from theirs (update your car insurance policy).  Both have pros and cons.  I do a mixture of both and it works for me. If you are tutoring at your home, you need a dining table or desk. If at their home, you really do not need much at all.  I would suggest that if you are tutoring at someone else’s’ home for the first time you think about safety.  Let someone know who you are meeting, where and ensure they call you are a time close to the appointment ending to make sure you are ok – almost like internet dating!

My final tip here would be not tutoring for people who are too close to you, i.e. family or close friend’s children. I found it could make things awkward and just wasn’t worth the stress.  A little distance is a good thing.

 

Once you have done all that, it is time to get the ball rolling, get out there and start letting people know who you are!

Advertising – I have found word of mouth to be my biggest form of advertising. I started by posting up on Facebook that I was starting tutoring and got my friends to share it. It really was that simple.  I also created a profile on Tutorful and whilst they do take a cut, it was a good way for me to start.

I have a Facebook page for the tutoring and find that generates some business, especially when I share it on local groups pages.  A quick search with local town names on Facebook will give you that. It is worth seeking permission from an admin of the groups to make sure you can post and know how regularly you can post.

I have a website, though it isn’t something you need early on.  It has generated minimal work for me, but it is nice to have and does give the business a professional appearance.

I have not used google/ facebook or any other forms of paid advertising as folk say they get minimal return.

I also have both Twitter and Instagram accounts but they are more about brand awareness.

You can also use sites like Tutor Hunt where the parent pays for your details or Tutorful where the site takes a cut. It really depends on your area which works best.

Timing for Advertising – I love my Facebook page as the analytics let me see when best to post as most members online. Generally, though, I find the start of a term gets some new business but just before and after parent’s nights I have got lots.
So you have found your first student, what next…
Once you find your first student you need some paper work.  I always give my Terms and Conditions beforehand but take a copy for them to sign when I am there.  I also have a contact form, so I have their details, I usually email this before my first appointment with them.

My first session is all about building a relationship with the child and the family.  I will play a few learning games with the child and chat to them about their likes and dislikes both in and out of school.  I might run a wee test to assess their abilities and then feedback to the adult.  My first appointment with a child usually takes around 1hr 30 min but I will only charge them for the hour.  That extra time is invaluable to me as the weeks progress whilst working with them.

I tend to make termly plans for each pupil, this is quick and easy and you find a format that works for you.

 

Moving forward…

Once you are tutoring regularly you need to think of a few more things.  Though, you may wish to do these before you start.

I have a great accountant who does my books for me, it means I do not need to stress about tax returns.  He is worth his weight in gold!  It doesn’t take me long each week to update my financials.

I also have an amazing insurance agent.  She has been a gem, as my business has evolved it has been very handy to have someone I can check with to ensure I am covered.  She also got me a better deal that I could have got myself – believe me I checked!

There are some great tutor groups on Facebook where you can get advice and support.  I recently set up the Scottish Private Tutors page on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/groups/440958926349136/ ) but there are others out there too.

 

My final thoughts…

Taking the leap into tutoring can be daunting but it can really be worth it.  You can make it what you want, from a single session a week for extra spending money to a full-time business.  I know it can be terrifying though and to that end I am happy to meet folks in the central belt for a cuppa and chat to those elsewhere.  I was terrified before I started and I love tutoring now.  For me, it is the best bits of teaching without the stresses!

 

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