Courageous Leaders

Over the last year I attended Courageous Leaders, a three day course for LGBT+ teachers on leadership and management. The aims of the course are to remove the barriers to promotion with a focus on personal growth and developing skills. The course offered significant mentoring, networking and reflective opportunities. Three themes emerged for me from the course; below are a few reflections on my learning.

Authentic Leadership

We are most effective when we our ourselves.

The course contained a couple of sessions from Catherine Lee where the a key theme was the idea of authentic leadership. She asked the question: how does our identity help us as leaders? She began scratching at the argument that there are experiences and understandings that are unique to our identity that equip LGBT+ teachers for leadership.

GeorgeModel-16gvm9w (1).pngBill George’s Authentic Leadership Model (seen right) is one way of unpacking this. His model represents characteristics of an authentic leader and how they manifest; it suggests that those working underneath authentic leaders benefit from this authenticity because it leads to things like consistency, compassion and connectedness. 

Leadership as a concept was also explored through scenarios that we encounter as LGBT+ teachers, and examining the role of leadership and management in a educational setting.

Key to the idea of authenticity is being comfortable in one’s own identity. Working in educational settings means we are constantly encountering diversity, so it was important that one of our early sessions was with Jess from the Kite Trust. Whilst pretty familiar by now with LGBT+ 101 sessions, this one asked new questions and packaged the information more effectively than I have seen before. Jess argued that young people are challenging language and adjusting it all the time. It’s a powerful idea to give students not only ownership of their identity but ownership of the language that they connect their identity to. The session introduced me to the Gender Unicorn graphic, a improvement on the binary style reinforcement that occurs with visualising gender and attracted on a linear spectrum. genderunicorn1

Personal Growth

The course provided a concentrated effort to focus on personal development through a range of activities and tools. The central spine of the course was mentoring through an allocated mentor. It’s hard of oversell how valuable it is to have the opportunity in a profession that is plagued by time poverty to invest in a sustained dialogue framed on personal goals and aspirations. The mentors were all experienced teachers, working in a variety of context and brought an objective outsider view to our narratives and we looked towards the next steps in our careers.

The first session used the Myers Briggs type-indicator as a starting point to launch into reflective discussions. While the tool has significant limitations, it provided an excellent foundation for dialogue about how to moderate and promote self-awareness as well as how to interact with different people. A connected session by Margaret Allen examined the theory of coaching and skills required to be successful as a coach. Coaching is the art of facilitating the development, learning and performance of another. An interesting challenge was reflecting on the coaching spectrum (below). To be an effective coach, you need to have a support mindset to encourage independence and empowerment. But this might require working across the spectrum in a variety of different ways.


Many of the participants are likely to consider our Craft of Communication session one of the most valuable experiences of the course. As teachers we must be effective communicators with a variety of audiences. This session focused on status: “how you use your body in time and space”. It helped us to recognise that an audience feels before they think; words matter but they are a very small part of how an audience understands a speaker – body language and tone of voice are vital. We developed a status toolkit through practice presentations in front of the group and were given strategies like “one thought, one breath”, “own the time and space (play the host)”, “key words”, “end your words”, “divide the audience in threes” and “see and be seen”. The impact of these suggestions and the way they immediately provoked more engaging presentations was remarkable. For a group of queer teachers that have all at times to various degrees dealt with a society that others and shames our contributions, this toolkit was a very powerful gift.

Connecting Queer Teachers

One of the most powerful aspects of the course is simply the act of bringing together into the same space a group of queer teachers that otherwise would not cross paths. It is hard to capture just how special and meaningful this is. Such opportunities are few and far between and are so important in growing positive and strong queer identities.

The group came from various sectors, contexts, and brought various different experiences. It was powerful to have multiple generations of teachers together to share stories. Some teachers had been directly impacted by Section 28, and it felt so relevant to connect to those experiences and understand our history particularly how the ripples are still impacting us today. To feel a real sense of community is empowering. It’s important for us in the room, but it’s also important for everyone else we connect with – most of all our students.


The School Checklist

One of the intentions I came to London with was to use this opportunity to interrogate my values. I was expecting working here to be different and to challenge my assumptions. This post is composed to investigate and interrogate the aspects that are emerging as most meaningful for me when I look at a new school. This could be read as both a checklist for considering a new school, or it could be a checklist for potential change.

1. A Clear and Integrated Vision

A school’s vision is a fundamental. It is the first thing I click on a school website, and I actively look for ways that that vision is threaded through every other part of the school’s online presence. I’ve been part of a team that developed a shared school vision and I’m proud of how it was implemented and began the process of a culture change. The vision must be unique to the community that it serves. It must be present in the language of the leadership team, the staff and the students. I must be accessible to all layers of the school community and should underpin everything a school does.

2. A Teaching Community

I really miss New Zealand. There would be very few schools where teachers are anonymous. Staff will always acknowledge each other in the corridor and probably exchange pleasantries. People know your name, and use it instead of the impersonal “sir” and “miss” even when no students are around. Communication occurs in all directions and the doors in offices are generally open. Problems are solved together, in person, rather than disappearing by passing up. There is a shared understanding that the vision cannot be realised without collaboration.

3. Pedagogy is not fixed

Pedagogy is ever evolving. Some core truths hold firm, but I don’t believe we can ever rest on the myth of a “model lesson”. Derek Wenmoth said in a uLearn breakout session; “If you think you are doing something right, ask someone else”. There should be a space to debate pedagogy, introduce new ideas, explore new thinking. Teacher ‘experts’ should be avoided so as not to promote the myth of a pedagogy hierarchy. I’ve learnt so much from the student teachers I’ve watched teach. Behaviour management should be part of the conversation, but not dominate it. It should be led by concepts like student agency, cultural-responsiveness, inclusion, life-long learning, and – most of all – the school’s vision for learning.

4. The Arts & Creativity Are Valued

Media, film, and drama are integral components of the curriculum and should not be relegated into second tier or vocational streamed subjects. That is not to say they cannot be taught with a vocational focus, but they must be valued by the school as valid and significant parts of the curriculum. This could be indicated by the spaces, the resourcing, the placement in the timetable, the presence in the corridors, the numbers of students and the expectations for results. I absolutely believe that the arts should have an integral role in any person’s education.

5. Personalised Learning

A holistic curriculum framework is a flawed concept. It must exist, but so must an awareness of its limitations. As education increasingly pays attention to the outsiders who aren’t served by the curriculum, the more this is being understood. I believe that learning should be understood as a personalised concept. This is something that holistically encompasses curriculum and pastoral care. Every child presents different needs and it is important to me that the school is demonstrating the value of individuality from the front, and not just dealing with those that don’t fit on the industrial education conveyor belt in a withdrawal space.

6. The Staffroom

I’ve come to appreciate how significant a staffroom is to the culture of a school. An empty staffroom at lunch can say something about staff morale. A staffroom where teachers group to unleash complaints that they habitually repeat almost daily is another clear sign. A staffroom should be a safe space to speak to colleagues and break from the grind of the school day. It needs to be separate from a workplace, and a space for constructive conversations. A staffroom can represent how the school supports staff and approaches well-being.

7. Student Behaviour

This is the hardest one to write because I think it’s the biggest shift to my values. I don’t think I have the resilience or the patience to get the best outcomes for all students. I have learnt so much this year about myself and how I respond to challenging students with almost constant behaviour defiance and zero motivation towards learning. Much of this relies on consistency and perseverance. But I’ve really struggled to have the right mindset everyday. When it goes wrong and I go home at the end of the day I’ve struggled to shrug it off. I so admire teachers that have the skills to do this, and to do it everyday. Those teachers are who these students need.

8. An Inclusive Environment

I identify as a gay man, and in any school I will teach queer students. It’s important to me that I teach in inclusive environments that welcome all gender and sexuality minorities. An inclusive environment is more than a poster on the wall; it is evident in every aspect of the school. Staff and students must be able to express themselves, their beliefs and their values in a safe way. I am still passionate about triggering change and developing inclusion; however, I have no intention of starting in a school that isn’t open to being challenged on inclusion and prepared to do things differently.

Losing the Love: Where Did the Joy Go?

For me, teaching used to be a vocation; now, everyday feels like a job. I’ve taught for 9 years and it never occurred to me that one day I would feel like this. Why is this happening? Where did the joy go?

I have now taught in London schools for eight months after eight years of teaching in New Zealand. The change has certainly changed me. In this blogpost I want to consider three things that may have led to this loss of love. Maybe reflection can help me to start regaining that passion.

Burn Out

For eight years I was warned about burn out. I was actively monitored by senior staff and managed through some busy times. My work output in NZ was immense. I was devoted to work in a way that rarely impacted on my life outside school, but the energy and endless hours I found for work seems momentous retrospectively. Part of this was being young and ambitious. Part of this was my DNA – I’ve always had an enormous capacity for work.

I don’t really know what it looks like, but I never ‘burnt out’. Articles have helped me to understand what the signs of burnout are and the enormous pressures that make the professional “unsustainable” and maybe I’m experiencing something like that now. I’m learning how to be a teacher that only works regular hours and leaves on Friday to have a weekend without a pile of marking. But that’s coming from my own personal drive to make the most of living in London, not because the profession is structured in a sustainable way.

A New Context

The education machine in the UK is a terrifying beast. I am troubled by the prescriptive curriculum, the endless data drive and high-stakes assessment routines. After eight months I have come to accept a lot of the world around me, and my questions have faded. I read local media articles with  statements like “London schools are in the throes of a growing crisis” and the teacher’s union saying that “our own research shows…81% of teachers have considered leaving the profession in the last year because of workload“. There’s clearly a massive issue with the state of the profession.

The context is working against my passion and my love for teaching. I’m not being enabled in the way that I was in New Zealand. NCEA gave me the opportunity to be creative with the curriculum, data was largely naturally occurring and captured in a variety of ways, and assessment may have been too frequent but at least the students had multiple opportunities to succeed, not one day to prove three years of successful learning. In NZ a full time teacher has 20 contact hours. Currently I have just over 24 contact hours which is under my allotment so I am used for relief lessons nearly every week. Is there a way to be as passionate about education in a system that is designed this way? …I’m looking for it.

The Nine Year Itch

Part of me does wonder how much this loss of passion is part of a natural career ebb. Perhaps this post-modern feeling of self-reflexive understanding – it is just a job – is completely unremarkable. Perhaps this is just career maturation as I learn to be more selective about where I apply my energy. Perhaps this is a process we all go through to some extent. Perhaps…but isn’t is a shame that there are clear external factors that suppress my sustained passion for teaching?

From NZ to London: Teaching Agencies

Agency Teachers

This kind of question is thrown around all the time and one I struggle to answer without an extended story. My experience of teaching agencies in London has been mixed. I hope this post can help at least one person to make more informed decisions. Furthermore, I’m not putting my experience out there to rag on particular agencies that I had negative experiences with. This is not a name and shame post – anyone who wants more information can DM me on twitter. However, I know if I had done more research and if I had read a story like this one, there are mistakes I would have avoided for sure. Bullet point advice at the bottom of the post.

Agency One

I came to London with one agency organised months in advanced and was spun a convincing story that they would be able to get me a permanent placement before I arrived. As D-day drew nearer I became increasingly concerned that no viable schools were on the table. The closest we got was a school in Canvey Island which is a 2 hour commute from central London. I was expecting to get at least a Skype interview before arriving in London, however, the only interview that eventuated from this agency was scheduled for two weeks into term with no work prospects before then. My response was to search for jobs myself and send them to this agencies saying ‘what about these?’ One of those turned into trial and a job offer. But after experiencing that school I turned it down for a range of reasons. It wasn’t right for me. The job interview that eventually came around was promising, but I wasn’t offered that position because I didn’t have enough UK experience. No further job interviews or opportunities came up before I left the agency a couple of weeks later.

I found this agency lacked relationships with London Secondary Schools. While I often want to support the little player – a agency without connections is not much use in this market. I found that their consultants to be inexperienced in education and were poor communicators. Furthermore, their lack of transparency around pay lead to massive complications and they were responsible for losing my DBS certificate which became vital later on down the line (and actually lost me a few days of work). It took four months to be paid for the two weeks of work I did with them. Throughout that time there was countless emails and answerphone messages. It took contacting the CEO to have the matter resolved and get the pay sent to me. I am still trying to get a pay receipt for that sum for tax purposes so the nightmare is still not over.

My next move was to sign up with multiple agencies. I contacted six over a weekend and started back to back meetings on Monday. By Tuesday I had signed up to three more agencies and the race was on.

Agency Two – ANZUK

I had a really positive experience with ANZUK. Their specialty is day-to-day supply and short term teaching placements for largely inexperienced teachers from Australia and NZ. I starting working for them only a day after our first face-to-face meeting (they fast-tracked my clearance) and their systems for on the day supply are exceptional. The communication is clear and they are connected to a large range of quality schools around London. They also host a range of events and this can be a great way of connecting with people in a similar situation. I did several one-off days at various schools with them and one four week placement. It wasn’t 100% positive: they did unprofessionally promote an umbrella company on me (more on this later), and I found the quality of their professional development fairly poor. It’s worth mentioning that this is the type of experience one can have when supply teaching, but I think there’s a lot to learn from this too.

Agency Three – SMART Teachers

I also signed up with SMART Teachers. Of all the introductory meetings and interviews with agencies I had, I was most impressed with Kayleigh from SMART teachers, she got me and my experience straight away and listened to me in a way that made me feel valued. I’m disappointed that I didn’t end up working with a school via this agency. They didn’t win the race, but I would have no hesitation in recommending this agency.

Agency Four

The last agency I signed up with ended up winning the race. They were connected to a school with a position that was a superb fit for me. I did a trial day, which quickly evolved into an interview and it was a done deal very quickly.

My first impressions of this agency were really strong. It was great at establishing a relationship that was personable and friendly. However, these first impressions didn’t last and things quickly fell apart. As the process went on, I felt increasingly uncomfortable about things I was told that turned out to be…shall we say…a stretch of the truth. The worst interactions came between the job offer and my acceptance of the job. Even though I owned the decision in the end and said yes on my terms, I still felt manipulated. Disappointingly, it was several months after I had started the job when the conditions of my acceptance actually all came through (this included salary, start date, and subjects I had agreed to teach). I am certain the agency is more at fault for this than the school. The money situation was the worst, as I was put in the uncomfortable position of being between what the school thought they had agreed to, and what I had agreed with the agency. We came to the right resolution, but I should never have been in that position. Finally, I found out from my HR department that they are one of the most expensive agencies the school has ever hired from. I did not feel good about this.

I would absolutely not recommend this agency as they also ended up owning me money that took over two months to settle. The kicker was after I sent my last polite email confirming that the money had arrived, the reply that came was:

Pleasure, the least I could do!

In Summary…

  • Sign up to multiple agencies. At least three. Each will have different contacts and relationships with different schools; it will maximise your chances of getting in the right school for you.
  • If possible, request a day of relief as an interview. It’s a much better way of getting a feel for a school and it offers the school a way of getting a feel for you. A trial lesson is fine, but it suits the school more than it suits you so keep that in mind.
  • On a related note, I never got my head around how to read a school from the outside. Some of the worst days teaching were at schools with the best online appearance. The only effective way of judging a school I found was spending a day on the ground.
  • Get your head around Umbrella Companies as soon as possible. It will come up. I believe that when you weigh it up, the benefits are largely the agencies, and you will be worse off. I felt forced into an umbrella company contract and had I been informed I would have not gone down this road.
  • Use email as much as possible and have all promises and agreements from the agencies in writing.

Black Box Thinking – Reframing Failure & Success

51H9Pp5odlL.jpg I found this gem of a European summer read at a book exchange in Berlin. Despite the front cover endorsement by the Daily Mail it turned out to be full of valuable ideas and engaging stories. Matthew Syed‘s intention here is to challenge traditional ways of viewing success and failure. I found plenty of connections throughout the book with education and came away with a valuable reminder of the importance of holding one’s ideas lightly.

One of the central comparisons that threaded through the book was the different approaches to failure in medicine and aviation. The former is structured to reframe – and thus ignore – mistakes and the latter uses failures to develop, redesign and progress. Syed argues that viewing failure as profoundly negative and something to be ashamed of prevents us from high levels of performance; “progress in most human activities depends, in large part, on our willingness to learn from failure” (94).

The word ‘failure’ has a stigma for me. I find it blunt and abrasive; rarely do I find use for it. In education, what constitutes a failure is still a learning opportunity. However, Syed warns of danger of protecting ideas from the possibility of failure (120). Part of that is perhaps hiding from the lack of success by searching for evidence of some success. In a classroom something might work for a minority, but it has failed for most of the class. How often does that small slice of success stop me from making genuine change and progress?

Syed also highlighted the impact of cognitive dissonance. When one is challenged for being wrong, our instinct is usually to justify ourselves to protect our self esteem, which involves filtering out evidence which contradicts our position. The book uses several examples to show how the higher one’s position of power or responsibility, the more cognitive dissonance is likely to influence decision making. A truly worrying finding that reminds me of Karen Spencer’s uLearn16 keynote, where she persuasively argued for the importance of holding your ideas lightly.

Explicit links to education where addressed in small passages that drew of Dweck’s work on the growth mindset. There was also some examples given of schools that had set up systems to celebrate failure. In part this is to address the vulnerability of high achieving students who are terrified of risk taking. As Wimbledon High School‘s head teacher put it: “we dare [the students] to fail” (287). I would be interested in reading Syed’s book devoted to analysing the education system. His perspective was a good challenge to my assumptions and a reminder of some important values.

Back to the Chalkboard: Behaviour Management

In the past few weeks I have read a lot about behaviour management. As an experienced teacher in my 9th year of teaching I have become aware that I have coasted on strong relationships when it comes to behaviour management but now I have a real need to understand more about the science to be able to run an effective classroom. This blogpost is a summary of some of the key things I am now trying to embed in my practice.

The Right to Learn

This is a new way for me of framing the idea of rules. The idea of rules is stigmatising and distracting from effective teaching. From the Cult of Pedagogy, I discovered Michael Linsin, the founder of Smart Classroom Management, who framed rules as the following:

Rules protect the students right to learn and they protect the teacher’s right to teach

Co-constructing rules from a shared understanding of why they are needed changes the dynamic in the classroom. The primary purpose of being in the classroom is to learn and that needs to be understood by all for it to be an effective space for learning. I’ve found the assumption that the majority of students in London understand this underlying principle is not true – explicitly addressing ‘why are we here?’ is necessary.

Modelling Behaviour

Albert Bandura is a key contributor to the idea of Social Learning Theory which explores the idea that behaviour is a learning concept coming out of observation and imitating others. As a theory this is persuasive for me as it has made me consider how many opportunities there are for observational behavioural learning in contexts where poor behaviour is so frequent that it is almost always visible. Where is the opportunity to build and learn about self-efficacy in this system?

Linsin also has a solution for this and talks about modelling the expected behaviour in explicit detail. “You may bring a desk or a table up in front of your classroom, sit down, and pretend to be a student. You may have other students acting as models also. Show students how you expect them to behave while you’re giving instruction, and then how you expect them to behave when they’re doing independent work.” It’s important that the students see themselves in this activity, practice following the expectations and understand what not following these instructions does to the learning of the class. This process of modeling is outlined in this blogpost and this image:

Economy of Language

Something I think I’m guilty of is increasing the complexity of a instruction of explanation when it isn’t understood the first time. Doug Lemov in his book Teach Like a Champion talks about the economy of language: the fewer words you use, the clearer your message. The messages need to be direct, clear, and concise in order to maximise the response from the class. It’s one of those areas of teaching which can always be on the area for development list.

It’s the Teacher’s Fault

This is a hard one. I’ve carried a lot home over the past three months. I’ve undertaken some deep soul searching and experienced some dark moments. It’s because I reflect – I’ve been trained to reflect, to always gaze into my own actions. I process, and I believe it when I hear Linsin say the following:

When your students are, all of them or most of them, when they’re not doing something that you’ve previously taught them how to do, whether it’s talking or entering the classroom, and they don’t do it well, even though the students are responsible for their behaviour, when that happens, most of the class is not doing what you ask, it’s on you. It’s about you.

On top of this, it is hard not to be swept up by the media tornado looking to reposition teachers and the education system wherever it will sell more papers.

But then there is cognitive dissonance because I also know that I shouldn’t care when students’ misbehave. I know I am not responsible for the choices my students make. I know this. But when I am on the supply chain or teaching in a new school, applying consistent consequences is hard. Navigating the tension between owning the situation and letting go is tough.  But to be effective – it has to be done.

Supply Teaching: A Lesson in Real Time

The following takes place between 12.01pm and 1.09pm


No names have been used and while I don’t identify the school this lesson happened at, there are several schools in London where the experiences I had were similar. 

12.01 – I arrive to period four, Year 8 Geography, after a short commute. I’m lucky today because arriving before the students is an uncommon but handy advantage. The teacher’s desk is a nightmare to navigate and no obvious cover work is visible so I’m back to the door to greet the early birds. It may be a relief lesson, but it is still all about relationships. Most walk past without acknowledging my greeting and the ones that do have a smile on their face which isn’t warm; it’s the smile of a hungry hyena that has just spotted dinner.

12.03 – I’m still looking for the coverwork and now I have a sensible student with me who is either helpful or using the opportunity to scout the teacher’s desk in detail. The room is filling up fast and the noise level is reaching migraine-inducing levels. I have learnt not to try and compete with this initial roar – without any established authority, shouting won’t get me far at all. Instead I wait for things to settle to address the behaviour.

12.05 – A teacher aide walks in and our eyes meet. We worked together earlier in another class. In that instance their eyes were welcoming – this time their eyes spell out fear.

12.06 – On the teacher’s desk I finally find a planner. In the box for the current period are two words “Bangladesh Floods”. Earlier I moved aside a worksheet that I remember reading Bangladesh on it – bingo.

12.07 – I haven’t been able to look for the cover all this time because of the need to resolve behaviour issues that have been happening around me. Throwing paper towards the bin, using white board pens to draw graffiti on the board, and moving the furniture around to facilitate gossip is just a small sign of things to come. Now my focus is on turning the room back into something resembling a classroom. There’s a big group in the back corner where music has started to play and a desk has just fallen over. “Make your way to your desks thanks” I state calmly but there’s a hint of futility that I’m not sure I’m successfully hiding. “Where you from sir?” and “Are you Australian?” are the familiar questions that fly back from students who have just heard my voice.

12.09 – It turns out many of these students aren’t even in this class. They leave in a way that ensures every knows they are leaving. I’m still convinced that there are more people in the room than desks, but at least now most people are behind one.

12.10 – I stand in front of the class and ask with a loud voice, but without shouting, for silence. No one beyond a one meter radius takes any notice, and it’s likely they haven’t heard me. I repeat my expectations, another couple of times and slowly the ripple of awareness moves through the class. I start the countdown from five, pausing between each number to reiterate the expectations using consistent instructions. Now the response is pure defiance. They just don’t care.

12.11 – “Shout at them sir” comes the advice from the front row. I have only shouted at a class twice. Once in my first year of teaching where a group of boys were imitating a classmate who had Global Development Delay and I actually lost it. The second time was in my first week of teaching in London when emotions, exhaustion and frustration reached tipping point. I’m not proud of either moment. I refuse to intimidate students into compliance.

12.12 – The teacher aide is targeting individuals, getting them to notice me at the front by turning around or quieten down. I’m focusing on individuals too, using non-verbal gestures to reinforce expectations and trying another countdown. At this point something needs to happen, but I don’t feel like I have enough respect to be able to take any significant action. To be fair some students in the room want to do the right thing, but they are largely yelling “shut up” at the defiant people and just making the situation worse. I feel helpless.

12.13 – Having heard the noise down the corridor, the Head of Department now enters and the change in the air is palpable like the room has frozen over. The senior teacher manages to achieve virtually perfect behaviour while not acknowledging anything that has passed before it. When another teacher enters a riot that I’m supervising I always feel a sense of shame. Are they judging me for not having a functional class in front of me? What is it that I’m doing wrong?

12.14 – The subject leader has the students immediately get back into their seating plan and at a glance has deciphered the relief instructions. He picks a student to come forward to explain “cause and effect” a necessary concept for the worksheet. He pretends to whack the student and then defines the concept with some excellent hands up input. The selected student at the front jumps on board and falls to the ground more dramatically than the death of Nick Bottom’s Pryamus. The teacher says “I sure know how to pick them”. I just managed to stifle the laugh.

12.17 – When he leaves the next part of the lesson is the most calm, work focused, section of the lesson. It almost lasts 30 seconds. A student then busts out a song that I don’t recognise and they are off again. I pace the room refocusing the students on the task in front of them. Many complain they don’t know what to do and I find myself repeating the instructions over and over again one on one with students increasingly briefly as it almost becomes a game to them.

12.21 – The class is still madness. I ask a student sitting at the front who I haven’t seen say anything to go to the office and ask for ‘on call’. He’s confused. I repeat the sentence but he is still unsure. I suspect he’s just nervous about getting out of his seat which would enhance the chances of being hit by any of the objects that are now being thrown across the class. The student sitting next to him instead braves the journey and heads out the door.

12.24 – On call arrives. The class is frozen again. I have a quiet word next to the newly arrived teacher and describe the classroom as a “zoo”. I ask her to stay for a few minutes and take anyone who acts up away. She doesn’t say anything directly to me which doubles my shame, but instead begins to scold the class about their behaviour and signs off by telling the class that she is just across the hall before marching out. Previously I’ve had on call turn up and drag me out of the class to tell me how I should be controlling the kids. So maybe I should just be grateful.

12.28 – It’s settled for a while again but now of the 32 students in the class at least half of them ask to go to the toilet. It is a game. Many of the students attempt ostentatious performances to try and convince me of how desperate they are. The student who demonstrated the effect in cause and effect is on the floor again. I target him for extraction but the response to “stand up, take your things and stand outside” is to debate the fairness of this when other students are doing x, y and z (and he’s right). The packing up his things is now the show that everyone needs to see and he starts ranting to his captive audience about how I have “come at him” and this is completely unfair. He chooses colourful language and slang I don’t recognise. The on call teacher is back in the hallway and suddenly leaving the room goes a lot faster. One down.

12.32 – Now a student has got my attention for feeling sick. I really don’t know how to address this effectively. My useful response is ask them to do a couple of simple things and then tell me again if they still feel sick in 10 minutes – most students don’t ask a second time. This situation feels different and the student is making a good case. I scribble them a quick note and send them off to medical.

12.35 – A group of students notice that my stubble is a little bit ginger the students discuss this among themselves unmoved by how much I can hear. The group’s dialogue is interrupted by a boy who directs a related question at me: “Are your pubes ginga too sir?” Eyes everywhere immediately widen. It’s a comment that in this context I have no instant response to. Everyone nearby is watching how I react; the student who said it is looking forward to my response, knowing that they’ve been successful in testing me and having no regard for any consequence that might follow. After a long pause I’m stumped. I feel completely useless. If I attempt to sanction now I’m not going to get it right so all I can do is defer. I know I haven’t dealt with this properly and the shame intensifies.

12.37 – Meanwhile, the toilet traveller has returned which I become aware of because of a commotion around their seat. The student has sat down in their chair and is now stuck thanks to a gluestick. The aftermath brings the on call teacher and the head of faculty back into the room. They are standing at the door and calming pointing out students who then leave the class including, to my relief, the student who was interested in my pubes. The student stuck on the chair is next to be withdrawn; they attempt to bring their chair but are promptly told to leave it and suddenly it doesn’t seem to be stuck at all. The performance is over. Six down.

12.41 – The settling is more sustained this time with the primary instigators gone, but others quickly self-promote. A student who is out of their seat gets told by me sternly to sit back down. They tell me: “Sir, I’m dealing with a problem”. I reply bluntly “So am I”, which is received with cheers from the class. Maybe this earns me a little respect, but it also costs me a noisier classroom.

12.45 – Three quarters through the lesson I have my third learning conversation where I am actually beside a student and help to develop their understanding of cause and effect through some simple deduction questioning. To do that I have to deliberately ignore behaviour that I should be addressing. The teacher aide is on the same page and circulating as well. I’m addressing students who want to refill their water bottles, desperately need hay-fever medication or claim to be experiencing claustrophobia. And I still haven’t even attempted the roll.

12.55 – I’m surviving. The light is at the end of the tunnel. Time is moving slowly because I’m constantly checking the clock, but the end of the lesson is near. I’ve managed as many learning conversations in the last 10 minutes than I had in the first 45 minutes. Is this the sign of a successful supply lesson? What measures success? That the lesson ends and nothing has caught fire?

12.57 – Instruction are given to pack up, even though most students are already well on their way. I follow this up by asking students to stand behind your desks and wait for dismissal. Most start wandering again and some go for the door. I am now a physical barrier to them leaving the class. There are two students that have no issue with invading my personal space despite earlier being told to move away from theirs.

12.59 – “You will not be dismissed until you are waiting silently behind your desks”. Many students forget where their desks were and end up being as close to the door as possible. It’s a long process and yet another battle but eventually they go back. The bell goes for lunch so I point to students that have largely been cooperative and indicate that they may leave. Many others attempt to follow and again I find myself acting as a physical barrier in front of the doorway. The incentive is leaving, the consequence is not. It’s so clear. But for the remaining students the game is too tempting.

1.03 – I could give up and just let the remaining 10 students go, but I stubbornly believe in following through. I am thinking that in an hour of defeat, it’s important to finish this lesson with a victory. Outside the classroom a group has formed like it is the arrival gate at Heathrow. Their presence in the window just encourages the defiance of those who are left. They plead and whine. I repeat the expectations. They argue and debate. I repeat the expectations.

1.06 – The last students are dismissed. On the way out the door is slammed and a huge bang follows, maybe some kicking in the nearby lockers. I don’t look to find out. I feel exhausted, drained and shamed. The teacher aide has already left, but their warm smile as he left is encouraging. Earlier in the lesson he told me quietly that things were normally like this. I suspect he is lying, but maybe it’s not too far from the truth.

1.09 – Walking to the staffroom – not feeling entirely safe – it’s not the personal toll that I’m processing; I’m thinking about education and the system I’ve found myself in. I know I made several poor decisions in this lesson, but I didn’t get it so wrong that what happened was inevitable. I could have done many things differently, but so could the teacher that left the cover work, and so could the teachers that came into the room during the lesson, and so could the people responsible for making the arrangements for the supply teachers who come into the school fresh each day, and so could the senior leadership team who lead in the culture of the school. Are these students really getting a fair chance?