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?

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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.

The Solo Traveler Sitting In Your Classroom

Since mid-February I have been travelling through Vietnam and China on my way to make a new home in London. For most of Vietnam I had travel companions, for most of China I have been a solo traveler. By myself I’ve felt like the outsider at times, being the only European and English speaker in many situations. Particularly in China I’ve been in environments that by their very design exclude me from particpating.

While I’ve enjoyed the extended break, I’ve been missing the classroom and pedagogy has never to too far from my mind. Traveling and education are much the same in how they are both about journeys. Traveling from the south of vietnam to the north of China could be a metaphor for a student’s journey through school: its about making sense of new environments, gaining knowledge, achieving success. There is also the challenge of maintaining your own identity and agency in the face of systems that tend to favour homogeneity.

An important part of my identity is that I am gay. It has been a struggle at times to have that part of my identity validated on this trip. Buying clothes, most shop assistants will attempt to sell me something for my girlfriend; arranged marriages with local girls have been proposed more than once after locals discover I am traveling alone. In Vietnam, I spent some time in Yen Duc Village a couple of hours from Hanoi. At my homestay I had to give up trying to explain I had a male partner. At first I was laughed at, then later I was reasoned with – my homestay mother explaining through a translator that if I only held other boys’ hands then it would be ok. This might not be homophobia, but more of a cultural clash where my identity cannot be seen for this family in Vietnam.

More overt homophobia happened later in Chengdu, when an Australian in a food tour group delighted in telling us his ‘awful’ story about accidentally going to a Chinese gay bar. He told us he didn’t know what type of bar it was, found it was full of only men and experienced guys hitting on him. He then explained how he got out of there as quick as he could barely disguising his disgust in his reenactment. This form of homophobia pales in comparison to the young fabulous boy I saw being spat at in Shanghai. While that was disturbing to witness, the ubiquity of spitting in China makes me doubt how directed an attack that was. But then again there was no attempt to apologise.

In our classrooms, students may find our educational spaces similar to traveling in a foreign country.

How do we ensure we are validating our students’ identities? How are we ensuring that everyone feels like they belong? Are our classrooms inclusive of all the differences that our students bring? Alienation can be brought about through language barriers and cultural practices that don’t find space for difference. The challenge here isn’t for China and Vietnam to change, it is for educators to make our classrooms inclusive destinations for all our travellers. I think I’ve learnt a lot from the reminder of both what it feels like to be the outsider and the privilege of experiencing this so rarely.

A sample from a series titled ‘Jerome standing in front of things’ – in this instance a street in the Old Quarter of Hoi An, Vietnam

Digital Vs Human – Richard Watson

9781925321173My previous holiday read ‘Mobile Learning Through Digital Media Literacy‘ was a strong advocate for the integration of digitally based learning through careful application of several key principals. This book, “Digital Vs Human” by Richard Watson, is a far more cautionary tale. Watson is a futurist (interviewed here on Radio NZ) who was mentioned and recommended by Derek Wenmoth in his presentation on future trends.

The main them of the book was around the impact of automation and digitalisation: “How new technologies change the was that humans relate to one another, and ultimately, how technologies change human identity and purpose” (172). However, Watson is clear, boldly announcing in his preface “the problem we currently face is not technology, it’s humans” (xv). He encourages us to take control of the changes going on, to ask questions about purpose and impact, and evaluate ethically any technological change.

He considers the impacts of technology change on jobs, the economy and privacy, identifying that an “imbalance has emerged between work and life…individuals and community …liberty and equality…economy and the environment…physical and mental health” (16). The imbalance is leading to loss of connections and isolation of individuals. Watson implores us to stay in the driving seat, keeping creativity and empathy at the fore. Instead of blindly accepting new technology as progress, we need to ask what is it for? Who does it serve? Watson also considers the development of AI in depth. Where is the line between human and non-human? To what extent will humans “be happy to use machines in place of people and in what roles? Is there an obvious limit?” (58).

A chapter is devoted to education, but strung throughout the book is a challenge to rethink the relationship between technology and education. We live in an era “where our opinions are increasingly based on very little knowledge” where “knowledge of the fact a thing exists or is happening” is more important than knowledge itself (153). Are we over-schooling and under-educating? Are devices conditioning young minds “away from deep reflective thought”? (157). Is our tiered education system skewing our outcomes through the favouring of wealth and social status?

I think the issues discussed pre-date our current era; however, they have been exacerbated by technological change. The underlying issue, which he tackles, is the emphasis on learning to pass, or short-term knowledge. He promotes education through portfolio and people. Watson is particularly cynical about MOOCs and CoOLs which contradicts the research that people and relationships are what make the biggest difference to learning.

The final chapter of the book contains some ideas to address the themes in the book:

  • “consider the physical and digital domains as one” (240)
  • “challenge the myth that the intelligence of a large number of people online can exceed that of a single individual” (241)
  • “individuals should be granted the legal right to be forgotten…this might encourage more experimentation and act as a counterweight to conformism” (242)
  • “we must be vigilant against the threat of human extinction” (243)

Earlier in the book Watson suggests only when things are rock bottom, does humanity really truly reflect: “the threat of impeding death or disaster does focus the long lens of perspective” (93). I think the biggest takeaway from the book is the need to promote this wider perspective more often to have more ethical conversations about the progress society is making. The last six words of the book are a great question to start with:

Who do we want to be?


Watson, Richard (2016) Digital Vs Human: How We’ll Live, Love and Think in the Future. Scribe Publications: Croyden.

Wa Ako – Active Learning Stories

visionActive learning is taking place in Wa Ako at the moment. Wa ako is our regular period four slot which has enabled a diverse programme focusing on learning to learn and realising the Newlands College vision. We are building towards two days off timetable in Week Nine where a number of projects will manifest and some impressive ideas will come to life. The following magical stories were just two of the many shared today at the staff’s professional learning session, shared here with permission from the students. Last year a similar post captured student voice and here is some reflection.


Capture1

Active learning is something that more accidentally happened for me this year. I didn’t have a active learning project to begin the year with so I turned my focus into what was happening for me in 2018. Through a connection on staff I ended up emailing Steve Logan from Logan Brown and was invited in for a coffee. This led to working shifts at Logan Brown, not doing dishes, but actually preparing the food.

I’m not just on websites trying to figure out what to do next year, I’m actually out there doing it trying to figure out how to keep doing it next year. I simply started with the question: ‘What am I going to do and how am I going to do it?’ And followed through from there. The key challenge for me is not actually knowing what to do when on the job in the kitchen. But the learning for me is about asking questions and being open to advice, guidance and support so that I can develop the skills to be successful.

 – Ben Murdoch (13WG)

I am part of a group of Year 12 and 13 students have been planning a project as part of Active Learning, which involves a day of amazing Science experiments that we hope will inspire more students to develop an interest in the Sciences.

The idea began when I began to notice that there were many students that didn’t choose a Science subject as they passed through high school, or there were some students that didn’t choose to follow through with Science to Year 12 or Year 13. As I thought about it, I realized that most of these students did not leave the Sciences behind because they didn’t like it, but rather because they didn’t want to study it for the purpose of passing a test. I also noticed that the majority of students that did keep Science as a subject had a genuine desire to learn more about the Sciences.

So, I decided that there must be a way to inspire people to take an interest in the Sciences so that they can see it as more than a subject, and rather as the study of how the world works. When we were presented with the opportunity to take up a project of our choice for Active Learning, it was the perfect opportunity to do something about it. So together with some other eager Year 12 and Year 13 students (Rachel Wilson, Becka Tiongson, Shine Wu, Ruth Cabahug, Aneesa Delpachitra and Ryan Mass) we set about doing something that could make a real difference, and have an impact on the future generation. As a group we came up with the idea of involving our neighbour, Newlands Intermediate.

We plan to use the two days we have been given at the end of June, June 29th and June 30th for this ‘programme’. We have several options of how we can run these two days, and we will arrange it to suit however many classes the Intermediate would like to send to us. The plan is to have sessions which last for an hour with three stations. We aim to have a class (or 1/3 of the group) at each station for 20 minutes, and rotate through all three of the stations.

We are well on the way to making this a reality and have even begun taking steps to turn this into a business venture as well.

 – Clarice du Toit (13CO)


These are magical learning stories enabled by teachers letting go of the control and having the students led their own journeys. So many amazing things are happening around the school and the energy is so contagious. It’s very exciting times!

The Attention Industry Vs Today’s Classroom

A few weeks ago on National Radio, I caught Columbia University professor Tim Wu discussing the “Attention Industry” which he unpacks in his new book The Attention Merchants. He spoke about how our attention is a business – media companies, the
the-attention-merchantsentertainment industry, politics and just about everyone in the public sphere all want our attention. What is new for today’s society is the volume of competition and the ubiquity. There has never been so much competition for people’s attention with hundreds of things trying to grab our attention all day. As Wu point it: “It’s like we’re in a carnival non-stop all day”.

The implications of these ideas impact education. Educators too are in the attention business. We are competing for the attention of our students. When we consider the global competition for attention, can a teacher really be angry about a student who succumbs to click bait and ends up off task for a few minutes? What is the appropriate response when a student is taken away from the class discussion by a notification coming from their pocket?

I feel educators need to embrace being part of the attention business. The ubiquity of technology and the competition for attention that comes with it is part of the modern world and our students need support to navigate it. Wu says “the presence of all those technologies in our lives is driven by this business model and its appetite for more and more of our time.” Students need to be conscious consumers in this market and make autonomous decisions to contribute effectively. We have to be realistic about the world our students are navigating and make it transparent that we are also navigating it alongside them.

There’s deeper thinking to be done around the biological impact that the attention industry is having; but in the meantime, I think our focus should be nurturing agency and self-directed skillsets and focusing on the front half of the NZ curriculum.

The Power of Inquiry – Kath Murdoch

poibookI spent some time thinking about why ‘The Power of Inquiry‘ had made such a difference for my thinking above all the other literature I’ve engaged with dealing with inquiry. From about halfway through the book it became really clear that the point of difference was how holistic Kath Murdoch‘s ideas were around inquiry. Teaching through inquiry wasn’t about just about a process – it’s about a inquiry mindset that drives everything that we do; it’s a “way of being” (180). While this book appears to be more targeted at primary education, it was the idea of the inquiry mindset that I really latched onto and strongly feel is worth engaging with regardless of your sector.

The ideas in the book are really captured by the chapter headings, as titled below. For the purposes of this blogpost I’ve recorded something that each chapter triggered for me as a way of taking these ideas further in my practice.

Creating the Space: How can we design learning environments for inquiry?

I was struck by how this chapter didn’t just consider the physical environment, but also the emotional environment. I would argue these exist concurrently; design physical spaces for positive relationships. To me this means inclusive classroom spaces designed for diverse learners. The ideas of Universal Design for Learning sit nicely alongside this chapter.

Beyond Topics: What is Worth Inquiring Into?

Murdoch consider catalysts and contexts for inquiry, but also emphasises the big picture. The Newlands College vision contains the destination for our students. Any inquiry question posed can be evaluated by asking “how does this fit into the big picture?” (50). So for our Newlands College akonga we should be asking “how does your inquiry fit into our vision?”

Inviting Uncertainty: How can we grow a culture of questioning and curiosity?

The power of the question “what is this making you wonder?” really struck me (58). It’s a question that promote metacognition and allows thinking to be externalised. The process of learning becomes uncovered and questioning may indeed begin to flow. Other parts of the chapter recalled John Loughran’s ideas around questioning in What Expert Teachers Do (2010).

Finding our Way: What role can frameworks and models play in scaffolding inquiry learning?

The balance between formula and freedom was embraced here: “The challenge then is to acknowledge the way we can scaffold our planning and teaching by referring to a process without becoming overly prescriptive” (77). Essentially, I feel one needs to just get over yourself and let go. But also the notion of one lesson inquiries – deepening our understanding of the inquiry process through modeling it in one off lessons.

Assets for Life: How can inquiry nurture skills and dispositions for lifelong learning?

Drawing on Claxton’s learning power, Dweck’s work on growth mindset and Costa’s habits of mind, Murdoch makes a compelling case in this chapter for the way inquiry can prepare a student with toolkit for learning. The takeaway here is the importance of identifying the links to the skills and underlying dispositions that add value to the learning. In the Newlands College context, I believe this sounds like using the words of the vision actively to describe the learning taking place.

To each their own: why make it personal?

The idea that shone in this chapter was the power of letting go balanced with the challenge of letting go. Murdoch spoke about “holding the space” – giving the learning environment enough structure so that students can still find their way even if they find self-management difficult (124).

Staying Accountable: What does assessment look like in the inquiry classroom?

I felt like this quote summed up the entire book really:

Teacher who use inquiry-based methodologies have a firm belief in the transformative power of ownership. When students feel they are the ones ‘doing the learning’ rather than the teacher ‘doing the learning to them’ they are undoubtedly more engaged, and with engagement comes increase potential for learning (147).

Together is Better: How Can We Grow an Inquiry School?

Underlined the importance to me of not just having a vision, but having a deep and shared understanding of what that vision is. The shared aspect of that statement speaks to Murdoch’s section in this chapter on collaborative cultures which have been shown to increase student achievement (171).


Murdoch, K (2016) The Power of Inquiry. Seastar Education, Australia.