‘I can’t wait for the holidays just so I can get ill’

18 12 2012

It happens at the end of every term, you work at a phenomenal rate in term time, you fight off all manner of infections, coughs, colds avoiding at all costs any physical contact with the germ harbouring children and those parents who you deem to have poor personal hygiene. However no matter what precautions and preventative measures I take I still get to the last day of school and the following morning wake up like I am an extra in the dawn of the dead, zombified and infectious until I start back at work.

It is so bloody annoying, why can’t I get sick in term time? I wish I was more like my staff who take a day off just for a tiny sniffle or for breaking a nail but for many reasons I have more commitment or perhaps it is stupidity. Sat here feeling sorry for myself makes me think of all the infections and illnesses that have been transmitted by the kids or the great unwashed parents of certain schools I have led.

The scabbing, pussing ‘impetigo’ – I got a bad case of this when I first started teaching, it meant a whole 5 days of work as I was severely contagious. Several kids in my class had it and it progressed to me, basically down to poor hygiene. After contracting this I had to talk to people in public just facing them with my left hand side as the right hand side of my face looked like I had leprosy. This was bad news as my right hand side is well known for being my best side. It wasn’t all bad, we were in the middle of a heat wave and I got to sit and sunbathe for 5 days and top up my tan. As a result of this infection I took to carrying round a small bottle of hand wash in my trouser pockets and every time a kid touched me or I shook hands with someone I immediately cleansed my self. I remember one parent one time got quite offended by this and said I have washed my hands you know, I tried to make light of it by saying just don’t want to catch anything which made the situation much worse.

The itching, sore, red raw Scabies’This turned out to be a rather embarrassing ailment, I wasn’t even aware this existed till I got it. One of the children in my class took in a stray cat that used to secretly live in the airing cupboard of his house without mum or dad knowing. Don’t ask me how they didn’t realise! Anyway the said cat was a dirty little thing and had fleas, the fleas infested the child’s bedding and then the fleas laid eggs in the child well something like that anyway. Sorry I am not a medical expert or a scientist but basically it is very contagious and the whole class got it including me and two teaching assistants. After self diagnosing once everyone else had it I was informed by several parents and the TA’s that I didn’t need to go to the doctors but straight to the chemist and ask for ‘Derbac cream’ so that is what I did. My advice was all correct and it saved me a journey to the doctors but did create an embarrassing incident. In hindsight I probably shouldn’t have gone to the local chemist where I was well known to be the local Headteacher, I also probably shouldn’t have gone in to this on the way home from school when several children and their parents were in there for various other things. Especially when I asked for the cream and the pharmacist asked a very loud clarifying question in a very quiet chemists do you have GENITAL CRABS OR JUST SCABIES? I of course replied just as loudly JUST SCABIES!

Have you finished school yet? Are you ill? Have you any funny stories regarding infections caught in school?


Just not enough hours in the day…

26 10 2012

So we nearly reach half term and I have realised in my attempts to write a weekly blog post about the life as a Headteacher at least once a week. To put it quite simply there have not been enough hours in a day to do everything that needs to be done URGENTLY and to find the time to write a blog post. I feel that I am making excuses here perhaps I am but I promise I will try harder to make sure I write one at least once a week. I was completely surprised to have even in the last 2 weeks been contacted by ‘regular readers’ of the blog to see if I was continuing. Firstly I am amazed that I have a ‘regular reader’ and secondly surprised that they took the time to contact me (they have much more time on their hands than I do). Of course to ensure I don’t alienate perhaps my only ‘regular reader’ you brighten up my day and I appreciate you taking the time to contact me and read the ranting gibberish that I write. Thank you – so just for you and for anyone else who takes the time to read this in their busy schedules I will tell you a short story of a real event that has happened to me in the last few weeks related to time.

As usual the full details of these accounts have been tweaked to hide the identity of the stupid.

This short episode is all about ‘Mrs Happiness Leech’, she is someone who works with me and has done for a long time. I have tried over the years to get rid of her but have so far failed. I thought that by highlighting appropriate jobs in the TES and leaving them on her desk every friday morning anonymously was a big enough hint. She is one of these people and they are out there every day sucking the positive energy from your body like some sort of leech or extra terrestrial. Some people call these people ‘drains’ because they drain your happiness and offload all of their emotional baggage on to you, well actually not just you everyone that they meet from the postman to their unfortunate ‘better halves’. Actually experience has shown me that they normally end up marrying a drain too just imagine what dinner is like at their house!

So anyway ‘The happiness Leech’ unfortunately managed some how to get my personal mobile number in the last fortnight (yes when I find out who gave it her, heads will roll) and so obviously I have had several late night calls. Now I am all for the pastoral role of a Headteacher, this was an even bigger demand when I was a Head in an international school it was literally like being on duty 24/7 but come on who in their right mind calls their Headteacher past 9pm on a school night just to talk. I was also slightly concerned with the ‘slurring’ of her words. Anyway safe to say I went into town yesterday and have changed my new number it was about time I upgraded to the new iphone. Now I can save time by reading other peoples blogs in the toilet at work.

Have you got a particular drain who zaps you of your energy? Come on and share in the pain!

Death by Risotto

16 09 2012

One of my pet hates when it comes to parental complaints is cooking, food technology or as it is called in some schools cuisine engagement. Whatever!

No matter what happens I always seem to have my pigeon hole, inbox or even hand delivered in person the remnants of a poorly completed family meal prepared in the students home economics lesson.

This week of course I encountered another complaint after the first round of food technology lessons. I unfortunately received the following email that very evening following the lesson. Here is the actual email more or less word for word.

“Dear Headteacher,

First of all let me congratulate you on the new toilets that you have renovated, they are much better than they used to be although I do think they could have been painted in a much more appropriate colour.

Unfortunately I am writing to you to complain regarding my daughters food technology lesson. We were very excited to hear that she would be making risotto in lesson and therefore took the opportunity to not prepare any dinner for the family this evening. I spent the whole of last weekend shopping for all the ingredients and having to pay for all of these additional ingredients. We were left angry and hungry this evening when we sat down to eat our meal to find that it wasn’t cooked properly and tasted raw in parts. I am now worried that we will all wake up ill tomorrow morning because of it. Can you please make sure that your teachers teach these things properly. This is a serious health and safety issue that has now cost us both financially and medically.”

I won’t include the last bit, it was a bit too much information. After investigating the issue with the said food teacher he informed me that the students were told to cook the risotto for the remaining 15 minutes before serving it up to their families, the student just forgot to do this part.

This parent is one of the problem parents that I face so I have decided to invite her in to talk about this as I will improve my chances of success if I can use my charm face to face. The only potential issue is that last time I met her regarding her son’s poor behaviour in Maths she spent 45 minutes telling me about all of her marital problems. Is this part of being a Headteacher? To sit and listen to the difficulties she is experiencing in her relationship? To offer advice on how to make a marriage work? I am no expert but that is one of the joys of Headship that basically in a strange way you may be the only person that she can talk to about this. So you listen and try to help and then go home worrying about the advice you have offered.

Have you had any culinary disasters at school? I would love to hear about them.

Once more unto the breach

9 09 2012

I still get nervous every year on the first day back. I am writing this now after seeing through yet another one of them, I wonder how many more I will see?

My welcome back speech and those of any Headteacher are crucial in setting the climate for the rest of the year. There was a old Headteacher I worked with when I first started out that said this was the most important part of his job and if he got this right then he could put his feet up for the rest of the year.

Most of the speech is relatively easy, as usual you talk about the school achieving the best results ever well apart from recent years. You talk about the endless maintenance work that has happened over the summer, of course there is always excuses to be made for the ICT provision, it is never ready on time and finally there is always some cock up by someone that you try to hide. My ultimate aim is to be inspiring which sometimes can be difficult especially with the diehard moaners who really don’t want to be listening to you talk at the front of the hall but would rather be watching Jeremy Kyle in their 4 day old PJ’s munching soggy cornflakes!

This years was a great one, everyone was in a positive mood despite some difficulties, it definitely will be a good year even the ICT was nearly ready at least it was by the time the kids arrived.

Is it safe to come out yet?

2 09 2012

I had an embarrassing moment this week when I bumped into one of my students in a chemist whilst holding on to a treatment I was about to buy for my fungal foot problem. I tried to hide it behind my back when I heard the ‘hello sir’ but I know they clocked the name of what I was holding as I could see them ‘googling’ it on their blackberry as they stood behind me in the queue. It is really bad timing as we go back to school in a week so it will be fresh in their mind and I will probably hear sniggers down the corridor as I approach the kids now. Although this is very embarrassing I have had worse moments like this and this tragic episode has now inspired me to write my 5th blog post! I can’t believe that this has lasted, I wonder if this will be my last one because I am back to work next week. Here are my completely true top five (in no apparent order) embarrassing ‘bumping into’ or rather ‘hiding from’ students in public moments:

1. Supermarkets – it is always when you seem to be indulging in some food fetish that a student happens to walk past you and stare in your trolley and look in horror or laugh out loud. Saying that all of these are much less embarrassing then the time I bumped into my chair of governors in Tesco’s car park whilst packing my car boot full of Stella Artois, it probably worse that it was during lunch and I was probably supposed to be on duty.

2. Hairdressers – I had the annoying time one morning when a ‘naughty’ 15 year old girl ended up sitting next to me as I was having my hair cut. It completely ruined my week. I normally enjoy chatting to my hairdresser who has cut my hair for years but all of a sudden are more private conversations about things like the school and kids couldn’t happen as one of them would be a witness to the horrible and nasty things I would say. Every time I said anything about anything this girl would giggle and look at me. I couldn’t even escape her as we were looking directly at each other in the mirror. In the end I just pretended to fall asleep.

3. Beaches – This used to happen much more when I worked abroad but there is nothing more embarrassing for you and probably even more so for the kids to bump into you on a beach as you are striding across the hot sand in your budgie smugglers. Some kids just run and literally bury their heads into the sand to avoid the embarrassment or to try and avoid being scarred for life. Although for some reason the more confident girls used to run over all excited and say ‘hi’ to me and I remember one time making the situation even worse when I responded to the ‘hi’ with ‘I didn’t recognise you with no clothes on’

4. Cinema – Whenever I can be bothered to get to the cinema, the experience is usually ruined by bumping into someone I teach or have taught. I think that is why I don’t go that often, only when I have forgotten why I don’t like it and when I get there it is too late and the misery happens all over again just like that film groundhog day. My all time low was going to watch one of those vampire movies in recent years by mistake. I actually thought it was a different film, I was by far the oldest person in their and as I was running late had to sit in one of the few empty seats which just happened to be in front of a whole row of kids from my school.

5. Airports – I have to confess that this has only happened twice over the years but that was enough. It just shows that it is a small world but one summer I had to attend a conference in Washington DC, on my return and whilst checking my baggage in I had an embarrassing moment. I was a few kilos over and they were very strict and were trying to get me to pay over £100 to take the three kilos. There was no way I would let this happen so I opened my case and offloaded some of my clothes and whatever was on top into a couple of carrier bags. When I put the case back on it was fine, I was super happy I had saved myself £100 and got one over on the airline staff! I still had a smug grin on my face as I queued to go through security the next minute I heard ‘excuse me sir’. I spun round to my shock to see a girl from year 7 standing their with her parents however what was even more shocking was that her mum was holding out a couple of pairs of my dirty pants!

Are you a teacher or work in a school? Do you often bump into your students? Please let me know your stories.

Exams are getting easier my arse!

28 08 2012

I love this time of year, after so many years of A level and GCSE exam results as a Headteacher, I have never missed one. It is one of my favourite days as a Head. I am always extremely proud of just what the students and staff have achieved and there is always a buzz on the day filled with such elation and tears. After experiencing literally hundreds (well a slight exaggeration) I feel I can claim to be an expert in this field and for this reason will state the following facts:

  1. Despite what politicians and the media would have you believe they are NOT getting easier, the poor kids who sit these exams, if anything it is much harder than when we were kids. Why doesn’t Mr Gove try sitting some now?
  2. I am less nervous on GCSE results day than A level results day for the kids, there is much more at stake, this is where most of the sobbing can take place. There is much more to do, such as being on the end of a phone call, using your previous intimate relationships you have had with university lecturers to get a student a place at their preferred university choice. Of course this is only when they have just missed out on the grades. (Any guilty university staff shall remain nameless) normal procedure is to use UCAS which is mostly not based on previous romantic encounters, well I don’t think so anyway.
  3. I am more nervous on GCSE results day than A level results day, there is much more at stake for me especially in recent years with the focus on the key performance indicators especially in a failing school. I have been lucky that over the years these have always gone well on the whole which I am eternally grateful for!
  4. There are always some kids who haven’t worked hard at all (normally lazy boys) who do better than those who really do deserve it. You see these kids thinking how is this fair? Sometimes I get really upset about this when I see the disappointment on their faces and it once again reminds me that our national assessments are set up to fail many kids especially in the 21st century. Why are we still examining and assessing like we did when we were in school is there not a more appropriate way?
  5. Occasional I get the urge to hit a parent, I am not a violent person at all in any shape of form, in fact as a child I spent a whole summer holiday in Benidorm saving flies from drowning in the swimming pool. The reason for this urge is very simple and I am sure that if you witnessed what I witness you also would resort to violence. Several times over the years I have seen an angry parent start shouting at their child in front of everyone in the main hall about how much of a disappointment they are and how crap their results are. I have to intervene and always do and always find it so difficult when dealing with it to remain professional.
  6. Sometimes I wonder whether I should stress a dress code for staff on results day, don’t get me wrong I appreciate all the staff that turn up to support the kids but just wonder if some of them have looked in a mirror the whole summer. You get the blokes who don’t look they have washed, shaved or changed their clothes, especially one teacher who always seems to own one outfit which is his work one. The kids used to tell me at the weekend they would always see him wearing the same suit he wore to school day in day out every year, I used to laugh and say I can’t believe that. They would respond by saying that it is true but there is a difference he wears a t-shirt instead of a shirt and trainers instead of shoes. I remember whilst queuing in the boxing day sales last year, I saw him exactly as the kids said – unbelievable! Don’t forget the flirty young English teacher who arrives fresh from two weeks in Ibiza with her white bits more or less on show, you can spot her by following the gaze of the slobbering Yr11 boys and their dads!
  7. Parental complaints – results days wouldn’t be the same without these. No matter what you do it is never good enough. You could support a child to get the best results they possibly ever could and some parents will still not be happy. They will be waiting to complain about the teacher, sometimes the Headteacher (oh dear!), the school resources are not good enough, there are too many exams, the school should have given out cod liver oil supplements at revision sessions and so on… I could write a book on all of these complaints! The best one though has to be last year when I wrote a press release for the local newspaper and the photographer came along on the day. The press release was the usual thing, saying this is our best results ever (maybe they are getting easier), I wrote a statement about the teachers, parents and kids, there were some quotes from kids and we singled out some of the higher achievers. There was then a lovely picture published in the paper of a large group of kids celebrating. Four days later I received a complaint by email from a Greek island somewhere from the mum of our highest achieving boy who had happened to see a copy of the article in the local rag online from her nice villa. (damn technology!) She was writing to complain that she thought as her son was the highest achieving boy then he should have also been in the picture in the newspaper. I would have loved to have him in the photograph but unfortunately he was eating dolmades somewhere with much nicer weather than we have!

If you have any facts about results days I would love to add them to this so please get in touch.

How to keep a work-life balance?

23 08 2012

Many aspiring Headteachers or senior leaders often ask me the secret to keeping a ‘healthy’ work-life balance as a Headteacher. Some are very naive or perhaps just optimistic in their mind-set where they perceive that this can be completely equal. To put it quite simply it can never be if you are to be an effective Head, the only way that would be possible was if there was six other clones of you working too.

However you do need to strike a balance otherwise very soon a young, energetic and passionate head can turn into a highly stressed, emotional wreck and much worse could lead to serious health problems. I have sadly seen this happen too many times in the past!

I enjoyed a recent comment posted by Ross McGill on work-life balance on my blog. I don’t know Ross but as an Assistant Headteacher he gave some very sound advice and I am sure with that approach he is effective at what he does. I also need to thank him as he has inspired another blog post. I want to start by publishing what Ross has said about work-life balance, basically some tips on how to have a life too!

“I can relate to this on many levels as an AHT. The danger now is, that we still can choose to ignore emails, but risk missing very important ones with deadlines and urgent tasks. These are often masked behind simple subject titles or incredibly long emails before you realise something vital must be done. On the other hand, many emails are poorly written and can often wait/or be said in person.
I know that receipt of emails are often down to the user. How many you send, how quickly you reply etc. I have battled with this scenario often to the point that – like you – it starts to affect your own well-being. I suggest simple rules:

1. Put down your laptop/phone after 7/8pm each evening.
2. Do not reply to anything after that time.
3. What cannot be dealt with urgently during the school day, is not urgent enough.
4. Make time for holidays.
5. Choose to ignore some emails.
6. Ask your PA to reply to ‘bog-standard’ emails that request mtgs or ‘all staff’ messages.”

I have many more, but then again it’s 6am during the school holidays and I should be off my phone sleeping!”

Here are some of my own words of wisdom:

“There are times when you will need to say no, so make sure you do, or delegate this to others and trust them to do it effectively. That is why it is essential to establish a culture of distributive leadership and for you to create the conditions and support for others to do this effectively and to your expectations”

“Listen to yourself and listen to others, you will know when you have had enough, it is time to go home and switch off from work. Surround yourself with support whether professional or personal good barometers who will tell you when they think you have had enough or should have a break. Then go and have a break! I exercise to do this then spend time with my family, the exercise first enables me to release any ‘stress’ then I feel refreshed and switched off to enjoy my time with the family.”

“Be organised and have a routine planned, work smart and ensure that you are having ‘me’ time. Establish a routine that works for you and your context. I have always got up early from a young age, when I get into work I am still one of the first in and so am able to do around an hour of undisturbed work. It is for that reason then I won’t work late at night or if I do I will not do more work at the weekend. You have to have the ‘life’ otherwise there is no time for you to switch off and recharge”

What do you think? Have you any tips?