Harry Fletcher-Wood picks his best blogs of the week 18 May

Mental health, recovery and moving on

By Miss Nell

Honest, detailed blogs from new teachers often provide insightful posts: detailed description by fresh eyes can capture aspects of schools that more jaded eyes miss. This, from Miss Nell, is just such a post, an unsparing and open reflection on her struggles during her first year in the classroom. She tells how the “to-be-expected struggles and woes of any person entering their teacher training year, soon became more worrying”, describing how her sense of “what was ‘normal’ became distorted”. “By November the tears were literally every weekday morning, every breaktime/lunchtime and, particularly, every evening.” Thankfully, colleagues “rushed in to support me”; Miss Nell realised she was “by no means a ‘rubbish teacher’”, came to accept bad lessons as “simply that” and changed her lifestyle to look after herself better. Nell describes a “massively upwards journey” – she completed her training “a very happy teacher”. This frank story should perhaps be required reading, both to help new teachers set boundaries and ask for help, and for those who support trainees

The power of focusing on failure

By Adrian Farmer

Continuing the theme of seeing education through fresh eyes, Adrian Farmer invites us to view the classroom, and our goals, through an engineering approach: “Failure Mode Effects Analysis”. Engineers take a single component and identify every way it could fail, then make an assessment of the likelihood of failure. Farmer suggests that we look at a class set of targets, and, instead of asking how students will meet them, “try thinking ‘What is going to cause them to fail?’ Not understanding the format of the exam? Not knowing the changes in the spec? A change of teacher halfway through the course?” While this may seem a negative slant, and Farmer accepts some issues cannot be predicted, it does seem a good way to plan realistically: “Just think how strong our learners’ position would be if we had a handle on all the risks we could?”

Why some men pretend to work 80-hour weeks

By Erin Reid

How to deal with excessive workload? Erin Reid introduces “passers”. She notes that, while problems with workplace expectations of perfection are often seen as issues for women, men can struggle too. Studying a global consultancy, she found men who “made small, under-the-radar changes to their work that allowed them to pull back, while still ‘passing’ as the work-devoted superheroes”. For some, this was achieved by using technology and acquiring local clients; one team reached shared agreement as to what was reasonable. When other men challenged the status quo or asked for concessions, they were “marginalised and penalised, in the same ways that women who reveal work-family conflict have long been”. The kicker to this post comes in her report back to the organisation: Reid was told that “these men” – those not wholeheartedly committed to their work – were “not the sort of men they really wanted” and she was asked to “figure out how they might teach women to pass. The broader implication – that the organisation itself might alter its expectations – was lost.”

Reading and Vision

By Robert Slavin

To round off the theme, this post is dedicated to any teacher who has ever received an email that says: “X must always wear his glasses in lesson” and thought “X has glasses?” Robert Slavin has been studying the link between vision and reading in inner-city schools in Baltimore. A large proportion of students need glasses, but only 1-3 per cent have them. Since glasses are a “health” problem, however, they tend to be seen as beyond the school’s remit, so “many children are receiving very expensive remedial services, tutoring, or special education, when a $20 pair of glasses would actually solve the problem.” Slavin hints that focusing on education alone may miss a trick: “Educators naturally seek educational solutions to educational problems in high-poverty schools, reasoning that they cannot solve problems of housing, crime, unemployment, and so on. Yet there may be some non-educational interventions that they could use to improve student outcomes… Eyeglasses are not new, and they are not magic. Yet they may well be part of a solution to fundamental and persistent problems of education.”