My Morning Routine
My day starts around 7:30. This isn’t the time I arrive at school but rather the time I climb into the car: as soon as I leave the house, I’m getting into work mode.
First order of business is grab a coffee and last night’s printing. Others are doing the same, so this is a chance to say good morning. These conversations are like those in an Aaron Sorkin movie: both speakers are moving around and it ends with one person heading out of the door.
My classroom is at the far end of the building which gives me a chance to pop my head in round doors and wave a quick ‘good morning’ to anyone at their desk. This might turn into a short conversation, particularly if a teacher is thinking about maths. Despite the time pressure, I’ll always stop for these chats. I am predisposed to be helpful and often have some of the most interesting conversations at these times. I suspect it’s because people are coming to me with a question (rather than me approaching them with a thought) so they are already invested in the answer.
Once I’m in my room, I run through a list of daily jobs. These are all done with one eye on the clock. I love this part of the morning: there’s a sense of anticipation in the air. I imagine it’s how it feels getting your boots on in the locker room ahead of kick-off. At 8:45, it’s time to collect my class.
To continue my analogy, walking onto the playground is like coming out of the tunnel and onto the pitch. You’ve become someone else, a public persona. I’m projecting relaxed confidence, smiling at the parents, an expectant eyebrow raised as my class organise themselves into a line. Once they’re all in place, I bust out the big smile and catch as many eyes as I can. Any big news (birthday, injury, pet drama) is likely to come my way as we parade into class and it’s a chance to take the temperature early on. Fussing at this point is inauspicious and needs cutting out promptly. The first 15 minutes (register, check-in, early morning tasks) set the tone for the rest of the day and need managing carefully. I want everyone calm but engaged.
A hundred factors affect this (seating plan; tasks provided; choice of music; tiredness; weather; the list goes on) so, like most of teaching, it’s about having a solid plan and then being prepared to go in another direction if needs be.
Starting the Day
The period before morning break is often my favourite part of the day. The children have got their tails up and are full of energy. I split the 100 minutes before breaktime into three sections (20 minutes spelling; 20 minutes quick maths; an hour of writing) to keep everyone fresh and build up momentum for the writing lesson. I may be the mathematics lead but I have a degree in English literature and I feel like a good writing lesson has an energy, an electricity, to it that you don’t get in other lessons.
I never get tired of playing with words, crisscrossing the room as I try to explain the difference between ‘strutting’ and ‘strolling’, making my scrunched ‘je ne sais quoi’ face, throwing ideas back at the class to come back to me better.
Break (like lunchtime) means something different to teachers to what it might mean in other jobs. If I’m on duty then I’m on the playground for the duration. If I’m lucky, I might get to talk to some of the children or involve myself in a little game although it can be difficult to do this whilst keeping a proper eye on everyone. On a good day, nobody needs any first aid and there are no big fallouts. Going to the toilet and grabbing a drink when on duty are added bonuses that cannot be taken for granted.
If I’m not on break duty, then I’ll be in my classroom. You can mark a few books in 20 minutes or reply to an email. Sometimes, I’ll be working with children who have not completed work for whatever reason. This feels different depending on the context. Where a pupil has tried their best but is about to leave the lesson without the feeling of success, I genuinely don’t mind. I put the responsibility for that on myself and gladly give my time to build their skills and confidence.
The hour between break and lunch generally flies past. It is a single, solid hour of maths and each lesson follows a similar structure so that we can hit the ground running. Maths is a subject unlike others (except, perhaps, art) in that children (like adults) will self-identify as people ‘who just can’t do it’. For this reason, a large part of good maths teaching is creating an environment where all children genuinely believe that they can be successful in the subject.
Achieving this does not happen by accident: it involves a lot of responsive teaching, tailoring examples for individuals and providing the right resources to support thinking. If I’ve got it right, the whole class heads out for lunch feeling confident and ready for some fresh air.
Lunchtime – What Lunchtime?
Lunchtime is the first real chance to take a breath in the day even if I do spend almost the entire hour at my desk. I get on well with all my colleagues and would gladly spend my lunchtime chatting to them, but time is my most precious resource and I need to spend it carefully. I’ve worked in schools where staff are actively encouraged into the staffroom to socialize. This is always well-intentioned but I’ve never been convinced: unless someone is going to mark my books, plan my lessons, respond to my emails, refresh my displays, etc., then I can’t afford to spend a precious hour each day away from my desk.
The afternoon runs from 1:00 until 3:30 and is generally trickier than the morning. Pupils are more restive; you have the famous 2 o’clock slump; tiredness starts to kick in. However, this is the part of the day that most captures the essence of primary education: frictionless jumps from studying Ancient Greece to understanding atomic structure; creating batik tote bags one minute and coding a game the next. Throw in an assembly, school mile and a poem before home time and, when 3:30 comes round, everyone is very ready to go home. All except one of us does.
Home Time – But not for me!
In the same way that some people think that footballers only work for 90 minutes on a Saturday afternoon, so it is too easy for people to genuinely think that teachers finish work at half three. Teaching is the part of the job I love. It’s the thing I signed up to do and it’s the visible bit that everyone can half-remember from childhood. It’s not the whole job though and, once the children go home, much of the other work starts.
On average, three days out of the week hold a meeting of some sort (staff meeting; SLT; something else, generally at federation level) which will run on till past five o’clock. Once these are completed, I can start to think about the other daily tasks (prepare tomorrow’s resources; back a board; reply to emails) which must be done. The gradual rethinking of effective feedback means that, thankfully, ‘marking’ is not the mammoth task it once was but there is still work to do at the end of each day.
The school is locked up at six o’clock and it’s not unusual to be chased out of the building, alongside my colleagues, by the rattling of keys.
I very rarely take class-based work home with me. With everything that needs doing in a day, however, it is difficult to find time for anything connected to my other roles. Not until I am home can I really begin to read those articles, write that NCETM action plan, prepare that staff training session. I’m lucky that I genuinely love teaching and willingly spend my own time engaging with people online and reading educational literature. The other side of this equation is that I can find it hard to switch off and only ever come out of work mode fully in the holidays. I suspect I’m not the only teacher for whom this is true.
Once I’ve switched off (nominally at least), the rest of the evening is my own. I can give my whole attention to my daughter, have a proper conversation with my wife or even – whisper it – watch the football. With a small baby in the house, this time is especially precious and, from the outside, I suppose people might wonder why I do it.
It’s a good question and one that makes me smile: you either get it or you don’t. Teaching isn’t for everyone but, if you let it, it can be the best job in the world.
To borrow a phrase that has kept me going more than once: I’m not saying it’s going to be easy; I’m saying it’s going to be worth it.