A Day in the Life of a Secondary School Teacher – Alice’s Story

About the Author

Alice Livingstone is a secondary school teacher of English and head of Kielburger (soon to be Rashford) house at Bristol Brunel Academy (BBA)

Reading Time: 5 mins

Starting the Day

My day begins at 7am when I get in the car to head to school. A short 15-minute drive and I arrive at the Bristol Brunel Academy building:  this gives me around an hour to go over my lessons for the day, make sure my resources are printed and sort out some admin that has piled up. These are often Education Health Care Plan reviews or feedback requests. 

Students filter into the building from 8:20am and our first lesson of the day begins at 8:40am. One of the brilliant things about teaching English at a secondary academy is how much my day varies. I teach one class in every year group, so most days I teach at least three different schemes of learning.

On some days I have consecutive doubles – two periods of year 10 followed by two periods with year 11 and finally two periods of year 8. On others I teach several single 50-minute lessons.  

Whilst the marking workload of teaching English can often feel insurmountable, it is made up for by the conversations I get to have with students in class. Due to the variety of texts we teach, my day could begin with Blood Brothers and a debate about social class and inequality, followed by an analysis of patriotism and duty in poetry, finishing with a discussion on whether Eddie deserves sympathy in A View From The Bridge. Discussing the central threads of literature (love, power, control, identity) and being able to listen to our students articulate their feelings and observations is a privilege. 

Break time comes at 10:20am and is short but sweet. As a department, our timetables are often aligned with each other, meaning on days when you have taught a double Key Stage 4 class (14 to 16-year-olds), most of my fellow English teachers have too.  

If I’m not caught up in the immediate need of a distressed child or a homework query, I take the opportunity to head into our work pod and discuss how other classes reacted to certain aspects. ‘Were your kids sympathetic towards Mrs Johnstone? Did your kids gasp when Macduff beheads Macbeth?’. Comparing notes on the reception of texts and work produced is an extremely valuable way of improving my own craft as a teacher. 

Catching up with Students at Lunch

Lunchtime at BBA is 30 minutes – blink and you’ll miss it! Twice a week I do lunch duty on the back playground. Whilst this can be a daunting task, it is also a good time to catch up with students. Supporting students is the best and most challenging part of being a secondary teacher. Being able to build a relationship with our kids, listen to their opinions and discuss their days is lovely. However, that also comes hand in hand with sometimes being their only trusted adult and their lives are often complicated and painful. More often than not, I go home in the evening and worry about the girl who came and cried at lunchtime or the boy who is having a tough time at home. I sit and fret about what they are doing and how we can make it better for them and the honest truth is, often we cannot. 

After six periods of teaching, we have 30 minutes of tutor time. As I am a Head of House, I do not have a tutor group, so I spend this time enacting my house duties. This ranges from delivering assemblies, visiting tutor groups across the school as they complete our planned Spiritual, Moral, Social and Cultural development curriculum, or speaking to individual students for a check-in. Recently we have been working on rebranding  our house system to be more relevant and representative of our school community, so a lot of my tutor time tasks have involved meeting with our student council to facilitate our rebrand. 

When the formal school day is over, I have some directed time commitments each week – this is ‘period 7’ for year 11 and Subject development meetings. As is often the way, it soon gets to 4pm and you realise you haven’t actually made it to the bathroom yet that day, or eaten your lunch. This is the time to sit in our work pod, mark that set of books and plan the lessons for the rest of the week.  

At BBA we work collaboratively, and this is often a wonderful part of my day, sitting with my colleagues, discussing texts and how best to deliver them. Laughing at often bizarre creative writing and getting advice from my more seasoned colleagues. After all, the people you work with end up being the people you spend your life with and luckily for me, mine are marvellous. 

Finishing for the Day

I usually get out of school at about 6pm. I rarely work at home, save for the unavoidable evil of exam-marking periods. However, it is impossible not to take some of it home with you. In the quiet solitude of my car, I run through the day. Did I remember to return her marked essay? Could I have been more sympathetic? Did Year 7 really grasp the concept of reconciliation? It is hard not to second guess yourself when so much of your day is made up by little decisions you have had to make on the spot.  

On a Friday, a group of us will often congregate in our staff room or after school to discuss the trials and tribulations of the week. Whilst I sometimes end the week exhausted, with essays still to mark on Sunday, and having incurred the wrath of a frustrated 14-year-old (occupational hazard), I always end the week knowing I love my job.  

I was out for dinner with some non-teaching private sector friends a few weeks back and one of them said “nobody actually enjoys their job though, do they?” and I had the smug privilege of knowing I do.