The Strike Diaries: a week in the life of a trainee teacher
“Pupils refusing discipline has been a consistent problem this school year.”
As the UK’s public service industries continue their industrial action for better pay and working conditions, THE FACE asked young people in each sector to keep accounts of their typical working weeks. These are the realities behind their picket-line demands. First up: the view from the classroom.
Aaron is a secondary school history teacher in Goldthorpe, South Yorkshire. He’s been teaching since the start of this academic year and, as a Teach First trainee (the UK’s largest teacher and leadership training programme for graduates), the 22-year-old is contracted to work 32.5 hours per week. That means teaching for 14 to 15 hours with the additional time allocated for lesson-planning and training. A member of National Educational Union, he took part in the nationwide strikes on 1st and 28th February, and 15th and 16th March 2023, and also plans to take part in the upcoming days-of-action on 27th April and 2nd May. The NEU and other striking teaching unions are demanding a fully funded, above-inflation pay rise for teachers and support staff, and effective action on pay for supply and other educators. As it stands, they say that pay has fallen by as much as 23 per cent between 2010 and 2022.
This week, Aaron worked 50 hours, with those extra 17.5 hours undertaken as unpaid overtime.
I arrived at school at 8am, after commuting on the 7:15 train. I had to scour to find the equipment to use – we are running out of whiteboards, pens and equipment mats. Today was the first day back after the Easter break, which is always a challenge. One of the big external pressures we face is trying to improve attendance and behaviour to create a disruption-free environment. This is extremely difficult now with high staff shortages and short term cover. We lost five staff members at the end of half-term, some due to [what they felt was] a lack of respect, [others due to] being overworked and not receiving pay increases after appraisals.
I then had three lessons back-to-back, thankfully in the same classroom. After teaching, I went to my history after school club, for which I make resources on the weekends. This finished at 4pm. Then I had to print, collate and guillotine the resources for my next day’s four lessons – [the school’s] printers were being replaced over half-term so no one could plan in advance. I didn’t leave the school building until 5:30, although I stop being paid at 3:15.
When I got home at 6:30, I had dinner and did lesson-planning and department homework quiz-planning from 7:30 to 9:30.
Four lessons, back-to-back. They went smoothly, but it is a real struggle to run from classroom to classroom, especially when the equipment is not there to teach properly. I had one free lesson at 2pm, when I sat down for the first time and ate my lunch for 15 mins. From 3:15 to 4:30 we had our weekly staff briefing and department time. We’re currently trying to cut down the KS3 curriculum due to the amount of catch-up needed after two years of Covid. We are yet to finish a module this year on schedule.
After this, I planned more department homework quizzes, printed and collated my lesson for the next day, and checked the equipment for the classroom I was in the next day. I got home at 6:30, then planned two lessons and checked new pupil support plans for a recently diagnosed SEND (Special Educational Needs and Disabilities) pupil until 10:00.
Today was one of the days I have my PPA (planning, preparation and assessment) time. This is protected and means I cannot be used to cover [other classes in that period]. I also taught Year 8 and Year 9 today, and was able to use the time in-between lessons to plan sufficiently for my lessons next week, and to cover work I need to set and create.
Due to staff shortages again, there was lots of cover today. This meant having to go into cover lessons to deal with behaviour issues, as pupils do not have sufficient cover work. I also had break duty today, which was 15 mins, so I wasn’t able to grab a coffee or tea.
But today was more efficient: I was able to leave on time for only the sixth time this year. When I got home, I did some university catch-up with an online seminar I missed due to a Year 8 parents evening. Then I watched a masterclass video set up for my Teach First course and began to write my 8500 word essay, due this Monday.
I prepared next week’s cover work and spoke to a colleague about a team teaching class. I had break duty again, which was spent dealing with pupils refusing to go to the reset base (a room for reflection before pupils return to lessons after receiving a detention) and walking around the department. Pupils refusing discipline, and parents not being able to (or refusing to) pick up suspended pupils, has been a consistent problem this school year.
I taught two lessons for Year 8 and 9. Thankfully, I was able to teach with very low-level disruption, despite some pupils who were truanting [from their own classes] and disrupting other lessons. Then, after my day of teaching, I printed, collated and guillotined my resources and set up the room for the next day. I then had CPD (Continuing Professional Development) training for Early Career Teachers and Initial Trainee Teachers. The training can be a useful stress-relief to discuss issues and strategies with early career teachers, who make up 13 per cent of our teaching staff.
I had to run for the train as I left school at 4:15 – if I missed the train at 4:30, I would have been in the building until 17:15. I was very drained when I got home, but I had to continue to plan and work on my essay throughout the evening from 7:30 to 10:30.
On the commute into school I felt the stress and tiredness of the week catching up with me. In my first lesson, I taught a Year 7 class. It was successful and enjoyable, and I was then able to use one of my protected PPA sessions to focus and prepare resources for Monday’s teaching.
However, I’ve developed a sore throat and a cough that’s weakened my voice. This has been a common occurrence across the school year. But due to the massive inconvenience that being off sick causes for creating, setting and trying to scramble to make cover work, we tend to come into school regardless.
After a Year 9 lesson, I had a very quick lunch and a one-hour meeting with my subject development lead, analysing and going over feedback from a lesson observation. My last session of the day was teacher training time, and I continued to work on my essay and left work at 3:30.
I was able to quickly go to Manchester to see my friends and my brother, but got the train back at midnight to continue work on my essay, which was due on Monday.
By the end of the week I was exhausted.
Why I'm striking:
I have always wanted to be a teacher, since I was around 15-years-old. I had some fantastic teachers in school. They tried their hardest to make me believe in my abilities, and that I could work to reach my goals and be the best version of myself. I want to help as many pupils as possible reach their full potential. I believe there are barriers and deficits that some pupils will have to overcome. This cannot just be done through hard work, but with the help of teachers who believe and want to make them good, happy, tolerant and hopeful members of society.
But teachers are overworked and underpaid, and I think striking is an essential part of getting the decent treatment we deserve. It’s vital that the younger generation understand the power of unionisation and collective bargaining power. That’s why I’m striking as a trainee teacher.