2018: The Point I Was Trying To Make…

Every month I’m lucky enough to have an education column in the Guardian. The space is less than 700 words long, and it’s read by non-educationalists and parents as much as it’s ready by policymakers and teachers. Sometimes I manage to get my point across well. Sometimes I don’t.

This year, here is what each column was trying to say, summed up in one sentence:

1. Damian Hinds became education secretary because he went to grammar school and if May goes to an election that’s important for the optics because she still wants to bring them back.

2. If we encourage teachers to work part-time, it will actually make the teacher shortage worse.

3. There will be no more money for schools until people threaten 4-day weeks or can point to serious performance risks.

4. I understand why parents want to boycott SATs, but remember your kid needs to stay at home for 6 days to achieve it and it could affect their ability setting at secondary school.

5. Sex education hasn’t been updated since 1999 when there was barely an MP out as being gay and the world was a very different place. 

6. Academy leaders who nick off with cash give the policy a bad name and there needs to be some kind of consequence for their behaviour.

7. Oh, the government have finally updated the sex education guidance and it’s as prudish and lame as I feared.

8. If we can’t pay teachers more than at least sort out their housing and transport costs

9. Heads aren’t excluding kids to game the league tables, they’re doing it because they’ve no money to provide the services needed to include them

10. Angela Rayner would be a really great education secretary if Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell would bog off and stop making mad promises

11. No one actually knows how much we need to spend on a child to get them a solidly good education so we should probably have a go at calculating it

12. If current government policy means the rich keep doing degrees, while the poor do apprenticeships, then social progress will have taken a step back.

That’s it for 2018, folks. Here’s to 2019!

13 Teacher Gift Ideas That Are Cheap, Useful & Unusual 2018

Buying gifts for teachers is a nightmare. If you’re a parent you want to avoid replicating things. (And do they like chocolate/wine, etc?) If they’re your partner/sibling/parent/friend, you don’t want to have to deal with them judging you against some internal mark scheme they carry around.
So here are some things that teachers almost always want/need, but are still reasonably priced and make a nice change from getting yet another box of All Gold.

  1. Board Marker Pens  – about £8

Debate rages over the best brand of board pen, but Berol have been around for years and are considered one of the most enduring. You can buy a cheaper brand, or a more fierce-sounding one like Staedtler, but everyone is happy when they see the name ‘Berol’ and this particular box, for around £8, has the added bonus of not having a much-loathed yellow marker.
By the way – these are bullet tip, which is the most popular, but some teachers (especially those who teach English) prefer a chisel tip.

2. A Personalised Mug – £6

Teachers get loads of mugs, but they usually don’t mind because they go missing or get broken a lot.
Help your teacher by getting them a mug with a defining mark, like these personalised letter mugs from MYOG. Works particularly well if the teacher is called Xavier, or Yvonne.

3. Tissue Dispenser

This is not a joke. Tissues are one of the most important pieces of classroom equipment. Having them inside a fun item helps to brighten up a class, and also stops the box from going walkies into someone else’s room.

Tissue Book Box – £16

For the traditionalists, this is a way of bringing together books and dirty noses. What else do you need?

Best Tissue Box Ever – £26

Okay, you might need this tissue box too…

4. A ‘no-hands’ water bottle

Teachers can’t easily sneak away for a drink, nor can they always be supping on a big bottle of water while keeping an eye on their class. Enter: the Camelbak! Using technology designed for cyclists, you just bite on the end of the bottle and the water jets into your mouth. I used to use these while flying around for break duty or between lessons. Also, they can’t spill on anything and they’re practically indestructable. Woo!

Camelbak – £10-£40 depending on colour and size

5. Large Bag For Carrying Books – £6

One of my favourites is the ‘I’m a teacher, What’s Your Super Power’ bag
They also have a teaching assistant one, and the super teacher autograph bag. 

6. Aroma Diffuser – £10 to £20

Getting your classroom to smell nice is really important. And difficult. Plug-ins have weird chemicals in them. Pot pourri isn’t strong enough. Candles have flames. And so on.
Diffusers are the perfect compromise because they can quickly pump out nice-smelling stuff using just water and aromatherapy oils. You can change scent frequently enough that it doesn’t make the room cloying, and it overcomes the smell of Year 9 boys – woo!

Expensive & solid (I use this one) – £21

Cheap (but highly recommended on Amazon) – £12

7. Edible Insects – a great behaviour management tool

In my desk I used to keep a tin of roasted ants. When difficult kids came for detention I would whip them out and ask if they wanted one. Most said no. I’d shrug and then chomp a few. It always worked. The kids went silent. ‘Miss eats ants,’ they would tell their friends later, ‘I think she means business’.
Of course, this only works if your teacher gift-receiver will actually eat the ants. But if they’re an unfussy eater, then for a few quid you can give them the gift of silent detentions.
A bag of crunchy ants from Amazon is about £5

8. A Talking Clock – £18

Sure, you can use google and your phone and various programmes as a timer, but this talking clock has the added bonus of yelling the time at you. In countdown mode it alerts you every ten minutes, then – near the end – each minute, every ten seconds, and a final countdown.
Less useful with pupils (it gets them all riled up), it’s very useful for sticking to time when lesson planning or marking, as those can become absorbing. On the rare occasion you want to add a little urgency to a classroom task it can also be used then too.

9.  Visualiser Camera – £39

In a recent Teacher Tapp survey, a visualiser was the item people most said they would like to have in their classroom. Given they are reasonably cheap, it’s interesting that more people don’t already have them. It could be because they aren’t allowed to add their own software to a classroom, so worth checking in on this before buying it, (especially as it’s the most expensive item on here), but it’s definitely something that teachers say they want.
They are around £39 on Amazon

10. Stapleless Stapler

My mother-in-law bought one of these in Japan about a decade ago and turned my teaching organisation life around. I’m useless at remembering to buy refills for anything, but especially staples. These gizmos staple pages together without the use of any extra item. (It uses the paper itself for binding). Helpful for about a million things in school

Staples 5 sheets – £6

Staples 10 sheets – £12

11. A Paper Cutter/Guillotine – £10

As with the stapler, I don’t think any present made me happier in years than a personal paper cutter/guillotine. It came in useful for a million things: making homework notes, cutting up resources, creating A5 out of A4 for an activity, and so on.
Having to run all the way to the reprographics room is not as convenient as getting this baby out of your drawer.

12. How to Explain Absolutely Anything To Anyone – £12

This storming book from Andy Tharby is my pick of literature for teachers this Christmas. It explains the psychology, research, science and art of solidly good explanations. Great teachers know that how you explain information is key to helping children retain and use it. This book shows you how to do it.



And finally…

13. A Foot Spa! – about £30

I know foot spas were popular about ten thousand years ago when we all had 4 telly channels and nowhere to go on a Sunday, but teachers still get tired legs! A major perk of the job is that you don’t have to sit at a computer all day. A downside of that is having to stand up all darn day.
After each half-term, the first few days can be agony as creaking muscles get used to being flexed again. A warming foot spa doesn’t half help. (And you can use those aromatherapy oils from the diffuser to help you out too!)
Right, I’m off to start ordering!