I Did it Again!

Just over a year ago I made the decision to share my experiences with coming out to the pupils at my old school. You can read about it here. It was a step I had wanted to take as soon as I got into teaching (and felt comfortable with knowing what I was doing). It was the best feeling finally being able to be myself and share valuable lessons I have learnt over the years. I didn’t have to hide who I was anymore. I then left and joined a new School in September and felt like I had only made a small impact on those kids as I had left so soon. But it was pleasing to have positive comments from many pupils and staff so I know to some of them it made a difference.

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At my new school I was almost back at square one, with none of the children knowing who I really was. I guess part of that is through my own choice to a certain extent but I wanted to settle in to the school and find my feet as it was very different to what I was used to and much more challenging. Nearly a whole year has passed and of course in a new school I was being asked questions like ‘do you have a boyfriend?’ Are you married?….Etc! Anyone who knows me will know I much prefer to make a point about something so it can have a bigger impact, I like leading assemblies and trying the share my words of wisdom with more pupils rather than hearsay (well I like to think I can sometimes be wise). So last week I decided to bite the bullet and do it all again, how very fitting that it came in the week after Bristol pride. I really couldn’t care less what people think of me and I wish I had only realised that sooner in life, and thats part of the message I wanted to get across. The only people who’s opinions matter to me are those that love me and are closest to me. Frankly, I don’t need anyone else’s acceptance.

So why? It’s simple really, how can we expect children and pupils to understand how to accept themselves or each other if a teacher in this day and age doesn’t feel as though they can come out and be themselves in their workplace? What kind of message does that send? I have seen pupils struggle with it and not realise what they are going through, when I was at school I wasn’t comfortable or confident enough to feel as though I could talk to anyone. I was a closed book and then was almost made to feel like I was wrong or weird for feeling the way I did so just denied it instead. The recent Stonewall School report shows an improvement in the LGBT bullying figures in young people, which is fantastic! But there is still work to be done. Pupils need a role model, I think we forget or sometimes underestimate the affect that we can have on these kids and if there is someone brave enough to be open and willing to be a role model then maybe more people will follow suit. I wanted to share my story again because if I can help only a handful of pupils then I know it will have been worth it. I want to be someone that the pupils feel comfortable talking to, to help them cope with what I struggled with. And it has already started, I have had 2 pupils come to me and discuss their sexuality with me, and I think it’s nice for them that they can have a listening ear and just to know that how they are feeling is normal. I hope they know that teachers are there for them.

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In light of this, I also want to work with other staff and educators to make an even bigger impact. If you are a teacher and identify as LGBTQI then I urge you to come out and make a difference. It might be a scary decision, but be brave enough to share your story as I can promise you, it will be worth it and you will have a positive effect on pupils.

On the back of this, we have now decided to go one step further and register with Stonewall to become a Diversity Champion School. Our intention is to celebrate diversity and encourage acceptance for all. Not just for LGBTQI individuals but to celebrate that everyone is equal and deserves to be treated with respect. We also want to encourage the #nobystanders campaign and try and get more people to feel comfortable speaking out and standing up for others. I am sure there are some amazing things being done in schools already so I am open to sharing best practice and new ideas. So please, feel free to get involved as it will only add value to what we are trying to achieve. The Stonewall report still has some shocking comments and figures in that we need to work together to try and change and hopefully eventually eradicate. Watch this space….

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What a Difference a Year Makes!

Wow, has it really been that long since I last blogged?! I have been a busy bee and to be honest, I just haven’t made the time. So here is my pledge, I will blog a lot more in the next year.

A few things have changed for me. I travelled America, moved to Bristol, bought and have been completely renovating a new house, started a new job in a tough School, been promoted to a Level 4 referee and more recently a level 3 referee, got a puppy, joined the Crossfit community (which I love) and retired from playing football (again). As you can see, a busy year filled with lots of new experiences. I have definitely stepped outside of my comfort zone and it’s so important to do that. You never know what will happen. IMG_8078

It has been a rollercoaster full of ups and downs but I wouldn’t change any of it. I have learnt a lot and am now more confident in some aspects of my life than I have ever been. The most difficult part was starting my new job. The School I am now in is situated in a tough area of Bristol and comes with many challenges, in particular the behaviour of the kids. It took me around 3 terms to adapt and start enjoying it, there were times when I wanted to leave, I have been ill more times this year than the previous 4! But since around February half term, I have adjusted and am now very much enjoying it. The staff are extremely supportive and the department are great. There are some absolutely amazing children here who just need a bit more time and tlc. I am looking forward to starting a new year in September with some new focuses and new challenges within the academy. We are implementing a new policy for behaviour which I think has the potential to make a positive impact. I will also be hear of year which I am really looking forward to. It will come with many challenges but I will be sure to blog about them. Watch this space.

My refereeing experience in the last year has been hard work but again it’s been really rewarding! I went into the season with a really positive attitude and nothing to lose. I wanted to get promoted but at the end of the day I just wanted to do my best. As it happens I had a really successful season and have been lucky enough to become a level 3 referee (pending passing my fitness test and laws of the game test). Proving that hard work pays off. I now have another new challenge for the next year and something else to look forward to. Can’t wait for the season to start.

I blogged about the power of change  a while ago and the point I want to make is that change is good and you need to embrace it. With the correct mindset anything is possible, you just have to go out and work for it. There are times when things get hard and I have experienced that a few times this year but despite a few tough moments I have come through the other side.

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I finally did it :)

I haven’t blogged for a while as I have been pretty busy but this is something I feel I need to share. I have been a teacher for 5 and a half years. In this time I have taught hundreds of children. I became a teacher to try and make a difference to these pupils, not only educationally but also in their lives outside of school. Take away all of the crap and pressure from the government, I absolutely love my job, more than I thought I would. It gives me the opportunity to affect the education of many children and help them grow into adults. I believe developing positive relationships with them is essential, this allows them to respect you more as a teacher too. There were things I went through in school that I didn’t feel comfortable talking to anyone about, let alone teachers. So I wanted to be approachable and if there were students experiencing similar things as I did, I want them to feel they can talk about them.

Just over a year ago I did my first whole school assembly. I was extremely nervous about it and wanted to make a positive impression to the pupils. Quite often kids switch off in assemblies, I wanted to talk about things that were current and would inspire them. After the assembly I wrote a blog about it; The Assembly Bug. In this assembly, I focused on homophobia and shared the story of my sister and a friend of mine who I played football with. At the time I wanted to share my story but I lacked support of the Head and after contacting Stonewall decided it was a bad idea without it.

We now have a new head (who is an awesome guy). Two weeks ago I had an upper school assembly to year 10 and 11 pupils. I decided once again to try my luck and ask if I could share my personal struggles with coming out in school. I was ecstatic when the head agreed, he gave me full support and I left his office with a huge smile on my face. I have previously blogged about how I was bullied at school but I felt unable to be completely honest. I was worried that if pupils or parents read my blog, my secret would be out and it could affect my job. It seems ridiculous really that someone should feel they can’t be themselves in all walks of their lives because of the opinions of others.

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Theme of the week for my assembly was forgiveness. This was perfect as it fitted with my story. When I was in year 10, I told my ‘best friend’ that I had a girlfriend. She then told everyone my secret. I wasn’t ready for everyone to know and wasn’t mature enough to handle it so made the decision to deny it. In hindsight (powerful thing that), I wish I had just admitted it and been honest. I even lied to my own twin sister to start with. It would have been so much easier. However, I didn’t really know anyone else that was gay and I hadn’t been exposed to it much. It was all new and even though it was only 13 years ago, we have come a long way since then in accepting it into society. I then became ill with glandular fever which I have now linked with me not coping well with all that happened. I didn’t talk to anyone about what I was going through, possibly because I didn’t really understand what was causing it all. I really wish I had had more courage to talk about it to teachers but it is what it is, I can only learn from it and try and help others deal with it in a better way than I did, by sharing my story. The point I wanted to make to the pupils was sometimes forgiveness can set you free. I forgave the girl, myself and let it go so I could move on and accept who I was. They care so much about what other people think of them, when they let go of that, they can lose the fear of being different and just be themselves.

So I shared this story with the pupils. It was an extremely nerve racking experience as I wasn’t sure how they would react. At the end of the assembly I then showed a picture of me and my girlfriend. It was interesting to see their reaction as I didn’t actually say what the secret was when sharing the story. Some of them were shocked, others already had their suspicions.

After the assembly, it was almost like a weight was lifted off my shoulders. I could finally be who I was and more importantly, share my experiences in my teaching. I have taught many PSHE lessons about discrimination, same sex couples, gay marriage or bullying and I just wanted to share my story and opinions but I couldn’t. Now I can and I feel empowered by the experience. The feedback from all the staff and pupils has been really positive. It sparked conversations with pupils telling me how brave I was for sharing it and how they respect me more for being so honest, that it inspired them, I even had a member my tutor group hug me and tell me she was proud. They had been waiting apparently. I have even had a few girls come to me and share their stories and struggles, I think it’s good for them to speak to someone they know has been through it. It is easy for pupils to forget that teachers have been through things too, we are human beings not robots. The worry I had about negativity was unnecessary, so far no one seems to care and I have a feeling it will stay that way. We have come a long way in 13 years, pupils are openly gay and so much more accepting than they ever used to be. But that being said, there is still a long way to go. I just hope that by me coming out, I have taken a positive step towards changing perceptions of gay teachers and I urge and fellow teachers to follow suit and have the courage to share your stories with pupils. They have a lot to learn from you.

I am happy I can finally be myself and be honest when I talk to the pupils. Now I don’t have to worry about them asking me if I’m gay. They already know 🙂

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The Power of Change

There are many times that life forces us to make a change. We go through different situations, circumstances, events that can define us as a person or an individual. Sometimes we can react in a negative way and sometimes we can react positively. But ultimately, the only person that decides that is us! We are the masters of our own fate. I like to think of it as a choice. We can choose to let it affect us negatively, or embrace it and see what happens. Change 4

Everyone goes through their share of tough times, but a friend of mine says ‘every crisis is personal.’ Some find them more difficult than others and everyone deals with them in their own way. This year has been a tough one for me. I don’t always blog about my personal life, but I feel I want to share these experiences. I have had a few things happen this year that haven’t been the easiest things to deal with. A friend of mine passed away at the start of the year, I don’t think you realise how much someone has influenced elements of your life until they aren’t there anymore. A few weeks after this, I went through a relationship break up. These are never easy to deal with, especially after losing a friend. The main lesson that these two things taught me was that you should never take life for granted, it is far too short. I like to think that I am a strong person, but no matter how strong you are, things like this do affect you, no matter how much resistance you put up.

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I normally like to deal with things like this with either exercise or seeing my friends. I am lucky enough to have some awesome friends who have been amazing this year. They have been there for me when I needed them to most. Without them, things would have definitely been harder. The exercise part came in the form of football, cycling and going to the gym. Football has always been a big part of my life. I started playing when I was 5 and played in a competitive girls league at the age of 10 in an under 14 girls team. At the age of 14, I then joined a ladies team in Exeter. I then ended up signing for Yeovil in 2006. For the last 23 years, football has been my life. I couldn’t ever imagine not playing on a Sunday, not having training during the week and I could never imagine that I wouldn’t enjoy it. But that has changed this year. Three and a half years ago, I took up refereeing, in fact, it was my friend who passed away Keith, that encouraged me to do it. I said yes and I am so glad I did. He helped me through my first 3 years, telling me what I could do to improve and believing in my ability. He told me progressing up the ladder and getting to a world cup wasn’t out of my reach, but of course I had to work hard if I wanted it. I am now a level 5 referee, I have spent the last 2 years juggling refereeing and playing. It has been hard doing both. I was so reluctant to stop playing because it was all I wanted to do and I loved it so much. But, I knew I had to choose between the two at some point.

As it happens, this year in The FAWSL at Yeovil hasn’t gone too well for me. I spent a lot of time on the bench and not playing. I was frustrated and disappointed that I was spending so much time training and working hard and then not getting to play when it was all I wanted to do. This made the decision to stop playing and focus on my refereeing career much easier for me. I thought back to the beginning of the year, Keith was always pestering me to give up football to referee more but what I didn’t realise, is that I could actually do well if I put my mind to it. I asked myself the question: Why was I spending my time doing something that wasn’t making me happy anymore? I enjoy refereeing, I can’t put my finger on why I like it but I do. So, I did it! I stopped football and have spent the last 3 weeks happier than I have been in a long time. Don’t get me wrong, I loved my time at Yeovil but times change and it was the right time to go. It just proved to me that sometimes, making that one decision you think is the hardest, might bring a powerful change you couldn’t have predicted.

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Since Yeovil released this article about me retiring to referee it’s all be a bit crazy. I’ve had lots of messages of support and well wishes, it was overwhelming really and I thank everyone for their kind words. BBC sport contacted me and wrote a further piece on my refereeing ambition (which you can read here), which then got picked up by 2 other organisations. You are the ref – a company that is founded by ex referee who want to support referees to progress up the promotion ladder and The Women in Football network. YATR have kindly sponsored me to aid me with my mission. I am excited and grateful to have their support. The WIF have asked me to join their network and have invited me to their event this week. In addition to my refereeing, I have also completed the necessary courses to become a referee tutor. The final part was this weekend. It was a very enjoyable course and I am excited to help other referees learn what I have so far. I would love to help increase the amount of girls that become referees. So, as the saying goes, when one door closes, another one opens.

I am really excited to be able to now focus on refereeing and spend more time doing something I enjoy. By being brave enough to make this one change in my life that I never thought I would, I have given myself more opportunities without even realising it. People keep asking me one question….Do you miss it? I can honestly say I don’t. I thought I would but I now have more time for the things I sacrificed before. I am now taking a positive approach to my refereeing, I want to give myself the best chance to achieve my goals, both short term and long term and I am willing to work hard to do this. I would like to think Keith would be proud of me for making this decision. I just hope I can now honour his memory by becoming a successful referee as he believed I would be. I will give it my best shot. Watch this space….

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The Assembly Bug

So, yesterday I did my first ever whole school assembly all on my own. I loved it and now I am hungry for more!! It has been a while since I last blogged and interestingly, my last blog post was based on homophobia after seeing this photo…..

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This is the exact same photo that inspired my assembly. I got given the calendar last year and asked for an upper school assembly slot as I had a sports psychologist in to help. Not only did I get given that upper slot but was also given a whole school assembly on a monday morning. My first thought was ‘what a stitch up.’ However, when I came across this photo I knew I had to try and make a difference to the minds of some young people. At least I had the opportunity to influence or challenge the thinking of the ones that I came into contact with. The theme of the week was inspiration…an ideal theme to try and flip on its head. Anyone that knows me will say that I like to try and do things differently, not because I want to stand out from the crowd, but because I want to make a lasting impression on people. Especially when there is a powerful meaning behind it.

So, off i went and started sharing some of my ideas with colleagues. Not only did I want to touch on homophobia but I also wanted to encourage young people to not discriminate against anyone because they are different. This covered race, religion, disability, appearance, interests and nationality. I decided to create my own video for them to see, I used a friend of mine who is in a lesbian relationship and then a disabled PT from the local gym. Both of these had valuable opinions to offer and the message came across loud and clear. Don’t let others put you down for being different and don’t be afraid to accept that you are not the same as everyone else.

I then used my sister as a more personal example. The pupils really related to me having a personal touch and talking openly about how it affected her. I also used this video. It is a perfect example of how no matter who you are, you should be given the chance to love and be left alone to do so. Everyone should respect other peoples differences, even if they do not believe it is right, why comment and make someone else feel negative about their situation. This video depicts all that my assembly was about. Love has no labels, an excellent campaign. It had a very powerful message and a positive affect on everyone in the hall. If you haven’t seen it…it is a must.

After the assembly, I had numerous teachers and pupils come up to me and say how good it was. That wasn’t why I wanted to do the assembly, I did it for the pupils. Even if I could have a positive affect on only a handful of pupils then I would have been happy. There are often times when assemblies are just a formality, when pupils sit there and switch off. Because of the current issues and the personal touch, it seemed like the whole room actually wanted to listen to what I had to say. As a younger member of staff, I feel they related to me more.

I then opened my emails this morning and it made all of the planning and work that I put into it worth while. One of the pupils thanked me for the assembly, saying she had struggled personally and felt alienated for being gay. Was afraid at how her parents would react, she also mentioned that the LGBT pupils in school all agreed and it had a positive affect on them too. I feel more needs to be included in lessons on same sex relationships to help young people come to terms with it and then in the long run, reduce that figure. If more people start taking steps like I did to highlight the issues, then maybe eventually we can work with other campaigners to educate young people and reduce the amount of discrimination against anyone for being different. No matter what it is.

Gay – Let’s get the meaning straight….

I have been a teacher for the last 4 years and this is a topic I feel passionately about. @Stonewalluk are doing some fantastic work and have been for a number of years. More recently, they have distributed posters to secondary schools to display in classrooms. I think these are great and can be an excellent tool to try and deter pupils from calling each other gay as an insult. Here is an example of one of them.

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The sad thing is, that many people do not question the use of this term. This week has been anti bullying week. I have seen numerous pictures all over Twitter and Facebook. One of these pictures shocked me to my core. It is the picture that has had me thinking all week and inspired this blog.

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It makes me incredibly sad to think that young people would consider taking their own life because they are being bullied for being who they are. I ask myself why? What could we change to discourage this kind of behaviour. Why do people feel the need to bully others just because they are different to them? Let’s be honest, in this day and age it is far more accepted to be gay and Stonewall have done so much to help us get to where we are today. So what can we do moving forward? And more importantly, how?

As a teacher, I believe we can have an influence on this. If young people are educated about this issue at an earlier age, then this could be of help. I think part of the problem is that some parents and grandparents still don’t accept it. I know this is now becoming more of a minority but negative opinions can be passed down. The secondary school that I work in, deliver lessons on diversity during PSHE. This has included race, religion and sexual orientation. Opinions shared with me from the pupils have been positive, with comments such as “who cares if someone is gay” and “gay people should be allowed to get married.” Which has now been made legal. But somewhere along the line there is still an issue.

I was driving home from school this week when Macklemore’s Same Love came on the radio. That’s when I decided that I was definitely going to try and change some of the opinions of people in school. I have an assembly coming up in March and the theme is inspiration. I have decided to focus this on encouraging pupils to be themselves and to accept others if they are different. I am going to try and create a video and include real stories from people that I know. If you would like to be involved and think your story can inspire someone to be themselves then please get in touch.

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I then decided to do some research. One way I believe pupils will be more forthcoming and talk about their problems rather than not dealing with them, is if they have role models. I then found this video. It’s the #proudtoplay campaign. Sports stars who have recently had the courage to be who they are and come out. Tom Daley was an inspiration to many young people when he released his video. What was upsetting was the number of negative comments on social media sites, this is what needs to change. Until they have role models they can fully relate to or even know, then maybe they will not change their opinions or they are too naive to understand.

I then remembered seeing an article on twitter about a teacher that came out to pupils in an assembly in 2010. He had a lot of courage to do that and ended up inspiring a lot of young people in his school. Teachers are in a position to be a role model for all that they teach, so why have we not heard more of these stories. I decided to find out why. I am saddened at what I found out. I came across this article. It outlines that a teacher who came out was bullied and ended up leaving. There was a complete lack of support from the senior leadership team. The main worry is a backlash from parents, and it’s frustrating that people cannot or will not see the bigger picture. I am hoping these barriers will change over the next few years and teachers who can be role models will have the courage to come out, but more importantly, will come out because they know they have the support of the school. Teachers share their private lives and experiences to let pupils know they are human too, and gay teachers have a lot to offer but are afraid to do it. Not because they do not want to but because they are worried about what it will mean for their job. I guess only time will tell……

The important thing is that times are changing. Being gay is more accepted today than it has ever been. If we can try and stop the ‘banter’ that can actually be taken as bullying, then more young people will feel more comfortable being who they are. Perhaps this and giving them role models to speak to about experiences and guidance on how to deal with it might prevent the 21,000 suicide attempts in the next year.

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Week 13/14 – Work/Life Balance

The weeks blog is on a popular topic in teaching. The work/life balance. This is something that is essential for all teachers. It is coming to the end of the Easter holidays. I know all teachers will agree with me when I say holidays are needed. Teaching is a mentally tiring job, many teachers work longer hours than they are required. There is endless planning and marking, throw in report writing, parents evenings, tracking and then a busy exam period and there is more work to do. Any good, committed teacher will genuinely care about their pupils and always try and do what is best for them. Yes we get 13 weeks holiday a year, but not all of this time is spent relaxing.

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I decided to see what other peoples views were and I came across some interesting stories. This story is about an ex deputy head of a primary school. She had been teaching for over 20 years when she finally became ill from stress and working too hard. She seemed the learn the hard way that there needs to be some emphasis on life and not to get too consumed by the profession. Food for thought? I wonder how many other teachers have been through similar experiences.

Last year @Teachertooklit blogged about #Guiltyteacher  This blog was extremely popular on twitter and opened the eyes of many in the profession. It was prompted by Mr Steer on the TV programme Educating Yorkshire. This was a brilliant programme that gave the public an insight to just how hard teachers work. Mr Steer still went to work even though he was really ill. The #guiltyteacher is someone who goes to work even though they know they won’t be at their best or really shouldn’t. But they do it because if they don’t they feel guilty. I’ve done it, and I can guarantee you there are plenty of teachers who do it too. It is sometimes easier to come in and teach rather than set cover for your lessons. If I am off because I am ill, I am still thinking about school, wondering how my lessons are going. When in reality..school is not going to fall apart without you. So…if you are ill, genuinely ill and need to rest. Then you are better off at home and not being a guilty teacher. Plus, depending on the reason you may infect other teachers which won’t be good or appreciated.

I looked into ways of maintaining a good work/life balance. Some of the tips for work/life balance can be seen here. It’s incredible to see the amount of posts about it. Not just within teaching, but work in general. A popular piece of advice is to always make time for your family and friends. If you are a teacher with children, I imagine life can be even more stressful. having to do all the work and then go home to entertain children. This PE teacher decided to quit teaching after 10 years because she wanted to spend more time with her son. This story in particular made me realise that as teachers, you need to make sacrifices in your work to ensure you have a good life at home too. She also mentions  that doesn’t help is the pressure teachers are put under by the government. If there was less pressure, teachers could actually help develop children further as well rounded individuals. Not just prepare them for an exam to get good results because else we won’t get paid as much. That’s a whole other story.

I personally have other commitments outside of school. I currently play football for Yeovil Town Ladies and we have just started a new season in the FA Women’s Super League in division 2. This is the 2nd tier of women’s football. I love it and I wouldn’t change it for anything. But fitting it in with my teaching career is not easy. There are days when I have to drag myself to the gym or training because I feel so tired after a long day teaching and possibly going to a fixture. Or I go straight to the gym on my way home, then come home and spend the evening marking or planning. At the weekends I referee on a saturday and we usually play on a sunday. I have to make sure I do any work around this time. Time management and organisation are 2 skills that are essential in this industry. Along with a desire to have some time to do what you want.

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So my advice after reading on this topic….have some time for yourself. Use your time wisely when you are in school. Ask your colleagues for help or if they have resources that you can share rather than having to make extra yourself. The best departments share work, this makes it much easier for all your teachers. I have an ambition to be Head of Department in the near future. I will make sure the teachers are getting enough time to have a life. Not to spend each evening a week doing work. The last piece of advice I have is to find a hobby. Preferably an active one. This will not only relieve stress, but will give you a physical outlet and a way to take your mind off work. Having a work/life balance isn’t a luxury, it’s a must.

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