If you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you always got.
In education, the goalposts seem to move far too often, and there are constant new initiatives designed to help us reach those goalposts.
That said, there are some aspects of a teacher’s job that haven’t really changed. Where there’s no goalpost, there’s no obvious reason to change things. Being a form tutor is one of those.
Tutor time today has changed very little from when I was at school. Silent reading, planner checking, assembly. SMSC is a newer aspect, but we still mostly deliver that in the same way as we’ve done since it started (although it was probably called PHSE or lifeskills back then).
In my personal experience of being a form tutor (all 15 or so years of it), the role entails one or more of these scenarios each day:
– Students arrive. Students sit and natter while you run around like a crazy person checking/signing planners, dealing with uniform infringements, taking the register, checking for last minute VITAL notices that you’ll get in trouble if you don’t read out, despite them arriving at 8:46am (9 minutes into form time), reading out said notices, handing out letters, collecting in replies…… Meanwhile, the students have done nothing. Bell.
– Students arrive. You’ve spent half an hour the night before searching out ideas for new activities for form time, because otherwise they’ll just sit there. Again. All of those ideas require you to lead the activities. No admin gets done because you’re too busy making sure the students are joining in. Bell.
– Students arrive. You rush through the register because it’s SMSC day. You spend 2 minutes finding the email from an SLT member with the weekly PowerPoint. (It usually arrives Sunday evening, so you start searching there.) You open the PowerPoint, start reading it aloud, and watch as the students’ eyes glaze over. As do yours. None of the other admin gets done because you’re clicking the mouse every 20 seconds or so. The bell seems to take FOREVER.
– Students arrive. It’s ‘news’ day. You ask students about a current news story, but none of them seem to be aware of it, and look at you like you’ve just grown a second head. You sigh, and proceed to load up the latest edition of Newsround. There are still 10 minutes left afterwards, so you do the Newsround quiz, followed by at least 3 totally irrelevant quizzes because there’s nothing else to do, and you’ve always wondered which of your students knows the Harry Potter books best (not). Bell.
– Students arrive. It’s ‘literacy’ day. Someone has sent a worksheet with a wordsearch on it. Again. You spend the time behaviour-managing bored students and wishing for the sweet release of the bell sounding.
– Students arrive. Students sit and natter while you do the register, then you realise you didn’t email yourself the work you painstakingly planned last night for lesson 1, so you sit at your desk and frantically cobble something together so there isn’t a mutiny, while ignoring your tutees. After all, no-one judges you on your tutor group ‘results’ at the end of the year, and the students don’t have to live with a grade for this.
Now consider that this is (on average) 5% of students’ school time each day.
Ok, so maybe some schools are better than others at providing activities – maybe you get booklets of things for students to do, or someone sends round a weekly maths puzzle (that was me once).
Realistically though, that stuff usually gets left to each Head of Year to do individually, and it only takes a couple of fights, CP issues, parents demanding meetings etc, and they suddenly find all their time is gone. Their priority is rightly the ongoing pastoral needs of the students, and there are only so many hours in a day.
Is it just me that thinks we could do this better?
The best bit of being a form tutor for me was actually getting to know students in a way you can only do when you’re not their teacher. There’s no pressure to squeeze in the curriculum, no results to be judged. You can be a bit more yourself with them. As form tutor, one of your jobs is to be their surrogate parent at school. You have to advocate for them with their teachers, and vice-versa, and you have to keep an eye on their mental health and general wellbeing. The better you know them, the easier that becomes.
Trouble is, it takes creativity and planning to come up with activities that will engage your group in discussion, and a) you have a TON of planning to do already, b) you have to fit in the admin somewhere too.
Full disclosure here, I’m writing this because I know there’s a better way (‘cos I made one).
Home4Schools.com has all the form time resources you could ever need, in a totally no-brain-required way because morning = early = coffee needs to kick in still. We even pick the activities for you each week.
We’ve got numeracy, literacy, a weekly news quiz that’s less patronising for Y11 than Newsround, and SMSC minus the death-by-powerpoint. The activities even (mostly) run without the need for tutor intervention, so you’re free to do the admin or to join in. Totally up to you.
So, what other things do we subject ourselves to as teachers that we could do better if we stopped ‘doing what we’ve always done’…?