Different in my day
Our new series continues with mother and daughter-in-law teachers, to see how the profession has changed over the years…
Jan Mackie, 65, lives in London with her husband, John, 66. They have three sons and two granddaughters. Jan taught in primary schools from 1975 to 2013.
“There have been some huge changes in teaching over the years and at the same time a lot of things have stayed the same. Children will always be children and it can be hugely rewarding when you watch a child thrive or grasp a concept which they couldn’t fathom a few months earlier. I took my first class of infants in 1975 when I was 21 and a newly qualified teacher. I loved it. Back then, there was no National Curriculum, no school uniform and teachers were trusted to make sure their class reached targets set in all subjects. Our teaching resources were books and information packs and I spent hours making work cards and covering them with ‘takki-bak’ plastic. I also spent a lot of time putting up stimulating classroom displays on the walls. There was no internet or interactive whiteboards, just chalk, a blackboard and lots of smiles. My first class had 36 children and there was no such thing as maximum class size.
Marking books consisted of a tick and a star as giving children written feedback at such a young age was seen as pointless. It didn’t mean anything to them and a quick chat with each child in class was far more effective. I spent time after school or during my lunch breaks preparing lessons for the week ahead.
There was a lot of hand-holding and cuddling back then too. If a child fell over in the playground and hurt themselves, it would be instinctive to pick them up and give them a hug. During playground duty, I would have a string of children hanging on my arm and it would be totally expected to hold hands. In my early days of teaching, I would often sit children on my lap if they were particularly upset but I remember starting to feel that was inappropriate as time went on.
It was an innocent time when I was teaching. There were no Criminal Record Bureau (CRB) or Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) checks and anyone could stroll through the school at any time without identification. To think of that happening now is shocking. The only emergency evacuations we practised were fire drills, when we had to get all the children into the playground as fast as possible.
I took a few years out of teaching from 1981 to have my sons Paul and Mark, and when I returned to work in 1986, a colleague asked if I would be interested in a job share two and a half days a week. Luckily our head agreed. It was only the second time a job share had been agreed in a school in the borough of Richmond upon Thames and it worked brilliantly. It meant we had job security and could still climb the ranks through the senior management team. We like to think we set a precedent!
Like today, teaching was regarded as a vocation and members of staff ran after-school clubs voluntarily. I loved running a gymnastics club! We were also expected to help with school fundraising events such as school fairs.
Our contact with parents was mainly at the school gates, and any issues were discussed there and then. In the days before email, any messages were left via a paper memo in my pigeonhole. We had one staff meeting a week and used lunch breaks to bounce teaching ideas off colleagues.
The thought of a school inspector popping in without warning was nothing to get stressed about. In fact, they were seen as a supportive influence on the school. As they worked for the local authority, the inspectors made a real effort to get to know the staff and the school and were seen as there to help – not to catch us out.
I always saw my teaching career as worthwhile and, on the whole, the pluses outweighed the negatives. At the end of a school year, it was always lovely to hear parents’ gratitude. I think the job has become more demanding in recent years and towards the end of my career, I found the workload too heavy. We are putting unrealistic expectations on teachers and it’s a great shame if this deters others from taking up the profession.”
Tilly Mackie, 36, lives in Frimley Green, Surrey, with her husband, Mark, 35, and daughter Alba, three. Tilly completed her PGCE in 2010 and now teaches in a primary school.
My career has seen me teach in settings including a London primary school, a private school and a bilingual school in Spain. I currently teach Spanish at a primary school, working three days a week. Like in all schools, the children are great and being in class is the best bit of the job.
When I trained as a teacher, we were taught to follow the National Curriculum, which was introduced in 1988 and includes SATS testing at Key Stage 1 and 2. The emphasis was on progress and we were told that teaching phonics was the best method to meet national reading standards. The expectation is to stick to the National Curriculum.
As newly qualified teachers we learnt how to use an interactive whiteboard and write PowerPoint presentations with video clips. I now regularly use smart boards, which enable children to play an active role in lessons by using a touch screen. All these advancements make learning so much more fun. And class sizes are now down to 30 children maximum, so teachers can dedicate more time to each child.
I teach 200 children across three days and spend six hours a week marking their work and three hours preparing lessons. When I had a full-time class, I’d use different marking techniques such as self-marking within class, peer marking and verbal feedback. I now spend a lot of time writing pupil assessments, school reports and feedback. I use my evenings to mark books and research learning materials.
Things have changed in the playground too. Rather than cuddling upset children, we try to encourage independence by talking to them about what has upset them. With younger ones, I would hold their hand and comfort them with kind words.
Today, the thought of anyone wandering through the school corridors without a badge or ID is unthinkable. Anyone entering school must sign in, wear an ID badge and, if working with children, they must have a DBS check and be seen working with a child in a visible area.
Fire drills still happen regularly. Some schools also now have a lockdown procedure which involves closing doors, pulling down blinds and telling children to stay under their desks should an intruder enter the school.
Job shares among teachers are common now. I have worked full-time and part-time, which means I can continue to progress in a teaching career while raising a family too.
In my full-time role, I was expected to run clubs – I’ve run netball and Spanish clubs after school and during lunchtimes.
A big difference now is how parents contact teachers. A face-to-face chat is still the best way to deal with issues but some parents prefer to email, which can be time-consuming.
Unlike in Jan’s day, Ofsted inspectors are often dreaded by teachers. Schools are given advance warning of an inspection and the onus is on teachers and senior leadership team members to present paperwork showing every child’s progress. The idea is to drive up standards but the downside is the enormous amount of admin it involves.
Teaching has massive benefits and working in a school can inspire a real sense of belonging and camaraderie among staff. But I think any teacher would say they wish for more time with the children teaching and less paperwork. Despite this, at the end of each school year when the thank-you cards arrive and parents show their gratitude, it always feels worthwhile.