Call me a ‘ball-breaker’ one more time…

This is a re-post of a blog I wrote for WomenEd in February 2019.

A couple of years ago, a male colleague introduced me to someone as a ‘ball-breaker’. He looked at me and smiled, clearly intending this as a compliment, and went on to make a joke about how even he was a little scared of me sometimes. ‘Ball-breaker’. It makes me uncomfortable. It’s a phrase which implies that the subject is aggressive, and has the power (and tendency) to emasculate men. It implies that the subject is brutal, perhaps destructive. I don’t recognise myself in any of those depictions of leadership. This phrase is also heavily gendered; you seldom hear men described in such terms.

My colleague clearly felt that he was saying something positive about me; saying I am strong and effective in the workplace. In reality, phrases like this reduce women to being defined purely by the impact they have on men. She’s not being called decisive, honest or driven; she’s being called a ‘ball-breaker’, implying that all she does is dominate men and, no matter what she achieves professionally, it is only notable through the lens of how men feel about her leadership. If she makes a decision which a male colleague would not have made, she metaphorically ‘breaks’ his ‘balls’ – he is not the one in control and he is therefore rendered useless. She has done that; the ‘ball-breaker.’
If a man had done it, everyone else’s ‘balls’ would have remained in tact but, because she is a woman in leadership, she leaves a trail of emasculated colleagues in her wake.

How ridiculous. Continue reading “Call me a ‘ball-breaker’ one more time…”

Wellbeing: the subtle art of saying “no”; saying “not yet”, and asking the right questions…

Reading time: 5 minutes

As the dark winter months close in around us, I am seeing a lot more in my Twitter feed about wellbeing and people who are seriously struggling with very challenging work environments.

I have been a teacher for 10 years. My first 5 years were spent working in the wrong way; I made myself incredibly ill every year, and one year I actually fainted back stage after a theatre trip through sheer exhaustion. Working every hour of the day did not make me a better teacher; it made me intolerant, frantic, and did not help my marriage. It also wasn’t really the fault of the schools I worked for – I fell for the ridiculous but attractive idea that I was fed as a trainee; to teach is to be a martyr and change lives by sacrificing your own. WARNING: This is dangerous nonsense. Continue reading “Wellbeing: the subtle art of saying “no”; saying “not yet”, and asking the right questions…”

Words of the Week: what we do…

Reading time: 5 mins

We’ve all seen ‘Word of the Week’ used in schools. On the surface, they can seem a little superficial; how can one word per week really make a dent in the vocabulary deficit of our students? I would argue, though, that any change in attitude and practice must have a tangible, visible hook. Word of the Week may not improve literacy on its own, but it creates a simple focal point which raises awareness across the school. Development in pedagogy around vocabulary and literacy is my ultimate aim, but Word of the Week is great marketing for this T&L drive. Continue reading “Words of the Week: what we do…”

Challenge for All: #PracPed18

This is a write up of my talk from Practical Pedagogies in Cologne, November 2018.

‘Unapologetically ambitious, unashamedly academic’

This is the mantra I share with my students at the start of every academic year, and it’s something we return to when we need a boost. I am currently teaching in the same community where I grew up. It’s taken me nearly a decade, but I’ve earned my stripes in a number of other schools and communities across West Yorkshire in order to return to my old stomping ground. I am incredibly grateful for the foundation which my childhood has given me, but as someone who grew up in a single parent family in an area which ticked all the boxes for social deprivation, someone who attended a (technically) failing school and wouldn’t have been expected to do particularly well, I want to give voice to something:

So called ‘disadvantaged’ students don’t want you to make things ‘accessible’, we want you to make aspiration possible. Don’t take it slowly, take it easy on us or limit what you teach so that we can ‘get it’. Instead, be even more demanding, even more ambitious, and help us to catch up with our more privileged counterparts.

Continue reading “Challenge for All: #PracPed18”

What I have learned as a pregnant teacher…

Pregnancy is a wonderful thing which, for us, did not come easily. As a new head of department, it has been an especially difficult time for me; balancing the stresses of exam preparation, coursework and leadership with the very profound concerns of becoming a first time parent is pretty overwhelming. I am constantly trying to reconcile my anxieties and neuroses with my happiness and excitement. I firmly believe that open and honest reflection makes us better in all
aspects of life, and I hope that this post might shine some light on this crazy journey so that other expectant mums in the teaching world might feel slightly less alone. It really is an incredible time, but that doesn’t negate the fact that it is also scary, isolating and unpredictable.

Pregnancy is hard. Probably the hardest thing I have ever done (and I still have two months to go!!!). Your body takes over and no amount of planning, reading or preparation can change the fact that you are no longer the master of your own destiny. This is a scary thing if you’re a control freak like me. Continue reading “What I have learned as a pregnant teacher…”