How to Wake Up Early For School

Rise and shine

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Are you a morning person or a night owl?

I hate to be the one to break it to you, but neither of those matter. School starts at 8 o’clock sharp so you had better be up in time. While the ability to hop out of bed before dawn seems to come naturally to some, it is a habit I had to learn.

My inability to get out of bed proved to be more than a mild inconvenience – in fact, in my first couple of years as a teacher, I arrived late to school more than once. I lost a lot of credibility for that, with colleagues and students alike, and swore to myself that it wouldn’t happen again. And, so far, it hasn’t.

Here’s how I now manage to wake up at 6am every day:

Go to bed early

This may seem obvious, but it’s the biggest mistake I continue to make. I’ve written about the importance of sleep in a previous blog post. It goes without saying that the more sleep you can get, the easier it can be to wake up in the morning.

Cut out alcohol

Abstaining from a drink on a weekday evening makes it so much easier to wake up. Even a couple of drinks can play havoc with your sleep. Best leave that beer in the fridge until Friday.

Set two alarms

I have the tendency to turn off my alarm and then fall back asleep. To work around this problem I now set a secondary alarm to go off 10 minutes later.

Use a gentle alarm sound

I used to hate being woken up by the obnoxious beep of a traditional alarm clock. On my Android phone I use an alarm sound called ‘Awaken’ which I find very subtle and pleasant to wake up to.

‘Awaken’ – my preferred alarm sound

Look through the options on your phone and choose one you find the least jarring.

Put an alarm out of reach

I put my phone on the other side of the room rather than next to my bed. Having to get out from under the covers and onto my feet to switch off the alarm signals to my mind that it is time to wake up.

Have something to look forward to

If there’s something that does make me spring out of bed, it’s the thought of the coffee and croissant waiting for me in the kitchen. This doesn’t have to extend just to food though. Perhaps you might enjoy listening to some music, a podcast, some brief meditation, reading, or yoga. Whatever you enjoy, use this to lure you out from under the duvet.

Sleep with a morning person

Somehow my wife has no problem getting up at 5.30am. Fortunately for me, the sound of her moving about wakes me up. Plus, because she is up early, it feels like an ordinary behaviour to have, which makes me more likely to get out of bed myself. 

Remember why you’re getting up so early in the first place

I chose to teach over other ways of making a living and I’m not going to be able to deliver on that promise from bed.

Marcus Aurelius, Roman emperor from 161 to 180, once wrote:

‘At dawn, when you have trouble getting out of bed, tell yourself: ‘I have to go to work—as a human being. What do I have to complain of, if I’m going to do what I was born for—the things I was brought into the world to do? Or is this what I was created for? To huddle under the blankets and stay warm?’

I often think of this quote on the mornings when I really don’t want to get up.

I try to remember that I’m here to serve. That there are people who need me. And they can’t do it alone.

Getting up doesn’t seem so bad after all.

8 Simple Ways To Stop Procrastinating While Teaching Online

Don’t delay any longer with these tips

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I used to believe that I could beat procrastination through sheer willpower alone.

I relied on it to write passable essays as a student. Then I relied on it to scrape by as a newly-employed graduate. But when I tried to use willpower to get work done as a teacher, I become so overwhelmed I almost failed to qualify.

There was simply too much work to do and willpower alone couldn’t tackle all of it.

So if you’re a teacher working from home facing hours of planning, marking, phone calls or emails, and can’t bring yourself to start, here are some ways that have helped me feel more motivated:

Have a ‘work zone’

I used to work sat on the sofa or in bed. But because I was in the habit of using these places for relaxation and comfort, I couldn’t get in the right frame of mind to work.

I now have a small desk I only use for work. This is my ‘work zone’.

Ideally, your ‘work zone’ would be a whole room like an office or spare bedroom you don’t use for any other activities. But if, like me, you live in very modest accommodation, try to find at least part of a room (like a corner) you don’t use for anything else. The aim of this is that when you sit in your ‘work zone’ your brain thinks ‘time to do work’ and expects nothing else.

Remove visual distractions

Have you ever gone to the kitchen with the good intention of making a healthy lunch only to find yourself suddenly eating crisps? Odd, isn’t it? The visual stimulus of seeing the crisps is so powerful, they become almost impossible to ignore. And even if you can, you’ll be expending lots of energy trying.

Reduce the friction to your work by removing anything within sight that might distract you from it. Put you your phone on silent and in a drawer. Remove the browser icons for social media and games on your computer. Unplug the television and put it in a cupboard.

Out of sight, out of mind.

Begin with something fun

Whenever I had a task I didn’t want to do, I’d put on some headphones and play some music or a podcast. Since I enjoy doing these, it was easy to begin. It’s a way of ‘greasing the slide’ into work.

After ten or fifteen minutes I’ll reach a point where get frustrated that what I’m listening to is preventing me from concentrating on the work, so I’ll turn off what I’m listening to, leaving me engaged in the task I was avoiding to begin with. I’ve been doing this for so long I now only have to put some headphones on to get in the zone. I don’t even have to listen to anything.

Reward yourself afterwards

Make a contract with yourself:

‘Once I do [something I must], I’ll get to do [something I want to]

An example might be:

‘Once I [plan one lesson], I’ll get to [watch a video on Youtube]’

Then once you’ve planned the lesson (or whatever the task is that you need to do) make sure you honour the contract and follow through with the reward. You’ll be tempted to continue working, but don’t – if you make the contract count for something it’s more likely to be effective in the long-term.

Writing it down at first can be helpful as that makes the deal feel real.

Use a Pomodoro timer

Pomodoro is the Italian word for tomato. It’s very common, I’m told, for Italian homes to have a tomato-shaped timer to help manage timings in the kitchen.

A Pomodoro timer

How a Pomodoro timer works is simple: you start a timer (let’s say 20 minutes) and you have to concentrate on a task for that duration of time. When the timer ends you can take a short break of no more than 5 or 10 minutes. Once the break is up, it’s back to work for another 20 minutes. Repeat as much as necessary.

There are dozens on Pomodoro Timers on YouTube you can use. Some are as brief as 15 minutes, while others go up to an hour. Choose what you think is achievable for you and alter if needed. There are also websites like Pomofocus which does the same thing.

I find I can work for more of a sustained period, not giving up so quickly, when the time to have a break is decided for me. It allows me to get into a deeper state of concentration. Often to the extent that when the time for a break comes around, I want to carry on working.

Use the Paperclip technique 

This method is as simple as it gets, but incredibly powerful nonetheless. Put two jars on your desk with paperclips in one and nothing in the other. Each time you complete a task, move one paperclip from the full jar to the empty jar. This could work for anything. Let’s say you need to assess ten pieces of writing. Put ten paperclips in one jar. Once you’ve finished assessing each piece of work, you transfer a paperclip to the other jar. I’ve found it makes the smallest of tasks really satisfying (especially when you can get a nice ‘plink’ sound).

It was this technique that helped me knuckle down and begin writing this blog. As you can see – it works!

Stay in touch with colleagues who work hard (and politely avoid those who don’t)

As social creatures, we instinctively want to fit in. The more I hear from other colleagues, and how productive they’re being, the more motivated I am to work just as hard.

On the other hand, if my colleagues are telling me how they’re doing the bare minimum, I start questioning whether I should be working any more than they are.

Remember why you became a teacher in the first place

I never imagined I’d be teaching online when I started teacher training several years ago. And yet here I am.

Sometimes I need to channel my inner coach in order to talk myself into making the right choices. This is positive self-talk: I remind myself why I chose to become a teacher over other ways of earning a living; how being a professional means remaining engaged and showing up even when I don’t feel like it.

The reason I chose to teach may be different to yours, but whatever it is – keep it in mind as this reason can help you stay motivated when the work gets stale.

I wouldn’t recommend you try all of these at once. Maybe pick a couple that you think sound helpful for your circumstances and give them a try.

Nowadays I’ve found the satisfaction of doing the work itself has taken over and I rarely need to use these as much as I used to. But they changed my life for the better a few years ago and I just wish I had learnt about them sooner.

I hope they help you as much as they’ve helped me.

Unsure Whether to Pursue a Career in Teaching? Read This

Teaching is rewarding – just not right away

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Stevie and I hadn’t always seen eye-to-eye.

Last year he spent most of my lessons on his phone. Six months ago he threatened me when I gave him a detention. And in a recent assessment, he had written half a page of nonsense.

I dreaded teaching him

What was the point ? We had studied a subject for months and he had learnt nothing.

After seeing the result of his assessment, Stevie’s mother got in touch. Her email was calm and polite, but she was concerned for him.

I could have insisted that I was doing everything in my power. I could have made a half-hearted promise to help him out a bit more in lessons.

Instead I agreed to see him once a week for half an hour after school.

I don’t know why I suggested that. I didn’t think it would help much, but curiosity made me see what could be done. And besides, it pleased him mum.

But I wasn’t expecting what happened

It was our first session, and Stevie showed me his work from that afternoon’s lesson. He’d been given twenty minutes and had only written one sentence.

“I just don’t get how to do it…”

I’d heard this from Stevie before, but his voice sounded different this time. Gone was the tough front he usually put on in lessons. After school, on his own, he sounded just as frightened as his mum.

He went on to describe how hopeless he felt sitting in front of a blank page while his peers wrote effortlessly around him.

A documentary focusing on the first 21 years of Quentin Tarantino’s career

A few weeks earlier I’d watched QT8, a documentary about Quentin Tarantino’s first eight films. One of the talking heads mentioned how Tarantino won’t use a computer, preferring to write his scripts with a paper and pen which he calls his ‘antenna to God’.

I don’t know what prompted me to remember this at that moment, but I told Stevie about it.

He looked confused for a moment. Then he spoke. “Because ideas come from…? Oh!” He smiled, realising what I had meant.

“Ideas will come to you as you write. You don’t need to have it all in mind before you start.”

This concept, which I took for granted, had never crossed Stevie’s mind. He thought that every word, sentence and paragraph had to be clear in his head before putting pen to paper.

No wonder he didn’t write much

So, Stevie began writing a sentence. Then a paragraph. And then a page.

Two pages later, he stopped, sat back in his chair and stared at the words in front of him. He smiled and in a voice that sounded like a boy much younger than his 15-year old self he said, “I didn’t know I could do that.”


‘Every Lesson Shapes a Life’ – the Department for Education/Havas London

I’m sure you’ve seen the teacher recruitment adverts on Sunday night television. The ones designed to entice office workers suffering from Sunday night blues. They show a group of enthusiastic students stood in awe of a Bunsen burner, or shy students smiling when they’re praised at parents’ evening. They make teaching look fantastic.

Which it is. Just not at first. When I started teaching, I’d assumed this sort of result was achievable in a few weeks. A couple of months at the most.

It had taken me five years

Five years of persistence.

To learn how to be generous with my time.

To learn how to act when I didn’t want to.

To learn how to properly listen to the needs of students.

And to learn the knowledge needed to address those needs.

I had failed and been embarrassed countless times over those years. I had wanted to give up. But after seeing Stevie walk out the classroom with an uncharacteristic spring in his step, all that toil felt worth it.

It might not take you five years, but it will probably take a lot longer than you think. Teaching is as rewarding as they say, and if you’re anything like me, you’ll be glad you chose to do it.

Just don’t expect it right away.

Stevie is not the student’s real name

6 Ways ‘A Christmas Carol’ Inspired Me to Become a Better Teacher

How Dickens’ novella left this teacher haunted with ideas

‘No fog, no mist; clear, bright, jovial stirring, cold’

Most people don’t re-read the same novel every year.

Then again, teachers aren’t most people. This December marks the fourth year in a row that I have taught A Christmas Carol to Year 7. It has always been a magical tale, and a joy to teach, but this term the readings have resonated more loudly than ever before. Just as the spirits help Scrooge recognise the errors of his ways, they have left me wondering where I too fail to measure up.

If re-reading A Christmas Carol has taught me anything, it’s these six ways to become a better teacher in 2021.

Address my students’ needs

‘It’s enough for a man to understand his own business, and not to interfere with other people’s’

In the beginning, the miserly Scrooge uses this logic to quickly dismiss the two portly gentlemen collecting for charity. And while we are shocked by Scrooge’s lack of good will, I unfortunately recognise some of my own personality in Scrooge here. He remarks ‘I wish to be left alone’ which is a thought I have had from time to time (lunchtime in the stock cupboard, anyone?).

In 2021, then, it will be my intention to ‘interfere with other people’ more.

What do my students need the most? How could I deliver that? I’ve been guilty of wishing such complex problems away; hoping they will solve themselves or, like Scrooge, deferred to other ‘establishments’ which appear to solve the issue, but without doing so (dust-gathering revision guides – I’m looking at you).

Engage students in ways that truly matter

‘The chain … was long … and it was made … of cash-boxes, padlocks, ledgers, deeds and heavy purses…’

Scrooge’s late business partner, Jacob Marley, appears to Scrooge as a ghost fettered in iron chains, attached to which are symbols of the earthly distractions which kept him from caring for humankind.

When planning a lesson I often lose sight of the tree and get distracted by the baubles: sweating over the right gif to insert into a PowerPoint slide or deliberating over which font to use. And while these can be impactful in small ways, some of my best lessons this term were just me talking knowledgably about the topic with only a whiteboard pen to hand.

Like Marley’s ghost, I regret wasting so much time on details that don’t matter and should concentrate more on what does.

Have colleagues be more honest with me

‘The fireplace was an old one, built by some Dutch merchant long ago, and paved all round with quaint Dutch tiles, designed to illustrate the Scriptures.’

Scrooge’s home is sparsely furnished except for a fireplace which has been tiled with illustrations from the Bible. Scrooge’s insular nature is so extreme he is blind to the moral lessons writ large in front of him. It is no surprise, then, that an intervention of supernatural magnitude is required to wake him.

I too sometimes fail to see the writing on the wall until it is too late: I don’t always tackle behaviour problems proactively nor do I always see the glaring issues in my seating plans until weeks or months have passed by.

What I need this coming year is a group of spirits to counsel me (or colleagues – whoever is closest to hand).

Recognise what is in my control

‘Are these the shadows of the things that Will be, or are they the shadows of the things that May be only?’

My favourite part of the tale has to be the tense conflict between Scrooge and the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come. He hopelessly pleads with the phantom, asking it to confirm whether he has control over his future or if he is indeed doomed to die alone.

Like many, I have had moments this term that have felt hopeless. I have endured periods of self-isolation. I have worked through the challenges of teaching online. I have been sick with Covid.

But through all of this I should have remembered what has always been in my control: my fate.

Relax for moments of light-heartedness

‘I am not going to stand this sort of thing any longer. And therefore … I am about to raise your salary!’

In the novella’s closing pages, the redeemed Scrooge takes a leaf out of Martha Cratchit’s book and plays a harmless prank on Bob.

Students have told me that most of the time I come across as ‘serious’. And while I don’t think there’s anything too wrong with that (I’ve certainly had worse criticism!) I’d like to feel more comfortable with letting go. To not be quite so in control all the time. To let the mask slip and (perhaps) crack a joke.

Listen more to my own heart

‘Some people laughed to see the alteration in him, but he let them laugh, …for he was wise enough to know that nothing ever happened on this globe, for good, at which some people did not have their fill of laughter at the outset. …His own heart laughed, and that was quite enough for him’

The narrator assures the reader that Scrooge does not resort back to his old ways, spending the rest of his life as benevolently as he can. I love Dickens’ observation that people judge Scrooge. Even though he has changed for the better, of which there are no apparent downsides, everybody appears to quietly mock him for it.

It sometimes feels that teachers receive more than their fair share of judgement; from students, staff, leadership, parents, the government, Ofsted, the press and social media.

But deep-down I know that the work I do is of great benefit.

My job for next year, then, will be about delivering on the following promises:

  • to address my students’ needs
  • to engage students in ways that truly matter
  • to have colleagues be more honest with me
  • to recognise what is in my control
  • to relax for moments of light-heartedness
  • to listen more to my own heart

That should be quite enough for me.

What Does it Mean When a Student says ‘No’?

‘No’ doesn’t always mean no

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I’m sure you’ll have met a challenging student who has announced a defiant ‘no’ at some point in your lesson:

Do you understand the task?

‘No!’

Have you finished copying the title and date?

‘Nope!’

‘This is interesting, isn’t it?’

‘Ha! No!’

Whenever I had a student respond to me like this I’d panic, see them as stubborn or unreasonable and walk away with the consolation that I’d try again next lesson.

Growing up I had been taught that being nice was the key to building relationships. So in the classroom, being ‘nice’ meant being polite enough in order to not cause conflict. In my mind that meant saying ‘yes’. How was I supposed to engage with students who told me ‘no’?

This belief turned out to be death in the classroom because by ignoring their ‘no’ I actually wasn’t figuring out the students’ needs. It put them on edge and made them skittish around me.

I was only able to move my relationship with these students forward once I realised what ‘no’ actually meant. It wasn’t the student telling me go away, it was the opposite. The student was not ending the conversation, nor were they being stubborn.

On the contrary, saying ‘no’ to me showed they were listening and engaged with what I was asking. By responding in the negative they were establishing a boundary to feel safe. For a teacher they were right where I wanted them to be.

Whenever I demanded that a student get on task (or else!), they persisted in their standoff.

But ‘No’ gave them pause to really look at my proposal. And it gave me time to offer solutions:

Do you understand the task?

‘No!’

(Oh, what do you not understand?)

Have you finished copying the title and date?

‘Nope!’

(Oh, where are you up to?)

‘This is interesting, isn’t it?’

‘Ha! No!’

(Oh, what do you not like about it?)

I’ve started to take this one step further in lessons; asking questions with the intention of eliciting a ‘no’ response. ‘Have you given up?’ is now my favourite ‘no’-oriented question to ask when a student appears to have downed tools because after saying ‘no’ it asks the student to define their position, whilst giving them the space to safe, secure and in control of their decisions.

These days, when a student tells me ‘no’, I don’t walk away. And sometimes I don’t have to say anything at all before their ‘no’ is followed by: ‘Sir, I’m just not sure how to do it.’