Practice: say it in 6 words.

six word story


I’m going to tell you a story: once upon a time, Ernest Hemingway was sat in a pub discussing a bet. He told his friends that he could make them cry with a story that was only six words long. Sceptical but curious, they took the bet. In my head, Ernest turns to his pint, takes a drink, clears his throat and proud as a peacock delivers six carefully selected words: For sale: baby shoes, never worn. He won the bet. Lad.

I was told this anecdote in a writing workshop that runs through the school that I work for. Students were asked to try this economic play on story telling for themselves. We all got on board and found the process challenging, addictive, pacy and totally gratifying. Which is why it works so well. To get going, we started with fairy tales:

Prince finds shoe: Cinders is saved.
Sleeping Beauty reached for the Nytol.
Beauty’s on the inside said Bell.

Once we were into the swing of things, we started telling our your own stories. I thought I was doing quite well until I heard some of the six word genius produced by the students in the workshop. They told stories about retribution:


They delivered profound messages: Don’t cut corners, you’ll make more (for god’s sake…)

And some of them conveyed tragedy with a play on words: cleaner tripped and kicked the bucket.

Before we knew it, we had a handful of short stories that would give Hemingway a run for his money.

This quick, creative writing activity demands students use words purposefully; the results convince them that crafting language is worthwhile. And, it isn’t daunting; often the idea of writing a story can be, especially for those who lack confidence or a willingness to commit.

It works great as a warm up for further creative writing or can simply be a task that gets bums on seats and brains in gear.

Practice: say it in six words.


Play. Every Sunday.


I don’t work at the weekend. I’d like to say I never work at the weekend but as a rule, I never say never. Screw it though, here goes: my name is Gemma and I NEVER work at the weekend. Rebel.

There are a few reasons for this: first and foremost, I’m bad at it. I’m an emotional marker (most of us teaching best fit assessment based subjects are-we just don’t realise it) and I find that I can be particularly harsh when I mark at home. Home is where I sleep, eat, read, bathe, spend time with my loved ones and stare into space. When a pile of books appear in my living room, I eye them suspiciously and with disdain: impostors!

Secondly, I work a long week. A very long week. I manage time effectively and know when I work best (the crack of dawn with a pint of coffee and 0 distractions) and because of this, I can honestly say, I don’t need to take work home or feel guilty about it. Working a 55 hour plus week and then working at the weekend is just silly and TOTALLY unsustainable.

Nevertheless, even I can fall victim to the guilt that can creep in on Sunday: the emails, the marking, the planning…could I? Should I? If you’re not careful, you start turning down social invitations on a Sunday afternoon and you’ve given away a chunk of the weekend.

This is something I actively avoid. I insist on 48 hours of head-space. 48 hours to re-charge and give myself some time and attention. It makes me a much better teacher in the week and importantly, a healthier person.

In an effort to make the most of these golden 48 hours, I make sure I have one social event planned on a Sunday afternoon: always the afternoon, that way I can sleep in. I might run in the evening, or go to the cinema for a  later showing of a film. I might go to see a friend for a brew or go to the theatre. I consciously make the decision to fill this time and in doing so, the Sunday night dread is at bay. It’s sleeping silently, as am I when I go to bed. Safe in the knowledge that when I get up for work, I’m fresh and ready for the week ahead.

This perhaps sounds pie in the sky, but you can have your “pie” and eat it. Sorry. You can though, and if we want to break the current recruitment cycle that has teachers lasting roughly five years max, we need to try and work smarter and look after ourselves.

Play. Every Sunday.


Play: in the snow.

downloadToday, teachers, office staff, support staff and students have been at home, or sliding down the side of any hill in walking distance. Some may even have been sat in the pub. Tut. The reason for this mid-week absence from the classroom: snow. Bloody loads of the stuff.  It’s important that we all use this time wisely. Before you know it, we’ll all be back at  it. So I suggest the following…

Do the essential, if the essential can be done. Then play. Play in the snow, play music, play with your family, press play on Netflix,  play  with your food-just play. Make the most of the unexpected day of nothing by doing just that. Nothing.



Think: exam marking: it’s a bit like giving birth, you just forget the pain…

The summer term is normally a glorious time; you leave work in daylight, wave goodbye to Year 11 and stare lovingly at the gaps on your time-table. The prospect of the summer holiday makes you a bit hedonistic and smug and suddenly, it all feels worth it.

Last summer, this was not the case: I decided to mark for an exam board. Those final weeks of term consisted of moderation, a bewildering array of stickers, envelopes, red pens, late nights, early mornings and, of course, marking. I pulled my back, struggled to sleep and developed an understanding of cabin fever in a way I never thought I could. In short: it was horrific. This mammoth task was one of the most challenging undertakings of my career to date and I vowed never to do it again. Ever.

And then, the exam board emailed me in the Autumn term. Before you can say David and Goliath I was signing on the dotted line. It dawned on me that exam marking might be a bit like giving birth: you just forget how painful it was. You tell yourself it wasn’t that bad really, you’ve done it once-you can do it again and so on and so on…

Needless to say, the wisdom passed onto me from seasoned markers proved invaluable and helped me keep on top of deadlines and fatigue. I will pass on these nuggets of wisdom for those of us about to go one more unto the breach in the hope they prove as beneficial for you as they did for me.


In the beginning.

Fail to prepare and prepare to fail.

Preparation is key. Attend the face to face exam board training if possible but failing that, be rigorous with the online training. Annotate the mark schemes and use any moderation material from your school that might help. Do this early on when you have the time to invest in it and keep it all at hand to refer to.

Organisation: do the maths.

Tally up how many scripts you need to mark per day to meet the deadlines set by the board. Factor in family, the working day and any other commitments then work to your set goal. Then, enjoy ticking them off.

Remind yourself why you are doing it.

Have a picture of whatever it is you plan on spending your hard-earned money on and place it next the aforementioned calendar. This carrot and stick approach might be as old as time itself but it works a treat. Gaze at the picture. Talk to it. Wave at it…whatever helps.

Your team leader is your sensei.

Build a good line of communication with your team leader; ask them as many questions as you need to, moan to them and bid for reassurance at will. They know exactly what you’re going through and are there to support and ensure your marking is as accurate as it can be. Don’t be scared to say you’re struggling and need deadline support. Quality of marking takes precedence above all else.

Protect your gain time.

Your marking is an invaluable asset to your department; no other CPD is equal to it. Speak to your subject leader about protecting your gain time and use your PPA to keep on top of any school based workload. Your school is likely to support and work with you as you mark: they get something out of it too. When the clock strikes three, leave.


When you’re in the thick of it.

 Dry shampoo.

Buy an industrial sized can of it. You’re welcome.

 Now you know the paper, strategise.

There’s always one question on the paper that take takes more time and brain power than the others. It also takes your soul. Mark this question when you are at your most productive and fresh headed; you’ll find it takes half the time and meeting your daily quota will feel much more achievable.


Trust your gut.

If you are marking a subject that uses the best fit principle, deciding a mark can easily lead to procrastination. Trust your gut, use the moderation material and if need be, check in with your team leader. Then move on.


Accept certain inevitabilities.

Dishes will pile up as will washing and un-opened mail. The sooner you accept this, the better.



Seriously, regardless of looming deadlines, sometimes the best thing to do is simply stop. Go for a run, cook a meal from scratch or stare into space for a while. Give your brain a break and when you get back to it, you’ll find the respite has improved the quality of your marking and your resilience.


When it ends.

Make the most of the CPD.

You’re likely to come across content, context and theory that you haven’t before. Make the most of the subject knowledge and take notes that you can reflect on when it comes around to teaching the course the following academic year.


Count down.

The final 20, the final 10, the final 5, the final script! The euphoria of marking that last paper is something otherworldly. It sounds hyperbolic but it’s true. Cheer or dance or hug those closest to you and apologise for the strange person they’ve been forced to live with for the previous few weeks. Then enjoy the fruits of your labour and spend that hard-earned money on something you want, not something you need.stack-of-papers (1)

Let’s start at the very beginning…

 lets start at the

You know when you log into Facebook and Timeline pulls up a post from five years ago and you read it and hate yourself more than you’ve ever hated anyone else on the planet. Ever. This is one of my top three fears about starting a blog. I’m also clearly optimistic because I’m already projecting five years ahead. So that’s something. The other is that I have to figure out how to navigate around it and set it up. I’ll have to learn what HTML means, and what a widget does when it’s not in a beer can and things. And, finally and most terrifyingly, my final fear is that I’ll fail at it. It’ll fizzle out and fall flat on it’s arse which could be really disappointing and a bit embarrassing.

But, on I go, regardless of said fears. Here’s to my first post: read, so far by me and me alone. A fact that may never change. Still, I’m doing it. I’m starting at the very beginning, a very good place to start…