A bbc interview with Tim Roach @MrTRoach

Welcome to the next instalment of bbc Interviews. Today´s interviewee is Tim Roach.
Please introduce yourself...

Tim Roach. Year 6 teacher, English and KS2 leader at Greenacres Primary School, Oldham. Next year, I'll be mentoring and tutoring trainees as part of the Huddersfield Horizon SCITT (@HudHorizonSCITT), plus acting as a trainer in primary English. I qualified in 2008 after completing the GTP in another Oldham primary school. My wife and I studied English Literature and History A-levels together at Secondary School in the early 90s and we've got two book-loving kids.

What made you become a teacher?

         - Something inside my head always told me I’d like to be a teacher, but true be told, I hadn’t set foot in a school since leaving 6th form at my secondary school. I’d had plans to become an Army officer after university. To be sure, I signed up with the Territorial Army while at university. However, as much as I enjoyed the experience as an infantry private (including passing basic training at Catterick), it didn’t fit with the other things that I was really getting into – namely music and clubs.
 A part-time job led to a full-time decade behind the counter at an esteemed record shop in Manchester. They were brilliant times – the best way to spend your twenties! But as I was approaching 30, while my wife was pregnant with our first child, I worried that the lifestyle and work pattern just didn’t fit with being a dad. So I got in in contact with the then-DfES who arranged a taster day at a primary school in nearby Oldham (@CCHeadTeacher), despite me ticking secondary English and history on the form! Needless to say, I loved it. They had a fabulous team, made me feel very welcome, so I started volunteering on my days off. I needed the experience, needed to see if I really liked it or not. Besides, I couldn’t apply for the GTP without relevant experience and this was the only viable route, what with a family and a mortgage. After six months, they offered me a full-time TA job, with a view to sponsor my GTP application.

I think teaching is the only job cooler than working in a Record Shop (?).

What is your favourite part of the job?

         - In a classroom with a class full of pupils. Teaching.
 Reading them great literature, modelling the writing process and getting them to throw ideas at you (even though you’ve planned it down to the last hypen), sharing their work with the rest of the pupils. When the class gives a spontaneous round of applause to one of the pupils for their work, or when you – as the teacher – finish off that final chapter of the class novel that they’ve all been eagerly listening to.
 After teaching them, when you read their exercise books and punch the air with triumph when they surprise you with their craft. Thinking back to my own primary schooling in the 80s, the things we teach them now and expect them to do are just incredible.
 Outside of the classroom, any performance or drama production fills me with pleasure. And Year 6’s final day – that ultimate end-of-the-day when they thank you for teaching them and bid you goodbye: that’s special.

I had the double-whammy of leavers and leaving myself this year, it is one of those moments you treasure.

What has been best thing you have done at work this year?

         - At Christmas, my Deputy arranged all classes to produce special performances for the parents and the rest of the school, so it wasn't just EYFS with the burden of the Nativity. But she left Year 6 out. Because, you know, Year 6.
 But I really wanted not to be left out, so we put on a version of A Christmas Carol, using the original Dickens dialogue for the script. It was scheduled for the last day of term and we’d had less than a week to rehearse. The children rose to the occasion so well, that it was probably the best Christmas I’ve ever had in school. Such a lovely way to end the slog that is the autumn term.

So you chose to do an extra performance? You must love Drama, and your colleagues must love your DHT!

What is the most frustrating thing about teaching at the moment?

         - A lot of people you’ve spoken to have mentioned assessment; it’s such a mess in Primary Schools at the moment.
 But on a day-to-day basis, the thing that gets me most frustrated is the realisation of how small a difference we, as teachers, make. That small difference is not insignificant; we can and do make a difference in some children’s lives. But with genes and environment, we’re a poor third. And for children in deprived homes or who suffer indifference towards education that runs the spectrum from ignorance to neglect, that difference just isn’t enough in many kids’ lives. When those children come to school, with everything against them and a teacher who is judged by their outcomes, too many they end up underachieving. And too often you feel powerless.

What songs would be on your driving to work playlist?

         - Well, after working in the record shop for 12 years, I’ve amassed quite a large record collection, so the choice is vast. I still buy vinyl LPs, even though they’re quite expensive now, but you do usually get an MP3 download included. After dropping the kids off at school, I swap Katy Perry or Taylor Swift for something else on my phone. Usually it’s on shuffle: Ryan Adams, Father John Misty, Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Beck, Creedence, Arcade Fire, Led Zeppelin, etc., etc.
 Oftentimes it’s a podcast: a @BaldMove review of a TV show I’ve just watched (Game of Thrones, Better Call Saul, etc.); something to make you think, like Dan Carlin’s @HardcoreHistory or an interview by @SamHarrisOrg; humour with @AdamBuxton; or even something to do with work, in particular one of the epic interviews from @MrBartonMaths.
 Then, they are those days when you need especially firing up (you’ve got an observation, visit or had ‘the call’), so it’s the Beastie Boys or the Beatles’ Helter Skelter. On the way home, particularly after a tough day, I’ll play Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds’ O Children to remind me why I need to be back on form the next day.

Do you have time to actually teach?

What is the funniest thing a child has ever said/written in your class?

         - This is going to be a really boring answer, I’m afraid! My memory is dreadful for jokes and things like that. I’m sure my mind is wiped every summer holiday, as I forget names of the pupils I’ve taught (terrible, I know) and detail of the things they said.
 I love teaching Year 6 because you really can have a laugh with them – when appropriate, of course. And there are so many things in the curriculum, especially science, which you have to explain very carefully to avoid misconceptions. But when those things have a touch of innuendo and you have to keep that straight face, they’re always a few kids in the class who know exactly what you’re talking about (or around). Those times are some of the funniest in the classroom.

What is your guilty pleasure?

         - Aside from singing along to Katy Perry’s California Gurls in the car, you mean? Does Twitter count? Well I used to review videogames for a couple of music magazines when I worked at the record shop. My favourite was GTA: Vice City. I’ve even got a GTA-branded baseball bat that Rockstar (the makers of GTA) sent me! But when I son was born and I started teaching, I figured they weren’t compatible – ad they simply wasn’t time anymore! Besides, as a teacher, I often find myself moaning about children playing games that completely inappropriate for them (such as GTA) or so late into the night that they’re too tired to learn the next day. Anyway, now my son has an Xbox (he’s in Year 6), so I find myself playing a bit of Star Wars Battlefront or Destiny when I know I really should be writing a blog on teaching or reading a book. Guilty as charged.

If you weren´t a teacher, what would you be and why?

         - Easy. I’d still be working at Piccadilly Records! Those days were fantastic, especially as we managed to open a new shop in the Northern Quarter following the IRA bomb, build an online arm, beat off the challenges from the likes of Our Price, Virgin and HMV, to say nothing of the download revolution with Napster and iTunes.
 In my dreams, however, I’d be an author or screenwriter. Maybe one day …

When did you work there?

- Mid 90s to late noughties. Met some beautiful, inspirational people. Saw some amazing bands, like The Strokes' second UK gig (after London) and The White Stripes at the Roadhouse, standing a couple of metres away from Meg White while a bouncer sprayed us with a mist of water - it was that hot. Went (and DJed) at some ace clubs.

What are you passionate about (teaching-related or not)?

        - My family. Every day I remind myself how blessed I am.
 In teaching, being the best I can be so as to help the live chances of my pupils. Never being satisfied with the job; always thinking of how to improve.

If you had to pick one subject/topic to teach on a loop forever, what would it be?

        - Like Groundhog Day, you mean?
 When I went into primary teaching, one of the attractions was the variety and the broad curriculum that you get to teach. Going outdoors for PE on a Friday afternoon is still one of my favourite times of the week. Maybe it’s the daily grind, year upon year, of Year 6; maybe it’s the high stakes focus on English and maths; but recently, I’ve come to believe that I can’t keep up the same high standards of preparation and instruction in the afternoon lessons – where much of the wider curriculum tends to be taught – that I put into maths and English. Certainly there are subjects I struggle with: music, MFL and computing, for example. For non-specialists, any subject where a degree of proficiency would make a difference just won’t be up to the same standard as a specialist.
 So if I could choose to focus my energies, it would be either history or English. I loved history at school and consequently studied it at university. I love it still now. Whenever we go on holiday, I’ll pore over the OS map of Ancient Britain first, or be checking out the nearby English Heritage sites. But it isn’t just the stories of history that excites me, but the perspective that knowing about the past can bring when thinking about our wider social or political contexts. And the vital importance of thinking critically about evidence. What is the evidence or text we are presented with telling us? Really telling us? Who produced it and why? What possible motives could there be? These questions and skills are incredibly important if we want to be informed about the world, especially in these days of misinformation and “fake news”.
 That said, it’d probably have to be English. Sharing stories and literature is one of the greatest privileges we have as teachers. And the standard of writing that we get pupils to write in primary right now – the ITAF aside – is breathtaking. I shamelessly share my class’s writing on Twitter because a) it gives them a massive boost in terms of confidence and pride in their work, and b) the wider audience is so important, not only for the children, but for other adults to see what primary-aged pupils are capable of. Besides, you can cheat and fold in even more historical knowledge and perspectives through reading and writing in English lessons too!

Yet another Primary Teacher who can´t count to one.

What is the most effective resource/technology/app you use in the classroom?

        - Whiteboard and pen. Seriously, I love them. Get a visualiser too. And use an app like Reflector 2 on your phone or iPad and you can take send images to the Smartboard from anywhere. A great way to involve that class in editing and improving their writing.
 Giving think time to pupils before eliciting responses to a question. And having them share their answer with a partner or table first.

What is the most effective routine/method/system you use in the classroom?

          -   My first school, as an NQT, used Kagan Cooperative Learning in teacher instruction. If you see some of the videos of Kagan aficionados on YouTube, it’s easy to get the impression that it’s a cult of progressives! At first, I was a bit cynical and had to work really hard (with a very difficult class) to learn all the structures. But I soon realised that they’re merely ways of organizing teacher-student and student-student interaction. They ensure fairness so that there’s less chance of loafing or pupils taking over and ignoring others. They also help improve efficiency and cut down on timewasting. I don’t teach a lesson, even PE, without using them as part of my everyday practice. Coin that with the things I’ve learned from reading the likes of @Doug_Lemov, @DTWillingham, @tombennett71, Ron Berger et al, and they’re no reason one can’t have an engaging, hard-working and highly motivated classroom.

If you had to pick 4 people (Twitter or otherwise) to invite to a dinner party who
would it be and why?

- Thought long and hard about this one. Loads of the people I’d love in invite have already been mentioned by other interviwees, but I think these are all unique.
 Primary versus* secondary – two from each.
 @iQuirky_Teacher because she’s an important voice in primary education: the voice of a teacher doing the absolute best she can up against the system and the profession itself, and one that increasingly can only be expressed via a pseudonym. Plus, she’s a musician so might be able to give me some tips about teaching music.
 Rich Farrow (@Farrowmr) so we can talk about 90s hip hop records. As well as teaching, obviously.
 Diane Leedham (@DiLeed) because her knowledge of EAL learners is immense. And she make me think and question my practice whenever I tweet about something that she knows better than me. Which is a lot.
 Greg Ashman (@greg_ashman) because someone already picked @OldAndrewuk and Greg is a font of knowledge about the scientific impact upon our practice. Plus, he might be able to teach me the bits of secondary mathematics that my GCSE maths didn’t.
 *Not actually ‘versus’ – we’re all in it together.
What is the best and worst advice you have been given as a teacher?

           - Best advice was from my mentor, John Moulton at Christ Church. He was brilliant all-round, but his experience of coming into teaching around the same age I did, then progressing to headships before coming back to be a classroom teacher and share his expertise was invaluable. He told me not to do things just because that’s the way they’ve always been done. Schools all have very different cultures. Systems can outlive staff, so things are done a certain way because, long ago, some decreed that was how it was to be. And unless you stop to question: “Why do we do it like this?” or “What is the actual benefit for the children in doing x this way?”, you can end up doing the job ineffectually.
 Worst advice? Well everyone’s already said “don’t smile until Christmas”! I think that there are certain expectations of being a male teacher in primary school and the stereotypes do hold sway for some male teachers. People assume that your behaviour management is top notch; it wasn’t and it was bloody hard work to pull it back as an NQT. People believe male teachers are motivated by the career ladder. I was told: “You’ll be a deputy within 5 years” and things like that, presumably just because of my gender. That’s massively disrespectful and unequitable to all my female colleagues everywhere. I’ve seen some poor practice from male teachers who are worshipped by their SLT for some reason and I have seen people get promotion that they didn’t deserve. But the same goes for female teachers too, I’m sure. It’s just that because the relative number of male teachers is fewer, we stand out more. Ultimately, I just want to be the best teacher I can be, regardless of title or hierarchy.

Final Question: What drives you as a teacher?

          - Well I suppose this is linked to much of the above: what I find frustrating (inequality and ignorance in society); my passion (family); what I love teaching (books, English and history); and that I just want to be as good as I can be to help children achieve their potential.

If you could choose one person who you´d love to have the bbc interview treatment, who would it be and why?

- For the next interview, I've been greedy and gone for three! I did stick to the specified four people for the dinner party, to be fair! Well Joshua Annis-Brown already picked @claresealy! I’ve got three suggestions: @shinpad1 for her vast knowledge and experience of KS1; Andrew Percival (@primarypercival) for his experience of being a deputy and creator of famed edu-memes; and @HeyMissPrice because we’ve had some very deep and interesting (and lengthy!) conversations about teaching on Twitter.


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