Help! I’m addicted to hacking my teacher-life.

Primary Egnlish Teacher Hacks

My name is Rachel and I am addicted to hacking my teacher-life.

For as long as I can recall I’ve been saving the pedagogical pennies in the belief that the pounds will save themselves; I’ve attempted to draw other people into my world with my time-saving blog-posts; and now I’ve even started pushing my time saving highs with a Pinterest board dedicated to my pedagogical obsession.

I’ve noticed something though. I’m not alone. As I travel from school to school, I’ve realised that other teachers are also afflicted by an overwhelming need to hack. This blog post is dedicated to those teachers who no longer see ordinary everyday items for what they are, but for what they could become, and their potential pedagogical uses. And if you know a teacher hacker, you’ll know that if there’s one thing that both feeds and calms our addiction it’s the pleasure of sharing our hacks with anyone who will listen to us.

In this blog post I focus on the humble washing peg. Laundry-day essential it may be; but to teacher hackers it is a pedagogical philosopher’s stone.

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Thrifty teaching – saving money and time


Picture the scene. It’s an ordinary morning, in an ordinary office, in an ordinary city in the English Midlands, when two quite extraordinary Primary English consultants arrive at work.

Ooo, nice new frock!” exclaims one.

Sainsbury’s,” replies the other, “A right bargain. 25% off! Anyhow, what’ve you got for lunch?”

Soup – homemade. It cost me about a £1.00 for the whole batch.”

Welcome to our world. A world of bargains, thrifting and saving a penny or two so we can spend (no pun intended) our summer holidays sipping sangria and sunning ourselves. The thing is, we’re not on our own. We know that lots of our readers are just as thrifty as us and constantly have one eye on the reductions aisle in the hope of that must-have-classroom-resource- bargain. So, here’s a little round up of thrifty tips to save teachers time and money.

Displaying books face-out so that children can see them can be quite costly. Not though, if you wash, dry and turn upside-down all those Muller corner yoghurt pots. Now there’s a reason to indulge in a sweet treat at lunchtime!

Ikea’s Tolsby picture frames  are great for table top displays. Think: group lists, key vocabulary, monitor lists, key facts… and these little gems come up trumps every time. At just £1.00 for two is it any wonder that we see them in classroom all over the midlands?

Now this may be a literacy inspired blog but we do like to help with mathematics too from time to time. Egg boxes are a must for thrifty pedagogues looking to teach arrays. Egg box arrays used to be strictly multiples of 2, 3, 4, 6 and 12. Not these days! You can now regularly source egg boxes in 4’s, 10’s and 15’s – count on! Don’t forget they’re also rather useful for creating the pneumatic jaws of crocodiles, dragons, dinosaurs or mythical beasts – depending on your cross-curricular links between literacy and technology.

Do you need to display phonemes, high frequency words, maths vocabulary, number facts but don’t have much wall space? Clothes peg hangers (the sort you may use to hang out your socks) are perfect for this. Wilko do them for £2.00 each.

Whilst we’re talking about socks, if you don’t have a box of old socks in your classroom cupboard can I urge you to start collecting them now. Their uses are infinite. Just a few things I’ve used them for are: maths – just think pairs, two times tables, remainders and they’ve earned their place on your shelf already. Add in the obvious sock puppet dimension and they really should be upgraded to a labelled box. If you’ve managed to use different socks to create a character – just think ‘who would wear a pair of socks like these?’ – then you should get your socks one of those very lovely lidded plastic cartons and add a nicely laminated WordArt label. A colleague I’ve mine even used odd and holey socks as mini-whiteboard erasers! Definitely better than the school sweatshirt cuff preferred by most seven year olds and cheaper than the ones that get lost down the back of the bookcase.

Reception colleagues spend a lot of time encouraging children to add sound buttons to words in order to blend and segment. Who’d have thought the brightly coloured lids from plastic milk cartons could be recycled as sound buttons for group and whole class phonics lessons? Well I wouldn’t until I saw it taking place in a school here in Coventry. That’s an idea that’s ‘gotta a lotta bottle’!

I am intrinsically a lazy so-and-so. As a classroom teacher I always had a lovely classroom full of ever-changing displays. I managed this through cunning and idleness. After backing the display boards I used to add triple-mounted laminated paper ‘frames’ – they were slightly larger than A4 and perfect for blue-tacking on examples of children’s work. I had the frames for years and was able to change the content of my displays on a regular basis for the minimum of effort. When ‘working walls’ came into vogue I added to my laminated frame collection with some A3 examples, so that I could stick up examples of that day’s whole-class work whilst keeping the boards neat and tidy. At the end of the week I could take down my ‘working wall’ ready to start again.

Thrifting for me is not just about saving money. It’s also about saving time which is why I wrote this blog post about a brilliant little book that helps you make the most of your precious time.

Getting web savvy is one of the best ways to save time and money as a teacher. Visit blogs and teacher websites and ‘harvest’ as many ideas as you can (This blog by Isabella Wallace is an inspiration for teachers looking to make the most of their local pound shop.) Think about setting up a Dropbox, Evernote or Google Drive account with colleagues so you can share and amend documents as a team. We do this all the time and it really is very useful. Sign up to TES connect and gain access to thousands of teacher-made resources (you may even want to upload some of your own too). Use our Pinterest boards – we made them to save your weekends and we’re adding to them all the time.

And as a final word – share your ideas. Teachers love tricks, tips and advice and when it includes saving time or money they love it even more.

Keep saving those pennies and add your money-saving tips below.

Rachel Clarke – Primary English Consultant



Back to school: Saving time and getting things done


So, it’s back to work next week. A new school year, new children, new pencils, new work books and new goals, aims and ambitions. New beginnings are refreshing and energising. They present us with fresh challenges and signal a movement away from what has gone before. They can though be daunting as well. I’m sure I’m not alone in seeing a fresh start as a chance to set myself new targets, to give myself a challenge and to surpass my previous achievements. In short, I have a habit of taking a new start and turning it into a personal pressure to be better than before.

The return to work challenge can take a number of forms: aiming to build a successful football team; aspiring to use more ICT in your lessons; getting the promotion that has been eluding you; or a favourite of mine – saving time and being as productive as possible.

I am an organisational obsessive. My husband tells me I am an ‘efficiency expert’ and secretly I can admit that I am rather good at getting things done, but like all true obsessives I am on a quest to be even better. Even more organised and even more efficient – I’m sure it’s a teacher thing. Something along the lines of: pencils in the right pots; headings underlined with a ruler; coats on the correct pegs and children walking on the correct side of the corridor. It’s a neat and tidy thing, but it goes further. How many times have you said, “I’m going to get all my marking done straight away, this year.” or, “This year I am going to make sure that I take one evening off each week.”? You have, haven’t you? It’s part of the teacher thing – you want more time and you know that to get it you have to be more organised than the Olympic Organising Committee.

I’m not a huge reader of self-help books. However, a few years ago when juggling the full-time job, motherhood, housework, and a university course etc., I was pointed in the direction of Eat That Frog! By Brian Tracy. Unlike most self-help books this is tiny – just 126 pages. It’s also written in accessible prose and doesn’t rely on the pseudo-psychological babble that you find in some books of this type. It is just a simple list of 21 Top Tips for helping you to “Seize the Day”, stop procrastinating and just get on with getting stuff done so that there is more time for the things that you really want to do with your life.

If you are a list-maker you will love this book. Brian Tracy instructs his readers to make lists and as new ideas come into your head you are told to add them to the list. Wonderful. If like me, you write things onto your list, just to enjoy the pleasure of crossing them off, you will like this book – he doesn’t tell you to stop doing this, but he does give you strategies for organising and classifying the things that you put on your list. The over-arching strategy being, “To eat that frog!”

There is an old saying that if the first thing you do in the morning is to eat a live frog, you’ll have the satisfaction of knowing that it’s probably the worst thing you will do all day.” Brian Tracy

Quite simply your metaphorical frog is the biggest, ugliest job that you need to do each day. The one that would traditionally fall off your list to be added to tomorrow’s list (whilst you busy yourself adding nice little jobs to the list just so that you can cross them off!). Drawing on his experiences in business, Tracy shows that jobs we procrastinate over are the largest jobs and that invariably it is these jobs that would make us more successful. With reference to the proverb “Procrastination is the greatest thief of time” Tracy reminds us that whilst we are putting off doing the big jobs we are still thinking about them, they don’t go away and they end up eating into our personal time.

This is a great little book. The advice is practical and easy to apply. I’ve loved dipping back into this book and when I return to work next week, with my personal challenges, target-setting and goal aspirations I will be making sure that I start each day with the biggest, ugliest, wart-covered frog that I can find and eating it down in one hearty gulp.

Rachel Clarke,  Director – Primary English Education Consultancy Limited

First Published 24.8.2012




Video from Primary English

Clips from two guided reading sessions in John Shelton Primary School in Coventry. Rachel is using two of the titles from The Mini Tales Pack with a year 5 and year 6 group of children whilst addressing some key reading objectives.

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