'If you do that, you’ll be much happier in the job you do'

Written by: Emma Lee-Potter | Published:
Moral support: Adam (right) and Lee (left) are the two teaching brothers behind the popular Two Mr Ps in a Pod(Cast)

Primary school professionals – and brothers – Lee and Adam Parkinson’s podcast has been listened to more than five million times. Emma Lee-Potter caught up with them to talk staff wellbeing, advice for new teachers, online safety and more

Lee Parkinson and his younger brother Adam must be two of the busiest people in primary education.

As well as their day jobs in Manchester primary schools they host the hugely successful Two Mr Ps in a Pod(Cast), swapping light-hearted stories and musing about topics like work/life balance, innovation and creativity, and the use of technology in schools.

We first caught up with the pair almost a year ago (Headteacher Update, 2021) and since then the podcast, which only launched in 2018, has passed five million listens. On top of that, the pair recently completed a nationwide live tour (they have one more event in Newcastle upon Tyne on October 22) and have written two books.

Not surprisingly, the brothers have been compared to Adam Kay, the author of This Is Going To Hurt.

“Lee and Adam Parkinson are doing for teaching what he did for medicine,” said an editorial in The Times.

Above all though, they are passionate advocates for the teaching profession. They end every live show with a massive thank you to every teacher “for the incredible job you’ve done and the impact you’ve had”.

The brothers are also full of practical advice for early career teachers and teaching assistants in primary schools, remembering only too well their first years in education.

Headteacher Update Podcast: The HTU Podcast publishes on the first Wednesday of every month and offers a range of best practice advice aimed at the primary school senior leadership team. Recent topics have included addressing the consequences of poverty, creating parent-friendly schools, supporting vulnerable pupils, and reading & literacy. Visit www.headteacher-update.com/knowledge-bank/podcasts/

Lee now teaches part-time at Davyhulme Primary School in Manchester, where he provides planning, preparation and assessment cover for key stage 2 classes. The rest of the time he works as an educational consultant, running CPD courses on using technology to raise teaching standards across the curriculum.

Adam is a full-time higher level teaching assistant at a primary school in Salford, mainly working with key stage 2 pupils.

Lee said: “Feeling overwhelmed is normal as an early career teacher. So many people come into education with a certain perception of what it’s like. You see the positive bits of teaching the children, which is what makes it the best job in the world – but it’s only when you’re doing it that you appreciate how hard it is.”

On the upside, however, he points out that there is plenty of support available – not only from fellow teachers and support staff in schools, but from the online community too.

“The majority of schools are amazing,” said Lee. “They have supportive staff who you can ask for help when you’ve got a problem and they’ll be there for you. There’s the odd school where that support network isn’t there but that doesn’t mean you’re isolated or alone, because there are fantastic teachers on Twitter and Facebook – a really nice community of teachers who are willing to help each other.”

Another tip is to learn to switch off out of school: “You’re never going to finish your to-do list,” he said. “I’m 15 years into teaching and I’m still nowhere near the end of mine – but that’s all right.

“It’s important to learn that the most important resource in the classroom is you. So, make sure you take time to do something that’s unrelated to teaching, whether it’s exercise, socialising or reading a book – something that allows you to switch off and recharge your batteries.

“Trust me, someone who’s able to finish school, go to the gym or do some football training – whatever it might be – will be so much better in the classroom the next day than a teacher who’s up until midnight marking.”

Adam agrees with his brother: “The last couple of years, for obvious reasons, have shown everyone that life can be cruel, and life can be short. My advice is to embrace the time you’ve got, give yourself a break and make memories outside of school. If you do that, you’ll be much happier in the job you do.”

Lee is keen to remind early career teachers that in his view there is no such thing as an “outstanding” teacher. “Outstanding for me is being consistently good,” he said. “We all have days where we’re on top of our game and feel like we’ve absolutely nailed it. But there will be other days when we feel like the worst teacher in the world, sometimes for reasons outside our control. No matter how well you’ve planned the lesson, no matter how prepared you are, you can’t always be the best teacher you might usually be.”

Adam became a teaching assistant 10 years ago after a teacher friend asked him to do some rugby training at his school. He loved working with children so much that he jumped at the chance to volunteer at a school in a disadvantaged part of Manchester.

“I was working one-to-one with a boy who was really struggling,” Adam recalled. “He was out of class, in isolation, and I didn’t really know what to expect. After six months I was able to get a teaching assistant role. I was very lucky to work with amazing staff. They looked out for me, taught me the ropes and I was able to watch and learn from them.”

Lee is quick to pay tribute to the difference teaching assistants make in primary schools. “They are crucial for children’s development and crucial for teachers,” he said. “Teaching assistants are sometimes underappreciated and undervalued – but to the children, fellow staff and teachers they are worth their weight in gold. They make a teacher’s life so much easier.”

The brothers’ latest book, This Is Your Own Time You’re Wasting, came out in July. A collection of “classroom confessions, calamities and clangers” – some their own experiences, others sent in – it gives a fascinating glimpse into primary school life.

No-one is ever identified but the funniest stories include revelations about the assorted things children bring into school (everything from a backpack full of five-week-old Persian kittens to a snake in a PE bag), terrible INSET days, and children’s comical remarks.

The duo are hugely proud of teachers’ work during the pandemic – “I have never been more proud to call myself a teacher”, writes Lee in the book – but they would like to see schools continue to embrace technology in the classroom.

“The amount of innovation and creativity that teachers have shown to support children learning from home has been phenomenal,” said Lee. “The thing that annoys me though is that despite all the learning that teachers have undertaken we are sort of back to normal. A lot of schools aren’t continuing to move forward in their use of technology.”

He wants teachers to build on what they did during lockdown. For example, his own “go-to tech tool” for the primary classroom is Seesaw, an app designed to help teachers set tasks for their classes at home or at school.

He also believes that there should be “a massive overhaul of certain aspects of the curriculum”, particularly when it comes to teaching children about the internet and social media.

Ofcom research has found that the majority of children have their own profile on at least one social media app or site – including 60% of eight to 11-year-olds who say they have one.

“The biggest failure of our education system is that we put so much emphasis on things that I don’t think are as relevant in today’s world, yet we don’t teach children about social media,” said Lee. “The majority of children get their lives documented online but we don’t sit them down and talk about what it is, how it works, and how to use it – because whether we like it or not children will eventually use it.

“We don’t educate them about it and then we wonder why we’re having all these issues around screen time and mental health issues linked to social media. The best form of prevention is through education.”

But above all, the brothers are determined to show that teaching is “a joyful, respected profession where you know you’re making a difference”, although “not at the sacrifice of your own health and wellbeing”.

Meanwhile the podcast continues to go from strength to strength, with teachers and support staff constantly sending in stories and messages. “I reckon we’ve got close to 5,000 stories that we haven’t used yet – so it’s certainly got legs,” said Lee.

“One of the best messages was from a woman who had handed in her notice and was leaving the profession,” said Adam. “She’d been working in a school that wasn’t very supportive but after listening to our podcast she decided to give it another go and joined another school.

“She got in touch; said she’d never been happier and thanked us both very much. If we can manage to inspire members of staff and keep them in schools doing their amazing job, then we are definitely doing something right.”

Advice for early career teachers

  • Remember that feeling overwhelmed at the start of your career is normal
  • Social media can offer a huge support network for teachers
  • Remember that we all have days when we’re on top of our game and feel like we’ve nailed it – but there are other days when, no matter how well you plan the lesson and no matter how prepared you are, you can’t be the best teacher you usually are
  • You don’t need to “reinvent the wheel” – but don’t be afraid to innovate, be creative and put your own stamp on things
  • Switch off out of school and do something unrelated to teaching, whether that’s exercise, socialising or reading a book

Further information & resources

  • Headteacher Update: Meet the two Mr Ps, October 2021: https://bit.ly/3vr5DLV
  • Parkinson and Parkinson: This Is Your Own Time You’re Wasting, HarperCollins, 2022.
  • Two Mr Ps in a Pod(Cast): You can follow Lee on Twitter @ICT_MrP and for more details about the Two Mr Ps in a Pod(Cast) and live shows, go to: www.2mrpspodcast.com

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