Wednesday, 14 October 2009

Little Loners

Canteen duty is something that can be dreaded for a number of reasons, but for me it is often the pathos of that twenty minutes. For surely there is nowhere else around the school where is it possible to observe the hard time that some children go through. The saddest type of child I see is the Little Loner.

In lessons, the Little Loner is identifiable by their reluctance to join in group work. I combat this by sorting pupils into groups myself rather than letting them choose their own groups, and of course the benefits of this reach farther than simply inclusion of a shy or unpopular child.

The Little Loner will sit away from other children if possible, and is usually quiet, but often knows all the answers; however previous experience has taught the L.L. that you don’t earn kudos from your class mates by doing what the teacher wants. The L.L. therefore often retreats into a shell, but some of them are not actually aware of other children’s sniggers and persist in shooting up their hand at every opportunity.

I suggest if you have a keen Little Loner in your class, you move away from asking for “hands up”. One way to do this is to write each class member’s name on a card, and choose a card from the pack when you want somebody to tell you something. Or if your funding stretches to mini whiteboards, these are even better. Even disaffected pupils love to scrawl with a board pen on the slippery surface, and not only do you have every pupil (more) on task, but you also succeed in letting your keen Little Loner answer without fear of ridicule.

But back to the canteen. It’s all very well thinking of ways to include the L.L. in your lessons. And for the majority of lunchtimes most schools have refuges for L.L.s: lunchtime clubs like chess, Warhammer or maths puzzles, where they are no longer alone, but in the company of those who also avoid the harsh world of the playground. L.L.s are usually well known to the school librarian, as they settle down into their usual spot to read or surf the web. But even L.L.s have to eat…

It’s funny (peculiar not haha). Teaching has toughened me up so much. When I set out I was a bleeding heart who took seriously every bleat of “he’s bullying me”, and spent weekends worrying about something a child mentioned in passing. But when you meet about 180 children every day (form group plus five average teaching groups) it’s as much as you can do sometimes to even remember everyone’s name. (Seven weeks into the year and I still don’t know at least half of the pupils I teach.)

Yet nothing tugs at my remaining heart-strings as much as seeing the Little Loner eating a solitary snack or lunch in the canteen. Often it’s a case of a packed-lunch-pupil who can sit straight down without the tussle of the canteen queue, and it’s not long before they’re joined by some friends.

But sometimes packed-lunch-pupil dines alone on the healthy contents of their Tupperware box, and I have been wondering if there’s a correlation between the type of child who brings in a packed lunch and the probability that child will be more of a loner. Maybe there’s camaraderie to be had in the long queues to reach the canteen counter, or maybe the pushing and shoving toughens up children somewhat. (I could take this one further and wonder if having school dinners makes you more successful at getting served in pubs in later life… maybe there’s a PhD study in there somewhere.)

But even canteen-queue-child can be a Little Loner. On duty in the canteen I may recognise a pupil from my lesson, nervously focused on her slice of healthy canteen pizza, or his Tupperware pot of tuna pasta or sliced peppers and hummus; they’re the children not daring to look around, and trying to block out the din and clatter going on just beyond the half metre radius that constitutes the “no go” zone around them. I’ve learnt from experience that the worst thing to do is give a sympathetic little smile. This works well in the corridors, when you may well be the first person to smile at Little Loner that day, as you both escape rapidly into the swarm of noisy pupils. But in the canteen, smiling at a L.L. is tantamount to flashing a spotlight onto their seat and superimposing a bullseye onto their forehead. And the L.L. knows this.

There have been so many times when I’ve wanted to match-make between lonely pupils who I think would enjoy each others’ company. “Rosie, meet Emma, who also likes reading, and has two guinea-pigs as well!” And some schools have “buddy” systems that aim to do just this. But in the canteen, it just doesn’t work. Instead, the Little Loners sit at their separate tables, heads down until the deed is done and they can scuttle off to some sanctuary elsewhere. And it just seems to me the saddest thing for them to eat alone every day, in the midst of all the organised chaos of the canteen.

And then my duty is over, and I scuttle off back to my classroom, to unwrap the foil from around my sandwiches and mark books as I munch… alone...

Sunday, 11 October 2009

The BBC Programme

Sunday: The Big Question - you have 7 days to watch this: Should teachers always set a moral example? It starts about 20 minutes into the programme. Features a Ranting Headteacher and Twitter's @schoolgate - Sarah Ebner. Interesting issues plus added hot air! Well done Sarah for reminding the public about the behaviour and responsibilities of parents! And well done sensible 12 year olds!

Moral Maze

Should teachers always set a moral example? This was a question posed on Twitter on Friday evening by @schoolgate – Sarah Ebner, a journalist at the Times Online.

That she was asking this on a Friday evening, as I wound down at home after another hectic week with a glass of wine or more, brought out my more facetious side (first identified and labelled as such by my RE teacher over twenty years ago). But it stirred up some strong feelings, particularly amongst former headteacher and now education writer @GeraldHaigh, a time-served teacher who clearly believes that “teacher” is a life-long vocation that stays with you even beyond retirement.

I may be flippant about this on Twitter – after all, there are only so many things you can express in 140 characters at a time. But it’s been something I’ve been thinking about all weekend, and I do have strong thoughts and opinions on how much “being a teacher” affects our lives, and those hours when we’re not in the school building.

I don’t think it’s necessarily a generational thing. In fact, different lines of morality weave through different generations of teachers. Today we are expected to at least appear to be upstanding members of the community, leading future generations by example. When I’ve taken PSHE sessions about the dangers of smoking and drinking, and pupils have asked me about my own experiences, I’ve felt like such a hypocrite by glossing over my own history like those times as a student (when I never dreamed I would evolve into a teacher) when I drunk so much I lost hours of an evening, or set my own hair alight waving a cigarette around, and so on.

And yet when I was at school as a pupil, I remember well the two separate staffrooms: one which was safe to approach, and the other whose door resembled a dragon’s mouth with smoke curling round the edges as teachers chain-smoked their way through breaks. Even two years ago, before one of the most popular teachers I have ever known retired, the only complaint about him was from pupils whose books were returned to them reeking of smoke where they had sat in his study as he marked them, fag dangling from mouth. He’d even ignore the work-place smoking ban, and light up in his classroom as soon as the final bell went, and puff his way through staff meetings. How was that setting a good example?

The other thing that springs to mind are those 80s songs like Madness’s “Baggy Trousers”
– “all the teachers in the pub, passing round the ready rub”… yep, these were the teachers of my youth, and from anecdotal evidence from those educated in the 1970s and 1980s at comprehensive schools, there are also many tales of violent ex-forces teachers, for example, who would threaten and abuse their pupils; I myself have witnessed a teacher pinning a boy against the wall by the scruff of his neck for what we now call “low-level disruption”.

So in a way, I think it’s hypocritical to now expect teachers to be the bastions of civilization and morality in their own time, if it’s not affecting anyone else. It wasn’t such an imposition on teachers twenty or thirty years ago, so why now? So we can no longer smoke in the staffroom, and have a pint or two at lunchtime, and a good thing too in my opinion, but why extend restrictions on our personal lives beyond the school gate?

However, that’s not to say I don’t think there should be guidance in place. It sends a shudder through me when I hear of my colleagues, mostly younger, who have Facebook pages and allow pupils to become their “friends”. I think if you are a teacher, and you have a personal Facebook page, then this should be absolutely private, and you shouldn’t allow access to pupils, and possibly their parents. There are so many people who don’t see anything wrong with allowing pupils into their social networks, so why do I think it’s wrong? Well firstly, pupils are not our friends. There should always be some kind of professional distance between pupils and teachers, however friendly you are, or however many sports teams you take away on trips. If you erode that professional distance, then you open yourself up for all kinds of potential problems. My private life is just that. It’s why I write under a pseudonym. I would never want anything negative to reflect on my pupils, colleagues or school.

What else? Well despite the way that previous generations have dealt with it, I don’t think that today’s teachers should drink alcohol or smoke in front of pupils. I know we’re only human, and that plenty of us do drink and smoke, but in the presence of pupils we are professionals, and should act accordingly. But in our own time, however, if we want to drink until we’re sick, then why not? As long as the pictures don’t get posted to Facebook where half the school can see them.

And here’s where another argument comes in. Some believe that once you become a teacher, you are a role model and that label shouldn’t be taken off during evenings and weekends. And this is why I don’t like the label of “teacher”. If I go out for a few drinks with friends and start chatting to people, I don’t want them to know I’m a teacher, because at that moment in that pub, it doesn’t define me. I don’t want them thinking of their own children’s teacher when they hear me slurring my words after three pints of shandy. I don’t want them thinking how irresponsible I am to be doing what they too are doing in that pub at that moment.

This reminds me of that frequent moment of surprise that young (and not so young!) children have when they see their teacher out of context, in a supermarket or the High Street. Children categorise their teachers as being that adult who they see at school, and often can’t imagine them elsewhere. I’ve even had 14 year olds go on for weeks in lessons about seeing me in the High Street, as if they can’t get over the surprise of one of their teachers being released from the school building for good behaviour, and actually having to buy groceries like a human being.

And that’s fine with me. In school I am a teacher. I am a consummate professional, because not only do I get paid to be so, but I also believe that this is the best way to guide today’s youngsters to become tomorrow’s citizens. But away from the stressful classrooms and corridors, I feel I should be allowed to conduct my life as other adults do. As long as I’m not doing it in front of their pupils, or in the same pubs they’re drinking in, I don’t see the problem.

Now there are many other arguments we could follow here. Should teachers be allowed to be members of the BNP? Should they be struck off for being caught drink driving or taking drugs? These are far more contentious, and perhaps for homework you could think about these issues for next lesson.

As a post-script, if you do follow me on Twitter then you’ll know from my regular evening tweets that these arguments are mostly theoretical, and that a night out for me these days is as rare as a hen’s tooth. But it’s the principle of the thing!

Slippery Ladders

I wrote the following a little while back, in the immediate fall-out from a failed job interview. Of course, after the pain and frustration had subsided, I was reasonable enough to realise that, okay, maybe it was simply a case of somebody better than me getting the job each time. But I'm not going to edit what I wrote then, because it sums up how I was feeling, and still am to an extent. Here we go:

I’ve got a problem. It’s making me really fed up, and I’m losing motivation. My problem is that I can’t seem to get a promotion. In the past year I’ve been for three promotions at different schools, and been interviewed for all of them. One of them was a small promotion and I didn’t have a snowball’s chance in hell up against the internal candidate. The other two were for bigger promotions and have concluded with feedback that it was between me and the candidate who was successful but that the other candidate had more experience in something or tackled an issue better than me or… whatever. Waffle all you like.

But I’m getting worried. Because I hear of younger, less experienced people being given promotions or fast-tracked on special courses for those in the early years of their careers and I feel like I’ve missed the boat. Maybe I’ll never be given a chance. Maybe I’ll always be asked the same question: “So why now, when you’ve been teaching blah-de-blah?” With just that hint of suspicion as to my motives, trying to weed out some little secret that simply doesn’t exist.

Well let me tell you why. I love classroom teaching: I love the banter with the pupils, I love helping them make progress, opening their eyes to new ideas, and I love that they make me open my eyes too. I love thinking on my feet, finding new ways to explain something in ten seconds flat for the one child that “doesn’t get it”, seeing children develop over the year, and making resources and lessons to move the learning on and engage the pupils. I’ve had different responsibilities in different roles, but to me that wasn’t the be all and end all of teaching. I was never upwardly mobile before because I had so many things I was enjoying, from trips to clubs and competitions: how would I get the chance to do all this if I was in charge and bogged down with paperwork and phone-calls, I used to think.

But now I feel the time is right. I’ve stacked up enough experience in different roles to enable me to see that I could do a promoted job very well. I sometimes wish I was in charge because I can see a simple solution to something that others are not willing to try, or because I know that I could do it well – or better. I’m looking forward to five or ten years down the line and I can’t imagine staying in the role I’m currently in because I feel the need for a change and a challenge. I’m going stale and I feel the world moving on past me but the feeling is one of being trapped. I’m top of the pay scale and I want to try something new – so why won’t anybody give me a chance?

So I really don’t know what to do next. There are only so many knock-backs I can take without feeling like a deflated balloon: no longer of use to anyone and hanging around in the corner long after the use-by date. If there’s no way I’m going to be given a chance to move on within teaching, then what should I do? I’m more than ready to move onwards and upwards, but if there are no opportunities for me, then maybe I should look in another direction. I just don’t know what or where.

Friday, 2 October 2009

Twitter stole my blogging vibe!

Oh I have been quiet haven't it! I was sure I was going to have a summer off, not thinking about school, and that pretty much happened, which, as they say, was nice. There were also a thousand other things I wanted to do over the summer, but the best laid plans, as they also say... well, you know the rest. A wash-out of a summer, apart from those three days where I did manage to live the dream and read in the garden, but a break from the classroom whichever way you look at it.

But then there's the Twitter thing. I was going to be my usual aloof self but Twitter is a whole new way to connect with people on the internet. It's far more immediate than blogging like this, but as such, you probably end up revealing more about yourself. Which is a phenomenon which had me thinking about its uses in the classroom: how much more appealing to think you only have to type 140 characters instead of an essay! How great to have immediate feedback from others all round the world, and be able to join others in commenting on the news and random selection of "trending topics". What a relief to see your "tweets" slip off the bottom of the page after a few minutes, so you go more with ideas than first time perfection.

Yep, I can see Twitter as a great educational accessory. I just wish the schools I know and indeed work in were far more geared up technologically to accommodate classes of students working with blogging tools like Twitter. I know it goes on in a number of classrooms across the world, because every now and again a teacher will ask fellow tweeters to say hi to their class or answer a question like how old you have to be to drive where you live. I'd love to work in a place where current technologies are used to inspire students but for the moment I shall have to wait until the infrastructure becomes available... or I find it somewhere!

Thursday, 11 June 2009

I think this must be a record

Surely this is slightly ridiculous... I've just seen the first "back to school - buy new uniform" advert on TV. This is far, far worse than Easter eggs on Boxing Day.


However twee all this Twitter language is, I'm enjoying tweeting about on Twitter (see - annoying and cloying all at once!) If you're on Twitter and are an educationalist or sympathiser, then do join the Tweecher twibe (I know, I know...). You will find it at:

It's actually really inspiring to be in contact (via 140 character updates) with teachers who are so dedicated to putting ICT to fantastic use. And also hilarious to know that while I'm procrastinating over marking by arsing about online, there are others doing exactly the same. Plus there are journalists posting links to education-related news stories as they break. A fully rounded experience on a flat screen!

I will post some of my tweets (arghh! the twerminology!) on here at some point soon, but until then, get on over there!

Sunday, 7 June 2009

Foolish fools?

I live in a shroud of paranoia. Don't get me wrong - I am very dedicated to being a good teacher because I believe educating our young citizens is one of the most important responsibilities in our society. But I do rant about the daily grind of what can be, at times, a difficult job - made even more difficult by poor attitudes, lack of resources and annoying colleagues and bosses. And at no point would I ever want to cause any embarrassment to those I work with.

So it's quite hard for me to get my head round the idiocy of two teachers recently who have made the news for their own brazenness.

The first is:
An English teacher at a West Yorkshire school has been dismissed for writing a book involving underage drinking, hints of drug use and "pupil fantasies".

And the second is:
Scottish teacher in trouble for tweeting about her pupils – and criticising the head

Ranting Student

I had this comment on my last post and I think it deserves an entry of its own.

Hate to say it, but I as a student completely disagree with what your saying.
Yes students misbehave, yes we talk alot.But have you ever thought that maybe
your teaching isnt up to scratch?? We talk cause thats all we have to do,
otherwise we are stuck listening to you whine on about how you can't teach
(which just so happens is true most cases than not)so really.. shove all your
complaints up your arse and STFU.You have been here before so give us some
slack, we do more work than you think.good day.

So let's look at this in detail...

In a way, you've got to feel some pity for this student. The anger, the frustration - even if we haven't all felt such vehement passions as teenagers, we can recognise that being a teenager isn't easy.

But on the other hand, maybe this poster is just a rude and ignorant pest. Let's look at the evidence. Not the highest achiever in the class, I'll bet. My mind's eye's red pen hovers over about 7 errors, some of which may well be a result of the medium of communication, but others are errors which shouldn't be typed in the first place: your saying / alot... But what I see as a desirable correct use of our written language, others will dismiss as pedantry, so let's move on.

We talk cause thats all we have to do, otherwise we are stuck listening to you whine on about how you can't teach

Does any teacher seriously stand there and whine to the class that they can't teach? If so, then they probably deserve being put out to pasture. Or does this poster actually mean those times when a teacher is faced with such a class full of ignorance and rudeness that they stand there and tell the class they are finding it impossible to try to teach them? I know I've said something to a class who won't shut up before. I've told them straight that it's impossible to learn if you don't take part in the two-way process of teaching and learning. But that is when I've prepared a lesson for the class and they have just ignored whatever is in front of them in order to carry on their own conversations. So in my mind, the talking comes before the teacher frustration - and is the cause of teacher frustration.

Yes students misbehave, yes we talk alot.But have you ever thought that maybe your teaching isnt up to scratch??

It's a fair point that there are some people out there who are teaching without much of a clue. I've observed lessons by student teachers and experienced colleagues alike where the pace of the lesson is so slack that once pupils finish their task there is nothing else for them to do for a good few minutes, and they start poking each other, throwing paper, chatting, etc. That is a sign of poor teaching. But I'm aware of that, and I plan my lessons to avoid this kind of thing. And my despair often arises from when I've planned an interesting and resource-filled lesson but it doesn't even get off the ground because of the poor behaviour of students from the moment the lesson starts. It is so frustrating. And it always makes me feel utterly sorry for those students who are keen to learn but who are constantly interrupted by the chatting and silliness of those around them.

shove all your complaints up your arse and STFU

Hmmm, here's where your arguments fall down, ranting student. This sums up the rudeness and lack of respect that many of today's teenagers feel they have the right to display in class.

You have been here before so give us some slack,

Yes, I was a teenager, but no, I have never been in that completely self-obsessed mindset that screams "me me me" and wants to be entertained rather than taught. We had our chats and our silliness, but we knew when to buckle down and listen to the teacher. And if I think about why we did that, it was mostly because of fear. We feared the consequences of bad behaviour - the threat of detention or a talk from the deputy head. We feared our parents being told that we had mis-behaved and their subsequent shame and our subsequent bollockings. And we feared that if we didn't learn then we wouldn't pass our exams and couldn't go to university or get good jobs. At times it seemed oppressive and of course led to rebellion in small subversive ways by many, and in bigger ways by a few, but that fear of failure is missing from many of today's pupils. Parents see schools as the enemy and take their children's side in disputes over detentions. Mediocre students know they can scrape the grades to get into university to do mediocre courses. Students feel untouchable because they see outlets for their lack of talent in the pipe dreams of reality TV if they fail at school; after all, haven't we celebrated and excused the ignorance of characters like St Jade of Goody?

So, Ranting Student, thanks for your comment and insight into the mind of today's teen.

Wednesday, 27 May 2009

Muppet surprises

My year 11 teaching group were a mixed bunch: some lovely, some lively, some lazy, and some who made me livid. But in their en masse state, I'd been counting down the days to their study leave since before Christmas. There are two who I would miss, if I was inclined to do such a thing, because they have made me laugh until my sides have ached - usually unintentionally - and want to do well. But at least half of the rest make me want to turn on my heel and slam the door behind me, tell them to go and screw themselves, and hope they fail their GCSEs, because in our last couple of weeks most of them didn't seem to give a tuppeny toss about their impending exams.

In our last lesson I was trying to give them vital exam tips but only a handful were bothering to scribble notes and listen. I have, of course, been giving them vital exam tips all year, but they've had no sense of urgency so it all has to be reiterated. I had to send a couple of them out of the lesson for their rude and inappropriate behaviour. They seem to forget they have to come back for their exams, and therefore see no consequences for being complete muppets in their last few weeks.

But then one of those who I sent out made a surprise reappearance last week just after one of his exams. He sloped up to my room with another ne-er-do-well, both of them clutching sixth form prospectuses.

"Sixth form?" I spluttered. "I thought you wanted to do an apprenticeship?"

"Nah, I wanna go sixth form," was the reply. "I'm gonna miss school. I wanna stay on."

I barely disguised my sharp intake of breath and raised eyebrows.

"Do you think I can do (your subject) in sixth form?" This time his question made me laugh out loud.

"Oh, you're serious? Um, well, let's see how you do in your GCSEs..." was my pragmatic reply. Because what I was really thinking was, "Please, no oh no oh no!" But I knew the school's response would be: "Fabulous! Another head to count towards funding. Let him do whatever he wants, and we'll even give him a special chair in the sixth form common room, right next to the pool table and within a cue's jab of the fridge"...

Friday, 8 May 2009


Just because everyone is twittering on about it, Ranting Teacher has signed up to twitter. I may well get bored of it soon, but it seems a mindless way to spend a Friday evening...


Around this time last year I’d had my interview for my current job and had started to clear out years’ worth of rubbish from my classroom cupboard at the old place. I didn’t know that much about the new place, but it had seemed quite shiny and new. And the head teacher seemed cut from a different cloth to my previous boss.

But two terms in and I’m starting to see the cracks beneath the gloss. I’ve been party to snide comments from one staff member about another’s handling of a situation. I’ve been told that it’s no surprise that some kids are allowed to get away with bad behaviour when the management turn a blind eye to it. But this seems to be the norm for most schools: certain misdemeanours are overlooked to avoid any fuss/ paperwork/ visits from angry parents. And the bad behaviour continues.

At one school I worked in, the head teacher would come down on badly behaved pupils like a ton of bricks. The school was even singled out in the local press for by far the highest amount of fixed term exclusions in the area. Their spin was that we had a school full of ne’er-do-wells and a rampant drug problem, whereas we knew that most schools experienced similar problems but preferred to brush them under the carpet. At that school members of senior management spent their lunchtimes patrolling the grounds and keeping the smokers on their toes; at my current school I can see where the smokers gather each lunchtime from my window, and nobody seems bothered.

One time this previous head teacher suspended a boy who had threatened firstly a younger pupil, then the head teacher, with a broken glass bottle. How was this suspension not the right thing to do? But the governing body over-ruled the head teacher and the boy was allowed to return to lessons. And so, as a staff, we made the decision that none of us would teach this boy because of the severity of what he had done, and we would even walk out in support of the head teacher. The governors backed down and the boy was eventually found a place in another school, meaning that the child he had threatened would not have to worry about a retaliation attack.

In my last school, if a pupil swore at a teacher, and not just simply in front of them, it meant exclusion. But over the last couple of weeks I have heard all kinds of insulting language being bandied about, and had to report a couple of incidents to be taken up further. The only consequence for the offending pupils is to be placed on report, which is almost like a badge of (dis)honour for many of them. I find refuge in the “nice classes” and pity the poor children who happen to hear such foulness and altercations from a minority of kids who need taking in hand and showing that their actions will have real consequences.

Wednesday, 6 May 2009

10 O'Clock News of Eff-Off!

I've just been watching the 10 O'Clock News. I think it's quite an achievement that I've stayed up this late. But now I'm thinking I should give it up - after trying to calm down for the last couple of hours after a manic day of heavy horribleness all round, I've just heard something that has made me panic to the point of needing more beer.

It seems that the latest news is that we will be expected to work until we're 70 to help pay off the national debt, accrued if I recall (and yes, I do) by greedy bankers. Those greedy bankers who have recently lost their jobs and are now looking to teacher training as a new career path. Hey, I have an idea... all those responsible for getting us into this financial mess, why don't YOU work until you're 70, because I'm not sure I could keep going for even the next decade let alone any longer...

Monday, 4 May 2009

Pandemic panic

It's been a lovely long weekend, in spite of the typical bank holiday grey gloom today, and a well deserved rest - after all, it's been a good two weeks since the last holidays. And still three weeks until the next break.

So you can understand why, when I sit here watching the 10 O'clock News and there's mention of schools closing because of this swine flu panic, my ears prick up and I rack my brains to think of any kids I teach who have just been on exotic holidays. Now it seems that this flu isn't as serious as first thought, wouldn't just a hint of it be a great excuse to "work from home" instead of going into work tomorrow? I have been sneezing quite a bit today, and confined myself to the house, eating chocolate to keep my strength up, and keeping my pyjamas on in case I've needed to take to my bed all of a sudden.

Oh, and a day off would give me the chance to catch up with all the marking I should've done today...

May Day

Happy May Day! There's no dancing round maypoles for me today, but instead I've been ploughing through the monotonous application forms for new jobs in a last ditch attempt to find something more lucrative for the new academic year. The end of May is the deadline for handing in notices of resignation in order to start a new job in September, and suddenly there has been a flurry of adverts in the educational press for roles that would pay me more money and probably give me bigger headaches. So I've saved up the little hillock of brown envelopes containing glossy prospectuses and reams of exam results and statistics for today. And now my teacher reference number is burnt into my retinas, and I have managed to rewrite some old application letters to fit newish criteria, only to find that my printer has run out of ink and I have no "large letter" stamps. I sound like an excuse letter from a parent for a child having not done their homework.

I have, however, assembled my applications into an order of preference, based on the following all-important criteria:

1. How far away the school is. Too close and going to the pub in the future will become fraught with dangers like bumping into sixth formers when off duty; too far and the future increase in diesel prices will render any increased salary worthless.

2. What time the school day ends. 3.05 is in the lead so far, followed by 3.20. Anything beyond 4pm is just ridiculous - add a 2 hour meeting onto that time and you might as well have a regular job.

3. The school uniform. Enforcing rules about doing ties up properly is just so tiresome. Dealing with polo shirts and sweatshirts is so much more simple.

4. Exam results. There's a happy medium to aim for here: too high and the pressure to get good results year upon year becomes untenable. Too low and the school will probably be a nightmare to teach in.

5. Inspection reports. Firstly, more points for those schools inspected within the last year - it means I wouldn't be walking straight into an atmosphere of paranoia and pre-inspection panic. But why is it that so many of these schools have negative comments about "small pockets of disruptive behaviour", "sub-standard accommodation", and "long-term staff absences"? It's a poor school that can't whitewash these things for Ofsted.

So there we go. Bank Holiday Monday is half-way through and I've not yet turned to the piles of marking I have to do for my current job. I've eaten too much chocolate to numb the pain of writing out the last five years' worth of training courses I've been on (who remembers that stuff? - and who checks?) and I've still got to visit relatives with my USB drive, a cheeky smile and a request to use their printer. I just hope it's all worth it...

Monday, 13 April 2009

Teachers demand pay increase

I'd been waiting for some official news on this after I'd heard whispers earlier today. The BBC (amongst others) reports that the National Union of Teachers is demanding a pay increase for teachers. Now you will have your own opinion on this, and I wouldn't have even commented on this EXCEPT that the report on the BBC site just made me feel a little bit angry. Okay, quite a lot.

And it was this section in particular:

Responding to the conference decisions England's Schools Minister Sarah McCarthy-Fry said: "Teachers pay and conditions have never been better.
"We have increased their pay by 19% in real terms since 1998 which means the average teacher is on nearly £33,000," she claimed.
"We have also cut teachers' working hours, dramatically reduced the amount of administrative tasks they are expected to do, doubled the number of support staff and given them time outside of the classroom to plan and prepare lessons."

Right then, that's take a look at that.

1. Teachers pay and conditions have never been better - ignoring the lack of apostrophe for the meaning beneath, I beg to differ. I find my conditions quite deplorable at times. I'm sure you've probably noticed my discontent if you have followed this blog, for example. Poor buildings may be nothing new, but I'm sure when first constructed in the 1960s, many buildings were actually better than they are now. And the conditions? Well, knowing that I'm virtually powerless to stop children bringing in pornography and other 18-rated / illegal content on their mobile phones, or to enforce rules about attending detentions when parents dispute my professional judgement - no, to me these things do not make my working conditions better than they have been in the past.

2. the average teacher is on nearly £33,000 - firstly, what does "average teacher" mean? Outside of London, a salary of £33,000 is available to those who have gone "through the threshold" onto the second of the higher pay scales, which takes about a decade to achieve. "Average" therefore probably means taking into account those with management responsibilities plus those with the higher London wages. Secondly, how does this compare with other professionals such as solicitors, police officers, medical practitioners?
Well done Bradford teacher Ian Murch, who said:

"We take no lessons in morality from government ministers, who fit out their homes with stone sinks from Habitat on their expenses, who pay their husbands more than a teacher earns to be their personal assistants and who don't appear to engage in even a hint of performance management of what they get up to.''

3. We have also cut teachers' working hours, dramatically reduced the amount of administrative tasks they are expected to do - Ah yes, about that Teachers' Workload Agreement. Looks all fancy on paper doesn't it. We no longer have to collect money for field trips and other little jobs like that. But the amount of other paperwork has increased because we now have to juggle targets and statistics and prove we are accountable. To proceed to the upper pay scale, which allows access to the "average wages" bandied about earlier, we have to spend hour upon hour compiling folders full of evidence that we can teach, that we have attended courses, that we can number crunch targets and show all kinds of stuff to nobody in particular.

Put it this way: in years gone by, May to July were the best months to be in school. Years 11 and 13 disappeared on study leave and the remainder of the school became a more relaxed place. A few more free lessons to mark internal exams or create new resources ready for the new school year; end of term activities to chill out to; taking classes out into the open balmy air to read poetry under trees or collect water samples from the streams. But now there never seems to be any let-up. Children are often too unruly to take outside for lessons; budgetary constraints mean that timetables are reshuffled the minute exam classes leave so that you end up teaching random lessons in subjects you really don't have much idea about; and end of term activities are vetoed because the associated risk assessments are just too complicated.

So all in all, teaching today is more demanding and stressful than it ever was. Perhaps England's Schools Minister Sarah McCarthy-Fry should come and enjoy the ambiance of the average classroom and staffroom before making such paper-based judgements. Looking at her background, it would seem that Ms McCarthy-Fry has had pretty much no experience of schools since her own education quite some number of years ago. She's worked for a multi-national defence engineering company and is now a chartered accountant, and even her own website states that: "Her main political interests are trade and industry, defence and the social economy." She's been the Schools Minister for precisely six months and eight days. So I really don't give much weight to her opinion at all.

But the thing is, people are going to believe what this politician says, because it's a convenient thing to believe, that "we've never had it so good", when it's all such a load of hogwash.

By the way, in the year 2007/2008, Sarah McCarthy-Fry claimed £144,498 in expenses. I was not able to claim any for all the printing I did at home, my travel expenses to and from school, washing off the dirty fingerprints from my car where little scrotes had messed around it during lunchtimes, the books I bought because my department's collection was sadly lacking, the electricity and home internet connection I needed to use to do my lesson preparation, and so on. Lucky MPs... just think of the holidays...


The General Teaching Council, which snatches a chunk of our wages once a year to produce a rubbish magazine and tell us how we should be leading our lives, is mostly in the news for getting teachers kicked out of the profession for getting drunk on a Saturday night or nicking pens from the stationery cupboard.

But apparently, while a few pints (of wine) at the weekend is a no-no, hard drugs are perfectly fine...

Teacher in nightclub crack arrest goes unpunished by GTC

A science teacher arrested for possessing crack cocaine has escaped without punishment from England’s General Teaching Council.
Michael Swann, who teaches at Maltby Community School in Rotherham, South Yorkshire, was found guilty of unacceptable professional conduct. But he avoided any further disciplinary action after he was praised by his headteacher for being a role model for pupils.
The judgment follows complaints from some teachers that the GTC - which is preparing to unveil a new code of conduct - has become too intrusive when dealing with teachers’ private lives. The number of tribunals involving out-of-school offences has soared in recent years.


Yesterday I was thinking back to when I first started writing as "Ranting Teacher". It started me thinking about some of the real characters I've taught over the years, and the clever - or downright bizarre - things that children have come out with. Now don't worry, I'm not about to do a "children say the funniest things" post, because most of the time they are situation comedies - you have to have been there at the time for it to retain a modicum of humour.

But it did remind me of something that happens to me every now and again. This year, being in a new school with rivers of mostly new faces coursing through the corridors, a weird sensation has occurred a few times. For a moment, I think I spot a face I recognise: a pleasant girl from my form group, or the witty boy from my Year 10 class, or a girl who made me a present after a school trip. But then the child turns around and I realise it's not them at all, and I also realise that it couldn't possibly be that pupil because they were in my old school not my new one. And I suddenly realise how much I miss certain pupils and other things of my last school.

Because the reason new schools can be so tough and dis-heartening is that you haven't yet built up sufficient relationships with the children that you teach. They still try to find your weaknesses and suss you out. But already some kinds of attachments are being formed. One of my classes, who drive me round the bend with their inability to concentrate and their random interruptions, are already asking me if I will be teaching them next year. Now I'm not that naive that I see this as flattery; instead I see it as a case of "better the devil you know", but what it has shown me is that they are starting to see me as a piece of the furniture, which is a positive thing unless they start etching in their initials and sticking chewed gum on me somewhere.

Sunday, 12 April 2009

Six years of moaning online!

It's Easter Sunday. It's the 12th of April. And it's exactly six years since I posted my first whinge about teaching.

Back then, blogging was a word I was yet to hear, but I did have my own website which I painstakingly updated with shoddy html at irregular intervals. The website is still out there somewhere, although currently lurking and inaccessible while it has a spring clean. Since then, teacher blogs have sprung up all over the place - lots of them for the power of good: sharing useful ideas and analysing current education issues. This one, however, has been mostly about the moaning!

The second edition of my book Everything you need to know to survive teaching was published last month, which is a little more positive than this website, in that I do have a good old whinge about stuff, but there are also tips on how to try to minimise the annoyances and traumas of the job. In fact, I was having a flick through it myself the other day to remind myself of some strategies that get filed away somewhere in my mind, before metaphorical boxes of other stuff get dumped on top of them, obscuring them temporarily. It's like going on these courses which teach your grandmother to suck eggs, and realising that in the business of everyday survival you'd forgotten you even had a grandmother. Or what an egg looked like. Or something.

So there you are. Happy blogging birthday to me! When I started writing this, the Year 13s at my last school were in Year 7. The Year 11s have graduated from university, and/or had babies (in fact, one of them brought in her baby to show me a few months after her GCSEs), and/or have moved on and forgotten all about school. I have had a few interviews, got a new teaching job, and am still desperately looking round for something else to do instead. But until then, I'll keep ranting - it's so much cheaper than therapy.

Monday, 6 April 2009

Just think of the holidays

"Just think of the holidays," is a phrase I hear far too frequently when I'm sighing over my job. But now it is the Easter holiday period, and I find myself thinking of school - hard to avoid when I have boxes of books needing marking in most rooms of the house. This evening I have decided to be a rebel. Even though it's incredibly late (for me) on a Sunday night (Monday morning), I am forcing myself to stay up late, because it's what I always want to do during term time. Except all these great TV programmes that seem to be on late at night are in hiding and I've had to resort to rolling news reports to keep me going. Ah well, bed time then.


Friday, 27 March 2009

Boozers 2

A couple of weeks ago I blogged about schoolkids drinking alcohol. This is just to draw your attention to an article published on the BBC's website yesterday: UK youths among worst for drink.

Interview X-Factor

Less than a year after my last job interview, I found myself dusting off my interview suit, breathing a sigh of relief that it still fitted, and tipping all the contents out of my interview briefcase to see if I could find my crib notes on such questions as "why do you want this job?" and "what are your strengths, weaknesses, and favourite flavour of jelly beans?".

Yes, I had an interview. And no, before you ask, I didn't get the job. The vagueness of the job description became clearer within the first half an hour of me arriving at the school: my three hours of application form filling-in, three hours of observed lesson preparation, and uncounted hours of online research were going to do me no good because I was up against an Internal Candidate.

Now I'm not naive enough to believe that by default an internal candidate will get the job. I've witnessed my previous colleagues go for promotions within our school and known full well that the governors and headteacher are looking for anybody slightly more competent than them. But when the internal candidate has been acting up in the role for over 12 months already, you know you might as well reverse the car straight back out of the parking space and go and watch daytime television instead of putting yourself through a day of stress and humiliation.

But that's not what I did. Because in some ways I have a belief in myself that I could actually do the job well. I don't know if it would be better than the competition - and this answers one of the questions posed to me by the sixth form representatives in the informal interview in the morning...

Sixth form reps: "What makes you think you can do this job better than the other candidates?"
Me: "Because they look a bit thick and the older bloke has definitely got a nervous twitch."
No, not really.
Me: "I think that's impossible to say because I don't know the other candidates."

And so I participated in the usual pattern of the interview day: I traipsed around the school with a couple of hand-picked confident middle class pupils, taking in the hidden pockets of rubbish and graffiti, and sat sipping coffee with the other candidates, and went through the tiresome "informal" stuff which is anything but. The internal candidate was a nervous wreck and was being pumped for information by an overly ambitious young whipper-snapper of a candidate, and I flicked through my collection of crib cards on latest initiatives and findings.

As this was a management position of small standing, I expected the morning to include some kind of "in-tray" exercise or a quick analysis of statistics, but instead it was the usual routine of interrogation by the headteacher, a deputy, and a number of sixth formers with naive questions. As our morning schedule drew to a close, my stomach began to grumble with hunger, and I wondered what kind of food the canteen served up.

But before lunchtime, in breezed the headteacher with the deputy and head of department, and began to address us all. "Strong candidates, blah blah, exciting and innovative lessons, blah blah..." So we were about to be weeded out before lunchtime. No chance to meet the governors, shake a few hands whilst maintaining eye contact, nor even make electioneering promises about lunchtime clubs and new initiatives. But to make it worse, this headteacher obviously had an urge not to be running a school but instead to be Simon Cowell, gloating with power and about to eliminate one or more of us. And it wasn't my imagination, I'm sure, that the headteacher had shot a look straight at the internal candidate but avoided any eye contact with me. So I felt prepared enough after the "strong candidates" bit to realise I was being sent home without any lunch or any chance to set out my stall in the formal interview.

However nothing quite prepares you for the awkwardness for everyone involved when you are told, in front of everyone else, that you are not worthy. Why it has to be done "X-Factor" style I really don't know. Far better, surely, to be told individually rather than in front of everyone else. It's like a slap across the face or being given a detention slip. I slowly and deliberately shuffled my papers into my briefcase, wondering if the other candidates could bear to look at me. I took my time. I decided that if I was to be humiliated in front of everyone then I might as well prolong the awkward silence for everyone else too. After a short eternity I rose from my chair, gave the other candidates a curt nod, and left the room, resisting any urges to be petulant and slam the door. No lunch! The greatest humiliation of it all! And it was a thirty minute drive back to my house.

Still, I had a good afternoon of lounging around instead of the alternative: waiting anxiously for a formal interview, then hanging around to be told the results. And I feel lucky, in a way, firstly to have seen a school whose website promises so much and whose derelict buildings told a different tale, and secondly, to have discovered so soon the sadistic tendencies of the headteacher.

Argh grrrr - a right rant!

Sometimes it really is the day to end all days, the day when it would be so easy just to walk right out of the classroom, then walk out of the school, and keep on walking, preferably with a middle finger extended in the general direction of all the rubbish left behind.

Year 11 are being particularly horrific at the moment. Not only do I teach a class of rude, disruptive, ungrateful and "not bovvered" brats, but I also have the misfortune of having most of them in my registration group too. Most mornings start with a torrent of swearing, abusive language to each other and to the world in general, ignored instructions to remove coats and scarves, followed by fifteen minutes of me trying to ignore conversations I really don't want to hear.

This morning was no exception. Year 11 as a whole have sensed that the end of compulsory schooling is nigh. The recent warm weather only spurred on the sense of freedom. Whilst most teachers start to panic on their behalf, running around after missing coursework and photocopying study sheets, the majority of Year 11 are planning parties and not giving a shit because in their opinions they will soon be untouchable and sooooo out of there. My Year 11 teaching group have adopted a pack mentality of utter ignorance and rudeness. I'm counting down our final lessons with a mixture of relief and anxiety. Some of the class are desperate for further knowledge and help, but they are overwhelmed by the noisy and disrespectful majority. The boys are locking horns like raging rhinos, pushing and fighting each other before, after, and during lessons. The girls are preoccupied with scowling and bitching and saying "you know what, though, yeah" a lot. They feel compelled to argue that black is, in fact, sky blue pink, and that I'm an out of touch eejit for not knowing that.

As we sorted out coursework, most of which was done in Year 10 with their last teacher, I've lost count of the number of times I've been told she was a "crap" teacher when I know that by reputation she was fearsome and innovative and got good results. What a legacy to retire with: your final students, in their ignorance, only remembering you as "crap" because they couldn't be bothered to turn in coursework by the right deadlines.

So after a morning of stroppy form group and antagonistic GCSE group, I thought I was going to burst a blood vessel. What choices are there? Rise to the bait of being wound up? No. Engage in a discussion and hear out their views? Impossible: it's a one way street of closed minds and filthy mouths. Try to ignore it all and keep calm? That's the only option I've seen as viable, but it's so hard. But it's also rather defeatist. And it leads to zero job satisfaction.

Last week I tired to engage the same group in some fancy lesson to revise quite a dry topic if you're 16 years old and thinking of blow jobs not revision. It ended up with paper aeroplane revision sheets and stolen scissors. And I thought to myself, why waste my time preparing stuff like that when it ends up with such total disrespect?

One morning a huddle of my tutor group were loudly discussing how rude they had been to another teacher the day before. It became a competition of bravado: each trying to out-do the others with what they had told a teacher to do or how they had acted. The rest of the class had stopped their conversations to listen, and so I couldn't close my ears to it any more. I asked them if they thought that people became teachers because they wanted constant abuse, or if it's because they wanted to help educate people. Their replies were quite disturbing, and can be summarised as such:

A) most teachers are on power trips, and they only become teachers because they like feeling powerful in front of teenagers;
B) if you don't like getting verbal abuse all day long, then why do you become a teacher? If you don't want abuse, you should go and work in a primary school.

And that's it. My right to reply or attempts to introduce some logic into the room were shouted down by snarling mouths and noses wrinkled with disgust. And since then, they seem to be stuck in a rut of repetitive discussion about which teachers they hate more than others, and who's going to get what before they leave in May. One foul-mouthed boy, who each morning is either nursing a hangover or verbally abusing everyone that walks through the door, told me that I'm the only teacher he doesn't have a grudge against. At which point one of the mouthiest girls burted out: "Oh I have a grudge..." but luckily for me or her the bell started to drown out what I've done to piss her off. And this is the girl for whom, just two weeks ago, I wrote a glowing reference for FE college, where she can train to care for people's babies, and possibly deafen them with her shrieking and foul mouth.

So I'm going to make myself a little chart and start to tick off the days before Year 11, in their own words, "do one" and "bugger off". And how they will cope in the big bad world with attitudes like that... Well, I'd like to be a fly on the wall - and possibly a fly on their dinner, serving up some of the crap they've given me over the past few months.

Friday, 13 March 2009

Management here I come?!

Well, not really, but this did make me laugh when I read it in a mail-out: the government is to introduce a new 'Accelerate to Headship scheme' in September 2010, offering 'up to 200 outstanding individuals' a fast-track pathway to senior leadership. The reason for this? They realise that in a couple of years everyone will have wised up and realised the utter stress of running a school in this day and age is just not worth the salary, criticism and future heart attacks.

Monday, 9 March 2009

Too soon?

I made a decision this weekend. I'm going to apply for new jobs. Now if you've been following this blog you'll know that I went all through this last year, and started this new job in September. And I know I should give it time - preferably about three or four years to actually settle in! But you'll also have seen how unchallenged and downright bored I've been, let alone the frustration at all the usual school-related stuff.

So I'm going to see how far I can dip my toe into the puddle of management without drowning. My only problem is how I broach this with my current school. Wanting to be challenged is not a sin, but I haven't even made a mark there - aside from the dents in the wall where I bang my head against it frequently. And does it look downright ungrateful to be given a job and then look elsewhere within six months? Why is there so much guilt associated with this profession?!

Sunday, 8 March 2009


There’s a girl in my form group who has had her stomach pumped twice since Christmas. Like most of my form group, she spends her weekends drinking so much alcohol that she makes herself extremely ill. The pupils spend registration periods discussing how off their heads they were or how they are going to get more alcohol for the next session. In my Year 9 group one girl is regularly off with hangovers, and another insists on telling me about drinking in the park and avoiding the police. One of my Year 11 boys had cuts and burns all down one arm recently, and when I asked what it was he had no shame in telling me his mate had done it with a hot poker and razor when they were drunk. I think he may have meant “stoned” or “off their heads” or similar though.

It’s absolutely endemic. And it makes me wonder how these children have the opportunities and money to sustain these dangerous hobbies. Why don’t their parents know what they’re up to? Okay, I know that some of these pupils have parents who are as bad as them: smoking their cigarettes when their own supply has run out, for example. But many of these children are from the kind of caring and supportive parents who provide piano lessons and pencil cases and educational holidays.

It also makes me ponder what my role in all this is supposed to be. I shouldn’t have to hear about all this. And if I do, then my chastisements for unsuitable conversations fall on scornful ears. My threats to pass on information to the head of year is scoffed at as the pupils tell me it’s nothing to do with me as it happens outside of school. And yet I witness the money changing hands for the lunchtime cigarettes – or worse. And I’m supposed to be educating children who are too hungover or even absent because of alcohol abuse. And suddenly to me the minutiae of my subject seem far less important than the need to straighten out these individuals and educate the whole child. But apparently, it's not my business...


Recently I’ve been wondering why I always feel so tired after a day at work. After all, if I arrive at the last minute in the morning as the bell for registration sounds, and leave a few hours later when the final bell rings, I’m only at work for fewer than seven hours: far less than many other workers in this country. Even after a week off for half term, I was still ready for another holiday after being back for a week. So why the weak constitution? And it’s not just me: drawn faces in the staffroom attest to the same thing.

Last week I started to approach this question logically by looking at what happened each day to tire me out. Firstly, I don’t sleep well. So much happens during the day that it takes a long time for it all to stop shuffling around in my mind of an evening, and much of it must still be seeping out as my head touches my pillow. Very often I wake up in the early hours having suddenly remembered something like a pupil telling me they were being bullied and I forgot to see the head of year, or that I need to take in a resource for the next day that I haven’t yet packed but I’m too sleepy to get up and find it at 3am.

My alarm goes off early. Schools generally start early and I usually have some preparation to carry out before the official start of the school day. Truth be told, it’s probably things I could have done if I had stayed for an hour after school the evening before, but come that final bell after a day of aggravation, I usually can’t wait to leave and shake off the stresses of the day.

So by the time I arrive at school I’ve already been up a few hours after a bad night’s sleep. There is usually ten minutes of peace in my classroom before the first pupils start drifting in… and then there’s no moment to draw a deep breath until seven hours later. The day is filled with tiresome parrot-type repetition as I snap the usual lines of “coats off, gum in the bin” and then try to avoid engaging in debate about school uniform; quick interactions with other flustered staff; giving out numerous notices and doing admin during fifteen minutes of registration; having thirty seconds to switch gear between an A level class and a Year Seven special needs group; deflecting arguments; running lunchtime meetings or detentions; doing duties; sorting broken computers and printers whilst retaining eyes in the back of my head; absorbing hormonal stresses of angsty teenagers; filling in paperwork about being sworn at or confiscating cigarettes; chasing photocopies and updating whiteboard resources; and overall, trying to teach and ensure that all pupils in the room are learning something in that lesson. There is rarely time to stop and pause for a moment.

Above all, it can be so emotional. However much of a hard edge you develop – and it doesn’t take long – the incessant chipping away at your patience can make you snap. The nagging from a discordant chorus for over five hours at a time sets your nerves on edge. Absorbing or deflecting verbal abuse and stroppy rudeness… there is no let-up, no escape, no sneaking off to the toilets with a newspaper for ten minutes to cool down.

Seeing ineffective policies in practice only adds to the stress: if I refer on a pupil for bad behaviour, nothing really gets done about it but I have to find that ten minutes from somewhere to fill in the paperwork or track down the head of year. Having a pile of paperwork thrust at me first thing from a member of senior management which requires my immediate attention when I have a class of hyperactive 15 year olds to register and organise also adds to the stress. Like an octopus I grab things thrown my way: homework, coursework, paperwork… no wonder my desk erupts by the end of each day.

So it might be not quite 4pm by the time I leave work, but I often feel like I’ve lived three days in one. And that must be the reason why I feel so exhausted all the time.

Sunday, 22 February 2009


Question: Is it better to have a really dull half term holiday where you potter around a bit and mark a few books every day, and plan some lessons, and worry about work? Or an amazing week off, full of fun and late nights and a nagging feeling at the back of your mind that you should be doing some work, which only becomes reality on Sunday evening just twelve hours before you're back in work again?

Answer: At this point on a Sunday evening it doesn't really matter... that sinking "back to work" feeling is all pervasive...

Sunday, 15 February 2009


One of the problems of working with children is that you often default to their juvenile behaviour: maybe it's peer pressure. Or maybe when you're surrounded by the intensity of being a teenager it starts to sink into your pores by osmosis. It does mean though, that I found this headline at the BBC amusing in an Ali G style way, before I realised that I'd probably be first up against the wall if it happened here: Shock as Tanzania teachers caned

In one of my classes this year I have a couple of boys who come out with some utter rubbish, but they do make me laugh. I've given up trying not to laugh at them, and they do enjoy the attention it brings: they aren't really as stupid as they appear. Quite frequently the whole of the relatively small class and I are laughing uncontrollably at some idiotic comment that one of them has made.

But there's not just the humour that degenerates. At a recent family gathering I was told how cutting I was being about certain topics, and it wasn't something I'd noticed I was doing. But when I thought about why such nastiness was dribbling from my lips, I realised it was probably reactionary from the frenetic nastiness buzzing around me during the day... somehow I had picked up on the back-biting comments as being the norm. But it was good to have that moment of self-realisation, so I could try to make myself grow up a little more.

Bad weather season

I made it through the wilderness.... and the snow.... and now it's half term! We were most unfortunate at my school in that we only had the one day of closure because of bad weather, whilst colleagues at my previous school were gloating and gleeful at having the best part of a week off. Note to self: must look at topography more closely when choosing next school.

Having snow outside and trying to contain kids inside is one of the worst experiences I'd ever had, until the last lesson of the half term where I'd foolishly made the wrong choice between covering for an absent teacher or accompanying a class down to a talk by an outside speaker on something so deathly dull I can't even recall what it was. The pupils just wanted to go home, not be bored to rebellion by somebody talking at them for an hour, so it was no surprise when they started messing about, eating, fighting... but very wearisome for me! Every time my eyes glazed over in a bored stupour I had to jerk myself awake to chastise some child for trying to throttle another or for snapping their chewing gum loudly. I don't remember any degree module on babysitting duties such as these.

It was an anti-climatic end to the half term, which had eclipsed some of the genuinely lovely moments of the day. In the morning half of my Year 11 group was missing as they had been yanked out of class for a mass telling off for some sort of vandalism, so I was left with the nicer element of the group. We couldn't really get on with much without the naughty missing members, however tempting it was, and so we were generally chatting about careers and what they intend to do next year. I discovered one of the quiet girls really wants to be a doctor, so we were looking up details about courses on the class computer, which felt like a genuine way to actually help somebody for a change.

Then there was a touching moment during a Year 7 lesson, where I'd cunningly disguised my laziness by calling the lesson an exercise in "thinking skills". I'd handed over the decision making to the pupils the lesson before: they had to present a topic in any way they wanted to. It meant I could sit there and just observe, perhaps pondering what I might have for dinner or something, as they practised and rehearsed. A couple of groups made cartoon strips; several groups made up little plays, but one boy wanted to work on his own and made a puppet show. Now I do worry about this boy, as he is so earnest but the rest of his class seem to tease him all the time, although he just seems obvlious to it all. But when he presented his puppet show the other children all gathered round and were genuinely oohing and ahhhing at his presentation, quite enraptured. It was lovely to see. And of course, it meant no marking for me from that lesson!

Friday, 30 January 2009

Everything you need to know to survive teaching...

This week I received the advance copies of my new book: Everything you need to know to survive teaching - the second edition! And do you know what I thought, dear reader... what an excellent present it might make for the teacher in your life...

Saturday, 17 January 2009

Get rid of religion

I've been perusing inspection reports. Strange hobby it isn't; it's getting to know the schools in my local area just in case a job comes up that means I could have an extra half an hour in bed each morning.

And what I notice time and time again is that most schools are criticised for lacking in the statutory requirement for a daily act of collective worship. Now when I was a school pupil back in the increasingly hazy mists of time, we had assembly every day. We sung hymns, we dropped our hymn books accidentally on purpose to raise a few giggles and glares, we didn't dare whisper to our neighbour, and we stood up when the teachers flounced onto stage. Since becoming a teacher I've never stepped foot into a school that does this.

Instead, the majority of schools do not have a hall big enough to accommodate the whole school population in one place at one time. Even if there's a way round this, such as extracting one year group at a time for their own year assembly, most pupils only meet for a whole school assembly once a week. This, I think, is a mistake. I believe that a whole school assembly provides cohesion and sets out expectations quite clearly. It's an opportunity to pass on messages and give some moral guidance. I remember the stories we were told in assembly quite clearly, right back to primary school. True, they seemed to be told on an annual rotation, and I've never been one for the religious messages in particular, but I feel I gained a lot from the food for thought they provided.

But sadly, as most schools don't have a whole school assembly every day, this collective act of worship is supposed to take place in form time instead. And it just doesn't work. Maybe in Year 7 the pupils are open and receptive to the structure of a quick prayer "to the god we believe in" and some debate of a thought for the day, but try this with stroppy Year 9s and upwards and you are fighting a losing battle. However subtly a teacher may try to squeeze in a moral message, the pupils are quick to sense that your tone has changed from nagging about uniform to something they're going to take even less notice of. Start to mention "prayer" and the backlash starts.

Religious Education has a generally poor reputation amongst pupils; it needs a rebrand for the 21st century. It's no surprise really: when the news is dominated by deaths and doom caused by religious conflict and the subsequent wars on terror, who wouldn't be turned off by religion? But that's not to say I don't think it has a place in schools: it is precisely because of the dominance of religious conflict in the news that pupils need to know about world religions. And Religious Education does provide the crucial opportunity for children to think philosophically about moral issues, which I see as far more important than learning about oxbow lakes or other trivia that, let's face it, could be condensed to a fact file on the back of a cereal packet. The things learnt in Religious Education are, I believe, some of the most essential life skills that pupils need to grasp. But get rid of the name. It's such a turn off. Call it something sexier and half the battle is won.

But back to these daily acts of collective worship. Why have them at all? Schools fail to provide this quite frequently according to the inspection reports I've read, because even if there is some discussion about important issues in tutorial time, the religious aspect is missing. So why do the powers that be keep insisting that we provide a prayer a day? Again, it needs re-branding. What is a prayer anyway? For the few people who do believe in a god, how many of them pray because they believe their god will answer their prayers, and how many actually just benefit from sorting their muddled thoughts and anxieties into some sort of conscious order? Meditation does provide benefits, but most pupils aren't in the mood to think if from the outset they are being asked to do something they don't believe in. Instead, we need a daily act of collective thinking, discussion, debate and awareness. It would serve the same purpose but without the failure factor generated by using the words "religion" or "worship".

Leading by example

I wrote before about the difference a Head Teacher makes to a school. And I knew there was great hope for my school when I recently caught sight of something that I don't suppose many others did. We'd had an Open Evening in deepest darkest winter, when the staff found it gruelling to stand around like sales assistants for three hours after a day's work and answer difficult questions from parents: some over-keen, others ill-informed. As we began to shuffle our best text books into piles ready to stash away from sticky hands and rude pens until next year, I realised I'd left my coat somewhere. And as it was about minus ten outside I knew I had to find it before the caretaker locked it away and doomed me to freeze solid and statue-like just as my hand grasped in my bag for de-icer.

I dashed to the Staff Room and saw my coat lying across the back of a chair, and just as I turned to leave I caught a glimpse into the kitchenette. There I saw our Head Teacher, sleeves rolled up, washing up hundreds of cups and saucers, alone and unacknowledged. And I couldn't help but smile and feel renewed enthusiasm for working for somebody like this.

Friday, 16 January 2009

Bad Boys (and Girls)

It's not often I would refer you to The Telegraph, but in this case, it's worth seeing. If I wasn't a teacher I would read that article about terrible behaviour in schools with a cycnical eye, thinking the media was doing their usual "it's the end of civilisation as we know it" act of prophesising armageddon... but I work in a relatively nice school and even I come across this behaviour several times a week.

In fact, in my last school, one student in particular was such a nightmare of aggression and stroppiness that I overlooked whatever duty of care I perhaps should have had for him, and looked out for the others in the class instead. And myself of course. Because each lesson, it could go one of two ways. The first way was the worst way. Ten minutes into the lesson he would explode about something or other, kicking over chairs, stomping out, hurling abuse and books and whatever else was in reach. The second way was preferable, but wrong in the eyes of authorities and laws. He would sheepishly ask to go to the toilet, disappear for ten minutes, and return in a more chilled out mood with slightly blood-shot eyes. He would placidly make a half-arsed attempt at whatever we were doing, without a fuss, and the lesson might even be pleasant for everyone else too.

So which has the best results for the well-being of the students as a whole then? Maybe he just should have had ritalin, but took an alternative route...

Building bridges

Ah, look at me there. I was all "end of the year" melancholic wasn't I? Well I decided to return with a more positive attitude for 2009, and for a few days it worked. In the fast-paced, slow-stretched world of the pupils' lives, after one term to them I seemed like I'd been there forever. Even my form group, a bunch of foul-mouthed piss-heads and stoners if they are to be believed (hah!), asked me how my holidays had been, but only so they could then regale me with tales about what they did on New Year's Eve. Puking up on pool tables in the local pubs seemed to be a favourite pastime this year.

But a mere eight school days into the new year and the "alrigh' teacher" greetings had been replaced by at-tee-chood. This week has been the sort where I've had to exercise restraint beyond the understanding of most other professions, except perhaps Catholic priests, and even then...

Three girls in my form group, flashing new diamond rings straight from the Argos catalogue bought to them by gullible boyfriends, have returned with more attitude than they ever had last term. This has resulted in several "in my face" rows as they scream at me in frustration at not being able to slather on another orange layer of foundation because I've informed them it's assembly today. Let's just say they are lucky that their hair extensions are still glued to their heads and not inexplicably wrapped around my fingers...