Tuesday 30 December 2008

That was the end of term...

End of term scenario 1: Year 11s have had their mock exams and see no point in being at school for the last week of term. Me neither. The wisest ones didn’t bother showing up. The rest just came in moaning in the usual “can we watch a video” way. I’d actually managed to manoeuvre it so there was an educationally relevant (albeit a tenuous link) film for them to watch. They would have been impossible otherwise. But they are out of control and over-excited: the talk is of boyfriends and expensive presents and getting drunk and new phones. A gaggle have exchanged presents and ripped them open and now they all have chocolate that they are just about to start eating even though by rights the lesson has started and the rules state that they can’t eat in classrooms. But I know they’re going to anyway. The solution: “Okay, we’re about to watch the film, and because this our last lesson before Christmas, as a special treat, you can eat chocolates if you have any, but only if you promise to put the wrappings in the bin.” The response: “Oh thanks, you’re so cool, wicked…” etc. The result: I look like the good guy even though all I’ve done is formally acknowledge their rule-breaking…

End of term scenario 2: the staff party looms. Rumours abound that it has taken on a significance well beyond the reality of a few drinks and crackers in a local wine bar and that it’s the social event of the millennium. Any sane person knows this is a lie. Any sane person knows it will be a bunch of teachers standing around swilling drinks for an hour or so and discussing shop and mundane rubbish before some of the group get drunk and start being “outrageous” and giving the teachers of a certain age something to talk about for the next few weeks. The solution: catch a terrible cold and cough pathetically at any given opportunity, therefore giving you a perfectly good excuse not to attend the social event of the millennium and get home in time for Friday night telly instead.

What chance do they have?

I suspect that this kind of thing isn't unusual... A couple took their baby on a drinking sesssion and have been prosecuted for its neglect. I suspect they still live with their baby though. As teachers we have to be vigilant and look out for indications that need to be reported to a designated child protection officer. And it's not unusual to discover quite disturbing things about children's home lives from their conversations or from what they write in lessons or form time.

Children with alcholic or drug dependent parents are more usual than you'd think. And with this comes the neglect: poor nutrition, dirty clothes, children looking after parents, no money for school dinners or trips... what chance do these kids have when they look at the role models in their lives? In the past I've had to report on a child who wrote about being given sleeping tablets so her mother could go out and leave her for days; another who looked after an alcoholic mother; a child who unwittingly brought in some of their parents' drug stash to show their mates... and the list goes on.

And very occasionally you get the pleasure of meeting these parents at Parents' Evenings. Mostly they don't show up, but sometimes they have an axe to grind so make the effort. I had one recently. The daughter is well on her way to delinquency and takes great delight in telling me how her mother thinks that we, the school, should be sorting her out. And all I can think is: why doesn't her own mother "sort her out"? Why doesn't she take some responsibility for the delinquent she has spawned and nurtured? Meeting the mother was a very unpleasant experience. Just as I was about to fill her in on what I was doing to try and steer her daughter towards some sort of exam success I could sense the seething rage bubbling up from the mother. And having come across this type of parent before I knew there was only one thing to do: agree and tell her whatever she wanted to hear before she exploded with indignation. The mother was looking for a fight, but I wasn't going to give her the opportunity.

I don't know what the solution is. Maybe school is the solution: give these children a chance to develop properly, away from their piss-poor backgrounds deprived of love and opportunity. But I don't feel like I should be responsible for all this too. I don't mind giving it a go in passing, but I'm judged on my exam results and not my nurturing abilities. I became a teacher to teach, not sort out the mesh of social mess. There are workers in school with those roles: the social workers and counsellors and pastoral team. But it's not me and I don't feel qualified to have to deal with all this too. There needs to be some other agency to help with this.

Deepest darkest December blues

So there was my first term in my new school. It’s not easy to start afresh. Yes, the staff have been friendly and helpful, and yes, at this stage in my career I know what I’m doing. But there lies the problem I think. I had imagined that a change of scene might revitalise my teaching, with different schemes of work and different challenges. It’s true that one lesson is never the same as another, even if it should be on paper. There are so many variables that affect the lesson: the pupils’ behaviour, their interests, the time of day/week/term, my enthusiasm, and so on. But still I feel an overwhelming sense of repetition.

It all boils down to the same subject matter, the same mistakes in their work, the same interruptions, the same arguments and attitudes about school uniform and other age-old squabbles, the same bombardment of paperwork and new initiatives that are just old ideas in new folders… I’m well aware I sound jaded, because that’s how I feel. And I really wish I didn’t.

One of the appealing factors of my new school was its similarity to my old school, in terms of the sort of catchment area, and exam board, and general outlook on life, the universe and everything. But maybe I should have looked for something that was more of a contrast. But would they have wanted me? I applied to several schools but from past experience I know that selecting candidates means looking for somebody who knows what they’re doing, who has relevant experience and who can fit in.

I can see now why people go for management positions. It’s not just to earn more money surely – it’s also to escape the monotony of teaching the same thing for forty years. Technically, I should be in a management role. But I turned the other cheek and looked the other way when those opportunities were waved under my nose, because I was quite content being a classroom teacher. But now I’m not so sure. I’ve been thinking hard about where I should go from here. I know I should give this job more of a chance. I’ve been trying to analyse why I feel so jaded. It’s been a long and stressful term out of school as well as within. I’ve been struck down with that never-ending cold that seems to have affected half the country. And I’m surrounded by over-keen and enthusiastic NQTs whose energy for new initiatives and activities fills me with guilt because I don’t feel equally inspired.

Meanwhile my previous colleagues have been keeping me up to date with what’s going on in my last school, and their tales of reorganisation, upcoming inspection and low morale should make me feel better… but don’t. There’s something about adversity that pulls a staff together, but I know that’s a romanticised view now that I’m no longer working there.

So yes, there was my first term in my new school. I’m hoping the second term will be more fulfilling. Because now that credit crunch has turned into recession, I can’t afford to take any leaps into the unknown and rock my little boat just yet.

Friday 19 December 2008

Season's Greetings!

I am here! Only just! It's the end of term and I am so exhausted I have no brain left and not even the energy to take a sip of festive cheer! But I will be filling you in on what's been going on in the next few days, with any luck.

Sunday 26 October 2008

Fur coat and no knickers

Sometimes it is only with distance that the true picture merges into focus. So it is when I look back at the last school. Now that's not to say that the old school didn't give me lots of opportunities to develop (i.e. courses (snooze) and trips (yay)), or space to actually teach (i.e. we had half-arsed schemes of work and nobody actually checked what I was doing for the first term I was there so I could just make it up as I went along). But when I compare certain aspects with my current place, then I can see just what was going on with greater clarity than before.

It is true that the Head Teacher sets the tone for the whole school. Now these beings are cut from a different cloth to me, because I can't understand why anybody would want to set themselves up for constant public criticism, whether they are right or wrong. But let me show you the difference between my past and present Head Teachers. My present Head Teacher is very similar in ideology and practice to my Head Teacher before last, whilst my last Head Teacher must have been from the same mould as my first Deputy Head who went on to become Head Teacher after I'd left. Keeping up? I can reduce it to two attributes: power crazy, and philanthropic.

The Power Crazy Head Teacher usually has conspicuous displays of his or her rule of iron. Firstly, there's the power dressing. Sarah Palin ain't got nothing on the Power Crazy Head Teacher, who dresses to impress and probably barks, "Breakfast is for wimps!" whilst squeezing a bulging waistline into designer threads. Philanthropic Head Teacher will assert their authority equally well in a comfy cardigan or well-worn suit. Therefore this school's staff also go to work in smart comfort rather than the rigid inflexibility of suits which don't allow for the clambering on tables to fix wall displays or the unforeseen P.E. cover lesson that are part of a teacher's daily life.

This is the same power crazy person who usually drives an inappropriately flashy sports car, probably with personalised number plates, and parks it in their own reserved section far away from flying footballs, and often behind a red roped section attended by a liveried sixth former. Philanthropic Head Teacher drives a middle of the road (not literally; that would be dangerous) car, one which is a few years old but probably top of Which? magazine's list of reliable motors.

And the conspicuous displays of wealth and power dominate the personality too: when Power Crazy Head Teacher patrols the school, it is to sneer at crooked displays and question decisions with derision. When Philanthropic Head Teacher wanders round, it's to see how you're doing, praise your efforts, and wish you a happy half term.

It is no surprise that Power Crazy Head Teacher leaves the staff somewhat unfulfilled in knowing their own worth and value. Their ambitions are laid clear, and it's not long before they have taken on some consultancy role that means they are moving onwards and upwards, until they are only a part-time attender at school they are paid to run.

Friday 24 October 2008

Oh yeeeeeees!

It's here! Half term! Yeeeees!

There's so much I wish I could share on here but I really don't want to lose my job in the midst of a credit crunch / recession / depression.

In my last school I knew practically everyone was a Luddite who believed even calculators to be either the devil's work or pure magical witchery. In my new school I'm not so sure. Somebody even mentioned "the internet" to me today, so I'll just have to stick to reminiscing about my past colleagues and capers, perhaps...

Wednesday 22 October 2008


There's a class I take who are unruly and untamed, uncouth and unable to write properly. Wait, there are several classes like that. But the difference with this class is that they make me laugh so much. They are so naive and yet quite edgy. For a few of them, they cling to little pockets of stereotypes that they have picked up from somewhere, and every lesson involves the dredging up of at least three of these ill-conceived notions, alongside the usual tricks of tripping each other up as they move around the room, sly punches, and blatant insults.

Today's ill-conceived notion is that everybody in London carries knives, from grannies to babies. In the white noise of their minds, London is a place populated with the Krays, Fagins, Jack the Rippers and nobody else. Schoolkids are just short Jack the Rippers in blazers. They seem to think that the periphery of London ripples with the gleam of weapons, and that stepping over that threshold means you might as well give up any hope of staying alive.

Last week's stereotypes for off-task chatter were "gypo"s. When I enquired as to what they were talking about, I was informed that these ne'er-do-wells spend their days and nights stealing generators. That's it. That's all they could come up with. We had a little chat about the dangers of stereotyping, and then one boy confessed that his real problem was people who lived in caravans.

"But," piped up a boy behind him, "you've got a Coachman Laser Tourer."

Cue more punching...

Thursday 16 October 2008

No more testing for 14 year olds

So the big news throwing all sorts of people into flaps this week is the news that the government has decided, just like that, to scrap the national tests for Year 9 pupils. Previously only valuable as a threat to unruly 13 and 14 year olds, the tests were a major balls-up this year when the company responsible for administering and marking the tests just chucked them all into the bin or something like that.

Hooray, lots of teacher are yelling. Boo, some others are crying. And suddenly there are a flurry of emails from publishers and museums and theatres whizzing around saying, "Don't cancel us! Your pupils still need to learn stuff! They can come and visit our Mad Maths exhibition, or buy our "how to spell and write proper" study guides, or enjoy a performance from the Shakespeare troupe. You don't have to cancel just because there aren't any tests!"

And they've got a point, haven't they? It's all so sudden that it's knocked a good number of cottage industries and publishing ventures sideways. I don't know how it's going to pan out, but maybe the government should just step back and stop interfering every five minutes.

Ladies' man

Every now and again I happen to teach a boy who, in the old days, would have been called "sensitive", but in this more enlightened day and age is simply known as "gay". The boy may or may not know he's gay yet; it's not my place to ask or interfere, but merely observe and perhaps write about it on here.

I teach one such boy at the moment, and very effervescent and likeable he is too. He is a chatterbox though. At Parents' Evening this week I mentioned his chattering to his mother, who then wanted to know who he sat by. I reeled off a list of names, all of whom are female. I had to chuckle when his mother nodded sagely.

"Oh yes," she added, with a hint of pride. "He's very popular with the girls."

It was hard not to laugh. There she was, thinking her son is super-stud of the year group, when all I can think of is him prancing about with his gal-pals discussing who's wearing what on Saturday night out.


Monday 13 October 2008

Sharp wits or soppy gits?

With a Year 9 class of not the highest intellect today, we read the word "debate" and they wanted to know what it meant, probably because it sounds a bit like "masturbate". I tried to explain that we might have a debate about fox hunting, for example. Some people might be for it, and some might be against. Perhaps it was a mistake to choose something so contentious. A large and lovely girl was nearly in tears as boys taunted her with graphic descriptions of foxes being ripped to shreds. I changed the topic, inspired by their behaviour.

Me: "Another debate would be about whether teachers should be allowed to hit pupils with canes."

Brat 1: "We would just hit you back if you hit us."

Brat 2: "That wouldn't work these days 'cos we'd just bring a knife in and stab you."

And what do you say to that?


Saturday 11 October 2008

Teacher of the year

I've been thinking about yesterday's post for a lot of today. I was wondering if I had portrayed what had happened to me too harshly, but on reading it again just now, I don't think so. But I've had a chuckle to myself today remembering when I worked alongside the winner of one of these "teacher's Oscars" award winners a few years ago. Because if I was asking myself if I am shit, then he must have no conscience, because how else would he sleep at night...

Mr W (that's how I think of him; the W stands for something like Winker) hadn't been a teacher for very long when it was announced in the staff meeting one morning that he had been short-listed for a prestigious teaching award - the Headteacher was practically bursting with a mixture of pride and fawning at this time.

Rumours started flying around, as they do amongst a jealous and petty staff, that he had bribed several of his sixth formers to nominate him for this. After all, here was a teacher whose "Rate my teacher" website entry is the only one full of five stars and comments like "what a great guy". But these turned out not to be rumours at all. One of the teachers in my Friday-lunchtime-down-the-pub gang had a son in the sixth form at the time, and confirmed that Mr W's nomination had come as a result of his own suggestion just before he took a bunch of sixth formers on a really exciting field trip with lunch at McDonald's thrown in. Well, we kind of shrugged, how else would a teacher be nominated for an award that only teachers ever really knew about?

Personally I couldn't quite understand how Mr W was supposed to excel at teaching. At times he used my classroom for lessons, and it used to wind me up every time when I returned to my room at the end of one of his lessons to find overturned chairs, sweet wrappers all over the floor, new graffiti on the desks, and so on. At one time I had asked him to track down the culprits who had drawn something rather pornographic on one of my desks, and which had been spotted first by some Year 7s who hadn't quite worked out what it was, thank goodness. Mr W promised to sort it out, but nothing was ever done. A small point, but one which I added to the many others which I started to hear about. There was the case of the lost coursework, the case of the made-up coursework marks, the case of stealing another teacher's work and passing it off as his own... but Mr W was charismatic, and such matters were overlooked or just forgotten...

And being charismatic, Mr W won the trophy and got a promotion within the school. But still the slackness continued. He was given his own office opposite the staffroom. One time I was in the staffroom trying to mark, books balanced on my knee, when in came a dozen Year 11s. I was just about to ask what the hell they were doing when one of them pre-empted my question. It turned out that Mr W had important stuff to do in his new office, like arrange exciting field trips to McDonald's, and so had abandoned the idea of actually teaching his class, dumping them in the staffroom so they were nearby while he used his phone and internet. I did not have the words to express how I felt about this, but he was irreproachable now he had a shiny trophy and promotion.

So I guess the moral to this is that even award-winning shiny-trophy-possessing teachers fall far short of perfection. Or maybe the moral is that awards for teachers are a sham. But either way, it made me feel better about being made to feel a little bit shit yesterday.


Friday 10 October 2008

Am I shit?

Please, please tell me that not everybody is perfect and I'm not the only person who doesn't always have a starter, plenary, all-singing and dancing kind of lesson.

I was visited by another teacher today from another department. Thanks to timetabling tangles, I teach a few lessons outside of my subject specialism. It's not like I know nothing about this other subject: I've taught it on and off for many a year now and I'm qualified in the subject up to a high level. But obviously, in a new school, they do things differently, and alongside everything else that's new and slightly confusing at times, I'm dealing with teaching this other subject with not much guidance at all, apart from my own stack of resources and experience. For a start, the department might as well be on the other side of town to where my classroom is. Location isn't that important though: only this afternoon I was thinking about how I hadn't seen one member of my department, who teaches next door but one, for about three weeks.

But anyway, I have seen teachers from this other new department about four times since I started and then only in passing. But then today the head of department decided to drop in to see how I'm doing. My classes' books were scrutinised, and I had a round of rapid fire questions about what I've been doing. And then, like a magician who has been hiding the top hat, this teacher suddenly pulled out a white rabbit in the shape of a child's book from a previous year. "Ta-da! Now this is how you should have been doing it for the past few weeks." Gee, thanks. And you didn't show me this before because...?

So the whole exercise just made me feel like crap. I'd been doing alright, but it just wasn't the right type of alright. My starters were the wrong flavour, and I'd marked in the wrong colour. Pah. I just wished I'd been asked the right types of questions. Were the children enjoying the subject? Yes. Were we adhering to the national curriculum and its latest incarnation of levels etc etc? Yes. Was I differentiating for the enormous range of abilties in my groups? Yes. I'm not saying I didn't learn anything from this brief visit, because it did make me rethink one of the tasks we had done, but it just reinforces the fact that in teaching you are never ever right. You can never reach nirvana. You are a mere cockroach who keeps coming back for more shit.

Happy weekend. :-)

Thursday 9 October 2008


Here's something I never thought I would do... look back wistfully at my last school and yearn for one of the teachers and his strict discipline and old fashioned values. I thought of him today when I was on duty, as he used to organise the duty rotas at the last place, and whilst I never really got on with him, he did embody a set of values that a number of the older teachers held dear, which seem overlooked by those of the same generation at my current place.

For thousands of years the elders in society have complained about the lack of respect amongst the younger members. It's just a rite of passage for older people like myself to be disrespected in the same way we used to disrespect our elders when we didn't give a hoot. What goes around comes around. If only for that life lived backwards, youth is wasted on the young, and all that.

But I can't believe the way that the pupils in my current school have a complete lack of boundaries, of knowing (assumes teacher-voice now) where the line is, and when they have crossed it. I thought it was just me, being new and being verbally prodded to see how far I will go. But today I was observing a senior teacher with a class of GCSE students. At first I was smiling wryly to myself: here where the usual complaints and protests about a task from a bunch of students who will just about scrape C grades if they are lucky, or more likely, when the exams are dumbed down yet again. Different kids, different school, same moaning. It does bring a smile to your face to know that some things are just universal.

What shocked me though, was the way that some of the students were cheeking this teacher, and she did not even acknowledge that this wasn't the way to talk to an adult. Even another teenager would have taken offence at the tone of delivery. And now I am alert to this, I am witnessing it time and time again. This afternoon, another senior teacher who has served at least thirty years at the school was completely ignored when issuing instructions to badly behaved students in the corridor. He had to raise his voice to stop them in their tracks, and even then, in a busy corridor swarming with pushing kids, most of the miscreants just carried on with the flow, whilst only two listened to his wrath.

During last lesson, my class were doing group work. It's a big class and although they are only Year 7, whether it's their keenness or boisterous, as an entity they can be noisy during collaborative work. I was circulating, and had stopped by one group. A boy had called me from another group and I visually acknowledged him with a sign I'd be there in a moment. Suddenly, a huge voice bellowed out to attract my attention, and I just couldn't believe that somebody would act that way! I turned slowly on my heel to glare at the culprit, asking very seriously and slowly: "Are you shouting at me?" If that boy ever does that again to me, I'm quite prepared to eat one of his trainers, that is how certain I am that he got the message.

But I fear that for some of them further up the school, they are lost causes by now. They have been pandered to and put up with for so many years that for them, teachers are just like their friends and can be talked to or shouted at or sworn in the presence of in the same way.

Monday 6 October 2008

Afternoon tea

Just saw this in the news...

Girl fed school staff hash cakes

The story continues...

Leeds City Council said neither staff members made formal complaints.

I bet they didn't! I bet the day went quite well after that little afternoon tea. Suddenly a double lesson with Year 10 didn't seem such a bind after all...

Wednesday 1 October 2008

New leaf

Maybe it's the autumnal motif, but as the wind whipped the tree tops this morning I decided to turn over a new leaf. I've just been feeling so fed up already, and yet my mind was turning back to how I felt leaving my old school back in July. The staff, my friends; the pupils whose lives interweaved with mine for 5 or more years; the camaraderie against the common enemies of whoever was annoying us that week... I don't have that right now, which is why I guess new schools are hard to cope with at first. And I miss it. My life and experience is starting to diverge from theirs: I can't share their anxieties about the forthcoming inspection, and they know nothing of the issues I find myself involved with now.

So I decided that today I would start to plough my own furrow, feather my own nest, or some such idiomatic doings. I would get more involved. I would sign up to run clubs, help with productions, organise rotas; whatever needed doing. And I did at least one of these things today. Consequently I felt quite beatific all afternoon, bestowing even the most restless of children with calm smiles as I issued detentions like I was dishing out fine candies.

As a result, I finished the day with a calm serenity I haven't felt in a while. I did wonder if somebody had laced my water with opium, but I know I would never let my bottle (of water, not antiquated drugs) out of sight, so it must just have been my leaf-turning.

All was well until I made a crucial mistake. I tried to organise my out-of-school life. Being at school all day, there's no time to make the important phone calls that involve waiting in automated queues or tracking down the one person you need to talk to who always takes their lunch break at the same time as you. So I have about half an hour once school is over in which to phone the weary office workers who control things like council tax and credit cards. And of course, it's always the wrong time of day for them. I imagine they are just reaching over to switch off their computers and fetching their coats from their department kitchenettes, leaning over their open office divides for a quick gossip to pass the long minutes until going home time. And then the phone rings and they tut loudly, irritated at the prospect of having to deal with somebody in the last ten minutes. And that person is me.

So this is why I ended up spending ten infuriating minutes talking to Mrs Jobsworth at the council, unable to satisfactorily resolve what I'd imagined to be a small and easily remedied query, but obviously I was a fool to imagine that anybody like Mrs Jobsworth would share my view. To say she made mountains out of molehills is an understatement. And unhappily for me, I finished the day just as wound up and angry as I normally do, albeit for different reasons.

Stiff letters - and stiff drinks - all round!

Tuesday 30 September 2008

Griff Rhys Jones and Anger Management

I felt obliged to watch the second part of Losing It with Griff Rhys Jones on the BBC. Like him, I want to manage my anger. I'm not sure I share a lot in common with Griff - for example, he is a successful multi-millionaire TV personality who can pick and choose his life and whether or not to work, whereas I spend too many hours a day with mixed-up kids and wind-up specialists.

Apart from converting to Buddhism (which does appeal, but I think I like shopping too much), one of the other solutions is to keep a log of which situations spark off feelings of anger. Well, hello, here it is; I've been doing it for five and a half years now and the anger hasn't really subsided... next idea please!

Monday 29 September 2008

New kid in the block

I am the new kid in the block - and don't I just know it. Year 11 never fail to remind me in their "subtle" subversive and downright rude ways. Today I just stood there whilst a couple of hulking 16 year old lads pratted about making silly noises and generally interrupting the class. I was wondering what exactly I should do. Once you've worked in one place for long enough, you gain a patina of age and with it a certain respect. And so you only have to give a certain look or have a quick word and the silliness quickly subsides. But when the kids have been in the school for four years longer than you, and they hate school, and they hate your subject, and by default they hate you, then it's all a bit trying. And then when you chastise them by whatever policies the school has in place, or you flick through your behaviour management tricks, they hate you even more for "picking on them".

Which is why today, with Year 11, I found myself just standing there wondering what I should do next. Because all that was going through my head was the almost overwhelming desire to yell and scream and swear in their faces, and it was really hard to suppress this and come out with a more measured and politically correct response. In the end I sent one to a different classroom to sit like a Goliath among the overexcited Year 7s next door, and had a "word" with the other one at the end of the lesson. But both of them were resentful and angry towards me for the way I treated them, which was not the shouty-in-their-faces screaming that I wanted to do, but instead the wholly expected school sanctions. There was back-chat and sulkiness, but I just wanted them out of my sight rather than get involved in any more of their arguments. And now I think of it, what right did they have to be resentful? The majority of the class, who do want to learn, should be resentful, and I maintain the right to be angry with them. After all, aren't I just trying to do my job?

But I can't even be bothered to be angry now the moment has passed. Instead I'm just very weary of it all. I can't afford to throw in the towel, which is the most tempting option, but the thought of a year or two of being tried and tested by spotty oiks is quite demoralising. And biting my tongue when I want to retort with expletives is not as easy as you might imagine when you have dozens of pairs of eyes watching for your reaction.

Friday 26 September 2008

4 weeks on

Time has done that strange stretchy bouncy thing where it all seems distorted. Today marks my first payslip of the new job, and what amounts to a month in the post. Yet that just consists of 20 working days, 2 of which were child-free. And yet it seems like forever.

When I don't know the names of pupils in my classes I feel incredibly guilty, and yet I've only encountered some groups four or so times. I keep seeing teachers I've never seen before, and yet I still don't know the names of the heads of year. It does make me feel insecure, and yesterday as I drove to work I was wistful for some adult company in the workplace - particularly any kinds of conversations that do not revolve around classes and bad behaviour.

Halfway to half-term... but I don't want to keep wishing away my time...

Wednesday 24 September 2008


Most people at some point come across BSAs: Bloody Stupid Abbreviations. Teaching is littered and shittered with them. More inventive departments or authors like to make WOOLs: Words Out Of Letters. And my new department excels in this pointless and infuriating sport. At our first department meeting I thought they were taking the piss. We don't just have random WOOLs, but WOOLs on a theme: a zoo of these critters... TIGERs and LIONs and BEARs. Then there are the WALTs and WILFs. WALT stands for something like "We all learn today" or some other simpleton phrase that sounds like it was strung together by an EAL (English as an additional language) pupil. WILF is "What I'm looking for". (I wish I knew.)

And I really, really wanted to add to this particular strand of acronyms "We All Now Know".

But instead I'll just keep RTFM and look forward to next week's Parents' Evening where I can check out the MILFs and FILFs. FFS.


Weary and feeble

That's how I feel, weary and feeble. There's no let-up, is there? I just keep comparing my job to other more normal jobs. Like, if I reached this state of weariness in an office job, I'd just book off Friday or Monday and have a long weekend, go and blow away the cobwebs, and not have to worry about spending my days off marking and planning and never really feeling like I'm getting a break.

And if I was in one of my previous jobs of office chair races and rubber-band flicking, I could just sneak an extra-long lunch break or spend twenty minutes browsing exotic holiday destinations on the internet. But I can't. Instead it's an endless treadmill of education-education-education. Or rather, aggro-cheek-backchat. If it was just the education bit I'd be laughing. I love the education bit. It's what I became a teacher for.

What wears me down and out is the constant scrutiny. Everything I do involves me being watched and judged. Foucault's vision of a carceral system rings hauntingly true... and here's a snippet from font of all knowledge (and master of none) Wikipedia:

In examining the construction of the prison as the central means of criminal punishment, Foucault builds a case for the idea that prison became part of a larger “carceral system” which has become an all-encompassing sovereign institution in modern society. Prison is one part of a vast network, including schools, military institutions, hospitals, and factories, which build a panoptic society for its members. This system creates “…disciplinary careers…” (Discipline and Punish, p. 300) for those locked within its corridors.

The pupils judge me every moment of every day; if they aren't listening to my education-education-education then they are sizing up my shoes or shirt. The other staff judge my new face on how much time I do or do not spend in the staffroom, what I say, and how I join in. My department colleagues want to know how my teaching is going, and whether I'm letting the kids run riot or verbally beating them into submission. My bosses will inspect me, inspect my books, inspect my lesson plans, assess my adherence to the schemes of work, watch what time I arrive and leave... there is no respite from being judged. Which, on top of everything else - the incessant irritating behaviour, for example - is enough to drive me round the bend...

Tuesday 23 September 2008


I'm just watching a programme on the BBC about anger and its management. Topical, as today I really had an explosive case of utter rage with one of my teaching groups. Everything you're not supposed to do and say came shooting out of my mouth, firing in the direction of several irritants after a few days of bubbling under as I had tried to tolerate their low-level disruptive crap.

One of these pupils I find quite dangerous. Well, maybe dangerous is not quite the right word, but she seems quite unstable: needy and fishing for compliments, draping herself across my desk on the way in and then chewing and chatting away through my lessons. Unfortunately for me, she is also in my form group. And from my perspective at the front of the room I can see how she plays with the other girls in the form group, intimidating them, stirring things up, excluding and including them in order to exert power over them. I think that deep down she is dreadfully unhappy somehow, but at the moment - and perhaps for ever - there's no way I want to get close enough to delve into whatever is going on.

Anyway, the poor twenty-something other members of the class have now experienced me losing it and I really wish they hadn't had to witness it. I know I should have kept my cool but I am only human. The initial loss of temper lasted about four seconds, but as I'd already started shouting I thought I would just carry on at that level with a few more better-measured comments on rudeness, predicted exam failures or successes, and how inconsiderate it is to waste time. Yep, almost every cliche sprang to mind as I flicked through the mental textbook How to make an impact on rude teenagers. I thought I might as well take the opportunity to get them out of my system, and I was also hoping to show the rest of the class that my initial shout was less of an outburst and more of a life-lesson for the needy and those bereft of manners.

The thing is, I put up with so, so, soooo much crap: several on-going irritations in at least four corners of the room for the majority of five hours a day. Not all of it is intentional, but just the tapping of a pen or the constant reminders from me to some pupil swinging on a chair starts to build up and irritate me. Repeating instructions to children who should have been listening to what I said the first, second and third times (and these instructions are usually written down somewhere too to appeal to the "visual learners") irritates me. Reminding the same children every lesson to remove scarves and coats irritates me. How can these things not? If I overlook them, I'm a bad disciplinarian and the behaviour deteriorates.

And now I've just remembered a childish temper tantrum I myself had last week one morning. I should have left for work ten minutes earlier but was still trying to hunt down something important from a set of shelves with no success. Before I really knew what I was doing, I had started flinging everything from the shelves, yelling to nobody in particular how unfair it all was. Unfortunately, the TV programme on anger management has just finished with the presenter Griff Rhys Jones just telling us that we'll have to wait until next week to find out how to deal with anger. Fricking great.

I know the real solution of course. It lies in the job pages, somewhere.


Friday 19 September 2008

Kick a banker

My oh my... talk about kick a banker when they're down...

Anxious bankers fearing their jobs are under threat are to be targeted as potential recruits by England's teacher training agency.

Thursday 18 September 2008

Still disconcerted

Since splitting up some hardcore slackers in my Year 11 class last Friday after a "bit of a stern talking-to" (I'm not usually the shout-in-your-face type that other teachers enjoy being from the sounds of things), the group is still freaking me out with their knuckling-down-to-work attitudes. The phrase "silent but deadly" doesn't just apply to farts, it also applies to innocent -looking students, so I'm waiting to see what they are really up to...

Even more disconcerting was the amount of younger pupils in corridors at lunchtime today who greeted me with cheery "hellos". Year 7s are always naive enough to be nice; it's the swiftly fading memory of cheery little primary school still playing about their persons. But Year 8s saying "hello" is just a little more freaky. Hey, maybe I'm just a cynic. But Year 8s normally know better than to show any kind of positive emotion towards a teacher in front of their peers, especially when you're not even in the classroom.

Ah well, Friday tomorrow. Plenty of time for the little beggars to get me wound up ready for the weekend...

Tuesday 16 September 2008

Fashion watch

The latest fashion adornment requires just a red pen, probably swiped from a teacher's desk. Take the red pen and scrawl pseudo-slashes across your wrists and up your arm. And voila - you now look like you are a self-harmer as all "emo"s allegedly are, according to the misinformed members of my school.


Too quiet

Today I am very disconcerted. After all the grief I got yesterday from noisy and unco-operative children, today they were mostly as good as finding out I had exactly the right change for the vending machine at lunchtime. My raucous Year 11 group were studying their texts so attentively I had to keep giving them sideways glances to make sure they were still there. In addition, I had two free periods and I wasn't taken for cover on either of them, even though I checked the list a dozen times or so, not quite believing my eyes.

Ah well, I'm sure the shit will hit the fan tomorrow.

Monday 15 September 2008

Headache and a half

I'm off to bed in a minute. I have a banging headache. It was caused, ultimately, by my own bellowing at a couple of classes who would not SHUT UP today.

Week 3 is always a pain. Novelty has faded away and the grim reality of being back at school has sunk in for pupils and teachers alike. New friendships are forged between class members, and new enemies are made and disbanded every day. Newish books appear slightly dog-eared, pencil cases lack pens, and there have already been a few playground fights.

Add to the mix that today is a full moon, meaning hyperactivity and madness all round. There wasn't particularly any naughtiness, although I'm sure a hundred years ago it would have been the type of behaviour to earn a few sound thrashings. It was just the inability of some people in each group to stop talking for more than 30 seconds to listen to instructions or the register. Even when they had all listened to the instruction to remain silent for the register, within milliseconds the talking had started again.

My form group is the worst. If I hear one more time about how cool their last form teacher was, and how she let them do this and get away with that, I shall throw all their PE kits out of the window when they're not looking. The girls are noisier than the boys because they just sit there and gossip and twitter away even when addressed directly and asked to be quiet. The boys give out the odd bellow and stupid noise, but their conversation seems very limited from what I've overheard: mostly crude comments about girls. A lot of them are nice kids, but en masse they are an incessant cloud of noise. Form time each morning is the thing I dread most at the moment. The thought of it ruins my whole evening.

In fact the only good thing about today was that Mondays mean the scent of freshly washed uniforms wafts around the school corridors and out of over-crowded classrooms.

Sunday 14 September 2008

My new school

Random stuff about my new school:

a) The Senior Management Team is mostly older time-served teachers, which is a relief after a succession of young whipper-snappers who talk the talk but don't walk if they can possibly drive around in their flash Audis instead. There is one younger senior teacher whose main role seems to be making highly colourful charts and wearing the flashiest designer clothes and brand new white trainers on Inset days, so I already have him marked out for possible future ridicule.

b) I've been there two weeks and I still don't really know much about what goes on outside of my classroom. But now I'm almost over being a complete "newbie" and people keep telling me about things I've never heard of and assuming that I know what they are talking about. Ditto with people's names. "Can you let Mrs H know as soon as you can?" - a typical phrase that sends me into a panic as there are at least three teachers with the same names and I can't put any names to faces.

c) There are some very helpful people who have gone out of their way to assist me with various things and have made my whole experience much more pleasant with their thoughtfulness. The smallest of gestures can mean a big deal to somebody new. Thanks guys.

d) The classrooms don't have many cupboards. So there's nowhere to stash all my resources or go to pull faces when the kids annoy me or take the mickey out of my accent.

e) It took me over a week to stop thinking about the last school as "my school" and to stop texting my old colleagues every lunchtime to catch up on the gossip.

f) Things that look shiny on your interview day must only look that way through the sheen of nerves. When you're actually there, for real, you can see the literal and metaphorical cracks.

So there you have just a few first impressions. Some things don't change though. I've left it until tea-time on Sunday to do my homework - that is, make resources for several schemes of work I've never taught before. And week three is when the novelty of new school / back at school wears off for the pupils, so I'm expecting a rougher ride over the next few days...

Sunday 24 August 2008

Wondering about wandering

Maybe this is my shortest ever rant, but I just want to say that I really, really, really hate it when people muddle up "wander" with "wonder". There are some other idiot mistakes that annoy me, but I've just watched a promotional video online where the presenter mixes them up and I just wanted to go "arghhhhhhh grrrrrrrrrrr".

Friday 22 August 2008

Bully Teacher

I thought I'd shaken off the shackles of my old school, but having been in this week to see the exam results, I feel wound up again by some of my (ex) colleagues. Like every workplace, schools have a number of people working there who really shouldn't be, and like the public sector in general, it's quite difficult to get rid of incompetent members of staff. And then there are staff who should be booted right out of the door but for some reason Management thinks they are valuable assets to the school who should be rewarded and retained with promotions.

One of these disgraces is Mr A. When you first meet him, you will probably recognise his type: one of the lads, seemingly popular with the kids, likes a joke and a laugh and has many of the LSAs swooning. Add into the mix that he teaches a shortage subject and filled a vacancy that had been wide open for a long time, and you can see why he looks like an attractive proposition.

But then you dig deeper. Why do the kids love him so much? Well, he takes lunchtime sports training every now and again, and he is the king of practical jokes. Oh yes, he's always having a laugh and a joke with the kids. But then you start to hear complaints from members of your form.

"We don't learn anything from him."
"He picked up my pencil case and emptied it all over the desk, and everyone was laughing but I didn't think it was funny."
"We're always playing games but we didn't cover what we needed for the exam."
"I wanted to ask him something but he told me to go away because he was emailing his friends."
"He scribbled on my book right in front of me then told me off and said I'd done it."
"He shouted at us all for not doing the homework but he hadn't set any."
"He lost my book and then told me off for forgetting it. But he's lost it."
"We watch lots of videos. Last lesson we watched 'Die Hard'. It's really good but it had nothing to do with (the subject)."

Now some of these you would be inclined to explain away. What teacher hasn't been accused of losing a child's book? Who hasn't shown a video at the end of term? Surely these games are educational, but he's such a great teacher that the kids don't even realise they are learning? But after having given Mr A the benefit of the doubt, there comes a time when these comments start to add up into something more than the occasional slackery.

Mr A is a bully. He commands a group of laddish teachers whose behaviour deteriorates in his presence as they compete to keep up with his "jokes". At least one NQT has emulated his behaviour, seeing how popular it makes him, and has gone from being a really promising teacher to an arrogant slacker. Mr A bullies the children. Messing about with their stuff might seem like a laugh to the class, but it's the kind of thing the class bully does to intimidate others and make themselves look popular.

Mr A is also really thick. In his shortage subject, the barriers for recruitment must be lower, and whilst he knows enough (allegedly) to teach his own subject (if he could ever be bothered), his general knowledge and common sense are way below par. He can't write very well, and so his corrections and notes read like an illiterate Year 7's.

And in September Mr A's reward for all of this? - a promotion to head of year, where he can continue to bully children and charm their parents.

Friday 25 July 2008


The BBC's Education website has given burglars hope that the recession will not affect them by pinpointing that come the autumn, student rooms will provide rich pickings in the way of easily portable electrical consumables: Students bring kit worth £6,000

I would have had an easier time of it too if I had had a mobile phone instead of wasting valuable drinking, ahem, studying minutes queuing for the pay phones to ring home once a fortnight or when the money had run out. I wouldn't have spent ages wandering around campus to see where everybody was when a quick text message would have confirmed that.

But then I would have probably spent all my time messing about on the internet instead.

Thursday 24 July 2008

In Limbo

There we are then. As I've had a leaving party, embarrassing speech scenario, and am about a stone heavier from all the "goodbye" parties (aka chcolate overload) with each class I taught, I can assume that I have officially left my school, even if they are paying me up until the end of August.

So now I'm in limbo.

I don't even have a timetable for my new school yet, which saves me an hour of colouring-in this summer. I don't have any schemes of work to prepare for the old department for the new school year, and in fact I don't really know what my new department does or how they do it. I went for a visit, but everybody was in that "can't be bothered, let's worry about it in September" frame of mind, and if I had asked I would only have been interrupting their video viewing, so I didn't bother either. Somewhere I have about two weeks' worth of generic winging-it lessons, so I'll dust those off the night before.

Which means that I should be feeling less burdened than the past umpteen years, but I don't. It's only the second day of the holidays but I can't settle. Does any teacher immediately switch off? There's a term's worth of dust layering shelves I haven't looked at in daylight for a good few weeks, and the spare room is chest-high in boxes of resources I found lurking at the back of my cupboard. I have so much to sort out but I just want to flop down and watch old films.

The transition time between hectic end-of-termness and yawning summer holiday is limbo time too.

Friday 4 July 2008

Sexuality - strong and warm and wild and free

I was just browsing around some of my regular haunts in the blogshere and reading MissB's comments on sexuality reminded me of something I was going to say earlier. In contrast to MissB's observations about boys wanting to be uber-masculine, there's a really odd trend in my school at the moment. It's now the done thing for boys to show that they are camp as a row of tents... provided they are the studs of the school in the first place. Wannabe-studs seem to have to flaunt their passion for pink as a rite of passage to show they are so over having to prove themselves to the girls. I've never seen such behaviour before, and I'm wondering how much influence metrosexuals such as David Beckham and Gavin Henson have had on this trend.

For example, when giving out coloured paper to Year 8s for some time-filling poster activity, the boys all want pink, and also want to shout this out so that everybody in the class knows that they haven't gone for manly maroon or boyish blue. In corridors between lessons, those boys who drip with cheap and chunky gold jewellery greet each other with mafia-style hugs and kisses, and all that's missing is the heavy coat being shrugged from their shoulders.

Now I'm all for breaking down gendered stereotypes, but this is all just a bit disconcerting. I just get the impression that there's more going on here than we're aware of. And I don't think it's as simplistic as passing wraps of drugs or salt (both equal menaces in our "healthy eating" school). Maybe I'm just missing something obvious - a TV programme they are imitating, for example. But whatever's going on, all I know is that we need to start stocking up on pink paper.

Thursday 3 July 2008

Can you help?

I wonder if anyone could help? Today, after counting up how many lessons I have left to count down, and realising that I will never see some of the children or staff again after a couple of weeks' time, I experienced a strange feeling. It was like a twinge, but it wasn't anger or cynicism or elation. It was this odd kind of sensation that made the corners of my mouth droop. If anyone knows what I could possibly be feeling, then please contact me in the usual way...

Tuesday 1 July 2008

Seasons out of synch

Maybe it's global warming (of course; it gets the blame for everything else natch) but our seasons currently seem out of synch. I didn't think it was exams-knocking season for over a month yet, but clearly it's started early this year. The BBC reports that a Watchdog is to debate exam difficulty, in that across the board subjects are not comparable, with some being far easier to achieve the top grades in (or even pass) than others. Quite right too. But quite wrong if the end result is that the harder exams get dumbed down to make them comparable to the easier ones. They have already been doing that for a number of years.

Indeed, on the day of my subject's GCSE exam, I found myself scoffing and scowling once I had a paper in my hands. I even had to read the small print on the Higher paper to ensure it wasn't actually a Foundation paper instead. It was ridiculously easy compared to the past papers we had been practising. And whilst that will be reflected in our results, I did think it was a shame that the students hadn't been challenged to produce their very best on the day by something with a bit of oomph. It also means you can probably pass the subject without knowing very much at all.

Then there was the story that Markers award students for writing obscenities on papers, which I even heard discussed on "Parliament Today", where ministers took the opportunity to start deriding many different exam questions at different levels. It seems that this story is actually about a chief examiner who uses a sample script each year to demonstrate a point, but it is heartening to know that half of the sink set at least won't come out of the exam with zero.

Pupils are being rewarded for writing obscenities in their GCSE English examinations even when it has nothing to do with the question.
One pupil who wrote “f*** off” was given marks for accurate spelling and conveying a meaning successfully.
His paper was marked by Peter Buckroyd, a chief examiner who has instructed fellow examiners to mark in the same way. He told trainee examiners recently to adhere strictly to the mark scheme, to the extent that pupils who wrote only expletives on their papers should be awarded points.
Mr Buckroyd, chief examiner of English for the Assessment and Qualifications Alliance (AQA), an examination board, said that he had given the pupil two marks, out of a possible 27, for the expletive.

Monday 23 June 2008

Nearly there?

Time is ticking away until the end of term, but there's still no time to slack off. Even if the kids all want to chill out and piss around. They've done their exams so their point of view is that there's no need to learn anything else until next year. I'm struggling to mark exams but I must get them done in good time to get the reports written before the deadline, which is looming ever closer. Then there's the additional wrapping up I need to do in this job, as of course I'll be leaving my grotty classroom in just about 4 weeks' time and there's a billion loose ends to tie up before I go. I may be a Ranting Teacher, but I'm also a crusader for good standards, so I'm currently trying to write notes for my successor and leave everything in as good an order as is possible.

But even then I know that by two weeks into the new term in September, everything that goes wrong can be conveniently blamed on me. It's the way of the workplace, and they're welcome.

Wednesday 18 June 2008

Summer Heights High

I've just watched the first two episodes of a comedy on BBC3 called Summer Heights High. You just have to give it a try; it's one of the funniest things I've seen this year. It's an Australian "mockumentary" set in a high school, but the characters are so wittily observed. I especially like Jonah, the 13 year old swearing hard nut with a reading age of 8. Most schools have at least one Jonah, even if theirs isn't from Tonga.

Try to catch it if you can!

Taking the piss

One thing I will certainly miss when I start my new job is the rank that every teacher, if truth be told, aspires to, if they are not working their way up the career ladder. And that rank is the one which could be called the "taking the piss a little bit" rank. By this, I mean that you know your way around the job ever so well, you know who's who and who matters, and you've earned yourself some brownie points here and there. So, like a get out of jail free card, you've earned a "taking the piss a little bit" card. Some people in my school seemed to have progressed further still, to the "don't give a stuff" rank, but that's a dodgy one to aspire to - it could tip the balance between SMT turning a blind eye and SMT getting heavy on everyone.

For example, the "taking the piss a little bit" rank entitles you to turn up to school a little bit too late for the morning meeting because you had five extra minutes in bed. The "don't give a stuff"-ers are those who then deliberately avoid meetings, so that SMT implement a sign-in policy for everyone to try to curb this wayward behaviour. The "taking the piss a little bit" rank means you can casually ask the teacher in charge of cover if you can leave early to go to the dentist, instead of waiting until the summer holidays like newbies. Those who "don't give a stuff" ring in sick with toothache and spend half the day at the dentist and the other half getting their hair done.

So come September I shall revert to being a newbie and doing things to the letter until I work out who the movers and shakers are, and really by now I should start booking dentist appointments for upcoming half terms...

Tuesday 10 June 2008

Washed up

Today I am mostly feeling washed up. Why? Well, on our staffroom noticeboard is a bright and breezy call-out for a new initiative. It's extra training for those who want to develop managerial skills by attending all kinds of fun days out of school scoffing hotel buffet lunches and listening to talks on current issues in education. I'm sure there must be a downside too, but as I had just been propelled into the staffroom by the pure hot air expelled by the over-boisterousness of cocky teenagers, sitting around in an air-conditioned seminar room looked like an easy option. So I peered closer for details.

And then I saw it was only available to those who had been teaching for fewer than a certain number of years. And I have been teaching for more than that. So bright and breezy initiatives aimed at go-getters are only for those who are not yet washed up and past it, those like me who haven't been bothered with management bollocks to date because they haven't yet been worn out by classroom teaching and haven't looked for a cushy escape yet.

Is there a critical moment when a classroom teacher who actually enjoys teaching kids is deemed to have failed to hatch because they have, up to that moment, shown no desire to leave the classroom for more paperwork? Did a group of "experts" sit around and say: nope, once you've served your x amount of years without promotion and progression then you're a has-been, and you're never going to make it? I don't like to be written off like this!

But it did make me think: how is this equal opportunities? What about women who have notched up their years but it has been punctuated by pregnant pauses and subsequent maternity leaves? What about people who were waiting until their own children were in nursery or school and so could dedicate more time to their career? Or those who have moved between several schools for whatever reason, piling up valuable experience with no previous desire to aim for management?

And what about those of us after the free sandwiches and mini quiches instead of crisp warppers on the classroom floor? It's just so unfair.

Friday 6 June 2008

Big Brother Season

Oh I love this time of year. As light relief from the attention-seeking, constant noise and shouting, and idiotic comments every hour of the working day, each evening I can chill out in front of the TV and watch the attention-seeking, constant noise and shouting, and idiotic comments of the Big Brother contestants.

This year there are two trainee teachers amongst the seething mass of humanity (and otherwise) who entered the house last night. Dale is training to be a PE teacher and claims to hate children. Why is this a surprise? I thought it was a prerequisite of being a PE teacher. He is also an arrogant tosser who believes he is heaven-sent for the women of the world. I mentioned this to a female PE teacher at school today. She hasn't seen the programme, but just shuddered. Apparently Dale sounds like a typical male PE teacher, most of whom are to be avoided like the clap.

There is also Rachel, training to teach English and drama. Some of her pupils from her training school are already posting on forums about how "pritty" she is and what a surprise it is to see her there. Is there a future for teachers who appear on Big Brother? In 2001 a contestant called Penny Ellis temporarily left her teaching job to appear on the show, and the headteacher of her school said she faced the sack if she had sex on the show. In the end she was voted out early but not before letting her towel slip a few times in front of the cameras. According to her entry on imdb, she did carry on teaching, and in 2005 one poster wrote:

after big brother, she came to teach out our school, her real name is penny
ellis, us older lot used to mess about wit her, saying stuff like "nice tits
miss". if the class got out of control she used to cry. believe me if u like and
dont if you like, i just thought it was worth mentioning!

I might try to find out more later, but if anyone knows any more, then let me know!

Monday 2 June 2008


This is just a quick post to draw your attention to Sparklebox, a website full of lovely resources especially for primary teachers - and you can now download any of their stuff for free! It makes me wish I lived in a world of names-on-trays and amazing wall displays, instead of names scratched on desks and walls, and wall displays left intact for 5 minutes before some little tyke decides to rip them...

Wednesday 28 May 2008

Hyperbole in Hyperspace

Teachers online are in danger. That was the gist of a news article on the BBC yesterday.

School teachers using their home computers have been warned about the dangers of putting too much personal information on the internet.
Concerns were raised about teachers contacting pupils by e-mail, or communicating through social networking sites such as Bebo or Facebook.
Some fear that it could lead to the kind of accusations that have ruined careers in the past.

My response to this: no shit, Sherlock. And yet when I was surfing around one of these social networking sites the other day, searching for some photographs that a relative had posted, curiosity got the better of me and I did a search for my school name. I didn't want to snoop on pupils: that would feel so wrong, even if they do expose their private lives to such a public forum. But I wanted to see if any other staff used the site. And I must admit, I was surprised by how much information some of our staff members put up for all to see online.

But what was more surprising were the "friends" that these staff members linked to. At least half of them appeared to be present and past pupils of our school. I can understand that if you teach somebody for up to 7 years and they then go off to university and beyond, then you are curious about their future and how they get on with their adult lives. But where do you draw the line?

The General Teaching Council of Scotland is asking teachers to adhere to an agreement about using social networking sites. Usually I rankle at any intrusion the GTCs want to impose on us teachers, but I think they are right in this case. Here's what one of the teachers says at the BBC news article:

"There are some new technology issues that do come up. A friend of mine had a social networking page and was recently approached by a pupil to become their friend, to which they rapidly replied: 'no thanks'.
"In rural areas, where teachers live within the catchment areas of the school or perhaps have children who go to the same school, they may have pupils who are friends with their children and maybe even visit their house.
"At what point does it become the teacher/pupil relationship, or one of the friend's parent?

"There has to be a balance between building a rapport with pupils, but also maintaining a distance and a level of formality.
"There is always an element of naivety, particularly with those who are new to the profession, but this new code will benefit us and protect us."

Untold Junk

I was a squirrel in a past life, or will be in a future life. I’ve started to clear out my filing cabinets and found untold junk. Important documents I was going to read later but never did; scraps of newspapers and magazines that I was going to incorporate into lessons but are now curled up and yellowing; photocopies of reports from the days of yore when they were still handwritten; papers I’d searched for high and low but were under my nose all along; confiscated notes from Year 8s who are now grown up and have left school; lesson plans long forgotten but gladly rediscovered… and all because I’m such a hoarder.

But now the hardest bit: how can I part with stuff? How can I sort the wheat from the chaff, the useful resources from those I will never need again? Obviously a lot of the above list is easily jettisoned, but as I don’t know what the new school has yet, I can’t decide what I will need. Besides, what if I have to teach beyond what I’m expecting? What if I move schools again in a couple of years? So even what should be a simple job of clearing out my classroom and packing up papers into crates is taking much longer than I expected.

Friday 23 May 2008

And so it sinks in

It takes a while to actually realise you’re leaving your job. At least, it took a while for it to sink in for me. Maybe because I had been thinking of it for so long that the novelty just wore off, and also I only associated the idea with hassle. Maybe I already knew deep down that something would turn up before the May deadline and I’d be off, and so something inside me was already prepared. Or maybe the nerves and adrenaline take a while to subside, and only then does reality bite. And that bite comes in different forms:

1. People you never really spoke to before come up to congratulate you and actually mean it.

2. You see your job advertised with alarming rapidity.

3. People start planning your leaving party without consulting you.

4. Somehow the kids know before you do. “Is it true?” they ask and you try to work out if they’re happy, sad, or just curious.

5. You start to view your classes with different eyes. With some pupils, there is overwhelming relief that you won’t have to deal with them or their parents ever again. With others, there’s some sadness that you won’t be following their progress when you see so much potential.

Today were the interviews for the post I am vacating. I was going to say “my job”, but I think it ceased to become mine when I staked a claim in a new place. I’ve never been at a school for as long as I’ve been in this one, and so never before have I felt such mixed emotions about leaving, even though it’s a little way off yet. I was involved in some of the interviewing processes and so was eager to know who had been given the job at the end of the day. I was pleased for the successful candidate and it was a happy moment to see how excited and relieved they were when they were told: texting colleagues and family whilst shovelling papers into their briefcase and trying to take it all in, just as I had done so recently myself.

But it was as I walked out to the car park that the reality sunk in and I realised I had just been replaced. And that was the moment I knew that I really will be leaving. Today was the end of a busy half term. That means I have just one half term left... the next time we break up I will be saying goodbye for good.

Wednesday 21 May 2008

Not green? Not surprised

I just read on the BBC News site that Most schools aren't turning "green". This comes as no surprise to me, and something that I'd wanted to have a rant about for a while - the absolute WASTE of resources generated by just one school. Whilst one teacher on our staff battles on to try to win us "green" awards by creating a little garden that pupils can work on at lunchtimes, and organising the paper recycling, the rest of the school - pupils and teachers alike - continue to contribute to astronomical fuel bills and sheer waste of paper. Regardless of the PSE sessions and geography and science lessons, in practice the school is worse than any other place I've worked in.

Here's what is NOT green about the school:

1. The building: draughty most of the year, with windows rattling in rotten frames and doors continually left open. For over half the year the heating has to be turned up full everywhere to make a difference. For a few months in summer we swelter in the heat generated by the sun beating through the badly insulated building, whilst the computer suites bask in their incessantly whirring air conditioning.

2. Computers and printers left on - all the time. No matter how many times we are told to shut them down at the end of the day, most rooms contain equipment still left on at the end of every day, overnight, and even all weekend. It makes me furious.

3. And while it may grow on trees, paper is wasted every single second. Kids printing out their work send it through multiple times, and then when it is actually printed, it's full of mistakes so they have to repeat the process. Kids think nothing of screwing up a piece of paper and requesting another one when a drawing has gone wrong, even though they could just erase the mistakes. Two photocopiers churn out multiple worksheets and letters home (that get left on classroom floors) every minute of the working day. Weighty booklets of documentation are distributed to each teacher at regular intervals, and most of it goes unread.

4. The buses waiting to take pupils home sit there for at least 15 minutes at the end of the day belching out noxious fumes from their antiquated exhausts, making bus duty the equivalent of smoking several really big cigars.

And we're all guilty of something too - through choice or by necessity, most teachers live a good car drive away from the school, because nobody wants to live too near the pupils, or share a bus with them at the end of the day...

Tuesday 20 May 2008


You'd think this would be the best time of year... exam classes are on study leave, freeing up several lessons each week. The mornings are light and so are the evenings. The student teachers are still in school and can now be left alone with classes to do their thing. So why is practically everyone at school so blooming tired all the time?!

Roll on half term; the lower school has gone hyperactive and hormones are a-go-go. Without Year 11 in school and with no sixth form prefects on duty because they're all on study leave, the middle years now think they rule the roost and spend their time loitering in corridors and snogging in doorways. Just wait for the Year 6s to start visiting and even Year 7 will start to strut their stuff, realising they're not the babies any more...

Monday 19 May 2008

The truths about job hunting

1. It’s incredibly difficult to get an interview if you have passed over the threshold on the pay scale.

2. It’s absolutely draining: from the repetitive form-filling to the same phone call home every day enquiring about the post, just in case.

3. But like the child who continues to chew gum every lesson, even though he is reprimanded every time, until he eventually gets away with it… if you send enough applications off, and widen your radius, and cross off the criteria you’d carefully put on your list of desirable attributes of potential new employers… you will eventually get an interview! Hooray!

4. And then the nerves really kick in, along with self-doubt, and the frustrating knowledge that you could do the job well, but you just don’t do interviews very well.

5. The traumas of the interview day are documented elsewhere. And it’s all too recent and raw for me to re-live here. But after what is now months of anxiety, I can finally announce: I have a new job! More hooray! Well, same job, different faces and places…

And the wishful thinking would be that a new job won’t give any cause for ranting… but the chances of that…?

Friday 16 May 2008

It's Friiiiday!

I don't know how we got there but we did... it was a slow crawl to the last bell today. After days and days of sunshine, the rain finally came and left the kids giddy and wound up. Year 11s milled around the school, fondly glancing in classrooms as they wandered down to exams, as if they had been away for years, not just a few days of study leave. But the rest of the school were in the mood to fight, push, swear and back-chat.

And so I only have the energy to lift the glass of wine to my lips before an early night...

Wednesday 14 May 2008

What a shocker!

What a shocker indeed - but a nice one I must say. Today a member of the senior management team dealt with and solved both things that I raised, and did so within three hours.

In a world where you can drop a form into somebody senior's tray and then never hear anything about it again, it was a totally pleasant surprise that just had to be noted here!

Give that SMT member a gold star!

Tuesday 13 May 2008

Faking it

In the news today (although I'm sure I've heard of this before) is the revelation that a university has told its students to inflate their opinions of it in a survey so that it ends up higher in a league table:

University staff have been caught pressuring students to dishonestly answer an official funding council survey of student satisfaction.
Kingston University staff have been recorded instructing students to inflate their responses in the annual National Student Survey.
"If Kingston comes down the bottom, the bottom line is that nobody is going to want to employ you," staff warned.

I don't see how this is any different from every school going through an inspection, which bribes or threatens the pupils to behave well, smarten up, respond in lessons, etc. It goes on all the time. Just like the schools which force pupils to take vocational qualifications that are the equivalent to 4 GCSEs so that the school looks like it gets 100% of pupils attaining 5 GCSEs.

It just goes to show what nonsense league tables are. And yet I still look at them. Because with all the higgly-jiggly going on, you know that if a school looks average or worse, then surely it's got to be a really dire place with a management team that can't even fiddle figures to make their own school look better...

Scottish 6th formers on grass! etc!

I just wanted to get in with the most obvious headline first when I read about a sixth-form prank in Scotland:

The entire sixth year of a school was sent home on their last day after pupils turfed over the floor of their common room.
Teachers at Banchory Academy took the step after it was discovered some pupils had been drinking.
Aberdeenshire Council said it was decided to send all 100 pupils home.
A spokesman said there were concerns about disruption to exams taking place in the school. One 17-year-old pupil was charged with breach of the peace.

Sunday 11 May 2008

Another week of hot weather forecast

I'm just hoping that as usual the forecasters have got it wrong. After being categorically told we can't leave the classroom, I know for sure that, if I am confined to my room with an average of 30 sweaty adolescents while the sun beats in through the windows, I will just wilt and fade away...

Saturday 10 May 2008

So I wasn't the only one

Earlier in the week I read a blog entry by a maths teacher who had taken his class outside for the kind of lesson the Teacher Training Agency pretends we do all the time: in his case, putting maths into action, measuring stuff and photographing lines of symmetry. At the time I added a comment that I hoped he didn't get a bollocking like I had done.

And then today I read that he did sort of get told off for being innovative.

I wonder if we are just all living in parallel worlds (must be the maths influence). How many other teachers tried the same thing this week? Who else tried to enliven a lethargic class by taking them outside to breathe in fresh(er) air and feel something other than the tingle of wireless networking on their skin, to hear the birds sing instead of the background drone of computers on standby and flies trapped in hot classrooms?

I took a class outside for a lesson for two main reasons this week: firstly, they were in real danger of dehydrating and having their brains frazzled in my very hot classroom where the blinds are broken and you can't open the windows very far in case they swing round and smash; and secondly because there were 35 wilting children in a classroom with just 32 desk spaces, and it was to be an active lesson to satisfy the kinaesthetic learners (and disguise the desk: pupil ratio).

Unfortunately our traipsing outside coincided with a member of the senior management team patrolling the grounds for smokers (or perhaps he had just snuck outside for a crafty smoke himself). But whether it was nicotine withdrawal or just the heat of the day, he decided to start shouting at the advance party members of my class who were doing nothing wrong at all: walking out orderly and quietly as I'd asked them to. I caught them up and muttered something before whisking them away, but the damage was done: the kids were justifiably unhappy to have been yelled at for no reason, and I just knew this would come back to bite me on the bum.

But nobody even gave me the right to reply. Every one of those kids could have told anyone who asked them what their learning objectives were that lesson. All of them were actively involved in our al fresco lesson, and they all gained something from it. I'd done my risk assessment of the situation: I had asked about allergies and made sure they had water and we were close to the shade in case it felt too hot. I'd taken more care over their health and safety than the groups of pupils doing PE just over the way, pounding round the track with no shade for over half an hour.

Instead of the job satisfaction of knowing my lesson went well, I just waited for the bollocking. I wouldn't have expected one had the senior teacher not kicked off, but we all know the SMT can't possibly lose face after a hissy fit. And sure enough, the next morning at our daily meeting, a big point was made that learning ONLY takes place in the classroom, and that NOBODY was to take pupils outside because learning DOES NOT take place there.

And I've been sulking about this ever since.