Saturday 26 January 2008

Creative Subversion

A new report asks What makes a good teacher? I was glad to see some thought had actually gone into some of the studies and conclusions. A professor from Exeter University...
...argued for a healthy scepticism towards national policy initiatives. Indeed she advocated that a good teacher should go in for "creative subversion". By this, she meant that teachers should neither passively comply with government initiatives, nor should they point blank refuse to implement them. Instead they should "adapt them creatively".

I'm glad to have some academic backing to my personal approach then. If by "creative subversion" the professor means "read the glossy brochures full of edu-speak and new initiatives, tut at how much money was spent producing them, glance at battered textbooks with a sigh, and use glossy brochures to cut out pictures for projects, knowing we never have the money for the suggested resources"...

Thursday 24 January 2008

What's in your briefcase?

For some reason I had a flashback today to the day I had my interview for my current job. Interviews are not the most pleasant of days, especially when you are thrown into the staffroom for hours on end to sit amongst the existing staff, who are checking you out, and your rivals who may well be doing their best to undermine you.

But there was one moment of light relief in the day. It was lunchtime, and after a soggy sandwich from the canteen we had been dumped in the staffroom again. I was leafing through some notes for want of something to do, when I noticed a lone teacher - a man of a certain age - flick open the brass catches on his hard briefcase. I took a peek inside to see what was in there, because I'm nosey like that, and had to stifle a laugh when he pulled out a mug and a tea bag from an otherwise empty case.

I realise now he must have been a supply teacher, sitting on his own and guarding his mug in his case, but at the time I did wonder what kind of freaks were working at this school...

Saturday 19 January 2008

National Naughty Day

One day last week must have been National Naughty Day, probably an idea spread amongst the kids on Facebook or Bebo or MySpace in order to co-ordinate a mass nervous breakdown of the teaching profession just as news of the pittance of a pay-rise was released.

The lesson before lunch is the best time for Teacher's Revenge, because keeping back hungry growing lads because they have messed around actually means something to them. Sure enough, I told the class they could go, except for two naughty Year 8s who had worn my patience thin. As the class filed out, the two boys began gathering in worksheets and books as if they were well-used to the stay-behind-and-tidy-up routine.

I was about to give them a bollocking but the gleams in their eyes told me it would have no effect. So instead I went down the "very disappointed in you" line, telling them that I knew they had good brains in their heads, and wasn't it a shame they weren't using them, blah blah blah. But as I was telling them all this in a soothing voice, the Armstrong and Miller sketch that I wrote about last month popped into my head, and I found it increasingly difficult not to laugh, so had to cut short the pep-talk before I ruined the look of concern on my face...

Friday 18 January 2008

Abandoned kids

In the news this week: a mother in court for leaving her fourteen year old daughter at home for six weeks while she went off abroad to see a boyfriend. Sadly, this didn't surprise me when I read about it. Far too frequently than anyone would like, I'm told by a child that their parents are abroad on holiday and they are in the care of somebody they are quite vague about. Who is looking out for them?

TFI the weekend

Between the first and last bells of the day, there is no time to stop and stare at school. Even before the first bell we await the senior management in our daily staff meeting, wasting precious minutes while the children begin to swarm the corridors outside. But thanks to the cascades of rain this week and rivers where roads used to be, I was late one morning and went straight to my room to register my form group before they started running riot.

But before I could even register them I was summoned outside to talk with the head of year about a pupil, and suddenly we were surrounded by other staff and pupils who all wanted to talk to one or other of us about something, an actual queue of people waiting their turn to ask one of us a difficult question. I was still in my coat and still hadn't registered my form when the bell for first lesson rang. Like autobots, at the sound of the bell all the teachers dispersed without a further word, the pupils started spilling out of classrooms into the narrow corridor, and almost straight away I had a new queue of Year 8s waiting to come in for their first lesson.

Sweeping papers off the front desk to make space for the class, I searched for my planner whilst barking instructions to sit down and get books out. It was then I spotted the solitary worksheet on my desk, which I should have duplicated before school, and which was vital for the lesson I'd planned. I silently screamed, strode to my cupboard at the back of the room, pulled a face filled with pain to the darkness within, and snatched up some textbooks, flicking through them in panic to see what I could teach off the cuff for an hour.

And so the day went on. There was no let-up even at lunchtime, as every time I tried to take a bite of sandwich I was interrupted by somebody wanting something. My last lesson needed the laptop and projector - at least here was one I'd properly prepared. Worksheets lay in neat piles ready for distribution, and I cranked up the laptop in the lesson before so everything would be ready.

Except it wouldn't be as simple as that, would it? For some reason, the laptop went into a coma and wouldn't wake up. I tried everything. Some of the kids tried everything they knew. It was then I knew it was doomed. I dispatched a child to hunt down some alternative equipment, which was brought back on the cusp of the bell.

Penultimate class out, final class in, and I was still struggling to set up the equipment. I set the class something to do which should have been very straightforward and lasted them five minutes, which would have given me the time to sort out the change of laptop. But instead, there was fuss. Fuss-fuss-fuss as only thirty eleven and twelve year olds can at the end of a wet day. Everytime I stood up to catch breath from connecting wires I found five or six children at my heels all wanting something that could have waited.

Then the lesson proper started. Still there was fussing. I felt what little patience I had receeding, but struggled to hang on to it like someone after one too many glasses of wine trying to hold onto sobriety. But there's always a straw to break the camel's back. And that one little straw was a child who called out at the wrong time... and suddenly and uncontrollably I exploded, shouting at the class to stop fussing and just listen!

I immediately regretted it of course, but at least they fell into stunned silence. And once my storm had passed, very quickly after all that, we were back to sweetness and light and no hard feelings. But I ended the day feeling mean as well as still stressed.

The waiting game

Well I'm still waiting to hear about being offered a starring role in my own version of Extreme Pilgrim - Extreme Teacher, as I detailed last time. But I'm also looking forward to the last episode of the three-part series on this evening, as Peter Owen-Jones treks to Egypt. I need a bit of loveliness on my TV this evening after the week I've had...

Wednesday 16 January 2008

Extreme Pilgrim

There's a programme on BBC TV at the moment called Extreme Pilgrim. It's been fascinating viewing. The idea is that an English vicar, Peter Owen-Jones, goes off to experience three different faiths, but the extreme edge of these faiths. So far, I have seen him follow an exhausting regime of learning kung-fu with Shaolin monks amongst the breath-takingly beautiful mountains of central China. He has also travelled through India, getting stoned with some scary looking holy leaders, and living like a hermit as a Hindu holy man in a remote village, earning dysentery for his troubles. There's one more episode to come, based in Egypt.

But it did make me think. Why not have Extreme Teacher? I'd be up for it. Moaning secondary school teacher, disillusioned with loads of crap, is made to reconsider how bloody lucky they are when faced with three extreme teaching situations: perhaps an inner-city U.S. school where daily routines involve siege practice; a refugee camp in somewhere remote yet scenic (hey, we have viewers to please, no?); a new girls' school in Afghanistan...

The only real and present danger I'm currently in is drowning in all the marking I currently can't keep up with. I need a change of scene.

Corridors of Chaos

Today has been a day of non-stop chaos, veering between the organised and the disorganised. A bunch of us regular teachers were off-timetable so we could attend an in-house training session, and so supply teachers old and new were taking our places. By last lesson today, I thought I would go and check that all was well with the supply teacher covering my classes, as the last group he had are well-renowned for naughtiness, and he was only just out of training and still looking for his first proper post.

But in the room where he was supposed to be was a regular teacher, who had decided to hijack this room in my absence because it has facilities that her assigned room doesn't have, and when I wandered along to where this group allegedly were, I found instead another supply teacher sitting at a desk reading whilst the group she was supervising were texting on their banned mobile phones, throwing bits of paper around, and slouching around with their feet propped up on the desks. But as she didn't seem bothered I thought I'd leave it.

This happened a further three times. I'd open a door slightly, peer in, see chaos within - but a chaos that wasn't my group - and shut the door quickly again. In the end I gave up, I just walked along two corridors of closed doors from which leaked sounds of anything but quiet learning.

I never did find my teaching group. But I did see a member of senior management walking the same corridors, turning a deaf ear to whatever was going on.

Saturday 12 January 2008

New term in full swing

First full week back at school, and one parents' evening under the belt already. I had such a proper holiday that my plans to mark a few books each day were forgotten by the third day, and so on the first day of term I turned up quite unprepared and not really ready to get into the swing of things at all. I was squinting at my planner every half an hour trying to remember what I was supposed to be doing, and dashing to the photocopier to duplicate some hastily found worksheets for the next lesson. Still, it seemed like I wasn't the only one. Being tenth in line for the copier gives you a chance to study the drawn faces of colleagues.

The new year has started with a couple of exclusions already, a confirmed pregnancy in year 10, and new graffiti on the walls. It seems the kids get back into the swing of things a lot quicker than us.

But what I do have at the start of term is a lot more patience than I do towards the end. Opinions shouted out in lessons are not necessarily rude interruptions, as I would see them in a few weeks' time, but enthusiastic responses and a chance to start a debate.

However what the first full week back has also brought are a batch of new and pressing deadlines - for report writing, exam marking, and the looming coursework deadlines... suddenly the holidays are a distant memory...