Tuesday 18 March 2008

So gay...

The BBC website today reports on How 'gay' became children's insult of choice. There's a bit of a debate going on about how long it's been bandied around as an alternative to "crap" or "sad" or "rubbish", which is the context it's mostly used in when I've experienced it. For example, homework is gay, having to get books out is gay, and no chips at dinner time is gay.

When I first heard it being used I used to haul the child out of the classroom and lecture them on homophobia until they put the two ideas together in a connection they had never made before. I thought I was being radical and defying Clause 28 - a law (now repealed) which every teacher seemed to be scared of and nobody really had a clue what it actually meant anyway. But it didn't take long for me to realise that "gay" was not being used as a comment on anybody's sexuality, but just as synonym for "crap". The characters on "South Park" were always using it in that way and I figured that this was how is was being disseminated. Besides, if the kids I taught meant homosexual, they had a load of other words to choose from, "pillow-biter" being a particular favourite.

Back to the BBC article, and one of the issues is that students or teachers who are actually gay might be insulted by this constant use. It's a fair point, but it doesn't seem to have affected the one openly gay pupil I teach. In fact, when somebody in the class tells me that their homework is "gay", I often feel like pointing at Richie and saying, "No, Richie is gay, the homework is just crap." But I don't of course...

Tuesday 11 March 2008

Absence Note

I haven't added anything in a while - not because nothing has happened, but because I've spent every spare minute poring over vacancy websites, emailing for application packs, and spending hour upon hour applying for jobs. Well, I've applied for three so far, but the applications themselves take so long to complete that it's a gruelling test in stamina and probably the most realistic way to stop time-wasters who are only in the going-for-interviews-game for the perks: the travel expenses, the day off school, the free lunch, the excuse to buy a new suit...

Every application is different. You could be asked to send in different things: some places want your CV, others will throw your application into the reject pile if you dare to send one in. Most schools send you forms to fill in, and they will be several pages of repetitive information long, and serve no real purpose because if you do get called to interview it will seem like none of the interview panel has the faintest idea what you've done before.

The real time-consuming element, though, is the letter of application. To fill this in confidently, I need to go through several processes. Firstly, reading the information sent out by the school themself. The quality of this will vary depending on how desperate the school is to recruit somebody. A glossy brochure or fact-filled booklet usually indicates that the school is gagging to attract somebody who likes glossy stuff. A badly photocopied and out-of-date couple of pages in bland typeface means that the school can't really be bothered with the whole process, maybe because they know there's a pool of desperate trainee teachers waiting to pounce on any opportunity, or maybe because the management hasn't got a clue.

In any case, the next port of call is the Ofsted website. Every teacher knows that Ofsted inspections aren't truly accurate pictures of schools, but when you apply for a job you become cursed with amnesia and tend to believe everything that these reports tell you. You then try to match what the school is telling you with its own literature and website with what Ofsted is telling you... no easy task sometimes.

If you're still uncertain, you can move to the next level of googling the place. Web searches will bring up all sorts of information: generally local news reports of what the school is doing right or wrong, e.g. either the kids are winning awards and competitions, or they are rioting and vandalising. Web searches also bring up any pupil who has a profile at a social networking site like Bebo or My Space. Follow just one link and you can read about how much the kids hate the school, disrespect their teachers, how they enjoy getting pissed every night and how they all believe they are gangstas who need to type phonetically to match their pseudo-ghetto accents, which in reality are probably more like Bernard Matthews than 50 Cent.

Go a bit further and you can view the school area on satellite photographs and quickly count up the ratio of burnt-out cars to the number on roll. You can check out the housing in the local area on rightmove, not because you want to move there, but because this is a great indicator of your potential new pupils. You can even google-stalk the members of the department you're applying to see if you'd fit in... every staff list on a school website is an opportunity to visit Friends Reunited to find out a little more about your possible future colleagues.

But sometimes ignorance is bliss. Turn up to interviews with too much information and your whole day is blighted by looking for the gangsta hardcore element of the school, who turn out only to exist on the internet because in reality they are meek geeks in scruffy uniforms once at school.

So I'm keeping my eyes open for new opportunities. At least, that's the interview-esque way of putting it. In reality, I've had a gut-full of my current place and I'm desperate to get out of there and start somewhere new.

No homework!

I got all excited when I read the headline today that Teachers Call For Ban On Homework. But then I read on and realised it was only in primary school. WHY?!

Firstly, the day of a primary school child is short - finishing early, most of them live within walking distance even if their parents insist on dusting off the jeep to drive them there. Plus the kids (well, most of them) aren't into rebelling and hanging around on street corners yet, so they are more pliable.

Secondly, if it's going to be banned in primary schools then let's PLEASE ban it in secondary schools too. It is far easier to spend several days banging a lump of rock in the hope that blood will start to seep from its weathered exterior than it is to extract homework from some kids. It's excrutiating and time-wasting - how much of lesson time is spent chasing up homework, listening to excuses, reading notes from parents to say that printer ink has run out (it's the new dog-eats-book), writing warning slips and generally faffing around trying to collect this stuff in? Far too long, all of which is quality teaching time that is just frittered away. If I spend ten minutes twice a week chasing up homework, that's longer than the majority of kids spend scribbling sub-standard answers into their jotters as they watch "Skins". I might as well have that teaching time back and do it properly...!