Thursday 17 April 2008

Catholic School

No luck for me on the new job yet, so I'm back to scouring the job adverts. I'm at the stage now where I would even consider a Catholic school, although I'm not sure they would consider me. I'm not even sure if you have to be a believer, a church-goer, or avoid mentioning the Reformation if you work in a Catholic school. I really am that ignorant about it.

I was mulling it over on my way to school this morning, and imagining how I would respond to interview questions about my beliefs and faith. But try as I might, I couldn't get the Father Ted response from my mind: "That would be an ecumenical matter"...

Monday 14 April 2008

Random Pupil Generator

I saw a question on a discussion board that asked if anyone had a Random Pupil Generator. My mind actually boggled. What was this? A machine that can generate a pupil at any time, any place? How random would this pupil actually be? Would he stand there, befuddled, clutching a guitar or test tube, having been summoned from another lesson into mine? Or would she be an amalgamation of pupils, with the head of one vaguely recognisable pupil and the uniform of a rival school? I had to read on, as you can imagine.

What I discovered was no less amazing, although far more credible and practical. It's actually called a Random Name Picker, and is a fruit machine (or typewriter for those, I suppose, in religious schools where gambling is frowned upon) into which you can copy a class list or any old list of words. The machine then generates a highlighted name at random. Genius! I've just got to figure out how you can save one of your lists now...

Saturday 12 April 2008

Back to the Old School 5

The Ranting Teacher Five Year Retrospective

So here it is, my fifth blog entry for today, to mark Ranting Teacher’s fifth birthday. If you’ve just arrived now, it would probably make more sense to start back down there at the first entry of the day. But, please, that’s just a suggestion; after all, it’s the weekend, it’s my birthday, and I’d like us all to just relax and enjoy… if you can actually enjoy a good moan, that is. Well, I know I can.

Anyhow, I’ve been taking a peek back at my younger self to see what was getting my goat around this time five years ago; what drove me to commit my thoughts to cyberspace before I got committed myself…

Perhaps shockingly to some, but perfectly understandable to others, my work colleagues could sometimes really piss me off. Perhaps I’ve saved this topic until last because it’s the most important factor in why schools fall apart and don’t do as well as they could. A chain is only as strong as its weakest link… and it’s sad to say that there are quite a few weak links in schools and the education system as a whole. My thoughts on this haven’t really changed, and what I think I fear the most is that I will slip into the easy existence of a bone-idle incompetent teacher – and I’ve met a few of these. The more I see those around me - and allegedly in charge of me - cutting corners and screwing up, the more I worry that their bad influence is rubbing off on me.

Five years ago, I wrote about other teachers annoying me by leaving pathetic cover lessons when I was the teacher filling in for them, including the ubiquitous wordsearch, which still annoys me to this day. Then there were the times that somebody else was in my classroom and I would dread walking back in there afterwards, knowing I would be confronted with sweet wrappers, used tissues all over the place, and wrecked wall displays. Since then, I have witnessed many more instances of incompetence, laziness, and double standards. And maybe soon it will be time to spill some more beans on some of the worst offenders I’ve had the displeasure to work with over the past few years...

Back to the Old School 4

The Ranting Teacher Five Year Retrospective

Five years ago, Ranting Teacher was born. I’ve been looking back to see what I was whinging about back then, and if much has changed in that time. This is my fourth of five entries for today, and it’s time to see what I was saying about the kids themselves back then.

They might have wound me up, lied to me, and not listened to a word I said, but sometimes they did make me laugh. I’d forgotten about the boy who ignored my careful instructions for his homework that he was supposed to copy down into his homework diary, and instead just wrote: “Do crappy homework by next Tuesday”. Then there was the boy who was supposed to be engaged in some meaningful paired discussion but instead was telling his small audience about his dad’s porn collection stashed in his wardrobe, unaware I could hear the whole conversation, and that it was all I could picture the next time I met his parents.

Back to the Old School 3

The Ranting Teacher Five Year Retrospective

This is the middle entry for today’s blogging. I’m writing five entries today, because the concept of Ranting Teacher started out on the Internet five years ago this very day, so five is the magic number!

I’ve been looking back over my original website at what was bothering me five years ago. And in doing so I’ve noticed that my posts broadly fall into three different categories: those concerning the pupils, those about their parents, and the rants about my colleagues.

The parents! you may well exclaim. Why yes, why should we not attribute some blame to those who spawn some of the little buggers we have to put up with all day? And sometimes the parents are far worse than their poor long-suffering kids.

For example, I wrote about the Road Rage I felt when parents blocked the roads and caused hazards not only for their darling children trying to reach the school gates safely, but also for me as I battled to beat the buses onto the premises in the morning.

Then I ranted about the parents who encourage their kids to be little shits because it’s some sort of revenge for their own failed school days. And just over four years ago it was time to catalogue the different types of parents who turned up for Parents’ Evenings, from the aggressive and trailer trash types to the nervous parents and those parents about whom you know way too much.

You can read more about all of these at my original website, whilst marvelling at its glorious html technicolour, at Ranting Teacher.

Back to the Old School 2

The Ranting Teacher Five Year Retrospective

I’ve been reminiscing over my past five years of teaching on this, the occasion of Ranting Teacher’s fifth birthday. I wasn’t a new-born teacher back then, but at any stage in a career, a lot can change in five years – so reckoned Stalin eighty years ago. Mind you, Stalin would have expected all this hard graft in exchange for a bottle of vodka or something, so it kind of puts my previous discussion of pay into perspective.

The next entry I wrote on my original website was called The Importance of Being Sporty. I was fed up at the glorification of sporting achievements, which seemed to take precedence over any other pupil achievements. Also, I didn’t like having to appear like I cared about the under-14s quoits-tossing team’s success in the tossers’ championships. Now, have my attitudes changed over the past five years? Have I mellowed out? Um, no. Instead I have mastered the thousand-yard stare: handy not only in assembly when sports results are announced, but in many other school situations too – the staff meeting, the Inset course, the non-compliance of a class when asked to stop talking… In addition, I think with the rise of the internet, blogging, instant messaging, texting and so on, comes the rise of the techno-geek. Now geeks’ voices are being heard loud and strong across the globe, and there seems to be less shame in being in the spelling bee instead of the B-team of belly-floppers.

And this time five years ago I was cursing lying children who think we are stupid enough to believe the rubbish that comes out of their mouths. Well that still happens. My reactions these days veer between resignation (not literally - that would be drastic - but the internal eye-roll) and internalised anger (in the form of a really bloody rude swearing session inside my own head).

Old School Ranting Teacher

It's Ranting Teacher's 5th birthday!

Five years ago, when the word “blogging” was just a glint in the future pages of my own personal dictionary, and a rudimentary knowledge of html and clip-art-nicking was enough to get me by, I set up my Ranting Teacher website. I did it because writing, however shoddy its outcome, has always been therapeutic to me, and I felt like I needed some therapy after a day at the chalkface, as it was then.

But it wasn’t just for me to feel better after thumping away at my keyboard. I also felt that somehow people should really know what it’s like to work in a school. Now not all schools are like mine. Some are mismanaged to far greater degrees than mine. Many are full of much worse behaviour and kids from far more disadvantaged backgrounds than where I work right now. But anybody who has worked in a few schools will know how different they can each be, and yet the same themes crop up again and again.

In the past five years, blogs have come and blogs have gone. Hell, we even know what “blogging” means now. I’ve enjoyed reading a number of teaching blogs, some now sadly neglected or closed; they have made me laugh, despair, and empathise. Only recently I was surprised to come across one of my classes who appear to be leaping across the space-time continuum in order to be taught by a fellow blogger, Old Andrew.

In this fifth year of my blog’s existence, I finally caught up with all these new-fangled ways and joined a blogging site proper, whilst my old html efforts remain suspended in hyperspace. So I thought I would take this opportunity to look back over what on earth I was whinging about this time five years ago, in the first of five entries today to mark the occasion…

PAY was just about the first issue I wrote about. Some might call it a case of sour grapes, and they could well be right, but I was annoyed that I had missed out on the metallic shimmers of golden handshakes and hellos and handcuffs, and was instead paying the Student Loans Company what seemed like an enormous amount of my meagre wages each month for the privilege of having trained for servitude in the public sector.

So what’s changed in those five years? Well, the loans are finally paid off. But pay is still a contentious issue: are we about to slip-slide into a recession? How much higher can fuel costs go, and for how much longer can I actually afford to keep my car on the road? And will the teaching union strikes actually take place in just under two weeks’ time? Teaching pay will increase just 2.45% and yet inflation is 4.1%. My conditions of work, like almost every other teacher’s, appear to be getting worse, and yet my disposable income is less than it was a year ago, but more than it was five years ago when I languished much further down the payscale. I guess we’ll soon find out if the strikes (a) happen and (b) work! Here's hoping...

Friday 11 April 2008

Because I'm a ranting whinger...

Five things that annoyed me this week

1. Learning that there is an acronym for an affliction I have had – IMOS. Apparently you are an IMOS if you are heard to start a sentence with, “In my old school…”. I don’t do this so much now that my old school is a distant memory, but I’m sure when I first started at my current place I was always doing it. Cringe!

2. Teachers who leave their rubbish in my room – yes, I’m going to get possessive about this, but really it could be in any room. This week I have had a plastic cup with some water left in it which inevitably ended up spilt by a child before I had a chance to scoop it into a sink and bin; various worksheets; and an empty sandwich pack on my desk. I’m grateful for all the left pens though.

3. Thinking I’d found a really good affordable holiday for the summer then realising it leaves the day before we break up.

4. Not having a single acknowledgement from schools that I’ve applied to for a new job, even though I’ve enclosed a stamped addressed envelope that they only have to stick into the “outgoing mail” tray. It takes a long while to fill out application forms and tailor statements and letters, and that’s after the preparatory research into the school. To invest that much time and energy into something and then not even hear a “no thank you” let alone a “yes please” is frustrating and disappointing. I’m beginning to stalk the postman too…

5. That I still allow myself to get annoyed over petty things rather than the important stuff in life. And that I feel I can’t stop being annoyed until I’ve bored everyone else whinging about it. So I’ll shut up now… :/

On a lighter note: my April Fools joke

We were on holiday for April Fool's Day this year (thank goodness - the humiliation of sitting on a whoopee cushion still resonates...). But then today I was having a bit of a spring clean of the piles of paperwork that somehow accumulate on my desk, in drawers, and stuffed into filing cabinets.

I kept coming across surplus "Little Visitor" leaflets. I don't know if these are common place amongst schools, but every time a kid has got nits, a batch of these leaflets get photocopied and sent home. My form are now wise to these, and whenever the "Little Visitor" leaflets appear, they still start to squeal and scratch and start witch-hunts over who has got nits. But there's usually at least two or three people away from my form each time the leaflets come out, and so today I found myself with a surplus as I threw out the rubbish amongst my paperwork.

So this afternoon, at registration, I casually distributed the leaflets as they came in the door, and a typical response was, "Woss 'is? Urghhhhhhhh! Oo's gor nits? Ohmigod tha's disGUSTin'" and so on for a good five minutes before I confessed it was a joke - but even then they weren't all convinced. Well it made me laugh anyway.

Why you should make yourself heard

This is subtitled "Strike - part 2".

Some people have drawn my attention to poems that are used with students in class, and yet still the teachers dither over whether striking is the best course of action.

First They Came For The Jews

‘First they came for the Jews
And I did not speak out –
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for the communists
And I did not speak out –
Because I was not a communist.

Then they came for the trade unionists
And I did not speak out –
Because I was not a trade unionist.

Then they came for me –
And there was no one left
To speak out for me.’

Pastor Niemoller, 1938

The second has a similar sentiment:

Not My Business

They picked Akanni up one morning
Beat him soft like clay
And stuffed him down the belly
Of a waiting jeep.

What business of mine is it
So long as they don’t take the yam
From my savouring mouth?

They came one night
Booted the whole house awake
And dragged Danladi out,
Then off to a lengthy absence.

What business of mine is it
So long as they don’t take the yam
From my savouring mouth?

Chinwe went to work one day
Only to find her job was gone:
No query, no warning, no probe –
Just one neat sack for a stainless record.

What business of mine is it
So long as they don’t take the yam
From my savouring mouth?

And then one evening
As I sat down to eat my yam
A knock at the door froze my hungry hand.
The jeep was waiting on my bewildered lawn
Waiting, waiting in its usual silence.

Niyi Osundare

The point is clear: if you don't stick up for yourselves and others now, who will do so in the future?

Thursday 10 April 2008

There is power in the union

I've been asleep.

That's the only excuse I can think of. I've been hearing about the strike action, and even commented on it a few days ago, but I haven't really paid much attention. I'm not in the National Union of Teachers, and it seems that neither are many of my colleagues, because nobody has really mentioned the strike at all.

That is, until today. The NUT rep called a meeting of members, and then there was a flutter of talk about what to do, along with a handful of reminiscences about the last major strikes many years ago. But there still wasn't any brushing off of banners or talk of picket lines. Instead, the staffroom chatter at lunchtime was focused on how it would affect pensions. I was just nodding along to this. The catchment area of the school isn't an affluent one by any means, and a teacher's wage would already seem highly desirable to many of the people in the area. Plus we're about to enter a recession, blah blah blah went the talk, and I found myself agreeing. What's the point in striking, was the general mutter, until one lone voice chipped up from a bloke who, in the old days, would have been sat there smoking a pipe.

"The problem with bloody teachers is you all think too much," he growled. "There is nothing to debate here. We have unions for a reason. If the government sees that nobody can be bothered, and that the Union doesn't have the support of its members, then they will never listen to a union again."

The whittering stopped while people digested this, and the man went back to sucking on an imaginary pipe.

And I felt ashamed.

I couldn't believe I had been considering overlooking the strike, ignoring its very presence and possibilities, because it's not my union and it doesn't seem to bother me much right now. Me, me, me. What the hell has happened to me? What happened to that militant student campaigner who liked nothing more than shouting at demos, who spent hours distributing leaflets on workers' rights and humanitarian causes? Why am I not even seeing beyond the end of my own nose?

In short, where have I gone? Who is this middle-of-the-road nimby who's replaced that feisty former self, so passionate about politics and putting the world to rights?

A fog lifted.

We NEED to strike. ALL of us. Every public worker who is put upon by the government, who has to accept violence in the classroom or ambulance or casualty ward, who is told they can't have a pay rise despite politicians awarding themselves huge bonuses and furniture from the John Lewis list - we all need to stand up and show the government that there is power in our unions, and that we have the right to reply and to protest. And if we don't, then it's true: the government will see that we've all fallen asleep and don't want to stick out our necks and raise our voices for what truly matters.

Then consider the future. Unions with no influence over anything any more. Workers of the future with no right to ask for better working conditions and pay. And a government rubbing its hands with glee because another corner of democracy has been eroded away.

Yesterday I wrote about China and the conditions that many of its population live in, after watching Chinese School on BBC4. The government controls every aspect of life. Every school has an attached party official. Our government already tries to interfere with every element of education; how much more would it do so if there was no bite in our unions?

So I urge you, if you have the chance, then you must STRIKE. Do it not for yourself, but for every worker present and future who one day will need somebody to speak up for them and their rights.

Wednesday 9 April 2008

Chinese School

I was fascinated to watch Chinese School on BBC4. Over five episodes, we will gain an insight into life in three different schools in the same region. And what a wonderful balance to all the recent news coverage of China as the great big bad villain – most recently with the pro-Tibet protests following the Olympic torch processions, and the unrest in Tibet itself. Because this programme is about the people of China – families, teachers and most importantly the children, on whose shoulders lies the great burden of their parents’ hopes and dreams. And their dedication, even if the normal family unit has broken down, is admirable. Maybe the pressure placed on these children is not so admirable – a 17 year old girl on the programme working towards university entrance starts school at 6am and finishes at 10.15pm, then studies until gone midnight, before getting up at 5 the next morning again.

Now having read
Wild Swans by Jung Chang I believed myself to be a bit of an expert on China, as you do, especially under Chairman Mao. After reading that book I felt such passionate hatred towards him and his officials, for many of his ideologies that destroyed the lives of so many Chinese. China may have moved on, but some (or many) of Mao’s policies remain. There are the overt: children performing 15 minutes of eye-rubbing exercises each day together in class, as Mao reckoned this would improve eyesight.

Then there are more sinister overtones of his legacy: in this first episode a class of 7 year olds have an eraser inspection, but the teachers are not the accusers here. Just like under Mao’s rule, when neighbour was encouraged to turn upon neighbour and punish any misdemeanours, the children of the class vote on who has the worst kept eraser. The poor 7 year old boy who owns the worse eraser is humiliated by having to wear an old jumper full of holes, and is chastised by his classmates in a carefully scripted “play” to illustrate that everybody must take care of their things. He has to go round the class in his jumper full of holes apologising to each pupil and his teacher, and reciting a rhyme, before he is allowed back to his seat where it’s all too much and he crumples at his desk in tears.

Now if we could dish out just a tenth of the scorn to some of the ungrateful, out of control little bleeders that we teach, maybe that would go some way towards restoring order in our classrooms. And don’t even get me started on the one child policy that certain estates in this country might benefit from…

Anyway, here is what the BBC website says about this first episode, in case you’d like to know more. But please try to catch it yourself if you can: it’s a stunning programme. The next episode is on Tuesday 15th April at 9pm on BBC4, or Episode 1 is repeated tomorrow night, Thursday 10th.

Whatever you think you know about China and the Chinese, forget it. It's time to think again. The children and teachers of the rural town of Xiuning are about to welcome you into their lives, and reveal a place full of vitality, challenges and great humour.
Chinese School discovers just what makes Chinese people tick, what they dream of and what gets a laugh. This is China as the Chinese know it and as the West has never seen it.
This extraordinary series follows a year in the life of Xiuning, from boiling summer to freezing winter. Xiuning is proud of two very different things - tea and teaching.
This is a place where planes are rerouted so they don't break pupils' concentration during exams; where every senior school has its own permanent Communist Party Secretary, and the school year begins with military training from the People's Liberation Army.
But it's also a place where even the coolest children play Mah-jong with granny and traditional gods are worshipped alongside mobile phones, pop music and movie stars.
Episode 1, The Year of Golden Pig, starts as mocks begin for the world's most dreaded exam; the Gao Kao. Pass with flying colours and your future's bright; Fail and you're a peasant for life.
17 year old star student Wu Yufei bears a heavy burden – her school expects her to finish top of the entire Province of more than half a million students. Her mother gives up work purely to cook and care for her daughter in this crucial year.
All the little children at the local charity primary school are boarders selected from the poor mountain villages surrounding town. Leaving families behind is tough, but it gives them a shot at a better life. Recruitment time approaches, but who will the headmistress pick this term?
The town's Middle School students are going on a school trip. With exams looming, one of them invokes an old Chinese saying; "Only happiness learned from suffering is true happiness". But when the class bursts into singing the latest pop hit, for a few minutes at least, the pressure is off and they're like teenagers the world-over.

Tuesday 8 April 2008

5 Truths about the School Day

In five days, Ranting Teacher will be five years old - surely a position of some doddery seniority in the fickle world of blogging!

To celebrate, here's my first list of five...

5 Truths about the School Day

1. 3.45pm isn’t necessarily the end of a long day for everybody else in the world of work; it’s the end of a long lunch.

2. It is impossible to rush to the other end of the building to join the toilet queue, make a cup of tea and drink it, and prepare your room for your next class in one 15 minute break.

3. Depending on your subject and the promises you made in your job interview, your lunch break may be no such thing, but instead be a purgatory of detention duty, sports practice, music rehearsals, chess club, or forcing reluctant Year 11 slackers to mass produce coursework.

4. If you do make it to the school canteen, remember that these days healthy eating isn’t an option – it’s the only choice. The kids aren’t dealing wraps of speed or cocaine as it first appears to an outsider, but they are handing round illicit sachets of salt.

5. Six and a half hours inside a school building actually translates as thirteen hours in the real world – remember how the days used to drag by slowly when you were slumped over a desk? The only difference is that being a teacher you don’t get to sit down for most of it.

Monday 7 April 2008

Outstanding lessons

I was just looking at the TES Staffroom website, when I saw an NQT's question which asks how often everyone's lessons are outstanding. I was so tempted to reply that mine are outstanding most of the time - at least sometimes it's me, sometimes it's one of the kids, out standing in the corridor...

Tuesday 1 April 2008


I got totally excited when I just read the news at the BBC website that teachers voted "Yes" to a strike (not me - nobody asked, to be honest). But what are they thinking of - a strike on a Thursday? Why not make it Friday and it would be a nice long weekend for all concerned.