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...