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.