Friday 27 March 2009

Boozers 2

A couple of weeks ago I blogged about schoolkids drinking alcohol. This is just to draw your attention to an article published on the BBC's website yesterday: UK youths among worst for drink.

Interview X-Factor

Less than a year after my last job interview, I found myself dusting off my interview suit, breathing a sigh of relief that it still fitted, and tipping all the contents out of my interview briefcase to see if I could find my crib notes on such questions as "why do you want this job?" and "what are your strengths, weaknesses, and favourite flavour of jelly beans?".

Yes, I had an interview. And no, before you ask, I didn't get the job. The vagueness of the job description became clearer within the first half an hour of me arriving at the school: my three hours of application form filling-in, three hours of observed lesson preparation, and uncounted hours of online research were going to do me no good because I was up against an Internal Candidate.

Now I'm not naive enough to believe that by default an internal candidate will get the job. I've witnessed my previous colleagues go for promotions within our school and known full well that the governors and headteacher are looking for anybody slightly more competent than them. But when the internal candidate has been acting up in the role for over 12 months already, you know you might as well reverse the car straight back out of the parking space and go and watch daytime television instead of putting yourself through a day of stress and humiliation.

But that's not what I did. Because in some ways I have a belief in myself that I could actually do the job well. I don't know if it would be better than the competition - and this answers one of the questions posed to me by the sixth form representatives in the informal interview in the morning...

Sixth form reps: "What makes you think you can do this job better than the other candidates?"
Me: "Because they look a bit thick and the older bloke has definitely got a nervous twitch."
No, not really.
Me: "I think that's impossible to say because I don't know the other candidates."

And so I participated in the usual pattern of the interview day: I traipsed around the school with a couple of hand-picked confident middle class pupils, taking in the hidden pockets of rubbish and graffiti, and sat sipping coffee with the other candidates, and went through the tiresome "informal" stuff which is anything but. The internal candidate was a nervous wreck and was being pumped for information by an overly ambitious young whipper-snapper of a candidate, and I flicked through my collection of crib cards on latest initiatives and findings.

As this was a management position of small standing, I expected the morning to include some kind of "in-tray" exercise or a quick analysis of statistics, but instead it was the usual routine of interrogation by the headteacher, a deputy, and a number of sixth formers with naive questions. As our morning schedule drew to a close, my stomach began to grumble with hunger, and I wondered what kind of food the canteen served up.

But before lunchtime, in breezed the headteacher with the deputy and head of department, and began to address us all. "Strong candidates, blah blah, exciting and innovative lessons, blah blah..." So we were about to be weeded out before lunchtime. No chance to meet the governors, shake a few hands whilst maintaining eye contact, nor even make electioneering promises about lunchtime clubs and new initiatives. But to make it worse, this headteacher obviously had an urge not to be running a school but instead to be Simon Cowell, gloating with power and about to eliminate one or more of us. And it wasn't my imagination, I'm sure, that the headteacher had shot a look straight at the internal candidate but avoided any eye contact with me. So I felt prepared enough after the "strong candidates" bit to realise I was being sent home without any lunch or any chance to set out my stall in the formal interview.

However nothing quite prepares you for the awkwardness for everyone involved when you are told, in front of everyone else, that you are not worthy. Why it has to be done "X-Factor" style I really don't know. Far better, surely, to be told individually rather than in front of everyone else. It's like a slap across the face or being given a detention slip. I slowly and deliberately shuffled my papers into my briefcase, wondering if the other candidates could bear to look at me. I took my time. I decided that if I was to be humiliated in front of everyone then I might as well prolong the awkward silence for everyone else too. After a short eternity I rose from my chair, gave the other candidates a curt nod, and left the room, resisting any urges to be petulant and slam the door. No lunch! The greatest humiliation of it all! And it was a thirty minute drive back to my house.

Still, I had a good afternoon of lounging around instead of the alternative: waiting anxiously for a formal interview, then hanging around to be told the results. And I feel lucky, in a way, firstly to have seen a school whose website promises so much and whose derelict buildings told a different tale, and secondly, to have discovered so soon the sadistic tendencies of the headteacher.

Argh grrrr - a right rant!

Sometimes it really is the day to end all days, the day when it would be so easy just to walk right out of the classroom, then walk out of the school, and keep on walking, preferably with a middle finger extended in the general direction of all the rubbish left behind.

Year 11 are being particularly horrific at the moment. Not only do I teach a class of rude, disruptive, ungrateful and "not bovvered" brats, but I also have the misfortune of having most of them in my registration group too. Most mornings start with a torrent of swearing, abusive language to each other and to the world in general, ignored instructions to remove coats and scarves, followed by fifteen minutes of me trying to ignore conversations I really don't want to hear.

This morning was no exception. Year 11 as a whole have sensed that the end of compulsory schooling is nigh. The recent warm weather only spurred on the sense of freedom. Whilst most teachers start to panic on their behalf, running around after missing coursework and photocopying study sheets, the majority of Year 11 are planning parties and not giving a shit because in their opinions they will soon be untouchable and sooooo out of there. My Year 11 teaching group have adopted a pack mentality of utter ignorance and rudeness. I'm counting down our final lessons with a mixture of relief and anxiety. Some of the class are desperate for further knowledge and help, but they are overwhelmed by the noisy and disrespectful majority. The boys are locking horns like raging rhinos, pushing and fighting each other before, after, and during lessons. The girls are preoccupied with scowling and bitching and saying "you know what, though, yeah" a lot. They feel compelled to argue that black is, in fact, sky blue pink, and that I'm an out of touch eejit for not knowing that.

As we sorted out coursework, most of which was done in Year 10 with their last teacher, I've lost count of the number of times I've been told she was a "crap" teacher when I know that by reputation she was fearsome and innovative and got good results. What a legacy to retire with: your final students, in their ignorance, only remembering you as "crap" because they couldn't be bothered to turn in coursework by the right deadlines.

So after a morning of stroppy form group and antagonistic GCSE group, I thought I was going to burst a blood vessel. What choices are there? Rise to the bait of being wound up? No. Engage in a discussion and hear out their views? Impossible: it's a one way street of closed minds and filthy mouths. Try to ignore it all and keep calm? That's the only option I've seen as viable, but it's so hard. But it's also rather defeatist. And it leads to zero job satisfaction.

Last week I tired to engage the same group in some fancy lesson to revise quite a dry topic if you're 16 years old and thinking of blow jobs not revision. It ended up with paper aeroplane revision sheets and stolen scissors. And I thought to myself, why waste my time preparing stuff like that when it ends up with such total disrespect?

One morning a huddle of my tutor group were loudly discussing how rude they had been to another teacher the day before. It became a competition of bravado: each trying to out-do the others with what they had told a teacher to do or how they had acted. The rest of the class had stopped their conversations to listen, and so I couldn't close my ears to it any more. I asked them if they thought that people became teachers because they wanted constant abuse, or if it's because they wanted to help educate people. Their replies were quite disturbing, and can be summarised as such:

A) most teachers are on power trips, and they only become teachers because they like feeling powerful in front of teenagers;
B) if you don't like getting verbal abuse all day long, then why do you become a teacher? If you don't want abuse, you should go and work in a primary school.

And that's it. My right to reply or attempts to introduce some logic into the room were shouted down by snarling mouths and noses wrinkled with disgust. And since then, they seem to be stuck in a rut of repetitive discussion about which teachers they hate more than others, and who's going to get what before they leave in May. One foul-mouthed boy, who each morning is either nursing a hangover or verbally abusing everyone that walks through the door, told me that I'm the only teacher he doesn't have a grudge against. At which point one of the mouthiest girls burted out: "Oh I have a grudge..." but luckily for me or her the bell started to drown out what I've done to piss her off. And this is the girl for whom, just two weeks ago, I wrote a glowing reference for FE college, where she can train to care for people's babies, and possibly deafen them with her shrieking and foul mouth.

So I'm going to make myself a little chart and start to tick off the days before Year 11, in their own words, "do one" and "bugger off". And how they will cope in the big bad world with attitudes like that... Well, I'd like to be a fly on the wall - and possibly a fly on their dinner, serving up some of the crap they've given me over the past few months.

Friday 13 March 2009

Management here I come?!

Well, not really, but this did make me laugh when I read it in a mail-out: the government is to introduce a new 'Accelerate to Headship scheme' in September 2010, offering 'up to 200 outstanding individuals' a fast-track pathway to senior leadership. The reason for this? They realise that in a couple of years everyone will have wised up and realised the utter stress of running a school in this day and age is just not worth the salary, criticism and future heart attacks.

Monday 9 March 2009

Too soon?

I made a decision this weekend. I'm going to apply for new jobs. Now if you've been following this blog you'll know that I went all through this last year, and started this new job in September. And I know I should give it time - preferably about three or four years to actually settle in! But you'll also have seen how unchallenged and downright bored I've been, let alone the frustration at all the usual school-related stuff.

So I'm going to see how far I can dip my toe into the puddle of management without drowning. My only problem is how I broach this with my current school. Wanting to be challenged is not a sin, but I haven't even made a mark there - aside from the dents in the wall where I bang my head against it frequently. And does it look downright ungrateful to be given a job and then look elsewhere within six months? Why is there so much guilt associated with this profession?!

Sunday 8 March 2009


There’s a girl in my form group who has had her stomach pumped twice since Christmas. Like most of my form group, she spends her weekends drinking so much alcohol that she makes herself extremely ill. The pupils spend registration periods discussing how off their heads they were or how they are going to get more alcohol for the next session. In my Year 9 group one girl is regularly off with hangovers, and another insists on telling me about drinking in the park and avoiding the police. One of my Year 11 boys had cuts and burns all down one arm recently, and when I asked what it was he had no shame in telling me his mate had done it with a hot poker and razor when they were drunk. I think he may have meant “stoned” or “off their heads” or similar though.

It’s absolutely endemic. And it makes me wonder how these children have the opportunities and money to sustain these dangerous hobbies. Why don’t their parents know what they’re up to? Okay, I know that some of these pupils have parents who are as bad as them: smoking their cigarettes when their own supply has run out, for example. But many of these children are from the kind of caring and supportive parents who provide piano lessons and pencil cases and educational holidays.

It also makes me ponder what my role in all this is supposed to be. I shouldn’t have to hear about all this. And if I do, then my chastisements for unsuitable conversations fall on scornful ears. My threats to pass on information to the head of year is scoffed at as the pupils tell me it’s nothing to do with me as it happens outside of school. And yet I witness the money changing hands for the lunchtime cigarettes – or worse. And I’m supposed to be educating children who are too hungover or even absent because of alcohol abuse. And suddenly to me the minutiae of my subject seem far less important than the need to straighten out these individuals and educate the whole child. But apparently, it's not my business...


Recently I’ve been wondering why I always feel so tired after a day at work. After all, if I arrive at the last minute in the morning as the bell for registration sounds, and leave a few hours later when the final bell rings, I’m only at work for fewer than seven hours: far less than many other workers in this country. Even after a week off for half term, I was still ready for another holiday after being back for a week. So why the weak constitution? And it’s not just me: drawn faces in the staffroom attest to the same thing.

Last week I started to approach this question logically by looking at what happened each day to tire me out. Firstly, I don’t sleep well. So much happens during the day that it takes a long time for it all to stop shuffling around in my mind of an evening, and much of it must still be seeping out as my head touches my pillow. Very often I wake up in the early hours having suddenly remembered something like a pupil telling me they were being bullied and I forgot to see the head of year, or that I need to take in a resource for the next day that I haven’t yet packed but I’m too sleepy to get up and find it at 3am.

My alarm goes off early. Schools generally start early and I usually have some preparation to carry out before the official start of the school day. Truth be told, it’s probably things I could have done if I had stayed for an hour after school the evening before, but come that final bell after a day of aggravation, I usually can’t wait to leave and shake off the stresses of the day.

So by the time I arrive at school I’ve already been up a few hours after a bad night’s sleep. There is usually ten minutes of peace in my classroom before the first pupils start drifting in… and then there’s no moment to draw a deep breath until seven hours later. The day is filled with tiresome parrot-type repetition as I snap the usual lines of “coats off, gum in the bin” and then try to avoid engaging in debate about school uniform; quick interactions with other flustered staff; giving out numerous notices and doing admin during fifteen minutes of registration; having thirty seconds to switch gear between an A level class and a Year Seven special needs group; deflecting arguments; running lunchtime meetings or detentions; doing duties; sorting broken computers and printers whilst retaining eyes in the back of my head; absorbing hormonal stresses of angsty teenagers; filling in paperwork about being sworn at or confiscating cigarettes; chasing photocopies and updating whiteboard resources; and overall, trying to teach and ensure that all pupils in the room are learning something in that lesson. There is rarely time to stop and pause for a moment.

Above all, it can be so emotional. However much of a hard edge you develop – and it doesn’t take long – the incessant chipping away at your patience can make you snap. The nagging from a discordant chorus for over five hours at a time sets your nerves on edge. Absorbing or deflecting verbal abuse and stroppy rudeness… there is no let-up, no escape, no sneaking off to the toilets with a newspaper for ten minutes to cool down.

Seeing ineffective policies in practice only adds to the stress: if I refer on a pupil for bad behaviour, nothing really gets done about it but I have to find that ten minutes from somewhere to fill in the paperwork or track down the head of year. Having a pile of paperwork thrust at me first thing from a member of senior management which requires my immediate attention when I have a class of hyperactive 15 year olds to register and organise also adds to the stress. Like an octopus I grab things thrown my way: homework, coursework, paperwork… no wonder my desk erupts by the end of each day.

So it might be not quite 4pm by the time I leave work, but I often feel like I’ve lived three days in one. And that must be the reason why I feel so exhausted all the time.