The Blackboard Jungle

days spent beating back the seeds of doubt

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

It has been a long time away. I ran my own private language school in the third world. I got cancer & emigrated to the UK. I started work at a massive (& superb) academy.
And times changed. Whistleblower style blogging, personal style blogging - are on their way out. It's no longer acceptable to write publicly in the same style as I was once wont to do, here.
(I do, however, (she spliced), note that the Grauniad, which once reviewed my blog as negative and burnt out, now does a weekly blog column called Secret Teacher that is far more bilious and chippy than anything I ever wrote. Plus ça change...

Updates : rare. But alive.

Thursday, December 01, 2011

My phone buzzes during poetry class. The plumber is coming, and I can't afford to miss his text. I blush, and check the phone as surreptitiously as I can, which is to say, in full glaring adolescent spotlight.
I fumble with a heavy nokia brick, barely functional, but still only 6 years into its shelf life. (I have moved from early adopter to late adopter as I age gracefully, and 7 years is about right for a phone. In a year, I will be able to consider a smartphone. Right now, a coloured screen is still a luxury too far.)
Jordan looks bemused. "Switch it off," orders Shannon, "switch it off and give us the battery. It's against the rules."
I actually am trying to switch it off, but ancient nokia bricks must be cajoled, not ordered. They don't perform just any old function you require, you know, they need to be sweet talked and pressured into it. This one doesn't 'do' voicemail, and will only tolerate one 4 minute call per day before it flounces into unresponsive inertia.

The phone is finally deadened. I point back at the jazz style poem with a half chewed pen. Jordan is not fooled.
"Is everything you own old fashioned, Miss?" he says, and I see myself through his eyes, suddenly. Ancient, out of touch, not possessed of an iphone. I wonder if he can imagine a world where we write only with pens, where screens don't respond to your finger. And why should he? Do I imagine the black and white tvs of my parents' era?

It only takes the image of my car - a battered white fiat, sixteen years this summer, with too many holes in its oil tank to live for much longer - to convince me of my new role, as the old bint of the classroom.
"Yes, I suppose it is."

Thursday, September 23, 2010

What a difference five years makes.

Athrawes is on maternity leave from her Head of Maths post in a tiny town in the South Island of New Zealand.  I have just returned from three years in Peru, to teach in what I used to think of as a Phoenix school - rebuilt, renamed, restaffed, rebranded.  

And what a difference, from the old South London performing arts comp.  This new school (brand new school, price tags still on the furniture, paint still wet) is semi rural, but big, in the west country of the UK.  UK education has been 40% privatised these days.  The top and bottom end are owned and controlled by some other agency, not by government.  It's out of state control, but is about 2 years on from having been the worst school in the country, statistically (I should have noticed that, yes, but applied on proximity basis only).  It's wallowing in private funding, I've never worked in any building so modern and luxurious.  I have 30 laptops in the cupboard, that I can give out to kids at will.  My head of department shakes her head in wonder at the thought that state schools have to keep a record and a tally of their photocopying.  It's been a bad school, but has followed a rigorous program of headhunting good, dedicated and imaginative teachers, so without a doubt will within five years be a good school, and within ten be one of the best in the country.  (I have worked in rebranded schools, this one has everything it takes - it's just a matter of time.)

So, Guardian Education, who called me and my blog "jaded", I am officially bright eyed and bushy tailed again.  Working part time, teaching English, teaching Languages (the timetable varies, I taught Animal handling last term), enjoying a cushier end of working in extremely bloody challenging schools for yet another stint.

Rebirth?  Not likely.  Chundering on.  New place, new country, new continent, new shiny suit.  Same wily little geniuses with dogs that eat homework.  Chundering on.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

So Holly is learning English with me, and at the local uni (pffft!), and simultaneously on the internet. I realise this when she knows every slang word to every pop song, and when she drops her pencil, and accompanies it with a loud "Fuck!"
I look surreptitiously at the other students, some of whom are all of 13 years old, and realise swearing in a new language just isn't that impressive.
"¿Dónde aprendiste a hablar palabras malas, Holly?" I question, in my terrible terrible spanish, hoping that if any of them did hear or recognise it, that will suffice as The Teacher Disapproving of it.

Next day, and Holly is dropping things again. "¡Mierda!" she mutters, and I reprimand her again. Not that I care, but I already hear rumours that I'm the strictest teacher in the whole Andean mini city, I don't want to get a reputation for being the foulest mouthed, too. "oh, okay," she replies in English, then continues with several tonnes of force to yell "Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, FUCK!" as a more polite alternative.

"Holly!" I remonstrate, but there's nothing I can say. Fuck is clearly a punctuation word, just as it was in London, and not offensive. Or a cool word, maybe. And this is the problem when students get to a level approaching fluent, too - that you just can't, for want of a better word, fuck about with English slang, you need to know exactly when it is appropriate and when it's a slap in the face with a wet fish, or you're going to be in very very hot water.

So I sigh, sit across the classroom, prepare a mental speech in Bad Spanish, and launch into a description of how (In Theory) when I worked in London, in colegio, a student who used Holly's favourite word would have certain rapid consequences. (In Theory). Their carrera would terminate. (In Theory) They would end the day by looking for a new school. (In Theory)

It's not exactly true, but it's a context. You want to use that word, you need to know its texture. I think again about the stories of what really did happen in that London colegio, and how tame "Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, FUCK" really was, and cross two fingers behind my back.

Holly's embarrassed. After a minute or two of silence, she mutters to her textbook, in English, "sorry."

Sunday, July 15, 2007

But that wasn't why I stopped writing. I got a job - in addition to the other two jobs I was working - training future English teachers, in a local pedagogical institute. Twenty hours a week, contact time (teaching time, to the un-industrialised): it didn't seem a lot. That was before I realised how presence is valued way more highly than action, in a bureaucratic culture.

Presenteeism. I was obliged to turn up at 7:40 (it was meant to be 7:45, but the industrial clock was set wrong, all the better to cut your wages with, little girl) and sit mutely in what was known as The Teacher's Room. A hallowed space of bare desks, bare walls, missing departmental plans, broken cupboards, and, beneath the obligatory statue of the Virgen Maria, a lone, half speed computer, viciously competed for at all times. No matter what my teaching schedule, what my activities, I was required to remain in this carcel from 7:40 until 1:30pm each day. There was nothing to do there, there was no function the emptiness and solitariness of the room allowed completion of, and lessons came to represent a welcome escape from the cold silence of The Teacher's Room. Staff ran to the desks, feigning energy, enthusiasm and punctuality, then sat, vacant, staring above heads at blank, grimy walls. In six weeks, I saw only one man working. By the beginning of first class, teachers would slam their briefcases (ostentatiously opened, like a portable bureau, to give four papers covered in nonsense an air of desperate efficiency), and run impatiently out of the room, with all the appearance they had students waiting. Outside, they would sit, aimlessly, at a bench in the yard, lacking class, task or students; impatient only to escape the death stillness of The Teacher's Room.

Three afternoons a week, I was required to attend the desk warming; I never did discover what purpose this random presenteeism achieved. Staff told me this - this seven hours per week of extra deskness - was a free consultation period, when students could question me as to the assignments I had set. Students who were either in class, or had paid work elsewhere during these hours. When I questioned the complete and utter lack of students in the student consultation periods, they scoffed at my overzealous demands - wasn't I aware that these students had a lot of work to do?
Not by the amount I saw the teachers grading, they didn't.

By around ten am, the thirty strong staff had mysteriously disappeared. They would reappear magically, thirty of them ghosting the yard and the terraces, five minutes before the factory card punching machine clicked over to half past one. On an illegal recce to a local eatery, I discovered the entire administration sitting eating pastries. The local cafes were a mine of gossip, of staff - student romances, of in fighting, plotting, and machinations. Any business that took place inside the school could only spell ill: anything of positive import would be hidden in a local cafe. I learnt to work the system, to sit behind the cafe door, and scout students for my other school. The private language school I co-own here. My other job.

I was teaching around 37 hours a week. This is a lot, by European standards, but not impossible*.
What made things difficult was the schedule: 7 till 1 at the Pedagógico, teaching serried rows of 30-40 young adults, in bare rooms and a big american blackboard.
3:30 till 5 at the Acilo de los Ancianos, teaching village girls and illiterates who wished to join the Catholic convent who cared for the old, the infirm, and the mind-blown of the city. Lessons took place below a side altar, in comfy chairs, while lurid Jesuses watched over the class. 7 till 10pm at my own school: small 4-10 strong groups, with CDs, DVDs, computers, textbooks, everything the larger schools didn't have. Or didn't care about.

I'd competed hard to get the Pedagógico job, see. Four hours of demonstration classes, for student teachers, for directors, for staff, for Ministry of Education bigwigs and nabobs. One competitor, one who was my employee at the other place, though not for long, reported me to the local police, the radio, the Ministerio de Educación. He said it was unfair that a rich foreigner should win a job that a Peruvian could do. He accused me of schmoozes, of bribes, and, bored by a daily routine that consisted largely of colouring in, I enjoyed confounding him by beating him in a fair fight. A two hour lecture on psycholinguistics, in spanish, prepared overnight, was a total relief after months and months of wondering at best how to clean dirty rice from a pan with cold water.

It was only when I won the contract did I discover that a Peruvian word of mouth contract cannot be broken, Did I discover that the Institute expected me to teach without books, without pens, without paper, without curriculum, syllabus, library or the faintest whiff of materials. When I tantrummed about it, told them they were a joke, the teachers had a whip round and got me 4 sheets of ripped and crumpled paper. No pen.
To get pens required signed and certified chits from the director, submitted to a frightening woman who lived in a dark cave of 1950s style stationery. I asked the director for a sheet of paper. The director said no.

I pointed out that there was no syllabus, there was no course, there was no curriculum, that they had badly misunderstood what the term 'phonetics' actually means. That to teach English Literature by feeding Shakespeare into Babelfish, stamping it down till it looked like spanish, then proferring it to students with the demand they translate it back into English was not only wrong, but deeply aberrant. This, surely, qualified as impossible*? That the students couldn't speak English anyway, and this might be more of a priority for trainee English teachers. That the rest of the English lecturers had an English vocabulary that stretched to 'hi, how are you?'
The director pointed out that if I wanted to teach, I needed to write seven syllabi. To their specific specified specifications. Which were a secret. And in Spanish.
By Thursday.
I stared meaningfully at the $200 flatscreen computer on his desk. There are no posters, there are no tables to sit at, there are no books, no posters, no dictionaries, and no records, no grades, no exams. He did the shrug I've come to loathe, the 'not my problem' hunch, the 'what can you do' eye roll. "What can I do," he mumbles, sadly, "this is Perú."

This is Perú, so how can you expect me to be anything but corrupt. Sheer disbelief attacked me ten times a day, there.
Anyway.
Anyway, anyway, anyway, anyway. After five weeks, I discovered the Ministerio didn't want to pay me. (I'm a foreigner. Foreigners are rich. We shouldn't need to pay them.) Nobody had wanted to tell me, in case I got angry, and embarrassed everyone, so they had kept it to themselves. In classic Peruvian face saving style, they thought it was better if they made me angry until I wanted to leave. After all, a rich foreigner could not be expected to value a job the way a good honest Peruvian would. After all. I found out the secret, by a process of local cafeteria-based shenanigans, told them I would work until the end of the month, help them find a replacement. But without the presenteeism, without the daily hours spent silent and useless in the carcel, thankyou. I preferred working for myself, in my own school, after all. As soon as the foreigner-lovin' director went away, in hope of finding another teacher, the administration struck. There was a replacement. Here tomorrow. Sign this paper. Write here. You have to renunciar your employment. Don't come back. Don't be here tomorrow.

The tomorrow arrived, and with it a much anticipated full night's sleep, and by lunchtime, my wee village school was full of trainee English teachers, looking lost. Nobody comes to the class. Nobody arrives. What is happening. Please come back.
I returned to the institute, and the sub director asks me why I had failed to turn up this morning. I explain what had happened, but there is a national strike, so nobody can identify the absent administrator who fired me, on the hush hush. The story is rubbish, nobody has authorised such a thing. They apologise, and ask me if I will work two more days, until they can get a new teacher. I haven't a clue if they're telling the truth, or if it's more face saving, but it doesn't really matter to me. Politics is not a game I enjoy dirtying my hands with. And I miss the students, I miss having something to do with the day, I miss feeling useful. I agree to work two more days. As long as the fucking job is not forever, I think, angrily, I can deal.

Next morning, another teacher, one Señor Hitler, slams the door in my face. You may not enter the classroom, he says. We have other priorities. The staff at this school are scared. They don't need someone coming in and actually working, they don't need someone who can speak the language they are paid to teach, they don't need someone rocking the boat.

You did not come to work yesterday, he says. So we rescheduled. Maybe you can do your class later, he says, if you have decided now you want to work here. Maybe you can do six hours in the afternoon, when I have finished. There's a peculiar tinge of hot blooded shame to any conversation where someone is insulting you, coldly and barefacedly, in a tongue that is not your own, and you have to ask them to slow down and repeat that insult, please. Again, more clearly, please, tell me how shit I am.

Why don't you go home, he says. You are not wanted here. Your type, who doesn't want to work. I see the extent of the fear that I will replace people in this institute. I see suddenly how much they hate me, for being something they fear they are not.

So I left, I called on the sub director, I called on the real director, a mountain of apologies are offered, including Señor Hitler's head on a plate. Hitler simply stares at me, venomously. His card is marked by the bloody foreigner, now, when all he'd wanted to do was slope off home a bit early. Fucking gringos, eh?

We're very sorry, we're grateful you have helped us, we realise you might not want to come back now, and no, we're never going to pay you, dear. Can you give us your grades, now?

It's not every school in Perú, it's possibly not even representative of anything in this country. Since that point, the teachers have been on huelga nacional, national strike, a nice relaxing introduction to the end of semester, and the four weeks of August winter holiday. A bunch of them sing songs around a candlelit coffin in the city square on Friday nights, and in Lima, they riot, break windows, frighten children. It's mostly politics, and precious little education; and at its worst it isn't totally dissimilar to the love of paperwork and loathing of actual student progress that rules child-rearing institutions in my own country.
But, by gum, it was a shock.

Friday, December 22, 2006

It's a shock, the transfer from teaching at a British state school to teaching at a small school in private sector Peru.
  • Four days this week, teachers didn't turn up, or didn't feel like teaching. I was drafted, without preparation, to stand substitute. Why not? What's wrong? I get paid, don't I? What preparation could I need?
  • A child turns up to take an exam, and is given the wrong paper. It doesn't matter, he hasn't paid for next semester's classes or his certificate anyway.
  • A whole class (not mine) fail their exams. They get given a different exam, one even more moronic than the one they achieved 16% on. Why? We want their renewed subscriptions.
  • Nobody invigilates exams. What does it matter if the students cheat? Results are paid for, not earnt.
The perpetually aggrieved upturned nose, the safe moral high ground of British state schools and their inverted snobbery seems very very far away.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Like a naughty child avoiding her homework, I've secretly started teaching again.

Only Different.

The Blackboard Jungle began as a diary of teaching English literature to a bunch of disaffected, disturbed, and disarmingly creative adolescents in an inner city London comprehensive.
This is what one would term a Difficult Day Job.
When DfEE fatigue finally set in, I jumped ship at the big sign marked 'BURNT OUT: nearly there' and went travelling for ... um, well, two years. Overkill? Perhaps. (I did tell you the part about 'Difficult', right?)
My co-contributor athrawes blogged (almost) a year of learning to teach, as she completed a PGCE in Maths in Welsh village schools; you'd think it was as different from the mean streets of Catford as you could get. However, the story of kids setting fire to the playing fields convinced me there are failing schools in all sorts of contexts.

What else? In India, I finally read the novel which inspires our title here, The Blackboard Jungle. It's brilliant. Read it, if you can.
Brilliant and scary, because the same disaffected, disturbed, disarmingly creative students are described in 1950s NYC as I taught in South East London, as athrawes is teaching in South Wales.

And this is the whole problem, the whole spasming reason teachers ever Burn Out.

It brings back all the despair teachers feel when they realise that disaffected, disturbed, disarmingly creative students are entirely predictable.

That education as a political football, full of shiny new initiatives for the press, and no real practical thought for the students, is entirely predictable.

Teachers and students; caught between two unvarying opposing forces.

It's not a wonder that I jumped ship after twelve successful years. It's a wonder anyone stays so long.

But this year is Only Different.

This time, I am writing for you from a new country, a new career. In the two years of no blogs, I made a new home for myself in the Andean mountains of northern Perú. Amazonas, to be precise. I teach English to Peruvian students at a private language institute.
  • It's no longer a deeply personal process because students 'have no other way out of their lives', but because this time I also run the school.
  • My classes vary between 3 and 10 students, not 27-50.
  • One of my primary duties is dragging school fees out of the students.
  • My students are a mixture of adults and teenagers - the shock of not being able to chase students around the room to demonstrate differing pronunciations of 'steak' and 'stick' has already set in. (Around the exact moment I later had to sit in front of said student at the bank and apply for a business loan.)
  • I have much more interest in grammar, now it doesn't make any sense whatsoever to anybody.
  • I don't teach to any exam, because the exam is something I imaginate in order to persuade students to cough up wodges of cash for fancy certificates.

And I don't have a governmental curriculum to follow.

It's still teaching. Only Different.

We'll see.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Nicked from a letter to a friend and ex-colleague, one of several who's this term given up a career in inner city teaching:

Do I miss teaching? Yes, of course. There were moral certainties involved in a job like that (which appeal to someone lazy like myself, because then I don't have to sit around and invent my own moral certainties). But all I have to do is think about either the workload, or the dull thudding frustration of being part of a system that was basically wasting kids, processing them into drug dealing, building, teen motherhood or petty thieving by the truckload, and paying a lot of gaseous lip service to the idea of opportunity, but never actually doing anything to change kid's life chances - it doesn't take much to remind yourself why you left, and why you should stay away.
How many musicians and poets did I teach? How many politicians or philosphoers? How many lower echelon bank tellers, ex-cons, and checkout operators?
Exactly. The stated aims, and the real aims of the british education system are constellations apart. The real aims? To shut people up, look busy, and get the current administration re-elected.
Everything else is a game. The kids aren't even the counters.

A year out of it is not long enough. Not by half. I met a teacher from Whitechapel in the Andaman islands, who temps three or four day s a week for six months of the year, then spends the rest of the year in Asia. It seemed the only acceptable approach if one no longer respects what the job stands for. Be cycnical, do it for cash.
She said that every morning in England was a flat choice: go to work, or sit in the park? It struck me that that sentence is always true. As it happens.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Hmm. No posts for ages. Chalk shortage.

In lieu of which, I shall boldly, wilfully, and without the authors' authority reprint a few things people who work in british schools - schools in cities, schools in the countryside, internationals schools - have emailed me through this last term:

1. This term has been a bit insane - the kids are vile, the staff are worse.
Discipline non existent and senior management team off sick, skiving, certainly not there when you need them (Ryan, put the table DOWN!).

We have a fire "test" every week - each and EVERY week, every friday when the little darlings clearly don't like whatever lesson it is that they have on friday and the firemen come out and we all stand in the rain again. This week at least we had a real fire to show for it - sweeties had set fire to the playing field (hard to do in the countryside, what with all the RAIN. Shows ingenuity and forethought to come equipped with petrol).

If this had been my first post i would have quit by now. I wouldn't send my dog to that school (a good thing to say to the headmaster in an exit interview? Nah, I still want a reference)

My teaching has, as a consequence gone downhill like a Norwegian Olympian. All efforts are directed towards trying to establish and maintain some form of control. Have failed to maintain and am still on the establish stage.

I have no job. There are no jobs.
2. Needless to say, the chaos and stress at school is propelling me ever closer towards the front gates. I am oscillating between insanity, depression, occasional good days at work and trying to keep focused and practical about travel. Key is to detach myself emotionally - not something i find easy, but am making plans.

Last term a deaf student threatened to jump off the roof ( I have now changed rooms to the ground floor); recently an intruder with a knife came into the school; mass flouting of 'rules' and open defiance - obvious truanting of lessons by many just wandering corridors, or perhaps teachers like me have just said no more to some students.

3. The boss is a nutter. It is her school and we have to do everything her way. In different circumstances I wouldn't work there. It would annoy and infuriate me. But those were the old days, the days when I lived to work. Now I work to live. Now I just want a job that doesn't keep me away from my home life, a job that pays me a decent wage and a job I can do without any stress or strain. This job offers all that. Because the woman is a nutter, she takes all the pressure off - her desires are so pedantically written down I know exactly what is needed in the job. Their idea of lesson plans and long term planning isn't a problem. And I have to do no thinking about what is needed long term because she does it all.

Random selection.
Truly.
As I said, these are private emails, and it is bad form to reprint in such a way, I utterly acknowledge that. None of these correspondents dreamt their opinions would be made public, or reflect the image they would wish to present of their schools.

That said, I think a theme is apparent. One that if there were any justice, should upset a few apple carts, wake the dusty palaces of the department for education up. Uncensored reports from the horror that is spring term in teaching.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Two of my favourite British education bloggers:
A new beginning in the online anatomy of Mister Grey.

And, Bloom has captured perfectly what it is to be an inner city teacher at the dog end of exams term:
I finished school yesterday afternoon. After a bite to eat and a couple of glasses of wine, I trudged up the stairs to bed at 8:30pm – even though My Name Is Earl was on later. I came back down this afternoon at around 2:30 pm. I don’t even have the mental capabilities to work out how many hours I actually slept.

[snip]

I now have two weeks of recuperation, rest and time with my wife and son. For the moment I want to celebrate in the void: the teacher’s paradise – silent moments lost in non-thought. I want to pour myself into this paradise of idleness, drift within the oceans of indolence, bath in the pleasure of nothingness. For a day or two.

Brushing the school, the students, the work, the issues, the noise, from your consciousness is difficult. The Place seeps through your every pore. I think since I started teaching, my genetic make up has changed. Flecks of that incredible environment have altered me utterly. Indeed, as I slept last night and even today, every dream, every second thought concerned a student, a class, an essay, a poem, a play, a novel, a remark, an opportunity, an idea, a fleeting glance at inspiration; every other breath was full of expectation, frustration at a failure; every other breath contained the warm glow of pride at a success, of a job well done.

And I realise: this is not a job. This is a vocation.
Source

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Lectrice here. Reminiscing.

I'm sitting in a freezing goat shed covered in Newari blankets looking at the looming Himalaya, trying to spot Everest before the sun dips, and after 8 months away, my thoughts turned to home.

If I still lived in London, what would I be doing now?

It'd be the end of morning break on a Monday morning. I'd probably have all my remedial classes - the violent ones, because they always get timetabled for bricklaying in the afternoons (it's only officially that we don't subscribe to labelling theory), and the halfway smart 13 and 16 year olds, who don't learn anything after lunch, at least until Jamie Oliver revolutionises Crofton's neighbouring boroughs.

The 13 year olds would have mock SAT exams - probably this week or last, right after half term (SATs are at the start of May), and the 16 year olds will have started the long, unspoken 'shedding' process that cuts class sizes from 32 to 12-15 by Easter.

But this is generally the easiest term, as you've managed to frighten pavlovian routines into most children by this stage. The (entirely predictable) problems of this term would be organisational: organising two hour daily revision classes for the 16 year olds (you somehow never get any resources or payment for doing it, despite a plethora of promises) (which meant I would have to do them all - as there were 350 16 year olds, that was always a little knackering, making sure each kid got onto three extra classes in the subject and grade level they need, then writing and delivering the classes, which if you're any good at them, have approximately twenty more students than there are chairs).
The exam syllabus would have changed, so I would be trying to write and publish a cottage revision guide, which I'd usually try to delegate to student teachers (who are all at the jobseeking and loud complaints stage - I never thought to point out to them that the one who gives in and does the revision guide usually gets offered a job - I should warn athrawes this).

Ooh, and the coursework is a month away from examination, which means collating a folder of five 6000 word essays from each of 350 kids, then getting it marked 'blind' by between two and four unfamiliar staff, who have to then magically agree on the grades, and can't go home till it's done.
That's 42 million words read, if you're not sure.

Five kids will have cheated and require terrifying, which was my job, one will refuse to do it again; everyone adult would look worried and tentative, and I'd have to be the one who chumps up and fails him. (It's a him.)

One teacher will disappear, or fall downstairs, or have a nervous breakdown, and I'd inherit a third GCSE class (you're only supposed to have one, but I managed to inherit two others from burnout cases for the last four years on the trot, so I'd rank this as a predictable wastage), who will have just three weeks to do the three missing essays they'd never been taught. For which I would whisk out homemade cheat packs that enable you to get an 'A star' on Shakespeare or Romanticism without ever reading the original texts. (That I ended up writing these things is a clue as to how predictable.)

And the scariest kid in the school, the one with all the gang connections and the mother you never want to cross, and the father you truly pity, will pretend his or her teacher lost his courseork, and I'd back him up, to boost the school's figures.

No pregnancies or suicide attempts till late March / April, though.



Yes, I think I've reassured myself that aimlessness in a bamboo lean-to halfway up a mountain is a valid career choice.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

I have a day off!!! Hurrah!! Well, I call it a day off if it isn't either sitting in class all day learning about maths (PGCE could really put you off your favourite subject) or in school teaching or at home peeling tiles off the bathroom wall.

The bathroom project was meant to be the kitchen until we discovered that the plumbing for the bathroom protrudes into what was meant to be the new kitchen ceiling…so I now have a half destroyed kitchen AND a half destroyed bathroom – AND all my kitchen appliances arriving in a month…they will need to live in the conservatory (shed!) for the next six months until the bathroom gets done.

So far I spent this treasured moment, me free day, as follows:

a) doing the laundry...just keeps on mounting up, no matter how much you do, there is always more…I thought only people with kids were meant to have these problems

b) going into town for a coffee with my neglected husband and planning the layout for the aforementioned bathroom

c) coming into college to do a tutorial on Interactive Whiteboards for my fellow students. Some are going into schools next week and haven’t used this tool before. They think it’s the devils work, I think it’s the best thing since quadratics, so to save them I did a little teach-in. In contrast the school where I am going only has normal whiteboards, which I am dreading!! What do you do if you can’t “flip” back a page…can’t use lovely predesigned webmaterials…can’t draw a straight line!! All schools should have interactive boards in all classrooms. This is the 21st century, lets make use of it!

d) doing maths...this is a never ending task…cramming 2 A levels in the odd half hour here and there…never quite getting it. We are taught in college about instrumental and relational understanding – the difference between learning by rote/for exams and learning by understanding/doing/seeing. Well, if you did maths 20 years ago and are having to cram it all again, its pretty much by rote!! I’d love to have the time to really “get it” but as ever, time is a shortage commodity. At least I learnt yesterday what a dodecahedron is…that’s bound to stand me in good stead!

The less than ideal news is that I face a 3 hr daily round trip (1.5 hrs out, 1.5 hrs back) to get to my new school placement. Sucks. I am feeling very negative about this next placement because I know that with that amount of traveling time (not to mention the cost – uncovered by anyone but me) I won’t be able to spend as long planning lessons. Or doing any extracurricular stuff. I can’t leave school at 5.30, get home at 7pm and then do another 3 hrs planning/marking AND cook, eat, launder, exercise and sleep…the scales don’t balance. Not being able to plan as much as I like means that my lessons won’t be so good and I won’t get good evaluations. Bit disheartened. College say it isn’t their fault because the local schools don’t want so many students this year.

All in all…no jobs for us round here, no schools want students…why IS there such a massive “be a teacher campaign?”

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Back to college. Learning about misconceptions, funnelling, scaffolding and diversity.

The diversity lecture raised some interesting discussions. For the village where I live the local census shows one person of non-UK white origin and my road jams up every Saturday night with Christians flocking for miles around to attend chapel. (yes, Saturday...I don't know why either...we don't have the same congestion issues on Sunday's...go figure). I know that diversity is more than race and skin colour and religion but where we are is so incredibly mono-cultural...the kids don't have chance to be intolerant of other races, there aren't any. The discussion decended into the pros and cons/evils of positive discrimination for Welsh speakers/women maths teachers/male nursery teachers.

Lots of essays, presentations and maths – lots and lots of maths. Everyone else on my course either just finished a maths degree or only finished their own A levels three years ago so can remember it all. I on the other hand am the thick kid in class - “I don’t geddit!” Stuff that I remember being OK at school is now a total mystery. Maybe it was a mystery at the time and I just learnt by rote and followed the steps but now am more discerning and want to understand why…I’d sure hate to teach a mini-me. Maybe I need to join the posh kids from round here and get a tutor?

I am also applying for my first job. There isn’t a hope in a chocolatey teapottey hell of me getting it – for a start there are three teachers in the school already, on short term contracts, who do want it. Why are they advertising – are the ones that are there rubbish? Anyway, filling in the form and composing my supporting statement are meant to be good practise. If I get an interview I will consider it a success. Unfortunately I’ve left it too late to get a proper adult to read over my application so am sending it off blind. It looks terribly earnest…all about encouragement and expectations and ethos and assessment. If they want a goodey two shoes then on paper at least I’m their girl.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

I smiled so much my face hurt. You’d think that it’d just be primary nativities that would get you all emotional but this was just great. It was so nice to see the kids in a different light – not that the really truly awful ones were there anyway, but it was great to see the child that doesn’t really excel in your class standing up on stage doing a beautiful solo performance was wonderful, or the girl who can barely add and spends the whole class fidgeting and interrupting and disrupting patiently counting the beats until her turn in the orchestra. The odd boy in Y10 who proudly showed me his shaven legs and announced how he was dressing in his (girl) mates clothes to go clubbing Monday…he sang angelically (and manfully…).

I was the kid that was rubbish at music at school – rubbish at music and PE - so didn’t get this chance to perform and have a crowded hall all stand and cheer – but then again, I didn’t have the daily grind of being mediocre at academic subjects.

At the beginning the head master asked the parents and teachers to get their waving over with at the start and I waved at my Y7 kids and they waved back – they know me!!! They don’t hate me, it feels like a miracle.

I was looking up at a stage full of children and thinking how much I would love to stay with the school and see the little Y7’s grow up and develop and be with them during that.

The rest of school this week has been ordinary, nothing bad, nothing good – the usual people failing to turn up to detention, calls to parents, marking books at the end of term (boy!, do you feel grubby after you’ve handled a class full of books!) – but you know what, I LIKE getting up in the morning and doing this job!

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Last week was been all highs and lows.

The week started with a mother who accused me of “grabbing” the arm of her year seven daughter and of “picking on her”; the staff all told me not to worry, that the family have history, but of course one does. Whilst I could see the source of the “picking on” accusation – she is a persistently disruptive, disobedient back-chatty little girl – I was very afraid of the arm grabbing accusation and could see no basis for such. Witness statements were taken and despite the reassurances of my colleagues I was very afraid that my barely born career was about to end on the false accusations of a naughty child. Anyway, the mother came in and chats were had with the head and the whole thing is now blown over. I still have to deal with the daily contact with said child and the inability to remonstrate with her poor behaviour for fear of parental accusations.

In the middle of the week we had the first of our formal assessments of our lessons and progress from college – an ordinary lesson which becomes in your mind the make or break of a yet barely born career. I’d only met the class twice so was rather nervous – but of course it went fine – the kids were attentive and chatty and I had chance to show planning, improvisation and a developing relationship.

My year 10 classes are getting wearing – they are all large and lively. Individually good kids but on mass hard to handle. I’d love to be that approachable respected teacher but am having to err on the side of disciplinarian

We’ve a week and a bit to go until Christmas. End of term tests for all years and GCSE mocks for Y11 to mark. Then another school – it’s taken this long to get confident and aware in this school – I so don’t want to go somewhere else!

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Fire alarm on Thursday. My year 7 looking a mixture of excited and afraid – they can see from the teachers, and the fact that it is raining, that this isn’t a drill – so maybe it is real and that’s a bit scary. They ask me how long they will be there – stood in the rain in the yard – and I can’t tell them, which worries them, but do tell them to wrap up warm. The tiny little boys in year seven look very cold – please, please wrap your kid up warm when you send them to school.

We have a problem with some year 7 girls – it’s hard to really tell what is going on, who is right or wrong or whether indeed there is a right and wrong – but one little girl approached me after registration to tell me that her mate was staying off school because another year 7 girl was picking on her. I reassured the wee lass that she had done well to talk to me – she’s a nice girl – and felt like a proper pastoral carer not just a subject teacher. The school take this sort of thing very seriously and the head of year had chatted to all concerned before the end of first period. It’s easy for me to label the least pleasant of the girls concerned as the troublemakers…but I have to remember that there are two sides and the importance of not labelling a kid at year 7 for the rest of their time in the school.

Snowed out on Friday. The school is open but half the teachers can’t make it in, what with living in lovely remote middle class villages. I was stuck in my village surrounded on all sides by either 45 degree hills or impassable narrow roads (which are oddly surrounded by fields higher than the road, causing run off which freezes…) – freed by lunchtime but I had no lessons so stayed home and marked GCSE test-run papers.

First formal lesson evaluation went well – until now my mentor has been helpfully pointing out my shortcomings so it was nice to have the good bits acknowledged.

My mission for this week is a) to try and get a plenary fitted into my lessons, and b) to work on my IT skills – trying to use the Interactive Whiteboard more interestingly.

That is so long as a plague of locusts don’t descend…after all, we’ve had flood, fire, snow – what’s next?

Friday, November 25, 2005

"if you're not willing to be changed by a place, there's no point in going."


Interruption in service: I apologise to athrawes, I should be away, travelling, silent, not interrupting, but there's something urgent that I need to ask of the good readers of Blackboard Jungle.

You see I'm in Vietnam, doing a sponsored bike ride for Vietnamese street kids. The Eighty Kilometre Bike Ride of Death, I call it.
[mais monsieur! even crossing ze street in Hanoi, c'est plus dangerouse!]

Right now it's less than 24 hours until the KOTO sponsored bike ride.

An eighty kilometre bicycle ride through the still green lakes and hills of Vietnam, to raise money for a worthy cause: the education and training of street children of Ha Noi, by an aussie charity here.

I'm all hyped up. Pumped, as Arnie says. I'm ready to kill myself doing this.

And kill myself doing this is extremely likely.
Did I mention that I'm not really outdoorsy?
That despite posturing underwater in the previous four months, back on dry land, I remain the world's biggest seven stone weakling?
Did I mention that I haven't ridden a bicycle in fifteen years?
Did I mention that I haven't done any physical exercise at all since some rowing in Singapore four weeks ago?
I did mention that just those two hours left me crippled for two days, didn't I?
Did I point out what eighty kilometres is in imperial measurements? It's FIFTY MILES. When I wrote to everyone in my address book asking for sponsorship, I didn't realise this. To a Brit, every metrical measurement appears tiny. I assumed this would be something simple, like a foot or so. 80 metres. 80 centimetres. Perhaps 80 millimetres. You know, something possible?
I ever mention to you that even in the gym in days of yore, the stationary bike machines were the one thing I couldn't cope with?
That my thigh muscles are such flaccid dead fish of a human sinew that they usually appeared to split at the seams after just 75 repetitions of pressing down an unweighted wheel to get nowhere?
Many of my good sponsors have communicated an earnest hope that I have been in training since I foolishly agreed to murder myself by two wheeled means. This is not so. My training regime has been a peculiar one. It involves food poisoning, a full week laid prone in bed, running to the toilet every hour, and eating one bowl of rice and boiled broccoli a day. I look skinnier, yeah, but fitter? Think 'The Pianist'.
Have I mentioned that Ha Noi's road traffic doesn't follow any rules whatsoever? That simply crossing a road intact was a Vietnamese challenge sent me by one reader?
The streets are infested with speeding mopeds, ridden to be seen, not to get from A to B, and therefore populated with the type of motorist whose mirrors are angled to check their hair is straight rather than to stay alive.
The rules of the road are: the bigger the vehicle, the faster you have to move out of the way. Horns are a deafening everpresent scrum. A horn beeping replaces the indicator lights, replaces the use of brakes, alerts people to the oncoming road accident, and tells everyone that you're rich enough to have a moped. Horns beep day and night in an orchestral cacophony. Horns beeping will not save me from harm.
Did I tell you that the reason I never cycled in London was because I'm not roadworthy? I was the only kid in my primary school class who didn't pass the Cycling Proficiency Test.
Did I tell you that the last time I cycled anywhere, in the nineteen eighties, I had to ask a friend to cycle just in front of me, so I could steal the signals from her without looking behind me? Because if I look over my shoulder, I wobble ten feet to the left, then fall off the bike?
That I've never yet managed to stay on a bike on a mild incline?
That I have a serious problem navigating Ha Noi's streets, and have only once managed to leave my hotel without getting lost within six paces?
That one of the KOTO bike ride's central problems is people with an actual sense of direction get lost year after year?
Are you feeling quite how bloody foolish this bike ride will be for me yet?
Nevertheless I will do this.

I will do this because KOTO is a really really worthwhile cause. I will do this because I promised my friends if they sponsored me, I would photograph my agony and embarrassment.

I will do this because having read this promise, my sodding bloody over-generous friends committed more than $800USD in just 48 hours, if I kill myself on Saturday.

Every mile I ride, every muscle I tear, every ragged gasp I breathe, every pained tear I shed, every tendon I split will be recorded for their delectation.

And it will kill me.

If you're willing to add to the sum raised by my death, and are titillated by the thought that KOTO will sell you pictures of it, please send your email and your sponsorship promises to me at this address.

I'm asking you for the price of a pizza.


Roll call of esteemed sponsors:
Russell Braterman, Germany, Eroica from Frogstar World, NZ, Looby from Gay Nazi Sex Vicar ..., UK, Francesca from End Message, UK, Vikki Tomlinson, UK, Martin from Web Frog, UK, Tess from Bored and Broke, Northern Ireland, Duch, UK, my mum and dad, UK, Margret Smith, Spain, Ruth Gilburt, UK, jatb, UK, Will of Moving Forward, Mexico, Tim Worstall, UK, Karen from Secret Walk, Phillippines, Robin Brzakalik, UK, my sister, UK, Paul from Noxturne, USA, Paula Newark, UK, Fishboy from Effing the Ineffable, Australia, Pete Connolly, UK, Yidaho from kitchensunk, UK, Bloom from Tales from the Chalkface, UK, Madeleine Minson, Sweden, Emma from Etcher: A Print Maker's Diary, UK, my mum's boss at work, UK, Terry of More Coffee, Less Dukkha, UK, Mike of Troubled Diva, UK, Nicole Hammond, UK.

Killers, all of them.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Sorry for not writing for a while – it’s been…well, not hell exactly, fun but exhausting.

Last week I started my first full hour teaching all by myself. The first couple of lessons went as well as could be expected – even better maybe – the kids behaved and whilst I didn’t make it all the way to the end of my lesson plans, they did at least learn something.

The third lesson was a disaster – I took everything that an good, well behaved year 10 maths class knew about Trigonometry and mangled it out of all recognition. They left doubting the last three years of their schooling. My mentor said that she would have cried had she given a lesson as bad as that. I realise that makes her sound horrid, she isn’t at all – she then spent ages going through with me how to do it right and today I shall try again. She’s incredibly supportive and I am really not sure what she is getting out of having to mollycoddle students.

This week I have repeated the mangling job on a year 8 class – this time how to teach the subtraction of negative numbers. See, when we were in school we just learnt the rules – learn, apply, get a tick. I instead have this silly liberal notion that the children should know WHY two negatives make a positive – making a rod for my own back many would say. The reality is – it’s bloody hard to explain without getting into concepts of buying back debt and international trade financing and reinsurance! Poor loves – they were so confused. A class of angels disintegrated into babble and gossip and getting up and walking around just because they weren’t remotely engaged in what their rubbish maths teacher was trying to tell them. This time I did cry (not in front of the kids).

The other time I struggled to fight back the tears was at the Remembrance Assembly where Y11 read out poems written by soldiers little older than themselves and a boy played a heart rending last post…

So, today as well as redoing the trig lesson I need to redo the negative numbers lesson. I am not looking forward to either. It feels like last chance. Do or die. I so want to be a good teacher, I care, I just never thought it would be this hard.

Two days later...

Well, the negative numbers thing worked. Holes. That's the answer - that a hole makes a negative and filling in a hole makes a positive...hey, it works for maths teachers!

Today I gave my first detention! One of them didn't turn up - it was only meant to be 10 minutes at lunchtime too, so she'll be in tomorrow for half an hour, and if she doesn't turn up then it'll be half an hour after school...escalation...the power!!

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Disaster. Chaos!

Well, to be fair to the head and teachers - very and admirably so, controlled chaos.

The school flooded. Within half and hour the water had progressed from being an interesting puddle that meant people might get their shoes wet on the way to their cars - to a full school invading flood a foot or more deep in places.

Ok, so no-one was going to die by drowning but it did mean that for two hours we needed to cointain the entire school population within the upper floor - 850 wet, wriggly over excited teenagers, away from their normal routine, all needing to be kept in the nearest room. Any room - just NOT in the wet and slippery corridor and certainly not leaning out of window leching at the firemen (year 10 girls!). All in all this did pose a potential for child death by overwraught teacher.

Most of the school population are bused in from up to 10 miles away. This means that the buses that were due to arrive at 15.30 needed to be called upon to arrive earlier - soon - God help us all - now - please just take them away!?

The management team have been amazing. As a student teacher I am aware that teachers don't always like to offer any recognition of value of management. The head was out in the rain up to his shins in muddy water directing the crisis all afternoon - maybe that wasn't the best place for him to be, but hell, at least he looked involved and bothered! A day off and we have year 11 back - the school is being dried out and new floors, carpets and curtains all on order. Work is being set on the school website for years 7-10. I'm impressed.

I would like some year 7's and 8's to teach though...i spent all last week preparing lesson plans and have no children to teach!! Five weeks till Xmas and I need to get practise gfacing the crowds before my next school placement in February (when I will be expected to be up to speed and proficient!).

Fingers crossed that the local council did good work over the weekend and we have the little darlings back on Monday.

Monday, November 07, 2005

After two weeks back in college we are now back in school attempting to practise what the University has preached.

I have prepared my absurdely detailed lesson plans and will try and remember the lessons learnt last week in a practise session in college - when I deviated from the best laid plan, waffled, went off track and totally lost the plot!

This afternoon I thought that I was doing OK, giving out the answers to a homework, getting the children to "hands up!" with their suggested answers and working out the hard ones with them on the board - however, it turns out, that I am over friendly and a victim in waiting! All bubbly and enthusiastic - which is good - and totally unaware that they are just waiting to walk all over me.

I must be more firm, distant and authoritarian, hold back that friendly edge until I have the ability to terrify them, until they know that when I'm nice, I'm very nice but when they're bad I'm terrible!

It was good advice from my mentor who could obviously see a pit potentially opening up iun front of me; it is hard not to mimic her casual and friendly approach with a class she knows well - but important to remember that she has already been through the stage of establishing her authority.

The hardest thing is getting used to being around teenagers. I am just not used to them. What is that noise coming out of their mobile phone (turns out it is highly valued downloaded music!). What are the rules about them eating their lunch in the form room (seems reasonable to me - but then again, they aren't adults...) and can I trust them when they say that "Miss" lets them?
I have a year 7 form group to share care for until Xmas and so can practise on the pre-teens before moving onto deciphering the proto-adults.

Monday, October 24, 2005

My school’s computers won’t let me blog…so sorry for the delay.

I gave my first lesson today (well, that was last week)!! A very well behaved mixed ability year 7 class – and I loved it. I enjoyed the drama and performance side of trying to make what is rather a dull subject – area and perimeter – sound a bit more fun than just length x width. The teachers in my school are so supportive – guiding rather than leading, gently making suggestions and bolstering our egos and confidence all the way. After half term I have four lessons to prepare for my first week for classes ranging from year 8 to 11; the older ones will certainly tax me in that I will need to really know the subject well, I can’t hope to flannel my way through their GCSE’s!

It has been surprising to me what the children DON’T know by say, age 11 or 12 – things that I am sure we were doing when I was in primary – but maybe what is happening is that they do, say, fractions in primary and then again in secondary over and over until the message sticks…perhaps what happened with us was that if we didn’t get it the first time that was our first and last chance?

Anyway, The children are saying hello in the corridor, the teachers haven’t eaten us in the staff room, we have a couple of weeks more of college and then back here again. None of the three student teachers want to go back to college, we all want to stay here and carry on with the children.

Last day of the two week session was an INSET day. Outsiders “those who do not teach” are only aware of these if a) they have children and in ensuing child care hassles or b) they are drivers surprised by the sudden and joyous lack of traffic! It was quite an eye opener – lots of teacher moaning about how boring the lectures were, how they didn’t understand the task, talking about what they were going to do at half term…a familiar pattern?

Back in college today I find that not everyone has had such a well supportive first session in school. I am shocked to hear that some teachers see having the students there as an opportunity to offload the work. In contrast my own mentor is only further overworked by having to molly coddle me! She will no doubt be glad of the break.

Friday, October 14, 2005

Wow! I managed to tell a child off today! I did have to go and hide in the staff room afterwards though to recover and will not be able to carry out the promise to inform the form tutor of the miscreants flaws - what with being blank minded from power shock!

The week started with a flood of red jerseys - so many little people and so many who are actually bigger than me - and all of them know where they are going, where their form room is and what they are doing next period - and I don't!!

We have observed a range of ages and abilities across a variety of subjects and for the most part have been privileged to see some truely inspiring teaching. The ability of some teachers to control a class by creating interesting and engaging lessons has been awe inspiring. An outsider (oh yeah, that's me!) would be left with the impression that these are angelic, well fed children from good, caring and resourceful families - their behaviour being so entirely govered by the skills of their teachers. The reality is that the catchment is extremely varied and includes some areas of quite abject deprivation. I have ongoing and enormous self doubt that i will ever be as good at classroom management as these people. I suspect that it is in large part an act - giving the impression of self belief that you ARE the boss, that they WILL be quiet.

High points - one to one with a child who tells you he "can't DO them" and working with him to show him that sure he can. And him believing it.

Not spending as much time with each child as one does in primary means that it has been hard in just a week to form strong attachments to any individual child. Also, they seem to have more of a pack mentality than they do in primary - there are good ones and attentive ones and sullen ones but they seem to be more interested in each other and less interested in the teacher than they were as baby kids in juniors.

Anyway, next week my first lesson.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

It is the end of our college weeks - next week we go to school for the first time. People are anxious about start times, what to wear and where they will get lunch. Imagine how it must be for a 11 year old moving up from juniors.

I had always had a mental picture of myself as a teacher - the whole, Miss, standing up, teaching, snotty noses, hormonal teenagers, even the pastoral side and the interminable paperwork- but somehow I had never questioned whether I actually had anything to teach. That is, whether I have within my head, education and experience, anything worth passing on.

That is my biggest fear now - that my ability to control a classroom will be limited not by my high pitched squeeky voice or my diminutative size but instead by the fact that I have nothing to say that will interest them. I can control this to some extent by preparing lessons but I am afraid that when they say "But Miss, what's the POINT!" that I may crumble and confess yes, that they are right, they will never find a use for quadratic equations/logarithms/3D trigonometry.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Important observation on teaching no. 17

See the thing with "normal" jobs is, that if you pop round to your new neighbours for a glass of wine that turns into a couple of bottles and wake up feeling decidely second-hand, then you can spend the next morning - after you have turned up to work two hours late because of the "late running trains" - hiding at your desk clearing out your old mail until you feel able to face the world. In many jobs, just once in a while, you could actually have a little sleep at your desk and people would be polite enough not to mention it.

I have this feeling of doom, having dragged myself out of bed for an early lecture this morning, that hangovers and year 9 lowest set maths don't mix.

Friday, September 30, 2005

It's been a while since my last post and the world of learning how to be a teacher is hectic, full and whirling. Just as we all think we are getting on top of the work and can stop, relax and have a coffee, more comes along! It's just like having a real job without the cash, nice clothes or respect of your peers.

This week we have all (well, most of us anyway, apart from the super confident model-esque looking child geniuses amongst us who WILL get their comeuppance or will become Superheads and burn out at 35) been panicking that we don't know much at all about our chosen specialisation. How does one hypnotise and entrance a group of recalcitrant 13 year olds to the joys of quadratics? These doubts have been compounded by the airing on C4 of The Unteachables which has driven us into the very ponds of despair that we will never, not in a month of INSET days be able to control such demons. Our early aspirations to be calm, caring and knowledgable have downsized to a mere desire to escape the classroom with our dignity intact - replace "our dignity" with "our lives" by the time we actually get into school.

Our school placements have all been handed out and we all know whether we are spending the first term in the Welsh equivalent of educational bedlam or the Grange Hill of our youth. My own placement is in a smallish Welsh town that could only be desired as Uninspirationalville. The good news is that I am looking forward to it enormously!

Thursday, September 22, 2005

How much reading do we have to do!!

Also, although I did a full time engineering degree the first time around I seemed to have more free time than I do here - I never spent this much time in the library (guess that's why i got a rubbish degree then).

First time around somehow the daily mundanities like washing and making sure Him Indoors has something for his tea and finding time to tax the car and go to the dentist didn't seem to intrude - I guess I was just smellier and cared less about the maintenance of my rented student squalor than I do now as an adult with a mortage to maintain. I don't understand how people with children cope (that's a general statement too...how do they cope full stop, let alone with studying or a job on top!).

Another thing. The government entice you onto the course with the promise of a £6 or £7K bursary - it's not a lot, but it will pay the aforementioned mortgage. The course start in the middle of September - but the first cheque doesn't come until the end of October! What's that all about! How are we meant to live in the meantime? Consider this - the simultaneous growth of the banking sector in the UK at the same time as the government are trying to encourage student numbers in HE - a link I think...someone has to fuel the debt.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Oh my word!!! What have I done? This is a mistake. Everyone is 10 years younger than me and has just finished a maths degree - I by contrast have killed most of my brain cells during the past 15 years of hard working (well, OK, so you work hard you play hard - it kills the cells!) and have forgotten anything I ever knew about maths.

The men and women are all nubile young gods and goddesses, bright eyed and shiney haired with new cars (how IS that, they have never worked and they have a new Clio and I have a beaten up old Golf...do I detect good degrees and the beneficence of Daddy and is it too late to tap my own parents?).

I am not so worried about the classroom management side as the technical. The younger ones seems bit more afraid of facing the children - I am afraid, but basically think they can't be MUCH worse than a pile of miltant railway workers...can they? By contrast, I am petrified by my lack of knowledge. Today we had to start an "audit" which will help us identify our subject weaknesses...anyone who has worked knows that an audit is a TEST and that you can FAIL. Most of the subjects I can't even remember to be able to say whether I know them or not - they all sound new! Maths is meant to be an ancient subject, beloved of the Greek et al., so how can they have invented new topics in the past 15 years!!

Saturday, September 17, 2005

So, end of my first full week in school; what have I learnt and seen?

Little boys fight and I am a button waiting to be pressed by a naughty child - I need to learn more about not taking the bait. I find that - with some relief given the path I have chosen for this year - that I actually like to teach - I have so enjoyed seeing a child grasp an idea and I love seeing their face glow with pride as I am able to say "Well done!". I want every child to go home at the end of the day with a sense of achievement and pride - the danger is of watering down the effect of my praise by handing it out so freely.

At the end of the week we took the entire class on a full day combined local history/nature trip - about an 8 mile round trip across heathland, up an airport control tower, through the woods and back along a busy country road. Trying to keep the children in their two-by-two line and away from the speeding traffic, running up and down the crocodile like a loony cajoling the slow ones at the back, the lumpen twins to whom walking more than 200 yards was a novelty, the two little girls in the world of their own who announced that they were "on a mission", starting a song to keep the spirits up (poor kids, they must have thought i was mad!) and the tiny and brave little ones that by the end of the day I though I would have to carry. I have already grown attached and want to know how they get on.

How does a single teacher manage to address the needs of a mixed ability mixed age class (two years age difference between the youngest year 5's and the oldest year 6's)?

Anyway, next week I start to find out how to teach their older brothers and sisters.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

First impressions of my primary school placement so far - I am spending the week in a class of 30 mixed year 5 and year 6 children.

The size variation! Some year 5's are huge and some year 6's are so tiny I doubt that they can grow big enough in the next year not to be eaten alive when they get to "big school".

So much is packed into the day - maths, reading, handwriting, a smattering of geography and history also thrown in, a language lesson and in the middle of the day a swimming lesson! I have the names of about half the class now, although it doesn't help that too many have the same name and I am afraid that the ones that have stuck are those of the incredibly cute kids or the troublesome or troubled ones - the ordinary, trouble free ones sort of pass by unnoticed...

As a potential maths teacher I am glad to see that they haven't developed a dislike of the subject. Lots of adults seem to think that the way to get children interested in maths is to make it "relevant" so I am glad to see that these ones at least are enjoying the subject for its own sake without asking why they need to bother knowing about, for example, square numbers. They appear, to my so far naive eyes, to enjoy the competition and the praise for success and improvement.

Today I taught C swimming - a tiny 10 year old, red haired and massively ginger freckled, grinning trustingly at her enthusiastically encouraging teacher as she kicked her backstroke and slowly sank below the waves. It's a shame that I won't be there next week to see her improve - I have already grown attached to this class.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

So, I went swimming training last night (none of us really know why we do this, it has become more of a social event than a fitness one, none of us is getting thinner or fitter but this may be because, since we are all 30-40+ the exercise is merely serving to hold back an inevitable gravitationally induced decline...3500m later, exhausted we weigh ourselves and see no change from the week before...anyway I digress) and spoke withe my friend S who is a primary school teacher.

It turns out that in this part of the UK there is a glut of primary school teachers, all newly trained and yet we have declining birth rates and schools competing not to be the ones to close. Having spent two years on supply teaching (stay in, call the Local Authority, see who needs you that day, make no plans, never really bond with the kids) S has now secured TWO jobs. Two half time jobs to cover teacher preparation time. She now spends her lunchtime travelling between sites and at each school spends no more than a morning with each class per week. Sounds tough to me. S loves to teach but was warning me about the immense amounts of paperwork that I would face.

Seems like teaching is one of the few professional jobs I know where the people in that profession try and warn you not to join it.