I talk a lot about ‘golden moments’ in teaching. The good stuff, the stuff that gets you through. Moments of insight, kindness and humour from the kids or something that reminds you why you do the job in the first place. A sweet little memory from the day that puts a smile on your lips as you struggle through yet another set of Year 8 books that are physical, ink-stained evidence that no bugger listens to a word you say (or can underline properly). These golden moments act as fuel to keep on pushing because the job, the life, the kids, the lessons, even the lunches aren’t that bad.
But also in schools, as in the wider world which they reflect, there are moments of abject horror.
Not the fights, scuffles, rudeness, workload and all the negatives that can be experienced in places of learning (although these are sometimes bad enough). I’m talking about things that open your eyes to a world where there is no light and no hope. Disclosures from students regarding the worst types of abuse from those who are supposed to love and protect them. Visible signs of self-harm or neglect (or both). Reports of lives led in places that are dark mirrors of home pushed or sometimes screamed out of battered and worn bodies and minds. Unlove instead of love. Fear as the norm. Lives inside a fist, forever squeezing.
Stories from children.
I’ve worked as a teacher for a long time in places where these type of stories are perhaps not as uncommon as they would be elsewhere and luckily, even then they are relatively rare. Yet they do happen. Luckier still, in each of those places there were strong pastoral systems and support that allowed those more expert than I to take over and do their part in trying to make the child’s life better. I have been able to refer children to people better trained, better equipped, with more knowledge and experience of the surrounding issues than I could ever have. Sometimes this support included various agencies working together. Many people were involved.
In these situations, although I may try, it is abundantly clear that I am not good enough to handle these things by myself and neither should I ever be put in the position where that would be the case. Yet, when I look at funding (the fist that schools find themselves in) I can’t see anything other than removal of services resulting in a detrimental effect. I foresee a time where teachers have no choice but to take on the responsibilities that were once given to a broad range of people; professionals and experts who, working together, had a much better chance of bringing a modicum of light to a child’s life.
Some of the things I’ve heard and witnessed have stayed with me. There’d be something seriously wrong with me if they hadn’t. But even now I’m confident in knowing that I did my best for them by being able to refer them to people who had a better shot at giving them something better.
I hope that I’ll always be able to do that. It’s one of the things that stops the dark getting me.
As well as my column for http://www.teachsecondary.com I also act as contact for the anonymous minute-taker of the new feature: Last Meeting’s Minutes. Here’s what they handed me for this month’s edition in an exchange that was fraught with more tension then a dozen spy movies. There were code names and everything. Honest.
School Trip Organisation Committee
Present: AF, TH, CC (by some minor miracle, think she must’ve come in by mistake), RG, RC and EF
Apologies from: So many buggers that I’m not going to bother to list them
Meeting held in: Learning Zone One so it’s cold and no-one can hear each other
Finding and working the thermostat in Learning Zone One
Unanimously agreed that this was of the highest priority. TH (Learning Leader for Educational Technology) attempted to action ITEM 1 by pressing random buttons on the control panel on the wall but unfortunately only succeeded in repeatedly turning the projector on and off. Coats will be worn until further notice.
Trip location decision
After last year’s ‘incident’ at Manor Worth Urban Farm, Year 9 is no longer welcome until all the animals have been accounted for. RC requested that it be recorded at this point that although the working relationship with Manor Worth had become less than optimal, he will always treasure the memory of watching Sasha and Marcus interact with the wildlife and is still impressed that they both managed to jump the fence riding only one pig.
Even so, an alternative locale has to now be considered. The alternative must have obvious educational value for our students and complement the existing schemes of work from various dept.
‘Bowling’ was suggested by RG as it had “PE and physics an’ maths an’ that when you add up the score.” The bowling alley’s location, being nestled between two public houses, was merely a happy coincidence he assured us. The rest of the attendees agreed that it was a very strong possibility and it has been added to the top of the list. RG has volunteered to action a pre-visit fact-finding mission of the bowling alley and adjacent buildings.
CC then proceeded to state that she had no idea what this had to do with the Tackling Student Lateness scheme and after some discussion and an impassioned speech from CC on the worth of sticking to the agenda as she was an extremely busy Learning Leader of Learning, it was pointed out to her that the Tackling Student Lateness scheme meeting had taken place two and a half weeks ago. The other attendees suggested that CC action getting her s**t together.
Other suggestions for prospective visits included:
The Local Art Gallery (this was met with groans, the most audible of which came from TH, the Learning Leader for Art).
Police Station (due to the fact, as stated by AF that “most of mine are halfway there already”).
Anywhere that We’ve Already Filled in the Risk Assessments For
Anywhere Where They Take Them and We Can Go and Get a Coffee
It was pointed out by EF at this point that due to budgetary limitations, any choice of location would have to take into consideration that there is a limited budget. After some preliminary calculations the estimated budget for the school trip stands at £0000.17p and whatever Sasha and Marcus can get for that pig.
It was agreed that the School Trip would most probably be a visit to the local park as it is within walking distance, costs nothing, and has an extremely sturdy perimeter fence. Also, the layout will be familiar for the students as they have been there for School Trips the last two out of three years.
- Find some bloody money somewhere so we don’t have to go to the bloody park again. (ALL)
- Research how much pigs are going for nowadays (ALL)
- Sort out your electronic calendar, for goodness’ sake (CC)
What happened to the biscuits?
Those present were in agreement that these things are much better when there are biscuits. It’s not the same without biscuits. It was agreed that biscuits are good.
No. Don’t be daft. No. Just shush.
Meeting ended: eventually, and just in time for last orders at the Clerk’s Retreat (or, King’s Head, as it’s more generally known)
This is another one for http://www.teachsecondary.com. I’m in it, but to counterbalance that it also features a whole range of articles on secondary education that you can use to cleanse yourself after reading my shtick. Subscribe by clicking the link if you dare.
As I get on in years, I am, more and more, thinking back to my own time at school. This has led me to a conclusion about this odd profession of ours; whether we like to admit to it or not, our opinions and viewpoints of education are often intrinsically linked to our personal experience of it as children. The halls, corridors and classrooms represent a past paradise to some or a prison to others, and I’m of the belief that what we think about education currently as adults has an extremely strong lineage back to the days when we weren’t.
I see in fellow teachers attempts to embrace their own school past or to shove it over a wall. I see teachers who have wanted to emulate those that helped and guided them and I see others who have wanted to show those who let them down that they could do better. Attitude, approach, pedagogy – our own time in uniform has influenced them all. In some ways we are all dancing (or boxing) with ghosts.
My own experience of secondary school was pretty unremarkable (which, some would argue, accurately reflects my teaching career, heh). I was a smart kid in a rough place but I was big so I got away with it. Mostly I remember being cold at break time. To be honest, I could go on for a couple of long paragraphs reminiscing about my own experience (and taking into account the word count required for this page, that might well be on the cards so don’t rule it out) but those stories are often akin to when you recount your dreams; they’re fascinating to you because you experienced them – but they’re wholly tedious to any bugger else.
Having said that, I know for a fact that some of the things I prioritise as a teacher, some of the beliefs that I firmly hold today, have their roots firmly stuck in the heart of an awkward, lumbering 14-year-old with hair like a hay bale and dreams of…well…getting through five periods and then going home and eating his weight in Boost bars. To this day, behaviour is still a burning issue for me, due to the fact that I spent a lot of time trying to learn in a school environment where it wasn’t brilliant. I lean towards a more ‘traditional’ way of teaching as that’s what the most effective teachers in my school did. I’m concerned about teacher welfare because I remember when we took bets on how quickly we could make new teachers cry. Just about every part of the teacher I am now goes back to what I experienced then.
Our history shapes us. And whether it does it with an artist’s brush or a madman’s axe we still hold that aspect, taking it into the unique job that we do. Whether that’s a good or a bad thing, I haven’t really decided yet. We are fashioned from our past yet I worry that we can become slaves to it as well. The significance of our individual experience on a personal level can blind us to different worlds, different ways of doing things and different narratives. There’s a wide educational world out there and only seeing it only through the lens of our own school days may lead to a restricted view.
Perhaps we spend too much time with the ghosts.
I’m not, of course, saying that we should deny our history or go through some sci-fi mind-wipe during training so we become more open and susceptible (although if anyone can build something like that for the kids, you can take my money right now). What I am saying is that our own school history, whilst important, is only one story among countless others and if we let it fashion our thinking and our actions to such an extent that we close our mind off to other possibilities then we run the risk of missing a rich, expansive world that may offer us seemingly alien, yet useful ideas.
OK, that’s 675 words. Err…so…. let me tell you ‘bout the time when Mr Maynard fell asleep during the inter-school football tournament. Only thing was, right, he was supposed to be refereeing. Almost caused a riot. Me and Davey and Ryan had to…
Thanks for reading.
Here is a big juicy, ripe tomato of a good idea. Look at how the condensation trickles off the taught, ruby red flesh. Inside it is chock-full of delicious potential to make things better. It is perhaps the best, most perfect idea tomato that has ever been imagined into existence. It’s gorgeous.
Now, take this plump, juicy, ripe, delicious, idea tomato and lob it into that industrial fan there.
Now wipe yourself down a bit. Scrape the pulp of the walls. Get that bit off the floor. Don’t worry about the chalk-dust and rat droppings and such. Mix it all up, no-one will notice – it’s still the same tomato after all.
Right, put it into a sandwich and give it to the kids. No, it’s the same tomato – yes, I know that the added grime has made it a bit gritty and slightly hazardous but it’s still the same tomato and we’ve already paid for it. Just spread that mush in there, it’ll be good for them. Tell them how good it will be for them. Put it in a poster or something.
You eat it too.
There are good ideas in the world. Some of these good ideas could be very useful in schools. However, without proper implementation of these ideas, they just end up as so much crap stuck to the wall.
This is another one from http://www.teachsecondary.com. It’s a great magazine that has some extremely useful snippets on the education biz. I’m at the back, like the kid who constantly asks you what time the lesson finishes but then takes ages to get his stuff and get out of the classroom.
‘Low-level disruption’. It’s almost a cute term isn’t it? Like disruption that’s not trying very hard and needs to do better:
“C’mon Low-Level, you’re only at sneaking a look at your phone now. You’re really going to have to get your act together if you’re going to make it to the big leagues of assault and bullying!”
But disruption is disruption at whatever level it manifests itself, and if it manifests itself for long enough it can be bloody knackering. Even the ‘low-level’ stuff has enough weight behind it to smash learning to smithereens and have you wanting to low-level disrupt the perpetrators by shaking them a lot.
For instance, I once had a lad who, without one iota of malice, would lay waste to my lessons with neither thought or design by drowning them in an unending avalanche of verbal diarrhoea.
It wasn’t so much a stream of consciousness, as more of a tsunami of ever-present thought only ever vaguely attached to the question at hand. Or the subject. Or the fact that he was indeed in a school. No tangent was too far off, no anecdote too disparate (and often hugely awkward).
If there was something to be said, he would say it. At length. Whether it had anything to do with what was going on or not.
Now, this wasn’t fighting or calling me names that have no place being repeated in an upstanding publication such as this (there was a fair bit of that going on as well) – it was just wave after wave, after wave, after wave of words. The cliffs of my lesson eroded against the constant tide. It was like watching a personification of Finnegan’s Wake only less comprehensible and peppered with far more ‘yer get me’s’.
It might be accurate to classify this onslaught as ‘low-level’ but the effect of it was anything but. You could actually hear the eye-rolling from the rest of the class when he got going because they knew that no-one would be able to get a word in edgeways.
I’d become increasingly frustrated at the constant interruption and those that needed quiet to concentrate (contrary to popular belief, there are actually quite a fair few of those in schools believe it or not) were pretty much jiggered.
Although this lad didn’t mean any harm (and on the scale of awful things that can go on in a school this didn’t even get into the top 50) his actions meant that others weren’t being allowed the shot they deserved. This, just about more than anything when it comes to teaching, doesn’t fly with me.
Sometimes it even feels a little like overkill. But in this case I was considering killing for the talk to be over, so it seemed like a good idea to do something about it before it got to that point.
I took him to one side, explained that his talking was affecting the learning of his classmates, and asked him what he thought about that. Half an hour later, after I had learnt more than I had ever wanted to about his eldest sister’s social life, he finally agreed that perhaps he could do with keeping schtum during my classes.
To help him before he sallied forth thereafter, I would remind him of this conversation and for further reinforcement, whack him in a detention every time he decided to go on one of his epic soliloquies.
It was pretty effective. Remember, this kid wasn’t a hard-nut, just a mouth. Sometimes the quick word would work and sometimes he got a detention. But overall, with a bit of encouragement and a hard word every now and again, there was an improvement and it meant that the rest of the class saved a fortune in ear plugs.
When it comes down to it, ‘low-level disruption’ is simply disruption. Grading these things by supposed levels of severity is counter productive due to the fact that any disruption has the potential to stop kids learning and should be dealt with with extreme prejudice – because everyone deserves a fair shake.
Especially when they don’t shut up.
Thanks for reading.
This is another one from the good people at http://www.teachsecondary.com who strive to produce a magazine that is useful, interesting and insightful. And then I turn up at the end like the uncle nobody invited and proceed to fall over a chair.
Hello. I am writing this to you from the realm of the unwell.
And as a man who is firmly ensconced in the realm of the unwell, I can, with no doubt whatsoever in my mind, tell you that no-one in the entire span of human history has ever been as unwell as I am now. On this sofa, under this blanket with its avalanche of snotty tissue papers, lies patient zero of a terrible plague which has the power to destroy all of humanity.
Or, it’s a cold. One of the two.
Either way, scarlet fever and a particularly virulent strain of some flesh eating virus combined could not even touch the discomfort that I find myself in at this present moment (I imagine). And adding to the sweats, shakes, and the heroic lifting of a cup to signal to my wife that it is essential that I get another hot lemon into me (STAT!) there is the extra added side effect of my life or death sickbed battle: an extreme case of The Guilts.
The Guilts manifests itself in a number of ways. Affecting teachers in particular, The Guilts is a secondary illness that attaches itself parasitically onto the primary malady in an often successful attempt to make you feel even worse about having the audacity to have a body that does not work at optimum efficiency 100% of the time (even when faced with stress and physical exhaustion).
As if being ill weren’t enough, The Guilts often compounds the illness by making the patient imagine all the work that is not being done that will leave kids further behind, the hardships faced by the colleagues who will have their time sucked away as they have to cover your lessons (and the accompanied tutting and eye rolling when discussing your absence), and the reams of extra work that will be faced upon your return.
In some, more extreme cases of The Guilts, the secondary illness can hugely exasperate the primary one as its influence pushes the carrier into taking their body above and beyond reasonable function in an attempt to carry on through feverish rivers of mucus, even though it is patently obvious to anyone the subject comes into contact with that the subject needs to go home for fear of turning the staffroom into a biohazard site (and not just because of those three cups that have been sat in the sink since last Christmas).
The Guilts effectively acts as a contributing factor to the spread of the primary illness and soon enough you have both the staff and student body looking like something out of the film Outbreak, just before Donald Sutherland decides to use an experimental air-bomb to level the whole area. Was that too specific a reference to a film that not many people watched? I can’t tell as I’m feeling a bit hot and can’t think straight.
Anyway, The Guilts is a nasty little bug that is very difficult (or sometimes impossible) to shift. But you know what else is difficult to shift? An illness, if you don’t properly take care of yourself. Soldiering on is all well and good, right up until you become the school equivalent of Typhoid Mary and waylay the whole building.
Now, I’m fully aware that there are places where it’s expected that you soldier on, no matter what colour slime is oozing out of you or which of your organs you’ve accidentally coughed up for the third time that day, but in my never-even-close-to-humble opinion schools are basically huge petri dishes designed to cultivate all manner of ickyness (and no, I’m not talking about the kids).
People will get ill. People do get ill. It’s of the utmost important that schools have a contingency plan for when it happens (hopefully one that doesn’t place an undue burden on remaining staff, and is rather more substantial than ‘don’t get ill’) and if they haven’t, well…perhaps they need their own dose of The Guilts
So I’ll feel a bit guilty about being off, but I’m not going to let it drive me into doing something that might scupper my chances of getting well. The Guilts will not get the better of me. I’ve got enough to put up with, trying to function whilst being the most ill person in history an’ all. Although I think I’ll see if I can make my own hot lemon next time; that’s how brave I am.
Thanks for reading.
Sit back, relax and read my newest column from http://www.teachsecondary.com. If you like it go subscribe by hitting the link. If you don’t, subscribe anyway because there’s good stuff in there. Also, you’re wrong – I’m fabulous.
“Sir! Did you hear about Chelsea and Tariq getting together?”
Eeeeeeewwww. If there’s one thing that’s bound to make me a little bit sick in my mouth it’s when I’m witness to a fledgling classroom romance.
You’d think (schools being the grey, cold, soul-destruction factories that they are) any blossoming of the heart between the young people that attend would be instantly crushed like a jackboot stamping on a delicate rose.
Or, at least, I’d hope it would. Crush that puny flower, jackboot!
But no. Although the environment is less than optimal when it comes to the cultivation of romance (or whatever the Y11 equivalent of romance is nowadays – a snapchat that doesn’t include parts of your anatomy I guess) love often permeates the air along with the dozen or so different deodorants that slap you upside of the nostril as you amble down the corridors. When it comes to desire, hormones trump the cold shower of the school habitat any day of the week.
So, every now and again, the jungle drums beat out the news that Tall-Lad-with-Greasy-Hair has started going out with Smiley-Girl-Who-Puts-Stars-Instead-of-Dots-on-Her-‘I’s and every now and again some other fool kid makes the mistake of thinking that I’m remotely interested in this seemingly history-changing development. That’s bad enough as it is, but it’s not just the kids that love the drama – to make my working day all the more unbearable there is often office chatter as to the suitability of the match, what the ramifications may be for all concerned and other such minutiae as if it’s a royal wedding that’s on the cards rather than some illicit snogging between third and fourth lesson.
Like I said, ‘eeeeeeewwww’. Ew. Ew. Ew.
So when it comes to students declaring undying devotion to each other and then sealing the statement by slurping face, I’m extremely happy not to bear witness and be well out of the spittle zone. Chelsea and Tariq’s epic story of love overcoming the hurdles of overly slick hair and overly decorative letter formation is not, in my humble opinion, one for the ages. Or break time. Or any other time. Especially when I’m eating.
The problem is that it often gets dragged into my orbit regardless.
Shakespeare had it right with Romeo and Juliet. Oft misinterpreted by the kids as a love story, what he really gives us is the classic and timeless tale of a couple of teens who get infatuated with each other and then proceed, invariably, to act like a pair of complete dumbasses.
(Yes, I’m well aware that’s my own personal reading of the play, but it’s my column, so hush now.)
I am not fond of dealing with dumbassery. Students in romantic relationships often see that relationship as a ‘get out of dumbassery free’ card. Petty rules no longer apply to them as they mean nothing in comparison to the passion that they feel, that no-one has felt before in the history of the world etc etc. And that’s if everything stays on track – if there’s a messy break-up or some such then expect things to go absolutely pigging nuclear and in the resultant mushroom cloud of tears, facebook slating, and revenge trysts unimportant things like grade prospects and a civil classroom environment to be blown to dust.
I’m not without empathy. I remember the all-consuming desire and the delicious uncertainty in regards to matters of the heart (and other bits) at that age. The present moment as the only moment, the shift in priorities from a cold pencil to a warm hand. An electric touch which signalled forever.
But if any of that nonsense gets in the way of my teaching, I say down with love. Down with it. Time for the jackboots.
Or, as I tell them, at least keep the icky stuff as far away from my classroom as is humanly possible. We’ve stuff to do. And sucking face will only ever get you so far because sometimes, love stinks.
Or that might just be the deoderant.
Thanks for reading.