Tuesday, 29 January 2013

Games To Play In Controlled Assessments.

This post, in a first-of-its-kind manner, comes to you love from year 10s GCSE controlled assessment. As I stare in the children's cold, dead eyes, bordered with either hatred or an overuse of Girls Aloud endorsed makeup I wonder on the amount of money I am being paid to sit and watch students try their hardest to fail their GCSE and whether it is truly worth it, or why i got into this profession. I consider the six weeks of summer holiday and the amount of marking and paperwork I will be able to get done without any kids around. I also sit and muse on the ending of Watership Down and shed a slight tear.

The unchecked mind is a dangerous thing, particularly in a room full of students who personally blame you for putting them through three hours of silent work. Gove has announced that this no longer going to be the way. That there will be a new deafeningly silent light at the end of the tunnel. That we, as teachers, will be absolved of the maniacal dearth of noise that fills our eardrums with repressed rage every time we begin a lesson with the words. 'okay guys, you know what to do. Exam conditions, go.'

I always tend to start by imagining that I am involved in a serious accident and that I am being woken up by a doctor for the first time. Which of these students would wish to be that doctor. Which would you definitely not want.

One of my students just asked me for more paper. We are not far in. This is dangerous, they may be abandoning their previous answer to try and start again. Then I notice, the curse of rainforests across the world, double spaced one sided. There must be about twelve words on that sheet. This event does mark the opening of a new game. I stare into the eyes of my LSA. She stares back, quizzically. She does not know the game. I prepare myself for the first point. It is crucial to stamp your mark on The Game. I narrow my gaze. She looks at me as if I have deap-seated mental problems. Sometimes I even think I don't. In a flurry the first point is over, even before I could realize it began. The hand shot up. The words didn't quite leave the girl's mouth before I had plucked the paper from the desk. Outside a bird seemed to fly almost impossibly slowly in the air as time dripped ever slower and slower.Flap. My hand placed on the desk and my body lifted in the vault. Flap. My feet hit the gum-encrusted carpet and just slid a touch before I gained my grip. Flap. The floor echoes with the landing. Flap. My hand, paper pressed against it by almost visible air in the stillness windmills and slams the paper onto the student's desk. Smack. The Game releases it's hold on time.
'Paper?' I ask nonchalantly. I look at the LSA and wink. She shakes her head at me. I have this game under the cosh. Now to just keep the vigilance. One fucking Nil I think.
'No sir, How do you spell machine?'

Sunday, 20 January 2013

But what will you do after football?

This weekend I read this article that highlighted the fragility of dreams, particularly sporting dreams, and particularly the dreams of hundreds of thousands of aspiring teeneage footballers at schools around the nation (world).

At the end of an important week in the premier transfer window the stark realisation that not every aspiring footballer will be watching a hundred thousand pounds fall nonchalantly into their bank account every week. The story of  Michael Johnson is one that every careers advisor will be laminating and sticking to their careers wall with a certain complacent smile. It is one of those stories that proves a plethora of worst fears to be, in some cases at least, true and really presses home the need for students with exceptional sporting talent to always have a continguency plan. The idea of a fallback is very much the key to this, because I firmly believe that if someone truly views sport as their life then they should be encouraged to pursue this. Students should, however be encouraged to do to things: firstly to consider, realistically their life if sport does not work out, and secondly to consider why it is they are pursuing the sport in the first place.

The first of those reasons is, I hope, reasonably obvious in its importance. From a personal perspective I knew four peers who where signed to academy teams for premiership rugby and football teams. None of these made the cut. The world of sport is competitive and cutthroat and this is correct. In order to run a successful team you have to recruit agressively and cut to only the best in order to remain economical. Sport is a competitive buisness. Sport as a social entity has evolved (devolved) beyond the functional leisure activity and into a vile characature of itself. Football, in particular, has a reputation of a violent, churning treadmill of prospective teen sensations that are dissolutioned, washed out and left with less qualifications than the prerequisite amount of sticks needed to rub together to make a fire.

So close down the football academies, because they are the root of the problems. This is clearly a hyperbolic fallacy.Close down football then, because it gives unrealistic expectations to students? We must know our range, and our range does not extend to this, and so the answer is to educate. The answer is to firstly investigate why it is students aspire to this football ideal. From my experience football aspirationalism propagates in its strongest form in areas of economic depression and this is linked to the ideal of a masculine cinderella complex. Young boys do not want to be good at football. They do not want to work hard and play for the love of the game. They want to, in the words of one student 'Have bare loads of dollar and smoking girls.' (This is not a fabrication. This is a factual quotation. This child really said this.) Students are losing the concept of working hard in order to gain something and this is why football is seen as the easy way. In many students' minds they believe that in order to be good at football you simply need to be good at football. They do not realise that in order to gain the lifestyle they fetishise (word of the week) they need to be out running every morning, and in the gym lifting weights, and constantly running drills. These young impresionable boys need to understand this and understand that even if they do have the skill level and the commitment and are in the right place at the right time they may still get injured and their dream may crumple like a striker as a result of a malicious tackle.

It is imperitive that students are not put off their dreams but they need to understand what it entails to achieve. It is imperitive that students are prepared for continguency and, although it sounds a little harsh, failure. It is particularly imperitive that students realise that nothing is free, or innate, or easy, and that in sport, particularly, there is no hiding, no easy rides and no certainties. In many sports, it is a sad fact that if you are not already competing at at least a national standard by the time you are sixteen, you are extremely unlikely to succeed at the highest level.

Friday, 18 January 2013

So You Think You Are A Teacher?

I think most people who have read this blog at any point will have read my post about the real things you learn as a PCSE student. If not take a minute to go here:

Hi, good to have you back. For those else of you, thank you for being patient. So here is the natural sequel to the PGCE guidelines. With the changing of the teaching standards I understand that some of you (Particularly the NQTs in the audience) may well not have met these criteria yet. The early publication of these essential guidelines is intended to give you time to address this as well as possible in the coming months. Remember NQTs, you may risk failing to achieve teacher status if your mentor cannot confirm you have met these standards.

The Standards below are in line with the achievements of a large group of NQTs and cannot be taken as the sole experiences of C Teacher. Thank you to all involved. 

Part One: Teaching

1: Forget what day of the week it is and try and teach the wrong class in the wrong classroom
2: Start a lesson with 'Tell me what we did last lesson?' to cover up that you have forgotten who the class are.
3: 'Tell me what has happened in the book so far?' While thinking 'I should really read it.'
4: Teach from wikipedia as if they are your own ideas.
5: Planning is a lie.
6: 'Controlled assessment grades? What controlled assessment?' 'Oh FUCK!'
7: Teach the wrong spec.
8: Question, halfway through a double lesson, whether you are hungover or still drunk. Feel unable to give yourself a conclusive answer.
9: Fake being angry at a class so that you can walk out dramatically as if refusing to teach them, all the while masking you real intention of getting a cup of tea/coffee/going to the loo/having a little cry.

Part Two: Professional and Personal Conduct

1: Get given a responsibility far above your skill level and have to meekly tell your line manager that you need help.
2: Make up a set of reports to make up for a lack of marking. Then have to make up the next set of reports for the same class, remarkedly showing even progress across the entire class.
3: Consider leaving the school because none of the other teacher fulfill your high standards (of looks.)
4: Tell new PGCE students stories beginning with the words: 'When I was a PGCE student...'
5: Ask a child at parents evening, in front of their parents, 'Are you sure you're in my class?' and they answer 'Yes.'
6: On your first day of work ask for directions then, when finding out the person is going to the same school as you, offer them as lift. As a reply to the question 'What do you teach?' receive the answer 'I'm in the sixth form.' Grind out the remaining journey in awkward silence.
7:  Have to apologise for calling the head teacher the wrong name in briefing in front of the whole staff.
8: Virilantly claim your QTS certificate has never arrived, causing a furore including a number of members of senior leadership, before finding it in the mess of rubbish under your bed. Then claim it had only just arrived. Lousy Teachers' agency....
9: Have to be taken aside and told to soften your approach because a year 7 now cried at the very mention of your name.
10: Be hit on by a number of older women/men at the staff party. Feel disgusted.
11: Having students teach you how to evade the internet controls.
12: Pray, incesently, for a snow day. 

When addressing these standards, please consider documenting any additional standards you feel you have met and send these to @calamityteacher

Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Science's Stupid Question Double Header.

Sir. You know Steven Hawking right?
If he's so clever, why can't he talk?

Sir, you know when we eventually get into space? Why don't we like just put solar panels around the sun and then get all the energy back to earth?

Monday, 14 January 2013

Errr you've showed genuine emotion. That's well gay

'Ah Sir, but you set us homework last week. That's well gay!'

Undoubtedly (in my flawed and dysfunctional opinion) the most prevalent and insipid prejudice that students uphold is homophobia. The great problem that I see with this is the uptake of the word gay into the popular lexicon as just meaning bad. Although a massive amount of my male students do have a genuine revulsion at the thought of gay men I think a majority of them use the word gay as a pejorative without any concept that they can be construed as (read are) being offensive.

Obviously homophobic prejudice is a big topic with the recent decisions about gay bishops flirting with the front pages in a way only the recent Jimmy Saville case can, but many students would much rather discuss the latter of those two headlines than the former (Partly, I believe, because of the sensationalisation of sex offenders to the point of voyeuristic cultural fetishism.). I can only imagine (having not experienced it myself) the difficulty of being a young gay student struggling to come to terms with the reality of themselves in an environment that is filled with the usage of a label to fundamentally mean something is undesirable.

It is difficult for teachers to constantly reprimand for this use of language because for many users it is not meant in offense; It has no connection to its homosexual synonym. Those students who are genuinely homophobic or intend to offend will use much stronger terms than gay. The problem with this use of the word is that it has its meaning eroded and replaced. Gay will no longer mean Gay. Gay will be bad, or unsavory  or unfair, but somewhere in its etymology the idea of homosexuality will remain as a relic and the idea of homosexuality being wrong will be forever linked.

This meaning is already changing, and is possibly changed irrevocably but it is well worth a try to change perception. It is also falling into the popular rubric of teachers. And I have had to check myself recently as i began a statement that would turn itself into a derogatory use of the word gay, but it is worth it I feel. The dehumanisation and erosion of shock is among the most dangerous things that can happen in language.

Friday, 11 January 2013

Financial crisis of all types

I don't know where I heard this this week but I thought it was an exceptional analogy for raising the debt ceiling:

If your house is filling up with shit, you find out where its coming from and stop it. You don't just put on an extra storey.

I offer my own analogy for the current state of school finances. Read as you will:

If your zoo has too many animals and not enough space, you get rid of an elephant, not a meerkat.

Thursday, 10 January 2013

The Impossible Reference.

Today one of my students came up to me and asked for a reference for their college application. I want to be very clear that I don't dislike this student. It is just that he has all the emotional depth and commitment to learning of a cardboard cutout of himself. In fact I often believe that his exam results would improve substantially if the cardboard cut-out was allowed to sit the exam.

I think it will be easily evident the connundrum that I was faced with.I do not want to be the sole cause of this student not making it into college, but at the same time I can't abide false references. Therefore I am currently trying to refine the most apathetic, and euphemism-filled reference mankind has ever seen. Look upon this and live in fear. I am calling this child Jimmy for privacy purposes.

Jimmy is both in my English class and under my charge as a member of my form. He has some difficulty in some lessons but he does endeavour to rectify this.  He is never a problem behaviourally and is a pleasant student to converse with. He has a number of close friends and never causes any issues pastorally.
Outside of school he is engaged in a number of extracurricular activities, including boxing, which he commits to on a regular basis. He has had success in this vein, winning a number of fights. He obviously enjoys a range of sports, having performed well in BTEC PE over the past two years. Jimmy has also shown promise in Maths, where he has secured his ‘C’ grade early on.
When conversing with myself and other members of staff Jimmy is always polite and respectful and maintains a happy disposition at all times. This demeanour demonstrated itself during his work experience at a bike shop where he was well received by other staff and was given a positive report at the end of the time spent.

This is a hard task. A genuinly difficult task. The next student that asks me I am saying no.

Thursday, 3 January 2013

OI, Put that down!

I once wrote an essay on the ethics of teaching violent and sexually explicit literature to children. The essay was badly written and poorly conceived; possibly because it was written late at night, close to a deadline and with little enthusiasm. The last of these three reasons is surprising because it is a subject i am so unsure about it makes me passionate.

The reason this spins back into my fragile mind is that I remembered that twice this term students under the age of 13 have had copies of Fifty Shades of Grey confiscated from them.One student had stolen it from their parent and the other had borrowed it out of the library. Part of me is pleased that they were reading. Part of me baulks at pre-teens reading sexually explicit material and part of me is appaulled that what they want to read is writing of this literary quality (if you have not sampled the blissfull 'delights' of FSoG then don't. And I sincerely mean don't. If you want porn then browse the internet, it's of a far better quality and substantially more realistic.).

 I have read it at some point, although I have difficulty remembering where (read: I have difficulty remembering anything (read: I have no idea what I am doing from moment to moment. (Read: please put me down.))) that the best thing that can happen to a song in the UK is for the BBC to refuse to play it. Is it wise to confiscate literature that we view as being too mature (North Sea of salt required here when discussing FSoG)  for students? (token statement in parenthesis.) (breathe.)

Another example: A sixth form student came to me after one of a lecture series I host at my school delivered by staff and pupils on books that inspire them; this particular lecture was on Malcolm X's autobiography. A number of members of staff and a couple of students were discussing interesting books and the topic of Mein Kampf was raised. This sixth former said that her own copy of Mein Kampf had been confiscated as part of a wider school policy.I was appauled. The suppression of 'dangerous' liberal ideas forces interested readers to ingest them under their covers in bedrooms late at night and this avoids the ideas being discussed in a constructive and contemplative manner. Supressing ideas fetishises them. This is nye on a universal truth I feel but it, of course, ploblematic for the modern teacher who is so open to litigation/complaints/disciplinary action/Daily Mail led front page witch-hunt.

The subject of what stance to take is difficult. I would love to think that every student would be mature enough to look at every piece of literature in a constructive and emotionally distant way that enables them to view the flaws and merits with equal eyes, however I reluctantly believe, with a certain weightiness forming above my diaphragm, that this is not true. At the same time I think it is reasonably obvious from the above syntaxical nightmare that I am opposed to censorship. My firm belief is that students should never be patronised or talked down to and that at all times and that confiscating and stigmatising popular literature encourages students to read without context. Teachers should not be afraid to discuss reasons why literature that is seen as terrible, or offensive, or dangerous has redeemable features. Take for example our poorly written buddy Fifty Shades; A novel that has smashed sales expectations across the world. There must be a reason why the novel is so successful so therefore there is educational value in it from, at the very least, a sociological perspective. The themes of the novel must have picked up on a cultural zeitgeist in order to sell that many copies in a similar way to other literature that is both poorly written and hideously widely read; the example of Heart Of Darkness by Joseph Conrad springs to mind (a novel that was once described to me as having singlehandedly set back racial equality by fifty years; a slight hyperbole I feel but still).

There must have been a purpose to this over-punctuated rant and it is this: Nothing is ever beneath or beyond study. Everything has intrinsic value regardless of our own preconceptions. If you are to tell a student they are not allowed to read something you must first consider why they want to read it, and then consider why you do not want them to. Only at that point do I think that valuable judgements can be explored.