Thursday, 28 March 2013

Look At Them; They Have Nothing.

I have sat through an assembly today that truly typifies a terrifying trope in the teaching of today's teenagers. (ooooh, alliteration)

I think that you are likely to have seen this assembly, or something painfully like it. It normally begins in this way:
Now, I know that we're all going to have a good time over Easter eating our eggs and having fun with our families, but we shouldn't forget that some around the world have less than we do. These images are to give you an idea of how lucky we are in this country. 
 And then the powerpoint inevitably racks its way through heart-wrenching images of impoverished children, homeless adults and amputee dogs.
And then we all feel guilty for having a little bit of cash in our bank accounts and a tv and our good health andthe numerous other things that make us lucky. And we are lucky. Even teaching in a school such as mine where a large proportion of my students are eating free school meals the student body still represent some of the wealthiest people in the world. At least they have the (part-time) support of a country that attempts to helps its citizens.
These students, are in my opinion having any sense of pride eroded. This is especially true of young white boys; A group who are now rapidly rising to being a statisitically failing group across the country. These students are not taught to take pride in their heritage because it is constantly demonised. It is only correct to teach about the plurality of social histories. I also firmly believe that equality among genders is paramount. It can, however become an extended trial where white male students feel accountable for the horrors of their race. Slavery, yes, was a western invention, but it was white males who stopped it as well as started it. White men were a major part of the feminist movement.
I apologise. That was deviation. I am being caught up in speaking for the defence in a centuries-long trial. It is not just white Boys who are stigmatised by assemblies of horrors. Students from difficult backgrounds who now live in more comfortable scenarios are now watching the scenes of those left behind. I teach a number of asylum seaker children and refugees who had no choice but to leave people behind. I firmly do not believe that they should feel guilty living in comfort. It is a positive thing. As a cultural group we should ask our students to recognise that they are in a better position than others, but to inspire them to help to exact change. Why show pictures of poor starving African stereotypes when you could show the Medicins sans frontieres nurse or doctor helping? Why show the injured animal when you can give the aspiration for students to become vets?

Just seems silly to me.

Wednesday, 27 March 2013


The Department for Education is proposing a large-scale change of the education foci in light of the societal changes the country is undergoing. This 'return to our roots' education system will be focused around a re-invigoration of the STEM core foci. Please read the summary below and familiarize yourself with it before the extended details become available in the summer. 
STEM has always been a focus of the employment market but with students facing a world which is placing increasing onus on the real, vocational skills students need to prosper in life. With this in light the definition of STEM has changed to the following key areas:

Social Media.
Incorporating units of Facebook, BBM and Instagram. Students will learn key skills such as how to bully and ostracise those of a different race and sexuality.  Creative students will be able to explore the ways an Instagram filter makes everything look nicer; with suggested coursework topics of 'What I Ate for Dinner' or 'Snowy Streets That Look Exactly The Same.'

Students will explore the way in which they communicate with the world in a number of interesting modules. Students will develop speaking and listening orientated skills around unintelligible contemporary colloquialisms and then in an examined format they will complete tasks such as reducing the works of renowned authors to the minimum amount of words possible. Exemplary courseworks for this module will be available on twitter.

Earthenware and Porcelain.
This course aims to develop students knowledge of the wide range of earthenware products that can be used instead of polystyrene containers and paper bags. Parts of this practical assessment course will include how to correctly present fish and chips after removing them from the bag as well as an exam based around the choice of bowl or plate for various takeaway meals.

Motherhood and Fatherhood.
Students will engage in a nine-month modular programme that can be retaken in order for students who do not pass in the first instance to retake as many times as required.
Topics include a multi-modal project on identifying fathers, 'developing the shouting voice' and 'how to ignore successfully'. Expected entry requirements for this Level 1.5 vocational part GNVQ with 0.5 of an HND referral credit are for students to have achieved part one (of three) of their McDonalds chip fryer basic training.

Expect further information on these exciting new courses in May.

Tuesday, 26 March 2013

Please pick up, Please pick up.

I love a good initiative.

I even love the word initiative, with its facets of both an innate ability to succeed and the beginning of something enduring.

I love initiatives for those with initiative.

I especially love iconoclastic, establishment-questioning ideas that give a little hint of an idea to students that they should constantly question, constantly create, and, just occasionally, defy.

When I spoke about five things to tell NQTs I missed out a couple of important things. One of those was that you should never expect a student to do something that you are not prepared to do yourself.

It was with great pleasure and a wry smile that I told a group of students about poetry, because these students were sat, at lunch time, listening for about the twelfth week running to someone talk about novels, or plays, or poems, and this time I was encouraging these students to read their own poetry. By the end of that lunchtime nine students, along with three teachers, would have read poems to forty assembled students and staff. The lecture series was started as a way to provide students a path to exploring off-curriculum literature. (I started it. Me.) Each week someone would present on why it is they love the piece of literature that they do. To date there has been ten teachers and eight students who have presented to the thirty-odd audience, and we thought it would be a nice thing to mark world poetry day last week with a poetry reading by anyone who wished a voice onto themselves.

The week before the recital I had issued a challenge to my assembled bibliophiles; To hide poetry around the academy in books, in stairwells, on classroom doors. (that actually happened) Students took this challenge to heart and poems have been turning up all over. I adored this. It is a beautiful thing. Of course, in qualification of my previous statement, I joined in the game.

And here in lies the anecdote about my crass ineptitude and comedic lack of common sense, for I haven't told one in a while.

I am not a terrible poet. I am also not great. I am also not a children's poet. I had to make sure that if no-one as ready to read at the poetry recital I would be able to fill for a while. I dug up a load of poetry and hastily edited out the sweary bits with a biro. I read, They went down okay. Then, In a moment of vicious clarity, I placed some poems of mine in some books in the library. Then I taught my last lesson and got on the train home.

It's amazing, that cold feeling in your stomach when you realise you have done something wrong and have absolutely no way of fixing it. The last time I really felt it properly was when I hadn't done my maths homework and the teacher was on their way around checking books. You can actually see it in their eyes now. It's sadistically amusing to watch it develop as you wonder from seat to seat checking homework. I was on the phone faster than Gotham city gets on the batsign. My head of department might just be at school. As soon as she picked up all I could hear was the unmistakable distant sound of someone on a hands free kit. The first think he heard me say was a shouted expletive about as socially acceptable as the ones that were only just scribbled over in the poems that I was pretty sure I had erroneously put into some collections of kids poems.

At that point I had no choice but to explain the error I was pretty sure I'd made. The next morning I was in school OFSTED early hoping that I hadn't inspired any kids to read anything. Thankfully I hadn't. There they were, tucked in Tennyson and hidden in Harry Potter. Smiles all round.

#Moral Write poems about happy kittens.



In his eyes, the teacher sadly,
surveys a scene of students madly
fighting over pens to scribble
nonsense and ill-thought out drivel
to be explained, badly, later.

He sits and checks chain emails
from old school friends and females
that he used to sort of know
but who used to flirt and go
around with better boys than him

It is only seven lessons left
until the much needed gift
of two weeks without these kids
their lies, their tales, the insipid
catalogue of little niggles

The independent project is genius
despite being simple and tedious
little do the children know
that it is all a sham and show
to gain an extra double free.

Monday, 25 March 2013

As Jane Will Expect, I Have Ignored Her.

I am an NQT. An angry, sighing one, but an NQT. It's one of those admissions like being eighteen and admitting you're a virgin. There's nothing wrong with it, it just seems to need qualifying, and despite any realistic qualification (I wasn't popular at school/I had appauling acne/I was a teenage chess prodigy) people will still look at you as if you have done something incredibly wrong.

It was with great trepidation that I stepped back into the hallowed halls of learning that eventually fed me, with abject prejudice, into the world of being a real teacher. I had returned, suited and booted in a way I never expected, and was ready to talk. I tried to give them a day in the life of a typical NQT and managed, instead, to talk for about an hour before reaching 9 o'clock in the morning. I cannot, due to both short term memory erosion (factor: Weekend of the sort of alcohol abuse I tell my students will kill them.) and my own lack of preparation, actually remember quite what I said, but I do remember one student actually in tears with laughter at one of my true stories of my own ineptitude. (I actually have a new one to add to this blog, but later.)

I am not sure whether that is a good sign.

The tutor who had led me along the treacherous path of PGCEism asked me to deliver a set of five things I wished I'd been told at the start of my NQT year. I of course totally ignored this and got on with a rambling diatribe. I decided, however, that I would atone for this enforced ignorance by coming up with a list and publicising it here.

5 Ways To Survive NQT

1: Find the teacher who has been teaching at the school the longest and talk to them about every single one of your students. The chances are that they've told some of their parents and will tell you more than any SIMS page.

2: Support your students outside of lessons. Even if you hate sport, get outside in the pissing rain and watch them be crap at whichever sport their parents are pressing them, mercilessly and vicariously, into. The next day, talk with authority about how well they played.

3: Find something that they're interested in. I hate football. I can't even bare to call it a sport, but that doesn't stop me picking up the Metro every morning, turning to the back pages and reading through some godforsaken illiterate article about some godforsaken illiterate footballer's affair with a girl more silicon and fake tan than human. Why do I do this? Because half my students probably wouldn't talk to me if I had no knowledge of sports trivia. That sporting chaff gives me an in.

4: The most important people in the school goes in this order (most important first) Students, Resources and Reprographics, Canteen Staff, Reception, Cleaners, LSAs, Teachers, Leadership. AND NOT THE OTHER WAY ROUND

5: Never shout at an individual child. Just stop, Have a sip of tea, and then deal with the situation calmly and with authority.

(Honourable mention; Always have a cup of tea to hand.)


So there I was, calmly watching students predictably fail a mock GCSE when BAM, I get inboxed from the IT teacher down the hall whose probably doing the same with this!

I think I would genuinely like to try this some time. It very much feels like a sixth form game, but I'm not sure. I would love to see it work with a year 7 class as well. Hmmmmm, the thoughts. I've often thought that games, particularly complex ones, are a potentially great teaching tool. The designing of a game like Magic: The Gathering is an engulfing process with a number of cross-curricular applications. Next term perhaps I'll get my students to design a playable game that can be used in the classroom with real-world applications.

Wednesday, 20 March 2013

Student Email Error of the Day

From: Desdemona
Sent: 19 March 2013 20:22
Cc:   Desdemona, Calamity Teacher
Homework Essay.doc (21 KB‎)

Miss Teacher

There's the Proposal, Media Review and Essay
From: Desdemona
Sent: 19 March 2013 13:03
To: Juliette

try and change the word alot so ours arent exactly the same, just move around the sentences!

I think I can let this one speak for itself. Names changed as usual. Oh the dangers of modern technology.

Oi Mate, Mate, Mate, Where's Your Placement?

The return of year ten has been anticipated with some degree of trepidation. I don't know the root cause behind it, and would hesitate to give an answer beyond 'fate', but in every school i have ever attended/worked or observed there has been a 'bad' yeargroup. At my current school it is undoubtedly year 10. The students range from exceptionally clever, Hannibal-style psychopaths to students so vacuous as to be endearing, passing through a spectrum of inevitable generalised insults in the middle of these off-centre poles.

The reason that Year Ten are returning is because they have been absent on that most English of compulsory school activities; Work Experience. I wonder on the point of this horrifying disservice to the reputation of schools everywhere because all it does is seem to make fractured mockeries of the youth of today.

Work Experience is an opportunity for students to fail and by gum by golly do they embrace that opportunity with their sticky, tobacco-stained hands. This year my school had three students who were genuinely asked to leave their work placement. Why? How? I hear your exasperated voices cry. I hesitate and fail to answer, my tongue a fragile, flailing dancer. Part of me imagines that the students sat in front of me, are honest, hardworking parents-to-be who'll honour and abide the law so to nurture and provide for bouncing, smiling little kids who'll lick the bottoms of yoghurt lids.

But this assumption is false. These children have no acceptable world view. They are insipidly useless. I hate to be the sort of person that advocates tough love and rigid structure but some of these students have no idea about the world outside is actually like an environment of consistent stifling. Although, when I say stifling what I really mean is constant lies. I've previously stated that students should know that if they work hard they will do well. Perhaps this is a fallacy.Perhaps it should state if students work hard they will do better.

I am guilty of the lying as I'm sure many of you are. I have always stated I am not a very good teacher.I am guilty saying 'maybe if we retake this and you work really hard then you'll do it.'I am also coming to realise that i should actually listen to the voice in my head that asks me why I am lying to this child. They have failed, and will fail because they have not been told an honest truth for the last 10 years of their live. At no point have teachers been encouraged to tell students how good they actually are and what they should be aiming for. If you are terrible at English there is a strong chance you will not become a Doctor. Or Lawyer. Is this unfair. No. It is very far from unfair. Unfairness is prejudice. Unfairness is also lying to some students and not to others. Unfairness is not being honest with students about how much they are chipping slowly away at their future because they can't be bothered.

I don't quite know what this post wants to achieve. And perhaps tit merely reiterates earlier posts, but it is the students returning from being fired on work experience that have really drilled this into me and left a significant amount of swarf behind.  When will students be told what their attitude towards schooling will do to them in the working world? Will we continue to pander every child at all times. Offices do not have exclusion centres, or reintegration meetings or time out passes. We as educators set children up for failure.

Saturday, 16 March 2013

What Do You Eat?

I'm sat in a cover lesson. It's not me covering, it's just my unfortunate luck that they've stolen my classroom.The lesson is some sort of strange blend of 'catering studies' and 'PE theory' and students are being asked to come up with a weeks worth of diet for an athlete. The students seem to barely know what an athlete is, let alone what they might eat. They are asked to explain how it might be different from what they eat and at this point the true horror becomes as evident as the white smoke from the top of the Vatican (although I should remind you that there are similes about other sights of major religious interest available.)

I should deviate here for a second. Where I work is not inner-city, but is brutally suburban and annexed to a town that is best described as vile in the extreme. On my way home I walked passed a chipshop that advertises a lunchtime special. This special contains not fish but Chips. Curry Sauce and an Energy Drink. I wonder on whether they could genuinely be prosecuted for criminal negligence. I have no problem with a chippy. I myself stop there for chips occasionally. I also do a great deal of sport and eat healthily the rest of the time.

Unlike Ophelia. (other pseudonyms from literary works that are vastly different to the real names of the children are available)

Ophelia, when asked what she ate for breakfast yesterday said
'McDonalds Chips and Two pieces of KFC chicken.

Now that, is absurd. The horror, of course is this. It doesn't matter how healthy the food is in schools. It doesn't matter that this girl is on free school meals. It matters that fast food is so pervasive and insipid that they will just buy rubbish regardless.

On my school trip on Friday one of the museums had had a plumbing issue and its toilets had failed, meaning that we had to take a few students to the nearest available public toilet to save them from the sort of coach-borne incident that would open them to a lifetime of bullying. The nearest public amenity was a McDonalds. They were specifically told not to buy food. By the time they returned to the coach they had, between 8 of them, 6 big-macs, 4 quarter pounders, 6 packets of chips (large) and two strawberry milkshakes.

The little bastards.

Tuesday, 12 March 2013

Is This Okay Sir?

This actually happened.

A set of students are doing a task that requires them to read a newspaper article and respond to it. They are diligently reading through copies of the Metro and finding articles. I go up to one student and ask him how he is getting on and whether he has found an article. He points to one. I say

'But that is a Specsavers advert.'
'But what would you write about?'
'Like it's real expensive and stuff.'

I think I'm checking out on this one. That's it. I'm not sure I can really take this anymore. I'm pretty sure I'm not cut out to be a teacher; I haven't taught anyone anything.

Friday, 8 March 2013

AQA owns you and your future.

I think we are all aware, in the secondary sector at least, that this week someone told us things that we, for the most part, already knew about the children we teach.

The C grade is an ephemeral fantasy that one day, hopefully, will fade into a horrifying social history lesson about how the devolution of British society began. Until that moment, fragrant as it will be with the stale smell of underfried chips and own-brand energy drink,we are constantly fed fat-soaked lies about the existence of some sort of magical Berlinesque (as opposed to burlesque) wall between success and benefits cheats. Why does the C/D borderline sadden me so? Because it rewards mediocrity. The C/D borderline is an arbitrary social construction that is as clearly defined as the threshold between success and failure; there is no reason behind this apart from someone telling us it is so.

What annoys me about this situation is the amount of resources that are dedicated to extended provision for students that genuinely do not care about advancing their learning. There is a total and utter disregard for any sense of aspiration beyond the grade borderline in society. Striving to achieve the highest of grades is constantly demonised in order to preserve the self esteem of those that do not care anyway. This attitude can easily be seen as pejorative but I also worry about the lack of support for all those who will never get the C and so are a lost cause to the school's stats reputation.

 It worries me that as a country we feel that we cannot simply reward excellence or effort in children. This is not about oppressing those who are disadvantaged, it is about making it clear to students that if you try hard you will do well and if you do well then you will do well later in life. I told a student today something I firmly believe to be true; Never again in a student's life will they be surrounded by so many people who want them to do well. This should be a cultural ideal pervasive through education; That we, as teachers, are here to help you if you want it, not to hunt you down and press you in order to assert our own competance as teachers and institutions. Teaching is not about numbers, it is about students doing well. It is not about students who are 'at risk of not acheiving potential' it is about students who work hard.

Next week, tell a student who has done well that they have done well. They have undoubtedly not heard it enough. And then, ask a student who is failing at everything what they are interested in. They have had similar problems. Maybe this will even the score across the board. Every child matters is a lie. This is every child who is within range of a C matters to your league table result.

Tuesday, 5 March 2013

Typo of the day.

There is many points in the book where it shows the relevance that Frankenstein has to modern life. I can justify this by stating and analysing cretin points in the book. 

Yeah. You take that you lousy novel. You're a cretin. I said it. Now what you gonna do about it?

Monday, 4 March 2013

Ofready, Ofsteady...

So i've been a little quiet this week. It is understandable. My darling school received the phonecall at almost precisely 1:34 on Tuesday afternoon. THEY were coming. A solid number of teachers then spent the next twenty six minutes until the end of lunch running around and telling all those who didn't (or did) know that we were all definitely up for it this time. What I hope to present to you below is a blow by blow account of the unbridled horror. I cannot promise to tell you everything, but I can promise that most of this is true, more or less; that these things happened; Someone really did forget their laptop.

It began, as I have said, on Tuesday lunchtime.An emergency meeting was called. Students were told that it was a great opportunity for them to show off how good they are. Staff scoffed as they delivered this second hand message. They peered at the note with disbelieving eyes and then locked their eyes on classrooms of fighting, biting children lighting cigarettes under tables and telling fables of weekend hazy drunken sexual exploits in night-clad parks or dark corners of train stations and abandoned parents' homes.

When the meeting began, the hushed whispers of the brand new auditorium knew that the inspectors would not give a crap about the plush, school branded seats or last weeks brave version of some contemporary British theatre. It was the best attended briefing in some time; the audience including even the more disinterested office staff who, simply put, don't care about the teaching and instead devote their mornings to actually doing their job.

 A question piped up from the front of the gathered staff. The voice was a response and the stimulus was the powerpoint.The powerpoint, as they are so often, was a wall of text, only separated by the ominous black spots of bullet points. The voice was a little angry, a little despairing, and well known. Many people sank in to their own private miseries when they heard it. Those that didn't were rewarded with a one-of-a-kind diatribe at the insinuated late night. Her words were dripping with disdain. 'And when are we meant to print off this data? I am going out tonight.' It was a beautiful moment. It was a beautiful point. Her point was solid, the list of tasks needing to be done by the next morning was longer than the complaints list for the curriculum reform. The point was silenced with a wholeheartedly unconvincing 'well it should have been done already'. We left the briefing tired and worried. NQTs could be seen attaching themselves to veteran teachers like marsupial babies, attempting to suck from the nipple of experience any shortcut that might get them home before the TV with swearing in began.

At this point I would like to interject with a comment. I feel, like parachute troops or McDonalds workers, we should get little stars on our name badges for survived OFSTED inspections. That would be nice.

We were there late. Whether it was fabricating data, printing things directly off of SIMS, or writing lesson plans impressionist in there beauty, we were there late. It was about 7:30 when the pizza delivery runs began. English made the bid early; They sent an NQT to sort it out. You could see the poor twenty-something jogging around the school trying to sort out the order before the finance department went home, presumably because he had been told if it wasn't paid out of petty cash then his credit card was next in line. The plethora of toppings that arrived was manna from heaven. Suddenly everyone loved the English department, a fact that would be repeated the next evening when preliminary reports showed teachers being sprung badly for not including literacy.

Most left the school around nine. There were emergency meetings scattered across the whole site, with members of leadership running in a way akin only to poultry with missing braincases. I am sure what they were doing was important. After all, to a man (or woman) they had important looking folders under their arms, and anyone carrying a folder and walking quickly is always doing something important. Especially if it is a red or green folder.

Despite the abandonment of the school site at nine, it was the war stories the next morning that truly uncovered the horror. It does not hep that I have spent the last two weeks almost solidly watching Band of Brothers followed by The Pacific, but people's stories were that of the warrior.

'I was up until two last night and got up at half one. I actually got minus thirty minutes sleep.'
'My lesson plans were so bad that they have had to file for emotional sickleave.'
'I feel like I am no longer human.'
'My body is half caffeine.'
'I've forgotten my laptop'

Oh, Wait. That last one actually happened. He walked in to the staffroom with the sort of wild eyes that only come from a lack of sleep and knowing that you are totally, irrevocably, screwed. The poor kid is an NQT, going through his first OFSTED. It was with admirable haste that a more senior teacher sent him straight to IT to borrow another and the process of rapid reconstruction began. Oh, alay, the beatiful fear seen that day in eyes as wide as caffeined plates rewriting plans from obsolete dates and just fabricating data in the hope of no observer later.

There was more coffee than I have ever seen. I saw one teacher resorting to the sort of sports drink you would not want to be drugs tested while using. Later in the day they were visibly shaking. I'm not sure they knew what day it was. It worried me that I had slept. I felt behind the drag curve; My thin context folders belied my preparation. I had made a choice at about eleven the previous night to just get some good sleep in order to actually be able to teach coherently. The auditorium for morning briefing stunk of the black stuff when they walked in. It was instantly them and us. They tried to introduce us in a friendly way. They used all the right words:

'We are not here to make you look bad.'
'We are excited about working together.'
'We are here to find positives, not negatives.'

You could taste the embattled smirks from the crowd. The battlelines were drawn cordially but with blood. It was as if an officers salute had taken place and now the men would be sent to fight. All I, hidden in the shadows of the sound desk at the back of the room could think was 'Who wakes up and thinks 'I want to be an OFSTED inspector when i'm older''.

Noone, That's Who.