Thursday, 31 December 2009

"Who's selling?"

It was pointed out to me that most of the blog posts seem to consist of me having a pop at the kids - at best it's a case of "kids say the darnedest things", at worst it's pure schadenfreude.

Well here I go in praise of the children's ingenuity and enterprise: the Sweet Barons.

The industry and creativity of the tycoons masquerading as pupils defies belief. School uniform dictates that bags shouldn't be worn indoors? Sleeves, pockets and socks are soon bulging with illicit goods. The school decides to go hard line on fizzy drinks for a week? The kids lie low and come the following Monday the pop of ring-pulls can be heard up and down the hallways.

It's not unlike the drug trade. Year 7s got in on the act about a month into their first year at the school. "Who's selling?" is the whispered question on everyone's lips. "Mason", "Abdi", "Ryan", "Connor" comes the reply. Selling of all kinds. Bargains, credit, discounts, profits, under-cutting, underselling, selling out.

The school tries to be a healthy school. The kids want their fix. There can only be one winner.

One boy is near enough illiterate. On top of an immigrant family background with no English at home, he has severe learning difficulties and four older brothers who failed school, of whom several are in prison. He has, over time, been withdrawn from most lessons to be taught alone upstairs in the learning support unit. Now aged 13, he comes into school for one reason, and one reason only. Over the week he makes 10-20 pounds selling everything from crisps to fizzy drinks to sweets. I'm assuming that if his literacy ain't up to much, his mental maths is okay.

Saturday, 19 December 2009

Thought for the day (or why not to Google 'assemblies')

As told to me by a teacher who was at the assembly:

Head of Year: So, Year 7, how do you spell the word "can't"?
Student 1: (hand raised) C-A-N-T?
HoY: No. Anyone else?
Student 2: C-A-N-apostrophe-T?
HoY: (sanctimoniously shaking her head) No.
Student 3: C-O-N-T?
HoY: No.
The rest of the teachers wince expecting the surely inevitable spelling of the rudest word.
Student 4: C-E-N-T?!
Phew! Surely the HoY can now step in and bring this Russian Roulette of Spelling to a close?
HoY: No. Anyone else?
Oh shit.
Student 5: C-I-N-T?!
At least it's Year 7. Year 10 would have spelled the c-word by now. Fortunately we are saved from embarrassment as the HoY decides to finally bring the guessing game to a suitably trite and corny end.
HoY: No, children. "Can't" is spelled T-R-Y.

Thursday, 17 December 2009

PE Moment of Zen

As soon as you start teaching you realise that you should have trained to be a PE teacher all along. Minimal marking, you can wear trainers and you have a whistle to help you keep the kids in check.

Today we played 5-a-side indoor football against the students as an end of term Fun Thing To Do. PE Teacher Andy turns up in ridiculous clothing.

Me: Why are you wearing a vest?
Andy: It's like the Italians.
Me: Huh?
Andy: You know, the Italians. The men always wear a vest. About the house, like.
Me: Why are you wearing it now? You look ridiculous.
Andy: It's a macho thing. Like the Italians. I always wear a vest when I'm at home. A vest, shorts and slippers. Unless it's cold, like. Then I'll wear tracky bottoms.

Monday, 14 December 2009

Work Experience

Today Form were considering their options for Work Experience Week which takes place in June. I was encouraging them to aspire to do a week's work experience somewhere as ambitious as they liked.

Me: Where would you like to do it CD?

CD: Something to do with sports (CD plays football for a professional club Academy).

Me: Coaching? Playing? Managing?

CD: Well...I was thinking that I could do this Soccer Skills club thing that my dad's mate runs...but...

Me: What's wrong with that? It'd be great if you could do something to get some coaching experience.

CD:...well, Sir, d'you reckon I could get a work experience at somewhere like SportsDirect or JD?

Me: Sure, but that's not very sporty. This is your chance to get out of school for a week and do something special for a week.

CD: Nah, Sir, JD is a sports shop, man! Sir that'd be sick!! I love JD!

Thursday, 10 December 2009

Not the Royal Geographic Society then

Year 8's are happily labelling a map of Great Britain.

Me: How many countries in the United Kingdom?
LM: 3.
Me: What are they?
LM: Ireland, Midlands?
Me: Not quite - where's Scotland and Wales? What about Northern Ireland?
LM: Oh yeah! I've heard of there! It's near Glasgow, innit!
A few minutes later.
LM: (laughing) Sir, M's so dumb!!! He reckons, yeah, that London is in WALES?!!?
Me: What do you mean? [surely no-one here is actually that ignorant?!]
LM: He's put London right at the top of the map!

Monday, 23 November 2009

Two school words

peng adj. attractive, beautiful, 'definitely would'. Used by horny, teenage wannabe-lotharios when talking to their mates about a girl. As heard today: "Check out that sixth former, blud, she's peng!!"

brass adj. [with a short 'a'; rhymes with 'crass' or 'gas'] the opposite of peng, meaning ugly, gross or unattractive. For instance "Sir, the Headteacher is brass" or "Unnergh! stop tryin' to be all smoov and dat! you're brass, blud, you'll never get in der!" or "What's your favourite TV show? Brass Betty?"

Thursday, 19 November 2009

Boy, do they grow up fast...

MB: Hah, you're a skank!
AO: Fuck off! Why're your eyes red? You been bunnin' draw, blud!
MB: Nah mate. You've been doing crack.
Me: Boys, not in the canteen please. I don't want to listen to this.
MB: Nah seriously, Sir, he gets his Oyster card and chops it up like this...and slices it like this...and moves it into lines like this and then *snort*.
Me: MB! That's enough. I don't want to listen to this when I'm eating my lunch.
AO: He's only joking, Sir.
MB: Yeah don't worry, Sir, AO doesn't really do cocaine. He only smokes.
AO: Usually it's only cigarettes.
Exeunt laughing.

When I was twelve I didn't even know what weed was!!

What a revelation!

"Sir, we don't have a lesson next week 'cos it's Eid."
"But you celebrated Eid just over a month ago."
"Yeah, but there's two."
"What does this one celebrate?"
"It celebrates the revolution of the Koran."

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

On the way to class - Part II

JP: Sir, did you know that the Twin Towers was a conspiracy?
Me: I did not!
JP: Sir, it's true!
Me: Where's your evidence? You're doing History GCSE, right? You need to have facts to prove your case!
JP: Sir, sir, go on YouTube.
Me: YouTube?
JP: Yeah, Sir. There's a video on YouTube.
Me: Riiiight...
JP: It's American money. You fold it and it's got the Twin Towers blowing up on it!
Me: Come on J. That is not proof.
JP: Yeah, but, Sir! It's so weird!
Judge for yourself here.
JP: Sir, I was talking to Mr H today about the BNP.
Me: What did you say?
JP: He was talking about the leader - the Griffin person?
Me: That's right. What do you think of him?
JP: He's a liar isn't he?
Me: What do you mean?
JP: The Holocaust was when like a million Jewish people were killed, right?
Me: About six.
JP: Yeah, well most of the things the BNP say are lies because they say it didn't happen. That's what Mr H said.
Me: And what do you think?
JP: Yeah I reckon that he's a liar then, innit.
Glad that this is JP's conclusion, following on from our somewhat disturbing conversation about immigration last week.
JP: Sir, the Holocaust happened in the Second World War.
Me: Yes.
JP: That began in 1945 didn't it Sir?


Year 9 French
Me: Do you need a dictionary to complete your homework? You can borrow a school one if you need.
TM: Skeen, Sir, no need, yeah? I've got a massive dictionary at home - my mum bought it. It's a theosaurus as well.
Me: A theosaurus? Like a new type of dinosaur? scoff scoff.
TM: Unnnergh, Sir. Don't you know? A THEEE-OH-SAURUS is like a massive dictionary!


Learning Conversation with Form
Me: So you're taking the Textiles GCSE in the end?
AJ: Yeah, Miss is offering it after schools. We're gonna do it on Tuesdays.
Me: Brilliant. Make sure you attend all the sessions.
AJ: Obviously, Sir!
Me: (ever the nagging pedant) And you'll have less time for it than for your other GCSEs so you need to really put in the effort.
AJ: I know!
Me: (harping on) You should always go on time because Miss is putting it on in her own spare time, as I hope you realise!
AJ: Sir! Stop talking to me like I'm innocent!
Me: Innocent?
AJ: You know, like as if I don't know anything!
Me: Ignorant?

Monday, 2 November 2009

On the way to class

JP: Sir, there's too many of them.
Me: Who?
JP: Immigrants.
Me: What do you mean?
JP: Why do they all even want to come to our country anyway?
CM: Cos they get stuff for free.
JP: They get everything for free.
CM: Like free health and a house without even working for it.
Me: What are you implying? That we have too many immigrants? That you don't get free healthcare when others do?
JP: We should send them all back.
Me: Really? And how would that happen? Would you have to send me back too?
JP: Nah weren't you born here?
Me: Yes. But my mother and father weren't...
CM: Yeah so that's fine you've got British citizenship so you can stay.
Me: What about my parents? They've got British citizenship but weren't born here.
No answer.
JP: But they're terrorists. Not your parents, Sir, the immigrants. The Pakis and the Afghans and them.
Me: All of them? Terrorists?
CM: Sir, we might get bombed in 2012! For the Olympics.
Me: There have already been bombings in London, but that doesn't make all immigrants from Pakistan and Afghanistan terrorists! What about your friends in this school? They're not terrorists.
JP: Nah, Sir, it's only the ones with turbans and long beards. They're the terrorists. They're the ones we have to send back home.
Me: I can't tell if you're 'joking' or being serious. It's racist to accuse everyone of being a terrorist just because they're from a certain background. Off you go to class. We'll have to discuss this at another time.

Wednesday, 21 October 2009

C'est quelle couleur?

We're learning about the colours:
Red is rouge, blue is bleu and so on.
I give them 'colour sums':
rouge + bleu = ?
jaune + bleu = ?
blanc + rouge = ?

The activity is engaging and they get all the answers right: violet, vert, and rose.
So far, so good.

The next one pops up onto the slide:
noir + blanc = ?
M's hand shoots up: marron!
Odd. He's got them all right so far. Why does black and white make brown? I don't get it...

It took me a while to understand, but he's not wrong.

Tuesday, 20 October 2009

Boots. Too. Big. Their. For.

An odd phenomenon's a-rising,
And I have found it most surprising.
It coincides with the creation
Of special 'Learning Conversations'.
For every child, a certain time,
A different day, quarter to nine,
They meet and talk, discuss and chat,
About their lessons, this and that.
Their tutor does not sit and judge,
Their tutor's not to bear a grudge,
But is instead required to ask,
"Why do you think you go off task?
Why do you find this class is bad?
What are successes that you've had?
Do tell me, Bobby, how you feel,
I'm paid to listen to your spiel!"
The child talks, says that and this,
Explains detentions that they've missed,
Thinks up excuses for their work:
"This teacher really is a jerk.
I don't get on with them at all,
So if I fail it's not my fault."
The problem comes with tutors who
Just shrug and say "what can you do?"
And leave the kids with the impression,
That having made a weak confession,
They are absolved of doing work,
For teachers they think are "a jerk".
Then when confronted in a lesson,
The student spits back with aggression,
"Allaaaii! I don't get on with you, you know,
My tutor says you go too slow,
You gotta challenge me, yeah mate!?"

Thursday, 15 October 2009

Losing it

Sometimes you can't rise above it. It's impossible to avoid feeling genuinely angry, disappointed. I swore at my GCSE class today. "I don't feel like fucking teaching this," I said quietly as I sat down in my chair. How was I meant to muster up the energy, the charm, the enthusiasm for something when every time I began to explain the topic, every time I tried to introduce an activity, every time I made the effort, students who are sitting their exams in 6 months time were chatting, throwing paper, out of their seats and shouting out? Not little eleven year olds, but 15 and 16 year-olds. Every time I asked for silence it lasted no more that 30 seconds. I was ill (alright, not ill as such, more 'man-flu'-ill) and tired. I'd spent several hours that week planning the lesson, ordering in the revision books they would need, trying to plan a trip for can be a thankless job!

The proverbial cherry on top was that I was being observed. My 'thinking' self detached from my 'teaching' self and spoke to it: "What the hell are you doing? How could this get any worse? Why don't you just cry and leave the room?"

It's the combination of factors (under the weather, tired, nervous, being observed, losing your voice, no breakfast, rude children in the class...) that can lead to a crisis point such as this.

I wait to find out what my feedback is. I'm sure I'll learn a lot, but it hurts nevertheless that this class, this exam class!!!, is not fully under my control.


And Finally,

FS, Year 8, today wondered whether the 'Kinder transport', which saved some 10,000 Jewish children from Nazi occupied Europe, had anything to do with the train in Narnia.

Thursday, 8 October 2009

Heimlich Heroics

AY was choking. Shit! The classroom has banks of computers and little Year 8s are mostly screened from view. I hear the commotion and look up. He's bent double in his chair, hand clutching at throat, startled friends backing off in surprise, turning to call out to me: "Sir, he's choking! Sir, he's choking!"

"He's choking on his gum!" someone shouts out. I make a split-second decision. Heimlich Manoeuvre. No question. No choice. I grab him from behind, make a fist with one hand and push it into his solar plexus with the other. He coughs in my grip, but carries on choking. I do the same again. The kids are shouting louder now: "SPIT IT OUT!", "COUGH IT OUT!" "Go and get the nurse!" I reply and press my fist once more into his stomach.

Suddenly CA steps forward. "He's not choking, Sir. I think I might have pressed his neck when he grabbed me."
"He grabbed me, so I pushed him back, so I put him in a headlock and I pressed his neck when he was in my headlock."
"You mean he's not choking, he's just coughing because you hit his windpipe?"
"So I just performed the Heimlich Manoeuvre for no good reason?"

To add to my embarrassment, it so happened that I was teaching in a room with two glass walls. The staff on reception had a clear view into my classroom and were looking on with bemused and distrustful expressions as I appeared to manhandle a child in my care by violently embracing him and punching him repeatedly in the stomach.

Wednesday, 30 September 2009

Deez Kidz!

Today SR and XP taught their year 8 Enterprise classmates how to count in German as part of a project whose aim was to encourage pupils' presentation skills. On their introductory PowerPoint slide they kindly gave us a brief summary of the language:

"German is spoken in Germany and nearby areas and countries. It is mainly spoken in the back of the throat."


My year 7 French class were thinking of ways to help them memorise the French numbers 1-20. FC put up his hand:
Me: Can you see a pattern? Have you got the hang of it?
FC: I know how to remember eighteen.
Me: Dix-huit? How?
FC: It sounds like These Wheats.
Me: This Week?
FC: These Wheats.
Me: How will that help you remember that dix-huit means eighteen?
FC: Because it sounds like These Wheats.

It reminded me of that great bit in Series 4 of The Wire:

Tuesday, 29 September 2009

Meet the Parents

Today Form had 'Progress Review Day' - a chance for me to meet their parents and discuss their lessons. From 8am to 8pm. Ugh.

High points included:
  • conducting a conversation in Slovakian. (I assumed from his furious nodding that M's father understood me perfectly.)
  • slipping into the vernacular in an overt attempt to 'relate' to a kid and his mum while simultaneously covering a lie: "C, the only reason teachers put you into detention is because they give a toss. If you were stupid they wouldn't bother."
  • discussing the ins and outs of a day release clause in the contract of a tutee who has just been signed up by a Championship football side's Youth Academy.

Low points mainly included cringing at my own choice of phrase:
  • "Hi, welcome, do take a seat. Let me get the paperwork out of the way and then we can have a chat."
  • " need to buck up your ideas"
  • "'ve made a solid start, but you need to maintain it"
  • "I'm running just a teeny-weeny bit late, sorry."
  • "I'm running just a wee bit late, sorry."
  • "I'm running just a tad late, sorry."
I might as well have been wearing my tweed jacket with leather patches and read from the book of Teaching Clichés.

Saturday, 26 September 2009

Last lesson on a Friday ain't so bad no more.

Me: (On a roll) Je prends le petit déjeuner. What does petit déjeuner mean?
Year 8: (Enthusiastic, engaged) Lunch
Me: (Happy with their enthusiasm and engagement.) Almost, but petit means little, so what does it mean?
Year 8: (Hands waving, thinking, learning.) Breakfast.
Me: Well done!...incidentally, has anyone wondered why breakfast is called breakfast?
Year 8: (Ramadan has recently finished.) Oh yeah! It's cos you break your fast!
Me: That's right!
Y: (Out of left field. Thinks he's caught me out. Finger raised and eyebrow craftily cocked.) But Sir, isn't it called breakfast because you eat breakfast cereal!

Thursday, 24 September 2009

Justice is not blind. She texts with fake nails on.

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a teenage girl in possession of a mobile phone, fake orange nails with tan to match, chewing gum and bad attitude must be in want of a sense of injustice.

I find it the hardest nut to crack: a chavette on the warpath.
Me: Time for you to do your coursework. You have to learn your draft off by heart.
Her: I can't be bothered. I'm too cold, Sir open the blinds!
Me: Just learn your coursework - you have half an hour to learn a paragraph off by heart and you will be finished.
Her: Ugh, Sir, you're so moody today. I'm too hot. Someone shut the blinds!
Me: You're in my lesson so you must do some work. What you write today will affect your final grade.
Her: I'm not going to do work if you're so moody. Just cos you got vexed at your last class it's not fair that you take it out on us!

"It's not fair." That easily tripped 'fairness'-alarm. As easily tripped as the fire alarms which seem to get tripped when it's most convenient for a student that they are tripped and least convenient for a teacher. Tripped. It's a powerful retort that seems especially popular among the girls. In their warped minds, they immediately feel wronged, and therefore in the right, and no amount of reasoning/shouting/bribing/ignoring/cajoling etc. can bring them round to just getting on with whatever it is you've got planned in their best interest.

"Could you please go and get some paper, Billy?"
"That's not fair! How comes you always choose Billy!?"

"Could you please go and get some paper, Stacy?"
"That's not fair! How comes you always pick on me!?"

Monday, 21 September 2009

Venn Diagram

Sometimes you realise that a teacher, and school in general, is only one of a series of influences on a child.

AOB came to my class a week ago - last lesson on the Friday. He is the school's most notorious 12 year old. A year ago the school received a phone call that he had been chucked out of a pub down the road. He was found with the keys to a stolen car and a bag full of new mobile phones. One day he'd missed school and when a teacher rang home to check up on him, his mother retorted with something along the lines of "oh yeah, I've not seen him for a couple of days either." He smokes and hangs out with criminals. I was determined that he should not get wind of the fact that I'd heard all about him and that I was wary of him, but instead should have the opportunity for seeing his new French teacher as a fresh start.

I was not hoping for the best, however, when as he came in he announced that "I only went to one French lesson last year, Sir. I'm shit!" Usually when students think they're bad at something they don't bother trying. Others make it their mission to ruin the lessons for everyone else as well. But to my surprise AOB was polite and enthusiastic for the whole 100 minutes. He put his hand up and gave everything a go, gave me the opportunity to reward him, listened to others and moved seat when asked.

What's the problem? This teaching lark is a piece of piss. Even the criminals respond to me now that I'm in my second year and a seasoned pro.

I left a message on his mother's answer-phone praising her son, and wrote an email to the Learning Support teacher who has spent the most time with him and knows him best. She replied asking me to come up and see her.

It turned out that AOB had earlier that day been suspended for five days for threatening to stab a teacher, that it had been presumed that he had run out of school at lunch time and that he had been expressly forbidden by the Principal from attending any lessons. His good behaviour and attendance in my class had not only been against the express instructions of the Principal and her Deputies, but had also been a carefully calculated 100 minutes of excellent behaviour.

Wednesday, 16 September 2009

Too true.

Am explaining the concept of gender to an eager class of Year 7s. Exceptionally, I switch into English:

Me: Who's heard of 'grammar'? What does 'grammar' mean?
G: It's like your mum's or your dad's mum.

Boom goes the dynamite.

Tuesday, 15 September 2009

Heard outside the school gates

Little Year 7 boy leaves the school gates.
Met by his older sister (?) in grey, white and gold matching hoodie and tracksuit, big hoop earings, muffin top, Croydon facelift, aged perhaps 17.

Sister: Y'aright!?
Boy: I got a merit today!
Sister: You're a right little geek! Well done! You gonna become a proper bod then?
Boy: (shrugging off her pinch to his cheek) No!
Sister: (to her mate) He makes me laugh!
She takes out a key.
Sister: Now listen, you've gotta take this key and let yourself in yourself today. Don't fucking lose this key cos I'm trusting you with my life. I've gotta go to the pub. When Mum comes home you have to fucking tell her that I brought you home first before I left, but me and Stacy have to go to the pub now so you make sure you go straight home yourself now, OK?
Boy: OK.
Sister: There's a sandwich in the fridge. Oh, and don't open the door to anyone, OK?
Boy: OK.
Sister: Give us a kiss then. (Hands him the key and walks off with her mate.) He makes me laugh!

Tuesday, 25 August 2009


Wedge - adj. strong, well-built, hench, buff...
e.g. Schwarzenegger is wedge.

"Nah man, I'm well wedge now, innit!"
"What does 'wedge' mean?"
"Allaiii, Sir, it means like strong, you know."
"Oh I see, and do you know why you use the word 'wedge'?"
"Um....cos it means hench?"
"No, why 'wedge' in particular?"
"What is a wedge?"
"Like a doorwedge?"
"Right. What shape is that?"
"And what shape is a wedge?"
"Yes. Like a strong person with broad shoulders tapering to the waist."
"Oh yeah! I geddit! Sir, you're so clever!"

No I'm not. I'm just being fastidious about irrelevant linguistic quirks.

Friday, 10 July 2009


Over the last few days:
1) one member of my form was assaulted and threatened with a knife.
2) another member of my form assaulted someone else with a gang and was suspended.
3) lots of kids cried when they watched Michael Jackson's funeral at home.
4) I gave out lots of chocolate because it's the end of term.

Tuesday, 30 June 2009

Maternal theme continued...

Kid 1: Your mum's so fat, when she turned over in bed her arse got burnt on the light bulb.

Kid 2: Sticks and stones may break my bones....
....and so does your mum when she sits on me.

Wednesday, 24 June 2009

Mum's the word

Today I achieved a milestone - I finally got called 'Mum' by a child.

Monday, 22 June 2009


Whenever anyone sneezes the cry goes out: "SWIIIIINE FLUUUU!!!" And that's the rest of the lesson ruined.

Saturday, 20 June 2009


Lots of them like to appear well 'ard. 'Arder than they really are. They do it by talking slang. Often to me -

Me: J, can you be quiet now please? I'm talking.
J: Allaiii, fam! I ain't even talkin'!
Me: Yes you were, now be quiet.
J: [Kisses teeth].

The other day I became rather tired of their slang and decided to spend the day talking back to the classes in their own style. I figure it's a language teacher thing. I would deliver the following instruction in a deliberately posh voice -

"Oi hush now, cuz. I've heard you talking for the last five minutes, blud. Man trying to give some instructions now, you get me? Jam your hype and hush your mouth, fam."

Much hilarity ensued. It probably distracted the adorable little children from the little work they were already doing, but it was funny at least. It also turned out to be an unusual, and therefore non-threatening, way of telling someone off for truanting. I caught RM and CD from my form running around outside of lessons when they shouldn't have been. I grabbed them both and said:

"Listen, bluds. I've clocked you both bunking for this lesson. You are both in bear trouble now fams."

Sunday, 14 June 2009

In the corridor

"Sir, who's the prime minister of England?"
"Who do you think? Take a guess."
"Barack Obama?"
"No. Guess again."
"Tony Blair?"
"Closer, but no. His name starts with G then B."
"George Bush?"
"No. His name is Brown."
"No it actually is 'Brown'."
"Prime Minister Brown."
"Yes. Do you know his first name?"
"It's Gordon Brown. Heard of him?"
"Oh yeah! I think so..."

Monday, 8 June 2009

A nasty incident

Last week a boy in my class of Nutters took a penny out of his pocket and, in a quiet lull, rolled it across the floor of the room and said aloud: "Let's see if there's any Jews in the room."

The mutterers among the Nutters shut up. Those doing their work looked up and fell silent. I couldn't help but hear him. "That's not acceptable," I said, "Get up, go and stand outside, you cannot stay in my classroom and I need to speak to you." 

The boy stood up and walked out, face flushing red as he realised that he was in trouble. 

But then, as he walked out he pointed at the penny and said to me, "Don't worry, Sir, it's for you. The penny is for you."

His racism is horrible, but unfortunately it is something that he has picked up from his peers. He is an immature boy who does not have many boundaries. I get on well with him outside of lessons, although he can prove a handful at times. In this instance, giving him the benefit of the doubt, I'm not sure that he was aware of how insulting his behaviour was. He was probably just trying to be disruptive and funny. But that in itself is a damning indictment of the casual racism, and especially antisemitism, bandied about the school.

He's being made an example of now, but something else needs to be done, something more systemic, to address what is a creeping malaise among the children.

Thursday, 4 June 2009

Mistaken Identity.

Me: So what motivates you to study?
CM: To get rich so that I can be rich.
JP: I don't study.
Me: What'll you do when you're rich?
CM: I'll buy a house. No I'll build a house like one of those massive ones.
Me: Right. And then what?
CM: I'll invest my money so that I can make even more money from it.
Me: In stocks and shares?
CM: No I'll invent something.
Me: So once you're rich you'll go back to your workshop and invent things?
CM: No I'll hire loads of people to invent things for me and then sell it for more money.
Me: So what'll happen when you've got billions, your family is set up for generations, you don't actually need any more money. What'll you do?
JP: Build a bigger house.
CM: I dunno...yeah build a bigger house.
Me: You could start a charity and give your money away like Bill Gates.
Blank looks.
Me: He's given away billions of money to charity. He says it's what motivates him now.
Blank looks.
Me: You do know who Bill Gates is, right?
Something stirs.
JP: Yeah...he's the richest man in the world?
Me: Something like that, yes. How did he make his money?
JP: Computers?
CM: UNNNEERGHH! No! He's the singer!
Me: ??
CM: Yeah...isn't he a singer or something?
Me: No, he's the inventor of Windows.
JP: Like I said - computers.
CM: I thought he was a singer on TV.
The penny drops.
Me: You're mistaking him with Gareth Gates.

     Gareth                             Bill

Tuesday, 2 June 2009


For the exam season: a few fun games to play while invigilating:

Battleships (with thanks to P-Dogg (20 Stone))
Use the individual desks in the exam hall as your grid. Draw out your battle ships. Fire shots at your partner's fleet by stationing yourself besides relevant student's desk. So Joe Bloggs sitting his English Paper at the top left of the hall will be square A1 and the student beside him will be A2 and the student behind him will be B1 etc.

Most likely to...
Go and stand behind the student who you and think is most likely to...
...end up in prison. etc
Your co-invigilator will do likewise and much hilarity ensues.

Time to let it all out. Drop your professional veneer of impartiality and let truth lead the way. Similar to the game above. Go and stand behind the student that... hate. find amusing. your pet. would like to fail.

Any other ideas?

Monday, 1 June 2009


I'm spending two days observing Modern Language teaching at another school similar to mine.

Ahh... the wonders of having a department that works together, that consists of teachers that don't bicker and whine and gossip behind each others' backs, but which form a team.

Co-ordination is key to good teaching. It's all very well being individually brilliant in the classroom, but you work much better when others around you work with you.

Positives include:
a) the sharing of resources
b) the sharing of ideas
c) dealing collectively with discipline problems
d) more fun
e) a higher profile for languages in the school
f) students across the same year group being set the same tests and the same homeworks.

Wednesday, 20 May 2009

Summer Haiku

How did I survive
coming, leaving in the dark?
I love the sunlight.

Tuesday, 19 May 2009

Monsieur est plus rapide que les garçons de la classe.

I'm teaching Form a topic called 'La Santé' and under the tenuous link of healthy living I took my Form out of the French class and onto the school playground and we did some running. First I split them into two relay teams and they raced each other. Then when they had finished I raced some of the fast boys across the length of the playground and beat them all. It looked something like this:

I admit the amount of French learning was minimal at the time, the 'intensity' of the lesson somewhat low, but I think it's worth it. Firstly, it's good to show a relaxed side to the class that they don't always see in the classroom. Secondly, it's an experience that I can bring back into the classroom to illustrate many different aspects of grammar:
1) Past tense (Monsieur a gagné)
2) Imperatives ("Cours!"/"Allez!"/"Arretez!")
3) Comparatives (Monsieur est plus rapide que les garçons de la classe.)
Finally, Sports Day is coming up on Friday and this lesson was of immense value in sorting out what our Form relay team will look like.

Monday, 18 May 2009

Creasing the spine.

Excuses made today to avoid reading:

It's boring.
It makes my head hurt.
The words start spinning.
I look at the words then the page goes white and I can't see.
I want to listen to music.
He threw crisps at me.
Can I make a PowerPoint about my book instead?

Some students find reading difficult, it's true, but other perfectly literate students spend too much time playing computer games and watching TV. Their brains aren't trained to concentrate on a page of text. 


I saw the cartoon below and thought it sums up well what I felt when I walked into school for the first time. To a certain extent I still do aspire to this!

Saturday, 16 May 2009

Grow up!

Yesterday T put his hand up to ask me if he could go out of the room to fart. He asked the question during a quiet lull and yet no-one laughed.

Naturally, I thought it hilarious.

For a moment time stood still and I realised that I was more immature than a class of Year 7s.

Monday, 11 May 2009


I asked my Enterprise class to review a book that they had read.
Here is a particularly interesting entry from one student:

Title: Man U
Author: Man U
Date read: --
What you liked: It was Man U
What you disliked: Wen they losst
How did it make you feel?: Happyness
Negative points: Non

MH is of Somali origins and wrote about a Darren Shan novel:
"I liked this because it is British."

I asked him why he liked it in particular for its Britishness. He replied in a jokey voice:
"Because it's not stinky Somali but it's British and I like British things because I like it here". 

Sunday, 10 May 2009


Today I read the entire School Policy document. Boy is that a lot of jargon! They never tell you that when you get into teaching. You think it's all going to be about opening fresh young minds to beautiful truths, and then you spend most of your days trying to figure out what Mastery Learning is, or Critical Pedagogy. 

I spent a good few moments trying to figure out why pupils are still talked about as 'low' or 'high' ability, when the school's philosophy clearly states that 'ability is not is cumulative'. I then had to enter grades into the school data system. At Key Stage 3 (11-14 year olds) all their work is marked in terms of 'levels' (e.g. In French you'd get a Level 3 if you can express an opinion, a Level 5 if you can use a past tense and so on). The problem is, however, that once a student has been awarded a level, he or she cannot then be moved down. It's yet another illogical feature of the current education system. It's a twisted logic: 

Premise 1: Ability is not fixed, but cumulative.
Premise 2: Levels are based on ability.
Conclusion: Levels are cumulative.

Where's the small-print like we get in bank adverts saying something like "The value of your ability can go down as well as up"!?

It's the same sort of illogic that led to the current timetable (and hence why we often have 2 hour lessons):

Premise 1: Lesson time is valuable and should be maximised.
Premise 2: Pupils mess around at breaktime which leads to loss of lesson time.
Conclusion: Limit the amount of breaktime available to students and keep in them in class longer.

Or why our lunch hour begins at 1.45 pm by which time the whole school is on edge with hunger.

Premise 1: Lesson time is valuable and should be maximised.
Premise 2: Lessons after lunch tend to be less productive than normal.
Conclusion: Make lunch as late as possible so that all lessons (bar 50 minutes) happen before lunch.

Worse still is the results-driven, league-table pressure that is forcing schools (thankfully not mine, although it manipulates statistics in other ways), to consider sneaky ways to get their students those magic 5 A*-C grades that help the school move up the national rankings. I heard recently of a school that is considering scrapping History, Humanity and Geography GCSEs in favour of only 1 RE GCSE (since religious education is compulsory) and offering an ICT qualification that is equivalent to 2 GCSEs. Together with the other 3 compulsory GCSEs (English, Maths and Science), that gives the students their 5, saves the school money, is easier to teach (since ICT is nearly entirely coursework) and looks good in the stats charts. Unfortunately it means that no student from that school would be able to take a History A-Level or become a historian.

Anyway enough about schools. Have a taste of something different.

Saturday, 2 May 2009

Learning Conversations

Every morning before registration I host something called 'learning conversations' for members of Form. My form are divided into groups of 4 or 5 and each group is designated to come on one day of the week to discuss their progress, difficulties and learning. Needless to say Form's attendance is patchy, but it's a chance to catch up with them more individually with the aim that none of them 'slip through the net'.

WS was particularly infuriating this week:

Me: Have you been doing any revision for your SAT exams?
WS: Yeah.
Me: What have you done?
WS: Revision.
Me: But I mean what subjects?
WS: I dunno.
Me: Maths? Science?
WS: Yeah.
Me: So what do you do when you revise?
WS: I dunno.
Me: Do you do revision at home or at school?
WS: I dunno.
Me: What revision techniques do you use? How do you make sure you remember everything?
WS: I revise.
Me: Yes, but what concrete things do you do?
WS: I do some revision.
Me: Do you read your books? Write notes? Do practise questions?
WS: I dunno.
Me: Are you sure you do anything?
WS: Yeah. I revise.
Me: Do you have a Maths textbook for example?
WS: No.
Me: Do you take your exercise books home?
WS: No.
Me: Do you draw mind-maps? Or do practice questions?
WS: No.
Me: So how can you revise if you don't have your textbooks or your exercise books?
WS: I dunno.
Me: So how are you preparing for your SATs?
WS: I revise.

Tuesday, 28 April 2009

All for one...

Much hilarity this week as One Vowel and P-Dogg (20 stone) are doing their Second School Placement at my venerable school. This is a week of shadowing and teaching which provides us trainees on the Teach First program with a taster of what life is like at another school. I'll do mine later in the term. I think.

They both teach at similar 'urban complex' schools in other parts of London, but in some aspects, the differences couldn't seem to be any greater. Our brand new, academy building is breathtakingly un-school-like and contrasts with P-Dogg (20 stone)'s split-site school where Years 7-9 are taught across the road from the rest of the students. Both have remarked on an apparent lack of clear discipline structure in the school. 

P-Dogg (20 stone): The kids don't notice you [the teacher] when they're running around. They just swear and fight anyway.

One Vowel seems more enamoured of the open-plan layout, waxing lyrical about a more relaxed atmosphere leading to more engagement from the students: In my lessons I'm stricter, but I don't think they learn as much. They just sit there..., he remarked as he observed my Year 7 Enterprise class write novels and paint masterpieces in what was a pretty normal lesson by my standards.

I've received some very valuable feedback though. Having your peers observe you teach and give feedback has two main outcomes for me. Firstly, I realise that we're all experiencing the same problems and successes. Secondly, it helps me combat a steady swell of apathy that threatens to overwhelm me when I encounter my umpteenth French class disrupted by bad behaviour from the same old individuals...I rouse myself: NO! I MUST follow up the bad behaviour! You've got to be cruel to be kind! To quote P-Dogg (20 stone):

Let's sit on them.

Sunday, 26 April 2009

Slaves to the machines

The computers were broken this week. Several types of panic ensued. 

Firstly, those teachers that actually need the computers for their classes (ICT and Graphics teachers for example) weren't able to teach.

Secondly, those teachers that are lazy and just let their classes play games on the computers all had to actually come to terms with restless kids unaccustomed to doing any work.

Thirdly, and this is where I'd classify myself, teachers were unable to access their resources for lessons. The move towards schools saturated with hi-tec gadgetry is a blessing and a curse. On the one hand, an Interactive Whiteboard is a wonderful resource tool for engaging students in whatever you're teaching them. It has the added benefit of saving the teacher the worry of turning his or her back on the class in order to write something up on the board since all can be projected at the flick of a switch. On the other hand, like this week, lessons end up relying on it, so when a technological glitch of any severity occurs, teachers have to innovate without a key resource!

No more showing clips of cool French things - like this (to teach 'il chante') or this (to teach 'il monte') - no more games of Splat the Board, Hangman or Bingo; no more legible fonts on colourful Powerpoint slides. 

Instead it was a week of textbooks, exercise books and match up cards....

....and it was No Bad Thing! I was happy over-all for how the classes behaved, albeit it worried that the computers breaking down would mean a loss of all my hard work and resources completed to date.

I needn't have worried. The computers are up and running and I can go back to showing my students YouTube clips all lesson.


Wednesday, 22 April 2009

School's in, sun's out!

A beautiful summer term has begun, much to the delight of all at the school. 

Warm weather brings out the best in all of us. We all wake up with ease at first light, children skip gayly to school, teachers discard coats and scarves for linen suits and summer frocks, pupils partake of picnicked packed lunches and all is good with the world.

One slight, unexpected snag:
The heat means I have to teach with my windows open. Outside my classroom is the smokers' corner. The smokers happen to be truants. Ergo, my classroom fills with smoke during lessons.

Yesterday I was forced into action. A Year 9 French lesson decended into a pantomime of choking and asthma attacks as the smoker-truants began doing what they do outside my window. My students scented the cloud of chaos and weren't going to let it drift past their, um, noses without puff...?

I decided it best to cut my losses and nip the problem in the bud. Out I strode from my classroom without much further ado to look for a senior member of staff who might be on duty and who would be able to clear the smokers' corner for me. Unfortunately no-one was about so I had to evict them myself. I rounded the corner of the building and walked down towards them. They were a small group of six teenagers, all White Working Class (as trendy demograp
hic analysis in the school terms them), all notorious truants in little semblance of school uniform, (faux?) gold necklaces, rings and earrings a-plenty. The scene went something like this:

Me: Gents, what are you doing here? You should be in class.
WWC1: Who the fuck are you?
WWC2: We're on a part-timetable so we're allowed to be here.
Me: You're not allowed to smoke and you're disturbing my lesson. You have to move.
WWC3 takes out an aerosol can of deodorant and starts spraying it onto the windows 
of my classroom. I can see all the Year 9s on the other side of the window watchin
g with avid glee.
WWC1: Oi come we go to his class then since he's disturbin' us. Let's boy 'im off - Sir, we're comin to your class. Come we go.
WWC2, 3, 4 start sniggering, but put their cigarettes out.
Me: If you don't move now I'll fetch a teacher that you do know and there will be consequences.
No reaction. I turn to go and fetch a teacher that they know. WWC5 spits at me, I think. I cannot be sure because I've turned my back, but I heard him spit, snigger and when I look round again they're smiling back at me. I carry on walking back to the school where I find an experienced and senior member of staff who goes out to deal with the matter. When I re-enter the class the Year 9s rush back to their seats and someone shouts out: "SIR GOT TOLD!!"

You win some, you lose some.


Incidentally - to "get told" or to "get boy'd off" is equivalent to being 'disrespected' or insulted.

Wednesday, 8 April 2009


Went to the Metropolitan Museum of Art today. Did not spend long, but had the luxury of paying whatever I wanted as an entry fee. 

Most impressed by Meketre's tomb - absolutely stunning models of his journey to the underworld (including lots of beer swilling lads rowing, fat cows and slaves), about 4000 years old, with the paint strokes and strings still visible! Imagine what a kick it was to discover possibly the oldest paintstrokes in history.

Tuesday, 7 April 2009

New York City

In New York for 10 days. Will probably not update my blog for a while. Arrived today after bureaucratic trouble with US Customs who, after a lot of posturing and huffing and puffing decided that The Neck and I were not a Trrrrr threat and were allowed in. Staying with The Chief in his appartment in Brooklyn.

My pedagogical point for the day? I think teachers deserve every second of their precious holiday.

Saturday, 4 April 2009

Allaaaaiii, let's be positive, fam!

So here are some good things that've gone down this term:

1) My year 7 footy team reached the cup final.
2) I became a form tutor, which I love doing.
3) I can plan my lesson much faster.
4) I've got better at working out why my lessons suck when they suck.
5) I've completed 2/3 of my first year of teaching !!!!!
6) I've realised that I'm good at talking to children and teenagers.
7) I've made some more friends among the other staff.

I'm sure there are other positives, but these spring to mind like a spring chicken on a springboard.

Yep, looking back on them, they're pretty much in some sort of 'order of priorities'.

Being a linguist, I've also made sure to acquire as much new language as possible. Here are a few words and phrases which I've learned over the last few months:

wasteman (noun) - generic derogatory term, non-gender specific although mostly used to insult boys. Roughly equivalent to what I used to call a chief in primary school. Year 7s think it's the worst insult ever invented and get really offended. All the other year-groups seem to use it willy-nilly. E.g.: "Abdi is a wasteman"; "You're such a wasteman, give me my Red Bull back."

allaaaaiii (verb, imperative) - a corruption of 'allow', meaning 'let it be' or 'permit me'. Also frequently used to express outrage or disbelief. E.g. "I want to sit there!"/"Allaaaaiii, I sat their first!"

Man (noun) - can replace any singular pronoun, be it first person, second person or third. Often used to replace a first or second person, thereby talking about oneself or one's interlocutor in the third person. E.g. "Man got ber homework today - a whole worksheet!"/"Shush! Man [i.e. 'you'] tinks he got ber homework! Ha! Man [i.e. 'me, on the other hand'] got ber courseworks to do! Dem courseworks are worse than the homeworks, bluuuuud!"

(verb) - to talk, to get excited, to chatter excitedly, to mouth off at someone. E.g. "He got a merit for French and he was ber hypin' at us but then Sir realised he made a mistake and took the merit away and he had to jam his hype, yagetmeh blud."

(adjective/adverb) - expression of quantity meaning 'lots of ', 'much', 'many'. Also used for emphasis. E.g. "Allaaaaiiii, I've got ber friends on Facebook!"/"Nah, mate, I've got ber more friends than you." or "Sir is ber safe!" or "Man got ber sim-cards and dem ber cheap - £5!"

(noun) - friends, family, 'mate'. E.g. "Nah listen, fam, I want beans with my chips, but no fish."

There are far more slang words too but these that I've included are a few from off the top of my head. Many of the words are Caribbean in origin, but all the children use them irrespective of race or background. I'd really like to do a big send up of it all - maybe a staff revue or something of that nature where the teachers have the opportunity to make fun of the students. They are so easy to caricature and immitate and this is in no small way due to their language and the way they choose to express themselves.

It makes for excellent comedy material (as Vicky Pollard and Lauren have shown us all already) when a social group has such a distinctive linguistic trait!

Thursday, 2 April 2009

What you don't know...

Yesterday I was meant to go to the Houses of Parliament with a group of Year 9s. The Principal thought it best that the trip be cancelled because of the protests surrounding the G20 summit. What a shame! The cancellation, however, wasn't made final until the morning of the trip. As we sat and waited in the school canteen, 15 teenagers and 2 teachers, LC pipes up and asks, "So what exactly are the Houses of Parliament?". R, who was leading the trip with me, answered her question with a question: "Have you heard of the GOV-ERN-MENT?"
LC: Yeah...
R: Well, that's where they govern from.
LC: But I thought the government lived.....lived in the White House.
No word of a lie!
R & I are speechless. The other children don't seem to think it was that odd an assumption to make.
Imagine if we had actually gone to the Houses of Parliament. 15 children would have learned something real that day! I'm starting to think that the value of trips cannot be overestimated.

Normal lessons were suspended for PSCHE day (I don't know what all the letters stand for: Personal, Social, C..., Health Education?). We all went to the local park for a trip instead which was nice because the sun was out.
In the afternoon I had an hour with my Form. I decided to have Circle Time with them instead of showing a video. We sat in a circle and I asked them about the G20 and if anyone knew who they were and why people were protesting. Among the speculative responses I got were:
- The G20 are a gang.
- The G20 are something to do with G-Unit.
- The protesters are having a riot for no reason.
- The protesters are angry with the police.
- The protesters are angry with the War in Iraq.
- The G20 are angry with the War in Iraq.

I tried to point them in the right direction by asking what recent events could have made people angry enough to protest. One girl worriedly asked if it was to do with Obama's election. Eventually someone shouted out "Credit Crunch"! That's more like it, I thought, before realising that if I felt my own knowledge of the ins and outs of the markets were sketchy, my Form's knowledge would be non-existent. Their awareness of the world outside their immediate circle of family, school and friends is minimal: based on a weird mix of media soundbites, random facts they remember from a lesson here and there, and perhaps a holiday they have been on. We had a jolly discussion, however, debating various things: from favourite holiday destinations, to what it meant to be rich, to what life was like in Afghanistan for W who moved here 2 years ago. I enjoyed the time to simply sit and have a constructive chat with my Form, many of whom I either spend most of my time chasing up for being naughty, or ignore while focussing on the naughty kids!

I cannot wait for the Easter break. Am running on empty at the moment!

Tuesday, 31 March 2009


So many of my lessons are disrupted by pupils insulting each other. Playing "cussing" games. They go something like this one from one of my Year 9 classes:

A: You're fat.
H: Your mum's fat.
A: Say that to my face.
H: Your mum's fat.
A: Shut up, at least I've gotta mum. And she's not a whore.
Me: If you both don't stop now you're in detention.
A: But she called my mum fat!
H: But he called my mum a whore!
A: No I didn't, she's a liar, Sir!
H: You're a wasteman. Siiiiir, can you send him out?
A: Allaaai...jam your hype, bluuud!
ad infinitum...

In the mean time the whole class is distracted: some by the cussing match, some by cussing matches of their own, yet others (and these I feel guilty about because I let them down) have actually finished the work that I've set and, seeing me tied up with the slanging match elsewhere in the classroom, start doodling in their exercise books, chatting or reading something irrelevant like a magazine.

What's the solution to this? It seems that keeping the kids busy is a key element of any lesson that I want to go peacefully and without incident. But there's more to it: they have to have their heads down. You see, the Senior Management Team in their Infinite Wisdom saw it Fit and Proper to build a school with desks that could not be moved from their position in the floor. My desks are screwed into a horseshoe shape around the room which has two major drawbacks. Firstly, every child is in everyone else's line of vision. Secondly, two thirds of the class are not facing the board. There are other disadvantages; I cannot make group work easier, for instance, by grouping tables and chairs together. So if the children are keeping their heads down - working with materials on their desks as opposed to looking up to the board for guidance all the time - they will be less likely to catch sight of each other and start cussin'.

Monday, 30 March 2009

Cup Final Defeat.

Unfortunately the Year 7s lost in the Cup Final today. Shame. Some of them had never had so many people turn up to watch them play football before - including all the heads of year, the Principal, their parents, the parents of the opposition and their classmates.


Do any other teachers feel like they ever get worse!? I was discussing this with One Vowel the other day - he feels the same. I tried to justify this feeling by suggesting that it's merely our standards which have risen, but ultimately I'm conscious of not being as effective now as I felt I was earlier in the year.

I think long-term planning is the key: to give one a feeling of being in control. It's probably even worth showing the kids the long term plan so that they feel its relevance to each lesson....

Hmm...anyway, 4 days until the Easter break.

Here's your French lesson for today:

Sunday, 29 March 2009


"You think you're so gangsta!"
"Oh my dayz, no waaaay. Seriously, you've gotta understand, der's gangstaz and der's people dat say der gangsta. People dat say der gangsta are like rappers and film stars but it's not true cos real gangstaz spend most of der time in prison. I haven't spent any time in prison and I'm already eleven, so how could I be a gangsta?"

This erudite analysis came from J, a podgy son of a Congolese immigrant who is in my Enterprise class. (I teach one class of Enterprise for four lessons a week. It's a skills-based subject, mainly ICT and group-work, which is fun to do since preparation required for it is minimal and the class of Year 7s are lovely.) If only all the kids took such a mature and sensible approach to "being a gangsta". Despite his analysis, J was wearing his New Era hat backwards, a new hoodie and trying hard to look really hard and menacing towards people who caught his eye as he waited for the bus home, me included, until he recognised me and broke into an involuntary grin and awkwardly started playing with his hat. Then his self-possession returned and he cooly informed his mate while jerking his thumb over his shoulder in my direction, that I was his Enterprise teacher and I was "safe". Sweet. Dat gangsta'z got my back den....

There was a lot of furore recently (it still resurfaces in the British press every now and again) about "hoodies". Playing on our fears of Deatheaters, Old Father Time, highwaymen and ewoks we are told to beware of these hooded yobs who are there to terrorise us and make life a misery. I'm sure that there's an element of truth in a lot of the stuff that's been spouted about young people in the course of the 'hoodies'-debate (if you can call it that), but it doesn't interest me. What I do find interesting is how much the media furore then bounces back to affect the very kids that it's talking about. Commentators try to extrapolate some sort of truth about young people. Their truth is filtered and distilled by the media to form headlines and soundbites; it is picked up on by politicians and TV presenters, generalised until it's meaningless and then fed back to those same young people through daytime television and stories in the Metro. The very same young people then start to think that they really are "hooded menaces" - they have been given an identity, albeit a negative one, and revel in a sort of 'everybody hates us, we don't care' mentality. Exactly the same problem has arisen with the extensive coverage of knife crime among young people. Someone gets stabbed, the media springs into overdrive, young people watch TV and start to think that every other young person out there is carrying a weapon and therefore make sure to go and arm themselves. It reminds me of that bit in the Matrix when Neo met the Oracle:

Oracle: I'd ask you to sit down, but, you're not going to anyway. And don't worry about the vase.
Neo: What vase?
[Neo turns to look for a vase, and as he does, he knocks over a vase of flowers, which shatters on the floor]
Oracle: That vase.
Neo: I'm sorry...
Oracle: I said don't worry about it. I'll get one of my kids to fix it.
Neo: How did you know?
Oracle: Ohh, what's really going to bake your noodle later on is, would you still have broken it if I hadn't said anything?

Wednesday, 25 March 2009


JK is a fluent French speaker, whose father is French-African. He is, in many ways, typical of the French speakers we have at my school: African origins, certain regional/Belgian idiosyncrasies (especially for those students of Congolese descent), a vocabulary limited sometimes to simple domestic French, perfect comprehension of the teacher but a scarce understanding of grammar. Actually that last point applies to nearly all the students in the school.

Today JK decided that he would listen to music in my lesson. He also came in 10 minutes late, without a pen, in incorrect uniform and did no work. I must confess that in previous lessons I had let him get away with listening to music on those rare occasions that he chose to do some work, but today my lesson had actually got off to a good start and I did not want to compromise again.

The upshot of the inevitable confrontation was that he had to leave the classroom. He came to see me at the end of the day to apologise. I'm pretty sure that his form tutor prompted him to. Perhaps, however, he still dimly remembers last week when I phoned his father to complain about his behaviour and he had been told that he wasn't going to football training until his behaviour improved. For a hyperactive student like him it was torture, yet he forced himself to survive the whole two hours of double French so as not to run the risk!

When he came to apologise I sat him down and taught him the lesson that he'd missed due to his lateness and bad behaviour. Suddenly, his illiteracy in French became starkly, brutally clear. The boy cannot connect the letters on the page with the sounds they make and this makes him feel so inadequate that he spends most of my lessons trying to start fights with his otherwise diligent and sensible classmates. I remember being told by a friend who teaches in Manchester that she found out how low literacy nearly always equates to bad behaviour. Can't do turns into won't do which leads to trouble: frustration on behalf of both teacher and pupil is the frequent result!

It's a difficult situation, but it can be dealt with. It's a matter of differentiating for his ability. Giving him single words to read to start with, before expecting him to cope with a whole text. Encouraging him one-on-one, then giving him the chance to play to his strengths: to lead speaking and listening activities and to show off his oral skills. It's not simple, but he might have to become a 'pet project'....Oh la la! C'est dur la vie!

Tuesday, 24 March 2009

Video lessons...yay!

I showed my Form La haine yesterday and today. I teach them on Mondays and Tuesdays. They used to be my most dreaded lessons, but now the Nutters on Thursdays and Fridays have taken on that mantle. I was so tired from the trip to Paris and the sponsored walk that dominated my weekend, that I decided it would be admissible to spend a day showing videos. For anyone who hasn't seen it, La haine is a wonderful film, made in 1995 by Mathieu Kassovitz in response to the heavy rioting that took place in the suburbs of large French cities between unemployed youths of immigrant decent and the French police force. It was a hard-hitting, controversial film that portrayed the police as occasional torturers guilty of malicious brutality, the bourgeoisie as insensitive and out of touch, and the youths of the banlieue as disenfranchised, geographically and emotionally 'on edge', and stuck in a vicious cycle of violence and a constant struggle for respect. My students who have seen this film (not only the Form, but Year 10 as well) seem to relate to the three characters at the centre of the drama and I think they enjoy finding out that France is not necessarily defined and limited to their textbooks: they discover another side to the country whose language they have been studying that they did not know existed.

In general, teachers are obviously advised not to do "video lessons." They are a cop out - a lazy way of teaching. This advice is, of course, true. But a well-used video can have an impact that few media can rival. In my own education, for instance, I remember very well the Religious Studies lessons when we were discussing medical ethics while watching Gattaca, and the added impact that a storyline, emotional involvement with characters and moving images bring to a point of discussion.


I think that I have finally found something that F, from the Form, is actually good at: every morning I have a weekly volunteer check the other form members for correct uniform and equipment. F, a pupil whose (single) mother works two jobs, is often unsupervised in his spare time. This, coupled with a presumably absent father and an older brother whose main hobby is pursuing girls, means that F lacks self discipline of any sort. He is prone to being late, messing about in nearly all lessons, fighting and rudeness, but this week he is my volunteer and he has put his heart and soul into enforcing the dress code, into verifying whether the class have the correct equipment for the school day and, what is more, is far more effective than me in doing so! He puts on his "teacher voice" and mimics me in the process, but it seems to work so I'm happy!


Three boys from Year 7 were suspended from school for 5 days for bringing a knife into school yesterday. I teach them all and know that they were just being silly, but the very fact that they thought it would be funny to do that is worrying. It suggests that aged eleven they are already steeped in what they perceive to be "street life", this stupid urban culture that thinks it's cool/tough/necessary to carry a weapon. I hope that they will learn their lesson, but since one of them lives with his teenage sister and 14 year-old brother while his parents are living in Angola, I wonder where the 'damn good thrashing' is going to come from.

Sunday, 22 March 2009


This has been a very busy weekend. I'm too tired to write anything long and will have to reflect on all my experiences later this week.

On Saturday our difficult-to-organise, 'against-all-odds' Mission Impossible to Paris passed off without too much of a hitch. 19 year 10s and year 11s were taken from North London to Paris, then around Paris, then shopping in Paris and then back to St Pancras International. For some it was an eye-opener, for others a chance to taste freedom from strict parental homes, for others yet it was an occasion to practise some French and savour the experience. For one girl it was a chance to be interrogated by French Passport Control.

Today, I participated in the Bridges to Africa sponsored walk across 10 bridges in the middle of London. Together with a few other teachers we took 40 Year 10, 8 and 7 students and had a lovely day in the sunshine by the river. A few highlights included:

T: Sir, when do we actually reach London? (as we walk through the City)


Me: Indicating the Houses of Parliament. Do you know what that is?
D: Big Ben.
Me: Yes, but what about the rest of the building - Big Ben is the clock and the bell.
D:...the BBC?...
S: No! That's where the Queen keeps her jewels!
Me: Not quite, that's the Tower of London. You'll see it later.
S: It's probably some museum.
Me: It's the Houses of Parliament. Do you know what happens there?
D: It's where there are people like Labour and stuff.
S: But I thought the Queen lives in London.
Me: She does, but she lives in another palace.
D: It's good that England has all these old buildings otherwise we wouldn't have any tourists, innit Sir?
Me: I suppose so.
D: I know it is. Sir, do you know why England is famous? It's because of all the old buildings and our hills.
I didn't know what he meant or how to reply.

B: Grabbing my arm. Oh Sir, set me some crisps!
Me: If you ask me politely.
B: Sir, please set me some crisps!

I think that trips are very important for an education. I'm sure it's obvious why so I'm going to go to sleep now. Good night.

Friday, 20 March 2009

Professional judgement.

You cannot deny that anti-Semitism is quite prevalent where I teach. Today a student was busy insulting another one by calling him "Jew". I quickly sought to terminate the exchange of insults between her and him, with him calling her a "tramp" and her calling him "Jew", and then she shouted out across the whole class the phrase: "Of course he can afford (new clothes)...all Jews have loads of money!" There was silence in the classroom and I was too shocked to respond. A teacher has to make split second decisions throughout his or her lessons - it's your professional judgement which is engaged at a split second's notice. At any moment something shocking or unexpected might happen. All the students involved are going to serve a detention with me next week. But hearing such pig-ignorance, such racism, being bandied around the classroom makes me feel like something more needs to be done. You could say it wasn't the most pleasant aspect to my day!

Au moins, demain on part à Paris pour la journée avec les classes de GCSE!

Thursday, 19 March 2009

The Purist

I give you now Professor Twist,
A conscientious scientist,
Trustees exclaimed, "He never bungles!"
And sent him off to distant jungles.
Camped on a tropic riverside,
One day he missed his loving bride.
She had, the guide informed him later,
Been eaten by an alligator.
Professor Twist could not but smile.
"You mean," he said, "a crocodile."
- Ogden Nash.

Is this poem chauvinist?


In other news, the Year 7 B team steam rolled their opposition to win 11-1. Such an emphatic victory was due nearly entirely to the tactical brilliance of their manager who used the rolling substitutions to his advantage, keeping the attackers fresh well into the second half, by which time the opposition's defence had had enough and a game which had until then been relatively even swung firmly into our favour with a flurry of goals (including 5 for NL) that sealed the points.

Wednesday, 18 March 2009

Back-handed compliment.

"So Sir," asks M from my Form as I escort him out from his ICT lesson in which he is persistently and calmly ignoring everything the teacher has asked him to do in favour of wandering about annoying the others, breaking equipment and then complaining about how much the teacher is winding him up. "Sir, you're going to be our form tutor until the end of the year, right?"
"Yes, M, that's right."
"No offence, yeah, but that's rubbish."
"Why do you say that?"
"Well, I mean, when you were just our French teacher it was cool because we only saw you twice a week..."
He's being sincere and not intending to be rude. I can't see where he's heading with this one.
"Well, Sir, what I mean is that we kind of andIdon'tmeanthisinanweirdway missed you, so we looked forward to the lessons more, but now that we see you every day it's bate."
This takes me a second to figure out. 'Bate' is a pejorative adjective.
"Thanks, M?"
The delights of making a difference!


GCSE group. Waiting for silence. Again.
C: Sir you're always moany these days. You used to be nice.
Maybe if you shup up once in a while, or attempted your coursework, or came on time at least occasionally or didn't insult me in front of the rest of the class then I wouldn't have to moan at you. Till then get used to it....hoooold it...such rhetoric wouldn't help matters. Also, it would be pointless moaning.
Me: Thank you, C. Now please remember to bring your passports for the trip on Saturday.
C: Whatever, Sir! See-ya!


I think that teaching is most often thankless. You have got to get enjoyment from the actual process because you cannot expect acknowledgement from the pupils for the hours and hours you put into their education. You also have to have some intrinsic motivation: a deep-seated desire to do something good. I spent 12 hours in school today and then had to plan for a further hour and a half at home. Thinking back, I don't believe that I even realised teachers planned until I reached sixth form and had a young history teacher who was noticeably learning the course herself as she taught it to us. Until then I thought, as most of my pupils surely do now, that the teacher just rocked up and talked about the same things they always did and, moreover, that their lessons just flowed from somewhere inside them without hours of painstaking preparation. Actually "thought" is an overstatement. I never even posed myself the question as to where the lessons came from!

Tuesday, 17 March 2009

Parents' Evening

Enter pupil X + Parent(s).
"Hi, Hi I'm Not A Textbook, I'm X's French teacher. Nice to meet you."
Shake hands. Sit. Parent(s) smiling and nodding.
"Hello X, how are you?"
"Why don't you kick us off, X? What do you think about French? What do you enjoy, what do you find difficult."
"How's your speaking? Your reading? Your writing? What do you like doing in lessons?"
"I like the games."
"That's right, the games are fun, but you have to remember that sometimes you have to be quiet and not chat to your friends, isn't that right?"
"Good, so basically I'm happy with X's progress, (s)he's on course to achieve his/her targeted grades. We just have to focus on eliminating your tendency to chat with your friends, isn't that right? Do you have any other questions?"
Parent keeps smiling and nodding.
"So do you have any other questions?"
Pupil translates to parent in Pashtu/Cantonese/Gujarati/Somali.
"X! Why didn't you tell me your parent(s) doesn't understand. Have you translated everything?"
No you haven't. "Okay thank you for coming. I must move you on now I'm afraid because I have so many others to talk to. See you tomorrow!"
Shake hands. Stand. Parent(s) still smiling and nodding.

Repeat x 40 for 3 hours.
I wonder what difference it will make to my lessons...

Monday, 16 March 2009

On reputation

There are two main problems for me a term and a half into my initial teaching year. Firstly, I have to live with the mistakes of my first term and secondly I still care too much. Let me explain.

Those qualifying as teachers on the PGCE program will change their placement school half-way through the academic year. This is ostensibly to grant them a wider experience and broaden their approach to education. Practically, however, it is a handy opportunity for the PGCE student to run away from certain unavoidable failures that they will have inevitably experienced as they led their first few lessons; failures of discipline, planning, structure from which they will now have learned a lot, but which had already left the students with a strong first impression of a perhaps incompetent, somewhat unconfident, stressed or nervy teacher. In their second placement school the PGCE teacher walks into his or her first lesson with a smile, a firm but fair disciplinary code that is enforced consistently and impartially, a well-prepared lesson that might even contain elements of something that had been taught at his or her first placement school and he or she will give the impression of a confident, calm, business-like teacher which will subsequently create a more positive impression on their pupils.

Not so for us poor Teach Firsters. (I generalise.) The unconfident, incomptent and stressed lot is ours. It went on for a whole term - give or take a few classes which we started feeling good about earlier on. It is against this residual impression that we have to fight now at this stage of the year; now, when we start feeling like lesson planning isn't the dreaded weight it used to be, when we begin to have vague ideas about jargony things like attainment levels, target grades, behaviour management and differentiation we are continually frustrated in our attempts to have a quiet, cooperative or engaged class. What a misfortune! We feel like we have improved: we have got a handle on what we feel to be key concepts, crucial to our success as a teacher, we feel like progress is just round the corner....but kids like my Nutters, or my Form seem, with their behaviour, to place a trip wire across our path just as we are about to lead them along it in the quest for knowledge, sending us flying, with our differentiated tasks in hand, only to land in a heap, buried under our own scaffolding.

What is stopping them from seeing that I'm not a crap inexperienced teacher any more, but I actually know what I'm doing these days? It's can't be my personality can it? Of course there are students who dislike me, but most of them don't seem to mind me and some I'm sure like me - we can chat quite amicably outside in the corridor or the playground, I know their names, they greet me cheerily sometimes of their own volition. Is it still my lessons perhaps? But no! It cannot be that either: I know my classes very well, I have taken time to get to know their academic habits even better, I have spoken to other teachers who teach them, I have read books and articles on language teaching, on teaching special needs, on behaviour strategies, I have experimented with hugely entertaining activities, with games, with detentions, with phone-calls home, with individual tasks, with class activities, with paired activities. I'm pretty confident that I pitch the work at the correct level for nearly every student in my class.

What is it then that still leaves me with this feeling of frustration and dissatisfaction? I think it's a couple of things. Firstly, and most obviously, I can still improve my planning, delivery, structure and pedagogy in general. But secondly, and most frustratingly, I am still clawing back against those first few weeks in The Deep End, against that residual unconfident, incomptent and stressed impression that they all got of me at the start.

That second problem of 'caring too much' is an odd one. I think maybe what I mean is that I feel like I've let my guard down, dropped the 'veil of mystery' which perhaps a teacher should retain when dealing with students. I definitely don't set out to be the pupils' Friend. That is clearly the weakest and stupidest approach to take with teenagers whom you don't know and who don't know you! But rather I forget sometimes that I'm a figure of authority and I am not obliged to be as friendly as I know I sometimes am. I don't think it's a bad thing at all - it's probably a strength of mine because it means that I do not have to put in a lot of effort into working out how to talk to youngsters since it comes naturally. However, I haven't got the balance quite right yet. I get drawn into their world every now and again and if anything it helps keep alive this residual impression of me being an inexperienced and ultimately 'soft' teacher.

As Cassio puts it:

Reputation, reputation, reputation! O, I have lost
my reputation! I have lost the immortal part of
myself, and what remains is bestial. My reputation,
Iago, my reputation!

Completely unrelated, but recently enjoyed:

After Apple-Picking

My long two-pointed ladder's sticking through a tree
Toward heaven still,
And there's a barrel that I didn't fill
Beside it, and there may be two or three
Apples I didn't pick upon some bough.
But I am done with apple-picking now.
Essence of winter sleep is on the night,
The scent of apples: I am drowsing off.
I cannot rub the strangeness from my sight
I got from looking through a pane of glass
I skimmed this morning from the drinking trough
And held against the world of hoary grass.
It melted, and I let it fall and break.
But I was well
Upon my way to sleep before it fell,
And I could tell
What form my dreaming was about to take.
Magnified apples appear and disappear,
Stem end and blossom end,
And every fleck of russet showing clear.
My instep arch not only keeps the ache,
It keeps the pressure of a ladder-round.
I feel the ladder sway as the boughs bend.

And I keep hearing from the cellar bin
The rumbling sound
Of load on load of apples coming in.
For I have had too much
Of apple-picking: I am overtired
Of the great harvest I myself desired.
There were ten thousand thousand fruit to touch,
Cherish in hand, lift down, and not let fall.
For all
That struck the earth,
No matter if not bruised or spiked with stubble,
Went surely to the cider-apple heap
As of no worth.
One can see what will trouble
This sleep of mine, whatever sleep it is.
Were he not gone,
The woodchuck could say whether it's like his
Long sleep, as I describe its coming on,
Or just some human sleep.

- Robert Frost (1914)