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)

Sunday, 15 March 2009

Good form.

I was given the chance to become a Form Tutor half-way through this year which is relatively unusual since it's customary for a teacher to get their form only once they have achieved QTS. At first I was worried that it might prove to be too much of a burden, since a teacher's first year on the job is notoriously hard work without the added responsibility of a form group.

But now I am extremely glad that I have taken it on. For two main reasons. Firstly, my class are also one of my Year 9 French groups and being their form tutor gives me a chance to get to know them better and to build up a relationship with them outside the classroom which will hopefully benefit both me and them when we step back into a French setting.

Secondly, tutoring and mentoring is a genuine pleasure for me and reminds me daily why I became a teacher in the first place. It's actually fun to lead a group of teenagers, listen to them, speak with them, teach them and learn from them. They come from very different backgrounds: some come from London and their parents went to this same school (albeit in the days before it became Blair's Baby/Adonis' Adornment). Others are from Somalia, the Congo, North Africa, the Caribbean or Central America. Among the languages spoken are French, Yorubo, Spanish, Creole, Somali, Pashtu, Portuguese and Arabic. Like a lot of groups of students in the school they are "lively" (read: ill-disciplined and loud) and so it is a struggle to impose any sort of constructive routine on their chaotic dynamic.

The Senior Management Team (SMT) in their Infinite Wisdom saw it Fit and Correct to remove a traditional 'form period' from the school timetable. Instead we have individual conversations with groups of 4 or 5 students at a time each day. Over the course of the week I spend one-on-one time with every member of my form. There is one huge benefit to this system but also one drawback. The positive, clearly, is that I am given the chance to forge a mentoring relationship with each individual pupil. However the glaring absence of structured 'form time' has left the school with a major problem: lack of assemblies.

There is no regular meeting of each year group and concurrently no real sense of community or positive group spirit as could be fostered by regular assemblies where rewards are given out for dramatic performance, academic achievement or sporting success, where a single, unified message could be transmitted to an entire year group in one go. Sometimes this is precisely what is needed: there is a lack of school buses so most students will take the regular public bus home. A scrum of loud and often rude students forms at each bus stop and they flood onto the buses with little heed for the 'general public'. This became quite a serious problem recently, and an assembly was called as an extreme measure to ensure that all the students received the same message! How much better if an assembly were to be a regular occurence and the transmission of important messages factored into the school day. Instead children had to be pulled out from lessons in order to be sat down in the gym and shouted at for crowding the buses.

I love the weekend. Time to enjoy the sunshine.

Saturday, 14 March 2009

Underground Rebel Fucking Bingo.

That's right, folks. You've guessed it! I am the proud owner of a khaki green all-in-one-sleeping-bag-suit obtained yesterday at Underground Rebel Bingo. Tom Thumb is as green with envy as the green suit itself, but I owe him one, since it was his invitation to the aforementioned bingo that placed me in pole position for acquiring the item in the first place.

All other news now pales into insignificance. Except for the minor fact that The Blonde got a job, which is thrilling.

I'm going to be the hottest kid on the block, the man about town, the IT girl, the One To Watch, the Oscar winner, the Mojo, the Mover and the Shaker when I move my moneymaker in this green badboy. This veritable pinnacle of sleeping-bag design.

Just have a look at the picture. Notice the freedom of movement, the energy the bag brings to its occupant. See how the gentleman in the periwinkle blue suit is able to stand arms akimbo, confronting his worst nightmares secure in the knowledge that he is essentially bomb-proof. Witness the similarly confident pose of the man in khaki green, gazing up into the middle distance and contemplating the near limitless possibilities the suit now affords him. And the man in yellow is demonstrating just how fucking extreme your motion can be. Your mind is perplexed, bamboozled; you ask yourself the question you never dared to ask before. Is this a sleeping bag I can dance in?!!?

Daaaaamn straight. I just moonwalked in mine.

Friday, 13 March 2009

Reality bites.

The other day my Year 8s, the same Nutters as from the last post, were writing letters to their French pen pals. It's amazing how well they engage as soon as they feel that the work they're doing is real. Some of them were even asking questions about the work!

I'm on the Teach First scheme. In the summer of 2008 we had six weeks training which involved practical exercises, theory, lectures and seminars, socialising, observing and the odd party. At one lecture, a talk was given by an experienced teacher who had taught in tough urban schools for many years. He spoke at some length about students from disadvantaged backgrounds: about their lack of motivation, about their low expectations for themselves and about their background often meaning that a good education was low on their respective priority lists. It was up to the teacher, he said, to reach out and grab the students' attention. To make their subject relevant, real, and convince the pupils that what they were studying was going to help them in "real life". It was the key message of his talk: Make It Real. At the time, with my teaching experience limited to 2 lessons at my placement schools where I had mainly been doing observations, I thought I'd understood what he meant and thought nothing more of it. Instead I focused my energies on copying the gentleman's loud and exuberant speaking style and his Caribbean twang, much to the amusement of One Vowel and The Greek.

After a term and a half, his message finally clicked for me in this lesson. The Nutters were using their French to write to a 'real life' person, living in a 'real' country, actually speaking, reading and writing in the language that they had been cooped up in school for a year and a half trying to learn! The questions were flying in from all parts of the room:
"Monsieur, how do I start a letter in French?"
"Sir, will they actually understand all this French?"
"Sir, how do I say 'if you are a fit bird, send me your MSN'?"
There's nothing quite like the euphoria experienced by a struggling teacher when suddenly, often unpredictably, it all comes together: you've somehow tricked the bloody kids into doing the bloody work. And enjoying it?! Well let's not get ahead of ourselves, I still had a scuffle or two to sort out, and a few of the pupils logged onto their computers and decided to play computer games, but they all did what they had to do!

Kids say the darndest things: I told B that in French his name was "Guillaume". He looked at me quizzicly, asked me to write it down on paper, scratched his head then shouted out to R:
"Hey R, check this out...I've got some next name in French - Goo-ill-aw-me!"

Thursday, 12 March 2009

Most embarrassing moment (so far).

"Oh, oh, tell us a funny story. Funny stuff must happen in school every day! I remember when I was at school we got up to so many pranks - it was hilarious! What's the funniest thing that's ever happened to you?"

Um...well there was this one time, Year 8 (nutters) last lesson on a Friday, they walk in after lunch break and there'd been three fights involving members of the class, they were sweaty, angry, loud...looking back it was a recipe for disaster. I was being Observed by an External Observer as part of my training and had planned a perfectly pitched, creative, differentiated lesson that was going to blow her mind. I felt tired from the late hours spent planning the night before, but I also felt slick.

It all started to go wrong from the moment the children entered, really. The lesson was on morning routine - "Le matin". Over the course of the opening 20 minutes things got more and more hectic. At any given point, mini tornados of chaotic behaviour were breaking out at random in different parts of my classroom. C and R were wrestling each other, B was chucking a pencil at A, but hitting T instead, T thought it was A who did it because A laughed so she lobbed something at him, but he dodged her missile so it hit MM instead. The latter screamed for Sir and once again blamed A and so it went on. I valiantly ploughed on with my lesson, conscious with every passing chaotic second that the Observer was noting something down in her Log, looking up at me over her specs before scowling round the room. She later explained to me that her stern looks were meant to scare the kids into some semblance of decent behaviour, but at the time they terrified me, while having no noticeable effect on the Year 8s whatsoever.

In order to comprehend the acute embarrasment that followed you need to picture two things. Firstly, in previous lessons I had used a football terrace-style chant to teach basic vocabulary and to keep the class together as one group. Along the lines of:
Sir: When I say 'rouge', you say 'red'. ROUGE!
Class: RED!
Class: RED!
Secondly, in this lesson I was determined to teach French in French! Teaching in Target Language as it's called requires lots of acting, gesturing, questioning and dynamism to stop pupils from zoning out. So as part of the 'morning routine' lesson, I physically demonstrated je me douche, je me lève, je m'habille...and in the course of the last of these I'd left my jacket on my chair and now strode around the classroom-cum-bombsite in shirtsleeves, putting out fires as best I could, getting more and more flustered and panicked with each incident.

It then followed, that I ran over to K, relieved that a pupil had a legitimate question about the actual work that I had set. While leaning over the desk to help her I heard B pipe up behind me:
B: Hey!...Sir's got a sweaty back...
pause while the cogs turn

B: When I say sweaty, you say back. SWEATY!
Class: BACK!
Class: BACK!

The difference in perspective from the two sides of the classroom really is staggering sometimes. Neither B nor Year 8 remember the incident, while it's clear it will remain with me for a long time to come. And yet I probably do certain things in the course of exercising my responsibilities and my authority of which I am blissfully unaware, but which are magnified in the children's minds and will also not be forgotten for quite a while!