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 an...er...opportunistic 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!