The Blackboard Jungle

days spent beating back the seeds of doubt

Wednesday, March 31, 2004

I wandered into the local library on my way home, as I knew one of my tutor group would be doing his Work Experience in there, and had already been given a glowing report.
In the reading rooms, I bumped into several of my tutor group students, waiting to meet Adam for the walk home, all bursting with pride about how grown up they were, how responsible, how the simplest tasks seemed important because they were being treated as adults. 14 is young to be doing work experience, I guess - we've had some phone calls from worried bosses wondering why their student hasn't spoken for two day's solid. You have to explain that the kid may not often have been left alone in a room full of grown ups he doesn't know before, much less been asked to answer a telephone.

Needing a second form of ID to join the library, I attempted to pass Adam off as a guarantor of all my books and fines, with some success.
The librarian, who struck me as a gentle, dishevelled type in his early forties, dressed very practically in a librarian's uniform of corduroy elbow patches and hush puppies, chatted to me about how mature Adam had seemed when dealing with customers.
"He was called 'the man' today. A young mum asked her little girl to 'give those books to the man'."
I must have looked nonplussed, as he decided to let me a bit further into his world. "You probably don't realise, but it's an important day in a boy's life when he gets called 'the man' for the first time. Makes you feel taller. I had to wait till I was 32 myself."

Tuesday, March 30, 2004

It's Work Experience time of year again, and the staff have been issued edicts from on high:
organise supervisory visits to all students within the first three days;
fund all costs of getting there and back;
not all go out on those 350 visits in 3 days at the same time;
get back in time to teach the lesson they said they'd teach (this is in London, on a terror alert, using public transport - are they completely bonkers?);
not have any fun doing it, please.

Hm. Personally I love this one - what other job allows you to go see what it's like to be a lawyer, a printer, a chartered surveyor, work at the Ritz, or the London Aquarium, try out handling a busy hospital reception for a day? If this sort of experience were stipulated, it'd cost the government billions to provide.

But it also reminds you how parochial and hemmed in we become at our jobs after a while. The employment consultant who rams you onto hold without warning, then barks dismissive responses at you as if you're not really human, or are somehow begging for their attention. The maitre d' who will be there for you, ready for you, happy to oblige at a moment's notice - whatever moment you so choose. The bank who want to ring you back, until you patiently explain that this school has one grubby telephone per 220 members of staff, and no direct lines; no they won't be able to get back to you. Nor is there a fax by the desk. No, we don't have e-mail. We don't have computers, actually. There are some in the library, but hotmail is blocked, and the Powers That Be don't want us to have OE email inboxes. So no, you have to respond now, not in ten minutes time when another bell might ring, another fight might start, another thirty kids might rush through the door, and my day will change radically and suddenly yet again.

Like I said, it's a privilege to be able to break out of it once a year and see that this lifestyle is unusual. And, actually, a damn sight more fun than most jobs.

Monday, March 29, 2004

Attempting to stem the tides of 'fuck', 'shit', and, inevitably, 'fuck this shit' in the classroom, without getting a rep for sending every bloody kid to stand in the hallway of shame, last year I developed the more nannyish admonishment: 'uh-uh, watch your language, it's Fudge or Sugar'.
Kids loved telling each other off, and giggling at someone in a total blue funk wanting to curse the heavens and bewail their outcast fate (okay, say 'shit') and being forced to interpolate the saccharinely inoffensive 'sugar' instead. But if someone really wants to piss you off, they're just going to go ahead and tell you to fuck off as normal.
So this year, in desperation, I invented a charity swear box. In absolute despair of ever getting five pee for the swear box, it was wholly fictional, but allowed me to tell kids off in a moral code they understood - cheating the charity of five pee is wrong - rather than one they didn't - that 'f' word your mum, dad, gran and dog all use constantly is wrong. The fictional swear box worked well in this respect, without ever actually collecting a penny.
Until, as ever, kids worked out the cracks in the process.
Crack 1: they asked what charity it was for. I had to admit that if I ever actually succeeded in getting five pee from anyone, we could have a vote and they could decide.
Crack 2: a kid actually gave me five pee. This meant we had to work out what charity it was for - the potty mouthers decided 'Cancer Research UK' was their charity of choice for the princely five pee they'd coughed up. Suited me - there's a Cancer Research charity shop on the way home, in eighty years time when I had a full pound, I could drop the moulah in without going out of my way.
Crack 3: now I had to find somewhere to put the damn money. I thought about a strongbox, and decided the wasteland that is my desk drawer would be fine.
Crack 4: a kid particularly blessed with Tourette's swelled the coffers mightily by insisting on paying in advance for his swearing for a number of weeks.
Crack 5: little Michael in year 7, a roughty toughty children's home kid whose worst habit is getting frustrated with not being able to write and deciding to help classroom discipline by punching anyone who disrupts my lesson in the face, found out about the swear box. Decides he feels sorry for those children whose mums have Cancer and are waiting for Research to be done. Insists on giving me his dinner money for the swear box. Won't take no for an answer.
Doesn't even want to swear for it.

Friday, March 26, 2004

Never ask a fifteen year old to write a poem about a regime change.

Or if you do, you need to burn the resulting pile of papers that consitute a poetic howl of hormonal anguish rapidly, before the new headteacher finds the damn things.

My favourite, today, was Osama's poem:

The Senior staff charge in an arrowhead towards the hostile masses
Reluctantly everyone rises hundreds of clones dressed smarlty
Controlled by a hand gesture impelled to respond
As everyone sits a tide of murmurs drifting forward
Each face trying to look less enthusiastic than the next
A routine lecture lasts hours melting everyone's brains
There wish they weren't there to have their spirits crushed
We are constantly trying to reach a summit that keeps growing
Hours of effort lead only to a ledge as far from the summit as ever
Nothing's changed. Nothing ever changes.
The wheels move ceaselessly but remain still.
We are in a rut Forever