The Blackboard Jungle

days spent beating back the seeds of doubt

Friday, April 30, 2004

Out till midnight taking seventeen year olds to see a WW1 tragi-comedy. Two things occur to me as I drive home in the small hours of the morning:
  • the staffing of all school journeys and trips anywhere is unpaid. Teachers work for free. That means if teachers did even notionally the hours they are paid for, every school trip every person has ever been on would have been cancelled. I'm certain that parents don't have the faintest clue that this is the case. Why don't we as a profession let people know this sort of detail, instead of gaining publicity for being beaten up, claiming compensation, or for striking for more pay?
    And if you ever went on a school trip, did you thank the teacher who gave up their family and friends to let you do that? By 'thank', I mean specifically, did you ever pay that act forward to someone else?

  • the play was very moving. I cried at the final scene. Yet I wasn't brave enough to show the students - lovely, sensitive responsive kids to a man - and waited a moment in the auditorium to compose myself before I rejoined them at the door.
    The next morning, I was braver, and admitted I'd cried at the end. As ever, sharing your emotions with them didn't embarrass or shock them, but simply 'made them keen' (to quote a line about older boys at Rugby School from the play) to explore whether they'd found it moving.
    What inhibited me from sharing it at the time? Perhaps retelling an emotion is far safer than allowing it to be witnessed. I do remember the almost physical sense of shock I felt when I first saw a teacher (a colleague) cry.

Please excuse the disorganisation and lack of structure of this post. I'm a little tired.

Thursday, April 29, 2004

There's a point in teaching poetry, a particular moment, that I love.

You stalk the classroom demanding opinions, doing buzz sessions on connotation, encouraging text marking, creative interpretations, asking them to make original links between poems, forms, ideas. Asking if there's any poem with a layout that reminds them of jazz music? Whether poems use sound to remind us of states of unreality? Do some poems implicitly finger our culture as purgatorial?
About a third (two thirds if you're lucky and it's the first lesson of the day) of the class buzz and flutter excitedly, as ideas start to pop and bubble around them.

The other kids sit quiet, their faces darkening as they try to follow what's being said. Trying to make their unruly, unwilling minds *know* what the magic secret behind the words is. Carefully glancing across and writing down everyone else's ideas.

And that's when the moment I love arrives.
"There might be some people in the class who feel like the odd one out because they don't know how the others are working out what the lines mean. Actually there are quite a lot of students sitting, trying not to be noticed, because they can't spot an ambiguity when they're asked to, and they have no idea how everyone else has found the answers."
One or two eyes look up, grateful and worried, all at once. No voices or raised hands - who wants to be noticed, when we're feeling stupid?
I agree to let them in on "a secret: We're all MAKING IT UP."

One or two voices, muffled, 'What?'
"We're pretending to know the answer. We're just guessing. We're making it up as we go along. it's all lies. We don't *know*. None of the people speaking out and writing down meanings and patterns *knows* the answer. We just make out as if we do."
That's when it's easy to spot quite how many students had been left behind, were smuggling themselves through the lesson on false pretences in fear that you might think them stupid, because they'll speak now - a chorus of 'what?', a hubbub of 'eh?', 'unnh?' and 'huh?'

"I might say a poem is about religion. You might say a poem is about slavery. I think you're full of it. But guess what? If you can find some evidence, there's not a damn thing I can do about it.
I might think that's the wrongest opinion I ever did see, but I hafta give you the A grade anyway

By now all the kids who weren't sure of themselves are grinning. Poetry has moved from 'guess what the teacher is thinking' to 'beat the teacher'. Be original.

"There's no such thing as a wrong answer in poetry. There's only answers that you found enough proof for. If you can find some evidence - even if it's just a word or two - then you're right. No matter whether I agree with your idea or not."

No such thing as a wrong answer. Isn't that great?

Wednesday, April 28, 2004

My seven thousand pound electronic interactive whiteboard still doesn't work.

It's been a year, now, since it last worked. They decided to replace the old one, putting this one up where my normal whiteboard used to be. Being a teacher, I complained (we get so much practice, you know - we're superb at complaining), and was given an A1 sized whiteboard mounted in the corner, above the desk (immoveable), the computer (unworkable), and the coil of cables (irresistable for too-easily-tempted little eleven year old fingers). If you do all your board writing early in the lesson, on tiptoe, the cramping isn't not so bad.

Every time I bump into the Senior Mangler in charge of IT, he asks accusingly if my 'new' electronic whiteboard works yet. As if I've broken it or something. Not mentioning the gaping holes in the ceiling or the lock smashed off the door.
If I point out that I wouldn't know, as he's removed the software I need to use the thing from my user area, vexatious annoyance flickers from his eyes, down his nose, towards ... wait a minute - I swear he's blaming me for a network error.
It's utterly illogical, but the man thinks it's my fault.

I know more about computers than most people in school; via my CD-roms, I've trained over 17,000 student teachers in using computing as a tool to promote variant reading styles. I know for a fact the Man Who Blames Me isn't that sure how to switch his computer on in the morning.
But it's my bloody obstructive fault. Of course it's my fault. I'm the underling. Who else's fault could it be?

-- Have I reported the fault using the correct systems? Accusingly. Beady eyes. Brusque.

-- Only once every month this year, I admit.

-- Have you reported the fault using the correct systems today?

-- No - o - o ....

Theatrical sigh as he flounces off, still grumbling low threats over a shoulder at me, assuming I will follow to be made to repent my insubordination. I shrug, and start to walk home in the other direction, no longer willing to believe in the Network Technician Fairy.

On the way, I stop off at the supermarket to spend some of my own wage on pencils, biro pens, tippex, post it notes, board markers, highlighter pens, felt tips, manila folders, notepads, and little chocolate eggs to serve as prizes.

Seven thousand pounds, eh?

Tuesday, April 27, 2004

In the last weeks of the graduating year group's educational career, melancholy and fondness set in. This year, my classes are inherited from other teachers who could not or would not stay, and I've not many students with whom familiarity has allowed fondness.
That leaves melancholy. I look out at a class for whom I've practised essay structure, revised Steinbeck's figurative language and characterisation, for whom I explained how to employ and ironically echo the sonnet form, whom I showed how to use talk to persuade, to discover, and to bring things alive.
Exam skills. Essay skills.
Social grease.

I taught them nothing really. Not how to think or feel, or protect themselves or survive.

I read silly notes passed in class that wonder when their last lesson will come, the eternal inevitable impatience of youth to be out of it, to be gone from there, to be done with childhood.

In the days before they go, I always find myself regretting what I've allowed 'school' to be for.
Please excuse the futility of my feeling this way.
Who is it whom I address,
who takes down what I confess?
Are you the teachers of my heart?
We teach old hearts to rest.

Oh teachers are my lessons done?
I cannot do another one.
They laughed and laughed and said, Well child,
are your lessons done?
are your lessons done?
are your lessons done?

Leonard Cohen ~ 'Teachers'

Monday, April 26, 2004

Nine years ago, as a probationary teacher, I was initiated by a fellow probationer, Vasso, into the mysteries of an annual ritual we call Do Not Come Into My Class. It's strictly off the handbook, threatening stuff, not sanctioned by any teaching authority anywhere, that plays reverse psychology tricks on your weirdest most misbehaving kids. Do not try this technique if you aren't willing to risk everything to get what you want. It's worth the risk, though, because if you do it right, your worst student is going to disappear.

The ritual must take place in late May or early April, when there are only maybe three weeks at most left before study leave begins. When most graduating students have already voted with their feet, and the remainder fall clearly into good / evil camps. The motivated conscientious students, who don't want to risk humiliation by being loud about it, or the ne-er-do-wells whose more ambitious parents force them to get up and into class every morning, but are putting in seven hours a day on the teen classic of You Can Make Me Go To School But You Can't Make Me Learn.
It's this latter group whom you will prioritise in seeking this year's victim for initiation into the mysteries of Do Not Come Into My Class.

Select a student who has potential, but whose presence in your classroom causes a heavier heart, a sinking realisation that your energies will be utterly wasted upon babysitting, reprimands, on keeping a lid on this student's wisecracks and boisterousness rather than any actual meaningful interaction.

Make sure your student's attendance record is patchy at best. If you can persuade him or her to admit to truancy in the past, this mitigates your implementation of Do Not Come Into My Class all the more.

Choose your moment carefully - you should be careful to wait until the end of a lesson where Student X (let's call him serial practical joker Ross) has displayed behaviour of a particularly galling and persistent sort. To the degree that he knows he has a talking to coming to him.
Preferably, a fair amount of behavioural modification strategies should already have been attempted during the lesson, to no effect. It all adds weight to your grim faced authority if Student X / Ross is aware you will rip a chunk out of him as soon as the other students leave.

Seat the student calmly and alone in the room, once his or her peers have left at break. Choose a location for Do Not Come Into My Class where you will not be overheard by any other member of staff.

Speaking quietly, and standing at ease, arms folded, point out to Student X / Ross that you have had quite enough of his infantile behaviour. Do not mince your words. Make it clear that you find him a petty fool whose progress you are entirely willing to sacrifice to ensure your classes' grades do not suffer.

Refer to the small amount of time left before Study Leave starts. Raise your voice as you list any amount of annoying and petty time wasting infractions. Make it clear you are angrier than ever before.

Appear to be consumed by frustration, as if unable to speak, temporarily. Lean in towards Student X / Ross, and fix your eye upon his.

"You know what? I don't want you in this class any more. Do Not Come Into My Class."

Allow that to sink in a second.

"I won't make a fuss, or report you missing. Just don't turn up. Do Not Come Into My Class."

Student X will protest - I guarantee it. What is he supposed to do during lesson? Where is he supposed to go?
Enunciate very clearly indeed: "I don't care."

Student X will be horrified. You, a teacher, breaking the rules. Rejecting him. Worst of all, withdrawing your attention. Forever.

At this point in Do Not Come Into My Class, all students say the same thing. "You can't do that!"

A very calm, even, modulated tone is required. "Oh yeah?"
Eyes fixed, unmoving. "My word against yours. Who they gonna believe?"

Usually there is an outburst, a railing against fate, you, education, the world, everything that cruelly denies Ross the autonomy to play with mini video cameras under the desk, flick wet paper pellets, throw textbooks out of the window, lock smaller kids in the stock cupboard, bunk random lessons, swear obscenely at girls and ridicule anyone trying to work. The unfairness of it all.
He will flounce, remonstrating. Do not respond. Simply remain still, arms folded. You will see, before he goes, a light of acceptance in his eyes.

You have just played your entire hand in the off-message, un-PC, dodgy teacher's gamble that is Do Not Come Into My Class.

Yes, it's a risk. Yes, it's a gamble. Yes, he could report you. But I can assure you that I've done this ritual almost every year for nigh on a decade. It's never failed yet.

Your wicked ruinous wanton troublemaker will disappear.

How? Listen.
From this point on, Student X will faithfully attend every single remaining lesson, punctually, with equipment, and will make an attempt at effort. He or she will restrain the rumbustiousness to 'low level' and will do anything to avoid a confrontation with you. Any reprimand will not need to go further than a raised eyebrow in his direction.
His attendance and levels of co-operation will shoot from execrable to exemplary.

You have succeeded, once again, in perpetuating the wicked mystery that is Do Not Come Into My Class.
Now, tell me another way you could have made that happen without paying the kid cash?

Friday, April 23, 2004

The best thing I've done with disaffected, ready-to-leave older kids recently is to give them a date, a lesson objective, access to all the materials available, and some decent time to prepare, then asked them to prepare and teach a lesson to the rest of their class. Nerves make them prepare much more carefully than I would have, a keener sense of the endurance levels of the intended audience makes them more sharply aware of interactivity, perspective makes them focus on issues more relevant to their interests. And it's opened my eyes to exactly what their interests are.

Music runs their lives.
Stereotyping, and peer pressure are subjects of the keenest interest to them.
The war in Iraq continues to act as a pressure on their consciences, and they're keen to understand how the world can be this way.
Violence is both a permanent threat and an issue - they want to understand how to deal with it.

But the surprise of the term is how hyper enamoured these kids are of racial identity. At least one lesson in four will be entirely focussed upon race or the issue of racism, and it opens every sleepy teenage eye in the room.

It's a multicultural school, with kids grouping themselves partly by ethnicity for years - I used to feel safety in numbers was the reason. But there's been little actual racist aggravation. If there's anything, it's kept at the level of tension.
A few years back, there were difficulties with Caribbean kids picking on African kids. These days, open violence is restricted to any student who appears to have openly espoused a racist principle - yet the majority are also fiercely against immigration, seeming to suggest that ethnic identity and racism aren't isssues considered in depth on the whole.

I thought this indicated a level of harmony. These kids acting as teachers have taught me to think differently.

School runs on hierarchies, and race is a part of a hidden hierarchy. Finding out what that structure is, and where their place on it may be is a wickedly important topic for a teenager.
There's a tendency for white Europeans to regard themselves as having no race, and I think there's a follow on tendency for liberal city teachers to regard students as having no race. Yet for kids, race is an indicator of not just allegiance, but of the future. (If they're moving into an unequal, selective world, they want to know the odds for their success there.) And they're fascinated by their own potential - for good or to be harmed.
Once you look around through their eyes, why would you not be fascinated by race?

Chirpy teenage Millwall fans Paul and Ryan had a class of naughty school leavers rapt when they posted up on the board two pictures, and the caption 'what turns this sweet baby into this heartless thug?'
Discussing another picture - a Benetton advert depiction of multicoloured assortments of happy babies - they struggled to pin down exactly where it is racism comes from in the human psyche.
They spotted parallels between sport, school, The Troubles, Hitler, media monoliths, and Iraq. Given free rein, their conversation veered intelligently through discussion of the criminal gene, through nurture, and into media influence. Their conclusion? Racism comes from power struggles, from propaganda, from the need to control.
From history, in essence.

Teenagers have ever formed into tribes. Why have I pretended that race isn't ever a factor in this? Suddenly I walk along the same corridor I have trodden for a decade, and I see, not children in a dark uniform, but black kids, asian kids, turkish kids, eastern european kids, irish kids - I'm so used to assuming these are not real categories, I've forgotten how much children want to know their categories. Sometimes are eager to grow up and find what their category in the world is.
I find myself counting the black kids in a corridor. Watching a chinese kid (very much a minority group here) walk between classrooms, I try to work out which ethnic group she's chosen to align herself to. Following a group of white, blue eyed 'heathers' through the library, to see if they join up with anyone not of their ethnic group once they hit the playground.
Race is another hidden hierarchy, and a topic of riveting interest inside schools... To them, and thanks to them, now, to me.

Thursday, April 22, 2004

The Chief Regional Examiner came to spend a few hours coaching kids for their key stage three SAT tests, for a stupendously large fee.
The point of the process is so that we the staff can eavesdrop, and see if they let slip any cheats to the contents of the upcoming examinations. You usually get at least two appalling loose mouthed hints rolled into the mix.

Bookish chap, in his late sixties, rumpled brown suit, receding salt and pepper hair still dropping hints of a Hugh Grant style floppy fringe in days gone by. A self abnegating humble manner, in fact a professorial manner, punctuated by frequent throat clearing 'ahhhh -ahright' noises, and rapid darts towards his printed materials mid sentence, casting his sentences adrift into neverending sub clauses of random direction. Affable old duffer, in other words - what you'd call old school.

He reminded me of the crappier profs at university. Slightly ill prepared, but well meaning.

The students were incredibly well mannered and polite to this stranger from an unfamiliar social bracket, who used unfamiliar words like 'forsaken'. They sat almost rigidly still, politely stifling yawns, and only discreetly turning to roll eyes after about forty five minutes.
Ten minutes into the session, and it was painfully obvious the old duffer was going to jaw and intone dully at the front without even the slightest attempt to involve students. Requests for action were asinine in content - 'who can number the paragraphs on this page?' - explanations were infantilised as if for a primary school audience - 'you can see the introduction is at the top of the page - here, see, in this different typeface, that's sort of italicky, there.'

Yet the answers he read out to the sample test paper in a stentorious monotone, requested they use complex vocabulary (such as 'colloquialism'). I wondered, bored, what the National Curriculum grade for an answer using the word 'italicky' might be?

Attempts to nudge the few participatory elements into a more demanding direction were sternly rebuffed.
Duffer: "Can anybody tell me where on each page the introductory information is?"
Students: < stupefied silence >
Teacher: "Sir - are you perhaps asking us to tell you what different text types are suggested by each introductory statement?"
Duffer: "No, i most certainly am not. Children, I am asking you to point to where the information is."
Students: < stupefied silence >
Duffer: "Very well, here it is." < points to small photocopied sheet in the distance, from his lectern > "The introductory statement is here, at the top of each page."
Teacher: < stupefied silence >

The pity of it is, that he didn't realise how gallantly generous these students were behaving towards him. Bored to hell by his blithering, as he proceeded to illustrate through frequent errors that he had only skim read his material, that he had no sense of vocal delivery, timing or audience, that he was fairly unfamiliar even with the contents of his test papers, that even reading aloud in a haughty sounding drone he would miss lines or lose his place in the story, they sought refuge by actually silently, secretly taking the test.

Think about that. It was less boring for ninety under achieving fourteen year olds to sit in silence and take an hour's SAT exam than to listen to Mister Seventy Pound an hour Chief Regional Examiner.

Ending his session in a flurry of surprised bluster, and the obligatory three 'accidental' cheater-hints blurted in a final rush, he turned to me and couldn't even take responsibility for his own performance. In contrast to the standards expected and upheld by examiners, he blamed his own awful delivery on having been given ten minutes less than the expected time to get through his material. (It wasn't even true.)

I walked out happy, though. My students have manners. They've had a lesson in appreciating the brilliant teaching on offer to them in normal lesson time (not a single teacher at my school would be so lazy and arrogant as to try to teach a lesson in that burbling lecturing, hectoring passive manner), and they'd wangled themselves into a position where the only alternative to death of the soul was to try taking an exam. Just brilliant.

Wednesday, April 21, 2004

The boss has asked us to set Imaginary Homework.

We've finally given up the shared hallucination of expecting kids to do the stuff, of chasing the 29 kids per class of 30 who don't.

We've admitted defeat and opened up to the truth that the reason we sometimes don't set homework is because it's bloody nigh on impossible to set a homework that's actually worth doing that is expected to build upon what we did in lesson X, pave the way for lesson Y, but disadvantages no-one if they don't even glance at the thing.

So the Powers That Be have, as at the start of every term, implored us to be consistent in setting regular homework. Except this time, they admitted that we're generally only expecting three well behaved kids per class to even try it. And then only in the youngest year group.
But to "cover our backs" (is this a corporation? is this communist Russia? is eluding the blame culture the sole focus of our teaching? these questions fell unspoken, heavily, into the silence following that phrase) we must set "Imaginary Homework".

Words fail me.

I must now crack on with my imaginary marking, and dream up some imaginary grades.

Tuesday, April 20, 2004

Back to work after a holiday is always difficult. Standing all day, constantly on the move in the classroom, eyes everywhere at once, projecting your now dormant voice for five hours solid - it's like being an Olympic swimmer just returned from the desert.

You forget the details that have helped you survive:

the principle of juggling your duties - never take on ten arduous tasks at once,
always have at least two classes doing something that requires next to no preparation,
another two classes completing work that can be assessed orally or by peers,
try to conserve your voice at all times by using your eyes to command, your gestures to encourage, and your voice only to praise,
don't write a kid up for exclusion the first time they swear or start a fight or you'll be interviewing parents all month,
give children choices of equivalent sanctions then gradually remove the options if they refuse to comply,
only agree to two extra tasks a week,
remember not to offer an extra homework help or revision class every day,
never confront a child in front of others,
don't agree to trips the day after parent's evening,
stop listening in meetings after the first 14 minutes,
make damn sure your lunch hour is uninterrupted

... all the small details that differentiate you from the forty people a year, every year, whom you've seen burn out too fast, in tough inner city schools like these.

You forget.
By Wednesday, you remember.

Monday, April 19, 2004

Teaching 'Kes', a social realist Northern English text about a boy from a deprived background who finds solace in training a hawk, I had one of those 'bing' moments, those turning points, where one kid, just one kid in the class utterly gets it. We were watching a DVD of Ken Loach's film version, and most kids were lain across their desks, prone, complaining that they (inner London cockerney dialect speakers) couldn't understand what the Barnsley actors were saying, couldn't understand who the little boy was, what the story had been about, and why he was so cheeky to others.
Billy's altercation with the newsagent went largely misunderstood as kids struggled to get a handle on the broad Lancastrian brogue. But Jack - scruffy, macho, dirty, wise-cracking joker Jack - piped up: "they think he's been nicking miss. But he's not gonna, he's given it up."
Billy steals a pint of milk, drinks it, then chats to the milko - the class protest, in uproar - apparently the stealing is acceptable, but stealing from a friend is morally stupendous. Jack watches, intently, as the others bluster and whine.
Coming to the famous classroom scene, where Billy Casper automatically interrupts the master with a reiteration of the World Service Shipping Broadcast, and most pupils miss it. I pause the video, explain the allusion represented by "Fisher / German Bight". Their eyes remain glassy and unimpressed, although some begin to pick up on what it means for Billy to be home alone listening to the radio during the small hours of the night. Jack chimes in again "He's clever, though, isn't he miss? To remember that. He's not stupid." Jack's eyes are shining with interest - he wants Billy to be a bad boy made good.
The boys in the story are getting up early to go nesting. I ask students if they've ever spotted the clutch of dark branches near the top of a tree that gives away a bird's nest. A few have - most haven't ever looked up and noticed. This may be a city, but I've seen four bird's nests walking into school this morning - but I remind myself that in these Stranger-Danger times, it's mostly only the 'Bad Boys' with a reputation who go alone to the park, who wander or ride or climb.
I ask what nesting might mean - is he taking the eggs? Is he looking? Is he destroying? Is he trying to find new species' eggs? Interest is sparked by wondering what sort of hobbies this boy onscreen might find appealing.
The fuss dies down as the DVD starts up again. "I've seen inside a nest, Miss," says Jack. "I've seen a kestrel, Miss. They dive at things."
Billy tries to sweet talk a bossy authoritative librarian into letting him take a book on falconry home. He fails. Jack, excited by the snappy exchange, makes sure the kids notice that Billy failed in style: "he's cheeky right, but he's clever, see - he's got a comeback, inne? She can't get rid of 'im!"
A broad grin covers his mucky face, and he's radiating enthusiasm for the character - defending the underdog with whom he shares more than he thinks. The scene shifts to birds circling a rookery.
"Hawks hunt mice, Miss. That's a kite. I've seen a kestrel. They hover, don't they Tom? They hover, then they jus', jus' drop. Jus' drop. They hunt."
Tacturn, aggressive, disobedient Jack. Destroyer of the uniform, loser of the book, ink spiderer, dog earer of pages, flicker of the wet pellet, last to get to class, wearer of the shirt least related to its birth as white fabric. Jack, who hasn't talked this much since we read 'Lord of the Flies'.
"I've seen a hawk as well, Miss."

Thursday, April 15, 2004

While I revel in the relaxation induced by the long paid holidays in which you can once again feel normal of teaching, the pile of unmarked essays in the corner, in the bag, in the boot of the car, even sat on a shelf in the office at school down the road, all stare at me in reproach.

So it was with relief I read on Bunni Blog that I'm not the only martyr to a markbook:

"Part of the problem is they are boring enough to peel the beige paint off the walls. After about two papers, my stomach wants to leap up and strangle eyes so as to prevent the continuing horror. My students complain about their boring read assignments-they have no idea. Last year, I had students actually correct each others papers. At the end, one student looked at me and said, "Are they all like this?" I told her indeed some of them were worse. "That's horrible," she exclaimed, "I had no idea." No horror film yet has been able to induce the disgust I am overwhelmed with when I receive the department mandated "final research" papers."

Until term starts, again.

Friday, April 02, 2004

It's been a long, hard term. Staggered into work today with a hangover, trying to refresh my optimism from its continued battery of wee Chelsea's assaults on my patience.
She's not a bad kid, but she is a very very very naughty kid, with no real family guidance, and a history of finding it easy to make people reject her.

Yadda yadda, needs attention and understanding, blah blah blah, hippie crap.

Sure she does. She does. But not being superbloodyhuman, I only have so much patience. I believe the unwashed yoghurt knitting nonsense, but really, it must have been dreamt up by a theorist in an ivory tower somewhere far away from actual deprived children, or teaching staff would actually get some sort of debriefing after dealing with situations that can veer day after day into emotionally raw territory.

It's not easy to watch little kids in such pain. It's not hippie or PC to have to be even a warm version of the authority figure that they so desperately need.

The penultimate day of term. I was concerned to include Chelsey in the class after she'd been repeatedly removed from class in previous weeks, for behaving violently towards other kids. Concerned to include her, but not about to sacrifice another kid's black eye.

The lesson started badly for Chelsey. After she'd spent twenty minutes standing half in the door, half out, yelling 'I'm not coming in!', I was reassured that 28 weeks of hard graft on the rest of the class was beginning to succeed. They were no longer taking Chelsey's truculence as a twenty four carat reason to run riot, and in fact, apart from occasionally taking off to the door to try to drag the poor girl into the room, warmly extolling the virtues of 'be good', they mostly sat still and tried hard to do a test. For this group, that's an unrecognisable level of co-operation, and one that was hard fought.
Deprived of an audience, Chelsey eventually wandered in and sat near a table, proceeding to throw pens at the slightly naughty kid's eyes, shout intermittently, and to insist the girls near her passed obscene notes. Bless their little hearts, they co-operated and did their tests.
She wouldn't remove her jacket even when a deputy head wandered in and asked her to, but as she wasn't screaming abuse at me or the kids, for once, I let it slide, and tried to be encouraging. "Why don't you have a go at the test, Chelsey? Just try it sweetheart."
The response was to set off a constant refrain of muttering - not even directed at me, more under her breath - 'keepawayfrommewhyareyoulookingatmedontbenearmeidontlikeyougoawayicanseeyourenearmewhatareyoulookingat'
It sounded, to my untutored ears to be a pretty awful thing for a 12 year old girl to be muttering.
Whatever was going on in Chelsey's head, I didn't envy her right that moment.

One kid asked why I didn't send Chelsey out when she was throwing things at people in a test? I noticed that Chelsey paused her muttering to listen to my reply.
"Chelsey's behaving in odd ways on purpose because she wants to see if I'll send her out, sweetheart. But I'm not ever going to send Chelsey out, no matter what she does in here. So we're all going to help Chelsey by ignoring what she does unless something hits us. Okay?"
This seemed to satisfy the other kids. Chelsey returned to her mumbled protests.

Really, there's little choice - if I speak to Chelsey in private, she'll scream abuse and run off, if I send her to another member of staff, she'll run off, if I try to solve her problems I'll merely be passing her on to the educational welfare officer who will find that her family are sending her mad at a heart breakingly young age. Nothing serious will conclude from any of these actions, except that she'll have succeeded in another adult giving up on her and sacrificing her for the many.

Yadda yadda yadda. Needs attention and understanding. Blah blah blah.

All of which hippie bullshit still doesn't feel right, however staunchly you practise it. The other kids still have to be coached for 28 weeks into wanting to sit quietly and try in a test, despite the swearing, noise and the missiles. And Chelsey still shows increasing signs of a mental collapse.

Whatever happens, you end up going home feeling drained and a failure.

So, anyway, today, the last day of term, still worn out by my once weekly brush with the sadness that is a little girl called Chelsey, I bought cream cakes for my sixth form on the way to work. We spent a happy three hours playing all the revision games that we'd spent 14 weeks slowly and painstakingly putting together. At the end of the session, they gave me an Easter egg and a card that they'd all signed.

Somehow term ends are so emotional. It was hard not to cry.

See you in two weeks.

Thursday, April 01, 2004

"Nahman, nahman, nahman"
"Allow it man"
"You're so extra"
"You're raw"
"Innit man"
"Do I know you"
"What you chattin abaht"
"That's dry man"

Some days I wonder if I do speak English.