The Blackboard Jungle

days spent beating back the seeds of doubt

Monday, October 25, 2004

Half term, and time to stomp furiously up and down the rolling Downs countryside while I consider whether or not the government's 'Super Teacher' programme is worth the bad feeling even going for it will engender in my colleagues.

Back in a week's time.

Friday, October 22, 2004

Today was the second time in ten years I actually lost my temper in a classroom.

Teaching is a circus; you pretend to lose your temper twenty times a day - or at least pretend to threaten a simmering temper, interspersed with humour and amusement and reproach. Should you actually lose your temper, you lose control, and you lose the job.
I remember feeling utter sympathy for a fellow teacher who struck a thirteen year old boy hard across the face. It was at one of the roughest inner city schools I've ever worked at, in Haringay, and the context was that said boy had picked up a computer monitor, held it threateningly over another child's head, then slammed it into pieces on the ground next to her.
I can totally relate to the instinctual response of slapping a child who is endangering themselves or others. I don't condone it, but I've walked a mile or two in those shoes, and instinct is strong.
The teacher, who'd worked without blemish on her record for thirty years in the borough was suspended, investigated, and 'encouraged' to retire, to avoid a scandal. The unions didn't respond, as there was no union rep. (The last seven union reps had been fairly obviously hounded out of their jobs, and we were all too scared to follow them.)

What had tried my patience this morning was a twenty minute interview with Joel, asking why he'd run away from yesterday's lesson, followed by an hour long meeting with the deputy head about supporting Joel, finding strategies to prevent his bunking, raise his grades to the A's he should be getting, then an appraisal where I was asked the million dollar question ("where do you see your career going, Lectrice?" ... "this is a career?"), topped off by an hour of watching Joel wind up everyone else in the exam hall, reaching its crescendo when he bounced, giggling, on his chair just hard enough to snap the thing in two, causing uproar.
So today became a replay of a day eight years ago, when Ross (now twenty four; left school with two grade F's; catchphrases "this is rah-bish" / "how am I?!"; later homeless, then joined the navy; remembers me as his best teacher) had pushed me to tears of angry frustration.
This time, as then, when I felt the tendrils of genuine anger wrap themselves around my temples, anger enough to damn well punch Joel ... I walked swiftly to the door of the room, eyes down, along the corridor, into an office, where I proceeded to kick the shit out of a filing cabinet.

Four minutes. Return. Quiet voice. Steady eye. "I'm calm now, Joel. If you make another sound, I shan't be."
Back to the showmanship.

Thursday, October 21, 2004

I've been staring out of a lunchtime window at work, seeing if I can plot patterns in the spidery movements of groups of children across the yeard three floors below.

"In our earliest years, no one minds much what we do, existence alone is enough to earn us unconditional affection. We can burp up our food, scream at the top of our voice, fail to earn any money and have no important friends - and still be valued."

The physical ease with which young boys drape their arm across another boy's thigh, the lack of preamble when they walk up to an acquaintance and casually ask "where are we going?" with neither greeting nor further question, the fluidity with which groups swell, part, fragment, and disperse into other swirling fragments - the movement is balletic from above, and is a kaleidoscopic reminder of the innocence of childhood, the unconscious assumption of shared good.

"But to reach adulthood means to take our place in a world dominated by chilling characters, snobs, whose behaviour lies at the heart of our anxieties about our status."

It's several moments before I focus in on the small boy sat alone on the steps, and how his head bobs up and down as he gobbles a processed cheese sandwich. As taller children approach, his head whips up, alert, startled and wary like an animal. Within ten feet, his posture has entirely changed - his head bowed, unfocussed, not looking, fixed apparently casually on his sandwich. I imagine his eyes deliberately blurred into disregard: so as not to provoke response?
As the taller children recede, his movements become unco-ordinated and childlike again, the head bobbing up to check their retreat.
The one fluid behaviour this child has mastered, alone on the steps, is the unassuming invisibility of a safety-fear trigger.

Left alone, he struggles with both bag and sandwich as he stands, faces three directions, uncertain of where to go. In my mind's eye, he's assumed an automatic status: victim.
He spots another boy ten feet away. "Where are we going?" he asks, in a casual tone.

"The distinctive mark of snobs is not simple discrimination, it is an insistence on a flawless equation between social rank and human worth."

And now I don't know for sure where my observation led me.
Did I glimpse the potentiality for threat in the rigid, brutal hierarchy of the pre-adolescent? Or did I see one glance, and upon it superimpose the raw jungle fights of my own school days?

Source of quotations: Status Anxiety, Alain de Botton.

Wednesday, October 20, 2004

Speaking of etymology: up crops this fascinating list of the years that specific words entered usage.

1904 , hip , 1937 , dunk , 1971 , green
1905 , whizzo , 1938 , cheeseburger , 1972 , Watergate
1906 , teddy bear , 1939 , Blitzkrieg , 1973 , F-word
1907 , egghead , 1940 , Molotov cocktail , 1974 , punk
1908 , realpolitik , 1941 , snafu , 1975 , detox
1909 , tiddly-om-pom-pom , 1942 , buzz , 1976 , Trekkie
1910 , sacred cow , 1943 , pissed off , 1977 , naff all
1911 , gene , 1944 , DNA , 1978 , trainers
1912 , blues , 1945 , mobile phone , 1979 , karaoke
1913 , celeb , 1946 , megabucks , 1980 , power dressing
1914 , cheerio , 1947 , Wonderbra , 1981 , toyboy
1915 , civvy street , 1948 , cool , 1982 , hip-hop
1916 , U-boat , 1949 , Big Brother , 1983 , beatbox
1917 , tailspin , 1950 , brainwashing , 1984 , double-click
1918 , ceasefire , 1951 , fast food , 1985 , OK yah
1919 , ad-lib , 1952 , Generation X , 1986 , mobile
1920 , demob , 1953 , hippy , 1987 , virtual reality
1921 , pop , 1954 , non-U , 1988 , gangsta
1922 , wizard , 1955 , boogie , 1989 , latte
1923 , hem-line , 1956 , sexy , 1990 , applet
1924 , lumpenproletariat , 1957 , psychedelic , 1991 , hot-desking
1925 , avant garde , 1958 , beatnik , 1992 , URL
1926 , kitsch , 1959 , cruise missile , 1993 , having it large
1927 , sudden death , 1960 , cyborg , 1994 , Botox
1928 , Big Apple , 1961 , awesome , 1995 , kitten heels
1929 , sex , 1962 , bossa nova , 1996 , ghetto fabulous
1930 , drive-in , 1963 , peacenik , 1997 , dot-commer
1931 , Mickey Mouse , 1964 , byte , 1998 , text message
1932 , bagel , 1965 , miniskirt , 1999 , Google
1933 , dumb down , 1966 , acid , 2000 , bling bling
1934 , pesticide , 1967 , love-in , 2001 , 9/11
1935 , racism , 1968 , It-girl , 2002 , axis of evil
1936 , spliff , 1969 , microchip , 2003 , sex up
1970 , hypermarket , 2004 , chav

Source - Larpers and Shroomers: The language report

We had kitsch sacred cows for whom we had already dumbed down, yet we had no word for racism?

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

The problem is, the examiners can't read a Sarf* East Lahnnan** accent.

So Lisa's bewfly*** crafted presentation on how to improve local leisure facilities - "We need sank**** done!" - could only ever make sense to an adult familiar with the current etymology of the good old fashioned Lahnnan** word, sahmmink****.

* South
** London
*** beautifully
**** something

Monday, October 18, 2004

Excuse the aide-memoire, as I never ever recall what the different countries' grades and year systems are:

Key Stage 2, ages 7 - 11, UK years 3 - 6, Scots ?, US ?
Key Stage 3, ages 11 - 14, UK years 7 - 9, Scots P7 - S2, US middle school grades 6 - 8;
Key Stage 4, ages 14 - 16, UK years 10 - 11, Scots S3 - S4, US high school grades 9 - 10;
Key Stage 5, ages 16 - 18, UK years 12 - 13, Scots S5 - S6, US high school grades 11 - 12.

The intention is to easier fillet other people's minds by knowing what to google for...

Friday, October 08, 2004

A problem of living right next to school is driving past the other workers on your thirty mile round trip to the doctor's surgery, or bumping into the head's PA while shopping for such comfort food staples as beans that are baked, or spam.
A delirious look or some fevered waffling are rarely enough to distinguish you from the customary low conversational skills of the average educational professional.

Do non-vocational jobs cause this amount of occupational guilt over absence?

Please excuse a short hiatus while I get on with being ill.

Thursday, October 07, 2004

Wandering through the delights of Peckham Rye on a sunny autumn afternoon, a man is giving out leaflets at a busy bus stop. He doesn't give one to me, but I notice he's careful to place them in the hands of two uniformed black teenagers next to me. They look somewhat confused by the contents. Nosey as ever, I peer over to see what's mystifying them.
The leaflet is using the opportunity of Black History Month to encourage a spot of direct activism.

"Black schools are failing our black children, Boycott schools for Black History Month!"

Words fail me.

Wednesday, October 06, 2004

There's power in disclosure. Power over others.

A kid in my class is spending his lesson working on an essay in my room, because he knows if he goes to Science today he'll punch someone. He has major anger management issues, and I reason that this, certainly, is a way to manage.
He overhears me making a personal call on my mobile, and asks me what's wrong with my mother, why I'm calling a hospital.
I tell him she suffers from long term terminal condition, how she's also undergoing an operation for something unrelated this weekend, and I need to make sure I visit her.

The disclosure on my part prompts a disclosure on his.

He tells me about his mother's IBS, how when he was fourteen, he saw her in the throes of an episode, so to speak, standing in the kitchen, and she was unable to move in time to protect him from the sight of her losing control of her bowels in front of him. He describes in the plain factual tones I recognise of anyone whose family has grown used to long term unmentionable illnesses, how he carefully took his shoes off, tiptoed around the edge of the kitchen, and helped her, cleaned her, put her to bed, then made the room clean again.

There's a power in disclosure. A power over others.

A day later, he tries to trick the staff into modifying his timetable, to remove the lessons he dislikes, and have more of those he does. Taking his timetable and cross checking it with the school's timetable, I notice he's given himself eleven hours of maths a week, with a variety of teachers, seven hours of english, and little else. He's annoyed I've spotted his adaptations are unauthorised. Knowing his previous anger management problems, I duck the issue, somewhat, send him to a colleague to get permission for his changes. He screams and punches the wall next to her head until there's a hole in it.

Disclosure is a trickily negotiated process with troubled students. It's a form of coercion at times.
I usually avoid it.

Tuesday, October 05, 2004

More on the Lord of the Flies debacle: watching an execrable Americanised dvd of the novel, we come to the moment where Simon communes with the decapitated, fly-swarming pig's head, who tells him that the Beast is the evil within us all.

Small podgy bruiser in my class of remedial thirteen year olds pipes up, unable to control his empathy.

"You know what I'd do if I was him, if I was on that island?"


"I'd take that head, an' I'd ebay it, mate."

Monday, October 04, 2004

I know it's an annoying presumption that whenever I want some kids to do a collage or a poster, I send one victim trotting off to Art Teacher Joe to bring back thirty pairs of scissors. I'd not be surprised if said kid came trotting back, purple -faced and indignant with the message 'get your own damn scissors'.
But to be honest, when Kieran comes back saying 'Art Teacher Mister Joe says you owe him a big wet kiss for these', I'm somewhat shocked.

That'll put a stop to the borrowing, eh?

Friday, October 01, 2004

Ms Lectrice,

Im apolagizing for my rude attitude and behavior* yesterday,

I'm sorry because your one of my favorite* teachers.

Thank. you. yours sincerely


Dear Jessica,

You forgot:
  • sorry for screaming 'rass' at you.

  • sorry for getting angry when you told me it was swearing.

  • sorry for hitting your arm out of my way.

  • sorry for storming out of the room and going home in a sulk.

But, for the cute way you squealed "nooo, MISS, don't read it NOW ... I'll get embarrassed! Noooo!!!" when you passed me that letter, I forgive you everything. Peace.

Ms Lectrice

* Look at those appalling Americanisms. *sigh*