The Blackboard Jungle

days spent beating back the seeds of doubt

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

I often despised colleagues - skilful colleagues - who would waltz into inner city schools, turn everything upside down in a dire, short sighted attempt to look good to management, then deplore the behaviour, the work rate, the children, the staff, the managerial inadequacies. Invariably, they would declare themselves too good for the place, and leave within two years flat.

As far as I can judge children at inner city schools need stability and continuity more than any single other factor in their lives.

There is precious little of it in their home areas, and the rapid staff turnover at inner city schools proves little of the 'worth' of those vainglorious overdramatic short term teachers who are simply 'too good' to put up with conditions in the quagmire.
When it comes to adults whom you believe really know or trust you, four years is not very long in the life of a child.

In the face of the severe temptation toward elastic band flickery, there's nothing like the frowning disappointment of a teacher who knows you, your four brothers, your cousin, your mum and last week had tea and shared raucous anecdotes with your uncle.

Two years? Figures as just another person who walked out on you.
This is one of the key anchors which kept me in inner city schools for eleven years - providing I can keep the energy levels topped up, then the longer I stay, the more effective my presence becomes for students.

However, I'm somewhat of a hypocrite, for I'm leaving.

Leaving the school, the job, and the profession, and so I should keep my filial collegiate scorn to myself.

This is my last summer of teaching: previous experience has taught me to keep news of my impending departure low key.

My last school was what we term a 'failing' school - the average length of internment for any staff was two years, three was considered long service, and there remained one staunch, wonderful deputy head who'd weathered seven. The news of any staff member leaving was greeted with grim stoicism - as though children were expecting you to leave anyway.

One sensed that the only trigger for their surprise would be the teacher who put their money where their preachable principles are, and stays.
The recognition I detected in their eyes as I told them was terribly sad: all adults disappoint; all adults leave.

I've left my current school before; in a performing arts school full of drama queens and gossip it can be tricky to navigate students' sense of panic or betrayal at a sudden departure - not least because it allows students to find an excuse for failure in your wake.
Last time I left this place, I took care to stage the scene. Stopped the lesson to make an announcment. I wanted to explain what was going to happen, why, how and when to my most dependent classes. In doing so, I unwittingly accorded higher importance to the news than it merited.


I recall walking out of that room feeling as though I'd stabbed someone. Several someones. My announcement was confronted with a wall of rebellion: slammed books, walkouts, angry cries of "thanks a lot, that's all our exams failed, then" - which helped or sustained neither student nor teacher, nor the hapless woman left to take over.

This time, I've learnt from my mistakes - let the news seep out early, through offhand remarks. Surprised "didn't you know?" dialogues in corridors, dropped conversations with older siblings at the school gates.

The response has been calm. Interested. Relaxed. A sense of growth towards an ending that's inevitable, not asserted as if in revenge.
It does help that I usually at some point come back.

So what have I learnt? Finally, I learn to model the behaviour I want students to display.