The Blackboard Jungle

days spent beating back the seeds of doubt

Friday, April 29, 2005

Take something simple. Something easy to organise, like revision workshops.

Then faff enough to mess it up. Class sizes of fifty plus. With no designated room to deliver it in.

Take away basic resources like a screen or a whiteboard.

Add some vagueness over what the class is actually teaching. Silliness should determine that your key workers need to do all the legwork, and your basic team should stand around under employed. That will ensure that mountain of Key Worker Paperwork in triplicate gets sorted, and quicker, too.

Manglement types should have a health warning. A lapel badge.

"Let me overcomplicate that for you."

Thursday, April 28, 2005

Typical. My house is spotless in the way that truly, only a house belonging to someone with thirty longhand graduation reports to write could ever manage.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Cheap trick.

Although there was one gem in the whole overblown nonsense of a circus huckster's game of illusion - one teacher pointed out that many younger parents are not on our side.

They still see any formal authority as on the side of the bad, something to be fought against, something to be challenged, angrily.

That part I recognised: not from parents, but from their miniaturised pre-teen mouthpieces in the classroom.

Simon turns up for the first time in twelve weeks, and is indignant that he hasn't had information that he couldn't be bothered to show face at class to collect. Growling and rebarbative, despite my softly-softly approach, he tosses over his shoulder as he walks straight out again: "My mum could ruin this school. She could write to the paper about what you lot are like."

Simon hasn't lived with mum until very recently. Rather lamely, I offer up an opinion about how working to bolster the reputation of the school you choose to attend may have a domino effect on the value of your qualifications. Lamely because if he hasn't yet acquired the maturity to take responsibility for the consequences of his non-attendance, he's unlikely to recognise the deliberately palliative logic of my words.

Simultaneously, I wonder about the maturity of the mum whose words he's repeating. The mum who patently needs Simon to think it's him and her against the whole world right now. Somewhat less than long term thinking.
Supportive parent, that one.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Nobody wants to be Bugsy.

Nobody wants to be Blousy.

They all want to be Fat Sam, Fizzy, Dandy Dan, Tallulah.

Limelight stealers.

Monday, April 25, 2005

How can the bird that is born for joy
Sit in a cage and sing?

Inspired by ideas detailed on Bloom's blog, on Friday I took my sixth formers' lesson outside. We sat beneath a tree heavy with blossom, near another that showered us with white petals as we discussed poetry on damp grass.

We analysed Blake's The Schoolboy, and then looked at the sense of Englishness filtered through landscape in Edward Thomas' war poetry.

And for that minute a blackbird sang
Close by, and round him, mistier,
Farther and farther, all the birds

It was gorgeous, and gorgeously fitting as a context. A real Miss Jean Brodie of a moment.

Until, that is, a drunken schoolkeeper turned up to take dodgy photos of the horrifed blossom-snowed seventeen year olds.

Poetry. Cuh. Damn place is closer to Shakespeare than poetry.

Friday, April 22, 2005

Parent interviews for the cute-as-buttons, yet slightly feral eleven year olds I teach, and I while away the evening explaining that we're going to be studying the playscript of 'Bugsy Malone' this term, possibly even putting it on as a proper show.

Cue a whole succession of grinning dads of embarrassed podgy white boys, insisting that their son be considered only for the parts of Fat Sam or Tallulah.

Honestly, you could feel the kids squirm.

Thursday, April 21, 2005

I'm pleased to report that, at least once before I give up teaching, I've experienced the students stage a mass walk-out.
My Media class have been filming footage to create a horror film cinema trailer.
In clunky, unwieldy groups of eight kids. They had five hours to film all the footage they needed.
This concept passed a few individuals by, and after waiting two months for Sarcastic Media Guy to put the film onto CD, another month for Sarcastic Network Guy to transfer the mpeg files onto a network drive, and another month beyond that to book the only room in which there's a video editing suite, Hasan's group were horrified to discover they're forced to make a horror film out of a dodgy wobbly thirty minute clip of a house in the distance.

Of course, it would count as a ridiculously high expectation for their teacher to be trained on the video editing software, or even to have access to a handbook or instructional manual, so we're learning on the job.

We have four hours in which to create trailers, the first was spent simply playing with the software, trying to discover what it can do.
Sounds logical - in fact that's how most people learn to use any software - but most people end up fiddling, tweaking and playing for far more than four hours.

Fifty five minutes into the first period Cash worked out how to open the files we wanted to edit.
Thirty minutes into the second period before Cory managed to uncover the trick of trimming any clips.

It can quite respectably be called one of the greatest shambles of my teaching career.

And Sarcastic Network Guy has lost the best group's work. All of it.

He didn't keep a copy - threw the disc away.

When we plead with him to try to open up the corrupted files he's messed up, he snorts and says it's 'your problem'.
There were tears. Recriminations. More tears.

This is 20% of their Media GCSE.

Two lessons of despair and tears. Eventually, I asked them to consider the worst case scenario. Every approach to Sarcastic Network Guy had been rebuffed. I'd gone through the appropriate bullying channels hierarchy of comaplaints and requests for assistance.

Nobody really understood what I was saying as soon as I hit those magic words 'mpeg file'. Eyes glaze, and polite memos are duly issued.

Sarcastic Network Guy made sarcastic promises, and each day the promises fail to materialise into something workable. Worst case scenario: this group - the one with the most detailed footage - would have to use someone else's clips in their video.

Cardinal rule of education: things must be made fair. This patently is not fair.

Although the victimisation could at best be called randomly pointless, it certainly is not fair.
Rick's shoulders slumped, but he started trying to get on with it, checking the tawdry ill judged footage saved by the other groups. Jessica cried, again, head down on the keyboard.
Amy rolled her eyes, and argued.

But Leo just stopped. "I'm not doing it."

The others' ears pricked up.

"I'm not having it. It isn't fair, and I'm not doing it.

"I'm not staying here another second. I'm going and I'm going now."

They downed tools, their expressions betraying that they almost didn't believe their own actions even as they took them, and stood.

Seeing the determination on their faces, understanding that all normal channels had failed, I asked them - if they were determined to do this - to bear one thing in mind: go to the top.
If you're going to strike and walk out, do it via the head's office. Put that argumentative eloquence to some use.

Grim nods all around. And with that they walked out and disappeared.

One working day later, the files appear.

People power.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

So much for my 'greatest teacher you'll ever have' speech.

Looking back over Charlie's data in the previous year, I notice she'd entered my classroom at level 5, a level higher than her peers.

By October I'd reduced her grade to level 4. Somehow, attendance at my lessons had reduced her scores from 'higher than average' to a flat coasting level of 'just about literate'.

Her January test showed further disintegration: level 3. This is what the government deems sub literate for an eleven year old.

April and another assessment. Charlie now scores level 2 - unable to write a recognisable sentence.

I'm actively destroying intelligence quotient here. By the minute.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

I've been mulling over a post about how teachers deal differently with the stresses of the job - the greatest stress of which is that the job is prone to bursts of seasonal rush, it seems, rather than evenly paced.

Commenting on anger management over at the ever brilliant Tales from the Chalkface reminded me of my vague intentions:
My most satisfying anger management strategy has been boxing. I'm not kidding when I say that it has done me, Jared and Joel a power of good that I spend three evenings a week imagining their sweet faces on a punchbag and kicking the crap out of them.

The next day I can cope that little bit more with their 'interesting' classroom personalities.
I'm not kidding. If you don't learn to achieve some balance in your career, then the tiniest infraction can send you loopy.

Teachers are doolally enough as it is. Think about how many mentallists you've seen in the staffroom muttering to themselves, or holding pointless conversations, or holding down a senior management post of some authority, or retiring with a gold clock in exchange for their sanity.

Think how many utter mentallists were at one point your own teachers.

There are a lot of little tricks to giving yourself more time in a day, and you have to use them all to even make a dent in the space you need.

For instance, reports, following up discipline referrals, register maintenance, and so forth - I find it easier on the soul to do those jobs during lunch time, eating on the move.
If you can possibly leave work before dark, or at least keep your evening to yourself, your productivity begins to climb surprisingly. The psychological benefit of clocking off during daylight hours far outweighs the stress of not sitting and relaxing halfway through the day.

Marking is a heavier workload in the humanities than in most other subjects. (Hey, don't bluster at the screen; I teach Media and RE, I know how light the workload is for those other guys, okay?)
If you can think ahead about why you're grading a piece of work, and what you're grading it for, you save literally tens of hours in marking work. Again, I try to do this in my free periods.

Mostly with papers, I try to think hard about assessment methods when I'm planning - there are many ways to assess work without taking home a sheaf of papers from every lesson - you can grade verbally delivered reports, you can ask students to use a rubric, you can do a round robin exericse, each child grading for a different feature as they pass work around, you can define in advance what single feature you are grading for, etc.
Was the point of the work that the child experienced the task? To get a formal grade? To obtain a short term target? To check comprehension of an abstract idea, or of logical expression? No essay is intended to hit every base, so don't mark for it. It's not like your students read anything but the number at the end. (Look up the literature. It's true. If there is any numerical mark, however nonsensical, it is the only thing a child recalls reading. Those delicately phrased supportive blandishments are wasted. Utterly. Stop doing them just to feel noble.)
Allowing yourself time to recharge isn't a luxury in this profession - it's a downright necessity. Spend all your time lesson planning, and you'll be about ready to kill the kid who casually wrecks that precious lesson for a laugh.
Plan the basics then head off for a pint with some friends, and they'll give you the breathing space to react differently. Perhaps even to head the recalcitrant lesson-bomber off at the pass before they can destroy your lesson plan of purest gold.
At one point in my career, I became addicted to asking to see other teachers' planners and diaries, to asking them what time they went to bed, whether they ever actually made it out of bed in the morning at the weekend, how long during the holidays it took for equilibrium to return.
My favourite discovery was the sociology teacher whose first task in September was to colour in all the holidays AND the weekends on his planner.

You think that's silly, huh?

Try it. It makes you feel happy to be alive.

Teachers get amazing holidays.
As for sleep: I go to bed at midnight or so. It's taken me years to get that down from two in the morning. I used to be up at six for the commute through London, leaving me with a serious sleep deficit that the weekends and holidays had to carry. When I averaged a year, my sleep patterns could find a mean normal total. Pity that isn't how sleep debts work for humans.

Moving nearer to work so that I no longer commuted made a huge difference. Setting an alarm clock for ten each night made a huge difference. Adopting regular exercise habits made a better difference.

I once wrote rather flippantly about the ease of the job, the lightness of the hours, the lazy length of the unfilled afternoons and twelve weeks of holidays, and received rather a lot of e-mail for it. I quote from a long conversation with another thoughtful and dedicated teacher of underprivileged kids, Fluxion:
Yes, I realise I was being somewhat unfair in my post, but wanted to dispel the image of overwork that we teachers, sometimes a little petulantly, cling to.

For any teacher beginning their career, the drain on personal time during the first three years is enormous. It isn't inevitable, however, and gradually, you learn to reduce it.

I wanted to give somewhat of an impression that it's highly reducible.
I think - and my experience here is of English schoools - that sometimes we set up a culture of pride in our overwork, as though it's a badge of honour.

Think about that. A badge of honour. That's rather than seeing it as unpaid, unfair, and in the long term insupportable (mental health *requires* that you vary your work patterns to relieve stress at some point in your life) or silly.

I'm rather in agreement with the TUC that reducing one's hours to thosethe job *should* take is a worthy aim. However, it's not an aim your administration will ever take up on your behalf. Neither is it an aim that students whose needs are insurmountable will recognise.

Only we as teachers can choose to make decent working habits a target for ourselves. As long as we get into bragging contests about who works longest, we deny our young teachers the space to realise their long hours culture is one they need to work to overcome.
Yet still, the issue is your attitude to the job - nobody can get all of the job done. In fact in my opinion, getting everything done is NOT the job.

The real job is juggling - no one person can meet all the demands of such a day. The trick is to never let any one thing fall short for too much of the time - rotate your failures, and try not to mind.

Writing this, I realise my possible future-post has become an over long over-tired post-parents' evening wild ramble.

So I'll say that again: rotate your failures, and try not to mind.

Monday, April 18, 2005

We've decided to offer revision for sixteen year olds only through lessons and study-leave workshops this year.
Giving extra classes after school sixteen weeks a year was wearing out our best staff, and students were misbehaving in class in the belief that merely attending a 45 minute revision session would obviate their lack of learning during the day.

No more. If they want to pass, they have to turn up on time and pay attention.
It's seemed to work so far (results aren't out until August). Staff are in better spirits than last year, revision materials are devoured by students, punctuality and attendance at lessons is good.

Yet when two high flying students from other countries asked for extra help, I weakened. Agreed to run some extra informal poetry-analysis sessions for them in the remaining weeks.

Foolish. As if I'm any less prone to tiring my nerves out than the other staff.

The lesson before the extra class. Lawrence (star of many a previous tale here) commandeers the computer, is caught making obscene remarks on a chat site, is caught on a porn site, despite the filters, is caught playing a bowling game, begins throwing coins at other students, and the computer is switched off to much protest.
Lawrence slides under the desk, screaming imprecations, threatening the awful things he's going to do to "that stupid teacher". My favourite LSA, Angela, is in the room. She crouches beneath the desk to ask him why he's acting up for such a good teacher.
"She's not the best teacher! She's a rubbish teacher!"
He storms out, swearing, taking my purse with him, and slamming the door hard on Angela's arm as he leaves.
I shrug, rendered powerless by lack of available sanctions, and continue pleading with Joe (also famous) to cease spitting, and asking Wes to desist in screaming obscenities at Lisa.
At least today Matt hasn't thrown sweets at my eyes.

I'd rather force burning needles onto my retinas than teach an extra class after that.

Yet: I'd forgotten what it's like to teach the really bright students.
The ones who don't need to count the syllables to recognise an iamb. Who can see how Armitage obliquely references Blake, Whitman, Marx. Who can, for that matter, work out that a poet speaks through a persona, and objectively assess the tone and theme implied by this distance.

I ask them to read six poems, analyse them, and assess which they regarded as a true sonnet.
We're taught in the inner cities to make everything short burst chalk and talk; keep it fast paced, buzzy, interactive, model all writing tasks and then ask for little of it.
(Last week, I had looked at a college prospectus where lessons were 110 minutes long, wondered how our soundbite culture is meant to cope with such high expectations.)
This, today was ninety solid minutes of genuinely interesting work, without the need to stop halfway through for chocolate biscuits and horse play because they've never concentrated that long before.

This is my final term in teaching, and I want to enjoy the students' minds and imaginations perhaps a little more than exclusive focus upon examinations and results allows me.

I went home feeling like I'd learnt something. Wondering if this open communication between one mind and another is what teaching is meant to be. If perhaps the aggressive daily hostilities have blinded me to the possibility of real learning and development in my classroom. How it could be if I were to work with well-behaved kids, middle-class kids, kids who have more potential than the majority of my students.

Then I read Ms Hoff:
My relationship that first year had been largely antagonistic. I was the teacher; they were the students; they needed to learn what I had to teach and they'd better behave so I could do it. Losing my voice provided the perspective to realize that, as long as teaching was about me, I was going to fail. When I wasn't the most important person in the room, the students would indeed rise to my formerly misplaced expectations.

I wonder, did I realize all that at the time or is hindsight providing the gift of clarity? Perhaps a little of both. I know that my brief period of silence made a difference in my teaching; I talked less and listened more. And I know that I started looking at my students as individual people. Having no voice meant I had to communicate in other ways - smiles, nods and hand gestures took on great importance - and communicating with each individual student instead of a whole class meant I finally saw that student as a person, not a body in my classroom.
I recognised the inherent arrogance of that line, "as long as teaching was about me".

What I had once loved about inner city schools is there's no prerequisite on the children who enter your classrooms, and the sheer vertical progress you can make with them once you realise this. Once you cease to assume that, because these kids are not adult-friendly automatons who sit and absorb the wealth your mouth spins at them, they simply cannot evolve.

At that point, when you accept the limitations of your students, and start to work with them, rather than against them, you stop trying belligerently to teach, and focus on showing them how to learn.

Life skills are more important than poetry in the long run.

So finally, I did learn something today.

Friday, April 15, 2005

Our staff have been trying to work out how we can change the culture of the school to limit pointless infraction, the low level, long term reactive disruption and rudeness that tires everyone out.
The head noted that students individually like their teachers, want to please them and want to 'do well' in general - but don't have any real respect for education as an activity by itself, respond badly to authority if it comes from a stranger.

We've been struggling for solutions: how to make the kids take pride in a culture of doing the right thing.

More rewards? More sanctions? Stronger punishments?
(We're not allowed to exclude children these days, and they well know it.)
Stress community spirit? Try to inculcate a bit of pride in who we are? In our roles?

It's a long term problem in society as a whole, this lack of pride, lack of collective responsibility, ignorance of consequences; we won't find any quick fix solutions.
I was dreading the end of day hour long silent sponsored read with my feral eleven year olds. I wrote rules on the electronic whiteboard, and rewards also. Set up plenty of things to avert fractiousness, made sure bribes were placed in a prominent spot.
And still dreading it.

Hordes of four foot students clustered at the door - each individually cute as a cloth puppet, each wanting an individually tailored look, word, or hug as they fussed and spat out randomly selected questions or disagreements.

The student teacher next door marched up. One of my class had snapped off the handle of an umbrella, opened her classroom door and hurled the lump of plastic at her. Another post-mortem incurred.
I already have to deliver an extended guilt autopsy for the fourteen brand new reading books they had thrown out of the window last lesson.

Pulling the door to, a crate of pens and pencils had been kicked across the place, scattering grubby stubs of colours everywhere. The students sat, angelic round faces, all sweetly shocked, disclaiming responsibility or knowledge of what's happened.

Carmella, spotted at the neighbouring classroom's door seconds after the pink plastic missile had hit the student teacher, angrily denied any knowledge or involvement. She must have witnessed who did throw the missile, I countered.
It was 'somebody'. Useful. My imprecations to name the culprit were resisted robustly and at length.

Artie, as usual, was shouting. We're so used to operating at a level below his constant whine and screech, that it occured to me none of us were even noticing the words. He could be bursting with questions, opinions and complaints about anything. He's the sonic equivalent of the boy who cried wolf.
Any minute now, Tony would trundle in, late, grinning, and Artie would rack it up a notch, compete with the wider vocabulary of fresh swear words on display.

I quiet the pint sized rabble and explain that if they witnessed a rule being broken, then failed to identify the person who did it to staff, they are breaking an equally serious rule themselves.
Plenty of students at my school believe you shouldn't 'grass' on a peer, but they don't understand that even a criminal code of loyalty carries more responsibility than they're prepared to bear.

I try to counter this by explaining what 'honour amongst thieves' really involves. If you're willing to take on your reprobate pal's punishment, you've been loyal.
If you're not ready to do so, you're not only disloyal and weak, but guilty - of obstructing the course of justice.

Report the crime, or do their time.
Noisy indignation. Not to put too fine a point on it: uproar. Tony trundled in, grinning. Shouting at us without even knowing it. Carmella burst into tears.

Amongst the uproar, the ancient peeling tannoy crackled into intrusive, jagged life. All eleven year olds report to the hall to see a performance by Skorpio, the human beatbox. Now.


Except, by this point I was mad as hell, and I was not going to let them go.

The point of being an authority figure is that people need you to take on authority. Show them where the line is, and defend it.

Once they were quiet, ordered, had apologised, listened to the whys and wherefores of behaving differently toward their teachers and peers, out came four witness statements that exonerated the beleaguered Carmella, and identified the fourteen year old miscreant who bore real guilt.

The kids trooped out, late, dejected. Told off.

Except Tony and Artie. They didn't want to go see some boring poet. They wanted to get in trouble, please, Miss, so they could stay up here. T
hey'd rip something up if I wanted, if I needed a reason to stop them going to the hall. Eager to please.

"Don't you know what Skorpio is like?" I asked, closing my markbook. "He's a six foot six black musician with dreads up to here, who raps, who will teach you to beat box, and will make your life feel good."

I've totally confused him with Adisa. But it's enough, I used key words: Tall! Black! Man! Makes noises!
"Rah!" they squealed, suddenly bouncing, "I wanna see that!" Took off down the corridor at the speed of small hurtling things.

I wonder what it says about youth culture, the responses of these two small round underfed white boys. Sub-literate, nurtured by home circumstance into a culture of aggression, to the degree that few staff expect them to survive five years of state secondary school. The excitement and eagerness they display when offered time with a role model.

One thing Skorpio said to the children echoes in my memory: "I know you think your parents are aliens, and your teachers are from an even further away planet, but the minute you leave here, you'll change your minds. You'll see that they were the people who were trying to put you on the good path."

Put you on the good path. I like that.
I like not thinking of this day as one long reprimand.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Very occasionally, I see search referrals which led here that make my heart twitch uneasily. This is exactly one such.

Having spent three hours earlier today simply trying to disentangle numbers, I may sound a tad more terse than usual on this subject.

Not achieving anything, but wasting three precious hours attempting to translate into workable figures a horrifically tortuous mathematical dying fly effect I had found on one colleague's assessment of her GCSE coursework folders (for US readers, this translates as 20% of the most important exam in their sixteen years), and I finished the day cursing the blind stupidity of humans.

That a grown adult, a professional could make numbers up at random, and through absolute confusion or fear (I know not which) could thus demote her students' final assessments by two grades without ever once asking me, her manager, how to do the thing properly - it distresses me. In many ways.

So, here's how you do it. Members of the general public and the laity, and most particularly mathematicians, look away now.

The Idiot's Guide to Marking AQA GCSE English Coursework

The AQA seem to have specifically designed this system in order to upset and confuse people. It will singlehandedly demote hundreds of overlooked grades in larger schools across the country. [But, meh, so will Ruth Kelly, given a loose leash.]
The language part of the coursework is divided into Reading and Writing. These are known as En2 (reading) and En 3(Writing). Don't ask me why. I can't think straight without a government acronym.

Take two En2 grades - Shakespeare and Pre 1914 Prose. These are grades out of 54. Average them. Now you have the En2 grade that goes into the sub total box.

Take four En3 grades. These are ultimately two grades out of 27 (which is half of 54), or four grades, out of 18, 9, 18 and 9, respectively. These are the writing grades for Media and for Original (aka creative) Writing.
You can get away with marking them on the old schema, out of 54, then halving it: but your students get higher grades if you do it properly, out of 18 and 9, then translate the same grade out of 27.

I haven't the wit or the patience to explain the mathematical reason for this, but it's true.

The mark out of 18 is for content, and the mark out of 9 for style. So stop knocking people down because they spelt 'their' and 'they're' wrongly. This is the twenty first century.

The form asks you to record the marks out of 18, out of 9, out of 27, twice, and then again a total out of 54. This is because bureacrats hate you.

The important thing to remember is: do not mark out of 54, and do not average them. Suddenly, the En 3 (Writing) total is acquired by adding the two marks out of 27, and not averaging them.

The overall Language grade, interestingly, nay, thrillingly, is out of 108.

You get it by adding En2 to En3. No, no, no, not by averaging them. Why would you think that?

So, in summary, the process for finding the Language grade: mark out of 54, 54, average, store, discard; 18, 9, transliterate same to 27, store, discard; 18, 9, transliterate this next to 27, then look for all assimilated 27s and add; add the averaged 54 to the sum of the 27s, to get the final 108.

You've now done one third of it. Excited?

The Literature part of the coursework comes from many of the same essays, but marked again, for different things, to different level descriptors.

(Level descriptors is what the AQA say instead of 'grades'. They do this because it sounds far more intelligent to say long words than short ones. Probably.)

It consists of an average Literature mark out of 54, plus a 'QWC' mark out of 3.

Even better, the Literature marks (for pre 1914 Drama - this is AQA Longwords for simply Shakespeare: but we thought you may not be confused enough at this juncture, and wanted to help our friends in the gin industry profit from you hitting the bottle that much harder after a few more hours of this)
... Sorry, I got lost. Literature consists of Shakespeare, Pre-1914 Prose, and Modern Drama - these marks are out of 54 (hoorah!) and are averaged. By three. Yes, I know the other one was by two.

And then there's QWC, which is a mark we make up for no known reason. Try to say the next sentence in one breath. It may prevent your forehead from hitting the keyboard.

If your student is stupid, it's 1, if they're average it's 2, if they're bright, it's 3, and if they'd race to keep up with plankton, have barely ever written a word of english, it's 0.

Add the Literature and QWC grades to get the overall Literature total. No, it's not confusing to call two separate figures 'literature'. Shush. The total is out of 57.
No, really, shush. Zip it. Or we'll make you study 35 poems for the exams.

En1 means 'how noisy are they'?
Sometimes it's referred to as Speaking and Listening, although the 'listening' part is fictional.

Very noisy is a C, unless your student is a tricky little bugger who has a way with words, which makes them a B.
The fast way to do this is to take the overall Language mark and add six. Nobody will ever question you. Unless you're teaching a fantastically famous elective mute. Whcih would be a terrific coincidence.

Even then you could probably blame someone else. The parents are a popular choice - unless there's an election coming.

So, to recap:
En1 - make it up.
En 2 - big marks. average by 2.
En 3 - little marks. add up. never average.
Language - add up En 2 and 3. Ultra big marks. Like 70 or so. (But not one hundred and something. That's wrong.)
Literature - average 3 big marks.
QWC - make it up. but play safe - don't top 3/3.
Literature - add up the other literature mark and the QWC.

it's probably time to drink some gin now.

It's important that when an older, more experienced English teacher flicks casually through a coursework folder and says "no, dear, I think this is a C", you do not cry visibly until ensconced in the toilets.

You belong to a more modern efficient age. You are not allowed to decide if a bunch of essays are mostly grade C like that.
Based on what? Based on solid, unchanging standards of how good they are? Ridiculous.

Stop crying.

Here endeth the "idiot guide to AQA GCSE English marking coursework". Remember: we do it this way because it's more efficient, and not because the government hates you.
Okay, other readers, you can open your eyes again now. The nasty lack of logic is leaving.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Persistently magnificent blogger, Billy, has finally returned to teaching. Here's an extract from his first week back in the classroom: I have hit just below rock bottom - looking back I can see how I managed to talk myself up to a height that meant the only way was down but I just didn't swoop towards the ground and then pull out at the last minute - nope, I kept on going down, ploughing through two foot of tarmac, burrowing through several feet of soil, tunneling under a couple of yards of bedrock...less than three days into the job I was pontificating about the lad on my right - I was explaining how, under the new scoring system he was a definite 4 if not a 5 in the communication category level see for two hours he had been typing away - in front of him was the third chapter in a condensed version of a christmas carol..I started to explain how he had scored above 1 because he'd been working alone, a 2 would mean that he knew what he was doing, 3 could answer questions on the topic, 4 could come up with an idea, 5 he fully understood the piece of work he was typing...I pointed out that without even talking to him I knew he was scoring above a two - hell, if the bloke just said the word ghost to me I'd toy with giving him a four...and then someone in my audience asked if I meant steven the bloke sitting next to me - of course I meant steven, look, he'd been typing for over two hours, hadn't asked for help, had produced three quarters of a page in word that had no red lines no green my book steven was a four maybe a five - I just had to ask him a question...

...that's when I hit the ground...steven can't read...he can convert symbols - he knows that a is A on a keyboard...he can *see* the symbols hello and then press the keys HELLO but he can't read the word hello...nope, you can't even start to imagine how small I felt :^(.... I soared amongst the stars...janice never was explained to me that she utters one word a month to my assistant whom she has known for three years...her favourite day is when she does gardening, that's when she replies to the guy who runs the garden's question are you going to talk to me today with a no - he's known her four years and he gets one word a week...I met janice for the first time today...and true to expectations, even though I spent some time sat beside her in the morning chatting away, by lunch she had managed to even acknowledge my presence...after lunch I continued to teach sitting beside her, talking to other pupils, talking to janice...and sometime after two I got a:


...twenty minutes later I got a:


...and ten minutes after that I got a:


...three words...three fucking words...I'd like to say that it was the g-force as I was dragged out the ground, mayhap it was a bit of dirt lodged in my eye or maybe, just maybe I hit that perfect moment when you get through to someone who is untouchable...the good news is I managed to hold back the tears until I got home...
Sometimes, reading other teachers' blogs, I feel a certain deja vu. As if I'm trapped in a time loop of reading and re-reading Dave Pelzer. This stuff is real. Deeply deeply real.
If you're reading this because you have nothing much of importance to do at work, if you're currently stuck in a job where you feel you don't make a powerfully strong difference to the world, where you don't feel you're doing Something Good for humanity, try teaching.

Best job in the world.

Edit: I swear on year eights' short, collective lives that I wrote this before I read this ...

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Incidentally, the events which fuelled that post led directly to a resignation letter.

I think Seprah hit a much bruised nerve in her estimation of the after-effects:
Perspective is such a strange and fleeting thing. It's one of those things that seems so logical and right. Well, if I can see it this way, of course it must be true. When you begin to lose perspective, the loss is an insidious entity that happens so slowly that only someone inhumanly self-aware would notice the change. The shift still retains that sense of rightness to you, but not to anyone else.

The thing to remember though, is that it happens to everyone. Those what was I thinking moments can be constructive so that one can better see the slippery slope the next time. Anyone who answers "no, never" is either lying or a hermit.

The reason I'm bringing this up is that a certain teacher has noticed that her temper has gone downhill. I was a much worse teacher. I was not afraid to yell and make a scene if my students disrupted class or cheated or tried to burn their textbooks in class. I tore up cheaters' tests in the middle of lessons and threw students out because they just could not be quiet.

But I also loved them all very much. One of the reasons I won't teach is that I ended up caring too much.
But it's all perspective. From my vantage point, it just looks as if a tired, abused teacher has finally reached the point where she needs to get out and regain composure. From hers, it's that something has gone terribly wrong.
The following term's posts are intended to be the last here at The Blackboard Jungle. Hopefully, the freshly gained perspective of things / days / souls that are soon to be sorely missed will make me kinder.

Monday, April 11, 2005

A new term! And the best: the summer term - riddled with examinations, study leave, block release days, work experience, the annual school summer camp down by the Moonies HQ, and - joy of joys - work experience! I can't wait.

Possibly the choicest, fruitiest discovery of the extended Easter break was realising I'd contracted worms from my delightful students.

Threadworms. Pinworms. Intestinal parasites.

Think about that.

At some quiet, unnoticed moment, these paragons of hygiene, this new model army of well-scrubbed cherubs have passed from their hands to my hands trace fecal matter, and I have gone on to ingest the stuff.


I need to say that again, just once. Ugh.

My first thought when I hear the horrifying diagnosis: Phillip.
1995, my second year of teaching, and little twelve year old bruiser Phillip is late to school.

Phillip 'doesn't' read, he 'can't' read, he 'hates' school (indeed he was thrown out forever at fifteen, after beating then robbing a pensioner outside the school gates, then firebombing the deputy head for dessert - and they say standards of behaviour are slipping).
He's the only person fulfilling any adult role in his house, so late starts could possibly be interpreted as forgiveable. With no adult interaction whatsoever, the boy gets himself up, gets together a uniform, after a fashion, and remembers his free school meals card.
To ask for punctuality or a pen on top of this is to keep a guttering light of wild optimism aflame.

Phillip's eyes are rimed from sleep, and his hair is frozen in a damp vertical shock from the cowlick all the way to the rear left of his skull. In the last year, he's admitted three things to me:
1. My lessons have not so far been boring.
2. He likes reading out loud - as long as I don't make him do it, because, as well I know, he 'can't' read.
3. He likes English nowadays.

I call on Phillip to read a passage from White Fang, delivering him the book open at his page in an attempt to settle him more quickly.
Judiciously used, I can give you an actual teaching tip: ask hesitant readers to read for way longer than anyone else.
They'll do a page in halting, purposely-stultifying monotone, in the hope you will register the pained annoyance on their peers' faces, and rescue them. Don't.

After a page and a half, they'll come to terms with the fact that they're reading the damn book forever because that damn teacher won't let up, and suddenly their throat relaxes, their hands stop shaking, and the reading become five degrees more melodious than before.

The best thing of all? Nobody will notice. They're too into the book.
He eagerly settles into it, rubbing his eyes awake, but when I suggest a writing task the usual fuss ensues. No pen. No book. No desk. No intention of doing it.

To my shock, after ten minutes, a smiling Phillip returns to me, brandishing a page of grubbily ripped paper containing a wild scrawl of which he and I are soon inordinately proud.
I ask for his pen to make one correction; he passes me a freshly chewed version of the fancy pen I'd had in my desk, lid glistening with intent spittle.
I ask for his hand to shake, a formal congratulation for completing more classwork than ever before.
Phillip grins from under the flop of dark fringe, and thrusts towards me his miniaturised hand. The nails are blackened, the knuckles are scabbed, and for one horrifying second I glimpse the white recently crusted scale between the fingers of his right hand, before flinching.
That's how I learnt never to be overly tactile with crusty little boys. This week I learnt the same lesson again.