The Blackboard Jungle

days spent beating back the seeds of doubt

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Fire alarm on Thursday. My year 7 looking a mixture of excited and afraid – they can see from the teachers, and the fact that it is raining, that this isn’t a drill – so maybe it is real and that’s a bit scary. They ask me how long they will be there – stood in the rain in the yard – and I can’t tell them, which worries them, but do tell them to wrap up warm. The tiny little boys in year seven look very cold – please, please wrap your kid up warm when you send them to school.

We have a problem with some year 7 girls – it’s hard to really tell what is going on, who is right or wrong or whether indeed there is a right and wrong – but one little girl approached me after registration to tell me that her mate was staying off school because another year 7 girl was picking on her. I reassured the wee lass that she had done well to talk to me – she’s a nice girl – and felt like a proper pastoral carer not just a subject teacher. The school take this sort of thing very seriously and the head of year had chatted to all concerned before the end of first period. It’s easy for me to label the least pleasant of the girls concerned as the troublemakers…but I have to remember that there are two sides and the importance of not labelling a kid at year 7 for the rest of their time in the school.

Snowed out on Friday. The school is open but half the teachers can’t make it in, what with living in lovely remote middle class villages. I was stuck in my village surrounded on all sides by either 45 degree hills or impassable narrow roads (which are oddly surrounded by fields higher than the road, causing run off which freezes…) – freed by lunchtime but I had no lessons so stayed home and marked GCSE test-run papers.

First formal lesson evaluation went well – until now my mentor has been helpfully pointing out my shortcomings so it was nice to have the good bits acknowledged.

My mission for this week is a) to try and get a plenary fitted into my lessons, and b) to work on my IT skills – trying to use the Interactive Whiteboard more interestingly.

That is so long as a plague of locusts don’t descend…after all, we’ve had flood, fire, snow – what’s next?

Friday, November 25, 2005

"if you're not willing to be changed by a place, there's no point in going."

Interruption in service: I apologise to athrawes, I should be away, travelling, silent, not interrupting, but there's something urgent that I need to ask of the good readers of Blackboard Jungle.

You see I'm in Vietnam, doing a sponsored bike ride for Vietnamese street kids. The Eighty Kilometre Bike Ride of Death, I call it.
[mais monsieur! even crossing ze street in Hanoi, c'est plus dangerouse!]

Right now it's less than 24 hours until the KOTO sponsored bike ride.

An eighty kilometre bicycle ride through the still green lakes and hills of Vietnam, to raise money for a worthy cause: the education and training of street children of Ha Noi, by an aussie charity here.

I'm all hyped up. Pumped, as Arnie says. I'm ready to kill myself doing this.

And kill myself doing this is extremely likely.
Did I mention that I'm not really outdoorsy?
That despite posturing underwater in the previous four months, back on dry land, I remain the world's biggest seven stone weakling?
Did I mention that I haven't ridden a bicycle in fifteen years?
Did I mention that I haven't done any physical exercise at all since some rowing in Singapore four weeks ago?
I did mention that just those two hours left me crippled for two days, didn't I?
Did I point out what eighty kilometres is in imperial measurements? It's FIFTY MILES. When I wrote to everyone in my address book asking for sponsorship, I didn't realise this. To a Brit, every metrical measurement appears tiny. I assumed this would be something simple, like a foot or so. 80 metres. 80 centimetres. Perhaps 80 millimetres. You know, something possible?
I ever mention to you that even in the gym in days of yore, the stationary bike machines were the one thing I couldn't cope with?
That my thigh muscles are such flaccid dead fish of a human sinew that they usually appeared to split at the seams after just 75 repetitions of pressing down an unweighted wheel to get nowhere?
Many of my good sponsors have communicated an earnest hope that I have been in training since I foolishly agreed to murder myself by two wheeled means. This is not so. My training regime has been a peculiar one. It involves food poisoning, a full week laid prone in bed, running to the toilet every hour, and eating one bowl of rice and boiled broccoli a day. I look skinnier, yeah, but fitter? Think 'The Pianist'.
Have I mentioned that Ha Noi's road traffic doesn't follow any rules whatsoever? That simply crossing a road intact was a Vietnamese challenge sent me by one reader?
The streets are infested with speeding mopeds, ridden to be seen, not to get from A to B, and therefore populated with the type of motorist whose mirrors are angled to check their hair is straight rather than to stay alive.
The rules of the road are: the bigger the vehicle, the faster you have to move out of the way. Horns are a deafening everpresent scrum. A horn beeping replaces the indicator lights, replaces the use of brakes, alerts people to the oncoming road accident, and tells everyone that you're rich enough to have a moped. Horns beep day and night in an orchestral cacophony. Horns beeping will not save me from harm.
Did I tell you that the reason I never cycled in London was because I'm not roadworthy? I was the only kid in my primary school class who didn't pass the Cycling Proficiency Test.
Did I tell you that the last time I cycled anywhere, in the nineteen eighties, I had to ask a friend to cycle just in front of me, so I could steal the signals from her without looking behind me? Because if I look over my shoulder, I wobble ten feet to the left, then fall off the bike?
That I've never yet managed to stay on a bike on a mild incline?
That I have a serious problem navigating Ha Noi's streets, and have only once managed to leave my hotel without getting lost within six paces?
That one of the KOTO bike ride's central problems is people with an actual sense of direction get lost year after year?
Are you feeling quite how bloody foolish this bike ride will be for me yet?
Nevertheless I will do this.

I will do this because KOTO is a really really worthwhile cause. I will do this because I promised my friends if they sponsored me, I would photograph my agony and embarrassment.

I will do this because having read this promise, my sodding bloody over-generous friends committed more than $800USD in just 48 hours, if I kill myself on Saturday.

Every mile I ride, every muscle I tear, every ragged gasp I breathe, every pained tear I shed, every tendon I split will be recorded for their delectation.

And it will kill me.

If you're willing to add to the sum raised by my death, and are titillated by the thought that KOTO will sell you pictures of it, please send your email and your sponsorship promises to me at this address.

I'm asking you for the price of a pizza.

Roll call of esteemed sponsors:
Russell Braterman, Germany, Eroica from Frogstar World, NZ, Looby from Gay Nazi Sex Vicar ..., UK, Francesca from End Message, UK, Vikki Tomlinson, UK, Martin from Web Frog, UK, Tess from Bored and Broke, Northern Ireland, Duch, UK, my mum and dad, UK, Margret Smith, Spain, Ruth Gilburt, UK, jatb, UK, Will of Moving Forward, Mexico, Tim Worstall, UK, Karen from Secret Walk, Phillippines, Robin Brzakalik, UK, my sister, UK, Paul from Noxturne, USA, Paula Newark, UK, Fishboy from Effing the Ineffable, Australia, Pete Connolly, UK, Yidaho from kitchensunk, UK, Bloom from Tales from the Chalkface, UK, Madeleine Minson, Sweden, Emma from Etcher: A Print Maker's Diary, UK, my mum's boss at work, UK, Terry of More Coffee, Less Dukkha, UK, Mike of Troubled Diva, UK, Nicole Hammond, UK.

Killers, all of them.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Sorry for not writing for a while – it’s been…well, not hell exactly, fun but exhausting.

Last week I started my first full hour teaching all by myself. The first couple of lessons went as well as could be expected – even better maybe – the kids behaved and whilst I didn’t make it all the way to the end of my lesson plans, they did at least learn something.

The third lesson was a disaster – I took everything that an good, well behaved year 10 maths class knew about Trigonometry and mangled it out of all recognition. They left doubting the last three years of their schooling. My mentor said that she would have cried had she given a lesson as bad as that. I realise that makes her sound horrid, she isn’t at all – she then spent ages going through with me how to do it right and today I shall try again. She’s incredibly supportive and I am really not sure what she is getting out of having to mollycoddle students.

This week I have repeated the mangling job on a year 8 class – this time how to teach the subtraction of negative numbers. See, when we were in school we just learnt the rules – learn, apply, get a tick. I instead have this silly liberal notion that the children should know WHY two negatives make a positive – making a rod for my own back many would say. The reality is – it’s bloody hard to explain without getting into concepts of buying back debt and international trade financing and reinsurance! Poor loves – they were so confused. A class of angels disintegrated into babble and gossip and getting up and walking around just because they weren’t remotely engaged in what their rubbish maths teacher was trying to tell them. This time I did cry (not in front of the kids).

The other time I struggled to fight back the tears was at the Remembrance Assembly where Y11 read out poems written by soldiers little older than themselves and a boy played a heart rending last post…

So, today as well as redoing the trig lesson I need to redo the negative numbers lesson. I am not looking forward to either. It feels like last chance. Do or die. I so want to be a good teacher, I care, I just never thought it would be this hard.

Two days later...

Well, the negative numbers thing worked. Holes. That's the answer - that a hole makes a negative and filling in a hole makes a positive...hey, it works for maths teachers!

Today I gave my first detention! One of them didn't turn up - it was only meant to be 10 minutes at lunchtime too, so she'll be in tomorrow for half an hour, and if she doesn't turn up then it'll be half an hour after school...escalation...the power!!

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Disaster. Chaos!

Well, to be fair to the head and teachers - very and admirably so, controlled chaos.

The school flooded. Within half and hour the water had progressed from being an interesting puddle that meant people might get their shoes wet on the way to their cars - to a full school invading flood a foot or more deep in places.

Ok, so no-one was going to die by drowning but it did mean that for two hours we needed to cointain the entire school population within the upper floor - 850 wet, wriggly over excited teenagers, away from their normal routine, all needing to be kept in the nearest room. Any room - just NOT in the wet and slippery corridor and certainly not leaning out of window leching at the firemen (year 10 girls!). All in all this did pose a potential for child death by overwraught teacher.

Most of the school population are bused in from up to 10 miles away. This means that the buses that were due to arrive at 15.30 needed to be called upon to arrive earlier - soon - God help us all - now - please just take them away!?

The management team have been amazing. As a student teacher I am aware that teachers don't always like to offer any recognition of value of management. The head was out in the rain up to his shins in muddy water directing the crisis all afternoon - maybe that wasn't the best place for him to be, but hell, at least he looked involved and bothered! A day off and we have year 11 back - the school is being dried out and new floors, carpets and curtains all on order. Work is being set on the school website for years 7-10. I'm impressed.

I would like some year 7's and 8's to teach though...i spent all last week preparing lesson plans and have no children to teach!! Five weeks till Xmas and I need to get practise gfacing the crowds before my next school placement in February (when I will be expected to be up to speed and proficient!).

Fingers crossed that the local council did good work over the weekend and we have the little darlings back on Monday.

Monday, November 07, 2005

After two weeks back in college we are now back in school attempting to practise what the University has preached.

I have prepared my absurdely detailed lesson plans and will try and remember the lessons learnt last week in a practise session in college - when I deviated from the best laid plan, waffled, went off track and totally lost the plot!

This afternoon I thought that I was doing OK, giving out the answers to a homework, getting the children to "hands up!" with their suggested answers and working out the hard ones with them on the board - however, it turns out, that I am over friendly and a victim in waiting! All bubbly and enthusiastic - which is good - and totally unaware that they are just waiting to walk all over me.

I must be more firm, distant and authoritarian, hold back that friendly edge until I have the ability to terrify them, until they know that when I'm nice, I'm very nice but when they're bad I'm terrible!

It was good advice from my mentor who could obviously see a pit potentially opening up iun front of me; it is hard not to mimic her casual and friendly approach with a class she knows well - but important to remember that she has already been through the stage of establishing her authority.

The hardest thing is getting used to being around teenagers. I am just not used to them. What is that noise coming out of their mobile phone (turns out it is highly valued downloaded music!). What are the rules about them eating their lunch in the form room (seems reasonable to me - but then again, they aren't adults...) and can I trust them when they say that "Miss" lets them?
I have a year 7 form group to share care for until Xmas and so can practise on the pre-teens before moving onto deciphering the proto-adults.