The Blackboard Jungle

days spent beating back the seeds of doubt

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Like a naughty child avoiding her homework, I've secretly started teaching again.

Only Different.

The Blackboard Jungle began as a diary of teaching English literature to a bunch of disaffected, disturbed, and disarmingly creative adolescents in an inner city London comprehensive.
This is what one would term a Difficult Day Job.
When DfEE fatigue finally set in, I jumped ship at the big sign marked 'BURNT OUT: nearly there' and went travelling for ... um, well, two years. Overkill? Perhaps. (I did tell you the part about 'Difficult', right?)
My co-contributor athrawes blogged (almost) a year of learning to teach, as she completed a PGCE in Maths in Welsh village schools; you'd think it was as different from the mean streets of Catford as you could get. However, the story of kids setting fire to the playing fields convinced me there are failing schools in all sorts of contexts.

What else? In India, I finally read the novel which inspires our title here, The Blackboard Jungle. It's brilliant. Read it, if you can.
Brilliant and scary, because the same disaffected, disturbed, disarmingly creative students are described in 1950s NYC as I taught in South East London, as athrawes is teaching in South Wales.

And this is the whole problem, the whole spasming reason teachers ever Burn Out.

It brings back all the despair teachers feel when they realise that disaffected, disturbed, disarmingly creative students are entirely predictable.

That education as a political football, full of shiny new initiatives for the press, and no real practical thought for the students, is entirely predictable.

Teachers and students; caught between two unvarying opposing forces.

It's not a wonder that I jumped ship after twelve successful years. It's a wonder anyone stays so long.

But this year is Only Different.

This time, I am writing for you from a new country, a new career. In the two years of no blogs, I made a new home for myself in the Andean mountains of northern PerĂº. Amazonas, to be precise. I teach English to Peruvian students at a private language institute.
  • It's no longer a deeply personal process because students 'have no other way out of their lives', but because this time I also run the school.
  • My classes vary between 3 and 10 students, not 27-50.
  • One of my primary duties is dragging school fees out of the students.
  • My students are a mixture of adults and teenagers - the shock of not being able to chase students around the room to demonstrate differing pronunciations of 'steak' and 'stick' has already set in. (Around the exact moment I later had to sit in front of said student at the bank and apply for a business loan.)
  • I have much more interest in grammar, now it doesn't make any sense whatsoever to anybody.
  • I don't teach to any exam, because the exam is something I imaginate in order to persuade students to cough up wodges of cash for fancy certificates.

And I don't have a governmental curriculum to follow.

It's still teaching. Only Different.

We'll see.