Archive for March, 2007

h1

Being Supported by a Year Head

March 25, 2007

End of Friday’s lesson, in my classroom

Miss Rush, the newly appointed Head of Year 9, has been assisting with one of my more challenging classes.

“How did you feel about that lesson, Andrew? There’s quite some characters in there.”

“Well I was a little upset that when I started teaching the main part of the lesson two of the students started yelling out to you that I don’t normally teach them anything. Lemuel started said that I normally make them do the questions on the board for the entire hour. Tara said that I normally just set them an exercise from the books without explaining it. Lemuel even claimed that this was the reason there was no work in his book.”

“Well I didn’t believe that. That’s why I told them to be quiet so you could get on with teaching them.”

“Well I’m afraid that did rather ruin my mood for the rest of the lesson.”

“Well you shouldn’t take it personally. They say things like that all the time when I visit their classes, they say ‘It’s not normally like this’ and complain about the teacher. But nobody listens to them”

“I had an observed lesson with that class a few weeks ago where Tara told an observer from the LEA that it was a bad lesson and Dean said that he’d learnt nothing. I’m still being hassled about that now, so yes I think that people do listen to them”

“I didn’t know about that. Well that’s something your head of department needs to look at. What I mean is that they don’t know that it’s wrong to do that sort of thing. Look, Andrew, you and I we had parents that told us what right and wrong were. These children don’t have those sorts of home lives. They don’t know what behaviour is acceptable.”

“They are in their ninth year of compulsory education. They might have picked it up by now.”

“They have to be reminded what’s appropriate because they don’t have that at home. It’s like when I came here and had my first ASDAN class. They didn’t know it was wrong to tell me to ‘fuck off’ so I had to tell them “that’s not appropriate” whenever they did that. The inportant thing is to be encouraging when they do something right. Did you see how Tara responded when I praised her work? She was all smiles. Lemuel just needs to be praised when he does his work.”

“He doesn’t usually do any work to be praised.”

“You just have to be encouraging with him. He doesn’t know what is or isn’t acceptable. Look you are obviously really good with the academic stuff. I could never do that. The important thing is that we keep trying in the lesson, keep on top of it. I’ll try and visit again next week.”

Wednesday, in a Corridor

“How’s it going with that class, Andrew?”

“Well I put a lot of time and effort into praising Lemuel. He did seem to respond slightly better than usual. However because I was spending so much time in that part of the classroom that I couldn’t spend much time dealing with Dean and he started doing football chants and throwing things and ended up being sent out of the room. I’ve moved him to the front of the class now.”

“Well I’ll come in and help for the start of your next lesson on Friday. Keep it up.”

Start of Friday’s Lesson

Miss Rush arrives with 8 students from my class she’s found in the corridor.

“Sit down everybody. Can you get on with your work please, Lemuel? Mr Old has put your folder on your table for you. Can you get your book out?”

“I don’t want to. I’ve got a headache.”

“Well just see what you can do. Stop that, Jordan! What’s the problem Dean?”

“I don’t want to sit here. I can’t see the board from here, Miss.”

“Oh. Well lets see. Hang on, Mr Old has printed out a copy of what’s on the board. Here it is.”

“I don’t want to sit here. I don’t want to do this work.”

“Well you need to hurry up and get started.”

“Huh”.

“Come on, sit down and get your book out, please, Dean.”

“I don’t have a pencil.”

“Here’s one that Mr Old has just handed me.”

“I’m cold, I don’t want to sit here.”

“Just get on with your work. I’ve made a special effort to get here to help you.”

“I don’t want to sit here.”

“Just get on with your work, Dean! ALL OF YOU, GET ON WITH YOUR WORK! I’VE COME HERE SPECIALLY TO HELP YOU IN THIS LESSON AND ALL I CAN SEE IS PEOPLE NOT DOING WHAT THEY’VE BEEN TOLD. JUST GET ON WITH YOUR WORK! I have to go now.”

Miss Rush exits abruptly, apparently not thinking about their difficult home lives.

Footnote: ASDAN is a special subject that less able pupils do when they are unlikely to pass anything that leads to a qualification. I don’t know what it is (although apparently they sometimes go skateboarding) and I don’t know what ASDAN stands for, although I have more than once heard it suggested that it stands for “Anti-Social, Delinquent, ASBO Nutters”.

h1

Getting “Terrored”

March 18, 2007

At the Metropolitan School “terror” is a verb, not a noun. “To terror a teacher” means to subject a teacher to a continual stream of intimidation and abuse with the intention of causing the maximum amount of stress. The main purpose of this is to intimidate the teacher into giving up on any attempt to enforce the rules. Also it can be used to attempt to drive the teacher out of the school, or as a way for students to assert their status or authority with their peers. Consequently it is aimed largely at teachers who are new to the school, or at least new to the class, although if a class is arrogant enough it will be aimed at any teacher who expects them to behave.

Terroring begins with low level disruption. Admittedly everything at the Metropolitan school begins with low level disruption. However, if you are getting terrored then any effort to prevent the disruption or enforce the school rules will lead to escalation through the following stages:

Stage 1: Argument

This begins with “We are allowed to…” or “But you….”

For example:

  • “We are allowed to drink water in class.”
  • “We are allowed to sit where we like.”
  • “We are allowed to keep our coats on.”
  • “We are allowed to listen to music in the lesson.”
  • “We are allowed to talk if we want to.”

Or:

  • “But you haven’t given me a pen”
  • “But you haven’t told us what to do”
  • “But you can’t make me sit on my own.”
  • “But you can’t make us do work if we don’t want to”.

All of which will be said in the most aggressive tone imaginable and in defiance of all the facts. The intention is to start an argument. Whether you give them the argument or not makes no difference as to what happens next.

Stage 2: Accusation

  • “You give us detentions for nothing.”
  • “You don’t help us.”
  • “You don’t explain nothing.”
  • “You gave me a warning for asking for help.”
  • “You never told us what to do.”
  • “You pick on boys.”
  • “You pick on girls.”
  • “You pick on me.”
  • “You make everything complicated.”
  • “You don’t explain things properly.”
  • “You don’t know how the rules work.”

The accusations will be repeated by several students and any effort to point out the facts will lead to a different accusation being made.

Stage 3: The Strop

One of the ringleaders in the class will soon lose their temper. It will happen regardless of how you have responded to Stage 1 or Stage 2. Triggers can include:

  • Arguing with them.
  • Enforcing the rules.
  • Reminding them of the rules.
  • Asking them not to interrupt you when you are talking to another child.
  • Setting work.
  • Correcting their mistakes.
  • Asking to see their work.
  • Looking at their work.
  • Talking to them.

Once triggered the strop, delivered at high volume, often while standing, will contain the following three elements: accusation, threat and abuse in any order.

For example:

  • “You didn’t help me (accusation). I’m complaining to my parents (threat). You’re a knob (abuse).”
  • “I’m going to get you fired (threat). You’re a fucking wanker (abuse). You gave me a detention for nothing (accusation).”
  • “My Dad’s going to batter you (threat). You’re picking on me (accusation). You smell (abuse).”

The verbal abuse and threats will not shock the class. Many will be very entertained and be waiting for the next stage.

Stage 4: The Appeal to their Peers

In this stage the aggrieved child will seek and receive support from the rest of the class, particularly their friends. The support is automatic, they wouldn’t seek it if there was ever any doubt that it would be forthcoming. The child will ask others to support their accusation, to agree with their opinion, to express their disapproval of the teacher.

  • “He’s lying. Put your hand up if you think he’s lying”
  • “Everybody hates you”
  • “You will all back up my story won’t you?”

Alternatively they might ask others to join in with their behaviour:

  • “We should all get sent out”
  • “We should all walk out”
  • “What are you going to do if we all refuse to work?”

Stage 5: The Copycats and the Stressmongers

When you have done your best to deal with the ringleader (usually by getting them to leave the room, which they will do as slowly as possible, with extra abuse along the way, and comments about how they will not be punished for what they are doing as it’s all your fault) then you will be faced with two twin threats.

Stressmongers will say things to you to make the situation seem even worse:

  • “You can’t control us can you, Sir?”
  • “Are you having a bad day?”
  • “Why are you looking unhappy?”
  • “Did you know nobody’s doing any work?”
  • “What are you going to do when Kelly’s Dad comes in to batter you?”
  • “You got terrored.”

Copycats will wait their turn to also lose their temper in the style of the now departed ringleader. If you ask them to work they will strop. If you let them sit doing no work they will start breaking rules (eg. leaving their seat, getting their phones out, getting their lunch out). The moment you remind them of the rules they will become irate and you will be back at Stage 3. If you just ignore their rule-breaking they will start throwing things or hitting one of their friends. You now have a no win situation. If you tell Chelsea to stop throwing things at Damien then Chelsea will lose her temper. If you don’t, then Damien will lose his. Alternatively somebody else might start doing something dangerous (swinging on chair, sticking their pen in a plug socket) so you have to intervene and give somebody an excuse to lose their temper with you. There is no way to stop the copycats any more than you could have prevented any other of the steps.

So what can you do about being terrored?

I’ll tell you: you can get used to it. It’s not going away. Until schools are allowed to adopt a policy of permanent exclusion for verbal abuse of staff the feeling of power terroring a teacher gives a child will outweigh any deterrent value of any punishment. The best you can hope for is that SMT have their act together enough to act after the first time it happens. Otherwise it will probably happen every lesson and you will be told it is your fault.

Of course if it does start happening every lesson and you are on supply this is the point where you quit, and if you are a permanent member of staff this is when you start to call in sick with stress. However be aware that if any of the class ever see you again, even in the street, their first words to you will be:
“You got terrored”.

h1

Unsolved Mysteries of Teaching

March 11, 2007

What I want to know is:

  1. Why are there boys called Cain (or Kane)? I know there are fewer churchgoers these days and it would be overly optimistic to expect parents to have learnt even a basic knowledge of the Bible in school RE lessons, but surely they must know it is a by-word for “murderer”? They don’t call their daughters Jezebel (yet), so they must have some knowledge of biblical names. Actually now I think about it, I can think of one reason a parent might call their son Cain. Perhaps they had some insight into his future academic achievement and realised he wasn’t Abel.
  2. Why don’t SMT take things literally? If you tell them a class won’t do any work they assume that the class doesn’t do enough work. They won’t actually accept that the entire class will just sit and do nothing. If you tell them that a child is barking they assume you are saying that he is mad, not that he is literally yelping like a dog (and in some cases walking around on all fours as he does it). My friend Jack at Woodrow Wilson School had all sorts of problems with his Year 10 reports. As part of the Woodrow Wilson tradition of making things difficult, Key Stage 4 reports had to be signed by the students. He warned SMT that his class (which was one that wouldn’t do any work in the literal sense) would scribble on and destroy the reports. They told him to hand them out anyway and report any problems to them. He did so, and they were all scribbled on or destroyed. He ended up having to rewrite them all.
  3. Why are school desks big enough for two children to sit at? Putting two children right next to each other is just going to stop them working and encourage them to chat and copy. We know this well enough to have individual desks for exams. So who decided that copying and chatting was fine in classrooms?
  4. Why was PT (Physical Training) renamed as PE (Physical Education)? I can understand why those delivering the lessons might have wanted the change. No doubt there is greater status in being an “educator” or “teacher” rather than a “trainer” or “coach”. But how come nobody in charge of the curriculum said “but you aren’t educating them, you’re making them run around a field”?
  5. How is that students aren’t embarrassed by making particularly stupid statements? I don’t mean on academic subjects, I understand why they want to be seen as academically weak, they might get beaten up if they were known to be learning. What I don’t understand is how a child who is standing up can say “I am sitting down”, or how any child can say “I’m not talking”, or worst of all how a child told not to answer back can say “I’m not answering back”.
  6. What do RE teachers do?

Answers to my questions welcome.

h1

The Most Ridiculous Complaints Ever Made Against Me

March 4, 2007

A natural hazard of teaching these days is the belief that parents should be able to hold teachers to account. This is, of course, ridiculous. Parents have only one source of information about what happens at school: their kids. As any realist knows children are prone to lying to their parents. This is not necessarily for malicious reasons, very often children find it embarrassing to talk their honestly to their parents about their life. Come to think of it, this is also true of most adults I know too. Therefore virtually any complaint formed on the basis of a child’s comments to parents is a string of lies, but as teachers aren’t actually considered to be trusted professionals the parents are listened to.

Most complaints are normally along the lines of “my child doesn’t get any homework”, which normally translates as “my child doesn’t do any homework” and can be dealt with by sending the homework to whoever is dealing with the complaint. However some are more serious. The complaints below resulted in a Headteacher lecturing me and turning up for “surprise” observations, a Deputy Head interrogating me, a parent confronting me in reception as I arrived at work, another parent turning up and threatening to attack me and several children being moved classes. The management strategy is invariably to appease the parents of badly behaved children. No parent was told: “if you don’t like it, go to another school”.

Complaint No 1: “He picks on me”
Made by: Kelly Winton. Alpha female in year 8 at the Metropolitan School.

What actually happened: I told her to stop interrupting me. I told her to do some work in lessons. She wasn’t the only child to be told this, although she was the only one (that week) to start yelling at me and verbally abusing me when I suggested it. A more general variation of the complaint was that I pick on the girls in that class. This probably had less impact as at the same time I was being accused of picking on the boys in the class. Another parental complaint from the same class also explained that expecting their son to stop interrupting me and do some work showed that I wasn’t prepared for “the realities of the multicultural classroom”.

Complaint No 2: “He won’t help me with my coursework”
Made by: Some very lazy year 11s at Woodrow Wilson School.

What actually happened: They wouldn’t do their coursework. My offer to help them any day after school was ignored. According to the complaint I couldn’t be found in my department after school. The fact that I was the one that used to switch off the lights in the departmental office at the end of the day would suggest I could, in fact, be found for hours after school (and have no life).

Complaint No 3: “He assaulted me.”
Made by: Kieran Kennings, one of the mental boys at Stafford Grove School (mentioned in this entry)

What actually happened: Kieran turned up to my form room while I was taking the register. He opened the door (into the Corridor Of Death) and refused to move. When the bell went my form group became trapped in the room, crowding around the door. I gently led Kieran out of the way by the elbow. Despite the law that states that teachers can use reasonable force to prevent pupils “engaging in behaviour prejudicial to maintaining good order and discipline” even the gentlest effort to prevent pupils from harming others can be subject to complaint. “You can’t touch me” is almost the catchphrase of any child engaging in behaviour that would get them arrested (or beaten up) out in the real world.

Complaint No 4: “He assaulted me”
Made by: Jason Birch, year 7 at the Metropolitan School.

What actually happened: A good question. I’m still at a loss to explain this one. I know Jason had decided he didn’t like me, the point where he called me a knob gave that away. I did tell him I’d be telling his father about this behaviour. Somehow that turned into a full-fledged accusation of assault, although given that we were both seated and at opposite ends of the classroom I’m not sure how this worked. Very strange indeed, but then the boy had been told that his behaviour was down to a “medical condition”, which in my experience usually means that the child will do whatever they like without fear of consequences.

Complaint No 5: “He threw us down the stairs”.
Made by: Year 7 boys at Stafford Green school.

What actually happened: I threw some year 7 boys down the stairs.

Okay I admit it. I lied about the last one.

The year 7s I threw down the stairs didn’t complain.

Discussion of this entry has now appeared on TES.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 8,580 other followers

%d bloggers like this: