"My humanity is bound up in yours, for we can only be human together." “When I hear people say politics and religion don't mix, I wonder what Bible they are reading.” (Archbishop Desmond Tutu)
"Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable--if anything is excellent or praiseworthy--think about such things." Philippians 4.19
"Work out your salvation with fear and trembling." Philippians 2.12
Wednesday, March 30, 2011
(Chardonnay as we've never seen her before>)
So, Devinder, Student Teacher Khadija, twenty 11 year olds and I set off at lunch time for the delights of down-town Huddersfield in a small coach.
Are we nearly there yet?
We're still in the school's car park.
What'll we do when we get there?
I'm not entirely sure about this as Devinder has done all the organising. I understand from her that there will be displays about different religions put up by other local High Schools in a sort of market-place. I am hoping there is ethnic food. I explain this to Karl.
Couldn't we do something interesting?
I resist the temptation to slug him one and, instead, give him a lecture in low hissing tones about how Mrs Singh has worked really hard to put the afternoon together and he's going to enjoy himself and show her appreciation whether he wants to or not.
He looks doubtful.
At the same time I am wondering which of the little scamps has had the lack of forethought to bring egg sandwiches on a coach. It turns out to be Nkwame and the school-provided packed lunch: the Dinner Lady's revenge!
The journey is mercifully short - and we've not even had any community singing. I am already in a semi-comatose state as a result of Karl's mistaken belief that I might be even remotely interested in his anorak-interest in local shops.
You see that street there Sir? There on the left.
Oh, now you've missed it. You weren't looking Sir. There's a bed shop down there on the right.
Don't worry, there's an undertakers coming up down a right turn soon. I'll point it out to you.
Take me now Lord.
At our destination we disembark and line up in pairs. Ten black-blazered pairs of little rascals scrubbed up for an afternoon as ambassadors for the Knowledge College. Karl tries to push Khadija out of the way to be paired with me but his hand is grabbed - rather too enthusiastically I feel, by Kara who gives him a soppy smile. Khadija throws me a glance that says so much and, smirking, we bring up the rear with the redoubtable Mrs. Singh in the vanguard.
The displays are really very good and show how thoughtful local kids of all ethnicities and religions have worked really hard to engage younger children's imaginations about the out-working of the spiritual in the daily lives of ordinary folk. There are quizzes, a treasure trail, a community garden, opportunities for artistic expression and dressing up - Chardonnay and the Burkha will long remain in my memory together with Nathan in a priest's alb and stole.
Khadija is mobbed by a group of girls from her previous teaching placement.
Miss! Why did you leave us?
Braden takes two turns around the hall and asks Khadija when the coach will be back. I spend much of the rest of the afternoon turning him out of the toilets.
But I'm busting Sir. I need to go quick.
Firstly, it's BURSTING, secondly it's QUICKLEY - LY, adverb - and, thirdly, NO ONE OF YOUR AGE NEEDS TO SPEND THAT MUCH TIME IN A TOILET IF THEY'RE HEALTHY!
God, you can't do anything!
Some of the other young people provide music with a religious theme. It is mainly gospel based or well known Christian choruses and the array of talent is impressive. Two young Asian boys get up on the stage to sing, sadly rather tunelessly I felt, a musical representation of the Adhan - the Muslim call to prayer. I head Braden off at the door.
Sit down now and show some respect.
But it's rubbish.
Well, I have to say there are certain similarities with the infamous Portugese entry in the 1978 Eurovision Song Contest, which, even though it came last I still hum in moments of high stress, but that's not really the point.
I take Braden outside the hall.
Well, they don't learn our religion.
Oh, and which religion would that be exactly Braden? (Through gritted teeth.)
I repeat the question.
You know, ours.
I know mine. I'm not sure about yours Braden.
You know. Church and all that.
You go to church Braden?
Duh! 'Course not.
So what religion is that then?
My Dad says ...
I'm not interested in what your Dad (or the Daily Star) has to say. Listen to me and listen carefully: ALL our students follow the same broad courses of study. If you think our Muslim pupils don't study Christianity at some stage you're very much mistaken. Now get in there, sit down and clap enthusiastically when those lads have finished or I'll tell the compare that you - yes you Braden, want to stand up on the stage and sing a hymn from your religious tradition. Do I make myself clear?
Braden looks stricken but can be seen later leading the applause. No doubt he is another student I have emotionally scarred for life.
The return journey is a mirror image of the outward journey only with pepsi sprayed liberally down the now less than pristine white shirts of some of the boys.
Sir. Sir. You see that road there? There's a shop there sells bathroom fittings.
What is the penalty for infanticide?
Friday, March 25, 2011
Today is the day Devinder and I take our Year 7s out on a trip. It is not a big event, merely a trip to Huddersfield to a religious market place set up by other local schools. Ours don't have very wide horizons. Huddersfield might as well be Las Vegas.
I am very fond of Yr 7 - well, not Braden obviously. They are very funny and unselfconsciously 11.
I arrive at school at 7.20. My colleague Andy arrives shortly after.
I'm sorry. I can't hear a thing.
I look at my friend.
You have cotton wool in both ears.
You have cotton wool in both ears.
He looks startled and removes the cotton wool.
We carry on as if nothing had happened.
I wander to the office and come upon two year 7 girls. What on earth are they doing in so early?
I'm dead excited sir. I've eaten my packed lunch.
Oh really Chelsea? What did that include?
Chelsea gives me the run down on her early lunch: cheese sandwhich with cherry tomatoes, an apple and two chocolate yoghurts. (They're the only sort I can have.) I was so close to asking why but I have learned it's best not to. I wish I had.
I'm so excited some wee came out.
Really Toni? Again I don't ask more. It really pays not to.
We aren't going until 12.15.
Sir, Sir, Nkwame's forgotten his packed lunch.
Nkwame is entitled to free school meals and I throw myself on the mercy of our catering supervisor who is, one feels, a saint as she rustles him up a nourishing little offering in a discrete bag to save embarrassment.
Morning staff briefing is usually a fairly turgid affair with countless announcements and notices that largely don't apply to me and so go in one ear and out the other. Today I arrive in the staff room early to discover one of our student teachers with a Heath-Robinson contraption she had put together for her science lesson. It consists of welded pipes and valves, compressed air and a rocket. We spend several happy minutes firing the rocket at various members of the English department who congregate in the opposite corner of the staff room. She declines my bribe of a fast-track pass on her teaching practice if she "accidently" fires the rocket at the Head during notices.
No backbone, these young teachers.
How inconvenient teaching is. It really get's in the way of enjoying school I find. I have an uneventful Yr 10 lesson where they are revising work for their forthcoming exam. I am gratified that they actually seem to know things. Yr 11, also on the threshold of exams, are less encouraging. You may remember Jolene. I showed the class the iconic photo of the Vietnamese girl running down the street, naked and screaming.
Is she Chinese then?
No she's Vietnamese.
Isn't that Chinese, then?
No It's Vietnamese. That's why I said it.
Where's that then? (Others in the class are getting restless. There are a few rolling eyes. This is going to be another Joleneism. She is noted for them.) One of the other girls tries to rescue her by explaining the concept of South-East Asia. She takes umbridge.
Well, how was I to know?
Vietnaan. Is that an Indian bread? Does it come with garlic?
No. It's a country.
Is it in India?
Why not? It should be if they eat that sort of food.
There is a stunned silence and then the others erupt with hoots of derision. Jolene does not bow to hoots of derision and she regally lets it all wash over her (empty) head.
I relate this to a senior colleague later.
It was a blond moment.
But she's not blonde.
Oh my God. I'm surrounded by them.
To be continued.
Thursday, March 24, 2011
It is a sunny day. The windows at the Knowledge College are wide open and I have had a non-contact period and have been marking. Through the window have drifted the strains of the school "choir". It occurs to me that Abba's Voulez Vouz is an unusual choice. They sing it again. Badly. And again and again. Equally badly, shouted and off key. My teeth are on edge. I am a music lover. I ponder and weigh up the likely outcome of going over to the Hall and asking if they do requests with my preferred options being
a) Shut-the-f**k-up and
b) Do you know anything with a tune?
It has been one of those days.
All we ever do is write. (said as a whine.)
So today I do something different. To consolodate learning I devise a series of word puzzles where they have to find key words and phrases on the topics we have recently completed from the notes in their books. The instructions are on my power-point on the board.
I don't get it.
The instructions are on the board.
I still don't get it.
It would help if you opened your book and looked back over your work. Having a closed book puts you at something of a disadvantage with the task.
It's too hard. Why can't we copy?
Er ... because you don't like writing.
Marcus. Show me what you've done this lesson.
Marcus reluctantly shows me his exercise book. (This act is accompanied by much sighing at the unreasonableness of my request.) An hour's worth of work consists of one badly written and misspelled paragraph of three lines and three unattempted word puzzles inexpertly stuck in.
Why aren't these done?
I couldn't do them. They were too hard.
Where were you in your head when I went over the answers with the whole class?
I was here Sir, but I may of (sic) not bin (sic) listening.
(As I type, the music practice seems to have become one long drum solo. I feel a headache coming on.)
Yesterday I gave a colleague a lift home and we got to talking about kids inevitably.
... You know that kid with the made up name. Why do parents do that? I've a friend who teaches in primary and she's got a kid in her class called Baby Ted and another called Deisel.
I went to school with a Sidney Harbour and my wife had a clent called Russel Sprout.
Do you know I had that kid today who bit the Headteacher?
A kid bit the headteacher?
Oh yes. I think he had a spell in a psychiatric hospital after but he's back now. Totally bonkers.
A kid bit the headteacher and is back in school. The lunatics are running the asylum.
Thursday, March 17, 2011
There has been some recent "rearrangement" of equipment (such as mice) in the LRC computer room, some of which has taken place during lessons. Please ensure that pupils do not attempt any ICT DIY, however competent they claim to be! I'm always happy to help out with minor fixes, or to call ICT support for more serious matters.
Also, if you happen to know who drew a penis on one of the computer screens, please remind them to label their diagrams in future...
Sunday, March 6, 2011
My Yr 9 classes have been analysing Aquinas and his First Cause Argument in advance of discussing why many Christians are happy to accept the Big Bang Theory.
Is he still alive then sir?
That Aquinas bloke.
Which part of Medieval didn't you get?
We got through the Big Bang theory quite well seeing as we were discussing difficult ideas such as the idea that there was once a time when there was no "before" and, therefore, there was a time before which there was no such thing as time.
Sir. My head hurts.
Then we had to discuss what we meant by "nothing" as in before time began there was nothing.
When I say nothing, what visual image do you get?
An empty space.
That's something too.
Now my head really, really hurts.
If you had to make a choice between the Big Bang Theory and the traditional Creation Story, which is easier to understand?
In chorus: The traditional Creation Story.
Which is easiest to believe?
So what's the conclusion?
Sometimes the scientific explanations are as off-the-wall as the religious ones.
We are making progress.
Then we moved on the Darwin and Evolution.
Is he still alive Sir?
Yes. And isn't he looking really good for two hundred?
O.K. Which period on the time line was two hundred years ago?
Take me now Lord.
Yesterday was the last day of the half term and that is traditionally a dress as you please day where the kids pay £1 each which goes to a local charity.
I am faced with Billy and Tom, two likely lads in Yr 9 who should never be in the same class together. They decide to do up their anoraks to the top.....over their heads. I have the uncomfortable feeling that I am talking to two decapitated beings whose voices sound strangely disembodied through the fabric. As they are such a pain I have a fleeting desire to silently usher the other kids out via my office and leave them to it.
But it's dress as you please day.
Notice that the key word in that sentence is dress as opposed to do.
Sir. You're wearing converse.
Wow. How did that happen?
You look like Dr. Who....only older.
Cheers. He's 760 years old.
I had my exams analysis meeting with a senior colleague and we concluded that my department's results were 12% below target and therefore the official performance descriptor would have to be "inadequate". Now those targets are based on national assessments the kids did at Key Stage Three - two years ago - in English, Maths and Science but not in Religious Studies so I have a big problem with the data as a predictor of GCSE performance in my subject area in the first place. I ask my colleague how this can make sense given that the three of us who teach R.S. have classroom observation data consistently in the top tranche of the staff and consistently positive. Neither of us have an answer. How can you have three first class teachers and inadequate results? One of the means of assessment has to be wrong surely?
I'm not being awful Sir. I enjoy the lessons and the discussion and all and you make them interesting and fun and everything, but I didn't choose to take R.S. It was compulsory. I don't need it for my job. I've got enough other subjects to worry about so if I do well that's a bonus but I shan't be revising when I could be doing my maths. You've got to prioritise.
It's hard to argue. I have a conscript army of students and the government wants good grades? They don't go together. The key phrase in all that for me is "I enjoy the lessons and the discussion and you make them interesting and fun..."
Sir, Sir. Right. Jesus right. Was he real?
I am tempted to ask a sarcastic question about why millions of people would follow a fictional character, often in times of great difficulty and often at severe personal cost including persecution and martyrdom, but opt instead for a more reasoned approach, deeply depressed at the lack of background awareness that seems to get worse year on year.
There is no doubt about the historicity of Jesus of Nazareth. He is mentioned in contemporary historical documents of the Romans and Jews. Jews and Muslims believe in Jesus as a historical character.
Yeah, but those history people could of bin (sic) in on it.
Sage nods from elsewhere in the group.
Well come back and tell me when you do.
The issue isn't about whether there was a Jesus. There undoubtedly was.....
How do you know?
Because of the evidence.
It could of bin forged.
Why? Who could possibly benefit from such a conspiracy?
Anyway, Jesus didn't die. He moved to France and started a family.
And that would be the Jesus that was made up then? Where'd you get that idea from?
"That book in the Bible."
Which book in the Bible?
You know. The Da Vinci Code. Honestly Sir, you're supposed to know these things.
I am going to put out a contract on that bloody man!
Thursday, March 3, 2011
Well, here at the knowledge college public exams are on the horizon. I had a Yr 11 class yesterday and we had the usual complaints about having to write things down. I can't begin to say how frustrating it is to listen to 16 yr olds, on the verge of leaving school, moaning on about having to write.
Well, it's not as if we're going to look at our books is it?
Can I remind you of the concept of revision?
I'm not going to revise. (This from Georgina, my own Vicky Pollard.)
WHAT? The most important year of your life - the most important exams you'll ever take (Or in your case fail) and you're not going to revise?
Not for this! I don't need this subject.
You need all your subjects and given your grade profile Lady, you need all the help you can get.
There is, if it were not a silent activity, the sound of sulking as Georgina digests this slight to her academic prowess. It is accompanied by sniggers from some of the others.
Ha. That ripped you girl.
That evening I gave some thought to how I might encourage revision. I decided on subliminal advertising. I found the sign generator website and happily edited messages about revision into street signs and cell-phone messages to include in my power-point presentations. My personal favourite is a picture of mystical hands with the legend GOD INSISTS THAT YOU REVISE FOR RELIGIOUS STUDIES. I'm sure he does. Above is one I felt, on reflection, I could not use.