"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
Saturday, May 5, 2012
School reports, bad tempers and farting.
That tells you all you need to know about OFSTED.
It's been a funny old week at the Knowledge College: tempers have been frayed so thank heavens its a bank holiday weekend. In the build up to exams people feel under a lot of pressure: not most of the kids, obviously - they don't seem to give a stuff, but there is noticeable strain amongst the staff. This week's topic has been report writing with some bad tempered exchanges about to what extent senior managers have the right to edit your comments or demand wholesale rewrites.
"But I don't think it's appropriate to write on a report that a pupil's mock exam result was disasterous."
But it was: three grades below his target grade.
"But its not very positive is it?"
How do you put a positive gloss on three grades below GCSE target?
"But it might demotivate the kids."
The debate continued on and off with the vast majority of colleagues - mainly those who are parents - noting that too many reports are too bland and corporate and that they would wish to know how badly their child was doing in order to offer some remedial support, if only a kick up the arse.
"I'd rather be kick-started into parental action by what might turn out to be an overstatement of the problem than lulled into a false sense of security until it's too late by flowery words."
Some cynics noted that there even seems to be a fear of being a purveyor of bad news.
"Ah well, if a kids not doing well, who gets the blame? The teacher."
Fortunately at the Knowledge College such spats tend to be short lived, people maintain good relationships and move on and I return to my usual state of happy indifference.
Elise was so disturbed by the low R.S. grades of the kids in her form that she asked them outright if they'd revised for R.S. They hadn't.
Tell me about it.
So does that mean we sanitise reports and who does that help in the end when the kid bombs in your subject?
I can imagine a parent asking why they weren't informed earlier about how bad things were.
"It's odd, isn't it," one colleague noted "We're creatures of habit. When we get a phrase or form of words that works for us, we tend to use it again and again over the years to no management disaprobation or negative parental comeback. Then suddenly it's no longer "appropriate". It begins to feel a bit too much like Big Brother for comfort. And there mustn't be any hint of behaviour issues because that implies you aren't in control in your classroom." I wish I lived in that perfect world where all children behaved all the time and every lesson was an oasis of calm and concentrated learning. If someone would only tip me off where that classroom is ......
Its a discussion that's set to run and run I've no doubt.
My friend Jeff, who teaches Maths, confided last week, "The kids really don't like R.S. you know."
Tell me about it.
"Well some of them do, but most don't. They find it hard. They say there's too much to do in too little time."
As one of my Yr 11s noted recently, "It's only an hour a week. The school doesn't take it seriously, why should we?"
What was interesting is that while this conversation about being positive in our comments about the kids on their reports was going on, Ishvinder had a Yr 10 class which necessitated the attendance of not one but two members of the Senior Management team. Deeply disillusioned by the kids general attitude to both her and R.S. she was, nevertheless, relieved to have been told by both senior staff what she already knew, that the fault did not lie with her.
"What is the matter with Yr 10?" One of the bosses noted, taking a recalcitrant youth straight to isolation for his rudeness to Ishvinder. "They seem to be going off the rails."
This isn't strictly true. Most of our kids are absolutely fine most of the time and many classes are an oasis of calm and purposeful learning. O.K the kids are resistant to revision and this is an issue which will come back to haunt us, but I don't want to give the impression that chaos and anarchy rule. That is absolutely not the case.
But there are toxic classes
This leads me neatly to my Yr 11 Boys Synchronised Farting Team and the joy which is my realisation that I only have one more lesson with them before they fail their exam.
It is Friday period five.
For the last couple of lessons the attendance has been more than usually poor: Adam is in isolation. I ask why. "Because he's a pain in the arse" Amy informs me. This is much as his Year Head said when she told me he wouldn't be there. I love these pastoral terms.
I rather like Amy. She is never a minute's bother but she is a bit of a rough diamond. "It's not against you Sir, I enjoy the discussions and all that but I'm not doing any writing." So, we both know where we stand. What's the point of getting into a row about it when in the end Amy will do (or not do) what Amy will do (or not do)?
For the last two lessons I have made a private arrangement to have Josh out of the lesson and working with his Head of Year. "WHY ARE YOU THROWING ME OUT AGAIN? IT'S NOT FAIR!"
Erm ... let me think ...could it be because you are rude, coarse, loud, ill disciplened and disrupt other's learning? Yes. I think that about sums it up.
"Good riddance" I note at this point that Amy has a pen out. Blimey!
"BUT ITS SHIT THIS! YOU ALWAYS PICK ON ME. IT'S NOT AS IF I'M THE ONLY ONE WHO MESSES ABOUT."
No, but there are two main points to consider. a) You are by far the worst and b) I'm in charge.
WELL I DON'T LIKE YOU EITHER.
Then we'll both be happy with the arrangement. Off you go.
"I'M OFF HOME. FUCK THIS."
"Good riddance." Amy is filing her nails. She doesn't even bother to look round.
This means that the three or four stalwarts who still cling to some aspiration of getting a decent grade are getting a better deal than usual. Emily, I note, continues to write the most beautifully presented and detailed notes. It will be worth all this year's hassle if she get's her target grade, but I fear she has been sabotaged. The rest have given up any pretence and don't even bother to open their books now, let alone write notes.
Today we were considering Non-Violent Direct Action which strangely seemed to engage them quite well: they were absolutely gob-smaked by the Youtube clip of the lone man standing against the tanks in Tiannenmen Square but as ever their grasp of recent history was sadly lacking - and geography.
"So is that Africa then Sir?"
The door opens. A senior colleague stands in the door with Josh in tow. "I just found him on the loose. Says he belongs to you. Is that right?"
In theory but he's to go to Mme. Bonhomme today. He has his book and appropriate work to keep him busy.......
The door closes. There are raised voices outside.
..........until he's thirty five.
We watch a Buddhist monk self-immolate on Youtube and I ask them whether that counts as non-violent action. The discussion is mature and focused. It is almost like one of my "normal" groups. Alas it can not last. Bill has not had any attention for at leat three minutes and he loudly and ostentatiously breaks wind.
"YOU DIRTY BASTARD! YOU COULD'VE GONE OUTSIDE. SIR'S TOLD YOU THAT SO MANY TIMES. WHAT'S THE MATTER WITH YOU?"
In the absence of Josh and Adam, Bill belatedly wakes up to the fact that he has no allies and Amy's acutely perceptive onslaught leaves him somewhat nonplussed. He consoles himself by pushing Georgina's book on to the floor.
How old are you?
I rest my case.
Georgina's pencil case follows.
I now realise why Amy got her pen out. She is drawing on her arm - like you do.
Quietly sitting at the back is Hassan. He is also never a minute's bother. He is a kid with a gentically built in grin. He and I get on very well and we banter a lot on the corridors and around and about. He usually tracks me down on my break duty and we exchange some faux insults. Sometimes he shouts to me from the ICT suite's windows as I head for the car park.
Hassan's best mate, Islam, has been on the fringes of the banter and teasing and he has been gaining in confidence in his dealings with me. Three times this week he has turned up to my lessons. This is strange as I don't teach him.
Islam, you can't stay. Hard as it is to believe, someone else somewhere will be missing you.
"But Hassan says you're good. I wanted to see you in action."
What a shame I'm not open to flattery. Off you go.
I am, nevertheless very flattered. Its kids like him, Hassan and Emily - and Amy too - that make the job worthwhile but its kids like Josh, Adam and Bill that make me want to kill.
That, and marking 180 exam papers (that's 180 x 20 questions and writing 180 individual, positive reports for kids who can't be bothered to revise.) That's literally hours and hours of my life that I'll never get back and to what purpose? I might just as well have thrown them in the bin.
The organisation of schools is geared to those who teach a relatively small number of classes five or six times a week. People like me get forgotten. We teach a great many classes once a week. Management expectations of outcome remain the same for us all.