"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)

"And what does the Lord require of you but to do justly, and to love kindness and mercy, and to humble yourself and walk humbly with your God?" Micah 6.8

"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.

I read recently of an OFSTED insection of a P.E. lesson which was slated because too many kids were standing about doing nothing. The inspector had to rescind the judgement after having been taken on one side and having it pointed out to him that those kids were fielding.

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.

"COW!"

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?

"Sixteen."

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.

12 comments:

  1. Funny and disturbing at the same time. If only parents could see how little Jonny behaves eh?

    The report writing debate seems fraught. I sense an increasingly centralised approach to report writing and I think your colleagues are right: there is a fear of giving the impression that there may be problems. God, I look back at some of my reports and my teachers didn't pull any punches. I got it in the neck at home, had to work harder and probably got better results as a consequence. I can't think my father was ever concerned about a report being too negative. That was when we feared parents and respected teachers. Tell it like it is. I really think parents prefer that.

    What do I know? I'm only both a teacher and a parent.

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  2. Just a thought - how about writing two versions of the report ... one that is acceptable to the powers that think they're in charge, and the other that tells the unvarnished truth, so that if a parent rails at you for not having told them how pathetic their child was performing you could produce the second report and say, This is how it actually is, but I was not allowed to say so or tell you. Then with outraged parents confronting the mangagers, the message might finally start to get through that their pleasant approach doesn't serve anyone except their own self-interests. And isn't that a type of non-violent direct action?

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  3. I teach English to groups of French kids, some of whom actually want to be in the class. As a parent - volunteer my report writing is limited, but this is offset by the interest that other parents have in collaring me by the gate and asking for updates. A first I was politic and focused on the positive; now I just go for it and tell them the truth. It is quite liberating.

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  4. Karen ArmstrongMay 5, 2012 at 8:34 PM

    Who knows the pupils best - managers or teachers?

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  5. Report writing is one of the many things I don't miss. One particular year the RE department (ie me) had all of year 10 and 11 on a rota for 6 weeks at a time. This, in addition to my 'normal' timetable meant I had to write 719 reports that year. Yes, I still remember the number - it triggered me into re-training for Primary school! Good luck, you have my full support!

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  6. I suppose there will always be the risk of conflict with report writing. Teachers want to tell it as it is and management want to ensure a positive gloss. Teachers may be perceived to be rocking the management's carefully balanced boat.

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  7. Are you:

    Overwhelmed by a marking and report writing load that your other colleagues would only encounter in their worst nightmares?

    Starved of time (in comparison to other curricular areas) to teach your subject to a standard that satisfies you?

    Put under unreasonable pressure nevertheless to deliver grades?

    Given a hard time when your pupils don't/can't deliver?

    Having a strong sense that those above you have absolutely no idea the diffciculties you face in delivering your subject?

    Having a strong sense that even if they did, it would make no difference to how you are managed?

    Being fobbed off with the mantra "Other schools manage." even if that isn't necessarily true or a satisfactory justifaction for you having to manage in your unique situation?

    Being fobbed off with the lie that the exam boards' guided hours means just that and therefore you can cope with a dramatic undertimetabling for your subject?

    Being expected to teach GCSE below KS4 in the belief that this will solve the time problem even though kids in KS3 can not generally cope with the demands of GCSE and will under perform? That's why they are in KS3 and why exams come at the end of KS4.

    Under pressure to teach outside your contracted hours to make up teaching time?

    Experiencing a strong sense of creeping marginalisation?

    Welcome to the world of the R.E. teacher. Have you booked your nervous breakdown yet?

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    Replies
    1. And the subtle threat that "if things don't improve...."

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    2. No. Not that Hassan.

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  8. I think Caroline's got it about right and when looked at like that you've got to wonder why we put up with it. Remember also that Govie's Acadamies don't have to teach it at all. I wonder whether the only place left to teach a decent R.S. course properly will be the church schools - God forbid.

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  9. Back in the early 50s my grandmother plucked up the courage to ask why my father had simply had the word "weak" for his Physics report for three years in a row - and did the teacher have anything else to add? The teacher concerned looked mildly surprised, chewed meditatively on his pipe for a few moments and, in a cut-glass accent said,
    "well, my dear lady, he's just awfully, awfully weak." And that was that! It was another world!

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  10. It's all very simple: school is a place for teaching and learning. Teachers teach, and students learn - but not by osmosis.

    Children who do not wish to learn should be set to work. Real work, not fiddling about on a computer.

    They won't like that any better than lessons, but why waste their time and the teachers' on these pointless classes which serve no useful purpose whatsoever?

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