Thursday, August 28, 2014

Part 2: My Baptism of Fire

The bell for period two marked the beginning of another torturous, nausea-inducing, hour-long roll call relentlessly punctuated by carefree chatter, derisive sniggering and banshee-like wailing from me, just before another little gremlin was booted out, usually to a chorus of uncontrollable laughter from the remaining kids in the class. One could only describe it as a nightmare. The little so-and-sos were terrorizing me, and, to make matters worse, I still had another four lessons to go until the end of the school day!

As this second 'near-death' experience approached its end, I, for the very first time, met a pupil that I will only refer to - shaking, sweating and bottom lip quivering - as Nemesis. I was to spend the next three years chasing this tubby, grubby-looking Year 8 lad, and, for all that time, he only attended, say, three or four of my detentions, despite being a serial miscreant both in out of the classroom. For those of you old enough to remember, our relationship was a bit like Danny and Mr Bronson's in Grange Hill: Nemesis forever bursting through double doors as I angrily charged after him, demanding, to no avail, his unqualified obeisance.

Anyway, as you may have guessed, our first meeting was not an auspicious one. He had obviously been thrown out of another lesson, appeared at my door - probably attracted by the general sound of boisterous raucity that signalled, in his predatory, puerile mind, the possibility of anarchy-inspired fun to be had at the expense of a teacher's sanity -, opened it and shouted, 'Wanker!' - an accurate epithet perhaps, but one a tad inappropriate within a school setting, I thought.

'Get out!' I shouted, flustered and sweating, before attempting to close the door.

'Make me!' he goaded, placing his foot in the way.

I shouted again in a desperate effort to move him, but this just encouraged further scorn and anger. I had nowhere to go. I obviously couldn't physically remove him; neither could I back down without losing face. 'My dad's gonna kill ya!' he yelled.

'You're in detention!' I screamed back.

'Fuck off!' he retorted.

Thankfully, though, after being subjected to my very first, but certainly not my last, verbal attack, which lasted for several minutes, I was literally saved by the bell. It was first break. Nemesis immediately ceased his verbal offensive, desperate to stuff his chubby chops with crisps and chocolate, and, along with the remaining members of the class, raucously ran along the corridor, down the stairs that I had so tentatively climbed earlier and towards the playground - without, of course, being formally dismissed. I sat down, exhausted, and breathed a huge sigh of relief.

Alas, my early torment was not yet over, though. Before I had the chance to gather my thoughts, I was summoned for break duty along the bottom corridor.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Is poor behaviour really my fault?

Her facial expression oozes vulnerability.  She looks sad and helpless. In a soft voice she beckons me into an empty classroom. ‘Can I speak to you for a minute?’

‘Of course,’ I reply.

‘I’ve just had a very strange experience with two year 7 kids,’ she says, gently manoeuvring a chair away from the table before sitting down. Her movements are both elegant and seamless. I, in contrast, pull, bang and crash before dropping my substantial frame on to the chair opposite.

‘What happened?’

An unconvincing smile attempts to hide her anguish. ‘I was in the middle of a poetry lesson with 7S when Joe Hughes ushered me over.’ I expel a loud sigh. I have the unique pleasure of teaching Joe – or, in the latest educational jargon, the pleasure of facilitating his learning. He is indeed a ‘facilitator’s’ nightmare: devious, cunning and, most frustratingly, untouchable. He has been diagnosed with ADHD which pretty much gives him carte blanche to do whatever he likes. He is rarely challenged, even though he displays the most outrageous behaviours. He has, after all, for all intents and purposes, the nuclear excuse.

She continues. ‘He pointed at Lewis, who was sitting next to him, and said that he was playing with his nipple. Lewis’s hand was inside his shirt. Joe then said, “I think he wants to have a w***, miss”. As he did so he shook his hand, gesturing the motion – “you know, one of them,” he said.’

‘Didn’t you throw him out?’ I ask, struggling to suspend my disbelief.

‘No. I just explained that he shouldn’t be using language like that and continued the lesson.’ This is one of the biggest problems in the teaching profession. If a student behaves badly, it is automatically assumed that it must be the teacher’s fault. As a consequence, instead of throwing the student out, an act that would, she believes, highlight her perceived inadequacies, my colleague, brainwashed and overcome by guilt, allows him to remain in class and his lewd, wretched behaviour goes unchallenged.

‘It’s not a crime to ask a particularly disruptive student to leave your classroom,’ I say.

‘I know. I know.’ Her acknowledgement is half-hearted. Sadly, she has been indoctrinated into believing that it is her fault. She looks a broken woman.

‘Anyway,’ she continues, ‘about 15 minutes later Joe called me over again. This time he said, “Lewis’s been talking about sticking his w**** inside a woman’s p****, miss. You know, wiggling it round to make her c**”.’ She waits for a response. I am, for once, utterly speechless. 

After a long delay I encourage her to inform the Senior Leadership Team - even though, deep down, I know it’s a waste of time. They’ll probably blame her. Apparently, according to a recent CPD entitled, 'Is poor behaviour my fault?', poor behaviour is, as the title indicates, entirely the fault of the teacher. God help us!

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Part 1: My Baptism of Fire

Honestly! Negotiating a flight of stairs had never been more fraught with difficulty. My legs, usually so dependable, felt like they’d been invaded by fibrillating alien forces controlled by an insidious, covert mother ship deep inside my overactive cerebrum. I wobbled and stuttered, weak and nauseous and racked with butterflies, until – at last! – I reached the first floor.

It was my first day in a new job. More to the point, it was the beginning of a new career, a career that would bring, I hoped, rather naively as it later transpired, renewed happiness and personal fulfilment, instead of, as has regrettably been the case, excessive levels of frustration, stress and anxiety caused, in large part, by swinging my bald cranium against a particularly obdurate wall peppered with spikes on a daily basis.

It was January 2002 and I had little to no understanding of what I was rather shakily walking into. I was unaware, for example, of the desperate poverty both consuming and tormenting the local community I was about to serve; unaware that many of my new charges had been the unfortunate victims of endemic family breakdown; and unaware that just as numerous were those suffering from debilitating special needs that hampered and restricted their ability to learn. I was about to discover, moreover, that this explosive combination of factors was matched by the school’s misguided unwillingness to adequately deal with the damaging consequences. At 23 and just out of university, I was young, wet behind the – rather large – ears and completely unprepared for the demands of teaching in Blair’s Britain. Why? I hear you say.

Well, apart from my youthful, devil-may-care attitude which forbade the careful consideration of cons, during my rather perfunctory interview before Christmas - if, indeed, you could call it an interview - I was misleadingly assured by my new Head teacher that I wouldn’t be teaching, at least initially; instead I’d be observing and learning, taking notes and maybe, during my first few weeks anyway, teaching for the first 20 minutes of a lesson, guided by the nurturing eye of a more experienced member of staff; indeed, she went on to add that I’d be starting a new on-the-job qualification at the nearest possible opportunity. Needless to say, I was excited at the prospect of not only earning a salary, but training and working towards Qualified Teacher Status at a pace that seemed, at first glance, and after speaking to my new boss, who seemed both cordial and sincere, suitably slow. 

How wrong I was. On my arrival on that cold January morning, I was given a full, ferociously demanding timetable that any experienced teacher would have found inordinately challenging. For the very first time since leaving school as a pupil at 18, I was about to enter a classroom - not to observe and take notes, but to teach a cohort of baying adolescents. Holy shit! I thought. My first day was about to be nothing short of a baptism of fire.

I teetered along the corridor, took a deep breath and reluctantly entered the classroom, nervously clutching my new timetable. There in front of me, a motley assemblage of twenty-five Year 8 pupils continued to engage in idle chatter, greeting my entrance with what can only be described as resigned indifference. Almost in unison, they looked up, eyeballed me with sorrow rather than disdain, looked down and seamlessly proceeded to talk throughout. It could’ve been worse, I supposed, at least they weren’t throwing paper aeroplanes at one another…yet! ‘Good morning,’ I said in a loud voice, unsuccessfully trying to hide its quivering tone, a tone so full of involuntary inflections that it screamed ‘novice!’, ‘charlatan!’, and ‘newbie!’ I was in deep shit! And I knew it!

‘Good morning,’ I repeated, this time injecting my voice with a gravelly air of menace, or so I thought. Again, and much to my irritation, they simply ignored me. ‘You!’ I angrily shouted, randomly pointing at one of the more mischievous-looking pupils sitting at the back of the room. ‘Get out!’ He stood up and, much to my dissatisfaction, along with the rest of the class, giggled as he left the room and proudly joined the myriad other miscreants in the corridor.

I didn’t want to shout, but being an inexperienced novice, and without any instructions – I hadn’t been given any policy or guidance on how to deal with bad behaviour (an important document given as a matter of course to new members of staff and supply teachers in most schools) -, I didn’t know what else to do. I proceeded to take the register and, much to my credit (I do hope that that doesn’t sound too conceited and self-congratulatory), intuitively insisted on silence throughout. Without silence, I thought, how can anybody possibly learn? The problem was that, as a rather depressing and unintended consequence, I couldn’t begin my first lesson, courtesy of the fact that I couldn’t get to the end of the register without stopping to scold some obnoxious little shit face. 

‘Get out!’ I shouted as I reached Stacey Arnold. ‘Be quiet!’ I balled as I got to the kids with surnames beginning with ‘c’. ‘Shut up!’ I injudiciously yet desperately bellowed before finally, exhaustedly, getting to Jake Timby, the last name on the register. With four children outside, excluded from the classroom, I could, I hoped, begin the starter activity. Then the bell rang to mark the end of period 1.

As my tormentors exited the room, moreover, as if I hadn’t been through enough, Stacey muttered under her breath, ‘He’s fuckin’ shit!’ My first lesson had ended in ignominy and disaster, but, I thought, at least I was no longer racked with nerves. They had been replaced with bewilderment, disorientation and a splitting headache – a sign of things to come.