Saturday, November 11, 2006

"Why would I wanna be anywhere else?"

Friday. Giddy exhaustion tempered by the knowledge that the clock is ticking and I won't have to mark tonight.

I've got a full day ahead, no lunch break, so the thirty five minutes of illicit, caffeine-laced work time first thing in the morning is even more precious than usual. Illicit because we are not supposed to drink coffee in the classrooms... but all my stuff is there and I need to hide...

Task one of the day is to rescue the two Christmas packages (for children in Eastern Europe) from the back of the cupboard and take them to the collection point before any of my tutor group arrive. They were actually created, lovingly, twelve months ago, but I forgot to hand them in before the collection date so I have been hiding them from the girls ever since.

An e-mail - someone else is off ill. I'm already organising cover for one absent member of staff. Off I go to find a victim...loud music is echoing down the stairwell. It's only 8.45 so I shouldn't get annoyed. And it's Lily Allen, 'LDN', which I love, so I stop to complement the kids on the stairs on their taste. It becomes the soundtrack of the day.

First lesson. Olivia's supposed to be tackling an extended coursework project. This consists of her asking for help every five minutes.
'What do I do next?'
'Well, (as I've said before), you need to look at your aims and objectives in turn and work out how to implement them in your database, using the skills I have taught you, and the extensive handouts I have written and fifteen minute verbal recap I have done about six time now.'
'Miss, that's really difficult.'


I start my usual verbal tape recording about how the second year of A-level is difficult and she, as a seventeen year old with an application to university already written, should at least have a go before giving up...
Then I break off, call up the handouts and point to one. 'Do this' I say.

Five minutes later she speaks again. 'Miss, done that, it's really easy! What do I do next?'

Break is a disaster! Lovely Sue, who comes in to make coffee for the staff, is off. After a few minutes of penguin-like flapping, people start to fend for themselves. But there's no milk (Sue brings it in.) Out the back of the staff room in the tiny corridor by the stock cupboard, I bump into Rob the philosophy teacher, who furtively clutches a tiny container of the precious liquid.
'It's Jack's - he doesn't want everyone to know he has it - but you can have some'
'Oh, I couldn't possibly, that's not fair.'
'No, no, have some. It's completely morally justifiable. Think of the kids. Think of how badly you'll teach without coffee.'
I take it, expressing wide-eyed horror at the expediency of his ethics, and decline to mention I was only out there because I know about the secret fridge where they keep the milk for the SMT meetings.

Second lesson, same group. I turn on the projector, fire up IE and type in www.whitehouse.gov. In less than a second, the Whitehouse website is on the screen. 'Right, in groups, explain how that happened.' Ten minutes later they are drawing on the board, one from each group.

One group has drawn something that looks like this.

Two other groups have variations on this: When you type into the computer, a beam goes up to a satellite and then goes down to the Whitehouse and then comes back.

After much questioning, we arrive a something better; we have recalled WANs (which I taught in October), we have remembered what a server is and we know what an ISP is. I am drawing madly, whiteboard marker everywhere, comments and questions flowing thick and fast. It's great. Then Kelly, a really, really nice young woman, says unexpectedly and in a voice thick with adolescent disdain 'You really get off on this, don't you Miss?' Splutter at her angrily for quite some time. Reflect all day on the fact that although children say they want enthusiastic teachers they don't respect us for it.

Tutorial; six students want my comments now on their UCAS applications, which they have been writing (apparently) since June. They are quite charming about it, though, especially as they know I will rip them to shreds if I find a spelling mistake. Every one says they have a passion for their subject. Every one lists 'socialising with friends' as their chief interest outside college. Apart from Sarah's, which is about the joy she feels when reading nineteenth century women's novels and how it helps her to make sense of life; this brings tears to my eyes when I read it.

Into my Foundation class, which you can think of as a small case study in the reasons some children fail to flourish in education. Bob, Carl and Anton have various learning differences on the autistic spectrum and are delightful. They love college, love the work, and have already finished the assignment. The difficulty is trying to get them to slow down and consider how they could improve it beyond their first attempts. 'But I've done it, Miss!' Of the others, for the first time in eight weeks, everyone is on time. Serendipitously I have a bag of sweets on me - the ones from last year's Christmas packages that will now go out of date before they reach their destination. Anderson, who has only been in the country six months, and is still getting used to computers (along with being teased, which appears to be a whole new experience for him) is researching day trips for youth clubs. We have quite a profitable discussion about why Puerto Rico is not an ideal choice, despite the fact it came up first when he typed 'Trip' into Google.

Out of Foundation and straight to a disciplinary meeting. It's lunchtime, so I eat my sandwich on the way. David has missed thirty percent of his lessons for me, done no work, and greets every admonishment with a cheeky grin that presses all my buttons. It turns out, though, that I have been quite blessed: he has not attended geography since September, and owes his sociology teacher six essays. He cannot explain any of this, our comments bouncing off him. Letters home are drafted, conditions set, and threats uttered. He's a bright boy, he could pass anyway, but we don't leave with any further understanding of why he's not attending. (Post-sixteen education; our motto, 'So much easier because they all want to be there')

Out of the disciplinary meeting and a quick tour; things to sign, e-mails to send, handouts to photocopy, coffee to source and consume. I meet a sad looking Bob. He's just overheard some students being cruel about him while he was in the loo. He has no idea who they were as he did not see them, but he is devastated. His Asperger's syndrome means he just can't handle this at all. He wants to know what he can do about it. The answer is nothing. I tell him he could think about how those people are wrong and how he is a good person and lots of people like him and are glad he is at college.
'Who?'
He's not fishing for compliments. 'I like you Bob, I think you are a great person, and I know that Miss Carter and Mrs Brown like you too.' He looks a bit happier.

The bell goes for the last double period and I have a lower sixth group. Twenty-four eager faces waiting to study the Data Protection Act ('Look at me when I'm talking please. Alan, please don't talk when I'm talking. Headphones out of your ears, please. Alan, please sit properly in your chair. Bob, Keith, Surita, Dhalia, you're late. Again.') David gives me a beautifully folded origami flower that he has been making. I start to be grumpy that he has wasted both his time and our paper, but he protests that the paper was his, and of course we haven't done any work yet because we are all still faffing around ('Yes, we are doing some work, yes, get your folders out, you need paper and a pen, yes, you do need to bring a pen') I accept the flower with grace.

A colleague from maths walks in to tell me he cannot work the SMART board next door. I am not charming, I tell him I am teaching. He looks forlorn, so I return to the class room with him and do SMART board 101 in under a minute. My status as benevolent Head of IT, who always has time for a colleague struggling to use ILT, is threatened. Remind myself that maths teachers are like guided missiles and once pointed at their goal have little time for subtlety.

The wonderful Richard Thomas, who I adore for his uncompromising stance on all things privacy related, lets me down badly. The exercise I have planned using the ICO website crashes and burns as their server is down - this is unprecedented. Instead we do an off-the-cuff lesson on sound in PowerPoint. I show them PartnersinRhyme where they can download sounds legally. We revist the subject of copyright from last lesson. Again, we go round the block. Demitri brings the argument to decisive halt 'I download lots of music Miss, I'm not going to pay 99p per track - I can't afford it!' Most students mumble their agreement. Of course we should get things for free if we want them! How stupid you are, Miss! Juan tries the 'But everyone breaks the law, Miss' line. He does not believe me when I tell him I try not to break the speed limit. Eventually, I say, a bit too loudly, that he shouldn't assume that everyone else breaks the law and is immoral and criminal just because he is. Everyone laughs.

I tell them that for once, they can turn up the loudspeakers on their computer. Slowly, quietly the different sound effects start as they explore the site. They start to riff off each other. The first person find the war section and lets off a grenade. For five minutes the lads fire at each other across the room. Then the battle of the 80's TV themes starts. It's genuinely hilarious, they are really enjoying it. Meanwhile the girls are 'Mwahing' at each other, having found all the kissing noises. Periodically I remind them they actually have to embed these sounds in their presentations.

The bell goes.

Sun in the sky, oh why, oh why, would I wanna be anywhere else?

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