Climbing and The Issue of Falling

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When I was at school and struggling with spelling, I could not spell complicated words such as ‘Armaggeddon’. This inability fed my young anxiety and I tried to cover it up so that others would not ridicule me. My RE teacher looked at my attempt and saw the concern upon my face.

“Don’t worry, Matthew, it’s not the end of the world.”

Little did she know that it was not only the end of it but the beginning of The End.

 

My love of all things apocalyptical was the springboard for my evolving religiosity and political beliefs. The end was a clean sheet, a time to wipe away and start again, a second chance. It was a world that had shed its cares and dreads. It was the real deal.

 

There is a book that I return to every five years or so and I have been doing this since I was in my late teens. The book is by Stephen King and is called The Stand and each time I set out on its adventure I am in a dual world of King’s post Captain Trips survivors and in the world of the novel’s soundtrack,  the stuff  I was listening to as I first read it: Murray Head, Pink Floyd, Kate Bush and Billy Joel. Okay, that took some balls to admit to Billy who appears to have been shorn of popular friendships since Uptown Girl. Nevertheless, the soundtrack is still playing as I remember the novel which I still hold as one of my favourite reads of all time.

I can see you.

I can see the pompous looks upon your faces as you read this. There may even be members of the dreaded English teaching fraternity amongst you and I know your type. Nothing is worth a jot if it is popular. Populism is the commercial root of all evil. It is an artistic sell-out, a supplication of one’s soul to the god of mammon and the masses.

I recently worked in a department full of such teachers whose sole purpose in life was the building of their own ivory towers and the belittling of all those who dared to disagree with their general elitist views of the world of academia.  These were teachers in a secondary school that was careering out of orbit and towards special measures. Their world was one preserved in aspic and worshipped as the one and only truth. At a mere glance, they could gauge a person’s intellect or lack of it. And there was never a day when they would not all gaze collectively back to a golden age of learning within their department, although nobody knew the specific dates when this happened. In their world, King may never have existed. I felt like a heretic and finally sent myself into exile.

 

So, oh pompous ones, I like to read Stephen King. And I return to reading some of his books on a regular basis. I don’t read Jane Austen and I don’t think that Shakespeare is the pinnacle of all writers, thinkers and philosophers. I like Shakespeare but I couldn’t eat a whole one.   

Just what is it about English teachers that makes my hackles rise?

Let’s say it is the worship of the written word. Literature is a subject for those of us who incline towards the cerebral. We like ideas and are eclectic in the way we harvest them. The world revolves around us. Indeed, the world revolves around those writers whom we choose to worship. We are rune readers, soothsayers, and keepers of knowledge. We have a way with codes and can break into a poem at will. We appear with books and disappear into them whenever we can. Occasionally we pen poetry or profound prose knowing that never will it be fit enough to publish. More than anything else, we establish the bar and measure our companions and colleagues against it. Words weigh us down so we struggle with exact meanings and interpretations. Conversations and meetings can last for eternities. Lastly, we tackle the most arduous of texts simply for the masochistic pride we gain from their completion.

 

Take Henry James for example:

The principal I have just mentioned as operating had been, with the most newly disembarked of the two men, wholly instinctive – the fruit of a sharp sense that, delightful as it would be to find himself looking, after so much separation, into his comrade’s face, his business would be a trifle bungled should he simply arrange for this countenance to present itself to the nearing steamer as the first ‘note’ of Europe.

This leaves me cold. I am supposed to fall to my knees and revere such writing, but I am cold with indifference because I am a heathen, unclean and undereducated. It’s a test that is not meant to be read. It’s an A Level text for personal study that is intended to be used as a pathway to the better universities. Literature sometimes does not level; it does not attempt to speak to all but just a few who are in the know. And this is what I hated about the last English department that I was to manage. The words, ‘mad’ and ‘Fascist’ were frequently used by many outside of the faculty to describe the individuals that I worked with. I was employed to break their stranglehold on the school and to bring them into the twenty-first century.

I thought it would be easy. I thought wrong.

 

My default position has always been about seeing the good in other people. I blame Atticus Finch for that. Like many of my literary, heroes there was a certain amount of misguidance involved in his teachings. Atticus was the quintessential liberal leader. He was good in the face of ignorant hatred and would never cast the first stone. Enemies were just misunderstood and evil was only a temporary state of mind. EMPATHY was writ large on all his teachings and I listened. I modelled myself on old Atticus and believed that one day I too would be sitting on a rocker on the porch of my timber house dispensing wisdom to all who cared to hear. All mankind’s troubles could be overcome with a little bit of Maycomb County Magic. Not so.

 

I have always  attempted to look for the good in people and have always tried to help those who most need it. It is one of my greatest personal flaws. Altruism is a poison that affects those who choose to dispense it. An interesting development in the Mockingbird saga has come about as a result of greedy publishers printing Harper Lee’s original unedited manuscript. In that, Atticus is not written to be as saintly as he was later to become. Indeed, ‘racist’ and ‘intolerant’ are words that some reviewers have used to describe him. Perhaps that was the truth, perhaps that is the truth; perhaps nobody is that wise and compassionate. So, was it unwise to have believed in his teachings and to have tried to take those wise words to class after class of students hoping that their very nature would be altered by the alchemy of such a sacred tome? I have no empirical evidence for a belief that I hold dearly, but I do believe that the novel has helped to soften some of the less crystallized opinions of some young people who have encountered it. For others, it was probably just a stranger passing in the dark.

 

Teachers are just grown up kids, PE teachers aside, and they suffer from the same foibles. Many have only known school as the mainstay of their lives. Some, who come back to it from elsewhere in later life’ fall into a Neverland of their old school times. Teachers become slaves to the system and their lives become ruled by the clock, the terms and the forever changing faces of curriculum requirements. They become experts and sages in their own right (classrooms) and get the chance to show these qualities with examination results, coursework or in moderation. The latter is where my departmental adversaries excelled.

 

Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different outcome is either resilience or madness. I was back in the pot, stewing with a group of individuals who thought they were originals; few of us are. I had met this grey menace many times before and had mostly shunned the chance to spend significant time with it. My new bunch were spikier than many I had come across before. Their collective ethos was that of cynicism, believing it to be a much-underrated quality. On their own, they were somewhat eccentrically amusing in the fashion of dogs barking at their own reflections, but together, meeting in the safety of numbers and their bunker of an English staffroom, they were as funny as contagion. I didn’t quite know it then, but my own grip on reality was beginning to falter.

 

I have witnessed communal madness on many occasions. It generally manifests itself in violence that can only end once the shared energy has burnt itself out. This type of legalised insanity was useful in wartime when sacking an enemy city. Let loose the dogs of war and all that. Under such obligations no soldier was obliged to be anything other than a psychopath. I have seen it in the police, during riots, with both sides devolving into savagery. I watched it on TV news when two undercover soldiers stumbled into the middle of an IRA funeral with the result being as profoundly disturbing as any other thing that I have witnessed. But there is a group madness that has been created to form our beliefs and central core of values. ‘Education, education, education’, whilst sounding good, rings hollow. It’s about society’s need for the younger generation to be afforded those life choices that only the previously privileged ever received. It became the battle-cry of the newly empowered to combat the criminally negligible in the classrooms; those assumptions, assertions and institutions that were blocking the way of the great unwashed in their attempts to reach classless nirvana. After a decade of well-intentioned and innovative research, the accountants replaced the academics and accountability became the word of God. The Crusade had travelled the length and breadth of the sceptre’d isle and faced off the false believers in a fury of fulsome righteousness. Some of us saw it as a chance to make anew a system for mass enlightenment whilst others rode darker steeds and chopped away at anything that was not measurable. Then there became established the realm of the educational barons and the rest is history: The Federation, The Conglomerate, The Alliance, The Gamma Quadrant.

 

In the midst of all of that chaos, I had found a home amongst a small group of unlikely educators who were able to turn around the fortunes of a struggling school in the north of England. We were a stone in the run of a river but the river couldn’t move us. No matter how high the flood, we remained steadfast under the leadership of a brilliant individual who would have been diagnosed with any number of syndromes, if they could  have caught him and tie him down to a bed for experimentation. Some forces, though, cannot be resisted. The end was coming and the constituent parts started to pull away from each other. As with all endings, a number of individuals sensed the wind and changed their personal tack. The rest of us were crestfallen, still believing in a pre-lapsarian idyl, so did not notice the changing of the guard.

 

I had obviously become as mad as the collective we were. I didn’t arrive so much as wash up on the shores of my next school; the school that initially offered sanctuary but turned into a nightmare. My cold sweats have stopped occurring now so I can think about it rather more rationally. At first it was pleasantly quaint, a throwback to a time before the changes. It had older teachers where soft-faced babes ought to have been. The classrooms smelled of the 1970s as did the staff. It was bumbling and pleasant in the manner of a nursing home. This, I thought, was where old teachers came to spend their time before they moved off into retirement. I didn’t notice the groans emanating from the galleys. It was lost in the vast expanse of time, but time would find it.

images-3     From Pink Floyd’s The Wall

Time did find it and it came with a venomous Ofsted report.

 

My original judgement of the school being in need of improvement was rubbished by the savage findings of the battleship of a lead inspector. Teachers couldn’t teach, nobody was making any progress, the toilets were unsafe and the kids walked on the wrong side of the path. Some of what they wrote had some basis in fact whereas the rest required certain flights of diabolical fancy to design. The bottom line was that anyone in any position of responsibility would have to grovel for forgiveness. The truth was that many of us were dead men and women walking, something that became all too apparent with the arrival of the school’s saviour, a multi-academy trust under the governance of a jack-booted executive head and her hastily assembled invasion team. What made matters worse was seeing the quislings begin to rise to the dual tasks of informers and collaborators. Occupation of the school was completed within weeks yet the sleepy natives still hoped for a happy ending. Only in Star Wars does such an ending occur and that with fluffy Ewoks. 

 

I had had a period of extended sickness but was determined to return unbroken. I had weaned myself off the hard stuff and was feeling moderately okay. The other thing that I was thinking was how I had let everybody down and how I would put everything right. Jesus and his complex had returned. Oh, and let’s not forget one particular Year 10 class whom I had grown to dread. A few students in this wonderful group had issues that went beyond anything that I could properly cope with such as: trying to sleep during lessons; drawing anything on exercise books; refusing to read anything (especially out loud); sighing when I spoke; constantly asking to change groups; never seeing the point in anything that was done during lessons. These guerrilla tactics have been employed by many groups of students as a way to undermine the one at the front of the class, but I had rarely encountered them in such concentrated numbers. When I have, I have been able to make a stand and tough it out. In time, most students appreciated my teaching. But this group, this collection of disgruntled individuals, had better tricks; social media and Rate My Teacher. I was being bullied and I felt it.

 

Today’s kids have it on a plate. Schools have turned themselves into open democracies where the voice of the student is valued more than that of the teacher. We are there to serve. We are in the job (no longer a profession) to sacrifice ourselves for the benefit of each new group and child that passes into our care. The leading powers have employed the perfect weapon for monitoring and evaluation and have called it Student Voice. In short, what students said was paramount. After all, don’t they know what makes a good teacher and a stimulating lesson? And if you fail to get the popular vote, you are failing…FULLSTOP.

 

Am I wrong? There will be some of you out there who certainly believe so. Am I so very, very wrong to question the value placed on student evaluation of their teachers? As Frau Academy told an SLT meeting, when students like you and say so on student voice, good teachers will feel valued and positive about their contributions and performance in the classroom. Poor teachers wouldn’t. But hey, who cares about those who waste the valuable time of leaders and learners?

 

When do we get our say? When can ordinary teachers be allowed to fight back against the growing tide of criticism? Resilience is the current buzz word that conjures itself into being just by its very whispering. Indeed that is what education has become, incantations, half-understood connotations, and the chanting of the newly found words. Of all the ideas that could have been gleaned from the works of Guy Claxton and co, it is this one that has stuck in the gullet our unelected leaders who prize the quality of taking the knocks, putting up with ill-fate and not giving up even when your most needed marlin is being torn to shreds by a bunch of shitty sharks. I am thinking my way back to the trenches again and wonder how to tell the downtrodden Jonnies that they need not despair at the nightly bombing, sniper attacks, fleas, rats or mustard gas, no, all they need is a stiff upper lip; resolve, resolution and resilience. Some of them might swallow it. Some may listen but then forget. Some, however, may want to shove that old horse manure back where it came from. What’s wrong with revolutions? Resilience means acceptance of one’s predicament, a belief that that is the way of things and that resistance is not only futile but is somehow cowardly.

4-posada-firing-squad-granger

What would have happened if some of those Jonnies decided not to follow orders? Okay, they would get shot as cowards but if enough of them rebelled who would man the trenches?

 

 

 

 

 

 

As We Know It…

 

 

She had uttered the words, “The end of civilization as we know it!”

It sounded a little trite but she was speaking from the foundations of honesty.

Brokencomets

 “One day, and we don’t know when that will be, we will be faced with the imminent arrival of a rogue comet. And perhaps, when that day arrives ,the human race will be in real danger of extinction. As things stand, we can only detect and predict the pathways of such objects within a window of six months. That is not enough time to orchestrate an effective response.”

From BBC Five Live News   November 2016

 

It was a dark morning with fog settling in for another miserable mid-winter’s day. The news of the comet had an uplifting effect on my mood; just another thing not to worry about. We have no holidays booked for the summer so there was no danger of losing deposits. Somebody texted in with the words, “Fresh Start” and I had to agree that there was something in the glass after all. Mankind would be gone and so would Ofsted. No more short-notice inspections, no more categories, no more pompous old farts opining on the success or failings of schools. Donald Trump and Nigel Farage would be gone too. So, there is a God and it’s as hard as rock.

 

The important thing about comets is that they chase away the futility of anxiety. My own dark clouds had spent a week over me but had been blown away when I returned to teach the very same Year 9 group that precipitated their arrival. I planned an up-yours lesson which involved reading. There are certain stories that students should read, some people call this cultural capital but they are mostly referring to the classics of the nineteenth century. The late, great marget fatcher would have summoned to mind the writings of Austen, Dickens and the Brontes.  Fatcher, as one kid spelt her, was of the old school that worshiped at the font of writers who lived and died in that golden age of British culture. My canon is more for the everyman and it includes a wonderful story by Penelope Lively called The Darkness Out There. There was a certain irony that struck me with my choice.

 

The darkness was out there and it was part of you and you would never be without it, ever.

 

In short, my lesson plan was this: hand out short story, ask for readers, get none, so read it myself as best as I could, bearing in mind the potential hostility of the audience. So, I began to read and they began to listen. Oh, miracle of miracles.

There is something rather magical about reading. I still recall listening to my English teacher read Watership Down whilst at high school. He was originally a PE teacher who had developed a somewhat successful sideline as a thespian; he was the circus master in a film called Stardust. And he was a very good actor indeed. When he read, he brought a whole story to life. The characters became real, as real as the kids sitting next to me. Kehaar flew amongst us with his harsh Teutonic tone and it was all we could do not to duck when he entered the story. Watership Down is a pretty lengthy book, but we read it all, or rather our English teacher read it for us. Nobody talked or fiddled during these lessons, the act of listening had become an art form, and the world of the rabbits had become ours.

 

When I became a teacher, it was this teacher to whom I turned. I measured my rendition of novels and short stories against his. I know that I can never be as good as he was. Nevertheless, I have always given reading a special place in teaching and lament a curriculum that crowds it out in favour of tuneless sound bites. In an age when concentration levels are falling amongst the young and old alike, when libraries (both school and public) are wastelands devoted to as many activities that are as far removed from the enjoyment of the written word as is possible, surely classrooms ought to be a reservoir of reading. The last fifteen years of teaching English has seen the subject drop down the favourites’ list of staff and students alike. Novels have become novellas, quick reads that are more than often done as film to save time. The key characters and events are studied and revised for the sole purpose of passing an examination. There is no more opening of astounded eyes, flickering of emergent understanding and empathy, or the hearing of life changing lines. The reason we read is to enhance ourselves as decent human beings not to achieve examination results that fuel the judgements about schools, teachers and the education system itself. Why bother loving literature when all you need to do is pass it?

 

Penelope Lively’s Darkness is a seminal piece that acts as fairy tale and rites of passage narrative. It is a short story that stays with you and I have brought it out, rabbit from the hat-like on many occasions, for the sole purpose of enjoyment and understanding. It has the timeless trick of sticking in the mind’s eye and resonating as much with young readers today as it did many years ago. The central character is an old woman hidden away on the wrong side of a haunted wood, hiding a secret that is so rank with moral corruption that it clings to the young protagonists and its readers forever, and a day. I read the lines once again and was not surprised that the class was being reeled in.

 

Little by little the writer’s spell was working. The class, that had been apathetic at best a week earlier, was now listening. I was firing questions out and hands were being waved for an opportunity to reply. I don’t normally go with the hands up thing instead preferring to pick those students who would have avoided detection. This time, however, I went with the tide of my good fortune and found myself becoming lost in a warm enthusiasm for that moment. I was the teacher that I used to be and it was good to rediscover him. Let nobody get me wrong and think that my redemption was somehow complete through this episode; my time in teaching is coming to an end and the time is right for that. But books continue to hold me and to provide hope for the future.

 

Somewhere high above us, a rogue meteor looked down as it sped onwards. Something had changed its mind. Something in the vast randomness of the universe had redirected destruction. For the time being, the planet was safe.

 

And it was thanks to the arrival of the rogue rock.

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Night Attack

Hagedorn-NightAttackBigEdward Hegedorn

There are moments that sneak upon me, seize my collar and thump me on the head with a leaden cosh. It is the bathroom moment reincarnated for a new self. It is not the walls, the never-ending drip of the tap, nor the ceiling moving down upon me. The phantoms of the past have morphed into the pressures of the present. Black humour would explain it or big fat fate whose previous predictions are in need to being revived and revisited upon the forgetful and indifferent. Don’t get cosy when things seem to be going well.

 

It was Friday night and the wonderful haze of the weekend was settling upon me. My wife was out somewhere with my daughters and I chose to do something that I hadn’t done for a while. I was going to phone my mother. Since the death of my father, relations with the rest of my relations, in the original family, had become a little strained. It’s the old sister and daughter-in-law scenario with a level of antipathy that flows through the silence imposed by distance and the prohibitive cost of phone calls. Sophie thinks they don’t really care, that we are too far from their everyday lives to be considered. I think it’s true. I have always been the strange sheep in the family and that has never changed. My need to be accepted has morphed into acceptance; that was the way of things. Sophie, who comes from a less conventional family structure, feels a little betrayed; she too is an outsider. Sometimes, however, there grows a need to confide in individuals who share the same DNA.  So, as the wife was out, I thought I would phone home, the old home.

On the way back from the trenches, it’s best to forget about old battles. It’s best to breathe, take stock; allow the moment to just happen. Don’t think. Don’t act. Don’t call. With the memory of a particular Year 9 class still reverberating within me, I decided to seek some words of solace and had decided to seek them from my mother.

 

The last time I had spoken to her after a particularly bad experience was when I had been in the police. I had witnessed the arrest and humiliation of a young black boy. He had been suspected of stealing from a local shop and had been detained by the owner of the premises. During the course of this, the boy had started to behave strangely, a mixture of confusion and fear translating into something that appeared to be aggression. When we, the local constabulary,  were called to the scene, a small group of interested bystanders had gathered. For Laurel and Hardy, my fellow officers and trusted colleagues, this was just the provocation needed for a little assertion of their legal powers. What could have been sorted with an understanding word of sanity became a mass brawl and a brutal depiction of institutional racism. It was a sobbing younger-self who phoned from the capital that night seeking similar solace and it was a similar response that that younger-self received. After a few empathetic noises,

“You’re dad’s not in.”

This time, I knew my dad was not in; he was over five years underground.

“You never tell your mother how things really are!” My wife’s remarks reminded me.

The doctor had originally signed me off with anxiety disorder. I thought I was okay, exhausted but okay, whereas she thought that I was in some sort of peril. She gave me strong drugs and signed me off for a rolling period. It was good by me and I decided to attempt to return myself to a state of being that I fancied I had enjoyed at some earlier stage. Golden Ages?

After a while, I was taken off the strong drugs but continued with the others. After about six months of these, I occasionally forget to reorder and that leaves a gap between one prescription finishing and another beginning. Gaps aren’t good, even if you are just the tiniest bit dubious about the actual beneficial effects of the prescribed medication in combating the issue they were given for. So, after missing almost a week of the things, I finally reintroduced them into my system.

Anxiety is a creep.

It doesn’t announce itself in a sudden and calamitous collapse, a scream of fear or a strong desire to run into a corner and huddle up. No, anxiety hangs around like a phantom that exists somewhere in the corner of the eye; or in the shadows. My body has developed its symptoms, but my brain often misses them.

 

It was the end of a school week and I had the nonchalant calmness that almost twenty-five years in the job have bestowed upon me. It had persuaded me that everything would be fine. I had trained my classes and they respected me. No longer a mere supply teacher, I had moved into the field of educator. This Friday, however, brought about a change in a number of groups who I had been teaching. They were skittish, unresponsive and incredibly talkative. My initial thoughts that this was not a problem were to come back and slap me around the face. Year 7s and 8s had been bad enough but they were nothing compared to Year 9 who entered the classroom like a rampaging army reclaiming lost ground.

I was tired and probably complacent. I knew that I could handle it. As usual, I set out the exercise books on a table in an attempt to manage potential disruption. I was going to place a trouble-maker in another room, so that he could finish an assessment that everyone else had already done. There were a number of good students in the group, but this was matched by a number of disinterested and disengaged ones. A number of boys wanted to mess about while an equal number of girls just wanted to ignore anything that this cocky old supply was trying to teach them. The noise level was different from what I had expected it to be and this put me on the wrong foot from the very moment that they descended. I was on edge. Anxiety had crept into the room and was standing behind me. The kids could see it even if I couldn’t. I didn’t even notice the appearance of the shadows circling me.

After over two weeks of trying to get some form of written assessment from the boy I had placed in another room, he returned triumphantly with a slap of the exercise book and a, “Done it!” He looked at the rest of the group and smiled. He may have even winked. Some of the less interested girls had decided to reorganise my seating plan and this provided just the opportunity to begin proceedings.

“Why are you packing up your things, Kielby?”

Kielby and I had crossed swords before, when I first took over the class. Since then, a truce had existed between us, the type of truce that is fragile and waiting to break. With the last weeks of term approaching and the glitter of goodwill being shown to all men, women, (not supply teachers), my time with Kielby had arrived. Unfortunately, he had me at a disadvantage; the drugs hadn’t kicked in.

 

The upshot of all of this was that I not only excluded him from the class, but also managed to engage myself on another front with an erstwhile non-combatant. This resulted in a stand-off in which he refused to let me have his planner (that was needed to record a negative comment). My own petard was hoisted before me, but, like the shadows that I failed to see, no apparition came before me. The good kids put their heads down and pretended to be somewhere else leaving me with no support. Finally, when all order was being swept up into the maelstrom of classroom insurrection, I sought the thing that I least wanted, SLT help.

Any teacher understands that the help offered by SLT comes at a price. They arrive at the incident, inflated by their newly found ability to quell the heathen hordes, magically assert some calm where none had been before, give an off-the-peg talk on the importance of listening and showing respect, compliment the students for their usual hard work and perseverance, end with an upbeat offering of praise for future conduct, look towards the supply who is struggling, incline their heads backwards in a flourish that emphasises the enormity of their skills, and then leave, ignoring the almost immediate rise in volume coming from the room at the very moment of their departure (never go back for an encore).

SLT help is an anaesthetic that kicks in just as the patient screams from the agony of having a leg cut off. It momentarily numbs the pain, then disappears into the madness of a ward of cackling spectators who just love the spectacle of surgery. On top of that, the next SLT meeting will highlight those teachers who are struggling to connect with the kids, maintain a positive classroom environment and cannot, simply cannot, control the terrorist wing of the Tonton Macoute.

Regardless of any of that, the single most devastating effect of calling for help is that in doing so a teacher wipes away any modicum of self-belief and opens the harbour gates to a tsunami of self-doubt and loathing.

 

So, it was on the back of one of these seismic occurrences that I made my way back home for a Friday evening that found me alone and needing to talk. After going through a mental list of those people that I could use as a confessional, the list was incredibly short, and finding that there was no answer to my calls, I eventually phoned my mother. She answered and we had a flat conversation about nothing. She made cursory enquiries as to the wellbeing of me and my daughters and I told her that things were not good with my middle daughter and myself which prompted the remark that it would soon be Christmas. We finished speaking and hung up our phones.

“Did you tell her how bad things are with you?”

“Of course I told her! I tell her every time.”

Before this conversation went the full twelve rounds, I caught myself head butting the lounge door with a force that ought to have rendered me unconscious. It didn’t. I wished I were dead.

“I want to kill myself,” I shouted.

 

Sophie watched me with the helplessness and confusion of one who was made to endure the unendurable. Times have not been easy for her for several years now, but she carries on. She is not a runner nor is she a fighter. She is the home front, the unsung hero who makes sure that everything is able to continue regardless of how bad things may have become. I, on the other hand, had slipped again. I had tumbled off the edge and was now engaged in the self-loathing activity of trying to bash my brains out. Sophie, begged me to stop. And whether it was for my benefit, the benefit of the kids who had formed a concerned audience, or just for the wellbeing of the door that had only recently been placed in situ, I didn’t know.

“Can you stop doing that? Now!”

I stopped, surprised that neither the door nor my head had received any permanent damage.

“What’s wrong with Dad?” asked Maria, our youngest.

“Nothing, darling. He’s just upset.”

 

We went into another room and sat down.

“What happened today?”

 

Today was the day that the darkness returned. That day was one of those moments when the shadows, that had been gathering, decided to form together and become more than tangible… It’s behind you!

 

Anxiety is a state of nervousness, tension and passionate desire. It’s a cocktail of all our self-doubts and guilt that is normally taken during the darkest hours and feeds well into the following morning. Upon waking, the previous night’s doubts are washed away by the morning shower and swilled down by the first swig of tea. But the fifth column has taken to hiding behind the veil of night and waits until the day brings its share of distant gunfire and the rumble of the earth. Once the comfort of darkness has arrived, they sneak back into position and start to lay down harassing salvoes.

It takes a number of weeks like this, with the threat of the front creeping forever nearer, for the defences to begin to crumble. Words become bullets and sentences strafe conversations. The dark figure slips beneath the defences and crawls unseen into the spaces that were previously safe. Eyes dart for movement and heads twitch at the slightest sound. Even your loved ones have joined the assault, but they are now on the wrong side. It is how the dreams had predicted it to be, alone, confused, scared and betrayed.

 

The first bullets rip intoHagedorn-NightAttackBigyour flesh  and tell you that it is too late. 

Play Up, play up!

images-2

 

Wilfred Owen wrote Dulce et Decorum Est during a recovery period in a hospital in Scotland.  He was laid up with physical injuries that could be treated. His psychological ones fevered on. I was explaining this to a class of Year 8s who I was covering a lesson for. The lack of solemnity and near reverence for the text was murmuring in the background and frustration was simmering, ever so lightly, as a few more tangible murmurs were rising from the back row.

I laughed to myself. One or two of the kids noticed my aberrant behaviour.nudged each other and shared an inquisitorial eyebrow.

“What are you laughing at, sir?”

“Just something.”

“Tell us.”

“You wouldn’t understand.”

“Tell us, sir,” came a chorus from the murmurers.

 

My white flag of okay went up and I relented.

I was thinking about how sad it was for Owen and other soldiers like him, who escaped the battlefield for a period of time, to recover from their physical injuries only for them to be forced to return to the front. All that release from the nightmares, merely postponed. It’s like that with teachers who come back from anxiety or stress.

Since David Cameron returned the Conservatives to power with his spectacular vision of  a Big Society, the general feeling of us all being in it together was bolstered with another that sought to blame sections of society for its downfall. Teachers, so long praised for their efforts in bringing about a new educational revolution, were now cast as the enemy within. We had been taking the nation’s coin and not paying it back in kind. The terrible trilogy of Tony Blair’s Education, Education, Education, now formed the trio of lashes that Michael Gove used to punish a profession that was underperforming whilst being overpaid. When the rest of the nation was at the doors of the workhouse, teachers were flaunting their newly found lefty lottery wins on foreign holidays and flashy cars. The positive perception of these professional educators was about to undergo a very negative makeover.

During the course of their first years in office, regardless of the limiting factors of the Lib Dems, the Tory hierarchy loosed their rabid terrier on the teachers. The right wing press joined in with a number of articles designed to undermine the public’s belief in the educational system. In truth, it’s easy to loathe a teacher so it took very little to bring about the change. It started to be noticeable at parents’ evenings with a number of them turning up armed with accusations about the school’s inability to educate their offspring.

The subsequent years mobilised the public’s ability to hold schools and teachers to account. You see, we had made promises and the parents had not.

The age of marketing had already settled upon educational institutes, turning both primaries and secondaries into slick looking brochures filled with smiling children and their glowing instructors. Teaching and learning became learning and teaching. All-weather posters announced that they were officially outstanding. Competition was encouraged between schools in the same town with the better ones getting the pick of the crop at recruitment time. Pen manufacturers were introduced into a golden age of expansion with the introduction of  multi-coloured pens to encourage deep learning through deeper marking.  Inspirational speakers were hired to tell jokes, inspire and then get rich quick. The global economy determined that local aspirations were raised to match those of South Korea, Japan and Vulcan. Monitoring, managing and bullying became the norm in relentless drive for improvement. And, guess what? Ofsted was now the friend of the workingman but not teachers; they had too many holidays to consider themselves workers.

The battle lines had been drawn and the first salvoes fired. Gove’s blitzkrieg had begun in earnest and the war was with us.

 

I don’t like trench warfare. It’s the mud with the rats and the fleas and the Tories; the last ones replaced the Hun. Now, if that was all that was to be faced in the line of fire it would have been difficult but not impossible. Being outnumbered or at an insurmountable disadvantage has a liberating effect. What’s not to lose if you have already lost before you start? Once more unto the breach and clog up the hole with your teacherly dead. Once more to laugh in the face of defeat, and once more to be defeated; honourably.  The problem was not the enemy or the vermin that you encountered, but the growing numbers of fifth columnists.

 

I remember the miner’s strike in the eighties as a sound lesson in civil war. I had recently left the Metropolitan Police as a result of their rather fascistic approach to race relations. Just in time, I remember thinking. Thatcher, our last truly great leader (hope the irony sticks) who had already barged into a boy ship of sea cadets and sent them scuttling to a watery grave, was now setting her sights on the enemy within. Coal was in its last days but the Iron Lady wanted to apply euthanasia. Fortunately, the good people of Britain had not been bathed in the waters of Mammon and many of them decided to make a stand. Being from a coal community, I felt an ideological draw to their cause which was bound to be a tragic one, one that could be fought for with pride and honour. Incidentally, the closest I came to combat was a refusal to shake the hand of Michael Heseltine on the BBC; my moment of rebellious fame was left on the floor of the cutting room. Nevertheless, the strike did teach me one invaluable lesson and that was that there were traitors and turncoats among us.

If the miners’ strike made immediately evident the scale of class, community and work disloyalty, the long-drawn out conflict between teachers and Gove revealed itself more insidiously.

Teachers had become a new class of university-educated professionals who enjoyed a major increase in salary and status under the previous Labour government. Their fortunes could be measured by the houses they bought, the cars they drove and the sustainability of tans that were not purchased at the leisure-centre and foreign breaks. Teachers had become big-time consumers and that overt consumption needed to be financed.

 

Now the foundations had already been well established before Labour left office. Fast-tracking and academy establishing had seen several stars rise to the fore. Super Heads were introduced into the educational landscape along with motivational speakers, alchemistic academics, dubious consultants and a school of ravenous bottom-feeders who were prepared to devour anything in their path on their journeys towards the very surface. There are many teachers who recognise the accidental achievers. These are those who find it so difficult to survive in the classroom that they have come pre-prepared with an exit and upwards plan.

 

It works like this: Spend up to eighteen months in the classroom, gain a promotion to head of department, spend up to a year there stiffing out and then ejecting merely satisfactory colleagues, gain another promotion into senior leadership, appear to be ultra efficient within something like SEN, safeguarding or data and then become a Head of your very own school. From there it is a case of reapplying the formula by recruiting other wankers like yourself who are fully prepared to sell their grandmothers down the river for an extra leadership point. The really excellent wankers move on into demi-god status with kingdoms of academies, non-qualified educators and a plethora of politicians to perpetuate their greatness. Without any other driving force behind people like this (beyond the fake altruism) and their affiliation to the ethics of education, it was a simple step to collaborate with the supposed oppressors.

 

They are among us, but we are too nice, too civilised or too scared to expose them for what they are. Grandmother, what big teeth you have!

 

What remains of Michael Gove must be laughing all the way to his discreet sessions of strict discipline.

 

“It was them all along. They did it for me. They did not need much but they were voracious for advancement. It was the teachers what did it. And they are still doing it.”

 

I was in an assembly this morning in which one of this new breed was extolling the virtues of believing the dream. With the aid of a Powerpoint, video footage of the Olympics and X Factor (Susan Boyle) she was able to convince herself that any dream could be achieved. Look at Susan Boyle; the kids were, and I felt uncomfortable. The assembly ended with the senior member of staff reeling off a succession of triples, thrusting her fist in the air like Henry V and playing some inspirational get down with the kids song as we all left the hall. It is this quality fertiliser that is securing the future for the next generations. I wanted to whoop and clap all my way back to the classroom. That was until I realised that a rather disturbing group of Year 7s would be waiting to be educated.

 

I heard the sounds of machinegun fire as I climbed the stairs.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Too Far Out

timeline-of-ernest-hemingway      Ernest Hemingway

 

It is easy when you are beaten, he thought. I never knew how easy it was. And what beat you, he thought.

‘Nothing,’ he said aloud. ‘I went out too far.’

Ernest Hemingway   The Old Man and The Sea

 

I first read this book when I was about fourteen years of age. Not a prodigious reader, something that came out of the fact that I was a struggling reader – a dyslexic. With school then becoming a place of false hope, a victim of insidious bullying that threatened to break my young resolve, I visited the school library like one who would visit Lourdes. Somehow, just the act of pilgrimage could do it. I browsed the bookshelves in the hope of divine intervention. My normal choice was a history or geography book that gave me facts, packages of knowledge, small chunks that could be digested easily. I was not good at reading novels that would demand days of attention or maybe even weeks. I was a poor reader who struggled over every word. In class, there was no escaping when the teacher asked you to read. My failing attempts were met with snorts and ridicule. The scars that were left from those days still itch today as I stand in front of classes of students who see books and reading as irrelevant antiquities in an age that sees the magic of the internet as just something that we have in our everyday lives. I am sure that I would have been one of these if it had not been for the pressure from my dad, Romeo and Juliet and The Old Man and The Sea.

 

I started reading Hemingway’s novella today and was struck by how fresh it all was. Time sits inside books waiting for somebody special to release it. I was back to the tragedy of man, the eternal effort to fight forces and events that cannot be controlled. Sometimes, shit happens. If you are unlucky, like Santiago, shit happens more frequently. Now, I don’t know where I stand on the fate thing but it may as well serve as a metaphor for the whole explanation of happening. If it ever happened, it was fate. If a tile fell off a roof and cleaved through my head, it was fate. If a tree blew down on top of my car with me inside it, rendering me a cripple, it was fate. If I then went on to tackle my unfortunate brush with fate by writing numerous novels that thousands of people read, it was fate again. Lottery wins, cancer, getting married…yup, you’ve got it, fate. I ought to alliterate fate with an expletive because it’s so fucking greedy and so, so much in need of recognition.

 

Fate writes stories before they are told. It’s sitting here beside me now, nudging me with a wink of the eye that tells me that it told me so. Yes, and when I began reading The Old Man and The Sea, I thought of fate.

 

I was back at school. Break-time was happening and many of the students were outside playing on the mud of the grass or tarmac of the playground. My breaks would normally involve football, the medieval version in which sixty people would brawl for the ball. We had been in secondary school for a few years and had resisted the government’s attempts to make a more equal society. Whatever we had learnt at junior school was consigned to the distant and unrelated past. High school was more of a jungle. There were pecking orders and social strata. There was also the food-chain, one that was not dissimilar to those found in Origin of the Species. H.G. Wells would have recognised it from his book, The Time Machine. Put simply, the school was divided into two parts: puffs and scruffs. The ones who had passed their 11 Plus were the puffs whereas the others, the normal ones, were the scruffs. We were taught in different streams, played out in certain groups, formed friendships and relationships based on our perceived academic abilities. All in all, we were disentangled from other kids who we had thus far grown up with and, to this day, that divide has never been bridged.

 

This separation of the young was obviously not new; it had been going on for decades through the grammar, technical and secondary system. Perhaps that system was better in many ways as it physically divided groups of kids rather that psychologically separating. In fact, there is something quite insidious about the nature of that exercise as it mirrored the way in which society operated on a macro-scale. We move in our own groups with others whom we perceive to be our equals or with those who share a common outlook. Many of the towns and cities that I have lived in have areas that are demarcated to particular groups. I was a council estate boy in a mining village that also housed those who were wealthy and those who were extremely wealthy. Within the village, there were three council estates, each with its own characteristics. In fact, within each of the estates existed enclaves of upper, middle and lower. My estate was middling with a smattering of upper. The estate next to ours was tougher and it was rumoured that some of them even thought that the bath was a place for storing coal. The third estate, which was separated from the other two, was perhaps upper, if only in the minds of those who lived there.

Junior schools helped us to not see the divisions but secondary made them all too obvious. My friendship group, one that I still have access to today, revolves around two major estates and fails to include anyone from the third. Perhaps this proves nothing other than the essential non-gregarious nature of mankind or how we very much gravitate towards people who reflect ourselves.

 

None of this goes any way towards explaining why I should be here, tapping out the path back to understanding. Whatever social experiments or sociological norms were followed back then surely has little to do with the person I am now. Age is developmental, it moves in stages. When I was a child I acted and thought as a child. Now, I have pushed aside childish things and think like a man. No! There is something in my personal history that has blighted me. My burn-out was forever coming. It’s happened before and I am desperately afraid that it will happen again and again. My quest is to discover its source and then to quench it.

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But when I find the source, what will I do then?

 

 

 

 

 

Onwards to Outstanding

volta05

The Volta Dam

 

Another school and another cliché. It’s enough to make you turn around and walk away.

 

Pride. Respect. Aspire.

 

Three more reasons to turn a teacher’s stomach. When, just when, did schools stop being accidental places of learning and become artificially enhanced affirmations.

 

I became a teacher because I wanted to make a difference.

Ooops! Another corny cliché.

 

Back then, it wasn’t such an overused and underweight thing to say. I did want to make a difference, for the students I taught and for myself. There is not a day goes by without me thinking about the wasted opportunities that my own school afforded me. Indeed, it was because of my own abysmal failure as a young man that I found the need to return to the classroom in order to put things right; I also liked the holidays.

 

Growing up in the chill of the neo-arctic of the sixties and the flared years of the seventies exposed me to much more than frostbite. Infant schools and junior schools became oceans of optimism for those who were done with world wars, post-war rationing and elitist governments. By the end of the sixties even the West Riding, with its shoddy and mungo, was not able to hold back the twentieth century. While men were landing on the moon, we had our first taste of empire with a teacher arriving from Ghana to tell us about cocoa and the Volta Dam Project. A black man in a village where the only previous black faces belonged to colliers coming up from the pits. It was a closed community with more than its fare share of violence, domestic and communal.

 

Thornhill, as the village is called, was at the top of a hill overlooking Dewsbury. My village had the pits whereas Dewsbury had the mills and factories. We, the alumni of the parish, were destined for either one or the other. Everything we did was done with the implicit acceptance that we would probably grow up, find work, marry, have kids, have grand kids, retire and die there. So why oh why did they bring a black man all the way from Africa to teach us?

 

I don’t believe that this guy ever had a lesson plan. He never had to raise his voice. And was never the brunt of any blunt xenophobia. He was a teacher and we listened to him. And once his accent fitted into our ears, we learnt. We probably learnt about lots of things but uppermost in my memory was the work we did on cocoa production, chocolate making and the Volta Dam.  After over four and a half decades, that’s not a bad return for those few hours of instruction. How long do the children who we teach today retain their knowledge? How many lessons can survive the stride of time and be as effective as that?

 

The outcome of those lessons was far more enriching than mere facts and information. From my position of teaching in the first part of the twenty-first century, I look back to that teacher who had the courage to travel to such an industrial backwater, into a climate that could have not have been any more hostile, and a world that had still not fully appreciated that darkness was not a curse.

 

I think I owe a debt of gratitude to my junior school teachers who managed to teach me the attributes of respect and kindness. Most of our lessons were suffused with a Christian-Socialism. They were missionaries posted to the deepest reaches of West Yorkshire, their aim was to bring light. So, there was I at the start of this period of enlightenment. Although not all teachers were predisposed to the task of illumination (some were still cosily trapped in the remnants of the Victorian era that had stretched out until it was rudely interrupted by Hitler and the Second World War). Many of the new ones, however, were new to the role. Regardless of age, they had bought into the prevailing zeitgeist and were intent upon shaking up their social order.

 

With the Cold War whispering around us and the explosion of sirens in the middle of the night, many of us were aware that it was probably now or never. Any moment, we were sure, could bring about the end. I suppose that is why people were less shackled by tradition; when the bombs landed that would be that and the old world would be stuffed. The upshot was that we were taught to think, to question and to disagree. This was not instruction to a class of mutes but a long running debate or quest. These people, who were teaching us, also needed to find the answers.

 

Apart from the war and the proliferation of domestic violence, there were few things which bothered our world of play. School stretched before us like a never-ending quest. Mornings would see us shunted from sleep. Beds were covered with coats and old clothes to keep the cold out. Windows were playgrounds of ice whilst outside smog would gather in ambush. It was always cold in those days. It was cold and wet. My shoes were open soles and my feet became sodden on wet day walks to school and back. I had one pair of shoes for school and the same ones for playing out. When the holes became too big, I would stuff them with cardboard and then wrap my feet in plastic bags. Crunching and squelching were my daily companions. The truth of it was that almost every one that I knew was poor.  This made it easier as we knew no better. In those days, the classes did not meet very often unless it was in the line of work.

 

My mother was a cleaner for a mill owner’s wife and during holidays we were allowed to accompany her, as long as we stayed in the garden. The posh woman, Mrs Robinson, was probably kind. She went into the garage and brought out various things that her children had used and played with. There was a cricket bat and tennis balls, a badminton set and,, my favourite, a pair of rucksacks. I thought the rucksacks were really parachutes and ran around and around as if I was circling a number of enemy Messerschmitt. Mostly I would dacka dacka dak them out of the sky but on one or two occasions, they would get the better of me and I would have to bail out using my new parachute. It took me ages to reach the ground, floating on the thermals whilst attempting to avoid the underhand volleys of machine gun fire that came from a stray German pilot; without any trace of sportsmanship. It would always end in me hitting the lawn and rolling over theatrically before raising a fist of defiance towards the skies above.

 

It must have rained in that garden that stretched on forever but my memory was always of sunshine. It was a quintessential part of England with an exquisite lawn and edging, an exuberance of flowers and an excellence of fruit trees. I longed for a tree that could bare apples or pears. This was the essence of being rich, a reward for being born into the right strata, a constant reminder of one’s rightful privilege. So, it was not surprising that the grandchildren were as different to me and my sister as our African teacher was to us.

 

We were from different worlds and every pore of our beings screamed it. They had just come back from weeks in France. They were tanned in a golden way that I had never seen before and they spoke with such effortless ease of authority that I am amazed that they didn’t throw sticks for us to fetch. Nevertheless, they were not as condescending as they could have been. Both my sister and I recognised their status and clammed up a little when our rough accents bumped against their public-school enunciation.  It never occurred to me that something was wrong. While Mum worked as a cleaner in a house that was akin to a royal residence, we played in the garden like little animals that only needed exercise.

 

Mum accepted her role and even granted the privileged excuses for their towering superiority. “She is a lovely lady,” and “She speaks so proper, like the Queen.”  I have met many of my mum’s generation and class that allow their betters to remain unquestioned. There have been many who regard their granted advantages as something that is right, even ordained. For a number of decades, I identified with being working class. I was proud of my membership of this strangely elite club which gave me a reason to fight the system whilst also giving me an excuse for not beating it. I was destined to become a failure because of the fact that I had accepted that what the other classes represented was not worth having.

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I got by as a non-participant, always making enough to keep afloat, always enjoying the clean hands of not really trying to fight it. It wasn’t until teaching came calling that I took up arms.

Return to Rome…There Be Dragons

 

And so it came to pass that God made the earth in six days and that on the seventh he sat down and rested. The next day, he did his first supply-teacher gig.

Oh, for thou art last among men.

The_Scream

Becoming a supply teacher is the most daunting of educational adventures one could take. For me it is not just about stripping off the apparel of brief authority, but of cleansing myself in the fires of perdition. Being a supply, or what they call substitute teacher, is most definitely a journey to the darker side of education.

Where other triples reach for the sky, most supply just wish to survive.

Arrive. Teach. Survive.

I once worked in a school that was in the heart of Manchester. I got my measure of it when the first after school CPD concerned itself with drugs and gangs. The key question to the staff was, ‘Can you identify gang colours?’  Apparently, the school had once been virtually run by gangs and anybody standing in their way was dealt with severely. Supply teachers must have been like slaves imported into Rome to serve as mini- appetisers for the main event in the circus. One tale told of a hapless supply who had turned up for a day’s paid torture only to realise that he had been there before. He sat in his car shaking before doing a rapid three-point turn and making a hasty retreat. If there are any of you out there who have ever done supply in dodgy schools, I am sure you will understand this poor man’s plight.

 

Nobody loves a supply. Head Teachers consider them a necessary evil. Heads of departments tend to think likewise. Young teachers look upon them as some sort of lower life form; beings that have fallen from the state of grace that is full-time teaching. Kids, well they just see them as target practice.

Now that I find myself doing this, I feel as if I have become one of Shakespeare’s tragic heroes. I am King Lear who has thrown away his kingdom in a fit of deranged self-awareness. I shall not soil my hands with this again; something that I have promised myself on more than one occasion. So, here I am soiling myself once again.

To be truthful, it’s not that bad. Once you get over the headache that your own voice has given you through pleading, insisting, demanding or resigning oneself to all sorts of unacceptable behaviours and attitudes, it sort of flows over you. My name seems to have disappeared along with my standing. I have become the supply, an unwanted pseudonym, but one that people are happy to grant me. To some children I am Mr Smith and, even when I reject this, they continue to refer to me as Mr Smith.

“You teach maths, don’t you?”

“No.”

“Yes, you do. You taught me maths last year.”

“No, I didn’t. It is my first time in this school and I’m an English teacher.”

“Don’t believe him, he’s a maths teacher. He taught my brother as well.”

 

There are some that I can no longer teach. Take the Year 10 group I covered for recently. They were class-wise and able to turn a dismal situation into an extended wound licking operation.

As a parent and a teacher, I am aware of the over-reliance of schools on supply teachers. They are fillers for absences that were unwanted. Sometimes they are in for a day or two, but at other times, when the permanent teacher is finally worn down by a combination of collective germs and professional stress, the medium-term supply comes in to fill the gap. Mainly though, with the lack of reliably experienced substitutes, classes have to be manned with a succession of unwanted visitors who land, pay cursory attention to the work left, inhabit a kingdom of mayhem in which the young dictate and then finally flee the nest. Oh, the poor students?

This is another lie. Okay, so some of them deserve better. There are hardworking, respectful kids who have never put a foot wrong and the system that has been geared up to help them aspire has, by design, brought about a temporary denouement. If I could truly bleed onto the page, I would. It would be a pinprick however. A cover-led classroom can be any number of things but in reality, it is something that is constantly being obstructed from becoming a harmonious centre for learning and mutual appreciation. For unsuspecting adults, it becomes a place of darkness in which only dragons roam.

The Year 10 class that I took had dragons. I noticed them as they came into the room, late, put their handbags on the desks, chewed their gum and shared their conversations for all to hear. Even an experienced teacher like me has to gird himself for such a seditious onslaught. I stand at the front bigging up to the audience. I make sure that I am not sitting, leaning or hiding behind anything. Anything between me and them would be seen as a surrender. Deep breath, but not too obvious, and a modulated voice that says that I am not afraid.

Unfortunately, neither are they.

 

Kids can be scary.

Pol Pot knew that and so do many terrorist organisations. They have not yet reached the age of consequences, where their deeds have repercussions; some probably never will. They are pack animals moving in agreed conventions of hierarchy. Permanent teachers are part of the pack even if they don’t know it. They are accepted group members who have a right to grunt and give instructions. Often, the permanent teacher inspires love and respect which allows the group to move onwards. However, as love and respect are fragile concepts, sometimes the trust can be broken. Once broken, they rarely mend themselves properly.

Long-term absence with anything other than cancer will do it. Into the void left behind by such an accepted member, a supply teacher is lured. Kids just love a supply teacher and the older ones can eat more than their own body weight of one in a day.

 

I am not afraid. I am not afraid.

I am not in my right mind.

  • Ask for quiet. Give instructions.
  • Write them on the board.
  • Ask for quiet.
  • Talk through the instructions.
  • Ask for silence.
  • Talk.
  • Stop.
  • Ask for silence.
  • Look brooding.
  • Be silent.
  • Ask for silence.
  • Raise your voice whilst lowering the pitch.
  • Demand silence.
  • Move towards the most ardently indifferent.
  • Ask them what they are doing.
  • Keep your head when they reply that they don’t know because you haven’t told them yet.
  • Look incredulous.
  • Ask for silence.
  • Ask if anyone was listening when you asked for silence the last dozen times.
  • Raise your voice in an attempt to get them to listen.
  • Try not to scream.
  • Try not to kick the door.
  • Try to keep yourself in the room.
  • Attempt to put it all into perspective.
  • Allow your jaw to drop widely open when some inane member of SLT comes into your room.
  • Let your jaw hang loosely as silence descends.
  • Listen to the trite appeasement offered by the SLT member as they tell you that this is usually a very good class.
  • Try not to show your disbelief as some of the gobbier students tell the SLT that they were not told what to do.
  • Enter into a conversation with the SLT about the importance of good behaviour for learning.
  • Fade away in volume as it becomes obvious that the SLT thing is not listening to you as they have already started to pull a funny appeasing kind of face to one of the dragons.
  • Listen to some more of their bullshit ‘come on kids’ speech.
  • Allow the SLT being from another universe to tell you that the class will now be good and attentive.
  • Watch the door as it closes on the darting SLT whatever and imagine how they have formed their opinion of your inability to basically teach such an easy group of wonderful young people.
  • Brace yourself for an immediate increase in volume and belligerence.
  • Face accusations that you haven’t told them what to do.
  • Try to seek out those friendly faces that you thought were there at the beginning of the lesson.
  • Despair on discovering that they too have fallen into conversations with those around them or have buried their faces into the sand of their exercise books.

 

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Sit.

Breathe.

Count the seconds as they pass.