January 23, 2012

Pulling teeth on a monday morning

Period 1, Monday morning. They call it the graveyard shift, and there is one very good reason for that. The kids resemble the walking dead.

One boy admitted to me that he had gone to bed at 5am this morning, as he had been playing on his Xbox. God help me.

In the previous lesson with this group we had been doing complete and incomplete combustion. The kids were fabby. My plenary showed that every child that walked out that lesson were able to write the word equations for both processes, most knew how the products were identified and some could write balanced equations. Top marks, Year 9. You lot are super.

However, I forgot that during the weekends they melt their brains with tv and playstations and texting useless rubbish to their friend of the moment. So, by the time monday morning rolled around, they could barely remember their names.

As part of the previous lesson they all had to write a question and answer on a strip of paper. I typed these all up and added a couple of higher tier questions and gave the questions back to them as a starter. Considering they wrote the questions, I figured they would be able to answer them. Apparently not.

To cut a long story short, the entire lesson was a long-drawn out process of trying to gently coax out any surviving remainders of last week's lesson whilst attempting to learn about the composition of our curent atmosphere. I ended up having the following coversation with about 20 pupils...

"miiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiisssssssssssssssss................... I don't geddit!"

"what don't you get?"

"I don't knooooowwwwwwwwwwwwww!" (Kids have an annoying habit of elongating their words into one long whine when they're tired)

"well unless you tell me what you're struggling with, I can't help you!"

"EVERYTHIIIINNNNNGGGGGGG!" (Anyone would think her life was coming to an end with the theatrical moan she expelled at this point, complete with a dramatic slump onto the desk. Surely her head hitting the desk with that force can't be good for the few living brain cells that have survived the weekend.)

"you are going to have to be a little bit more specific than that..."

"what IS combustion?!"

"Are you kidding?! we did this last lesson!"

"Did we?!"

"YES! Look in your book!"

"Oh yeah! So what is it then?"

"I'm not telling you! You've got a textbook and your workbook in front of you. Use them!"

"Can't you just tell me? That is your job."

"No way! I can't take the exams for you. What good would it do you if I just told you the answer to everything in class?!"

"Well, just tell me the page number in the textbook then..."

"No, look it up yourself."

10 minutes later, when I spied her piling up her diary, textbook and workbook to form a makeshift pillow....

"okay, okay, it's page 107.."

5 minutes later, when her neighbours' textbooks were being added to the nest...

" so what is combustion then?"

"Huh? what? concussion? I ain't go no concussion..."

"Combustion, you spoon, combustion! what is it?"

"oh yeah, errrr, I dunno"

"I'll give you a clue, bunsen burners facilitate complete combustion"

"Is it setting fire to stuff?"

"Err... yes alright you can have that one. So what is the word equation for complete combustion? We did this last week...you do know this... you know you do.... just think..." (Note my attempt at hypnotism)

" No idea miss" (okay, so the hypnotism needs some honing)

"Well what are the reactants? What do we put into the reaction?" (When I said the word 'reactants' I was met with a face that resembled a bulldog that is trying to stare down a fly which has just landed on his nose.)

"oh errrr, dunno miss"

"Come on, yes you do. What do we burn?"

"When?"

"Hypothetically, what do we burn? You need three things in a fire triangle, what are they?" (Oh dear, silly me, there's that face again. I have mistakenly added another confusing factor into the equation...fire triangles. Quick, abandon that and return to combustion before she loses all conciousness!)

"Don't you burn gas miss?" (SUCCESS!)

"YES! Well done! Can you remember the name of the gas we use in school for our bunsen burners? No? I'll give you a clue..... errr.... it's called methane."

"Is it methane miss?"

"CONGRATS!" (I love that kids rarely detect sarcasm)

"Right, we're a quarter of the way there. Sigh. What do we burn methane in?"

"A bunsen burner."

"No. I mean what gas."

"Oh yeah. Methane. Ain't that what cows fart miss?" (Oh dear lord.)

"Yes. No. I mean....forget that. What gas does methane burn in? Fire needs this gas to burn....still not got it?.....We breathe it in and use it in respiration...."

"CARBON DIOXIDE!"

"NO! What planet are you on?! Try again..."

"Oxygen??"

"YES! so our reactants are........come on, we've just been through this, what are the reactants in combustion? Right, okay, we burn methane in oxygen. Got that?" (I'm not holding my breath.)

"Yep." (I very much doubt that.)

"So our reactants are on the left side of the word equation, then you put an arrow..... an arrow...... no you don't need to colour it in. Yes, it does look like a spear, well done. Stop colouring it in! So what is produced in complete combustion? You only have two products; one turns limewater cloudy and one turns cobalt chloride paper pink..." (Dammit, too many big words.)

"methane. oxygen! CARBON MONOXIDE! SOOT!!"

"You have named pretty much every substance involved in combustion except the two I actally want."

"Huh?"

"Never mind. Ok, this is a gas we breathe out... "

"carbon dioxide?"

"YES!! and the other product is a vapour we breathe out..."

"Water?"

"OH MY GOD WE'RE THERE! Okay, so put it all together and you have the word equation for complete combustion. Combustion spelt with a C, not a K. And STION, not SHUN. Why have you drawn a little heart over the 'i' in 'dioxide'? Right, now try the word equation for incomplete combustion..."

30 seconds later and she's got her blazer over her head and is gently snoring...


January 18, 2012

Arguing the pitch of a sneeze.

One of my big targets for my complimentary placement was to really get my behaviour management cracked. Well today I think I've turned a corner.

My view on behaviour in schools has evolved dramatically since I began this course. At first I thought all kids were angels and if they did display dirsuptive behaviour it was a direct result of low self-esteem, poor parenting and being misunderstood. These poor little darlings just needed to be spoken to nicely and given some one-on-one time. How naive of me. Yes, some kids do have troubled home lives and have been shouted at all of their lives. But some kids are just plain horrible.

I overheard a conversation in the staffroom today about a pupil that absolutely refuses to do any work in lessons. Nobody seems to know what to do with him, as gently coaxing him into doing work just falls on deaf ears. Teachers have been instructed not to confront him in case he kicks off!! So what options are we left with?! It is ridiculous that a 15 year old boy has got the entire teaching staff wrapped round his little finger. He literally puts his head down and sleeps his way through lessons. It won't be long before the other kids see this and follow suit. After all, why should he get away with doing nothing whilst they have to do work?! As teachers, we are failing him by pandering to his every request, heaven forbid he kick off. If he had been disciplined for kicking off from day one, with proper disciplinary measures, not just a warning and staying in for 10 minutes at lunch, then perhaps he wouldn't get away with it now. Unfortunately he's now going to leave school with very few qualifications, another number to add to the unemployment statistics. But it's ok, because although I failed him at school, I'll be supporting him with my taxes later in life.

I spoke to one teacher today who said that he thinks behaviour in the school seems to fluctuate. As the kids learn how to get round the (wishy-washy at best) behaviour for learning policy, behaviour plummets and then the powers that be crack down on behaviour and it improves again. In fact, one pupil in his tutor did mention to him that she used to be scared of teachers but now she isn't because she knows that they can't do anything. And I'm betting she's not the only pupil to have this startling revelation. As part of PSHE pupils experience a Prison Day where the local police force bring in a portable prison cell and police dogs to drum into the pupils the consequences of continued bad behaviour. I think schools should work more closely with the police. Pupils are so used to simply ignoring rules in school and suffering no more than a mark on their SIMS record and 30 minutes less of their time after school. Perhaps if their school records stayed with them for life they would be a little more careful about behaviour marks adding up. I put a mark on a particular child's record today who had 34 marks since the beginning of the school term, that's 10 a month! But I question what is being done about it. Why does this pupil continue to get behaviour marks when he has already stacked up such an impressive total?! Why isn't he in isolation or on report until his behaviour drastically improves? Why isn't he being denied privileges such as free time with his friends? And why aren't his parents bothered? This child in particular is considerably disrespective to any authority, but particularly women teachers. A teacher told me how she had seen him out with his family once and his Mum was wearing the traditional Burka worn by Muslim women. Apparently, she was quite clearly bottom of the pile in her own household. It seems we may be fighting a losing battle.

However, as I mentioned before, I did turn a corner today. I am an assistant tutor to a year 8 group and today we had a whole hour and 20 minutes off timetable for registration. This time was designed to be used for giving the pupils advice on choosing their options. They were expected to work through plans which helped them identify their strengths and weaknesses and would eventually guide them on which options to take. Unfortunately their tutor was off ill and, as I had only been with the form for 2 days, I did not have a clue what was going on! The cover teacher had been sent an email with instructions for the hour but we still had to find the various booklets and plans and reports that were hidden around the room. Eventually we managed to get each child on task and working well on their plans......with the exception of two siblings of the devil.

The pupils in this tutor haven't really experienced me as teacher yet as I've only been observing a class that a few of them are in. I'm pretty sure they know I'm a student teacher and, as I haven't got the build or face of a rugby-player, I haven't managed to strike fear into their hearts yet. In fact, the longer I go before I start teaching them, the longer I feel that I'm losing any control over them, as they realise I'm absolutely no threat to them whatsoever. When I started teaching I always thought that the kids shouldn't be scared of the teachers, and I still stand by this, but they absolutely should respect them. And sometimes, this respect is only earned by showing that you are completely and 100% in control and ther are very serious consequences for anybody who does not toe the line. So, back to the original story..... the devil children. It all started when one of them, let's call him Ben, started copying everything the teacher said in a squeaky annoying voice. She couldn't tell him off because he just copied her. She tried to stare him down but he seems to have a fantastic skill for keeping his eyes moist without blinking. The rest of the class found this hilarious and I thought, "right, I am not going to stand and watch a colleague get mocked by 12/13 year olds. I'm going to step in and I'm going to make it count". I knew that I was going to have to teach these kids in a week, and I'm pretty sure I'm getting observed with this class, so now was my chance to earn myself a reputation. So, mentally swatting the butterflies in my stomach, I said in my firmest voice, "Ben, outside now, this behaviour is completely unacceptable" and hoped to all the great and wonderful gods above that he would move. He did. I thank the Gods that he did really because I didn't have a back-up plan that wouldn't have got me arrested. He slouched out into the corridor and I made a show of slamming the door behind me. Now, listen up folks, I employed the classic technique of strategic bollocking. Here's how it goes...

Equipment list
1 x naughty kid (preferably the crying type)

1 x classroom full of kids you want to scare

1 x door with glass panels (doesn't work if it's soundproof)

1 x empty corridor (pretty embarrassing if it's full)

1 x good shouting voice

multiple dramatic arm gestures

a range of glares and scowls

Method
1. Take the naughty kid outside.

2. Slam the door for dramatic effect.

3 Position yourself so that you can be clearly seen through the glass panels in the door by the classroom full of kids you want to scare.

4 Let rip. Make sure you shout loud enough that the pupils in nearby classrooms can clearly hear you. Employ good use of dramatic arm gestures and pointy figures. Cast many glares and scowls.

5 Walk back into the classroom with a face of thunder and a parting word of "Thank you for your apology, I expect better next time (you horrible demon child of Satan)" ...... the bit in italics is best said in your mind.

I got this idea when I was observing a year 8 class earlier in the week and a male teacher in the opposite classroom was employing the strategic bollocking technique on a cocky year 10 lad. The whole year 8 class went absolutely silent whilst they listened to the fate of their poor fellow brat. It was fantastic.

My method appeared to work with this tutor group. I was particularly shouty for the remainder of the lesson. I figured I would maintain my grasp on them whilst I can and ease off when I've established a sufficient reputation for having a terrible temper.

However, I did have to come down like a ton of bricks on another child. He was the delightful child I spoke about earlier who is the most disrespectful little urchin I have ever spoken to. He continued to turn the tap on and off, despite being asked not to by the teacher. When he was confronted about this he decided to demonstrate his wide vocabulary of ridiculous noises. I warned him that if he continued to make stupid noises he would have to do his work outside in the corridor where he couldn't distract anyone. As soon as my back was turned he made a vile, hacking, cough noise which sounded like a dying moose. I ignored it, figuring for all I know he could be smoking 20 a day. Emboldened by his spectacular display of ‘witty’ noises, he attempted a high-pitched, squeaky sneeze. Do these kids not have a little red flag in their brain that jumps up and waggles around when they’re just about to do something stupid?! Or perhaps even a giant, flashing sign saying, “WARNING! YOU ARE ABOUT TO DO SOMETHING STUPID…. DESPITE BEING WARNED THAT IF YOU GO AHEAD WITH THE AFOREMENTIONED STUPID ACTION, YOU WILL FACE THE CONSEQUENCES……. WHAT EXACTLY HAVE YOU GOT TO GAIN FROM IT?!”. Ok, so the sign would have to be fairly large, and the font fairly small, for it to fit inside their brain; and there might not be any room left over for brain cells. But I’m convinced that some of these kids just have heads full of air anyway so a large warning sign would put the space to good use, like advertising boards round the edge of an ice rink. So, back to Squeaky Sneezer. I took him and his work straight out the classroom and asked him why he had been removed from the classroom. Rookie mistake. I was drawn into a lengthy argument over the exact pitch of a sneeze. Sigh.

Perhaps the problem with behaviour in schools is that a startling proportion of the kids haven’t even got the fundamentals right. I handed out 32 worksheets as the pupils entered the classroom yesterday and a grand total of 3 thanked me. I said thank you to every single child that entered the room as I believe strongly in setting a good example, particularly with the basics such as manners. Pupils rarely use the word ‘please’ when they ask for help or resources in class. They just expect it.
“Miiiiiiiiiiissssssssss……… I can’t do it! I need help!”
“Miiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiisssss…………………. Can I have more paper?”
“Miiiiiiiiiissssssssssssss……………………………….. I need the toilet!”

And these are the good kids! The stinky ones refuse to look at you when you’re talking to them. Or they put their heads on the desk right after they’ve called you over to help them. I’ve realised now that “Miiiiiiiiiiissssssssss……… I can’t do it! I need help!” is loosely translated to “Do my work for me Miss, I can’t be bothered cos I was up till 1am playing Modern Warfare”.

When I was in mid-bollocking with Ben he was happily wandering up and down the corridor ignoring every word I said. He couldn’t care less that I was angry with him or even that I was speaking to him. But at least the kids in the classroom thought he was getting an earful!

Oh well. Despite what it may sound like I am actually really enjoying my placement! The majority of the kids have been really welcoming and cooperative. I think you just have to realise that you can’t move mountains but if you do manage to even shift a pebble occasionally, and maybe that pebble might just knock another pebble, and if you’re really lucky that pebble leaves Pebble Academy with a good education and the skills to survive in the gravel, then you haven’t done too badly.


January 09, 2012

I HATE MONDAYS :–(

Today was my first day teaching at my complimentary placement. I had two lessons, both year 9s, in first and second period. I had all my resources prepared and sent off to the print room. My first school was only small so all the teachers photocopied their own resources; at this school, with it being nearly three times the size, everything needs to go through the print room otherwise the departments get charged. However, the school system was down over the weekend so when I couldn't access my school email account to send my resources off to the print room, therefore I also couldn't find the print room email address. Luckily, I had written down..... somewhere......on one of the many sheets of paper I had collected during the first week......somewhere.....I just wasn't quite sure where. Luckily I found it scribbled down on a scrap piece of paper which was floating round the bottom of my GIANT teacher bag. I wasn't entirely sure it was for the woman in the print room because I had simply written the email address and no other relevant information, but I like to live life on the edge so I thought I would risk it. Us teachers are a wild bunch. So I emailed my resources off to the print room from my home account. I was told that if you emailed the print room the night before with a pleading message they would be able to get your order ready for the next day and pop it in your piegonhole. I don't have a pigeonhole. Much like I don't have a staff badge or a SIMS login as I'm only on my complimentary placement for 6 weeks. The lack of a staff badge makes it quite clear to all the students that I am a trainee teacher. They might aswell put a flashing beacon on my head with a sign saying "Feel free to test her behaviour management skills, Lord knows she needs it!". Lacking a staff badge is the equivalent to walking out the loo with your skirt tucked into your knickers. As I don't have a SIMS login I am also unable to print out the data for each of my classes. It has taken me a week to collect SEN data, IEPs, target grades, current grades, seating plans, Gifted and Talented lists and EAL lists and three hours today to collate into a useful teaching file. But it's done now so that moan ends there. But the Monday moan continues.....

I finally got to bed last night about 1am after having such a nightmare trying to get onto the school network and emailing off my resources. I decided that I would get into school early the next day to make sure all my worksheets were printed correctly. I left 15 minutes early this morning, which is close to a miracle for me. I got to the bottom of my apartment block stairs and came face to wheel with two giant fire engines. Sigh. I was blocked into my road for 25 minutes. This then meant that I left at rush hour and what would normally be a 5 minute journey to work took 25 minutes. I got into school 3 minutes before the registration bell to find that the woman in charge of the print room had got in 2 minutes earlier and hadn't so much as switched her computer on yet so none of my resources were printed. Sigh. Luckily, with some first class ass-kissing, I got my worksheets bumped to the top of the priority pile and was able to send a student to collect them 15 minutes into the first lesson. The Gods redeemed themselves in the second lesson because the normal teacher hadn't finished the previous topic yet and needed one more lesson to finish it. So I got an extra night to tweak my lesson plan with the suggestions that the teacher had sent to me by...... you guessed it..... EMAIL! An email which I couldn't access at the weekend because of the STUPID COMPUTER SYSTEM!!!! So, I started the day late and was stuck in a seemingly endless game of catch-up all day. Thankfully the day did finally end and I got home and had some toast and jam. Now all is good in the world.

One quick note, what is with all the weird names kids have these days?! There are two famous names in two of my classes, and by famous I mean A-list celebrity actors' full names. Forename AND surname! And if the kid hasn't got a weird name s/he has a normal name with a crazy spelling! Please tell me, is it fashionable or just bad spelling?!


January 03, 2012

back to the real world….

It is 11pm on a Bank Holiday Monday, the last day of my christmas holidays :-(

But I'm not ashamed to say that I have enjoyed them to the full. I have deliberately done absolutely NO WORK!

The last term was so manic that on the last day of school my Thursday evening went as follows:

5:00pm: arrived home, had every intention of making dinner because I had a netball match at 6pm but unfortunately I sat down on the sofa and got stuck. Fell asleep.

5:30pm: woke up to a phone call from my team captain saying the match had been moved to 6:40pm. Fell aleep.

6:00pm: woke up to another phone call from the team captain saying the match had been cancelled. Fell asleep.

7:00pm: woke up to the doorbell. A friend from netball was dropping round an christmas present. Fell asleep.

9:00pm: woke up and decided I was going to have that bath that I had been planning for weeks (don't worry, I do wash. Just in the shower.) Ran a bath with candles, smellies, the works! Read a few pages of a book. Fell asleep.

10:00pm: woke up. Dragged myself out the bath and flopped into bed and stayed there until 7am the next morning. I woke up in the exact same position that I fell into bed in.

So yes, it is fair to say I was a little pooped and was unimpressed to find myself in voice coaching lessons at 9am the next morning when I knew that my school were having a jam-packed day filled with fun and festivities. We had been sternly told in every staff meeting in the run up to christmas that we were not to just stick on DVDs and make christmas cards for the last few lessons, so that last day was the chance for all the pupils and staff to let their hair down and get into the christmas spirit. But no, I was laid on my back making cat noises.

So anyway, back to last term. It was fabby. F.A.B.B.Y. I enjoyed every last minute of last term.

Despite the increased workload and extra formal observations and masses of form-filling and researching and writing the first part of the dreaded masters assignment and collecting data for the second part of the dreaded masters assignment; last term was the dog's.

I felt like a real life teacher. Yes I had bad days, but these were often greatly outnumbered by the good days. And yes, the assignment was a killer. Not because I found it particularly difficult, but because I was so interested in the topic that I was struggling to get in just the main points and discussions in the word count.

Last term definitely taught me to prioritise, that's for sure! And to become much more efficient with my lesson planning. I scrapped writing up the lesson plans except for those lessons which were being formally observed. The whole 'writing up a lesson plan' procedure was adding so much extra time to my workload that I just didn't have and by then I knew all the gifted and talented and SEN pupils in my classes and was attempting to build in differentiation as a matter of habit rather than having to be prompted by the plan. I became much more efficient with my beloved powerpoint presentations by creating a template which meets the requirements of every lesson such as learning outcomes, starter, main, dessert etc etc but I have also learned to be alot more flexible and to adjust my lesson to how the class is coping with a topic. For example, I had set an assessment homework for a lower set year 7 class which was based on a practical we had done in lesson. They simply had to draw a bar chart of their results and write up a conclusion and evaluation from their results. And I wasn't expecting much as this was their first assessment homework and they were predicted low levels anyway. They were shocking. And I mean, SHOCKING! I'm pretty sure they all had it copied down in their homework diaries and understood the task because I had put alot of emphasis on this in the lesson and had given them, and dicussed in detail, a guidance sheet that pretty much told them exactly what they had to do to achieve each level. Now, I remember being in primary school and every single science experiment we did had a equipment list, prediction, method, conclusion and evaluation written up for it; so I know that when I was a kid we were able to write up a simple experiment. But these kids certainly couldn't! But probably the most confusing thing was that a select few, about 3 pupils, did a fantastic job! I could not have asked for better work; and on these few the praise was bestowed abundantly! But why could only three out of thirty pupils do a task which I had (incorrectly) assumed to be easy? And it wasn't just a case of getting back rubbish homework, perhaps one-sentence conclusions and graphs drawn (heaven forbid) without a ruler. No, in the majority of cases large sections of the homework were missing, the entire graph for example. Some had not even got a copy of the data collected in class so had no hope of completing the homework. But not a single pupil came to me in the following seven days to say "Miiiissssss, I am struggling with this..." or "Miiiiisssssss, I don't understand the homework...". These kids have absolutely no initiative and are not doing homework yet their parents are still signing off their homework diaries to confirm that everything has been completed! So, the next lesson after I had got the books back and marked them (the few that I could mark anyway) I decided to devote half of the lesson to getting the homework sorted and giving them a second chance. In that lesson we spent an embarassingly long time just sticking in loose sheets and making sure every pupil in that class was up to date with work. This exercise was mind-numbing. Glue is like gold is schools and I had ferreted round all the science labs trying to collect as many glue sticks as I could thieve so that every pupil in my year 7 class could have a glue stick, in a desperate effort to speed up the laborious task. Here's how it went....

ME: Right, I would like everyone to stick every single loose sheet into your book. If it's not stuck in, I want it stuck in now. You have ten minutes. GO!

JIMMY: miiiiiiiissssss, I don't have any glue.....

ME: It's right there in front of you. You see that glue stick shaped object that clearly says 'GLUE' in capital letters on the side? Yes? That's glue Jimmy.

SUZIE: miiiiiiiissssss, I don't have any glue.....

ME: okay, class, I would like your attention for just a second. I have already handed the glue sticks out. They're on the desks in front of you. Many of you were gluing your hands together when I expressly told you not to touch the gluesticks. Some used them as missiles and/or lightsabers. Whatever your preference for the gluesticks' alternative use, I would like them now to be used to stick in the loose sheets.

SUZIE: miiiiiiiissssss, I don't have any glue.....

ME: (sigh) again, it's on the table.

FREDDY:miiiiiiiissssssssss, do we stick the homework sheets in?

ME: yes, all sheets need to be stuck in.

BETTY: miiiiiiisssssss, do we stick last week's sheets in??

ME: okay, class, I would like your attention for just a second. Your task is to stick in all loose sheets. ALL LOOSE SHEETS! This includes homework sheets and every worksheet from each lesson. Our overall aim is that, should we shake the books upside down, no sheets would fall out. Zach, don't shake the book upside down. The same goes for you, Oliver. Yes, you will now have to pick all your sheets up off the floor. Okay, class you have just three minutes left so crack on.

three minutes later....

ME: right I'm going to give you another 5 minutes as we seem to still not have finished sticking all these sheets in!

five minutes later...

CLAIRE: miiiiissssssssssss, I forgot my book.

ME: Then what have you been doing for the past fifteen minutes?!!!

After this mammoth task I delivered a crash course in simple graph drawing. I gave them another worksheet (I cannot even begin to describe the trouble that caused) which had step-by-step instructions which they would be able to follow at home when they came to redo their homework. This was a foolproof plan in my head; but I forgot that worksheets are only helpful when they're read, and unfortunately reading a worksheet doesn't appear on the To Do lists of many of these kids. Finally, I gave them a checklist of a list of things they had to do to achieve a high level four. They were directed to go through their homework and tick off any boxes they had already done and the rest was to be done for homework. Some had very little left to do, and some had the pretty much the entire homework to repeat. My downfall here was not checking their checklists. As I found out later, some kids are just very tick-happy. I learnt a valuable lesson that day; NEVER LET KIDS SET THEIR OWN HOMEWORK.

I got a good few homeworks back, but not the tidal wave of high level 4s that I was hoping for.

I am proud to say, however, that my discipline has come on in leaps and bounds in these last few weeks. I hadn't really noticed a signficant change in my classroom management until I took on a new class; a middle-set year 8 class who I had heard a few rumours about, and they weren't all good rumours. To cut a long story short, they were super duper. And I could have hugged every single one of them individually. Even the one that looks like he's walked right out of a casting as the Artful Dodger, although I would have emptied my pockets first because I still don't entirely trust his weaselly grin.

Annoyingly, one of my bottom set year 9 classes still have me wrapped round their slimy little fingers. Actually, only half the class is slimy, which makes it even more infuriating that half the class are slimeless and beautiful little angels and yet the slimy half ruin it for everyone! What is worse, is that I know exactly what they're doing!! They get me chatting! It's so simple! They draw me into a conversation, and I follow that juicy worm on the end of a suspiciously long piece of string like a naive little fish. And Lord knows I love to chat. Then, before you know it, my lesson plan is metaphorically burning like their education and I've lost all hope of ever gaining control of the class again. But I have surprise for them. I intend to come back from this complementary placement with an iron fist. They won't know what's hit them.

Interestingly, I thought I was having similar problems with one of the top set year 10 classes but I did seem to ahve a breakthrough with them. I had a computer lesson planned with them which I thought could mean that very little work would get done and I would become Nagging Nora for the whole lesson. When we got up to the computer room I sighed in annoyance and asked the few students in the room how had I managed to lose half the class between leaving the lab and walking down the corridor to the computer room. They just looked at me like I lost my marbles. I hadn't lost a single person. The only difference today was that a single pupil was off ill; a lad with a larger than life character whos 'wit' and 'charm' got him many laughs from his classmates but an evil glare from his teachers. Well, this unforeseen absence gave me a window of opportunity. I was able to crack on with the lesson. The kids got stacks of work done, all within the allocated time, the usual troublemakers were lost without their leader so just followed suit with the rest of the class and worked, the starters and desserts were lapped up succesfully and I think I won some respect with the pupils because I didn't spend all lesson nagging at them and moaning about how little work they had done and how it was their GCSEs they were risking, not mine!!! By the next lesson, troublemaker no.1 was back but it was a much easier battle to win when he didn't have the support of his classmates.

TROUBLEMAKER: 0

ME: 1

:-D

So before i finish this mammoth essay which was only supposed to be a quick reflection (thought I would slot that one in for you keen bull**** bingoers) on last term, I will tell you some of the funny moments that make this job so fantastically fabby.

On one of the last days before christmas I was chatting with a year 7 pupil and I said how excited I was now that I had the christmas tree all up and the presents underneath. She said "wow, it must be really difficult for your kids to have to see the presents every day and not want to open them!"

I was speechless. Not only does she just assume I have kids but that I have more than one and they're old enough to be excited about christmas! I'm 22, ladies and gentleman. TWENTY-TWO!!!!

I was teaching my bottom set year eight class when I was asked my a group of giggling girls...

"missssssss, what's spooning??"

I thought I would play the innocent card and deny all knowledge of such a word. I'm not going to lie, my acting skills aren't anything to be proud of and they certainly weren't fooled but I simply dished out the old...

"Oh, did you want to ask me something [insert child's name who is furthest away]??" and ignore their shakings heads and annoyance at being suddenly interrupted by a red-faced and flustered trainee teacher.

However, this wasn't as bad as the corker which my head of department dealt with that very same day. An inquistive young mind had declared the need know the definition of a word which I won't tell you what it is but I can tell you that he assured her it was a technique used in glass-blowing. Let your imagination run wild on that one folks.

The scary thing is that these kids are 12/13 years of age. Where are they hearing about these things?!

Another good one was with my bottom set year 7 class. We had been discussing the particle theory and how it can be used to describe the properties of solids, liquids and gases. As a starter for the following lesson I asked the kids to name a state of matter. One, not particularly bright, lad shot is hand in the air so quick he nearly whipped the ear of his friend sat next to him clean off. I was impressed that he was so eager to particpate in class discussions so gave him the spotlight and he proudly exclaimed at the top of his voice....... "LONDON!"

It wasn't even a little bit correct.

So it's here that I end my first blog of 2012. May this year bring fun and good fortune for everyone!


November 15, 2011

A novel gas test for oxygen

A few weeks ago my mentor demonstrated that if hydrogen peroxide and liver were mixed together a copious amount of foam was produced which contained oxygen. She showed that the gas produced was oxygen by exposing a glowing splint to the foam and it relit the splint. Today I was asked if any foam would cause a glowing splint to relight because apparently one year 8 girl had tried it with her dad's beer but it hadn't worked. I love that she had tried and I just wish that I could have seen her dad's face when she was poking matches into the head of the beer! It's funny to think that at the time I thought I had explained what was happening in the experiment well, but really this young girl had gone away thinking that any foam was flammable!


November 14, 2011

AHHHH!!!!

I've spent 5 hours producing, checking, re-writing and finally printing out and photocopying 70 copies of my research questionnaire, only to find that I've missed out a word on the first sentence of the first page. Ironically, that word is "read".


Don't like to brag but….

....I've finally completed, printed and photocopied my questionnaire! I have also decided on a final idea for my intervention! yes yes I know it's about a month late but it's a HUGE weight off my mind :-D


November 13, 2011

The 'Vile Child'

well, what CRAAAAZY week!

They said it would be difficult and that we would undoubtedly shed a tear at some point or another. I am still yet to cry, indeed I'm feeling surprisingly upbeat about everything at the moment, despite my ever-growing list of thinsg to do. However, I do maintain that this is by far the hardest thing I've ever had to do. I'm no stranger to hard work; I got my first part-time job at thirteen and held down three part-time jobs during the second year of my full-time degree. Yet this course really takes it out of you both physically and mentally. It's my own fault really for being a little bit of a perfectionist when it comes to lesson planning. I just cant leave the plan until it's absolutely perfect and all my resources are sorted. I also like to create my resources from scratch, which only adds to the workload. Then there's the ordering of equipment and photocopying and printing which can take up to an entire day if I'm not careful. I feel confident in that I know what I need to do and how to go about it. The problems arise when I realise that there are only 24 hours in a day, and unfortunately only seven days in a week. Especially this week, when I've been trying to complete all my lesson-planning early so that I could have the weekend away with my family, I have been surviving on six hours a night of sleep. This is manageable for a couple of days but when you're snoozing with your nose in a plate of sausages and mash at your big family get together lunch, you realise that perhaps the colour coordination of all your powerpoint slides could have been ignored. And maybe even the smooth transition from powerpoint to excel was not fundamental to your pupils' learning. And yes, that smiley face clip art picture does look cheery and does make you feel happy inside, but will it influence the children in any way whatsoever? Or, as I'm coming to notice all the more often, will they simply ignore the instructions you've spent a hour writing on the board in size 20 comic sans (perfect size to see from the back of the classroom and supposedly the easiest font for children to read), carefully deciding the best phrasing so as to keep the instructions clear and to the point? Instead, will they just individually ask you to explain the task to them, despite explaining it once to the whole class and then again when the stragglers finally arrived? So yes, despite my best intentions I am still sat here in the hotel on a Saturday afternoon, furiously typing away at the smallest laptop known to man, desperately trying to get down any words I can for one of the many assignments due in over the next few weeks, whilst my family enjoy themselves in the pool and luxury spa. Although let's face it, there are worse places to be sat writing assignments. Like at home where the bed still needs making and the washing up will disappear if I ignore it for long enough.

Anyhoo, I had my first "vile child" encounter this week. I've been lucky so far to have avoided such children that are just plain horrible. Yet this little devil reared his ugly head in my first full year 10 lesson. I had planned a lesson in the computer rooms which would ease me in quite nicely with a higher set group that are know for being disruptive and requiring firm handling. They were to produce a powerpoint presettion on a particular topic which was then to be printed out and stuck into their books. They had been given key questions to guide them and were required to complete at least the fourth question if they didn't want to stay behind at lunch. This wasn't a particularly difficut task and the majority of the pupils produced some very nice work with little input from myself. A select few required some gentle prodding and poking but generally did as I had asked. And then there were two lads who point blank refused to do the work as they were unable to see the relevance to their future careers; well at least that is what I think they were trying to say in between the grunts and groans and humphing. One of the lads was a 'charmer'. He's brilliant at manipulating people (myself included) so tht he can distract them with his witty conversation and interesting stories but succesfully avoids work for the entire lesson and doesn't even get told off for it! The other lad was just plain rude. When it came to the end of the lesson I reminded them that they were to stay behind and instead they just walked out. So I sent a message to their tutors asking them to come see me during registration with their diaries. Surprisingly, they did! Both were red-marked and while the charmer just accepted his fate and slouched off to go distract other unwitting colleagues of mine, the other was less than impressed. My red-mark had been the third one this week and so had automatically given him an after-school detention. Despite me having already told him why he had got his red-mark he demanded that I explain why again as apparently my first explanation was not satisfactory. He kept trying to draw me into a verbal argument but I said that if he wanted to discuss the matter with me anymore he would have to wait until after registration as I was taking a tutor group that day. His response to this was to throw his diary at me, kick the door open that I had to just shut behind me as I came out the tutor room to speak to him, and run off down the corridor. Now be prepared because this is where I'm going to moan about our society.

I have come to learn that you have to pick your battles in this job and only go for the ones that you can win. Firstly, it's sad that we have to have battles in the first place. Secondly, we are trained to be non-confrontational and diffuse situations before they get out of hand which I agree with completely because our job, first and foremost, is to teach and if we spent all our days correcting the minor but sadly very frequent behavioural problems then very little learning would actually take place. However, I think it's sad that we're having to allow children to get away with rude behaviour in the classroom simply to avoid confrontation. For example, yesterday at uni we were given a hypothetical siuation where a pupil comes into a classroom and is asked to remove his hat. He doesn't, so is asked again. He protests by walking to his chair slowly and still refusing to take his hat off. Now I would like to tell him to stop being such prat, take off his hat and sit in his chair within 3 seconds otherwise I'll waste his time during lunch time. However, this is confrontational and will only make an already unwilling child even more rebellious and unlikely to do any work at all. Why is it that he can't just deal with the confrontation (after all, he's going to have to deal with it at some point in his lifetime), accept that I have the authority in that classroom and that if I have asked him to do something then he is expected to do it immediately or else face the consequences? And why is it that he is allowed to sulk and protest in his own way rather than just accept that he is the one responsible for his actions and therefore if he has been reprimanded for his behaviour, it is entirely his own fault and nobody elses. Unfortunately, it seems we are producing a blame-free culture (you only have to count the adverts for no-win, no-fee lawyers to know what I mean) where teachers are unable to so much as put their arm out to stop a child in the corridor, they cannot take a child's hat off his head even if he refuses to take it off, they have to ignore the minor behavioural problems so that they can continue with the rest of the lesson and at least most of the children will be able to learn something, it is the child's word agaist the teachers and, what I believe is becoming most apparent, the children know all of the these things and are more than willing to use them aginst the teachers for their own benefit. Some schools insist that books are marked in green pen as red is associated with being a negative colour. During my primary school placement I noticed that "every child is a winner", which is a nice idea at primary school but these kids are going to have to lose at some point in their life and they're going to have to accept criticism at some point in their life. Also, the criticism isn't always going to be presented in conjunction with a reward and it's not going to be phrased so nicely as being called a target. And sometimes these kids are going to have to just do something because they've been asked, not for a learning point or a privelege or to leave the lesson first. And one day the sulking and slouching and aggressive behaviour is not going to be accepted and unfortunately that is probably when the police will get hold of them. However, they know their rights and the police can't touch them either so where does it end??

Anyhoo, I've had my moan about society and please don't think I don't enjoy working with these kids because often the most difficult ones are the most fun to work with. But I do question what will happen to the ones who have no excuse for their behavour and are we letting them down by not solving problems which perhaps their parents are incapable of?

P.S I'm no great believer in God but I had a packet of skittles to calm my nerves after the "vile child" incident and someone was definitely looking down on me because I had a higher than average proportion of purples.


November 06, 2011

Doors; they are a literal barrier to my learning

So, we're back into the swing of things at school after half-term. As usual I had good intentions to blast through my first masters assignment and portfolio assignment and lesson planning and organising my folders and marking books and marking end of unit test papers, completing my QTS skills test, oh, and playing netball, eating, sleeping and catching up with friends. But yep, you guessed it, it didn't happen. I tried, honestly I did. I got quite a bit of reading done for my masters assignment and I completed (a VERY rough) A4 plan for the research project. I took AND PASSED my QTS skills test (pats on the back welcome). I did mark the books and test papers and get my lessons planned for the next week. I did play netball and I did eat...... ALOT. I enjoyed a fabby day mixing with giraffes and lemurs at West Midlands Safari Park. I tried my hand at being a dental nurse for a day. I enjoyed a couple of lie-ins. I cleaned the flat and it stayed clean for all of 2 days. Essentially, it was a jam-packed, fun-filled week of joy, but it was nowhere near enough! So I'm back at school and that literature review hasn't written itself, the research questionnaire is just a flickering glimmer of light at the end of the brain tunnel, the third portfolio assignment has made it to my 'To Do' list which is more than can be said for the fresh pile of books sitting on my table, next week's lessons plans refuse to wait for me to catch up on my other jobs, oh and I had to bake cakes for a netball club fundraising stall this weekend. Luckily, Betty Crocker is only a car drive away in the local Sainsburys.

So, despite my ever-growing 'To Do' list (I haven't even got the essentials such as 'wake up', 'go to the loo', 'get dressed' on my list and it's still massive) I'm feeling fairly up-beat about my first week back after the half-term. By christmas I need to be teaching 10 hours a week and I'm currently teaching about 5, so I will be taking one extra lesson a week until christmas. I've been told that I've cracked the basic skills such as organisation of tasks, control of students entering the classroom and use of voice and body language. My classroom management and levelling still need some tweaking but I'm heading in the right direction. The big aim at the moment is questioning and using Bloom's Taxonomy to guide me with higher level questioning and directing the right questions at the correct ability. This week I had my beloved year 7s who were PERFECT as per usual. I had a bottom set year 9 class who I really enjoy working with because there is a whole range of difficulties going on in that class but they're a really nice bunch of kids who really want to do well but just aren't sure how to go about it. I did testing reaction times with that class and predicted I would have to dodge the light saber rulers. They didn't disappoint. Unfortunately I had to issue quite a few red-marks in this lesson for continual chatting and shouting out but I think they realised that I mean business now so hopefully I won't have to repeat all the red-marks in the next lesson. I experienced my first Think-On-Your-Feet lesson with a year 8 class that I had planned to do testing pulse rates with, only to find out they had already done it with their other science teacher. They had also done my back-up lesson (testing breathing rates). So I ended up making up my own pulse rate practical where they were split into groups and each group had to do a different exercise for one minute (e.g. star jumps, running on the spot, sit ups etc.). They were surprisingly reluctant to exercise. It was the last lesson so I figured they would love to let off steam a bit, but on suggesting my idea for the practical I was suddenly inundated with mysterious illnesses which prevented the majority of the girls from leaving the comfort of their stools. But the stern teacher voice emerged and told them to 'just get on with it'! There were no fatalities so I'm sure it didn't do them too much harm. By far my most favourite lesson of the week was the heart dissection with a bottom set year 8 class. I can honestly say that I enjoyed every minute of it. This is what real biology is about; the gruesome, gory, stinky, bloody side of biology. I practised the day before because I hadn't dissected a heart since school and I wanted to make sure that I knew exactly what I was doing in the actual lesson as there was alot that I had to cover in an hour. The kids seemed really engaged in the dissection and were desperate to have a good poke and squeeze but unfortunately we didn't have enough gloves, which I thought was a real shame because I was really pleased that the kids were so keen to have a feel. I was a bit dubious as to how much they had actually taken in, in the lesson, as when we came to label a diagram of the heart later there were some very dodgy, anatomically incorrect heart diagrams floating round the classroom. But later in the week we labelled a different heart diagram as a starter and the kids did really well and were able to label the arteries, veins, valves, left and right side and arrows to show the direction of flow of blood. The more able kids knew the names ventricles and atria and most were able to explain why the left side of the heart is bigger than the right. A select few could explain, simply, what happens when the coronary artery becomes blocked and that fat is laid down around the organs if too much saturated fat is eaten regularly. All in all, a massive confidence boost for Miss J Roberts. Needless to say, I had a mars bar when I got home that evening.

So next week I've got density with one year 7 class and combustion with another year 7 class, a lung dissection (:-D) and finding lung volumes with my bottom set year 8 class. I'm repeating my reaction times lesson with a lower-set year 9 class and a lesson with year 10s researching salt mining. I've also got my graduation next week (:-D) and a big family get-together at the weekend, so any lesson planning for the following week will need to be done by Friday at the latest. Last week I did my day's work experience at a primary school (it has been confirmed, secondary was the definitely the right choice for me, they're just so little in primary school, they're almost invisible) so now I can get cracking with my third portfolio task. Sorry, did I say 'get cracking'? I meant 'get panicking'. I also spoke to the SEN department last week and feel I can 'get panicking' about the questionnaire I need to prepare for my research project now. So, another jam-packed week ahead. But hey, I can't complain, I knew that 'having no social life' was exchanged for a teaching certificate when I signed up for this teaching malarkey. And to say I'm enjoying it would be a massive understatement. Luckily, I like to be busy!

So, let me briefly explain the reason behind this blog's title before I leave you lovely people to go clean my flat. Again.

The hardest thing I have had to deal with since starting this course is not the countless assignments, or endless lesson planning and book marking, or the difficult kids, or the infinite observations and mentor meetings, or there being one photocopier and printer in the whole school that is working, or the lack of gluesticks or the numerous diary, equipment and uniform checks that need to be done (and now recorded. why, I ask, whhyyyyy????) or that it's taken me over an hour to write this blog, or that the school needs to be at absolute zero before the heating is turned on, or that I can't access my school email account at school because the own school website is blocked (!). Nope, I can take all those things in my stride. The hardest thing that I have had to deal with since starting this course is........................ THE DAMNED DOORS!!!!!

This week I received lab keys for the lab that I work (and live) in, a mere 8 weeks into the school year. Finally I am able to get into the lab early and set up for my lessons without having to scour the school for a real-life science teacher with a set of keys. At least, that was what I thought. But my school thought 'no, that's far too easy, let's make life a little difficult...'

All the external doors have been fitted with automatic locking systems which you need a fob to open. Fantastic idea! Except I don't have a fob. A little, black plastic triangle of freedom. And I don't have one :-( I am permanently locked out of EVERYWHERE. I feel like Neville longbottom when he lost his list of passwords. Luckily, the kids haven't clocked onto this yet but I'm awaiting the day when I have to put up with the old "I can't hear what you're saying" mime from the other side of the door, whilst I'm stood outside in the rain asking the kids to press the green button which opens the doors from the inside, and the little blighters will be stood in the warm, snuggly area of happiness known as Indoors.


October 22, 2011

questions on dyslexia….

So, I've been continuing my reading for my masters assignment which is going to be on the misconceptions and negative connotations associated with dyslexia and the impact of these on the self-confidence, classroom contribution and subsequent achievement of dyslexic pupils. I'm really interested in SEN and dyslexia in particular because it is the most common of the learning disabilities (estimated to affect 4% of the population but ranging between 0.05% and 30% in different schools) and yet very little is actually known about it. Many neurologists have suggested theories of causes but I've come to the conclusion that no one really knows. What I do know is that eight out of the ten books I've read so far refer to Dyslexia as a learning disability and it is defined as a disability by the 1993 Education Act. For this reason, many pupils are reluctant to admit they have dyslexia because they fear they might be labelled as being "stupid" or "lazy". Pupils also reported feeling agressive, frustrated and depressed as a result of being discouraged by psychologists and educators who considered themselves to be realistic, or put under pressure by over ambitious parents. These secondary emotional problems were rarely mentioned by the authors as being a symptom of dyslexia but have been shown to be a block to learning. Many dyslexics also develop coping strategies which allow them to go through everyday life, often masking their symptoms, but these become compulsive behaviours and do not actually facilitate learning. For example, learning the alphabet song helps many to remember the sounds of letters but they then struggle to recite the aplhabet without singing the accompanying song. I am not dyslexic but I know that I remember telephone numbers, pin numbers and account numbers by saying them in a rhythm and struggle to recite the numbers without that rhythm.

The word dyslexia is built from "dys" meaning 'difficulties' and "lexis" meaning 'written word'. However, dyslexia presents as many symptoms which are specific to individuals and varied in severity. This makes diagnosis and treatment difficult. I do question whether treatment is the correct word to use here because some argue that dyslexia is not a disability but rather a gift and should be reclassified as a "difference in ability". R.D. Davis wrote an interesting book called "The Gift of Dyslexia" which identified eight basic abilities shared by all dyslexics which, if not oppressed, result in higher than average intelligence and extraordinary creative abilities:
1. They can utilise the brain's ability to alter and create perceptions;
2. They are highly aware of the environment;
3. They are more curious than average;
4. They think mainly in pictures instead of words;
5. They are highly intuitive and perceptive;
6. They think and perceive multidimensionally;
7. They can perceive thought as reality and
8. They have vivid imaginations.

These children often expressed talents such as walking before learning to crawl, remembering events perfectly, and "just knowing" the answers to complex algebraic equations because they could 'see' the numbers and calculations. The author has identified over 200 trigger words which some dyslexics struggle with because they have no pictorial representation (e.g. the, go, leave, do) and so they can't visual the sentence in their mind. However, the author also pointed out that there are numerous great minds that also had dyslexia such as Leonardo Da Vinci, Albert Einstein, Thomas Edison, Alexander Graham Bell, Walt Disney and Winston Churchill. In fact a tv reporter was quoted as being surprised that so many people could be so intelligent "in spite" of their dyslexia! Although dyslexia may hinder a child's literacy and/or numeracy abilties, it has absolutely no effect on intelligence and often the pupils understand the work in class but struggle to record it in their books. Pollock and Waller interviewed pupils on what they struggled with and what was helpful in class in their book "Day-to-Day Dyslexia In The Classroom" and found that students struggled to copy off the board if there were too many words, weren't allowed enough time for writing and spelling, felt ignored, felt under pressure when required to read aloud and couldn't work if they were shouted at. However, the pupils found it helpful when teachers were kind and understanding, revision notes were tape recorded, they were not rushed, they were allowed extra time to plan and check work and if they were allowed to answer questions orally rather than written.

In my belief it is very important to eradicate these misconceptions of dyslexia because all too often the label is attached to people with varying effects. Some parents have been blamed for using dyslexia as an excuse for a child which is failing academically, although really they are perfectly capable of learning but it just needs to be facilitated in a way which is applicable to that individual. Some parents push their children too much, with extra tutoring sessions and homework, because they believe that the child is going to have to work extra hard to keep up with his or her peers whereas they may be excelling is some areas and perhaps too much importance is placed on literacy and numeracy. These children may begin to associate heavy concentration (and the resultant headaches) with reading and writing and learn to hate such activities. I have noticed when reading through some IEPs (Individual Education Plan) that some children have been noted as being exceptional athletes or artists or enjoy music and drama and I believe it is our responsibilties as adults to use these IEPs when we plan our lessons. After all, they're not written just to sit in a plastic wallet in the bottom of some drawer. Some pupils have been known to blame every mishap on their dyslexia and live their live entirely free of blame rather than accept their condition and work with it. Some educators and professionals may discourage children from attempting to achieve their aspirations to 'protect' them from disappointment.

Needless to say, I think we've barely scratched the surface of Dyslexia but I'm finding my research incredibly interesting!


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