Wednesday, 31 October 2012

We need to talk about Johnny...

Sometimes you get a feeling that a class is going to go pear shaped for reasons beyond your control, that no matter what you do things are just not going to go right. Monday was such a day. Four classes into the day and all was going brilliant, every class had engaged, learned and had fun. Next up was my third years and I had a very good lesson planned for them full of variety, challenge, fun and hopefully at the end we would have enjoyed ourselves and learned something new. That was the script but sometimes that's just not how things roll. As the students walked in I could sense a kind of negative energy off some of them, something was not quite right but I was excited about the lesson. I thought that once we got going the energy and momentum of the lesson would help them engage, they would start enjoying themselves and we would all have fun. We never got to energy and momentum!

All was not the same with the third years since we had returned from mid term. We had made great progress in terms of learning, social skills and behaviour in our first term and things has been going well. All students had completed their 'fun time happy quiz' and the results were very good. We had also been co operating better, helping each other, insults were non existent and generally the atmosphere had been very pleasant. the holidays had broken our routine and three or four of the boys had gone back into old bad habits. Interruptions were common during the first week back, students were speaking out of turn, wandering around and not really engaging in any of the lessons. I had thought about this and I was fairly sure that we could shortly get them back on track. One young man though had decided this was not going to happen. This lad does not have a great background and really has not been dealt the best hand. He is generally nice, is clever enough, works very well when he wants and had been making good progress. This was not a good week for him though, on Thursday he decided half way through the class he decided he was not going to listen to any reasonable requests and despite the best efforts of both the Head of Support for Learning and myself we had to ask him to leave. At the bell I wanted to talk to him to see what was going on but he wanted to walk away and off he went. Friday went no better and within twenty minutes he had caused so much disruption I had no option but to call for Senior Management and ask them to take him to 'Time Out' as he point blank refused to either go outside and relax or go to another maths classroom. Time Out is a facility in the school where students who misbehave badly or cause serious disruption can be supervised for a period of seven classes (the equivalent of one school day). Its voluntarily supervised by teachers (myself included) and works as an excellent deterrent for the vast majority of students. I thought about his behaviour and how we could help improve it, rethought about it and planned strategies over the weekend, Monday was a new day..

Monday was the date of the full moon in October and low and behold on Sunday night there it was staring down in all its majestic beauty. Beautiful as it looks, the sight of a full moon always brings a tiny sense of apprehension. Having worked for over a decade in the service industry I would testify before a court of law that the full moon generally brings the craziness out in certain people. I have had to kindly ask a significantly larger number of people to vacate pubs on nights with full moons than the rest of nights I worked combined. Students are people as well and after only three years working in education I am starting to see evidence that the full moon theory also applies in schools. The class started well with two boys arguing over money. One claimed the other owned him the princely sum of £2 and he needed to settle accounts now. I was later to find out this was the result of a deal on one of the boy's Aunties flu tablets. The powers that be are looking into the whole thing and to date flu tablets with a street value of £3.50 have been seized. This was the queue for the young lad I mentioned from last week (we shall call him Johnny) to start talking and not to stop for the next twenty minutes. I am standing at the front of the class trying to engage the class in starter questions and I have two boys in financial meltdown, Johnny giving a running commentary and since that's not enough I can see two more boys ready to give their five cents. I remind them all that we can't all be talking at once and that we are doing starter questions. Another boy (lets call him Martin) decided that his civil rights were being infringed by being asked to do any work and that this was the time to vocalise this. Martin decided that he wanted to play games and he would like to play them now. I remind them again that we have agreed class rules and that we are being very unfair to our friends. Another boy is bubbling over with excitement in the corner. I asked him on the way in how he was and you could see in his eyes he was a little excited but he assured me all was good. He is the nicest young lad but has the attention span of a Dory from 'Finding Nemo'. I can feel control slipping here, five boys now talking and not listening to anything I am saying. James is getting excited because all the rest are acting up so I offer him the opportunity to go get a drink of water and calm down. He takes this and now I am down to four though eight more students are sitting in my class totally neglected, waiting to learn or do something and basically without a teacher as I try to stay in control.

What do I do, they are a couple of rules I have to adhere too otherwise all is lost. Rule number 1, I cannot shout, nobody responds to shouting, I really dislike anyone shouting at me and it would do little good in this situation. All it would do is indicate that I am surrendering control. Rule 2, I have to follow our agreed classroom rules. Rule 3, no bargaining (if you all behave we will have cake or games etc) or bribery  this also indicates you are losing ground and all my experience indicates this will only be exploited. Rule 4 and by far the most important be firm but 100% fair. As soon as James leaves the room Martin demands to be allowed out for a drink of water. It's not fair etc etc, I generally don't allow students out as most don't need either the bathroom but just want to go for a walk and see whats going on and right now Martin is going nowhere. Some students in my last school actually started to synchronise their walks so they could have a chat with their friends in the middle of class. We are now fifteen minutes in and have basically done no work. Names start going on to the board as the boys are warned and reminded of our agreed standard of conduct. Almost in unison they all start again, Martin thinks this is unfair and starts to tell me why, Johnny has started walking around the room opening and closing windows and pulling at other students, the two 'dealers' are arguing over money and James gets back in anything but a calm state. The lone girl in our class tells the boys to 'shut up', words which are banned in our classroom and Martin demands justice and her name on the board. Inside I can see I am losing this and I just want roar and order them all to sit down and shut up but that is the very last thing I can or should do. I address each of them in turn quickly but in a slow calm but forceful voice and ask all to sit down and be quiet. Finally order is restored and all boys receive a second warning and are moved seats which in this case constitutes a major reshuffle of everyone in the classroom so none of those causing grief are in touching or talking distance. Twenty five minutes in and I have to make a decision. For the greater good two of these boys have to go or this entire lesson will be a complete and total disaster. In the interests of fairness I cannot target anyone though if Martin and Johnny were gone we could salvage something. As it turns out by now Johnny starts properly acting up and has to go. Here I make a bad mistake. For some unknown reason he decides today he does not mind being put in another maths classroom instead of going to time out. What happens next is he disrupts the entire department for the next twenty minutes going up and down the corridor and in and out of his assigned class. The excitement is too much for James and he has to go to time out. With fifteen minutes left we finally have proper order in the classroom though I am feeling like crap inside. We process all that has gone on. Ten students have sat quietly whilst all this has gone on and inside I feel like I have failed them. The two money men feel lousy too but it's too late for redemption for them today. The lesson is dead so we practice our numeracy by playing some games they like. Johnny comes back and demands his bag and runs as soon as the bell goes.

After this lesson as I stand there wanting to crawl under a rock in walk one of my first year classes all happy and cheerful. Their lesson is ruined as well. Why you ask? What did they do? Nothing is the answer but I can no longer deliver the lesson I planned for them as I feel lousy and have no energy. The lesson I planned required me to be full of energy and happy but I can pretend that all is good and smile but I cannot not pretend that much. We have a good lesson but it's nothing special. Lunchtime comes and I retire outside for some fresh air and run the third year lesson over in my head trying to see if I could have done anything to make it less of a disaster. I don't think I could have done anything to change the way it went and I think I did the best I could. Some days things just don't go your way and its extremely rare that so many students all misbehave in such a way at the same time. All you can do is your best and as I have said before with this class it's a marathon not a sprint, we will get there...

I do not write this looking for sympathy and don't worry I am fine, all teachers have classes like this that turn a great day sour but this is what we do. It also helps me to reflect on the great, the good the the not so good of the job I really love. I deal with young individuals who are human too, they like me have good days and bad and all I and all teachers can do is support them, educate and look after them as best we can. We are all in it together :-)

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Work hard, be happy and be awesome...

All is relatively good in the land of jotters, whiteboards and silly cabbages. I am almost accustomed to getting up at stupid o'clock in the morning (officially anytime before 9am), I have managed to memorise all of the students names, all my classes are learning and most importantly we are having fun. All of my classes are making progress and taking on the responsibility of learning on their own shoulders all be it to different degrees.

The first years are progressing at a rate of knots that would make any sea captain happy. I teach two first year classes of 20 and 22 students, roughly balanced between boys and girls and both classes are working at the same level in their broad general education. Both classes have really blossomed and jelled together though the characters and personalities of the different students make each class unique. One of the great things about having two similar classes at the same level is that you can plan the same lesson for both, teach it to the first class and immediately reflect and adjust the content to make it even better for the next class. The classes alternate each day so both classes benefit from their teacher improving his craft and toning his lessons. We have practiced algebra every day in our starter questions since we came together and we are making definite progress. As one student said 'peace, love and algebra is the way forward!' and you have got to love that! Probably the greatest achievement so far in these classes is how they are well they are working together, how they help each other and how good they are at self and peer assessment. They understand that they will benefit the most if they take responsibility for their own learning and also help each other out. Class starts with three or four questions on the board, the first two students bring their jotters (copybooks) up to me and if they are of a quality and standard equal to the agreed class 'gold' standard they become the holders of the 'stamp'. Their job is to then go and check other students work and see if they are to up to standard. If they are they get the 'gold' stamp and praise from one of their peers, if not the student will help them out and point out the great, good and what needs a little bit of work. It is a high honour to be one of the stamp holders and they love it. As I have said before students will climb mountains to get a sticker or a stamp but to be the one wielding the stamp is next level stuff! The other day we had a young lad going around doing the stamping and next thing he starts roaring at this girl; 'The environment! Think of the environment!!, this is great work but the environment!!'. She had not folded her page and thus had wasted loads of space which is not good for the environment and this was against the agreed standard. It was funny because he could see she was a little unhappy so was trying to balance his praise with his environmental message. Both classes also asked if we could select two jotters at random each day and place them under the visualiser to project onto the board so the class can give them due recognition and also a help improve each others work. To make their independent learning 'official' they have each received a licence to innovate permit (as seen in the picture). It is a simple idea I got from another teacher but contains a powerful message. It gives each student the power to make mistakes and suggest or do anything that will help them learn be it to draw something, come up to the board or even act something out! Our new motto is 'Work hard, be happy and be awesome! Always be awesome!'

 The S2's are happy in there work and they too are starting to love algebra. They are working very well in pairs and have grown to really like tango music, Manu Chao and the Boss whilst doing their starter questions. The S3's whom have been a challenge at the start have also progressed well. Their behaviour and work ethic which we chart every day has got better though we still have work to do. In the first two weeks of September I had to ask students to leave on ten occasions for behaviour that was unacceptable and broke our learning contracts. In the last two weeks I have only had to remove four students though three of these were the same gentleman. The vast majority of this class have started working and are responding very well to the strategies that I have in place but this gentleman is just not getting there just yet. He is very immature and is certain that I am being constantly unfair to him and favouring the world and its mother over him. He finds it hard to talk to adults, is not great at expressing himself and often uses unsuitable language towards adults. He is also in my opinion lazy. He also has an amazing ability to be able to judge the difficulty of work at a seconds glance and more than often decides that the work set is too hard. He has good days and bad but finds it very difficult to work on his own. He is making progress though and all one can do is persevere. We got some sad news today though, the little lady who came from another school and who was with us on a hosting has left to go back to her original school. The sad thing is after two woeful weeks she had achieved a merit in every single class in the last two weeks. She worked really well, helped her friends and her behaviour even when things were not to her liking was excellent. She had grown to like her maths class and those in it but sadly the same cannot be said for some of her other classes. She was also a great influence and friend to all those in the class and we will miss her.

My fourth year credit class are slowly coming round to the idea that asking questions along with completing their homework could actually be in their benefit in trying to pass their exam next year. Our work in class is improving, they are loving their education in music as much as maths and have really taken to working in pairs with different partners every day. We even had great fun exploring quadratic equations whilst speed dating. We also learned that Batman is almost everyones favourite superhero and Danger Mouse never existed to this generation. They have also started attending homework club every week both during lunch and after school. 70% of the class have turned up twice in the last two weeks so we must be doing something right.

The fifth and sixth year 'advanced higher' Finance class are also coming along especially in terms of behaviour and language used in class. We no longer tell each other to 'shut up' (banned in all classes, on the first day each class roared shut up as loud as possible to cleanse our need for it and it has not been said in any class bar this one since) and if they do say something that might hurt the feelings of others even in jest they apologise though we decided on a margin of 10 votes to 2 that 'soz' was not good enough for an apology. One lad started taking the apology thing too far asking for an apology every two seconds for a week but I think some of the class had a word because all of a sudden it stopped. Another girl turned into a supergrass though and was constantly demanding warnings for people until the smallest girl in the class stood up one day and pointed out that she was hurting peoples feelings, ruining the class and was likely to lose friends if she continued interrupting. I really enjoy teaching and learning with this class. They understand the benefits that are to be gained from learning about basic finance and also how what we say and do can affect others in both positive and negative ways. They too are taking responsibility for their learning and whilst not yet in the same league as the firsts years are not a million miles away either. Its been a very good couple of weeks and I look forward to what the next three weeks bring, its never a dull moment so as always onwards and upwards...

Wednesday, 5 September 2012

When she is good she is very, very good …

 It’s a different world I woke up to on 15th August this year. A brand new school that’s only three or four years old, new students to teach and learn from, new colleagues to work with and new friends to make. It’s a great place to work but it’s a world away from my last school even though it’s only about two miles away, as the crow flies. There are many differences, some good and some not so good, but all create a slightly different dynamic in which to work. For a start we have loads more space and there is even a spare classroom in the maths department! The school was built to facilitate 1250 students and currently the roll is about 1000. Space allows for both learning and freedom and we are very lucky to have it. I once did a placement in a new school built in partnership between public and private organisations and, besides having very little freedom to do the simplest things (like stick a student’s work to the wall), the school was already too small the day it opened! The fire alarm has been tested twice already in the first three weeks so we never need to have an official fire drill! The janitors in this school understand that it is a building where children work and play and they are friendly! They are also incredibly helpful and smile. There are bells after every lesson so its not as easy to send your S1’s off ten minutes early but it is easier to get used to the seven period day. Most of these are cosmetic differences and besides the extra space don’t really add up to a huge difference if I am to be honest.

The real difference that I have found between my current school and those I have had the pleasure of teaching in earlier is the students. The students here, in the vast majority, are just like those in all the schools I have had the pleasure of teaching in, wonderful people, but they are already behind in terms of learning the moment they enter secondary education compared to their peers down the road. I have two wonderful S1 (first year) classes who are all happy, eager and ready to learn. They compare well to their comrades in both the north of Scotland and the west of Edinburgh in terms of social skills and intelligence levels but their algebra and numeracy skills are below those of same set classes I have taught before. I would like to point out that I am in no way placing any blame at the feet of their primary school teachers - I am merely stating an observation. Primary school teachers have an incredibly difficult job and I do not envy their task in the slightest.  The difference I believe comes from the behaviour of some students, which affects the quality of learning of others. If teachers have to spend more time maintaining order then it stands to reason that they have less time to teach. This is a problem of and for society but before I get into that I would like to introduce you to my classes.

 As I have mentioned I have two wonderful first year classes with bundles of energy and all are very good-natured. We are progressing well, though sadly this week we had to have a ‘fun time happy quiz’ (tests are dead to these children and almost a dirty word now!) to set the students. These classes will change slightly now and I will teach both second set classes. We are on the brink of a year of adventure and I am very much looking forward to it. I have ‘shares’ in three S2 classes and I understand why the timetable is written and the classes are shared but don’t really like the situation. It’s hard to bond with these students because I only see them once or twice a week. It’s a very stunted existence but we will make the best of it.

My third year class comprises of thirteen students and is not a top set class. They take up by far the majority of my planning time and they are also my biggest challenge. They are good kids but they lack every basic social skill, any motivation and have negative work ethic. They somehow are further behind than when they entered the school and have the belief that if they can do something its too easy and you are patronising them but if it’s the tiniest bit too hard they give up completely because its ‘solid’ (way to hard) and they can’t be bothered. I like this class but it is a challenge like none I have faced before on many different levels. These students have not had many advantages in life. Another lady who only joined this school last year is finding it very difficult to deal with the structure of the classroom, she does not like to listen, does not have the patience to wait to be heard and rages against the machine if reprimanded. When she is good, she is very, very good and when she is bad, she is horrid. She is never bad in an attention seeking way or in my opinion never seeks to deliberately disrupt the class I just think the poor lady is not used to a classroom environment and constantly feels like the world is out to get her. I have spoken to her guidance teacher but like her friend I only ask for information relevant to her learning. I feel its very important that I do not let my judgement become coloured in any way and give her the best chance I can to help herself. Its not always the good times though and four times I have had to place her in a different classroom so as to keep order. I have had to ask more of these students to leave this class so the rest could get some work done than I have ever had to eject in all my other classes combined. Every day with this class is a challenge and every last detail must be planned. We have done a week of team building to establish some rapport amongst the members of this class and to try and work on manners and respect. Most, with the exception of the last lady mentioned, have responded relatively well. We have set up a reward system to try and take the focus off sanctions and place the emphasis on effort, respect and work. The students of this class have had all sanctions, taken all punishments and it has not done much to improve their lot yet. This is going to be a long race with very slow progress but I think we are slowly going in the right direction. I have the patience of a saint but keep a daily eye on amazon in case I can get more, it might be needed. 

My fourth years are a second top set and are good fun though nowhere near as colourful.  We are enjoying our maths class, having lots of fun and will hopefully do well when assessment time comes round.  The last class I teach is my advanced higher finance class (self chosen title). They are a great bunch of young adults and to be fair are settling in well and enjoying finance which is all I can ask for.

 Classes also suffer because they get less time in S1 for maths than in other schools, in this school they only come to Maths four times a week and that equates to almost forty hours less in a year. This cannot be a good thing but a decision was made for the benefit of the broad general education so we work with what we have. Life’s not fair so there is very little point complaining. Behaviour can be a problem and does get in the way of learning but what do we do about it? We have great structure and support in my school and as such discipline is pretty good and for the vast majority of the time I can get on and teach. But somewhere along the line we, as a society, are failing these children. I was helping another member of the maths department out today with a low second year set. We were teaching very basic division and some were doing very well whilst others struggled. This just does not make sense to me, how can we be doing these students any good if, after almost a decade in education, they are still struggling with division? I am pretty sure if we asked their primary teachers they would swear by the closest members of their families that this has been done over and over again. Now I cannot fix society, all the people in my school cannot fix society and none of us can fix broken homes or family units but neither can we say society is screwed and this leads to bad behaviour which in turn leads to a poor education and that’s just the way the world works! I think for the foreseeable future I will focus on how I can help these students progress (if I can) and charter the growth of these S2’s and my wonderful S3’s. Onwards….

Tuesday, 14 August 2012

Remember today for it is the beginning of always..

Many things in life are cyclical, as Edinburgh finally warms up and the festival gets into full swing the teachers holidays come to a close. Its an exciting time, the summer holidays may be over but a new school year brings new pupils, new energy and a renewed sense of purpose. For me personally this new school year is again exciting. A new school, new classes, new faces and new challenges. This is my third new school in three years and my only hope is it is half as good as the last two. I believe it will, I have been back to school for two days and met some very nice people. The school itself is barely three years old and very shiny, all the staff seem up for the challenge and are looking forward to the year. Tomorrow though for me is both exciting and nervous. The students come back tomorrow and I will meet two of my new classes. This year I have responsibility for five classes and I have shares in three others. Thats almost 200 new students to build relationships with and help, cajole, teach and inspire. Learning their names in a reasonable period of time is a challenge in itself especially trying to learn the names of the 60 students I only see once a week. It will be tough but it will be done.

I know there are some characters at this school but then show me a school without a few colourful students?! I will give each student a clean slate and we will go from there. As I sit here preparing lesson plans I am wondering what they will be like, there is going to be a huge mix of students, some from very disadvantaged backgrounds, some from very well off backgrounds, many whose native tongue is not English and others with additional support needs. I have spent my free time in the last two days preparing as best I can to help each and every student and now I just want to start. Tomorrow will be the start of another great adventure, there will be good times and bad but hopefully with a pinch of luck the positive experiences will far out weigh the negative ones. Once more into the breach...

Monday, 9 July 2012

We're fools whether we dance or not, so we might as well dance…

A week in the life of an Irishman in love with a Tanguera

Tango - a ballroom dance of Latin-American origin, danced by couples, and having many varied steps, figures, and poses or music for this dance

Tanguero / Tanguera - people who live and breathe tango

Sunday: Just under three years ago, I was working in a pub trying to come up with a good lesson plan for one of my classes on my first placement as a student teacher. It was a Sunday, I was tired… and the quiz guy was wrecking my head. It was raining, the night seemed like it was going to drag on and, with a week of teaching placement and two more nights of working ahead, my next sleep in seemed a long way away. Just as I was about to write off the night, in walk two beautiful women. Little did I know that one of them would steal my heart and make me immeasurably happy but she would also introduce me to a different world: one of tango. What did I know about tango? I could have written a book about what I knew about tango and all it would contain would be a couple of pictures borrowed from Google. I don't have a TV, so besides the eternal problem of not knowing at what to point your couch, I had never seen tango performed on TV.To be honest I wouldn’thave watched it anyways. I will admit though I had one mighty night playing a judge based on Bruno at a Strictly Come Dancing night at school. But that was a long time after I had discovered tango. There was tango on every Sunday night upstairs but it never crossed my mind to go up for a look. Being an Irishman I come with the same default dance moves as every other Irishman. No man from Ireland has ever picked up a girl because of such moves and it’s fair to say they are pretty crap! No one cares though as the other default setting we come fitted with is to dance like no one is watching and sure if they are then even better! Before the arrival of these two ladies, one from Sweden and the other from Bulgaria, I did not give a passing thought to Sunday being a tango night though the dancers that came down were always nice, polite and up for a chat. This now changed as even though I did not think I had a snowballs chance in hell of going out with the young lady from Bulgaria I very much looked forward to her smile and conversation. What I did not realise at the time was tango was not just a dance, not just a once a week social meeting but as Kapka Kassabova best put it; 'a world-wide tango community made up of hundreds of thousands of people of every language, passport and cultural complication under the sun who breathe tango, laugh and cry tango, love and hate tango. That’s right, to the initiated, tango is like a religion without a god. The true tango addict will spend every last penny on multiple trips to Buenos Aires, expensive shoes, lessons with stocky maestros and their sharp-bodied women, and endless CDs and downloads of tango tunes.' People get addicted to tango - I am not addicted yet but I am sure it’s only a matter of time. It is a full time occupation as you will see and it is a very international community with Argentinians on top of the tower and Buenos Aires the mecca of all dancers. My girlfriend has already been there twice and if given the chance to go again for a month in exchange for her boyfriend, she would have to think very long and hard before hopefully saying no!

Milonga - The meeting place to dance tango or a fast paced form of the tango with a 2/4 beat

Tuesday: For us Monday is the day of rest and there is no Milonga (which is the tango equivalent of a ceilidh) but you could do classes on Mondays and for those that need their fix, or just for enjoyment, there are always YouTube videos to watch. I started taking classes in Tango last October after accompanying my lady to Tango events for well over a year. Tuesday was the day to join a class, there was no conflict with rugby coaching at school, the two Argentinian teachers are very nice people and to get better you need to take classes. It is a very gradual learning curve though. You start off thinking how hard can it be but OMG its no easy pal! Tango seems to the untrained eye just another form of dance where you learn moves and move your partner around the floor. Nothing could be further from the truth! What they don’t tell you is that the leader has to learn to find the rhythm of the music, watch out for the navigational hazards on the dance floor, develop a strategy on the spot for dealing with them, choosing from a range of movements you have hopefully learned, then lead the woman to move in the intended direction with the right speed whilst maintaining connection, and then… he has to follow the woman’s response to his lead to determine his next move (within a millisecond) and take responsibility for whatever goes wrong! The phrase 'if it was easy everyone would be doing it' never had more meaning. A friend of mine started dancing at the same time as me but gave it up due to the slow learning curve and tango rage! After classes there is another Milonga so off you go and try and put into practice what you learned.

Thursday: No dancing on a Wednesday for us but again you could if you wanted. On Thursday there is another Milonga and off dancing we go. One of the social aspects I love about Tango is that the people are generally always good people. You meet all kinds, all there for the dance, and from many different countries. During the Edinburgh International Tango festival (festival for everything in Edinburgh, I know!) I went out to dinner with eleven other people and in our group were representatives from twelve different countries and mighty fun was had. There is no set criteria for being a tango dancer (slightly crazy might help but the jury is still out!) and because of this you meet people from all different backgrounds. You first could be with a beautiful Slovakian student and you’re next with an equally stunning Argentinian who makes teapots out of clay. The downside for them is that they could end up dancing with a tall lanky Irishman with about as much rhythm as a teletubbie! C'est la vie!

Práctica - A casual practice session, different to a milonga in that dancers help each other out and work on their technique

Friday: Off to a quaint church hall for some more classes and a práctica to try to slowly improve. When I worked in Ullapool I came down most weekends to see my lady and often we would go to a milonga in a beautiful dance studio in Stockbridge. I still had no interest in dancing but found it a nice place to chill out after the week and have a chat with those that danced. The first year I went out with my girlfriend I never saw her dance: it turns out she is amazing (not my words though I would agree) but she was shy. After that I spent a year going to a milonga once a week just relaxing and enjoying the atmosphere and the company, as I said. Now, as you can see, there is a little more tango but I have to say I enjoy it. I am not ready to pack in teaching and move to Argentina but I have got a pair of shoes specially made in Poland, got for me by a renaissance man I met at tango. I play tango music to the students sometimes and they love it. I am still useless but very slowly improving and one day I may be an alright dancer.

Saturday: On semi regular occasions there is either a tango brunch (tango during the day where you first have your breakfast and then dance or vice versa) or a milonga in the evening in another part of town. As you can see you can dance almost full time in Edinburgh and other cities and towns around the world are no different. A funny Kiwi friend (he thinks he is witty but more funny looking!) of mine went to the back of nowhere in Finland and found tango. Every time my girlfriend goes away for work she finds a place to dance, to meet people and to socialise. Now we are back to Sunday and it starts all over again. It might seem silly to some and weird to others but as a wise man once said we're fools whether we dance or not, so we might as well dance…

Friday, 22 June 2012

So much of life, it seems, is determined by pure randomness..

It’s been a good week so far: the rain came but the sun shone, I, unlike Hibernian football club, managed to get my hands on the Scottish Cup (if only for a few moments), the Primary 7’s arrived for a three day visit, I have nearly managed to remember all the names of the students in my new classes and we are all making progress and having fun.

I don’t find it easy to learn the names of new students, it always takes a while and this time around I have made a rod for my own back called randomisation. (Randomisation is an important teaching tool for any classroom. Every class has students that are extroverts and eager to respond. They also have students that are shy and reluctant to raise their hand and participate. Without randomization techniques the quiet students might be left behind and they will miss out on gaining valuable feedback. Every child should be potentially assessed during your lesson. If you begin using randomisation techniques as a norm in your classroom you will create a standard and an increased level of awareness and content retention with your students. Once students begin to realise that they may be called on at any given moment they generally will actively improve their levels of awareness and interest.) During my time studying for my PDGE we were introduced to Dylan William and his seminal book on classroom assessment, “Inside the Black Box”. Its like a bible for teachers, goes on about proven benefits of formative assessment and is in my opinion spot on. In response to this I use playing cards and lollipop sticks. Each student receives a playing card at the door and this guides him or her to his or her table. All four kings will work together, as will aces etc. The benefits of this for are two fold; Students get to work with absolutely everyone in the class, learning to tolerate and even get on with other students they may not be ‘best’ friends with, a skill needed for the workplace and life or at least until they marry rich or win the lotto. The second is that best friends don’t sit beside each other very often and as a result there is a lot less unproductive chat in the classroom. 

The second technique is the use of lollipop sticks to choose the pupil to ask a question. A stick is chosen at random with the name of the pupil and they get the question. The ‘deck’ can be stacked for differentiation purposes in both cases. The ‘Quadruple Chocolate Cookie Pot’, which holds the sticks, has assumed an almost God like status with some classes. Such is the euphoria surrounding the aforementioned box that when the supermarket chain changed it from a cylinder to a cuboid an angry S1 class wrote thirty letters of complaint. The best one being (in my opinion) from ‘Joe’ who went on a rant for two pages, insinuated that his life was over, ‘neither he nor his unborn children would ever shop there again’ (direct quote, you could not make some of the stuff they wrote up) and then signed off ‘love Joe’. The downside is you cannot associate any student with a seating plan, its impossible to give out to a child if you don’t know their name and higher students can pretend to have new names! All adds to the fun though.

The week was going so well it was time to throw a spanner in the works. Today was the day I let the students know that our paths would be separating as of the end of next week. It was a sad day in that respect but it had to be done. In my opinion you need to be honest about these things and just tell them how it is. It would have been really easy to hand the blame to the PT or the Head teacher but that’s not the way forward. I was offered the job in my new school on Wednesday last week. The interview for my current job was last Monday. The students found it hard to understand that I could not interview for my current school and if successful just tell the other school to jog on six days after accepting the post. I won’t lie I had considered this option but quickly dismissed it, even though I love teaching in my current school I could not change my mind and go back on my word once given. It would be the world’s worst example for children and if your word means nothing what does? It would probably also leave a black mark against your name and education is a small world. They did understand though that a job is required to live and you should not look a gift horse in the mouth. The reactions of the students ranged from crying girls (this is heart breaking let me assure you) to boys who thought the best course of action was to go punch someone (this not so much!). Now how punching an English teacher is going to get me a job is beyond me but I think that was more of a reaction to a punishment exercise wrapped up in a fake cloak of morality but who am I to judge?! 

There reactions could be summed up by four categories; 1. Protest emails (snail mail is dead to the youth of today*), 2. Protest (I think the idea more than actually doing it appeals but anyways), 3. Violence (again the idea I think) and 4. The few daddy’s girls who will tell their fathers and they will fix it (I want to be this innocent and idealistic again). All beautiful sentiments and its good to know that you have made an impression - the best kind of feedback to get is from the students, they are the ones at the sharp end, after all. Letting pupils have a say is empowering and, if handled constructively, is highly enlightening and can also have a certain entertainment value!

Next Monday I go into my new school to have a look. I won’t lie, the students in my current school were not overly complimentary about it but why would they? I am getting more excited now I have to admit but today was as the Scottish would say ‘Nae easy pal’. Anyways, onwards and upwards..

* Today in class we were talking about 3D shapes, the conversation went from Pyramids, to Egypt, to sand, to the beach, to someone swallowing sand, to a cat called sandpaper!, to a story about a cousin called Farquhar & a starfish, to Nicki Minaj's Starships song and finally to a Youtube V Google debate. It turns out 10 out of 15 students in this S2 class would Youtube a query before they would google it! I found that very interesting, I don’t think I have ever considered using youtube as a search engine, is it the way forward or simply the new default amongst the youth of today as opposed to reading for the youth of yesterday?