Thursday, 30 December 2010

Merry Christmas Johnny Scrotum
It’s pretty hard for teachers to write something personal to children these days – above and beyond what they would normally write in an exercise book.  A fondness for comment banks and the numbers and letters of Key Stage levels largely prevent teachers from ever writing anything approaching personal.  Personal is dangerous and needs to be stamped out.  And the passing of the handwritten report (in the state sector at least) means that teachers can no longer simultaneously take up the pens of truth and diplomacy, and craft those sentences between whose gentle lines great sermons could be read.  No, if you want to write personal comments to children these days you have to do it in secret; you have to wait until Christmas. 
We’re told not to send Christmas cards to colleagues – give a donation to the school charity and sign the card in the staffroom; and quite right, too.  But it’s different when talking about sending a card to everyone in the tutor group.  Teaching in the wider sense is all about building relationships, and yet writing a personal Christmas card to everyone in my tutor group is perhaps one of the last ways in which I can demonstrate to my star slacker that I see in his rich humanity something more than a D which needs to be made into a C. And as it’s Christmas I’m sure I can find something pleasant to say, no matter how insignificant.  Don’t be insincere, though, you’ll never get away with that.  But if you give each child just a few minutes of contemplation, taking in all aspects of their rich and varied personality, you’ll find you won’t have to be.
So what kind of thing might the teacher write in these cards?  I try to remember the sort of things that I have penned but I find they sound ridiculous when repeated:    A brightly coloured scarf that cheered the winter gloom; a tiny but wonderful act of kindness, presumed by the perpetrator to have gone unseen but now immortalised six months later; a thank you for a knowing smile; the whimsical use of a dear pet’s name; a telling-off rehearsed, to which time has lent a new and humorous aspect.   Any teacher worth the name will understand me when I say that you had to know those for whom these trifles were intended.   They were subtle and carefully pitched to fit a moment and a person, their simple magic does not survive the brutal, printed letter.
One thing I did observe, though, was that they were always read, often more than once, and often by more than one person. Children are highly responsive to anything from their teacher that indicates more is remembered about them than just their Key Stage level and curriculum target.
No less responsive are many of their parents; for it is a fortunate fact that most parents will read their children’s Christmas cards – even though it may be many months later, when the school bags are cleaned out.  One parent was moved to tears by a message in a card to her very quiet and beautifully modest daughter.  What sensible parents want more than anything from teachers is to know that those teachers a) know who their children are, and b) appreciate the subtleties – both good and bad – of their children’s characters.
Are you still struggling for something pleasant to say?  Surely one pleasant thing can be said about even the most obstreperous child, providing you start looking for it early enough.   Don’t leave the writing of cards too late as you’ll need plenty of time to come up with something pleasant to say about Jonny Scrotum - better start in September.  Remember, the teacher is servant to the child, and duty bound to be gracious.
What!  Still struggling?  Even if you can’t look back to a single positive instance, not one amusing exchange, not one noteworthy trait, there is goodwill even in admitting this much:  ‘Jonny, I don’t think either of us could view our past year together with anything approaching genuine fondness , but nothing lasts forever.  Have a good Christmas, Mr Scrotum, and I’ll see you next year.’  You can wish him a good Christmas, can’t you?  It would be a pretty sorry affair if you could not even do that, becauses you will see him next year.
The environmental reasons for not sending Christmas cards are well rehearsed, but perhaps there is a kind of card that really is worth sending this year.  Who knows, your Christmas message might just contain some tiny jewel that nestles deep into the soul of a child – it might just make a difference in the year to come.
Why give yourself another job to do this Christmas?  You don’t have to, and there is no Ofsted derived mandate telling you to, which is possibly why you might find yourself wanting to.  Don’t miss this once-a-year opportunity to send home a personal, written message.  It will probably be the only card they receive this year with more writing in it than just a couple of names sandwiched between a ‘to’ and a ‘from’. 

Sunday, 19 December 2010

It's Only Telly

This is part of a lecture by Sir Ken Robinson with his key ideas set to animation.  I thoroughly recommend it to anyone who is prepared to consider the bigger educational picture.  It is 10 minutes long but it's only telly.

Saturday, 11 December 2010

Teachers' Advent Hell
Advent calendars sent to teachers by the General Teaching Council are causing classroom chaos up and down the country because of problems with the doors opening, it was revealed yesterday.
The doors on thousands of the GTC calendars are jammed or difficult to open leaving teachers with no option but to ring in late.  And with children missing vital made-up-on-the-spot Christmas quizzes and end of term videos headteacher unions are calling for an independent inquiry.
“It’s absolutely ridiculous,” slammed one headteacher yesterday.  “I’ve got staff ringing the school saying they’re going to be late in because they are struggling to open the door to their GTC advent calendar.  It makes me furious – who the hell is manufacturing these calendars and why won’t the doors open?
Brett James, a media teacher from Hull was sent one of the faulty calendars:  “The first two doors opened without any trouble at all but Friday’s was really stiff.  I rang my school and told them I’d be late in; they were very understanding and agreed that I ought to find out what I’d got.  I still hadn’t got the door open by 2 o’clock but I thought I’d go in anyway and try to teach as normal.  Fortunately my head of department was really understanding and said I didn’t have to show the DVDs if I didn’t feel up to it.
Neil Blanchard, Head of Science at Featherwaite Community School, Lancashire, couldn’t sleep the night before advent:  “I was obviously very excited.  A friend of mine had been involved in CRB checking the shepherds so it was a real blow to find that the door to the stable was jammed.  It took my wife and me 40 minutes to jimmy the door open – there’s certainly no mention of it in the Bible.”
Matt Sanwell from Plymouth is married to a teacher and is furious at what has happened to his wife.   “My wife had to wait four hours to find out he’d got a candle – that’s just not right.  I wouldn’t want this to happen to anybody.”
Reacting to suggestions that teachers had ‘invented’ the jamming doors and ‘might not be telling the whole truth’ John Simpson of NAWSALT said:  “Why would teachers lie about this?  At this time of year teaching professionals have a wide range of acceptable excuses available to them, such as ‘Influenza Imaginatus and ‘invented sick dependent’ – they’re hardly just going to make this up.  These accusations are simply an attempt by the government to create a smokescreen over the real issue, which is: ‘Why are the doors jamming?’”
Peter Richards, spokesman for the GTC, said, “We want to issue an unreserved apology for what has happened.  Obviously the advent calendars were supposed to be a thank you to teachers for the annual registration fee they have no choice but give us.  In the future we’ll be sticking to tribunals.”

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

Concern Over Lack Of Christmas Cheer
Michael Gove – Advisor to the Simple

Dear Michael Gove,
I’ve been a teacher for six years now but seem to be getting less Christmas presents from children than I used to.  There are some teachers who seem to get loads of gifts at Christmas even though they are less experienced and less popular than me.  I hope I don’t sound bitter; it’s just that this is really knocking my confidence.
Chris Sutton, Colchester

Dear Chris,
Why shouldn’t you be bitter?  If I thought that Michael Portillo was going to get a bigger Parliament Ham than me this Christmas I’d be bitter, too.  However, these so-called ‘popular’ teachers probably aren’t that popular at all.  What’s more likely is that they just know a thing or two about cashing in on some good, old fashioned Christmas cheer.
In the first week in December buy yourself a few bottles of wine and some expensive looking chocolates and leave them on your desk at school.  Write the tags from naughty children and that should have you well on your way.
Also, have you thought about developing a present-buying marking scheme?  Take in all the exercise books at the end of November and set targets that will help children to achieve a Christmas gift by the end of term.  Here’s a few to get you started:
‘A really good piece of work, Susan, it might have been excellent if I’d had a glass of red wine in my hand.’
‘Try to improve your use of confectionary connectives, Jodie.’
‘End of Key Stage 3 Target: a basket of soap, two boxes of Brazil Nuts and a gaudy ornament that I’ll flog at a car boot sale.’
One of my Surrey Heath constituents even made a few changes to her school nativity play in order to make biblically endorsed present buying a little more accessible for her under-fives.   Gold, frankincense and myrrh became Terry’s All Gold, Quality Street and Matchsticks.
I hope this helps, Ducky, go and bag a pile.
Michael Gove

Thursday, 2 December 2010

Kids Set To Become Smarter Than Teachers

Michael Gove’s radical overhaul of schools could leave many teachers not as smart as pupils, claim educational experts.
Michael Gove’s Education White Paper has sparked a furious reaction in the teaching profession by suggesting that schools should encourage good behaviour by reverting to traditional blazer and tie uniforms.  Teachers and teaching unions have erupted in fury at the government’s plans claiming that thousands of teachers will be left looking less smart than the children they teach.
Inner city teacher John Price is outraged by the prospect of having to teach children more smartly presented than himself:  “It will be humiliating.  I regularly wear undersized chinos and a pair of those asexual shoes you get from Topman which are halfway between trainers and formal shoes, and which Barbie might have Ken wear.  Unless I can be bothered to iron a shirt and put on a tie I’ll be faced with no option but to appear less smart than the children I teach.  It’s ludicrous!”
Too smart for their own good say teachers
Jane Seaton works in an all-boys school in Lancashire: “I wear strappy tops because they look nice and offer a suggestion of my breast shape,” she said yesterday. “Ultimately it will be children that suffer from Gove’s reforms.”
Thousands of teachers have already contacted their unions asking if the government is acting lawfully. Tony Chalmers is the General Secretary of SNALTWU:  “Many of our members have already contacted us and are deeply concerned about the proposed changes.  The majority of the calls we’ve taken have come from our male members and have been about stains on ties.”
Gove’s plans to smarten up school children come at a particularly bad time for Learning Support Assistant Kate Hutchinson.  “I’m really disappointed.  I’ve just had a tattoo done on my left shoulder.  If I’d known about the plans for blazers and ties I probably wouldn’t have bothered - I’m even thinking about covering it up at school.”

Andy Bartlett, President of The Association of Cartoon Tie and Open-Ended Footwear Manufacturers described yesterday’s announcement as ‘very worrying.’

Saturday, 27 November 2010

Concern Over Number of Emails

Michael Gove - Advisor to the Simple

Dear Michael,
I’ve just found out that I’m not getting as many emails as some of my colleagues and I’m obviously really worried about this.  The other day the NQT in our department was moaning about how many emails she gets and I was shocked to hear how much mail she regularly gets in her inbox.  I know it must sound like I’m just jealous but really I’m not – I’m really happy for her.  It’s just that I’ve been teaching for fifteen years and I feel like a failure.  Please help.

Julie, Telford
Dear Julie,
Hearing this makes my blood boil.  It’s really sad that in the 21st Century good, honest teachers still aren’t getting the emails they deserve.  You’re right to be concerned about the lack of emails you are getting, but there are a few simple things you can do to help you get more.  Try sending an ‘All Staff’ email saying that the owner of car registration xyz has left its lights on.  Nobody will recognise the registration number so you’ll probably not get more than half a dozen ‘Thanks but not mine’ emails but it’s a start and, more importantly at this stage, it will raise your email profile within the school.  You can boost this number by using an actual registration from the school car park.  You should still get your standard six, but you’ll also get a couple from staff who know whose car it is as well as one certainty that reads: ‘No I haven’t.’
You can also do a similar thing by pretending you’ve found a glove or purse.  Again, since nobody will actually have lost anything you’ll probably just get that standard six thanking you anyway.  It’s all about developing and raising a credible email profile.
Once you’re happy with your e-profile start sending emails to colleagues asking them to do little jobs for you.  If you begin these emails with phrases like ‘could you just’ and ‘I was wondering if’ they’ll probably not realise that you’re giving them extra and pointless work to do, and the emails they’ll have to send you as a result will be invaluable in rebuilding confidence in yourself. 
Good luck, Ducky,

Monday, 22 November 2010

Colouring-In Set To Soar As
Teachers Face Sticky Wicket

The number of difficult to complete colouring-in exercises set in schools is due to rocket as thousands of UK teachers struggle to stay awake for the Ashes Test series down under.

 With the start of The Ashes just days away the three biggest teaching unions are set to distribute thousands of 14 years + colouring-in sheets in an attempt to help teachers deliver their lessons after near sleepless nights, it was revealed yesterday.  With the majority of the five matches scheduled to be played between the hours of midnight and 7 am UK time – the time usually preferred by many teachers for sleeping  - unions hope the sheets will support their members as they struggle to stay awake at their desks.

 ‘We’ve tested the sheets and they should take ages to do’, said Jonathon Barnard, General Secretary for SNATWU.  ‘We’re urging our members to start preparing their pencils now, if the pencils are blunt, or too short, the sheets may not work.’ He added ‘Teachers should make sure they’ve got plenty of blues, you can never have too many blues.’

The first Test is due to start on November 24th with the once every four years cricketing event causing havoc to normal sleeping patterns.  Without the colouring-in sheets thousands of teachers would have no option but to block-book computer rooms and set ‘title page’ activities.  For Teaching and Learning specialist Clayton Hughes it’s a worrying time.  ’Setting title page activities so close to Christmas could prove disastrous’ he said yesterday.  ‘I’d like to see much more being done in the field of tenuously linking videos to curriculum areas.’

Last month the government issued teacher guidance on how to construct plausible excuses for not having marked pupils’ work over the six week test series, and it’s hoped that last year’s recruitment drive Teach for the Tests will see thousands of unqualified trainees taking classes while their mentors get some much needed sleep.

These measures are welcomed by John Simpson, a volunteer for UK based charity Ashes Support, but he remains cautious:    ‘You have to remember that it’s been four years since the last time England were involved in a Test series in Australia.  Anyone that’s become a teacher within the last four years will be unfamiliar with the pressures of trying to teach after a sleepless night listening to Test Match Special on Radio 4.  We’ll be working very closely with our colleagues in Australia to support UK teaching professionals through what promises to be a very difficult time.’

A spokesman for the government said yesterday:  ‘We are very keen that standards in teaching and learning are not allowed to slip during the test series.  We very much welcome the increased provision of difficult to complete colouring-in exercises and dubiously appropriate DVDs, at what is bound to be a difficult time for teachers.

James Andrews, The Bitter Root: Educating the Wayward Scholar

Thursday, 18 November 2010

Teachers Welcome A Week Off Supporting School Bullies.

Supporting the work of bullies in my school for the last 51 weeks has been exhausting – thank goodness for November’s Anti-Bullying Week.  It can be such a thankless task these days to support bullying in schools with so much negative media attention surrounding the issue. I can’t wait for the week beginning the 15th November and a well-earned break.  I sometimes wonder about the fairness of being pro-bullying for so much of the year and I’m really looking forward to stopping some instances of unkind behaviour during these five days.  It seems like almost a year has gone by since I was last able, with anything approaching real conviction, to insist that one child stop being horrible to another.  Anti-Bullying Week is 15th-19th November.
James Andrews, author of The Bitter Root: Educating the Wayward Scholar

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

Cash for Mash!
Vacant school dinners send headteachers scrambling for the sprouts
Hundreds of thousands of surplus school dinners are being snapped up by cash-strapped headteachers keen to cash in on the government’s new Pupil Premium.  The school dinners, which were being stored in a warehouse near Gatwick, and which were expected to have been axed altogether in October’s budget review, have more than quadrupled in value since the government announced the new measure last week.  The Pupil Premium, dubbed ‘cash for mash’ because it is expected to be based on the number of free school meals, has started what one leading commentator is calling ‘the biggest food-fight since the Vikings’.  He added: ‘The rush to bag the spare school dinners is outstripping even the expected rush to secure underprivileged children.’

It’s believed that the school meals, which are mostly lamb roast dinners and pasta bake, will be offered to pupils for free - whether they are hungry or not - in a desperate bid to secure the extra government  funding.  Rob Hastings, headteacher of Willington School in Shropshire bought up 130,000 of the estimated 480,000 surplus meals:   ‘Every pupil in my school will be expected to eat at least five of my free school meals, regardless of their socal background.  We are always struggling to afford things that flash, blink and go ‘whirr’, the extra money will be very important to us.   The cash-for-mash-for-kids scheme is an excellent idea.’

Friday, 22 October 2010

Education Mourns Another Missed Spartacus Joke

It’s been a couple of weeks since the Katherine Burbalsingh episode and now that the dust has settled many of us are contemplating the deeper tragedy behind the headlines: another missed opportunity for a Spartacus joke.  You may not remember the exact wording of Katherine’s impassioned speech so I’ve included the passage overlooked by many educational commentators:
Mitchell:          But Miss, it isn’t Kane’s fault; he was born with anger management.
Kane:               Yes Miss, it’s not my fault.  I am anger management. 
The real tragedy is that neither Mitchell (who is supposed to be Kane’s friend) nor Miss Burbalsingh – who has a duty of care - offered the obvious response: No. I’m Anger Management.  Children like Kane are being systematically failed by an educational system that is becoming increasingly incapable of helping children to achieve a Spartacus joke.