Thursday, 7 July 2011

A day in the life

The following is what the coalition government would like me and every other teacher to do, every working day, until we’re 68, for less money and less pension (£180,000 less over the course of my life in fact):

I’m at my desk by ten past seven.  In the winter it’s still pitch black when I arrive at work but this morning the sun is shining.  I spend twenty minutes reading and replying to emails: from colleagues; from teachers at other schools; from parents.  I have some paperwork I need to prepare for the upper school next door but that has to wait as I have a pressing email to reply to from a concerned parent about their child’s hospital tests.  Another twenty minutes are spent going through my lesson plans for the day, getting resources out, and cueing up PowerPoint and video on my computer for display on the interactive whiteboard.  At 7.50am I take a fifteen minute break in the staffroom for breakfast: a cup of tea and a cereal bar.  Then the bell rings…

My year 9 tutor group are leaving for their induction days at upper school this morning so are even louder and more hyper than usual, their nerves shredded and shredding mine in return.  Then down to assembly, checking ties and shirts as they go.  I feel nervous for them and sad to see them go, knowing also that this will feel so much harder next Friday when they leave for good.

Period 1 comes with many whines of “I don’t get it.”  Despite having had two lessons preparation for the project, and despite me going over the instructions not five minutes ago, a good proportion of the class are looking clueless and moaning.  When I ask them if they have read the worksheet clutched in their hand which offers a step-by-step guide on what to do, they look at me blankly.  When it becomes clear that I am not going to read the sheet for them, they eventually comply.  “Do you get it now?” I ask, and receive a grunt in return which I take for affirmation.  This conversation is repeated about seven times with seven different pupils, while the kids who were actually listening to me busy themselves with library books, computers and note-taking.  Their project is designed to follow the latest pedagogical trend for ‘independent learning’; the idea that if you give students a goal but allow them to choose how to reach it, they will learn more and become more independent.  Unfortunately, independent learning requires them to think, which is anathema for some kids who would prefer to be spoon-fed.  Hence I will have to go through this same process every lesson until the project is finished, metaphorically holding the hands of the ones who lack the skills or are simply too lazy to think for themselves. 

Period 2 is an unusually pleasant cover lesson, sitting with a top set while they complete an assessment.  I only need to put on my ‘scary teacher voice’ (my mum’s words) twice, for the benefit of some lads in the back row who haven’t met me before and try to take advantage.  Soon they are working away in silence like the rest of the class, and I catch up on marking some essays: top set year 9, who have a tendency to write seven pages of closely typed analysis that takes hours to mark thoroughly.

I spend my break time preparing things for the next lesson as it’s quite resource-heavy: by the end of the hour the classroom is an explosion of paper, colouring pens, glue sticks and glitter (we’re making boardgames).  This class (a year 6 group with only 21 pupils) are the high point of my day, they’re so amenable and diligent and they even say “thank you” when I help them.

After lunch I have a second high point: making a phone call to the mum of a boy I’ve tutored for four years.  I want to let her know how well he’s done and how far he’s come since year 6, when we had to work together quite closely to sort out his behaviour and organisation.  We have a lovely chat that leaves us both near to (happy) tears.  Having a parent thank me and recognise the contribution I have made to helping her son grow up into a delightful young man makes doing this job worthwhile.  What is to come next, though, is the other side of the coin…

My final class of the day have been a struggle all year.  Actually ‘struggle’ doesn’t seem to quite cover it.  ‘Daily hell' is more accurate.  In six years of teaching I have never had to deal with a group like it, and the struggle has only been slightly helped by the fact that every teacher who has them is going through the same thing. 

The lesson begins with confrontation: two boys were extremely disruptive yesterday and didn’t finish their work, so were warned that they would be out of the lesson today while everyone else typed up their creative writing in the ICT room.  Both boys have conveniently forgotten this and I have to keep them out of the room and calm while simultaneously settling the rest of the class and getting them logged on.  In the 55 minute lesson we then have: one of the boys outside point-blank refusing to work, leading to senior management intervention (even with this he has produced a grand total of nothing by the end); one kid (S) being sent out for continual name-calling; the kid who was having the names called to him (C) getting S in a headlock and shoving him into a chair.  So out he goes and I find his head of year to deal with him.  So now I have four children out of the room, and twenty two left.  L is up and down like a jack in a box.  T needs help with every other spelling, which is fine but his chosen method of asking for help is to yell at the top of his voice across the room.  D has discover a zombie game online and decided that’s a better option than completing his work.  J and K manage to keep focused until the last 5 minutes, when hitting each other with their books becomes more interesting than finishing the task.  All the while I’m up and down the aisles, giving reminders and warnings, eventually taking D off the computer.  Every so often I pop outside to check on the three remaining boys (C having been removed entirely from the area by management).  S has typed one line all lesson and will need to be issued with a detention to make up the work after school.  During all of this, the girls have diligently sat working and chatting quietly.  How they put up with this low-level disruption to their education day-in, day-out is beyond me.  They have made little progress this year because of the handful of boys (and it is usually the boys, sadly) who cause chaos.  I end the day feeling like an utterly crap teacher, the parent’s kind words utterly forgotten.

By the time I get home - one meeting and ten more Macbeth essays later - it's nearly 6pm and I've done a 10 hour day.  Nothing unusual, special or noteworthy about today: there are 189 other days just like it, some slightly calmer, some much worse, but all along the same lines.  This isn't a moan or a 'poor me' rant.  There are many elements of teaching that I love and parts of yesterday that I wouldn't swap for the world, but to think that I'll still feel that way at the age of 68 is ridiculous.  Children deserve to be taught by people with energy and enthusiasm.  Teachers deserve to be given respect for the fact we do a difficult job educating and helping to raise the next generation, and that we mostly do it with a smile on our faces.  That respect should include being fairly remunerated both during service and in retirement.

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