Friday, 17 December 2010

Misguided Tries to Argue - Round Two

Went on the telly again today. I’ve done pretty much all the BBC shows now; the camera loves me! Did a great one today. The presenter praised my ‘common sense’ and said I was ‘clearly erudite’. A kindly old Labour peer and a kindly old Tory peer both listened to me very politely and talked about what a great job teachers like me do!

When I got back to school I ran into Misguided who was green with envy and a bit put out at having had to cover my lesson.

He asked me, ‘Why do you keep going on TV and claiming we need to reintroduce end of year exams and benchmarking when we do have end of year exams for every year group and always have? Exams that are graded, with grades sent home to parents and passed out to children who then compare results with their peers – is that not what you mean by benchmarking?’

‘Firstly, you shouldn’t always believe what you see me saying on television. They use lighting in the studios and there’s a big crew of people… it’s quite technical and complex, you know, in the media. Secondly, yuh-huh? Next question.’

I had him on the back foot.

‘I don’t understand what you just said,’ he said. He was obviously feeling insecure so I decided to go easy on him and tone it down a bit. I sometimes forget how easily these long-haired secondary modern liberals can become bamboozled by my Oxford debating skills.

‘Throw me another one,’ I offered. ‘Challenge me. I’m ready for it. I can explain my position clearly without resorting to the same vague and mostly invented anecdotal evidence, time after time.’

‘Okay,’ he took the bait, ‘how about this dumbing down of exams claim that you keep making, based on that one O Level maths paper we looked at a couple of years ago in the staffroom. If we make exams harder, how will that help improve the situation for the kids who are currently failing the ‘easy’ exams? Many of whom, as you point out, are the poor and disadvantaged kids who most need our help.’

‘Kids need to fail!’

‘But they’re already failing.’

‘They need to fail more!’

‘But I thought they needed to do better?’

‘Shouldn’t you be preparing your next lesson or something? I’ve got a meeting with the governors,’ I said, letting him down gently and allowing him to save face.

Two, nil.

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

Stop Playing with our Kids’ Futures

The idea of benchmarking children and letting them know how they compare to their peers is considered so poisonous by us teachers that we don’t ever do it and we let children live in darkness without any idea of how they compare to those around them (apart from giving them progress grades on a very regular basis). And the worst thing is, these pernicious tendencies are introduced from a worryingly early age.

I was at the birthday party of a four-year-old white girl on Saturday. There was an Indian boy, a Pakistani girl, three Hispanic boys and girls, a small gang of Black children, a Chinese of indeterminate sex, a Polish boy, a working-class girl, and twins born on the Welsh border who claim dual heritage.

Parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and childless friends whose single relationship status was not a political statement for the duration of the birthday celebrations, stood around beaming at the happy throng as they gathered in a circle to play pass the parcel. One parent expressed a concern that youngsters ought to learn not to open suspicious packages, even at play, and another withdrew her child because of a suspected Sellotape allergy – but most adults were geed up for some cutesy fun, justly proud at this happy embodiment of MLK’s dream in the living room of a suburban home in Kent.

As the game commenced, the birthday girl’s mother sidled up to a group of us grown-ups. She was dripping with smugness, though of course no-one begrudged her this, in the circumstances. The music stopped, and the parcel with it, upon the lap of the Indian boy.

Imagine my horror when he unwrapped the first layer of paper and a small gift fell upon the floor before him; a gift that was his to keep for having done nothing more than turn up!

I was aghast, but I said nothing. I am not the sort of person to stick my neck out with a controversial and potentially hurtful opinion when people have clearly been working hard and with good intentions. I let the music play on, and the game continued.

Moments later, one of the Anglo-Cymraeg infants ripped off a second layer of paper, and to my amazement, was also rewarded with a prize! So it went on: each layer contained a gift, and each child unwrapped a layer. The final gift was ‘won’ by the birthday girl herself. I looked over towards the hi-fi, conscious that there was something very strange going on here and it was only then that my suspicions were confirmed and I was confronted with the shocking truth: daddy was in control of the volume knob.

I could contain myself no longer. ‘Fix!’ I screamed, ‘Fix! This is the most corrupt birthday party I have ever been to!’

The girl’s mother took me to one side.

‘We wanted everyone to have a prize,’ she explained, as if that were the most normal thing in the world, as if that were somehow a decent, generous-spirited attitude! ‘That way, all the children go home with a little souvenir and everything’s fair – everyone has a good time.’

Now, gentle reader, as you well know, I am usually the one to keep her head in a time of crisis, but this crazy Stepford Wife was really testing my patience.

‘Fair?!’ I hissed at her. ‘You call this fair? Tell that to the Black boy whose life you’ve just ruined! Your insipidly well-meaning liberal approach to pass the parcel is all very well for your own spoilt brat, but for these others… It can only condemn these kids to a lifetime of underachievement!’

She oh so casually wiped the spit from her brow and asked me what I meant.

‘Thanks to you and your ‘all must have prizes’, equality-schmollity, oh isn’t the world a lovely place, why don’t we all get on, I’m alright so if I’m nice to the poor maybe they’ll be alright too, nonsense… these Black boys will amount to nothing. Look at that one, you can already see a change has come over him since he arrived. Stop looking so pleased with yourself – it’s not me he’s going to mug!’

‘You’re a little incoherent,’ she suggested, passing me a vegetarian sausage roll, which I crushed in my bare hand, scattering flaky pastry on her Habitat carpet.

‘Your low expectations of these children mean that they will give up trying,’ I continued, breathless. ‘Without the incentive of competition, without the fear of feeling inferior, they will amount to nothing. If they set out into the world believing that Life is about sharing and that all people should be valued, regardless of where they went to university, they simply don’t stand a chance! They must learn to struggle, to fight! They must learn that they are alone.’

I was no longer angry. Pity for this woman’s tragic ignorance had quelled my rage. I put out my arms and held her close to me; an embrace that communicated something of the abyss that lay between us, but that nevertheless ensured that she might not ask me to pay for the cleaning of her carpet and curtains which had become stained with Ribena during the excesses of my speech.

Before I left, I glanced back at the children. A game of Musical Statues had just begun. As the music stopped, a fat child who had been gleefully twirling lost his balance and fell.

‘You’re out!’ chorused the children, as indeed he was. One pointed at him, trying her best to make it clear to him that he was A Loser, that he was, for that moment, the Most Useless Child In The Room. The boy skulked off and stood in the corner, sobbing quietly. A bittersweet moment for me. Here was this child, learning a most necessary and wholesome lesson of inadequacy and failure, who in a few months’ time would be misled by Leftie teachers into believing that despite his deficiencies – so obvious to his peers – his pitiful efforts were still valued in a gingerbread world of sugar-coated tolerance. Let us just hope that this fat child carries this memory with him, so that he is prepared for Reality when the revolution is overthrown and it finally Bites.

Perhaps then we can finally grow beyond this unhealthy obsession with Passing every Parcel, and begin to acknowledge the fact that some Parcels must Fail.

Monday, 13 December 2010

Notes on a Professionally and Sensitively Averted Scandal

or How to avoid copping off with good-looking teenage boys.

Kids cry out for structure and discipline. I remember once, a child begging to be in my class and when I said no, he said, ‘But miss, I want to be in your class because I hear you’re really mean.’ It was all I could do to resist whipping out the gimp mask there and then and teaching him a thing or two about how mean I can be!

When they do try to seduce you, it is important to step back and draw their attention to your age and even better some physical imperfection or infirmity. I know it hurts to do this and sometimes, as in my case, it can be quite difficult to come up with anything convincing.

Another way of putting them off is to sing a cappella The Police’s classic hit on this very subject, ‘Don’t Stand So Close To Me’, whilst wearing a Sting mask and gyrating. Most youth nowadays won’t go for this kind of thing (though ironically, in the 80’s these very same antics secured me three snogs).

Friday, 10 December 2010

Senior Team Portrait

So some bright spark has come up with a brilliant way of getting some much-needed attention from the local (and perhaps national?) press – thereby attracting more middle class parents to send their children to Ordinary Comprehensive. A school middle leaders focus group (led by Mr Keen but overseen by myself to ensure that procedure is followed) has come up with an exciting idea for the front cover of the new school prospectus.

They have proposed commissioning the sixth-form life drawing class to paint a full length nude portrait of the senior team. Keen insisted it would be tasteful, with the London Schools Cross Country Shield (of which the school is unduly proud) and large print versions of the school’s Code of Conduct deployed judiciously to preserve everyone’s modesty. Certainly, I conceded, it would demonstrate that we were in touch with the needs and concerns of students and their families. Then I outlined my concerns.

Firstly, I explained, although the idea is sound in principle (if a little eccentric), I suspect there are likely to be Health and Safety implications. Secondly, I imagine most of my wishy-washy liberal senior team colleagues will be too cowardly or too vain to donate a few hours of their time to such a worthy cause. And finally, I suggested, there might not be sufficient space upon the page to fit everyone in, on account of our top-heavy management structure.

I had not intended the innuendo and was rather dismayed by the exuberant titters of Miss Giggles and Mr Filth in response to my little boob. Even Miss Drab smiled, which probably did her some good.

When they had regained their composure, I said that the plan would have my support if they made some minor alterations. All joking aside, I began, there really is insufficient space on the front cover for a group portrait. Much better, from a design perspective, to have a single key figure, ideally someone rather more ‘easy on the eye’ than our Head; someone, moreover, who represents a combination of dynamic reforming zeal with traditional common-sense values. That someone really ought to be Oxbridge educated – ideally Oxford – and if that someone already had a positive relationship with the media and perhaps some unofficial links to a major political party… well, that would really set the ‘icing upon the cake’. I struck a disarmingly alluring yet authoritative pose then left them to brainstorm a suitable candidate for this important role as I sashayed out of the meeting room.

Something very funny must have happened immediately after I left the room for once again my junior colleagues in the focus group burst into noisy fits of laughter. I was glad not to have become caught up in whatever puerile frivolity was distracting them this time and marched down the corridor to my next challenge.

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

Misguided Tries to Argue – Round One

You probably recall Misguided – he’s the teacher with the hair and the opinions and the ability to empathise.

Got caught in a bit of a debate with him at lunchtime. Naturally, having been educated at Oxford, I trounced him. It went something like this.

Misguided asked: ‘Are you not contradicting yourself when you attack an alleged culture of anti-competitiveness? You lament that “All must have prizes, all must have GCSEs, all must have a place at university…” then go on to claim that the system has failed students who do not win prizes, GCSEs and places at university.’

I responded: ‘Racism is a complex thing. It is not a blunt instrument.’

One, nil.

Thursday, 25 November 2010

We Must Open Our Eyes To The Truth

Squinty is a year 8 mixed race boy who sometimes has trouble concentrating in the classroom. He is a lively and inquisitive character but he is also sensitive. More than once, he has confided in me that though he appreciates her help, he doesn’t like the attention that is drawn to him by the presence of the Learning Support Teacher who accompanies him in lessons.

‘But why does Squinty have an assistant?’ you ask. ‘What is so special about him?’

Squinty is ‘blind’.

The case of Squinty raises an important question. Is he ‘blind’ because his optic nerve was destroyed at birth or because of what the well-meaning liberal does to him? Labelling students in this way only encourages their dependency on an overburdened state, and fosters an unwillingness to engage with real, meaningful challenges, such as competing to earn a higher salary than one’s peers. Unless we can shake him out of it – and more importantly, persuade the Leftie beaurocrats who dream up these notions to shape up and get real – Squinty is likely to continue hiding behind this lazy excuse of ‘blindness’.

On the whole, his peers are sympathetic and considerate; they help him in the classroom and stand up for him in the playground. More fool them. Of course, they aren’t to know the extent to which a child like Squinty is putting it on. Not that I blame Squinty – the broken education system’s low expectations of such boys makes it tragically inevitable that he will persist in hiding behind this label of ‘blindness’, stumbling through life, directionless .

And tragically, this culture of indolence is so deeply entrenched within British society that even his parents, despite being polite and educated, have persuaded themselves that their child cannot see.

Earlier today, Squinty’s best friends, Limpy and Hunchback, leapt to his defence as I led him off to detention. ‘Miss, it isn’t Squinty’s fault – he was born blind,’ they bleated. And of course, these words reveal a deeper culture of excuses, of low standards, and expecting the very least from our poorest and most disadvantaged. When I have Squinty repeat after me, ‘I’m responsible for myself, Miss, yes, I’m responsible for myself,’ I am fighting a generation of thinking that has left our education system in pieces – decimated by distorted, confused, jargon-ridden thinking whose worst excesses I have not only supported but encouraged for ten years, until my publisher’s recommendation that I change tack in order to promote my book.

And this raises another, even bigger, bigger question. Who’s really blind: the boy who ‘can’t see’ because his optic nerve was destroyed at birth by an excess of oxygen he received in the incubator? Or those well-meaning liberals who ‘can’t see’ the damage they’re doing to Britain’s future by mollycoddling boys like Squinty, Limpy and Hunchback?

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Hands Up If

Fellow teachers, you may have come across this idea that sometimes kids should not put their hands up to answer questions in class because then it’s always the same kids who do – you know, some of them need thinking time, are less confident etc, blah blah blah. And we all know that hands-up can be a great buzz for Sir or Miss for that magical penny-dropping moment when the kid gets it. That is why I have always used hands-up with my students along with a range of other traditional and modern techniques. Of course that didn’t stop me from leading an initiative when preparing for Ordinary Comprehensive’s Ofsted visit last year in which teachers were penalised for using hands-up and for not using the hands-down technique.
In aggressively imposing this and other patently absurd and short-lived policies, I was not, as some have suggested, motivated solely by self-interest. I was not slavishly toeing a perceived line for the sake of my own career prospects. No. I was being loyal; I was slavishly toeing the line simply because it was, I believed, the line. It is how armies operate. And it is a good way to be - for most people.

Obviously I’m not like that any longer. This summer I became a maverick and a whistleblower in order to promote my book. Nowadays I am full of original ideas. It’s going very well!