Monday 7th February 2011
n Monday I received a late call and drove across the centre of the city. When I arrived I was taken to the classroom by a receptionist. She left me in a classroom, saying she would get the year 4 children. There was an untidy pile of the usual incomprehensible plans constructed with codes and acronyms. Thankfully, the ‘year leader’, who had been working in the corridor, arrived to tell me that the children were swimming. I was to read through the plans, supervise another class and then return to teach the class when they arrived from swimming. This teacher had been keeping half an eye on the unattended class, with their door open and the noise spilling into the corridor. The plans made little sense and assumptions were made that I knew the timetable.
I duly supervised the class who were playing their own board games based on SEAL activities. It was impossible to make head or tail of the structure of the games or the activities. I made little attempt to settle the class as it seemed futile. After half an hour or so, this class readied themselves to go swimming and the others returned. A child in the returned class, with a lot to say for himself, declared, “You’re scary!” His LSA later said he was on ritelin and very subdued. I asked rhetorically, “This is him when he is subdued is it?” She replied, “Yes.”
During the guided reading (English) I learned the groups had names like ‘phrases’, ‘sentences’ and ‘captions’, which made it very difficult to tell the difference between the group and the activities on the plan. The tasks involved groups: (i) continuing a sci-fi story, which the children claimed they had not started, (ii) completing a cloze procedure, (iii) free writing to include connectives ie. ‘meanwhile’, (iv) spellings with the LSA, and (v) improving a paragraph on a photocopied extract from an ‘anonymous’ child’s writing. After introducing all of the tasks I concluded with, “Is there anyone who has not got everything they need?” No hands were shown, followed by a kerfuffle. Trying to get to the bottom of this revealed a cluster of boys claiming not to have a pencil. Sorting this took most of my time and I spent around five minutes with the group that I was supposed to be supporting (re-writing an ‘anonymous’ paragraph, which they boasted they could identify).
In the afternoon, the children were setted for maths and I had the quite large top group. I introduced perimeter and worked through examples on the board. We then undertook activities on the interactive whiteboard. Anticipating the usual software problems, this went reasonably smoothly. However, we ran out of time for worksheets. The ‘year leader’ asked if I had fastened the worksheets in books. I had to explain that we had not started them. Introducing a new topic, seeing if the children coped with the examples and negotiating the interactive whiteboard were more than enough for me.
My maths set had a session changing books in the library and then merged with the rest of the year group for a language-cum-music session with a visiting teacher. All I appeared to be required to do was sing songs I did not know in languages I could not speak and to shh children every now and again.
Tuesday 8th February 2011
Tuesday’s call was not particularly late and was for a local school. As I entered the office, the deputy, bizarrely perched on a worktop, declared stridently, “You need to sign in.” What she thought I was doing in the office otherwise, I cannot imagine. Later, she walked through the classroom and told me, equally officiously, to remember to turn off the projector, even though I had not turned it on. However, the class ‘rogue’ was absent, and following the register, I trailed a low-ability booster group to another room to work on reflection using an x-y co-ordinate grid. The children were very enthusiastic and on leaving the room, one declared, “That was good!”
The whole class came back together for an unaided writing task which, in this case, was based on a newspaper article planned yesterday. It was difficult to introduce without knowing what they had been told already and the fact that we were not allowed to discuss the task. Yet the task had to be set. They did not complain beyond not liking having a test. There was also a SAT-style mental arithmetic test to be read out in 5, 10 and 15 seconds respectively and which was to be answered on standard photocopied sheets. Finishing early I improvised and gave the class a measuring task, involving the construction of a border and divisions on plain A4. My intention was to get them to write about their topic on WWII, but lunchtime rescued me.
In the afternoon, it was games with hockey skills. Apparently the children usually switched, mid-session, for basketball skills, but this was changed, perhaps because of my involvement, much to the children’s chagrin. Nevertheless, the children were well taught and compliant, if not quiet. To finish off the afternoon we researched the WWII topic in the ICT suite.
Wednesday 9th February 2011
Wednesday, I took a late call for a school behind an abbey in the centre of an historic market town. It was difficult to find in the one way system and, unusually, I got lost. Equally unusually, the two people that I asked for directions gave good instructions. My first job was to take an English group outside into the corridor, to work on writing a letter requesting information on immigration. Stages which I was told were already completed and those which were to be undertaken did not match what the children claimed they had been doing. I later learned that the two different teachers, who gave me instructions, were the class teacher and a regular supply teacher. The right hand did not appear to know what the left was doing. Anyway, the children were co-operative, if not slow to get the letter down on paper. They were also very adept at throwing in red herrings. At the same time, there was a child working with an LSA, separate from us. At one stage, the LSA disappeared and the child drifted out to stand at the top of a cast iron staircase facing an atrium. When I spoke to him, he gave me a defiant glare. Later, I enquired about this and was advised to leave him to the LSA who was with him at all times! I pointed out that I was concerned because she was not present and I was the only adult.
For the next lesson, maths, I was given a group of children, again in the corridor, who needed help with comparing and ordering fractions. I could not get to the bottom of the method they had been given and they claimed it had it not been made clear.
Science in the afternoon was on circuits, with the proviso, ‘Make the light bulb dimmer without a switch’. The children were to work in mixed-ability groups of three. Components were to be made freely available and, paradoxically, I was to discuss ‘health and safety’, but not to give guidance. To my way of thinking, it is not possible to introduce health and safety, without giving direction on using components and constructing the circuits. Probably seeing the horror on my face, the class teacher insisted that I was not to give guidance. As a former secondary school technology teacher, my instinct is to teach circuits in series and parallel in a structured way. I find it extremely difficult to be told how to teach something, when I know from experience that it is wrong. My policy has always been to follow the instructions, no matter how wrong, and that is what I did in this lesson. Needless to say, I was compelled to offer the minimum amount of direction. We coped, but it was unsatisfactory and I felt the lake of introduction meant it was unfeasible to sum-up or conclude. According to instructions, the children presented their write-ups on sugar paper at the end.
Finally, I was required to take a class assembly using the internet software-by-subscription, Espresso, incorporating a video clip of a child called Carly who travels from village to village. At most she is rejected until the last community where she is welcomed with open arms. My assumption was that this tied in with the work on immigration. Home time was at 3:30pm, but a child at 3:24 claimed her mother was collecting her early and was waiting in the office. I said I knew nothing of this, to which she announced, “Well, she’s there!” She then flounced out of the room, with another child following suit. When I related this to the class teacher, despite knowing nothing herself, she told me the child was very honest. My points were that (a) she was rude and (b) who is responsible if she has an accident before 3:30pm?
My conclusion is that this school has a very carefree approach regarding issues which are taken extremely seriously by most other teachers and schools. Responsibility, while clearly needed, is not made emphatically clear.
Thursday 10th February 2011
Thursday was a day booked in advance. But, despite expecting year 6 on arrival, I was shifted into a year 3 class in the morning and two year 4 classes in the afternoon for music. The year 3 class contained a boy who did not expect to do as he was asked and therefore drifted around the room talking in a loud voice. He prevented me from calling the attendance/lunch registers and eventually left the room twice without permission. My patience ran out at the point where he stood in the doorway, making hand gestures to me and shouting, “I have got a name you know.” While, on the one hand, teachers ignore him, I would be criticised for not following the procedure of a warning and subsequent marks against this name. This class also had a system of moving pegs up and down on a chart. I had completed the number of marks, moved the pegs and sent for the class teacher, but he was not in the library as claimed. Finally, I sent for the head teacher, who wanted to know what the child had been doing. He appeared to anticipate the defiance, as I recalled the events (while trying to keep my head). At one point the child muttered that he did not like me as much as his teacher, to which the head teacher replied, “You probably don’t like me as much as Mr *****, but the bottom line is that you have to do as you are told.” I had a certain amount of admiration for him for saying this.
Part of the morning was spent on practising a year group assembly and finishing scripts back in the classroom. We also visited the book fair in the hall.
I took two successive year 4 classes for music in the afternoon and walked the first down to the hall for a book fair. On a chart in their books, the children had to match physical movements first to rhythms and beats and then to instruments. The problem was not only knowing the names of instruments but also spelling them. I vowed to look them up on the internet and to carry a list with me at all times!
Friday 11th February 2011
I knew in advance that I was booked to be a float all day on Friday. Lesson 1 was supporting a student on the last day of her first teaching practice. She gave each year 4 child a box of mini-Smarties and they had to estimate the total number of sweets in each box and the number of each separate colour. Then they checked the actual total and numbers of individual Smarties. After this, they could choose whether they constructed a bar graph or a pictogram to show the estimated and actual figures. There were a lot of individual areas of knowledge in one lesson, but it worked to a large extent. Adults were mob-handed as we were joined by a classroom assistant. Normally, as a supply teacher, I do not like supporting a student at all, but this was reasonable.
The class teacher returned late so, as I headed for the next class, a classroom assistant came to track me down. Year 6 set were required to draw an equilateral triangle on squared paper, with a protractor, which they had to cut out with scissors. This was placed on a x-y grid and traced around to form another equilateral triangle in their book. The idea was that the cut-out could be rotated three times to demonstrate that an equilateral triangle has three orders of symmetry. The problem is the children had to find the centre of the cut-out, which assumed they could visualise the lines of symmetry. It took most of the lesson to construct the triangle with a protractor and some did not fit the drawn outline, on the grid, when rotated. After play, another year 6 mental maths test, a tables test in two minutes and eight maths SAT questions in 20 minutes (we actually spent 11 minutes and went over time). In the afternoon I was back with year 4, this time the second class of two, and making cards for a leaving teacher. The year 4 games lesson, a series of relays, was led and dominated by the class teacher. Her scores did not accord with mine, but I said nothing. The class teacher, who is also deputy head, arrived as the children were getting changed back into their school uniform, and assumed control without extending the courtesy of an explanation. The head teacher struggled manfully to get through a whole-school assembly in which he had children volunteer for a charades-style presentation. Unfortunately for him, they were quicker to volunteer than they were to grasp the idea of charades and tended to just stand there. That was the end of my first whole week for ages!
Monday 14th February 2011
was back to the same school as Friday, with year 6 again. I had the briefest of explanations for English, but the plan was complex. On a wing and a prayer, the children heard part of a story called ‘A Rival for Rachel’, who was normally a good netball player, but, distracted by family problems, her place in the team is threatened by a new girl. The children had to write four sentences, with speech, in a different order, saying the same thing. Then they had to anticipate the next part of the story. Despite my inadequate explanation and the rushed pace of the lesson, most of them worked hard.
The maths set was built around the different types of angle: 90 degree, acute, obtuse and reflex. In other words, the children constructed and labelled each type of angle, with a protractor, on an x – y grid. One of the LSAs advised I ignore the mental starter, because it did not make sense, as the previous one had not. I had already worked this out for myself and also realised that the lesson objective, about reflection, did not match the main task. The children then had to draw and label a number of angles, from a list ie. ‘95 degrees equals obtuse’. They did have the knowledge of types of angle, but found them difficult to construct accurately. Drawing angles of more than 180 degrees was difficult for them to measure with a 180 degree set square.
After break, the group reading task meant the whole class reading aloud a paragraph each from Michael Morpurgo’s The Amazing Story of Adolphus Tips (2005). This is the true story of Morpurgo's grandma's experiences as she grew up in Slapton, in
Devon, during World War Two, told through her diaries when she was 12 years old. It is 1943 and Lily's village is needed for soldiers to prepare to invade so they must all move out of their homes. I read a few pages at the end of the lesson, as the class told me their teacher was used to doing. Most readers were clear, it was an interesting story and enjoyable to hear. An LSA was present to support a table of weak readers, but she was unobtrusive. France
The afternoon lessons were ICT, using Word Shark and a Whizz Kids frog game, and mental maths and tables tests (torture square). As can be the case, when using the internet, some children had to be kept on task. There was some cheating in the tables test as the quickest child had marked her own paper.
Originally posted on Sunday, 13th February 2011, fully posted on Friday, 18th February 2011
Tuesday 15th February 2011
On Tuesday I had to drive across the city again, in answer to an early morning call. I asked a lot of questions of the year 5 class teacher because he made a lot of assumptions based on my extremely limited knowledge of the timetable, but he was willing to answer them. A Sims
electronic register made it difficult to see the children and complete the attendance on the screen. The lunch register may usually have been completed simultaneously, but I found it easier to compile after the attendances.
For the first lesson, I was assured the children had discussed setting goals and how to achieve them. When it came to the (Seal) lesson, seated in a circle on the carpet, the class did not seem to know about a discussion involving goals, but could set their own and say how to achieve them. For example, one child announced that her goal would be to ‘lose her attitude and not answer back’, although she spent the rest of the morning with an attitude and answering back. At one point, being the only child not working, she declared the task to be boring. On being informed that, by writing, she would be too busy to be bored, she repeated her expression of boredom. During the introduction on the carpet, I spoke to a boy for fidgeting, while moving another for being facetious and giggling.
Despite being told that the interactive whiteboard would be set up for me when I transferred to another classroom for the next (maths) lesson, I could not find the flipcharts I was expecting. It appeared they were there all along, but I could not find them. The task consisted of a list of vocabulary with numbers projected onto the whiteboard. The setted children had to make word problems combining the words and numbers. There was an LSA in the room, who was unobtrusive, but did not intervene when I floundered. She was better than some, but still not ideal.
During break I visited the toilet in another block which required a password. On my way, the deputy head teacher asked how the class had been. I told him they had tried it on and needed telling, but were OK after that. He said they were the sort of class to try it on.
English was back in the first room and meant rereading a traditional Indian story, The Drum, to the class. They were required to write the sequence of events of the story in their books. If time permitted, they were to transfer this to a storyboard on a photocopied sheet. By the end of the lesson, some were well underway on the storyboard. The Drum is an episodic tale in which a boy wishes for a drum and his mother, returning from the market, finds a piece of wood, which she gives to her son in place of the musical instrument. He goes out to play and passes the wood on to a woman who cannot light a fire she needs for cooking chapattis. In turn, she gives him a chapatti to show her gratitude. Further along the road, our hero hands his chapatti to another woman whose baby will not stop crying because it is hungry. She returns the favour by giving him a bowl, which he gives to a potter, and so on, for a total of five or six ‘trades’. Eventually, the boy is rewarded with a drum, which is what he wanted all along. The moral of the story being that one’s unconditional kindness will be reciprocated in the end.
During lunch, an experienced year 5 teacher said children from outside the catchment area negatively influenced behaviour and inclusion had made things worse. Children were only children and could not be expected to understand the extreme behaviour. This conversation came about because some of the boys had played up their regular music teacher (who released class teachers for PPA). My role for the afternoon was to take the music with the two other year 5 classes in succession. To make things easier, I was given an activity from a textbook which meant the children would write out a rhyme, based on The Drum, as handwriting and then complete it in the same pattern. The first teacher helped me obtain drums, tambourines and soft beaters from the music room, which would have been handed out judiciously so that some children could have a beat played along with their rhyme.
On my journey through the corridor to classroom two, I overheard a girl tell another, “That man is horrible.” As it transpired with the first class, I ran out of time for chanting the rhymes to the drum beat. This was a pity because they were keen and wanted to progress to instruments. I said if they asked their regular teacher, she would probably allow them to perform their rhymes and beats next week. But, I was being hopeful, rather than optimistic. The second class also ran out of time, were more quietly subversive and showed less inclination to use instruments in any case. A few boys had a lot to say for themselves, in both classes. In one example, a girl pointed out, “He’s got ADHD.” I managed to ignore both him and his peer’s remark, feeling glad just to survive an almost-specialised music lesson.
Teacher number one said he had noticed the children working quietly and the older more experienced teacher said she’d had a ‘horrible’ comment and all it meant was that we were not prepared to take any nonsense. The teachers thanked me for marking books.
Thursday 17th February 2011
As I was leaving the school on the previous Friday, the head teacher asked me if I was available for a half-day on Thursday (today) although he had to confirm it with his financial officer. While answering in the affirmative, I was not entirely comfortable with this, as I would be working for an agency. It was almost as if the head teacher either was not aware of this or had forgotten the protocol. Telephoning an agency to do their work is insulting in the light of the fact they take my pension and a large chunk of my pay for nothing in return; nevertheless, I contacted them when I got home on Friday. They confirmed the booking on the following Monday.
Although the ‘year leader’ briefly described the work, the class teacher arrived and would be present at a meeting in school. English necessitated the children to write a ‘Save It’ leaflet as an assessment task. When the children eventually began to ask for help, I was sympathetic because of the nagging suspicion that they were being given tests as an alternative to planned work. The low ability maths set constructed and measured the internal angles of a range of quadrilaterals to ensure they totalled 360 degrees, similar to the way they had previously done with triangles equalling 180 degrees. They did not find it easy, but worked hard overall. Strangely, movement from the class upstairs, made the whiteboard shake throughout the lesson.
After break, the ‘year leader’ had said that he would combine the classes to explain the work on the WWII topic. As it turned out, we traipsed into his room and he expected each group to present their WWII area of research. These included the land army, weapons, leaders and others. The first group, having looked at the land army, showed an amusing musical video-clip from the Cbeebies website. The second showed a large cardboard model of a tank and described some different types of mechanised machine. For me the most alarming stage came when a group, having described some weapons and armed with BB guns, fired them at a sheet of paper stretched across the top of a stacker box laid on its side. The pellets not only penetrated the paper but completely punctured the base of the stacker box. When asked by the ‘year leader’ for a reason for using the guns, they casually replied that it was because guns were used in the war. He appeared to be recording grades or comments for the presentations, but at the half-way stage began eating a piece of sponge cake with a pastry fork. During a discussion of the homework, some of the children claimed a teacher had told them there would be no homework over half-term. They were asked, “Who is the year leader?” To which they chanted, “You are.” That appeared to be the end of the matter.
Before I went home, I gave a teacher, who was leaving at half-term, a card wishing him luck in his nest post and pointing out that they were lucky to get him (actually from a set of notelets). Initially, I planned to place it in his register, but could not find the book/folder in the front office. So, I had to visit his room and hand him the card. He thanked me for my work and offered to walk me to the front of the school. I declined the offer as I had to get my things together. In truth, I could not visualise seeing him again as a classroom assistant had shouted at me in front of the class, in his new school. He also appeared to be a sensitive teacher and I was not sure this was the school for him, even if they had offered him a promotion as maths co-ordinator and teacher-without-portfolio. Not working on Friday, this was my last working day of spring term 1.
Originally posted on Sunday, 13th February 2011 (on the day of my one thousandth hit since this blog was created in December 2010. Fully posted on Friday, 18th February 2011. Updated on Sunday, 27th February 2011.