Welcome to my Blog which combines the unlikely topics of supply teaching with progressive rock. Here you will find my ongoing 'Diary of a Surviving Supply Teacher' and a variety of lists/ timelines/ articles on progressive rock.

Monday, 7 March 2011

Harry Potter

Tuesday 1st March 2011

he agency did not know if the day was a year 5/6 vertical group or split between the two year groups, when they phoned me with the booking in advance. Because it is a junior school without vertical groups, it was clear that it would be split between the two, or be one or the other. As it turned out, I was with year 5 in the morning and 6 in the afternoon. The year 5 teacher was very disorganised, particularly with the interactive whiteboard flipcharts, and despite arriving early, it took a while to familiarise with the work. She kept muttering something about how using some software at home had caused her to lose all her English flipcharts, like the proverbial bad workman blaming his tools. There was also a very shambolic sheet system for the mental maths starter activity, but she did offer to enter it on the flipcharts, which were all out of time-order. As I went out on to the playground to collect the class, I overheard a year 6 child repeating, ‘No, no, no . . .’ until I walked past, when he changed to a triumphant, ‘Yes!’

In English, the children took turns to read an extract from Harry Potter (Dudley’s reaction to his birthday presents). The pupils added punctuation to a sentence with speech and wrote their own similar sentence. Finally they wrote a continuation of the story, bearing in mind Uncle Vernon’s comments, Aunt Petunia’s reaction and the trip. Some knew and could remember the story, others did not or could not and made up their own. An LSA working with an LA group of children, decided that by talking, they were too noisy and took them out into the corridor to work. I wondered what she would normally have done with the usual teacher.

PE involved arranging the class into small pre-determined (by the teacher) teams, although I had to inform them for the first time. Yr 6 monitors had arranged the apparatus very well. The children had to rotate through hurdles, high jump, long jump, triple jump, quoits and relay with a bean bag. It was difficult explaining all of the tasks, but recording was worse. A member of each group had a photocopied form onto which they recorded the time, distance or number. This was difficult to instruct as each activity needed a different unit of measurement, ie. distance for the long jump, number of passes for the quoits, time to complete all hurdles and so on. Apart from one exception, the class was happy to co-operate.

During maths the class did the mental maths, which we marked as a class. They were then required to work on fractions pyramids. The rule was to add two blocks below plus one, which was confusing for most year 5s, especially the less able. Some children claimed to be familiar with the system and asked if they could leave out the pyramids, but got them wrong, made clear when  it came to marking their books. By this time, they were getting noisy, but no-one was outstandingly naughty.

When debriefing with the class teacher at lunchtime, she said she would have checked two examples on a page, before allowing children to avoid the pyramid system. This was shown to be correct. In response to her asking about behaviour, I told her of the difficult child in PE. She replied, “He doesn’t like PE for some reason.” Although it was dinner time, it had not been confirmed that I was with year 6 in the afternoon, but someone did eventually inform me this was the case.

Year 6 were noisy when reading with a partner during and after the register.

Science was ‘air resistance’ and I began by asking them to look at me and show me they were listening. A number of boys began talking over me, looking across tables and laughing, calling out and making noises. Therefore, I began to record and move names on a chart according to the school behaviour policy. In total, there were four names on yellow, three of these moved to orange and two again to red. Several of the boys could not care less and continued, so I sent for the head teacher. The class went quiet and one of the better girls asked if the whole class would be in trouble. The head teacher arrived and asked the class to consider how I felt as I saw other schools. He added that he would remove some children when there was a supply teacher, which he thought was pathetic, if they did not change their ways.  

Music was in the hall, with a visitor from church, to sing WWII songs, such as Run Rabbit Run. She seemed to be a retired teacher as she was confident in organising the children. Both classes in the year group were present, and the other teacher, the ‘year leader’, shouted loudly at anything he perceived to be a lack of response. Early on, he hit a child on the back of the head, with some acetates he was carrying, drawing a localised chorus of laughter. Music segued into a head teacher’s assembly.

Wednesday pm, 2nd March 2011

Normally, I do not like working afternoons only as you cannot get involved in anything at home and you keep looking at your watch all the time. However, I took this because of the lack of work. I was with year 6 again, still working on air resistance. This time, organised into table groups, they had three types of bag (sandwich, carrier and bin), which were tied in four places to a clip and dropped three times. The pupils drew a chart to make their predictions of the times taken for each type of bag to fall. On the white board, for the class to copy, I wrote four sentences fleshing out the lesson objective and specifying some requirements (the height being 1.7ms, with the metre stick on the desk). Having made predictions, completed the notes on the board and entered the results on a photocopied table, the children had to write in their own words under a series of headings: Method, Conclusion and Evaluation (what I would do next time). It was helpful to have an LSA present, but she went home after 30 minutes of the lesson. Much to my surprise, in the thick of the experiment with children and bags everywhere, a French teacher arrived at 2:20pm expecting to take a lesson. Having confirmed this, we had to pack away rapidly.

Madame discussed the importance of the bakery in France with associated speech and the children practised variations on greeting and replying to each other. The usual suspects were rude to her. At one stage she told the main agent provocateur that she did not like his attitude. She tried to relax and even smiled and sat on a desk but it was not convincing. Feeling responsible for behaviour, I kept a tenuous grip on behaviour. Being responsible for discipline, as a supply teacher with a visiting teacher, is something else I do not like, as they may know the children relatively well, while I do not know them at all.

Today’s assembly was taken by a visitor from the church on the topic of rules. Some head teacher’s awards were given. When one of the most troublesome boys in my class was insolent, the head teacher told him to wait outside his office after assembly. Indeed, he had to collect him, as the child tried to get away without standing in the corridor.  After school, I marked the science books, stating what the children should do next. Mostly this was the Method.

Sunday, 6th March 2011

Have you ever lain in bed, just before sleep, when something from the past came back to haunt you? This happened to me last night, when I began thinking about a discussion with a person from an agency. I was enquiring about the lack of work, when she said, “There are some schools where you don’t fit.” To which I replied, “I understand that . . .”

Throughout my career in education, I have encountered teachers who did not fit. From a student who failed his teaching practice during my third year of teaching to a fellow supply teacher much criticised recently. The student, who had an interest in music and theatre, was highly regarded by the school and successfully completed his teaching practice. However, when he went to another school, he failed the teaching practice, so he returned to us to regain his confidence. Recently, I worked in a year group with another supply teacher, all day and including athletics outside on the field. She struck me as completely competent, but I later overheard criticisms of her not doing the work that had been set. I did not think this was the case, but I am ashamed to say I did not intervene. In between times, I have known various hard working teachers, who were ignored, because they just concentrated on the teaching and did not shout from the rooftops.      

Monday, 7th March 2011

On BBC Radio 4 this morning was the first part of a serialised story, called To Miss with Love. Read by Adjoa Andoh, it took the form of a diary by a secondary teacher, working in an inner-city school (Katharine Birbalsingh). I could relate to her experience of the lack of time, lack of support, demoralising meetings, physical abuse from pupils and so on. What I liked about the style of writing was the way in which the author, Katharine Birbalsingh, used the characteristics of students and teachers to give them a name, such as ‘furious’. It has inspired me to try to do the same and, although derivative, could be useful    

To Miss With Love

The first of five parts of To Miss with Love begins on BBC Radio 4 at 9:45am - 10:00am (Monday 07 March 2011). According to the Radio Times website, it is, “The diary of inner-city teacher Katharine Birbalsingh, who has been teaching in a state school in London for over a decade, determined to make it an interesting and exciting place of learning. She recalls a year of fights, phone-thefts, teenage pregnancies and Ofsted reports that have blighted her job, as well as the troubled lives of the pupils under her care. Read by Adjoa Andoh.”

In this episode, the diary entries included:
(i) an encounter with former pupils, from her first tutor group, on her journey to school;
(ii) a discussion with a teacher in a private school who expects all of her students to pass their exams;
(iii) a happy student on exam results day;
(iv) first staff meeting of the year on Ofsted;
(v) discussion with a teacher who admits to having trouble sleeping;
(vi) a teacher who is physically assaulted by a pupil called ‘furious’. Despite being hit on the head by a stone, he did not see the perpetrator, so a lack of witness means his word is not taken;
(vii) a lack of support during a confrontation with the same pupil, ‘furious’, on the playground;
(viii) the plight of a child who has her dinner money stolen;
(viii) headteacher’s briefing concerning the sporting achievement of ‘furious’ and independent learning; and
(ix) a frustrating meeting with the parents of ‘furious’.

More information from the BBC website:

Book of the Week - To Miss With Love - Episode 1
Written by Katharine Birbalsingh

A third of teachers leave within their first term on the job. This one wouldn't quit for all the world.

Meet Furious - sixteen, handsome and completely out of control. Nothing frightens him and no one can get through to him. Now meet Munchkin - a sweet kid with glasses who's an easy target and needs protecting. Then there's Seething and Deranged, two girls who are brimming with bad attitude; Fifty and Cent, who act like gangsters but are afraid of getting beaten up; and Stoic, a brilliant young mind struggling to survive.

In the midst of them all, there is a bodyguard and bouncer, a counsellor and confidante, a young woman whose job it is to motivate and inspire them and somehow keep them out of trouble: their teacher. None will make it through the year unscathed. Some may not even make it at all.

Spanning a year of shocking truths and hard-won victories, of fights and phone-thefts, teenage pregnancies and the dreaded OFSTED report, this is the remarkable diary of an inner-city school teacher. Revealing the extraordinary chaos, mismanagement and wrong-thinking that plague our education system, it is a funny, surprising and sometimes heartbreaking journey from the frontlines of the classroom to the heart of modern Britain.

Katharine Birbalsingh has been teaching in the state school system in London for over a decade. Her dream is for all schools to become interesting and exciting places of learning, where children feel safe, happy and free to aim to be the best that they can be.

Produced by Clive Brill/ A Pacificus Production for BBC Radio 4
Duration 15 minutes

NOTE: Katharine Birbalsingh is famous as the deputy headteacher who exposed the failings of the comprehensive school system at the Conservative Party conference last year (2010) and was subsequently forced to resign from her school. Katharine has been teaching in inner London for over a decade and plans to set up a Free School in south London to help serve underprivileged children. Her book, To Miss with Love, was launched on Thursday 3rd March. Her blog is here:

Monday, 7th March 2011 pt2

On Monday 28th February, I telephoned my agency because there was an error with my pay for two days on Thursday 10th and Friday 11th February. The person I wanted to speak to was not there. As I was working all day on Tuesday, I telephoned again on Wednesday 2nd March. They admitted the error was theirs and the missing pay would be added to my next pay slip. Today I received the next pay slip and the amount was still missing so I phoned again. They apologised and said they would look into the error. This is not the first time errors, always in favour of the agency, have occurred.  
Originally posted on Monday, 7th March 2011

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