Sunday 30 May 2010

Speechless with white mice

The last lesson came for my Yr 11. Can't say I was looking forward to it as I'd come to enjoy teaching this talented, sparky group, and I also enjoyed being with them, I liked their intelligent, amusing company. Well, the bell rang and I trudged into the classroom to be told in no uncertain terms to go away. Slightly miffed, I was about to retort, when I saw the grin on the face of the girl who'd told me to get lost. "We'll come and get you when we're ready," she added pushing me out of the classroom and into the English office.
Slightly bemused I waited, then the same girl came in and told me that they were now ready for me. I wandered back into the classroom and stopped dead. All the kids were standing in a row on the back desks holding a giant banner that read 'We love Straker.' S0me were holding large sheets of sugar paper as well, on which they'd written things like 'Welsh Dragon', 'We love you Miss'' "We love The Welsh Witch"...
I had to leave, back into the office.
I've taught a long time and I've had great classes, but this is the first time that a class has done this.
It was hard to know what to say, but practice came to the rescue... along with my white mice, which, as promised in earlier lessons, (White Mice for Effort) I distributed as a sort of fun recognition of their work over the last two years.
On the following evening, at the year 11 leavers' prom, one of my girls grabbed my arm and pulled me over to have a photograph taken with her, saying as she did so, "I've got to have a photo Miss, you're my hero. My role model..."
I'm not often rendered speechless.
I've often told my classes that my role model is Granny Weatherwax (Terry Pratchett's wonderful creation), that she's a superb role model for all women... Does this mean I'm now Granny Straker?
What a truly scary thought!!
The following day, one of my girls presented me with a photograph of the class with their banners and me, taken with a phone. It's a bit blurry and the resolution isn't brilliant, but the smiles and their affection is crystal clear and it holds pride of place on my book shelf.

Boys go camping...turmoil ensues.

It was coming up to the time when the yr 11s were leaving for study leave and me and my lot were having a discussion about Lord of the Flies. We were having an argument about the leadership qualities of Jack and Ralph, when in walked the Head. He was apparently checking up that the year 11s were being kept working until they left...
Anyway, I was in full flow, fielding arguments and firing questions at the students. The Head stopped and watched. The kids ignored him and carried on, too engrossed in their discussion to pay attention to what they clearly saw as an unnecessary intrusion into their interesting debate. Between leaping from desk to desk (literally!), urging the kids to voice their views, I also surreptitiously watched the Head. The expression on his face was a picture! Unable to stop myself, I yelled at him "Come on Sir, what do you think Golding's saying about leadership?" (Well, if you walk into my class in the middle of a lesson, you only have yourself to blame if you get dragged into the proceedings!) He paused, then looking very embarrassed, admitted that he'd never read the book...Fielding derisory comments from me about uneducated people (he does have a sense of humour!) he saved face by asking the class if they could sum up the book for him in three sentences... Honestly, has this man even tried to read Golding!? Anyway, some of the kids tried and managed very well. But what really got me was, as he left, he said he was truly impressed that the kids were being taught right up to the end ( er..what was supposed to be happening? It was a lesson!) and that they were clearly all totally involved and that the learning and cooperative atmosphere was phenomenal. Then he thanked me. At which point, the class applauded!
I was proud of my class. They were totally themselves during the visit and they really showed their mettle. I was also pleased that after some of the hassle of the past (see earlier blogs ) that the boss could see that I know what I'm doing. Nice feeling.
Oh yes, as a corollary to this, as the door closed after the Head, one of the boys said, "Hey Miss, Dom might have summed up Lord of the Flies in three sentences, I can do it in one:
Boys go camping...turmoil ensues."
Enough said.

Sunday 21 February 2010

Past Times...

I had an interesting comment on my previous entry (It's not rocket science) from an old student of mine. I remember S well. He was one of those lads in an early yr 11 of mine who totally convinced me that he would not achieve his potential - as he didn't believe in completing assignments...then proved me totally wrong by aceing the exams (the swine!) Actually I was delighted at how well he had done, it's nice and enlightening to get it wrong at times.
One of the things I remember about S, apart from his charm and his ability to talk his way out of any trouble (!) was the informal agreement we had that when he wanted to talk to me outside lessons, he either a) had to sit down while I stood, or, more often, b) found a staircase on which I stood and he spoke from ground level...The reason for this was that although I'm not short, S passed six foot before he was 16 and I didn't fancy spending the conversation looking up his nose! Yes, I remember S with great fondness and pride at his achievements.
But he's not the only one. S went the academic route and really succeeded, but then there was Ronnie. Ronnie hated school and was only hanging on by his fingernails because he wanted to go into the military and they wouldn't accept him if he was excluded, so we worked hard to keep him. The 'we' were myself, my lovely head of special needs dogs.
Following a conversation with Sarah, the head of special needs about my father in law's work with Pat dogs (dogs taken in to hospitals to work with patients) she agreed to let me bring in one of my golden retrievers to see if their presence would have a calming effect on students. It did. I will never forget the first time Ronnie met Gwen (my goldie). He dropped to the floor and within minutes the stroppy teen was stroking the soft golden hair and was calm and gentle. From then on, Ronnie's first words to me every time he came to see me were "Where's Gwen?" and woe betide me if I hadn't brought her!
He got into the military by the way and although his success was not academic, he did achieve the award for being the best recruit of his year...
Then there was R my other boy soldier, whose calm presence in the classroom even managed to quell the likes of the Chav Princess (see earlier blogs) or the lovely B, a girl from the year after S, whose writing skills took my breath away with their power...I long to see her in print - she'll do well.
And now there's A who became head boy, whose lack of confidence vanished with the realisation that he was actually very good and whose charm and gentleness will make him a superb doctor, when he completes his education. Then there's V and Al and the other R, students who I will remember along with S and B and all the others who touched my heart and kept my teaching alive and I hope relevant. It's not just the teacher who affects the student, but the student will also have an effect on the teacher, if that teacher is willing to listen.

Sunday 10 January 2010

It isn't rocket science

I had a moment of pride the other day. My husband is a keen photographer and attends a local club for fellow enthusiasts. Well, a few weeks ago, at one of these meetings, he noticed a young woman sitting alone and looking rather lost. So he went over to chat to her and found that she was with her grandfather and that she was a keen photographer herself. While revealing this information she also told my husband that she was a student at the school at which I teach. So naturally, he asked her who her English teacher was. When she told him it was Mrs S (Me!) he asked her what she thought of her teacher.( A bit dangerous I thought!)
She told him that she really liked my lessons and that all the students wanted to be in them. When he asked her why this was, she told him that Mrs S "talks to us." (He then told her who he was, which probably embarrassed her a bit and made her glad that she hadn't said anything horrible about me!)
When he told me this story, I was actually moved. It was lovely to hear such comments about my teaching style direct 'from the horse's mouth' so to speak. But it also puzzled me. Why is it so strange for teachers to 'talk' to their students? Surely teachers haven't lost sight of the fact that students are people too?
To answer my own question, yes, many teachers have. I've had horrified comments about my relaxed style of teaching and that I'm encouraging disrespect and misbehaviour. This is rubbish. I've found that students respond better if treated with respect. After all, how are we to earn our students' respect if we don't show them any? I've also found that if any student is rude to me, in most classes, they are chastised by their own classmates and told that they 'can't talk to Miss like that!'
Generally speaking, I've found that the majority of students respond well if treated like people...after all, that's what most of them are!
There's a fine line between being friendly and being a friend. A teacher should be one and definitely not the other, after all, no sane adult wants to 'hang out' with kids... I've found that being friendly with the students and talking to them pleasantly, encourages them to behave in the same manner to me, thus making discipline simple and my life easier.
With my Yr 11 class (the girl in the photography club is in that group) I talk to them, (actually, its more accurate to say that we talk) not only about the texts we are studying, but also about current affairs, new ideas about writers, films, psychology, fact, anything that will a) set the mood for my lesson, or b) make what I'm teaching more accessible and relevant to the students.
After all, this isn't rocket science. It's education.

Decisions. decisions!

It's been snowing heavily so school's closed as no one can actually get on to the site, or even anywhere near the place. so I've been catching up on 'stuff.'
The exam syllabuses (syllabi?) are changing, so we have decisions to make - as to what new GCSE syllabus to choose. So today I've been reading the different ones. We have to choose between either our current one or going on to the Welsh board.
The syllabuses are pretty similar, except in the finer detail. I actually like the Welsh board and there's more to this preference than the fact of my being Welsh (even though I admit that this could be a factor!) I think the Welsh one is more interesting and I feel that our students would benefit from it. But it's actually quite hard.
Now why is this a problem?
Well, a while ago, the time to choose a new A level syllabus arrived. On examining the various choices, I found that I liked the Welsh board syllabus. I thought it required the students to be independent learners and the breadth of the syllabus, I felt, would help equip them for University. When I gave my opinion to the department, I was overruled as it was decided that the Welsh syllabus was too hard. I questioned this and gave my argument about preparing the students for higher education and that surely we should stretch the students?
I was told that some students struggled with A levels and we should not make it too hard for them or they wouldn't choose to do Lit...I then said that perhaps the answer lay in being more strict with who we allowed to take the subject as students who chose EnglishLit as a 'fourth' subject because they couldn't think of anything else to do...I was told that my view was elitist! Apparently the argument that A levels should in the main, prepare students for University, and not just provide them with something to do while they decided what to do with themselves, is unacceptable. I've always felt that A levels is the ideal time to prepare students for the independent learning of Uni and not a time to continue with 'spoon feeding.' Apparently, I'm wrong. Perhaps they're right and this is an elitist view after all...
So, you can imagine what I think about choosing a new GCSE syllabus. I can see the same argument arising, because the Welsh syllabus again is harder. The thing is, I don't see this as a bad thing. We should be stretching our able students and any teacher worth his or her salt should be capable of making something potentially difficult, accessible to the others.
But with the emphasis that is placed on results and league tables, I can see the problem with this view. I and my colleagues want the best for our students, but as a department it is also important to get the best possible results, as schools are judged on them. So whatI see happening is the same as what happened when we chose the A level syllabus, we will go with the one that we feel will get us the best results. There is nothing intrinsically wrong in this, as after all, the results are what will allow the students to get to jobs or A levels, or whatever. It just seems rather strange that the results are now what matter not whether or not the students get a full and rounded education, one that will equip them not just for A levels or University, but for life. And in the long run, surely the result of a full and rounded education is students who can take exams in their stride...and get good results?