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Well suddenly it’s all kicking off. In the space of a single playground duty I caught twins terrorizing a slug (that’s how the Krays started out), a child wail that he’d been the victim of an unwanted ‘head massage’ and overheard the delightful playground ditty ‘My boyfriend pushed me down the stairs’.

It was all kicking off elsewhere too. To a backdrop of a heavy workload, and a class with the attention span of a traumatized goldfish, I met a student who will be working with me for 9 weeks. I’d already been forewarned by a former school and my Head Teacher that she had a tendency to ‘stalk’. I then started getting odd, desperate emails from her and requests for a ‘formal meeting’. Despite the burdensome amount of work I had on, I agreed to it.

An hour and a half later I realised my mistake. I was being interviewed/interrogated by an almost pathologically enthusiastic student. She was like an annoying second cousin that you tolerate because

a)      You see them once in a blue moon.

b)      You know they’re lonely.

Two weeks in, and just as a butterfly can flap its wings and cause an earthquake on the other side of the planet, this student can just be approaching my classroom in the morning and piss me off.

As I sat having my first appraisal, the realisation it could be time to step off the teaching treadmill dawned on me. Is it me I wondered or the school? The following notice in the staffroom gave me some hope it was the latter ‘for those of you who knew Christine she will not be returning as she has resigned and will be staying in Afghanistan’. Civil War vs. working at our school? No contest apparently.

Idly sitting in the staff meeting and playing my brand new game of ‘Brown nose bingo!’ my thoughts turned to the specifics of my decision. I started first by doing the maths: If a psychotic child in my class is having his 1 hour or day allocation increased by half an hour, how long will it be before he can f**k up my entire day?

Then I thought about others in the class . If it was a relationship, you’d sit them down and tell them it just wasn’t working out. From the child with the most unhygienic of habits (things I never thought I’d hear myself say in teaching #1 ‘Stop eating your own flesh!’) to the child who claims to have a racist duck and keeps finding pubes in our library books (I know, I’m suspect number one here but you have my assurances I’m entirely innocent).

To finish the day we had parents evening. I wore my best suit and tie which said ‘Don’t hit me’ and thankfully it worked (only because I managed to duck in time). I knew that the week had taken its toll as I passed a parent a note. I’d written on it some recommended websites and meant to say “Hope it helps” but instead said “Hope it clears up”.

As I left the school I saw one child in my class kicking at some ladybirds on a wall. I felt this was a time to use the short, sharp shock. “You know you could be killing mother ladybirds that are carrying babies” I explained. He continued to kick at them. I gripped my hair in frustration. Then stopped, smiled, patted him on the head and sent him on his way. Oh, did I forget to mention the spread of nits had reached me?

The Man With No Shadow

There comes a time in every man’s life when you need to take stock and realise you’re having a meeting with two adults about which colour pen to use for marking. It didn’t end there. The pious, irritant of a learning mentor was describing how a non-English speaking member of the class couldn’t access the learning. “Maybe I should take a crash course in speaking Farsi?” I wanted to suggest. She reminds me of the people who will hysterically scream “Won’t somebody please think of the children?” and yet would never be a class teacher as it looks too much like hard work.

For the second year in a row, I’m saddled with the class nobody wanted. The school called a ‘just popping our head around the door, you won’t even know we’re there honest, informal observation” and boy, did my class take the opportunity to show their truest colours. There was none of the ‘lets make an effort for the Head Teacher’ they ripped up the copy book and collectively shat on it.

One child in particular (imagine the Tasmanian devil having overdosed on hallucinogenics and then stubbed his toe), excelled. The Head Teacher ended up chaperoning him around the classroom, to my internal and eternal amusement. My instructions at the start of term were simply to ‘keep him in the class’ and to my credit he hasn’t yet been able to work out the code to open the fire exit door.

As the dust settled and the initially concerned faces turned to more sympathetic ones, I began to think the school was perhaps not as bad as I first thought. Ok, so I have to permanently wear a radio mic for the deaf child, which means if I forgot to turn it off he hears my break time piss and I am the only male teacher, but as I stood in assembly watching the women from the local Dance Academy I reminded myself of why I chose this profession in the first place.

There is also the promise of stories such as the two kids in my class who are the same age and yet one is the aunt the other (a colleague had to put this into diagrammatic form for me and I still didn’t get it) and the parent who asked me if there was a dead child in my class.

During a lesson a neighbouring teacher had wandered past with a model skeleton. The confusion to a young child is clear. The confusion to a parent is less so. It’s always with hindsight that you think of the best responses “oh so you didn’t get the letter asking your child to attend our live class autopsy?” or “Dead? oh I thought he was just really quiet”.

The day ended with pox or nits or both rampaging through the school. “Have you noticed a rash?” asked the Head Teacher. I declared I hadn’t the last time I checked and thanked her for raising it now rather than in the interview. It also ended with another holier than thou setting my teeth on edge.

There comes a time in every man’s life when you need to take stock and realise that an adult is seriously suggesting you help a lazy bastard child in your class by “planning, building and carrying out a short obstacle course using old cushions as stepping-stones for example, you could together commando crawl under chairs, climb in and out of cupboard boxes, crawl through a tunnel, jump and heavily march on the spot!”.

I preferred option B which was to “give the child an occasional moving break”. I’m only to happy to do this. I just need enough space for the run up.

There was some teaching too

“Oh there you are Tim, hope you’re settling in alright. I know it’s not easy starting at a new school but we do our best to make sure you achieve a good work/life balance, did someone show you where the gents are?

Just a few housekeeping rules while I’ve got you, it’s just to make sure we’re all singing from the same song sheet and happy bunnies at the end of the day. First off, the learning intention for each lesson must be typed up, printed out, cut up, then glued into each book. This must be done at the beginning and end of each day and you’re not to ask a TA to do this, it’s your responsibility. The date must be in red, the learning objective below that in green, using the SassonCRInfant font of 12.

Also, milk must be handed out to the children, who are having milk, at the end of the morning lessons. There is a list of which children have semi or skimmed, other children should be given water in the classroom (there’s no outside water fountain, what are we like?) and fruit.

Now did I mention that the children need to change into their outdoor shoes before going to break and back into their indoor shoes before coming back into the classroom? It’s to keep the carpet clean, health and safety doesn’t take a day off here! Not on my watch!

Now the children need group targets on the wall, each child’s name needs to be laminated and placed alongside their group, they’ll need individual targets in their books, either on green or blue card, green for Literacy, blue for Numeracy, this should be printed on labels and once again be in the SassoonCRInfant font of 12. These should be changed regularly to reflect when he or she have met their target. Rather than annotate on them, we’d prefer it if you would print out a fresh label with the new target using the SassonCRInfant font of 12.

Lastly there is dishwasher duty, you’ll need to make sure the kitchen is kept clean and spotless after morning and afternoon breaks. The staff room should be immaculate and the interior of each cupboard should match the photos on the exterior of each cupboard.

Did I say lastly? What am I like? We expect displays to be changed weekly, this includes both Literacy and Numeracy walls and Literacy and Numeracy working walls.

Store cupboards will be checked fortnightly to make sure they are tidy and accessible.

Your desk must be tidy at the end of each day. The tops of any units or cupboards to be clutter free.

We have 4, count ’em 4 reward systems. One involves adding the childrens’ names to pegs (you know which font type we prefer) and moving them up and down a seven tiered reward system, another involves giving house points to different teams, one other involves adding stars to merit books, the child receives a certificate when they make a ‘pyramid of stars’, there’s also star of the week but that’s self-explanatory.

Do not use a yellow or green pen to dot a child’s assessed work, rather peel off a sticker of the designated colour. Simples! You’ll find stickers in your tidy, accessible and clutter free store cupboard.

There are reading record books, guided reading books, home jotters, home learning books and reading diaries.

Oh yes and all plans should be of A4 length for each day, using the SassoonCRInfant font of 12.

So, any questions? No?

Any plans for the weekend? No?”

There was some teaching too…

We will leave them now…

To the kid who only ever wore shoes that were two sizes too big, I did my best.

To the kid who just wanted his dad to come home, I did my best.

To the teacher of 30 years crestfallen after being moved to a lesser role, I did my best.

To the neglected child who flinched as I gave her face paint, I did my best.

I did my best, I hope, for all of you.

I now need to stop for a while to do my best all over again.

To all teachers, teaching assistants and readers of the blog, make the most of your holidays x

Time to blow

“For when the One Great Scorer comes
to write against your name,
He marks – not that you won or lost –
But how you played the Game.”

An admirable sentiment but it means nothing to the average 7-year-old. They may be undernourished (I’ve nicknamed my class ‘Rickets United’) but winning is everything to them, even if it means pushing kids off the podium or telling the fat kid to feign an injury.

One child had kindly bought me a tie as an end of term present and I’d promise to wear it, forgetting half of the day would be spent in the searing heat. I looked like an idiot but a smart idiot which I guess is an oxymoron. Speaking of morons, the sun hats we’d made for the class to counteract the heat looked like dunce caps.

Eventually I tied it round my head and resembled an emaciated Rambo. The class also dispensed with their dunce caps and it all ended in a water fight and when the water ran out, a fight.

Our School policy dictates men cannot wear sandals, too much ‘foot’age perhaps? Sandals with socks are, of course, career suicide so I was left with two options, either;

1)      Claim to have webbed feet and wear flippers.
2)      Pretend to have two left feet and slip on some flip flips.

The curriculum has to take a back seat in weather like this (although remember to leave the curriculum in the shade with a good supply of water) and I was grateful to take any opportunity to get them outside. Despite my teaching them how to both suppress and cover a yawn, I was getting sick of the sight of their tonsils.

It wasn’t just the heat though that was causing their random acts of vapidity, one child wrote a lovely letter telling me how great I was but prefaced it with “I was so bored on Sunday I thought of you…”

Compliments slide off you when you’re a teacher. Children are terrible judges of character. They adore Mr Bonaparte (who accidentally let slip twice to me that his last lesson was considered “outstanding”) and built a shrine out of egg cartons and toilet rolls for the volunteer who worked with us this week, just because she’d bought them all ice cream.

The parents are equally prone to misunderstanding. One child piped up with “my parents said my report was good!” “Your parents clearly didn’t understand it” I thought, regretting not having chosen simpler words than ‘petulant’ and ‘idle’.

The slightest of welcome breezes blew our wow word post-it stickers into the neighbouring builder’s yard. They kindly returned them but felt both “apoplectic” and “disgruntled”.

“We are giving you a very challenging class, but feel they need a man”. Sometimes I resent having testes and translated this means your new class are mental. As if to prove it, upon being introduced to them, one asked “Am I male, female or both?”

It’s already an unsettling experience meeting the new class but I had a teaching assistant scurrying around me attaching a microphone to my shirt. “Are we going live?” I asked, expecting it to be a reality TV show (‘I’ve got the shitty end of the stick, get me out of here’?). In fact, it was to help the deaf child sat at the front.

I have to be mindful of turning the thing off between lessons as he can hear every word. I’m already imagining the following scene:

Me: Mrs Smith I know your son says he thought he heard me swearing but actually I was just practicing my Prussian

Another child is only spending an hour a day at the school. His crime? Punching the Head in the head. So with my guard up and working behind a solid jab I read with him. He misunderstood ‘the blue tit has light yellow underparts’ and asked if “tits are found in light yellow underpants?”. “Only if you’re elderly” I explained. He also corrected the spelling of ‘but’. Unfortunately in this particular context it was correct and only my impromptu performance of “I like big butts” by Sir Mix-A-Lot, could prove this.

I have three days left to teach, or as we now call it ‘babysit’, before the end of term. I’m looking forward to hearing the final bell.

Raw Materials

Paul Weller once sang “I first felt a fist”.  The child, who sits closest to me, first felt my foot. It was an accident but I still felt awful. “I hope that was just the side of his head” I thought in the split seconds that followed. “Nope, bridge of the nose” as the tears confirmed otherwise. The child is specifically sat there due to his meandering concentration. If some good came of this, it’s that he’s now a lot more alert.

He’s not quite a Ninja yet and neither is the woman in the Burqa, despite the autistic child’s insistent she was. I was hoping she would at least hop into character and break a whiteboard in two with her bare hands.

I haven’t yet told my class I am leaving at the end of term; there are enough examples of erratic and emotional behaviour to suggest this is the right choice. Whoever taught my class “pinch, punch first of the month” needs a slap and a kick. Five days into the month and there’s no sign of a let up.

A paper tie I proudly wore, met its maker after a sudden stiff breeze. The original maker, a girl in my class, was so bereft she locked herself in the toilet. I was sent to negotiate. I ended up climbing on to the toilet next door. It was at this point I noticed she hadn’t flushed. Her English is limited I ended up having to use mime. Thankfully, the sign language for ‘pull the chain!’ is the same as ‘you need to take a serious look at your diet’.

A while later and now on playground duty, one of my class was bent double. “You need to deal with this” assured another teacher “it’s a man thing”. It appeared he’d been hurt ‘where it hurts a fella’. Again, the child had scant English.  Mime once again proved to be enough. I was concerned I might have to draw a diagram.

A lesson of still life drawing was interrupted by the cries of a child who’d decided that the sun kept still enough to draw. This was the same child that used a torch to interrogate others in a Science lesson so I put it down to karmic retribution.

A new child arrived just two weeks shy of the finish line. Oddly enough she claimed to be a year older than she should be. I also discovered her name sounded like Cootchie-Coo. If a name can dictate your personality I imagine her one day using words like ‘oodles’. Let’s hope names are not determining factors, especially for the child in the year below us called Dipshit.

The end to the day was life affirming. The autistic child whose hand I hold in our walks through school, gave it a squeeze, looked up at me and smiled. This was a major breakthrough. Not even the child that whispered the most depressing thing ever, as we buried our contribution to the School’s time capsule, could disrupt my mood.

Two weeks left to the end of term and there is refreshingly bright sunlight at the end of the tunnel. Next week’s list given to me by school management includes:

  • Change the children’s levels (the usual bullshit exercise to meet targets)
  • Correct the grammar of a colleague’s end of term reports who is not so good with the bad English (and is a teacher?)
  • Climb inside your own makeshift den and eat dairylea for the rest of the term (okay, they didn’t say this, but to quote Jessie Jackson ‘nobody has the right to limit your dreams’)

All I have

Cometh the hour, cometh the last month before the endeth of termeth. There was a perceptible change in atmosphere and behaviour, as if the ‘supermoon’ was making everyone batshit crazy. One child was heaving tears as I arrived to collect the class. “What’s wrong?” I asked. “Everyone keeps asking me what’s wrong” she sobbed. We never did get to the bottom of that one.

Nobody was immune to the supermoon. A teaching assistant howled at me and waved her arms around like that bloke from Channel 4 racing. The builders next door upped the number of colourful metaphors they are teaching my class and a parent turned up to a meeting about the welfare of his child wearing a t-shirt with ‘I’m up, I’m dressed, what more do you want?’.

A letter pertaining to be from ‘Grandma’ was on my desk. “Dear Sir” it read “A million, billion kisses from your Sexy Grandma”.  We didn’t find the culprit and my Grandmother steadfastly refused to admit it was her, even after 14 hours of police questioning. Another letter was left by a supply teacher following a PE Lesson ‘some children were tired after releasing energy and needed time to recover, others found the activity over stimulating and needed support to regain control’…

We overcame the moderation (the principle moderator was someone who had originally employed me to the teaching pool, so any mistakes I made were ultimately her fault) and an observation (a bemused guest observer drifted from a desk where a child could not count beyond 8 to another doing simultaneous fractions with equations. He gave me enough of a sympathetic look to know that I could have taken a dump on my desk and still be given a pass).

We also went for a day trip to the farm. The emphasis was on the washing of hands. This is second nature to me; the autistic child in my class often scratches his arse with his hand, before giving it to me to hold. I was more concerned about the devil child to the extent that I’d mentioned in the risk assessment form that he might ‘punch a goat’ or ‘choke a chicken’.

Although the livestock escaped any of his happy slaps, some of the children did not. At the end of day the father came to pick the devil child up but allow me to digress…when I was a kid I did a work placement at a vets. I was once asked to hold a dog while the vet stuck something up its arse. Why do I mention this? Well, the face the dog pulled was now the same face I was seeing before me.

As the father tore into him, the child naturally began to cry. “Don’t you dare cry in front of me!” the father roared. The child stopped. The desperate expression on that Yorkshire Terrier’s face was now mirrored in the child’s. Straining to hold back the tears, he used a technique he’d probably used a thousand times before.  It worked. He didn’t cry.

Sometimes something happens which just makes everything fall into place. The tantrums, throwing of chairs, punching of random children, well it doesn’t take an expert to know why this was happening.

I have one month to finish my hardest year of teaching, yeah I know I’ve only taught for two, but allow me to dye cress…yeah it’s a weird hobby but it’s all I have.