I Am A Weapon of Mass Instruction
Chapter 16: Period 3: Year 7 Graphics - 11:00-12:00pm
There are a multitude of reasons to get into teaching, besides my own method of falling into it.
Love of knowledge, love of learning, a desire to help young people, wanting to give something back to the community. All good reasons. Once you’re past that though, you have a more important decision to make: Primary or Secondary. Ask any of my colleagues whether they’d consider teaching in a Primary school, and you’d probably get the same ‘Are you insane?’ stare thrown right back at you. I’m sure you’d get the same response if you asked a Primary teacher if they wanted to teach Secondary school kids. There was no getting around it, you were either one or the other and everyone was happy with that. There were a few who sat on the fence and were ‘Middle Years’ teachers, but even they generally stayed in one of the sectors.
Clearly, I was a Secondary teacher, and had never even considered being anything else. I enjoyed working with the older students and loved seeing the work they produced, and that was something I could not have had if I’d gone the Primary route. I had worked in a Primary School as part of my training - everyone does, to give you a rounded experience and maybe to give you the chance to switch if you found you loved the other end of the age spectrum. I scraped by with the bare minimum of time I could get away with in a Primary school, and it didn’t change how I felt about my own subject or the younger students. I think the incident that cemented my career path was just how patient I had to be with the students when they didn’t understand, and having to go over where 60° was on a protractor again and again and again almost broke me.
At this point I should make it clear that I take my hat off to every single Primary teacher out there - they work incredibly hard, and from what everyone says, have a ton more paperwork to do than we ever did (and we had a lot of it ourselves), and in terms of preparation for their lessons, all we did in comparison was turn up and tell the kids to work. No, there is no sense of one age sector being better than the other as Primary teachers generally shuddered in fear at the very thought of having to teach stroppy teenagers.
One of the great advantages of being a Secondary teacher was only having to deal with your students for an hour or so at a time. If you were in a bad mood, or feeling like death warmed up, or the students just weren’t co-operating, you just had to hang in there for an hour and then they’d be off to their next class. Imagine feeling like death warmed up and having the same class all day. Now make that class a little bit annoying. Now make them 9 years old. No thank you, I’m already mentally walking away. Again, Primary teachers, I take my hat off to you.
I say all this as a little introduction to the next class: the Year 7s. This was the closest I’d get to Primary school in terms of age and development, and while I didn’t fear them as such, certain Year 7 classes did manage to fill me with a sense of impending dread and doom, and had me looking at the clock right from the start of the lesson.
These were supposed to be our shiny, new, keen students. The students eager to soak up learning and to achieve, not tainted by the cynicism of teenagehood and rampaging hormones. For a few weeks they were too, generally after they’d lost their fear of moving school and right before that mysterious transformation into Secondary school students where they discovered the unfettered joy of talking at every possible moment during their waking hours.
For some reason, a lot of this current group of Year 7s were very, very keen to get to their next lessons on time - not a bad thing in itself - and you often saw small herds of them during break
time lining up outside a classroom while there was still a good 15 minutes left of break. They
always seemed a bit surprised if I was on duty and made them go outside again, as if the notion
of freedom was a bit of a foreign one. Picture them: uniforms all a bit too big as their parents had bought their blazers a couple of sizes too big so they’d grow into them, their bags comically large and in direct contrast to some of the microscopically small bags some of the Year 11s had with them (which only contained either an energy drink or some make up depending on the gender of the carrier). It was enough to create a small warm glow in the heart of any adult, except if you were a teacher, then all you saw was a child-shaped egg pod for the teenaged demon held within.
As it had been break time before their lesson, a few of my next class had been hovering around my door, kind of like pigeons around someone eating a very flaky sausage roll. So when the second bell went to signal the end of break and the start of the lesson, most of them were already there. The Year 7s were the only year group where I regularly raised the volume of my voice as it always pays to advertise and to get the point across nice and clearly. It would usually be at this point in proceedings, where the bell had gone but classes were still sorting themselves out (far too slowly for my liking) that I’d bellow out,
“This isn’t what I’d call a neat, quiet line!” A couple of the wiser, more experienced students in my own class would have put their fingers in their ears as a precaution when they saw me taking a deep breath in, but the resulting shout would always make at least a couple of the students jump. One shout usually did the trick, at least for the Year 7s, and that was all it took for a reputation to be reinforced.
If it was deserved, I’d praise my group for being in the superior formation, then going on to criticise the Food group for being an utter shambles, which is usually when Lorraine would come out of the office to join in telling them off.
“Right, my lot - in you go and up the front.” I’d say with barely a glare on my face or a growl in my voice, and in they’d troop.
The Year 7s were the only groups where I generally called out the names on the registers. I was rubbish at learning names, and it took me a good while to learn a whole group’s, so with the 7s, where I only had them for six weeks, I generally didn’t bother and just let it happen naturally. Of course, you learned the names of the naughty kids very quickly indeed as you had to use them so often, but the good, quiet students could often remain anonymous in my classes for quite some time.
For me, I was doing quite well with this group though, and while I still called out names on the register, I could actually put faces to those names once I’d moved onto the lesson proper. For these guys, this meant a recap of what we’d been doing so far - this looked good if anyone happened to walk in while I was doing it as I could claim that I was using a spiral curriculum and reinforcing their prior learning, as well as using it as a mini-revision session. Yes, I was doing those things, but it was also just a simple reminder of what we’d done and a useful way of using up a few minutes.
As this particular group contained some quite switched on and keen students, I had to employ a strategy I used now and again, mostly with the younger year groups. I expected all of the students to participate in the little review sessions at the start of class, but as we all know, if you had a keen member in the group, you could just let them do all the work and you could zone out for a while. I was enough of a professional to spot this when it was happening though, and to nip it in the bud.
Sometimes you let students answer questions because it did their confidence good whether they were right or not, but in other situations, it was better to give one student a break and open it out to the rest of the group. At times like these, I told the keen student that they were doing far too much of the work, and that from now on, they could only answer three questions per lesson. They’d usually greet this news with a look of consternation as they wanted to show off, but - as I intended all along - it made them think about what they really wanted to answer, and when they wanted to show off. It became a little game, and I’d ask them if they really wanted to peak so early on in a lesson; it was always quite fun to see the genuine look of indecision on their faces as they fought the desire to answer a question but to also leave them a chance answer another later on
While we’re on the subject of answering questions, I’m reminded of a time when we still did regular PSHE (Personal Social Health Education) sessions, and in this session, the local Fire Department had come in to do some work with our tutor team.
We’d just watched a serious video on fire and arson, and the fireman began asking my group questions about what we’d just seen. A nanosecond after asking his first question, one of my group, Reece, thrust his hand skyward and immediately began the traditional attention-getting ritual.
“Ooh, ooh! Me. Ask me. Ooh!” accompanied by wriggling in his seat, attempts to get his hand even higher, and even starting to stand up to get it higher.
As his was the only hand in the class up, these efforts were somewhat in vain. The fireman was obviously a pro at these sessions, and completely ignored Reece’s efforts, scanning the rest of the group for anyone else who had an answer.
“Ooh! Ooh! Pleeeaase! Me!”
Sensing that he might actually explode out of sheer excitement, the fireman caved to pressure and indicated that Reece would give his answer, which should have been along the lines of fires were bad, being safe was good.
“What’s it’s like going really fast with the sirens going?” he instead blurted out, then waited in hopes of amazing speed-fuelled stories to come. That he got a telling off from me and was totally ignored by the fireman wasn’t really the response he wanted, but he was one of those semi-oblivious students you came across now and then who were always really cheerful, despite a telling off.
Recap done and most of the students warmed up, it was on to the main body of the lesson. I was changing things up a bit this year and had moved away from my usual projects. What I wanted the students to learn was some historical context of graphics and how to present information in Publisher, the software we used the most as they got into the older year groups. Being able to use Publisher was the main reason for the current project, as if I could get them proficient earlier, we could move a bit quicker when I saw them again the following year and then when they chose their exam courses.
The format for this was easy: I’d give a mini-lecture on a point in graphic history, accompanied by a slide projected onto the board, and then they’d have to go and copy that slide. They’d have to copy information accurately and quickly, find an appropriate image or two, and then if they had time, get it looking good too. It was basically graphics boot camp. I was happy if they got the information down as it showed that they were being quick, and even happier if they made their work look good as it meant that they were making design decisions. It was the kind of lesson that I was really fond of doing: it looked really easy and straightforward, but was actually quite tricky for the students and there were all sorts of levels within it that I could point out to my Head of Department, Senior Manager or any inspector if I needed to.
It’s a good example of a modern school lesson in that it was so far from ‘copy that into your books’ because you needed the information; what was actually produced was only of secondary consideration to the act of doing and gaining skills.
It was also a project that I’d done before and got ridiculously into. I could happily whitter on at quite some length and depth on just a single slide for at least half a lesson if given the opportunity, and I had to keep at the forefront of my mind that these were only Year 7s and to keep it as brief as possible. If we were quick, we could get through four slides per lesson, giving the students a nice little rhythm of listening and doing in little chunks.
While the Year 7s work away, I can perhaps tell you some of the more interesting tales associated with them.
As I’ve already said, the Year 7s were grouped together in the REAL curriculum, so their REAL teacher saw a lot of them, while they only came out of their corridor for the specialist subjects that couldn’t be delivered in their rooms, subjects like Design & Technology, PE and languages. This was as close as a Secondary teacher got to Primary, and the REAL team saw their Year 7s for about 60% of their teaching time, and their Year 8s for the rest of the time, unless they had a 6th Form class on top of that. So you’d think that they’d know their students inside out and that there’d be nothing hidden from them. You’d be wrong. I get to present to you, dear reader, The Mystery of the Phantom Shitter.
Yes, you read correctly.
One particular year, one student in Year 7 - at least, it was presumed to be a Year 7, but such was the Phantom’s cunningness that no one ever revealed his, or indeed her, identity - decided to leave little ‘presents’ in the REAL corridor. I say presents, but what I really mean is that they were lumps of shit. Hence the name, Phantom Shitter. The ‘phantom’ part comes from the fact that we never found out who it was who was making these little deposits, and to this day, the Phantom’s activities remain a somewhat bizarre but anonymous part of our school’s urban legends. It ranks up there with the alleged time when an out of control student was tasered by the police (not true) to the time when another student ran around the halls trying to find his alleged rival in something or other to beat him up, and got so worked up he ripped off his shirt through sheer manliness and frustration (true).
The Phantom’s actions were truly bizarre, and despite much reluctant thought put into the problem, no one could figure out who was doing it or how. You need to bear in mind that our school - like most schools these days I’d imagine - was comprehensively covered by a network of CCTV cameras, and if you wanted to, you could track the movements of a student from one end of the school to the other with no trouble at all.
It was a very handy tool, and was often used as evidence when we were investigating one incident or another, and needed to show a student who was lying through their teeth that we did indeed know exactly what they’d done. But the camera system came up blank when it came to the Phantom. Literally nothing was on the screen when the footage was scoured. The ‘presents’, neatly wrapped in toilet paper, continued to be found and although the range of suspects was narrowed down a little, nothing could be proved.
Now, I know I’m playing this incident for its comedic value, but it really was a serious problem, above and beyond that there were lumps of poo randomly left around a busy school. It was a sign of a serious problem in whichever student was doing it, at best an aberrant behaviour and at worst a cry for help. It was bad enough that it was happening, and could be explained as poor control and an unfortunate lack of access to a toilet, but there were some suggestions that each incident was planned and prepared in advance of each ‘drop’. It was also of a sufficiently embarrassing nature that as a teacher you couldn't just come out with ‘So, who’s dropping lumps of poo around the school?’ as that wouldn’t get us anywhere.
When I mentioned what was happening to a friend who happened to be a Primary Headteacher
in a school near where I lived, he said that this wasn’t an unheard of problem, and was apparently referred to as ‘digging’, but that it was continuing on into Secondary school was strange. Even stranger was that this was all happening during the middle of the year when things should have calmed down a bit for the Year 7s and they should be comfortable with their surroundings.
Consistent with his - or her - mysterious nature, the actions of the Phantom stopped as abruptly
as they had started, and left us none the wiser to why it had happened or who was the perpetrator. There were a couple prime suspects, but nothing could be proved, and was one of those times when something very, very strange happened at school that we couldn’t get to the bottom of. Excuse the poor choice of words there
Moving swiftly on… or perhaps not. Whilst we’re firmly in toilet humour territory, I might as well get them all out in one go, as it were.
Courtesy of my Primary Headteacher friend, he once told me of a certain student he had who was prone to getting into rather a lot of fights. Nothing too unusual about that really, as many a student has had many a fight. I too, dear reader, had a fight in Year 7 of my own school career, although to call it a fight is a bit generous. I just got the crap beaten out of me by someone who didn’t like the look of me. I don’t remember putting up much effort when it came to fighting back, which is a bit strange as my brother used to regularly kick the crap out of me at home, so you would have thought I’d be able to work up a creditable defence after training like that. Sadly not.
Unfortunately for the lad who decided to have a go, my brother was one of the school psychos and had no trouble getting into conversations of the physical kind. Funnily enough, I was never touched again during my time at school, whether due to my now incredibly wimpy reputation, or through knowledge that my brother would descend like a ton of bricks on anyone who dared try. Didn’t stop him from continuing to beat me up at home, but if it’s between family, it must be okay.
Some fights at school you can ignore (even though you probably shouldn’t) after a telling off directed at the two very grumpy boys who were involved. I’ve noticed that when fights between
the lads took place, there was a lot of grumpy staring done afterwards, but they were mates again in very short order. The trick was to get them separated in the first place so that the sulking could begin, which sometimes meant putting yourself between two strapping lads going for it hammer and tongs.
Strangely, I never felt much fear in these situations, despite being of a somewhat short stature myself (some friends have described it as hobbit-like), and if I had to I just waded in there and hauled them apart. Being a highly trained professional, fights were a chance for me to use my Restraint Techniques. I may be stretching the truth a little here. Yes, I had been trained in restraint techniques, but I’d only been to one of the sessions, I’d been late and I hadn’t paid all that much attention either. I could remember a grand total of one restraint technique, and I was able to use that technique during one fight, so it was obviously time well spent. Basically you hugged the person you wanted to restrain to you in a side-hug, pinning their arms to their sides and enabling you to lead them away.
So it was during one fight that I was able to separate the combatants and restrain one of them (hug him) and lead him away. On the whole our lads came in two sizes: short and skinny and tall and skinny. Luckily for me, I’d ended up with the shorter of the two ‘fighters’ (the fight itself had barely gotten going and was still at the ‘Hold me back!’ stage where the initiator of the fight really did want to be held back because he didn’t want to have a fight), and I led him away from the action and out into the playground, where we sat on a bench and I tried to get to the bottom of everything.
“He’s a twat.” came the succinct summary of the situation.
“Right, okay. Is there anything more to it? There are quite a few twats at school, but that doesn’t mean we can go around punching them.” was my wholly professional reply. I’ve found that in situations like these, it’s better to get the kids talking, and if it meant being a bit colloquial, then so be it. What followed was a story I wasn’t really interested in, nor did I pay much attention to, as it boiled down to the lads both being idiots and them both being as bad as each other.
What was important was that I could feel him relaxing, and I was fairly confident that the incident was over. There might be some grumpy stares thrown about, but that was just a normal day as far as our students were concerned.
“Can I stop hugging you now? You’re not going to go mental again are you?” I asked him, tongue firmly in cheek. With a chuckle, he said that he was okay. Ever the consumate professional, I then did what any sane teacher with too much to do would have done: pass the buck. I took my would-be fighter up to Student Services so they could sort out what needed sorting out while I got back
to what was left of my break.
In situations like this it was better to ignore what had happened, give the lads a rap on the knuckles and move on - going the official route was too much hassle and would have just wasted everyone’s time. However, there was a small positive outcome from this incident. A colleague passed on via e-mail a comment from my fighter that she thought would cheer me up. Apparently when discussing the ‘fight’ in class, she had overheard him talking about how it had been broken up and had heard him say,
“Mr Austin’s well alright!” high praise indeed from one of our students.
Other fights are more serious though, and you can’t do anything but take the official route. Funnily enough, I always found that fights between the girls were always much more vicious than those involving the boys, and in comparison, the boys’ fights looked half-hearted at best. One incident I remember was when a fight was going on literally right outside my classroom.
It was between a lad and one of the ladies, and the lady in question was beating the seven hells out of him. Say what you want about our kids, but they did have a certain code of honour to them, and most of the lads simply wouldn’t have hit a girl no matter what was going on, so the fight was very much one-sided. Due to the ferocity of the fight, any question of restraint training went out the window, and I simply grabbed the girl by the scruff of her uniform and frog-marched her down the corridor to the room I where knew my Head of Department was working.
Perhaps understandably she didn’t like this very much, but there wasn’t very much she could do - everything happened so fast that she was separated and isolated in another room before she realised what was going on. After a very quick briefing to my boss, I returned to the very shell-shocked lad who had been directed into my room. We mustn’t have been teaching at the time as I remember the rooms being empty. After establishing the reason for what had been going on - as usual, nothing very interesting or fight-worthy - he assured me that he could get to the class he should have been in without further assistance. This meant that I could go and check on the other half of the fight, but I was greeted with a screeched,
“Get him out of here! I don’t want to even look at him!!” when I entered the room, so I beat a
While breaking up a fight often had no consequences at all, rarely they have positive outcomes like when my standing went up in the eyes of the student I’d taken out into the playground, sometimes it ended up like this where the student involved really wasn't happy at all, and held a grudge afterwards for your involvement, which I really had no choice in at all as it was part of my job to break up fights if they happened. According to teaching urban legend, never the most reliable of things, your duty was done if you asked/told the fighters to stop fighting three times. If they carried on, you’d done your best and you could go and get more help. This seemed to be in too similar a category as the ‘rule’ at university where if your lecturer was more than 10 minutes late you were free to leave, and I never gave it more than a passing nod.
Anyway, back to our Primary School fighter. This student employed a rather novel fighting technique. A few of our lads were very into mixed martial arts of the Ultimate Fighting kind, and
it turned out that there was a significant minority of them who were quite good boxers, but this student used something a bit more original.
He’d just pee on his opponent at the time.
According to my friend, he was also known to take on multiple challengers, pausing to take a drink between bouts, then declaring,
“Who’s next?” Well, if a strategy works…
One of the big draws of being a Secondary school teacher instead of a Primary one was the infrequency of having to deal with ‘accidents’ that involved various body fluids. I only ever had one student throw up in a lesson, which was possibly an indication that I was doing something right I suppose, and I never had to deal with any other kind of accident. If a particularly annoying student repeatedly asked to go to the toilet during a lesson, and I would say no each time, they would often say,
“But Sir! I’m bursting!” A lot of the time I suspected some of them just wanted to have a quick break, so I’d trot out my standard reply to this statement,
“That’s why the chairs are made of plastic and I have lino on the floors.” with a deadpan expression on my face, then wait the two heartbeats for the student to get the implication. Not that I ever let things go that far of course, as I’d always give in eventually, and if they were really that desperate, our students were independent enough that they’d just walk out of a room if they needed to. But it was worth it to see the look of horror fly across their faces at the thought of disaster being allowed to happen.
There was only one time where disaster did happen, and even more unfortunately, it took place while we were on a trip to Paris. Now this isn’t just a chance to mock a student who had an unfortunate accident, but rather a chance to show just how loyal our students could be to each other, and the lengths mates would go for each other.
The trip to Paris was an annual event for the Year 7s, and they’d spend a couple of days at Disneyland Paris, and have a day in the city itself as well. Like most school trips, it was mostly fuelled by sugar and excitement on the part of the kids, and exhaustion and barely-controlled tempers on the part of the staff. If any of you think that a trip to Disneyland Paris with 60 Year 7s sounds like a good jolly, let me disabuse you of the notion - the staff were regularly up until 1am sitting in the corridor of the hotel to redirect little heads popping out of their rooms back to bed. Despite this, it was something of an honour to be asked to go on the trip as it meant that you were trusted to be enough of a disciplinarian to keep the kids under control, plus it meant that you were out of school for most of a week, which was always a good thing. I’ve been asked to go on the Disney Trip three times, and it certainly didn't hurt that I was good friends with the member of staff who organised the trip. Towards the end of my time in teaching, it was less a consideration of how you’d manage the students and more how expensive your cover costs were - if your timetable was light and therefore cheap to cover, you were on the trip, if not, it would just be a normal week in school.
The trip itself was fairly straightforward, as you kept a count on the students at the check-in times and kept them more or less herded together when we were moving from place to place. As most of the time we were in the park and in a contained area, it wasn’t so bad. The day we were in Paris wasn’t too bad either as we spent a lot of the time on the bus, up the Eiffel Tower or in a small area of Monmatre. Monmatre was always the favourite part for the staff, as there is a rather splendid cafe on the corner near Sacré Cœur where you could indulge in a chocolate-filled crêpe. Being a teacher is very hard sometimes.
It was while we were at Sacré Cœur one year that this little incident took place. As is often the case, the kids had been stuffing their faces with sweets and guzzling anything fizzy for most of the day, and so it was that more than one pit stop was necessary. The main one was at the Eiffel Tower as the toilets were free there, so most of them were okay when we got to Monmatre. One of our charges, however, was not, and was approaching the danger point of Having To Go.
There are a couple of toilets where we were, but you had to pay a couple of Euros to get into them, and by this point of the week, funds were running a bit low for our kids, as they had already spent the majority of their money on necessities like more sweets and more fizzy drinks. But off trotted the student who was getting increasingly desperate, followed a little more sedately by his mate - he was part of one of those all-too frequent co-dependent male pairings you saw at school, and the two of them were generally seen together.
They returned a few minutes later, both of them looking a bit sheepish, one of them looking a lot less twitchy but also a lot more wet. Before any of the staff could even say a word, one of them chipped in with,
“I pushed him in a puddle and he fell over.” to which everyone heaved a sigh of relief and then proceeded to tell them both off for mucking about.
It wasn’t until later that night when the staff caught up with each other when the kids were allegedly in bed that we found out the whole story. Unfortunately, the student who needed the toilet had been a bit more desperate than he had made out, and getting the money sorted in time had proved a bit of a challenge. Rather than do the sensible thing and just go where he could - this was Paris after all - the inevitable happened.
Rather than be paralysed with horror at such a thing, which would have been a perfectly appropriate response, the two friends came up with a Plan. By deliberately falling into a puddle, the damage was somewhat erased but also effectively disguised, and he had a legitimate excuse for having wet trousers. Both of the lads were somewhat clumsy, and were regularly to be seen pushing and shoving each other about as boys will, so no one even thought to question their story. That neither of them said a thing was admirable, but not as admirable as the mate who had witnessed the accident and then come up with and supported the Plan all so that his mate wouldn’t be embarrassed.
It was only a confession to one of the members of staff once we’d gotten back to the hotel that the truth had come out. Thankfully, the visit to Monmatre was the last of the day, so he’d only had to sit in wet trousers on the coach trip back to the park. I will always hold up the ‘Fell In A Puddle’ excuse as an example of how loyal mates could be to each other, all the more impressive as they were in Year 7 and thought on their feet very quickly indeed.
Funnily enough, it was the same two students who had pointblank refused to go up the Eiffel Tower earlier in the day - for all their bravado when we were in school, it was easy to forget that they were really quite young, and had probably never been away without their parents before. Everyone else wanted to go up though, so someone had to stay with them to look after them. As I’d been up the tower before, I dutifully offered to look after them. We had about an hour and a half to kill, so I took the lads for a bit of a stroll around the park at the base of the tower, going as far as the side streets that bordered the park. As it was lunchtime and at the very least I was hungry, I looked for and quickly found a small cafe where I could buy a sandwich. Ever magnanimous, I offered to buy the boys lunch as well, as they were both on the skinny side and could do with some feeding up.
Once they’d made their choices, after I’d had to point out what everything was, I ordered for us in the very limited, basic French that I could remember from my GCSE French days. How I’d managed to scrape a C in the subject I will never know, as I don’t remember working very hard, and in my oral exam had actually just said some words in English but with a French accent if I was feeling a bit stuck. Luckily for the three of us, I did remember enough to buy us lunch, not without some considerable flair, I thought. I was practically a native.
Upon hearing me speak French, it was as if I had grown another head the way that the lads looked at me. They were stunned that I could trot out that I wanted a ham and cheese roll and two hot dogs in another language, and for at least a few minutes I was pretty much elevated to godlike status, although on reflection, that may be because they were getting hot dogs the size of their arms for free rather than being impressed with my linguistic skills.
While we’re on the subject of Paris and food, I’m reminded of another trip I was lucky to go on, this time with the 6th Formers on an Art and Photography trip. This was a much quicker trip, and if I remember rightly, we were only away for one night before heading back to Kent. Because of this, you'd think that everyone would be travelling light, but you'd be wrong. Quite a few of the kids had hefty bags with them, while on or two of them had actual suitcases that appeared to be full with them.
My good chum Sandra was on the trip too, and I was paired with her when we did our round of checks in the evening to make sure that all the students were okay and ready for bed. As was her style, Sandra read a story to each room of students as a final good night. Rather than think this childish and unnecessary, to a man, all of the students loved it, proving that most of us are just big kids at heart.
It was as some of the students were happily hopping into bed that Sandra and I caught sight of the contents of one of the suitcases scattered around the room. Rather than it being full of clothes as you’d expect, it was full of food! I’m talking multiple packets of biscuits, crisps, sweets, all the usual stuff, but also actual tins of food too, the most incongruous perhaps being several tins of rice pudding nestled among the other goodies.
“What on earth is all that?” asked an incredulous Sandra. Considering that she had been teaching for a long time before I even met her, it says something that even she was surprised.
“Well, you can’t trust foreign food, can you?” said the student to whom the cache belonged.
“But we’re only away for a day, and there's a McDonalds opposite the hotel.” pointed out Sandra.
I was still struck dumb at the sight of all the food, and the sheer improbableness of it.
“It’s foreign though, Miss.” said the student who clearly had one or two trust issues.
“Oh good grief.” was all that Sandra could mutter to that, and we beat a hasty retreat. It just goes to show that cross-Channel distrust is alive and well.
The Year 7s were doing well - they were more or less keeping up with the mini-tasks in the lesson, and it was heartening to see that quite a few of them were even getting to the point where they could start thinking about how their work was looking. It was usually at this stage of their work where I began to complain loudly and frequently that their work was looking hideous as they were apt to just more or less randomly click any button they could just to see what happened.
The results were usually multi-coloured messes that looked as if a rainbow had thrown up on their screens, and it took a fair amount of work for me to get them to understand the concept of ‘less is more’. Some of them took to it like ducks to water, but there was always a few who couldn't resist the rainbow gradient button, and who thought that because they had the option of using lots of fonts, they should use lots of fonts. It goes without saying that they were wrong of course, and I would point this out to them as often as I could.
Thankfully, this group was very manageable and was getting on with the work quite well, so I was only making token grumpy protests at the odd horrible font chosen for a title here and there. So far, as was often the case, Terrible Tuesday was turning out to be not so terrible after all, and was really quite doable. Not that it wasn’t any less exhausting, but it certainly wasn’t the nightmare that it was often built up to be. I was even prepared to admit that the year 7s weren’t as annoying as they could be either, so all in all I had very little to complain about.
As was usual, I was doing my best to conveniently forget to set them homework. I had an uneasy relationship with homework, setting it when it really needed to be be set and if the students needed more time on a piece of work or needed to complete something independently. I wasn't a fan of setting it for the sake of setting it though, and would ‘warn’ the students in Year 7 that I had a terrible memory and would sometimes ‘forget’ to set homework. By ‘sometimes’ I meant as often as I could get away with it.
However, once we had to start putting our homework on the school network so that it could be viewed by the parents (and the Head, who very closely monitored who was putting homework up and who wasn’t), I had very little choice in the matter. Not that I set any more homework for the students than I previously had, but it certainly looked as if I did. One of my Head of Departments had a similar view on homework as myself, and apparently set the same homework for all his classes for an entire term, just to see if anyone noticed - they didn't.
Keeping an eye on the clock as the students worked on their last slide of the lesson, I started to gather up tools, materials and paper for my next class, the Year 10s. As ever, I was thankful that I had a large room that was also supplied with computers as it meant that I could get ready for a class and set everything out like this if the students were working on a digital project.
I’d learned very quickly that if something could be fiddled with my questing little fingers, it would be fiddled with. In very short order, everything was ready for the 10s - there's a distinct advantage to being organised to an almost OCD level when being a teacher. With the room set up, and the lesson almost over - you'd think that I planned these things - I let the students know that it was time to get ready to go, not without reminding them that we had done something dodgy in the course of the lesson.
“What haven't we done that's really bad?” I asked them.
“Saved our work!” quite a few of them chorused out, correctly, with a few smug ones pointing out that they had indeed saved their work as they went along.
“Make sure that you save your work and you know where you're saving it! Once you’ve done that you can get logged off and get ready to go.” I told them, giving them their cue to grab their coats and bags.
Apart from the inevitable one student who was painfully slow, everyone was ready to go in relatively short order, and being Year 7s, they were even quite quiet in doing it. There was even time to do a little review of the lesson and what we’d covered, and miracle of miracles, a lot of them seemed to have been paying attention! As the bell went, I dismissed the students, and prepared myself for the next onslaught.
Fatigue Lv: 4 - still quite fresh in the scheme of things
Preparation Lv: 7 - tools, materials and paper set out for the 10s
Fear & Dread Lv: 57 - the potential for disaster was quite high for the next lesson
Fake Anger Lv: 9 - the Year 7s hadn't annoyed me as much as they usually did
Real Anger Lv: 0.75 - almost half the day was done, and things seemed to be going well
People who have annoyed me: 11 - bad font and colour choice was unforgivable
Time remaining in the day: 4 hours, 50 minutes