In school on strike day

I went into work today because:

1. I had a lot to do.

2. I didn't want to lose a day's pay.

3. I was uncertain about the impact of the strike.

The school was closed for pupils and only about half the staff came in.

I was impressed by the way in which teachers respected the decision to strike or not as a personal one. No-one was put under any pressure either way. I'm aware this certainly wasn't the case at all schools.

There was a generation split on the issue. Older staff were much more likely to strike. Younger staff like myself seem less riled because they don't perhaps have the same pension expectations. I also think the older staff are much more comfortable with the whole practice of going on strike.

The Headteacher was irritated. He had been very keen to keep the school open, particularly after he heard that all the nearby ones would be shut. A school isn't allowed to ask its staff whether they will be striking or not and that uncertainty eventually left him feeling he had no choice.

And the kids? They were delighted. Many informed me that they would be spending the day playing football, ice-skating or shopping. These consumers who seemunconcerned about being let down.

I don't want my bottom set to join the one million

I now know quite a bit about car bodywork apprenticeships.

There has been a shift in the thinking of my Year 11 bottom set. Suddenly, there is a lot of chatter about sixth form colleges and apprenticeships. The reality that they are leaving at the end of the year has finally dawned.

One student came to my office and asked if I could help him look up car bodywork apprenticeships on the internet. He had come to me because “I knew you would help me out.” It was a nice thing for me to hear but it's also worrying. No-one in the school had volunteered to help him and he couldn't think of anyone better to help than his English teacher. I did my best but I was hopelessly unqualified to offer advice.

His enthusiasm and seriousness surprised me. Put politely, he is not a model student. Yet this was his world and his ambitions. He just needed someone to give him a hand and no-one had done that.

In a society where over a million young people are unemployed, none of my students seem overly concerned. They all reckon that things will work out. Youthful optimism is refreshing but it will cut no ice in this grim recession. I fear for my bottom set. A combination of few qualifications and a complete naivety about the job market leaves them seriously disadvantaged.

Fighting the four letter words

A student swore in my class and I didn't bother to reprimand him.

I know why I made this slip. Students use foul language in a way that is completely routine. Many seem unaware of its ability to cause offense and some are surprised when called up for it; they don't think they've done anything wrong.

I can't really expect to alter the way they speak. These words are entrenched, they aren't going anywhere. All the same, I've decided to have a real crackdown on swearing. I like the idea of my classroom being an oasis of civility.

p.s. Staff probably can't get too high and mighty on bad language. Come to the staffroom for a real explosion of expletives.

Me, Jay Z and the idea of a hero

A Year 8 girl asked me whether I wished I was Jay Z. I considered briefly and answered no. I told her I liked being a teacher. She looked at me with disbelief.

“You're telling me you wouldn't wanna be rich and married to Beyonce?”

Part of me finds it depressing that so many students are obsessed with celebrities. It creates a view of success that is both unattainable and shallow.

I teach a unit on Heroes, both literary and real. We think about what qualities a hero can have. My students always seem surprised that there a people who have heroic qualities but aren't famous. It's a revelation to many because of the close connection they have between fame and success. They find it exciting that someone next door can be a hero.

We do inevitably end up discussing their celebrity favourites but this isn't a bad thing. For example, we can all agree that Jay Z does show a single-minded commitment that is pretty heroic. Maybe, just maybe the kids go away respecting him for reasons beyond his vast bank balance.

p.s. Many teachers are snobby about children reading gossip magazines. While I'd rather all my students were reading War and Peace, I reckon “Hello” and “OK” are better than nothing. They are engaging with language and I guess that's something.

Ill-gotten rewards

While checking the list of children who were going on the Year 7 Reward Trip to the Science Museum, I got a shock. Top of the list was one of my most troublesome students, a boy who constantly gets in fights.

How had he been judged as one of the top ten students in his year? I was informed that he had a 100% attendance record. While I'm aware of the need to combat truancy, this seems to reward quantity without taking note of the complete lack of quality.

How not to sack someone

A teaching assistant has spent two years supporting a severely autistic boy in all his lessons. One day the boy told her that she was getting sacked. He said that his mum had received a letter about it.

It transpired that the school had sent letters to all the parents of special needs children detailing the cuts being made to the learning support department. No-one had informed the department.

Remarkably, the Headteacher didn't apologise. Everyone is wise enough to know that the sackings aren't his fault; they are the result of decisions made far above. With a touch of courtesy he could, however, make the process less painful and more dignified.

The mystery of the missing tooth

“Check your students' mouths. Try to see if they are missing a tooth. Make sure you are subtle. ”

A trail of blood in the corridors had led to a lone tooth. On this afternoon, we are not just teachers but amateur detectives. It is rather hard to be subtle about looking inside someone's mouth. I did my best and thought I might have found the tooth's owner when I found a streak of red across a desk. It turned out to be lipstick. The toothless child was never found.

Broken Windows Theory

It is now impossible to enter the school without seeing cracked glass. One of the entrance doors had its glass pane cracked by a hurled stone. No-one bothered fixing it. Over the last month, the other three entrances have all suffered the same fate. It's a very literal example of broken windows theory.

When those in charge don't care about the school buildings, students are encouraged to see vandalism as harmless fun. The school's appearance never gets discussed at meetings because it is seen as separate to the pressing behavioural and academic problems. Yet when students turn up at a dilapidated environment, it is instantly a struggle to convince them that school matters.

I'm not asking for an expensive rebuild; just the recognition amongst those in charge that appearances count. A lick of paint and a couple of new panes of glass would do nicely.