Saturday, September 3, 2011

First Of The Year

Yr 8 History, E5

My first class for the year and there’s only been about a week of school. Just as I start them off decorating the front cover of their workbooks, a teacher comes in with a class set of books. She tells them their regular teacher will be away for a while. With my permission, she then goes through the syllabus and introduces today’s lesson, which is on The Dark Ages. She leaves, and I hand out the books and sit back as they work quietly.

They’re a typical start of the year junior class: prepared to knuckle down and behave themselves, eager to learn. This is, of course, as good as it ever gets in a school. It can only go downhill from here.

With time on my hands I write out my first list of the year:

10 Literary Themed Pop Songs (and their references)

- Lucy’s Eyes, The Clouds (Wordsworth)
- End of The Night, The Doors (William Blake)
- Calypso, Suzanne Vega (Homer)
- Wuthering Heights, Kate Bush (Emily Bronte)
- The Sensual World, Kate Bush (James Joyce)
- Summertime In England, Van Morrison (Coleridge, Blake, Joyce, Wordsworth, etc)
- Don’t Stand So Close To Me, The Police (a very brief mention of Nabokov!)
- Hey Jack Kerouac, 10,000 Maniacs (Kerouac, Ginsberg, William Burroughs)
- You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go, Bob Dylan (Rimbaud, Verlaine)
- Dover Beach, The Bangles (TS Eliot)

I came up with this because I seem to have encountered some of these songs lately. 

Meanwhile, a couple of boys in the class are niggling each other. After a warning, I move one of them to the front. He complies meekly. See - discipline’s already getting out of hand!

'Silent' Reading Session

Yr 10 English, T1

A Friday arvo silent reading session. Kids are sitting against the walls reading Mad magazine; some boys are lying on the floor looking at car mags; some kids are actually sitting in their chairs reading actual books.

Rather than involving silence, wide reading in this class seems to involve a lot of talking and social activity – especially chatting about the contents of various magazines doing the rounds. I have to check, particularly with the boys, that they’re not looking at porn.

Despite being reminded yesterday to bring a book (I ought to know – it was me who reminded them) a few students forget to do so. I send them off to the library. Most come back eventually with various reading matter. One bookless boy gives me a note, which reads “Rami cannot borrow. He has lost his library card and has books overdue.”

I wander around the room checking out what they’re reading. I tell the group of boys lying on the floor that they look very comfortable, and would they like a cup of tea? They readily agree. One wag says he’d like some biscuits to go with it.

Some books/magazines/authors the kids are reading:

Mad magazine
Looking For Alibrandi
A Buffy novel (hey, a kid with good taste!)
Dr Harry Cooper (the tv veterinarian) book
Christopher Pike book
Paul Jennings book

Hogan's Heroes

Yr 7 German, C7

Not much to say here, really. A bunch of eager little year sevens. I hadn’t found any work left for them before I came in with them. It was looking bleak. What do I do with them? What do I know about German? Luckily, a teacher comes in just as I settle them down and gives me a pink sheet with the teacher’s planned activity written on it. It says: “Make a word search using the days of the week and months”. That’s it, that’s their work for today. Oh well.

I read out the instructions and they start off happily enough – with the exception of one lad, who yells “boring”. I yell it back to him, which seems to get a laugh from the class and puts him in his place. I call for volunteers to write the words on the board (in German), and a half dozen hands go up enthusiastically. This is one of those emergency teacher’s tricks I’ve learned over the years: make use of their knowledge when your own is lacking.

I let three students – all girls – come up and write the words on the board. One of them writes the days of the week, the other two share writing the months. I’ve told the second girl she can write up six of the months, but she writes up seven, the greedy thing. It’s incredible how much they love any opportunity to write on the board. The German spelling turns out to be rather tricky – is frietag spelled ie or ei? etc – but after some consultation they get it right.

As I do the rounds around the room one student asks me if I’m a German teacher. I tell her no, I only know a few swear words and some words I picked up from watching Hogan’s Heroes. She wants to know some German swear words, but I decline.

Book Of Excuses

Yr 8, PE, Room 10

My period five and six is a double lesson with year eight PE Tennis. The teacher has opted to have me take them for theory. I take them into a computer room and tell them they’re to write a page about their favourite sports and hobbies on Word or Powerpoint, including a picture. It’s a simple enough assignment, but I struggle to get even a couple of sentences out of some of them for the entire two periods – though most do bend to the task eventually.

By the time sixth period comes around there’s really not much for them to do. The teacher has included a backup exercise allowing for the students to ‘research an Australian tennis player of your own choice on the internet and write about them’, but most are content to just read and write emails. A couple of boys do an ‘English’ assignment that requires them to do detailed drawings of old two-seater airplanes using Paint. Later, one of the boys shows me the assignment, including his beautifully detailed airplane – turns out it’s legit!

My main problem in this class is a couple of girls, Renee and Loran, who keep wanting to leave the class. First they want to go to the toilet, then for a drink, and then Renee insists she has to see her sister at the period five break. I joke with them that they probably have a book of excuses that they draw on for inspiration. This seems to inspire them into action, and they spend a few minutes coming up with said book. They show it to me. It says ‘Book of Excuses’ on the cover, and the detailed contents include, among others, the following excuses for leaving the room:

- Need 4 sex
- Need lez kiss
- Horny
- Mother
- See boyfriend

It’s quite amusing. I tell them it’s good, but needs work, pointing out that ‘mother’ doesn’t really mean much – as in, “Can I go out?/Why?/Mother” – Huh? They laugh and go off, to perfect their little project. Later, they ask if they can go to the library to photocopy their masterpiece. I let them go just to get rid of them. Near the end of the class they come back with a nicely photocopied and stapled manuscript of excuses.

Whitlow's Fantasy And Science Fiction Books

Yr 11 Info Tech, A6

I don’t have much in the way of info for this class. Teacher didn’t leave instructions and the only Info Tech teacher I found said they should be working on their ‘outcomes’, whatever they are. I go into the class, tell them “Outcomes, do it”, and they all jump in front of their computer screens. Hey presto!

It turns out their outcome is to design a website or brochure for a fictional shop called Whitlow’s Fantasy and Science Fiction Books. Sounds like fun. One student, Tim, has decided his shop owner will probably have a mullet, so he’s searching the net for a mulleted guy to go on his internet site. He picks a picture of the grottiest-looking mulleted loser he can find.

One student, Reno, who seems a bit more lethargic or distracted than usual, gets up to go to the printer; but he wobbles as he walks, like he’s on drugs or something. I mention on the sly he looks a bit drugged out, but he assures me he’s ‘clean’.

I hate it when students’ work takes them to the internet. They almost always use it to muck around. Apart from remonstrating some students for mucking around on the net, there’s not much for me to do.

Thursday, September 1, 2011


Yr 8 English, room 31

Boy, this is dodgy! Teacher’s notes are “Work on next sheet in English Rules 2”. Only trouble is, as the students saunter in in dribs and drabs, slouching around, it’s apparent none of them have bothered to bring said textbook - and their lockers are far away. I end up with nine students – the rest have either left the room without permission or are on the year eight camp. To make things worse, this class is in one of the rattiest-looking portables in the school, and it’s situated at an extreme edge of the school, as though it’s been quarantined.

Most of the students sit up the back. There’s one girl, Melanie, who sits alone up front. She’s busy drawing all over the table with yellow highlighter. When I ask her to clean it up she replies quietly, venomously, that she can’t. Her attitude is sarcastic, hostile; I sense enormous angst due to the fact that she’s a loner in the class. I figure it’s better to mostly leave her alone. I have to speak to her again later when I find her cutting up bits of the table with her scissors, but she eventually settles down to watching the antics of the other students.

Two boys, Joel and Kevin, are holding court in the corner of the room, regaling anyone who listens – and they talk so loudly no one has a choice – about possible careers they’d like to have: these include astronaut, pizza deliverer and porno star.

A girl tells me that another girl would have been in class but she had been handcuffed by some boy to a pole and couldn’t get away.

Two girls get a bit antsy and wander around the room. One of them asks me why I’m not getting them to do any work or at least something to pass the time. Exasperated, I reply I’m not there to entertain them, and that they had work to do but no one could be bothered to bring it; so I’m just sitting this one out.

Normally in this situation I’d hand out some word finds or puzzles or something, but I didn’t bring any. I know it’s silly – I’m an English teacher, why don’t I just teach them some English? – but you really have to know it’s hopeless giving students almost any work that’s not from their actual teacher. You have to be a real charismatic raconteur-cum-entrepreneur to pull it off, and that’s not me.

The class comes near to an end - and guess what? – that girl who’s supposedly been handcuffed to a pole comes in. And she has one end of a pair of handcuffs on her arm! Unbelievable.

Most of the students head out the door well before the bell. I could yell and rant and rave for them to stay, but I can’t be bothered, and I wonder how affective it’d be anyway. The few that obediently remain include, strangely enough, Melanie, the sulky loner. When I see it’s getting too much for them and they’re champing at the bit, I release them a couple of minutes before the bell. Gives me just enough time to clean the room up. When the bell finally goes, I walk out decorously, like nothing much has happened - just a normal day at this strange, strange country school.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Media Class

Yr 11 Media, R8/24

Oh my god, it’s Media Studies, a subject I’m actually competent and qualified to teach! Usually it’s stuff like Woodwork, Maths or PE.

The students have a choice of three activities: storyboard, cd covers and news report. Most students want to do the cd covers since it requires using the computers, but the room they’re in doesn’t have them. Typical. There was a room swap due to exams in their usual room, which has the computers.

The teacher’s notes include the following, to do with the news report activity:

“They may wish to look around the school for suitable scenes as the whole lot must be filmed in the school.”

Oh yeah, they’ll love that I think – an opportunity to wander around the school, bludging in the guise of ‘research’. I don’t mention it.

I go around the room speaking to each group (there’s three of them, from only eleven students) helping them with their storyboards and news reports. The basic activity seems sound – they are to present two different versions of the same news report, one looking at an issue in a positive light, the other in a negative light.

One group of girls are doing their news report on a fashion show. I’m thinking it’s not a very hard-hitting issue to cover, but typical of young girls, and maybe there’s an opportunity to cover it in terms of body image and stereotype. But the girls aren’t interested – they hardly know what I’m talking about; they see the issue as just being about good clothes and bad clothes. 

The second period is pretty much more of the same, but we’re now in Room 24 and I let some of the more responsible students use the computers. Some of the boys have sneaked out their Diskmans on the way down and are listening to what sounds like techno crap. I let them - it seems to keep them happy. It’s much better than having a class of bored, restless students. We ride out the rest of the period relatively unscathed.