Strange things happen

And strangest of all, someone has actaully given me a teaching  job! Check out http://fromblackberrypath.wordpress.com/

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I’ll be back

I don’t know quite how it happened, but I seem to have ended up with the classic nuclear family, 2.2 children (which we’ve rounded up to 3), though we are a bit stuck on the .4 of a dog. We did have 2 rabbits, which may well equate to .4 of a dog, but these got eaten by one of the local cats, of which there are a surfeit. Maybe we should round up the .4 for a dog to 1 whole one as well, which might also help rectify the cat surplus. And then there’s me as the bread winner, and the mother of my children looks after the children. And we live in a suburban terraced house. How very 1950’s.

 

I didn’t intend life to be this way, when I was younger I kind of pictured myself in a Californian commune getting in contact with my inner man, or, failing that, other peoples inner women, but that’s not how life has panned out. So, what of it? Well, the thing is, this life is financially completely incompatible with being a new teacher. Of all the other new teachers I know, the vast majority are pretty much straight out of college, and of those that are a bit older and have children, only one is the sole bread winner, and she lives a long way from London. Of the others, both parents work, and invariably the other half earns the lions share.

 

So I have done the only sensible thing, taken a job where I can earn several times what I would as a teacher and look to improve the bank balance until life as a teacher is sustainable, and hopefully this is an ambition realisable in the relatively near term. I didn’t spend the year doing training and earning nothing for no reason.

 

However, life back in the city is not without its amusements, though I don’t think this is the place to share them (I can feel a new blog coming on), so until the time I start looking for teaching jobs (and I fear doing something else for a while will make this already hard task a lot, lot tougher), I am signing off. Although I hate to end by mis-quoting Arnie (or, at least him in Terminator), I will be back.

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10 Reasons not to be a teacher

So, I’m in my last PGCE placement trying, and failing, to get a job as a teacher. As I have a family to support, not working is not an option (and don’t you just hate that). So, staring bleak reality in the face, here are my top 10 reasons to not be a teacher, at least not immediately.

 

1. Lots of the teachers that I meet (I would say all of them but it would be more accurate to say all of them that I can remember) consider me nuts to consider being a teacher when I can earn considerably more doing what I was doing in the city. And if the hours that I’m putting in on this teaching practice are in any way indicative of what will be needed as an actual teacher then the hours aren’t that different.

 

2. I can earn a lot more in the city for the same kind of hours.

 

3. The way of getting a job as a teacher is fundamentally screwed. You go for the interview and have to say almost immediately if you want it. Of course, for me, this is just hearsay as I’ve not actually been offered a job yet, but, if you need to work, there is huge pressure to take the first job you get offered irrespective of how crap it is. It seems to be that the system is designed to ensure you end up in an entirely inappropriate job.

 

4. The teachers that I’m in class with are actually pretty glad to have another adult around to talk to. I’m struggling to think of a good reason why that wouldn’t happen to me.

 

5. All teachers are not the angels I had then down as, though most of the nicest people I’ve met are teachers. There are some out there that are bitter, some that are twisted by thwarted ambition, and some that genuinely dislike the job, or even children. And these are the people that you may need to work with.

 

6. Schools have hierarchies, and politics. Do not become a teacher because you are sick of the office politics, its right there in schools as well, though not to the extent that you’ll in the city.

 

7. I can’t count to 10!

 

However, no matter what I write here, I do really want to be a teacher. And I’ve invested in it, 9 months of my life, and I’ve got the student loan to prove it. But it is all a bit academic if I can’t get a job. With a family, if you haven’t got that, or the guarantee of one, the only reasonable thing is to look elsewhere as well. So I’m going to do that as well, and hopefully that will mean that I can look for a teaching job at my leisure and not feel forced in taking the first one that comes along.

 

And that’s more than a bit of shame, and it’s a real waste for the country. What’s the point in training teachers if they don’t feel they can wait to get a job at the end of if it? But, truth is, I thought that I’d be gutted by having to wait for a bit, and I’m not. I am actually looking forward to working with adults again, and seeing if life in the city looks any different after 9 months doing teacher training.

 

But if I never actually teach, that would depress me. As much as I may fight it, once the snake has it in your coils there is no guarantee of escape.

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Back to School

As if to confirm every stereotype everyone ever held about Indians, my Dad (the Indian half of my parentage) used to have a small paper shop. Not for long, it wasn’t particularly successful, but it was his own, and my dad had always wanted to own his own business.

 

Round about this time of year he would get a cardboard display container out with little bags of cheap stationary in them, rulers, pencils, you know the sort of thing. And he would put an advert in the local rag “Back to School”, with the name of his shop. Sounds reasonable, until you opened the paper, and there were adverts in there from the really big shops, Woolworths (well, they were really big then) etc, with their “Back to School” deals on clothes and even cheaper (in every sense of the word) sets of stationary.

 

The size of the adverts seemed to be in direct proportion to the size of the business, so these big chain stores would have adverts that were either the whole page, or at least dominated it, and my dads advert was a tiny little advert next to it. You had to know it was there and look for it, or you’d never see it. I’ve no idea if it worked, I get the impression that any money spent on this advert was wasted, and we certainly never had money to burn, but I may be wrong, maybe there were people out there who did want to shop in little shops owned and run by one person.

 

And I find myself wandering if I’m doing exactly the same thing as my dad, which is the fate that I guess every man in the world is either trying to emulate or avoid, depending on, well, if you’re a bloke you’ll know what. In my case, it’s very much the latter, but that’s not really important.

 

You see, I have this thing about the use of ICT in teaching in primary school, especially the teaching of English (if we are allowed to call it that) to boys. From my, albeit very limited experience, I’ve found a couple of things. Firstly, a lot children, and in particular boys, are totally turned off from English, and this screws them royally in every subject. Second, ICT just isn’t used very much at all in teaching of different subjects, and I mean really used in teaching it, where the children get to use it on mass, not just the teacher using the interactive whiteboard, or for one or two children using it to play an English game.

 

Now I’m going to be seriously controversial. When I think about it, I guess the reason that ICT isn’t used that widely or well, is that most primary school teachers are female and at least in their thirties, and ICT just wasn’t their bag when they were younger, and still isn’t. As we all know, most primary school teachers are chicks, and women dominate everything to do with teaching in primary schools, apart, apparently, from conferences etc to do with ICT.

 

And this is a shame, ‘cos boys love playing with computers, and if you can tap into this then you can really start to get them involved in learning English. And the best way to use ICT in the teaching of English? Well, for me, and given how you are reading this I guess its no surprise, every child of the age of 6 and above gets their own blog! Now, this is not exactly new or controversial, search for blog in this (its just over 3MB), or check out “The big pICTure”(and this is only instance, there is more research on this than you can shake a pointing device at).

 

So this is my mission, to introduce ICT in general, and blogs in particular, into any primary school that will listen, and I guess the one I work in (hopefully, pretty, pretty please let me work in one) would be a good start. But this comes back to the whole “Back to School” thing. As per my about bit, I am a student teacher, I am the most insignificant little thing on the side of the school. I imagine Douglas Adams would have a good way of describing just how insignificant I am, though I think “mostly harmless” simultaneously overstates my importance and is fundamentally misleading. And, as an NQT, this wont change. And, lets face it, I’m going to have a sackload of bigger things to worry about, like not losing my job in the first 5 minutes, should I be fortunate enough to actually get one.

 

But, like my dad, this insignificant thing is still going to try, and I’m going to start here. If you have children of primary school age, I encourage you to get them to blog, writing about anything. What they have read is a really good, but my daughter writes her own fairy stories, with pictures. She says she likes it because “it looks like you haven’t made any mistakes” – imagine taking away that fear of failure from writing! And get them to play around with the font, the different styles and sizes, my daughter loves it, and boys in school go ape. And get relatives and friends from across the country, and indeed the world, to read it and leave encouraging comments on it. My daughter’s blog has become an extended family activity. And if you do this, please let me know, I’d love to hear.

 

One day I may share what happened to my dad’s shop, but not today, it may put you off.

 

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Old wives tales

I have it from the highest authority that I am destined to be the perfect teacher and that every school in England, nay the world, should be crawling on their knees to my door begging me to work in their school. That authority is my mum, and are you calling her a liar?

To be fair, she is getting on a bit, and is prone to old wives tales, but let me tell you, some of those old wives are pretty sharp. I count my mum amongst them, and on this point at least, I whole-heartedly agree with her. In terms of academic qualification, I reckon I’m comfortably in the top half of trainee teachers. Without being disrespectful, it appears to me that it’s not too tough to get a degree nowadays, I’m not saying you just have to turn up, but when I see some of the folks on the course struggle with the primary level maths it does make me wander. I do realise that maths isn’t everyone’s bag, but really.

And then there is my work experience. I’ve been working in IT for 20 years, and I’m pretty comfortable around it (or should that be IT?). There is quite a lot of research out there that says using IT in a not too half-brained way can have a significant effect on learning. Of course, there is also a lot of stuff around to say that it doesn’t make much difference at all, but I’m going with the first lot, so my experience should really count for something. Not that I haven’t got a lot to learn about its use in primary schools, but judging by some of the questions teachers ask me, I’m way ahead of the game on this point.

And then there are my physical characteristics, I’m a bloke who is not entirely white. I don’t know what it’s like elsewhere in the country, but around my neck of South-West London, as a primary school teacher that would definitely mark me out as an endangered species.

On top of this, I would like to think that I can actually teach, and my first block experience would indicate this.

So, job done. I shouldn’t even have to apply for jobs, logically they should come looking for me. And if I really do have to go through that whole interview thing, then, hell, I’ll just knock’em dead with good looks, easy going manner, and razor-sharp intellect. But Houston, we have a problem. The couple of jobs I’ve applied for so far I haven’t even got an interview. The first one I got some very good feedback on, it was a points scoring thing and there were a couple of areas I hadn’t covered off, so I didn’t get through. The second one was explicitly looking for someone with great IT skills, but again, I got a thanks but no thanks without even getting to see them face to face.

I don’t know how much of this is denial (denial is not a river in Africa) and how much truth there is in it, but I’d like to think that its not anything intrinsic about me, but there is a game to be played and I’m not fully aware of the rules. When you think about it, the whole recruitment thing for teachers is quite perfunctory (– adjective – performed merely as a routine duty; hasty and superficial), you write a bunch of stuff in an application, if you’re very lucky they get to see you teach an unfamiliar class for 20 minutes, and then a 20 minute interview. In the city, you’d go through at least 6 interviews of up to 2 hours each.

Whatever the reason, I really need to sort this out quickly. I have a family I need to support, and I have to work. If it’s not as a teacher, it needs to be something else, and I’m not in a position to be able to rely on supply teaching. So I have a fear that it may all be for nowt. Unless I can get an application form together that allows me to get in front of an interview panel, and can turn that into an actual job, I may need to go back to the city. And once I‘ve done that, it is far from clear whether I will be able to go back into teaching, I don’t know how schools would react to an NQT not working in teaching, and I don’t know how keen my family would be on taking that cut in income again.

So, I need to get an application form together that get me interviews, and I need to turn that into a job. Failure is not an option.

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Be careful what you wish for

So far, I have been worrying about relatively small inconsequential things, like finishing the course and finding a job, when what I really should have been worrying about is what happens if (that is a really big if, and, as we all know, size matters) I do manage both of these.

I’ve started going around schools with a view to applying to them. Of course, its all a façade. I don’t particularly want to look around the school, and sure as a sure thing in suresville, the deputy head doesn’t want to spend 2 days of her life showing a bunch of people around her school, the vast majority of which won’t get close to interview. But that’s the game, she has to make a point of showing us around, and we have to make a point of going around and asking intelligent questions (note to self, do ask intelligent questions, or, failing that, ask questions. Standing there surreptitiously staring at the receptionist isn’t going to cut it).

Of course, I’m not the only one, there are a number of other people being shown around at the same time, and is pretty easy to put my finger on what it is that marks me out as different – I’m the only bloke. I’m the only male applicant in a list of applicants to get into a primary school where all the staff are female. When you think about it like that, it’s pretty stark.

Not that I didn’t know this, I’ve know it from the start, this is the life I choose. The TES (that’s Times Educational Supplement for any readers not yet inducted into the educational TLA’s) did paint a rather bleak picture this week. No other males = no talking about footy. Instead, you need to gen up on the calorific value of every food stuff on the planet in order to have any chance of being included on a conversation. Again, I know this, I’ve been on my block practice, I’ve sat in staffrooms where the conversation has all been about THAT dress. I guess I was just in denial, and maybe that’s a country I should re-visit.

But there are some rather delicate questions that I’d like to raise that I’m not sure are acceptable in interviews. I’d like to think that I was pro tearing down taboos and demystifying human bodily functions, but can I really sit in an interview and ask if all the staff have synchronised their periods? As far as I am aware it’s a pretty well established physiological phenomenon, and it is actually quite import. Imagine going to environment where once a month the other 50 people want to rip your head off. Maybe this is the real reason the government is trying to encourage more men into education. As far as I’m aware, and according to the TES, the research is quite inconclusive of this point, there’s no particularly good reason for encouraging more men to be teachers. But if the prospect of this phenomenon scares me, imagine what it is going to do to the children.

Of course, there is upside to working with an all female staff, and the receptionist at the last school I went to definitely falls into that category. Unfortunately, there won’t be anyone I can talk to about this. Except, of course, statistically speaking with that many women some of them are bound to have alternative orientations, maybe they would be open to dialogue on the relative attractiveness of different women.

Only thing is, being a bloke, I’m totally unaware of this sort of thing, so the only way I could identify my own potential talk partner would be to ask at interview, and that’s a question I definitely couldn’t ask.

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Back to school

Or, more accurately, out of school and back to college.

Something weird has happened, there’s been a sort of change of atmosphere around the whole PGCE thing. I don’t think it’s just me, I pick it up from my fellow aspiring teachers as well. It’s like it’s become a bit of a game.

I’m not sure why this is, but I think a couple of things have contributed to it. Firstly there was the absurd insistence that we do a bunch of work that no one will ever look at. It reminds me of psychology experiments we were taught when I was doing my first degree (yes, I can remember that far back, the Alzheimer’s has totally taken over yet), where people are stuck in rooms and told to do totally meaningless tasks like writing something and then tearing it up and putting it in a bin, and doing this over and over. The idea was to see how long people would do something as pointless as that for, and the answer, surprisingly, was ages. It turned out that the poor people being experimented on thought it was some kind of endurance test, so kept going.

This is possibly the only rationale for college telling us to complete all these forms and assignments that no-one looks at, that we re part of some big experiment. One day we will wake up and realize that we are living the teacher-training equivalent of the Truman show, and the reason that the library isn’t open on the weekend (don’t even get me started on that) is that they need the set for something else.

I think the other reason for this change in atmosphere is that we have now been in schools for a decent period of time, and have found out that what we get taught at college has only a passing resemblance to what actually happens in reality (maybe the Truman show thing is just the college part), and so that going back and doing (I was going to write learning, but thought better of it) a lot more stuff that we almost certainly won’t use just seems stupid.

And there is one more reason. I think most of us reckon that, having got this far, we’re probably going to complete the course one way or another, so the important thing has moved on from how to get to the end of it, to getting a job when you do. What would make this course really pointless would be to end up one of those statistics of qualified teachers who isn’t teaching.

But the effect is that no-one treats anything particularly seriously anymore. When people sit around with their pint of Guiness, if they discuss college at all it’s to see how best to fabricate references for their assignments (this really pisses me off, I was too stupid to think of doing that and actually did the reading for the assignments, if I had my time over I would be taking notes at this point). But what they spend more time doing is discussing what jobs there are, and how best to get them.

But I shouldn’t complain too much about college. At least the scenery’s good.

Better go, the other half has just come and stood next to me with a large packet of washing powder and said something along the lines of “Darling, shouldn’t you be doing the washing, with Persil Extra young Tommies football shirt will come out extra white”. What she talking about? Our progeny are strictly x-chromosome.

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