Blogger Frank quits 'scum and drugs'

18th August 2006 at 01:00
Supply teacher's warts-and-all weblog of school life sparks a book - and his decision to leave the profession. Michael Shaw reports

"The kids are thick, the parents are scum, there are drugs everywhere and half the girls are giving birth. Who wouldn't want to be a teacher?"

Frank Chalk does not mince his words describing life as a supply teacher working in an inner-city comprehensive in England.

His witty warts-and-all descriptions have won him hundreds of teacher fans visiting a weblog he started last summer, and are now to be published in a book.

But just as his persona is gaining even more fame and notoriety, the anonymous maths teacher has decided to quit the profession, worn down by poor behaviour and management incompetence.

"There was no dramatic tipping-point," he said. "It was more like the coastal erosion the kids don't learn about in geography any more.

"Someone else can have my job as crowd-controller."

Mr Chalk, who is in his early 40s, was approached by a publisher less than four weeks after beginning the website. He insists on anonymity, however, because his wife and many of their close friends continue to teach.

His book, It's Your Time You're Wasting: A teacher's tales of classroom hell, will be published next month. It is scathing in its description of some of his former colleagues and pupils, whose names have been changed.

Characters include Wayne, a Year 10 student, who had been expelled from a previous school for stealing a teacher's handbag then selling her house keys to a burglar.

"Wayne is well known as a local drug dealer, so is one of the few with a grasp of fractions," Mr Chalk writes. "Lovely lad."

Then there is Mr Morris, the ineffectual headteacher who staff nickname "the ostrich" for his ability to ignore problems; Mr Duncan, the alcoholic geography teacher, and Miss Wade, the timorous science teacher who goes off on long-term stress leave, citing bullying.

Mr Chalk insists that all the incidents he describes in the book are true and not exaggerated.

Several chapters give blow-by-blow accounts of difficult supply lessons, including the verbal abuse from teenagers and pupils' tricks, such as bringing vodka into class in water bottles.

Mr Chalk began teaching as an idealistic 20-something. He said it had taken him so long to quit the profession because some of the teachers he had worked with were inspirational.

He had also become attached to the profession "in the same way kidnap victims develop an attachment to their kidnappers".

His tone is decidedly un-PC. In the book's glossary of educational terms, he defines pupils with learning difficulties as "thick", the learning impaired as "really thick" and special needs as "yet another way to avoid using the word 'thick'".

Mr Chalk's book is the latest in a growing line of classroom-misery lit.

Previous examples include Francis Gilbert's I'm a Teacher - Get Me Out of Here, which has attracted praise for its accuracy from some teachers and accusations from others that it disparages the profession.

* michael.shaw@tes.co.uk

It's Your Time You're Wasting is published on September 2 by Monday Books, price pound;7.99. See frankchalk.blogspot.com

LOOK, LEARN AND KNOW YOUR ENEMY

Frank Chalk's rules for supply teaching include:

Do judge by appearances

Just as an airport penny-dreadful book announces itself by its appearance, so will problem kids.

Use sarcasm

A favourite weapon of mine ever since my PGCE (teacher training) days when, naturally, we were expressly forbidden to use it.

Use mystery and unpredictability to your advantage

Practise a slightly lopsided, serial killer's smile for when you first meet the pupils at your new school.

Do not be gullible

Ben Dover, Phil McCavity and Roger Rubshaft are not real pupils.

Know your enemy

Get the troublemakers' names from your colleagues, along with descriptions.

The prison hint

"Accidentally" drop into the conversation a hint that you may have served time in prison and then quickly change the subject.

Remember that you are God

And repeat this to yourself regularly.

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