Disputes and damsels who distress

7th April 2006 at 01:00

I had cause to reprimand several members of 1C this morning after I caught them listening to music on mp3s and iPods during the lesson. Incredibly, they claimed official sanction in the guise of instructions from our headteacher!

"Mrs Gibbon sayz we kin listen in class, surr!" protested Jason Bonetti, removing his earphones with sullen grace.

"Don't be ridiculous!" I scoffed.

"It's true, sur," insisted Pocahontas McLeod, as she followed Jason's example with barely concealed contempt for my authority.

I brushed all complaints aside and set them to complete their close reading exercise.

Imagine my horror when Simon Young informed me in the departmental base afterwards that Jason and Pocahontas had been well within their rights.

"Oh, yes," he confirmed. "Pat Gibbon said in last week's staff bulletin that it was up to individual staff discretion to decide whether they could play them or not. Didn't you read it?"

I confessed not, and he continued. "Unfortunately, the kids have caught on.

Can't say I approve either, Morris, but once somebody lets it happen, then it becomes almost impossible to refuse permission.

"Just count yourself lucky that it was a first year class you had the argument with. I wouldn't have given much for your chances if you'd told Michael Kerr to put away his earphones."

I gasped in disbelief, then checked the relevant email to have his appalling news confirmed. Our head has indeed decreed a libertine stance on this matter, although she clearly feels that a line has to be drawn with the use of mobile telephones. "These items," her ruling states, "should only be used by pupils in class if the call is an important one."

I bent over and hit my head slowly, gently, but ever so definitely, upon the worktop next to my keyboard. It didn't change anything, but it did make me feel a little bit better.


At last I am drawing to an end of the Higher course with my fifth year. I hold out little hope for many of them, but feel that I can go no further with the preparation for paper two.

Admittedly, I would have liked them to have a wider option than two short stories and two poems from which to choose for their critical essays, but anything larger would only have led to confusion for the likes of Michael Dixon and Tanya Thomas. Plus, of course, we have simply had no time to prepare fuller length texts because of time demanded by the need to pass National Assessment Bank materials before they can even sit the SQA exam.

They say standards are not falling, yet it seems only yesterday, when the revised Higher of 10 years ago was introduced, that I was bemoaning the fact that pupils had to read only one novel to attempt Higher English. Now, alas, they don't need to read any.


I had a run-in with Mrs Gibbon this afternoon, when I challenged the new policy on music players and mobile phones.

"It's ridiculous!" I complained. "Melissa Chalmers claimed her phone call this afternoon was important, but from what I could hear it was all to do with arrangements for the weekend. And as for the pupils listening to music while I'm talking, it's just ..."

"But I haven't said they can listen to music while a teacher's talking, Morris," she attempted to placate me. "And I'll make that very clear in this week's bulletin. But if they're listening to music while they're working, and they're really on task, does it matter?"

I sighed and looked downward, unable to meet her eye. A phrase concerning patients and asylums came to mind, but I bit my lip and kept my own counsel.

After such a surreal conversation, it was almost a relief to get to my evening chartered teacher session. I am at the mid-point of my first option module, on promoting positive behaviour. I must say that this module has been an improvement on the first core one. This time, our tutor seems to have a real grasp of the difficulties assailing teachers in the front line.

Tonight, he was concurring with us about the enormous drain on energy levels caused by low level class disruption, such as talking, whistling, groaning, writing notes, scraping chairs, tapping pens, popping gum, arriving late, and - Mrs Gibbon, do you hear this? - the use of mobile phones in class!

Interestingly enough, he suggested that we consider such challenging behaviour as a major plank of support for the Scottish Executive's policy on inclusion. Although I lost the thread of that particular argument, I was glad to be reminded of a few simple tricks to promote positive behaviour in the classroom.

"Take body language, for example," explained Dr Barren, "and how a silent reprimand with forceful body language can do far more to earn respect than a bawling-out. One of the most successful means of diffusing a difficult situation is simply to stand erect with your feet apart and your arms folded, maintaining absolute silence until all is calm. It never fails."

The video he then showed us illustrated the success of the policy in no fewer than five different confrontational situations. I look forward to putting it into practice.


Tomorrow is Gail's last day at work before her maternity leave, just four weeks before her state of infanticipation is concluded.

"And the leave can't come a day too soon," she pressed the palm of her hand against her arched back. "I can't keep standing all day for much longer, Morris. And what's more, I can't stand to hear any more of this WALT and WILF crap any longer."

"Walt and who?" I queried. "Who are they?"

"Well you might ask," she sighed. "Disney and Pickles, for all I care.

"It's the new guff on assessment that we're being forced to check on the tick-box list. Stands for 'We are learning to I' and 'What I'm looking for I'. It's the biggest load of mince I've ever dealt with."

She went on at some length - and with increasing scepticism - explaining the details behind these formative assessment strategies, until I pulled her up short.

"Wait a bit," I interrupted. "Isn't what you're describing as WALT and WILF exactly the same thing as having aims and objectives for lessons? Like you did 20 years ago at teacher training college?"

Gail nodded glumly and sighed. "Give yourself a coconut, dear."

We decided to go to bed. It has already been a long week for both of us.


Alas, the week ended on a worse note than the preceding four days. My third year decided to misbehave during their afternoon lesson on Shakespearean imagery. On reflection, it was probably a forlorn hope that the likes of Peter Westhouse and Melissa Chalmers would show any interest in the subject, but I took it grossly amiss when both of them made a firm and demonstrative point of placing headphones in their ears while I was explaining the finer points of Bottom's representations in A Midsummer Night's Dream.

"Now, now," I began in friendly mode. "Remember the class rules. You can tune in when you're working but not when I'm talking," I raised my voice to overcome the sibilant tzin-tzin-tzin that was pumping from their earpieces.

Alas, the reprimand woke up some of the class, and it was with a sinking heart that I saw "Mainstream" Michael Kerr (our most inclusive pupil of all, if you get my drift) slumbering into somnambulant life from his position sprawled across an adjacent desk.

"Haw, surr, stoapp pickin' oan Westy 'n' Melissa," he enjoined, before deciding to pick on them himself instead. Noticing that Melissa was leaning back on her chair, his right leg suddenly sprang into life, struck out and kicked it from beneath her mini-skirted frame.

"What the fu...!" Melissa started to protest, but she had hit the floor before she could complete the oath.

At this point Peter sprung to her defence and approached Michael, a threatening leer across his face.

"Big mistake, Mikey, ya bass. Squerr go! Now!"

I was about to launch into the fray but remembered Dr Barren's advice.

Walking over to Michael's desk, I pulled myself up to my full height, placed my feet firmly apart and crossed my arms. With bold resolution, I drew in a sharp breath, looked down at both boys and rocked gently on my heels.

"Whit's up, surr?" questioned Peter. "Youse look like yur coanstipated.

D'ye need a shite?"

And then, having taken me completely off-guard by such a disrespectful question, he hit Michael forcefully in the chest as I jumped back from a battle that threatened to get completely out of hand as Michael snarled and drew back his fist.

It was lucky for me that Melissa had recovered her poise and, hoisting her tiny skirt around her waist once more, jumped between the putative combatants to urge: "Quit it! Ah'm no wurth it!" - a view, incidentally, with which I heartily concurred - "An' if youse doan't quit it, yur no'

comin tae the rave oan Sa-ur-day. Neether uv youse!"

It was a bigger threat, apparently, than that poised by my silent body language and the fight collapsed instantly.

I quickly called the class to order and got on with the lesson, while Michael returned to his slumbers, Peter to his headphones and Melissa to her mobile phone, on which she appeared to be finalising arrangements for Saturday night.

I wish Dr Barren had been there with his video camera.

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