School diary - Damp and demeaning start to festive season

18th December 2009 at 00:00


Our faculty head returns to my classroom on Wednesday to continue her series of teaching observations, an imposition which irritates me immensely because I'm being observed during a week when I'd normally be winding down for Christmas holidays with classes, by showing DVDs and playing hangman on the interactive whiteboard. However, I have been forced to prepare dynamic, innovative and interactive lessons in response to Madeleine Nichol's less-than-complimentary assessment of my pedagogical efforts last month. It's like being back in teacher training college.


I was trying to prepare my lesson for tomorrow while 2N was engaged in a silent reading exercise, when I heard a raucous commotion outside my room. Hastening to the door, I was just in time to see the closing moments of a scuffle among four senior pupils which had concluded with one of them being thrust against the large water cooler in the corridor.

"Boys!" I called out. "Stop that at once, and come here!"

They froze, turned to half-glance at me, then ran off. I was about to launch myself in full pursuit, but realised that the dispensing tap on the cooler had been broken, and that water was flooding into the corridor. I clamped my thumb under the flowing outlet, and was left consequently emasculated on the pursuit front, resembling, no doubt, the famous boy of legend with his finger in a dyke.

Alas, rescue seemed to take as long for me as it did for him, as I called for assistance from 2N. Unfortunately, it took Lee Bonetti and Connor Moore an unconscionable length of time to find Mr Dallas, the janitor, who then spent several minutes contemplating whether he should contact the authority facilities team to deal with the matter before agreeing to (and I quote) "risk the wrath o' ma union, Misturr Simpson, tae make this piece o'equipment safe. It's no really in ma joab description, but seein' as how yerr kind o' awkwardly fixed, ah'll see whit ah kin dae ."

"Thank you, Mr Dallas," I muttered between gritted teeth. "Awfully kind of you. Have a nice Christmas when it comes." I think my sarcasm was wasted on him.


Observation day. My fifth-year class offered a significant challenge, in that they all seemed virtually comatose, a condition I ascribed to their tendency for late nights.

"Ach it's no' that, surr," complained Fiona Douglas after I upbraided her for not knowing the place when I asked her to read a passage aloud from our class novel. "It's just this book's a loada crap! Who cares aboot Piggy an' Simon, an' Ralph? Bunchae wankers. How kin we no' dae a decent book fur Higher? Like Twilight, or New Moon, ur sumthin' ."

"I'm afraid I don't choose the books we study for the critical essay section," I arched my eyebrows in Madeleine Nichol's direction, a private reminder of my disapproval concerning her decision to bulk-buy Lord of The Flies because she believed that schools answering on this text did better in their Higher English results.

Things got trickier as I tried to rouse the rest of the class from their lethargy, in particular George Marshall and Nicole Ferguson, who have taken to sitting next to each other, the fruit of romantic liaison, I understand.

Honestly, I've never witnessed a dozier pair in all my years of teaching, and their refusal to engage with the lesson was frustrating beyond belief. Eventually, in an injunction designed to get them contributing, I urged loudly: "Oh, come on! This is simple. George! Put your hand up. Nicole! You too."

Unfortunately, the final part of my admonition was lost in a gale of laughter which I didn't understand at first, but comprehension slowly dawned that in the salacious minds of my teenage audience the request to George to put his hand up had been run together with "Nicole", after which Ian Pearce rudely called out that "George his been tryin' tae dae that fur weeks, surr!"

My face reddened with embarrassment as I realised my unintentional double- entendre and tried, without success, to get the lesson back on track. Meanwhile, Madeleine Nichol scribbled furiously on her clipboard .


Mrs Slater is not having the cooler repaired. On the contrary, our head is having it, and all others, removed, an action which she has discovered will save pound;1,400 a year from our overstretched budgets!

"Good!" responded Davie McManus. "Ah've never believed all that crap about hydrating the kids' brains on a regular basis tae enhance their learning abilities. Mebbe we can buy some books with that money to enhance their learning opportunities mair effectively!"


Mrs Slater has received an angry letter from a parent complaining about the removal of the coolers, and reminding her of the school's obligation to provide such water to pupils as part of their inalienable human rights under European law. She has written back, pointing out that the school offers a supply of drinking water via the novel solution of taps supplied by some of the cleanest mains water in the world.

Meanwhile, I had Madeleine Nichol to deal with, who wanted to run through the results of her observation, a process I found demeaning: not enough higher-order questions, too many closed questions, inappropriate classroom methods; the list seemed to stretch out to the crack of doom.

Anyway, she is planning to start a new form of CPD, whereby teachers will go and watch each other in action. "It's a scheme called `Learning Rounds', Morris, where we all share experiences by observing each other teach, and I think you'll find it useful to see how your colleagues in other departments work. And who knows?" she added archly: "Some of them might even find it helpful watching you ."

Talk about a motivating start to the Christmas period. Precious little peace, and even less goodwill.

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