Continuing our peek at a London teacher's diary of last term
Monday A good day. Jeremy has been at the school for four years and suffers from Asperger syndrome. This makes him clumsy, awkward and lacking in social skills. Although the form like him, they are afraid of his strength and temper. Jeremy has been helping the other students with their IT projects. At the end of the lesson he tells me that for the first time he feels truly happy and valued. Many teachers in the school have put in a lot of time to help Jeremy cope with life in a mainstream school. I resolve to write a letter to Mr Blunkett asking him how this progress might be described using value added analysis and then represented in a league table.
TUEsday Reports are due in for Year 7. We have adopted the LEA's practice of using only positive statements. I am in a quandary about what to write about Frederick, who has committed 14 serious assaults this term on his fellow pupils and has made negligible academic progress. After much struggling I hit upon: "Well done. Frederick has not seriously assaulted anyone in school this week." I know he has assaulted someone outside school and there was an incident earlier in the week that could reasonably be described as a minor assault. And for the statement to be strictly true we also have to accept that the week runs from Tuesday to Tuesday.
WEDNESday I speak to a group of sixth-formers about teaching as a career. I am met by looks of blank incomprehension. Out of more than 200 talented and intelligent young people destined for higher education, just one tentatively admits to the possibility of teaching but only if she can't get something better. Later I have a series of individual conversations with sixth-formers who I think should consider teaching. The poor pay is only one factor. Low status and heavy workload are mentioned as well as the problems of difficult youngsters and the endless public expectation of higher and higher performance. By far the most consistent reason was that teaching is just not "sexy" to a generation of young people reared on Friends and Ally McBeal. I explain about the fast-track scheme and performance-related pay,but they remain unimpressed.
thursday Our librarian keeps a newspaper clippings file on teachers and education. While waiting for a consultation evening to begin, I spend two hours trawling through the last year's entries. I now realise I am responsible for the moral breakdown of society, teenage pregnancy (not personally), declining respect for the police, teenage burglars, the failures of the criminal justice system, the disintegration of the British Empire, the decline of Britain as a world power and the problems of Rover cars. In addition I should be adopting strategies to prevent homophobic bullying, bullying in general, teenage pregnancies (having been responsible in the first place), litter-dropping, glue-sniffing, drug-taking, gambling on the lottery, smoking cigarettes, (in fact, smoking anything) unhealthy eating habits, anorexia and bulimia.
I should be teaching boys to be caring, girls to be assertive and everyone to be multicultural. In addition I should be teaching how to be a good citizen, the importance of voting, healthy eating, and being a member of the European Union, the words to the national anthem, lots of English history, the capital cities of all major countries, the complete works of Shakespeare and how to do long division without a calculator. I am also responsible for the failures of the England soccer and cricket teams, the boring play of the English rugby team, the decline of sporting behaviour and our failure to produce any decent tennis players. Oh yes, and I almost forgot, I have to remember to teach some English as well.
FRIday Magnificent news. The head has been awarded an OBE. Why not an MBE or a CBE, you ask yourself? What is the difference? Who cares? Rumour is that he is disappointed as he was expecting a knighthood (or a K as those who crave such things call them) now that the government sees fit to shower such baubles on the leaders of state schools.
The head explains at a staff meeting that although he is against the honours system he sees this as an honour for the whole staff and turning it down would be selfish and doctrinaire.
The author is a teacher in a north London comprehensive